Saturday, November 22, 2014
(Manisha – the Hindu god who symbolises intelligence and desire; also symbolises state of being – where you mind is, there your heart will be also). We are driving home from a party when my teenage daughter Zawadi points, “Look, Mummy, Daddy’s new car….oh, oh,…” and then starts to fidget with my skirt, trying to distract me. It is 9 PM. I slow to a crawl. Sure enough, there sits my Lucas, in his beloved-above-all-else black BMW. He’s smooching a High Hairstyle. A style where wet hair is saturated with ultra-gel before a bushy horsehair chignon is plonked on top. When it dries, the hair is so hard it can dice unwary fingers….or lips. Nasty hair. Obviously nasty woman. Up to nasty business. Lucas took me to a place like this. Once. It is the kind of lowlife joint open 24-7-365 where you’re greeted by the happiest party of houseflies in the world. You then walk past the bar to a counter to select your chunk of raw meat. Behind this lies an enclosure euphemistically called KITCHENS. God forbid you should ever study the hardened miniature stalactites hanging under the wire mesh over barbeque fire pits inside. Or see the dank water used to wash utensils that is collected in plastic buckets from the slum bathtub of a Nairobi River. Or hope to enjoy the aroma of roasting meat over wafts of toilet stench. Or listen to resident drunkards shouting over an asthmatic jukebox spewing Lingala tunes that clash with the Willie Nelson classics favoured by those in neighbouring joints. Wealthy patrons, like my adulterer-husband Lucas, wait in their cars overlooking the River. Attendants bring out the cooked meat spread on a wooden board, along with a plated wet mess of kachumbari salad, and white anthills of maize-meal ugali. It’s held out for lengthy inspection, as though you could recognize the meat, and you want to ask, ‘Hey you shrivelled up carcass, are you really the same juicy specimen I selected raw?’ Said attendants balance the board on the window ledge and then with knife flying a hair’s breath from your earwax, flashily slice this lump. Voila! The grand picnic is ready for Bwana and his Mistress. The pain is expected, but the coldness of my anger takes me by surprise. I drop Zawadi home, reassuring her that all is fine, fine, FINE, then double back and find the BMW. But Lucas and his High Hairstyle have gone inside – possibly to check on their germy meat, possibly to use the stinking toilet, possibly to rent a filthy room. Don’t get me wrong. I am an all-Kenyan, educated and hardworking woman who met political-degree student Lucas Githinji at New York’s Syracuse University. He was the activist head of the African Student’s Council who was going to bring democracy ‘back home’ to the ‘motherland’. At our white wedding in Nairobi’s All Saints Cathedral, I promised to be as obedient as he promised to be faithful. Sixteen years later, money and power from within the establishment and all its attendant flattery had changed Lucas into a womanising, hard-drinking, pot-bellied, Alfa-male icon of our modern African society. Not that I’m perfect, but I’ve played the role expected of me. I’ve maintained a clean home, raised two children, kept in shape. I’ve lowered my expectations and raised my threshold for pain. When he beats me in places that don’t show, I sulk in a way that only he knows. When he says, like his father and his father’s father before him, “Women are called atumia because they are supposed to tumia (shut up)!” I choke down my anger with extra strength paracetamol. For him, I’ve kept my legs open and my mouth shut, in other words, I’ve been a GOOD Kikuyu wife. But this stinking business being played in front of me is the virus-laden straw that’s breaking my back. I open the door, my open-toe kitten heels sink into the mud that passes for lawn. It has not rained in months, but I force my mind not to dwell on the source of the squelch that makes it way between my toes, the toes I polished pink just this morning, like a million years ago. The Nairobi River doesn’t even pretend to run. It is a black mirror broken into uncomfortable fragments by its own effluent. The past, present and future stares me in the face. My mother. Myself. My daughter. Lucas’ car is just as shiny, winking at me. My keys are in my hand, the heavy-metal-cow-mascot- -bottle-opener Lucas bought me at the showground pointing straight up. “Karibu madam.” A waiter is heading towards me, wielding his tray and hearty voice as though he were my long-lost uncle. “Mume tutembelea leo.” It is not a question. This man imagines there is A LUCAS waiting in my car, and that I am another of those nasty-hair girls come to visit our home away from home. I wave in the general direction of my car, and the waiter adjusts his direction away from me, to follow what he imagines to be the true scent of what matters. Money. I stalk Lucas’ black car, my keys in my hand. I touch metal to shiny black metallic. It’s not enough. What Anybody could do is meaningless, impersonal. The window on High-Hair’s side is greasy with gell and germs, and is a little bit open yet again confirming her to be a dangerously lazy and dirty so and so. I slip my key-ring-cow-mascot into the gap and use it as a lever to push down. Grunting, I rest my weight on it as though my life depended on it. It slowly gives. Reaching in I pull the lock and open the door. I gently pull the door after me. The seat feels like a throne, brushed creamy leather, so soft and plush and generous. What comes to mind sitting in my husband‘s beloved black BMW is the memory of a hard pimple on my chin. A gentle rise of skin that felt, when probed, like a hard knob. When it began to ache in a low-key manner, I couldn’t keep my hands off it. Tingles of anticipated pain kept me from forcing the issue. But one evening I psyched myself to deal with it, to exorcise this irritation once and for all. A long steamy bath to open the pores, my face almost kissing the mirror, I placed two tissues on either side of this blight and pressed the little hard knob, hard, harder. I did’nt stop and it didn’t give and didn’t give. Tears flowed, nose running over. The pain, oh the pain. Unbelievable. Unbearable. But I bore it, just as I did child birth, three times. My whole face throbbed before I gave in. Next day I went to hospital where they operated to remove what the doctor concluded was a mole before adding in an accusatory tone (and actually wagged his finger) that it might have been a cancerous growth, that it is not safe to go around dredging one’s own skin. I am sure he meant well in his fatherly doctorly way, but I left wishing I’d used my kitchen knife to butcher the thing in private. I tenderly touch the area now. I want to describe it as deceptively smooth but really there is nothing there to show for the pain it caused. Just like my outside shows none of the corrosion going on inside. “Ala, na hawa wamepotea wapi?” The waiter calls in a confused but still friendly voice, like ‘we’ the missing couple are pranksters playing a trick on him. He is leaning against my Toyota, smoking a cigarette. I filter him out of my mind. I smell grease in this car that drives us to church on Sunday mornings, to visit the in-laws every last Saturday of the month, to school events at ends of term, to Mombasa Beach for a holiday every August. I zero-in on the fuzzy glass where High Hair rested against the window when she was doing what with my husband? I smell Lucas in the polish, and in the smooth leather of the steering wheel, and in the white handkerchief now no longer home-pressed crisp but scrunched into the rest between the two seats after it wiped what? It whispers a dirty idea. I find out that no matter how generously proportioned a car, it is difficult to squat on a seat, especially with my shoes on. I persevere, my kitten heels poke into the leather for traction. My head brushes the ceiling which too is creamy, padded and soft, thank god. So much silence in such a noisy place. Country music winning over lingala in the always-open-for-business buildings ahead. Closer, I hear the waiter again, moving around. Obviously looking for ‘us’. I spy him from the corner of my eye looking in between cars as though we might be lying there overcome. Or maybe it’s dawning on him that we might be a security threat. In a city nicknamed Nairobbery, anything is possible. The waiter is not a young man. He has probably seen too much in this life. He is peeking into cars now, discreetly and with a ready smile just in case their lawful owners are in situ and not exactly in the mood or position to order more meat. Balancing in a gymnastic move that I’ll never again be able to replicate, I squat and gather my panties to the front noting while I do so that they really are too big. From barely a car-length away, the waiter stops, turns in my direction. He catches my eye and shakes his head. But it is too late. Too much has built up inside me and it time to let go. Steam rises. It’s not enough. It’s not even the right thing to do. But it’s a start.
The day it happened dawned normally. Something should have warned me, I should have gotten an omen of sorts, maybe an owl hooting, or a dead lizard- or dropping the hot pot of Okro soup I was taking off the stove on to the table- or, hitting my left foot against a stone solidly buried in the ground. Anything. I remember clearly the first time I met her. I was eight years old and waiting for a quick breakfast of spaghetti and tomato sauce which Mama was preparing, before I could go to school. Papa looked at me over the top of the sun newspaper which he was devouring. ‘Sandra ’He said ‘Get me my glasses. I can’t read some of this…this thing they print these days. My eyesight is getting worse’. I quickly went to his room to do that. The drawer where Papa kept most of his prized possessions was the location and I opened the first partition as soon as I got there. I saw the case where he kept the glasses. The familiar fading coffee-brown colored case which beckoned at my hand. I almost had it when my eyes caught something else. A wad of crisp naira notes. Some had fled the little string that tied them together and were lying apart. Others strained to get away. She came then, suddenly, shocking me with her arrival. One fifty-naira note found its way into my palm, got squeezed and eventually ended up in my school bag. That day at school, Mrs. Dupe, my teacher eyed me warily when I went on a spending spree with my three best friends. “My Daddy gave me some money because I missed breakfast” I told her when she inquired. It was so easy I almost cried with joy at the discovery. She got me Yoghurt, Cakes, Sweets, Dolls, Fancy rulers. I could have everything a kid wanted and I didn’t have to ask my parents and be refused them. I used to wonder then why Papa never suspected me, or why Mama never guessed that all the missing change she accused herself of misplacing, was actually in my school bag. I eventually stopped wondering as well listening to my conscience. I stopped listening also to Uncle Femi my Sunday School Teacher. She was my best friend all through junior and Senior Secondary School and I promised to exile her if I gained admission into the University. I didn’t. Emma my roommate discovered. She noticed the missing earrings, the reduced milk in the tin, the sudden change of clothes, and the occasional hot heels which appeared on my shelf, out of nowhere. By then I had realized that I was cursed with her. I couldn’t leave her or make her leave even if I wanted to. One day, a Sunday, after church, Emma called me aside. She was a slim fair girl of nineteen who had the most amazing eyes. They were probing and piercing as well as beautiful. She fixed them on me and said quietly and ambiguously. “Sandra I know. I know what you do” I stared at her, wondered which of the two things she meant and eventually decided it couldn’t be one. Denial rose in my throat but died there. Half of me wanted help. The other half, well, the other half was her. I didn’t reply and she continued. “I don’t know why you do it.I can’t understand it. I mean, your parents , they are not poor… right?” . I shook my head. I wanted to explain to her. I wanted to tell her about the thrill and unbearable urge she brought out in me to pilfer, take, steal. I wanted to make Emma help me get rid of her. But still I said nothing. Emma held my hand. She said nothing for a while. “I am not going to tell anyone but you have to promise me that you’ll stop stealing. Can you do that?” Her voice was earnest . Emma was nice and right then I wished I was not the girl her sweetheart Dayo was cheating on her with. Tears spilled and I promised her I’d stop. For five whole days after I was clean. The sixth day, she came back, with vengeance in mind. It was Saturday and I had gone jogging. The school stadium was my destination and I was almost there when I realized I had to catch my breath. Slowing down to a final halt I leaned on a nearby fence and tried to imagine a break-up scene, with me and Dayo as the main actors. A thin girl passed me. I’d seen her approaching and actually wondered why she bothered exercising. She was actually as fat as a single broomstick. She wore a white t-shirt, white shorts and white trainers and was sweating awfully. She had a headset on and didn’t notice her phone fall out of her pocket. She kept jogging. Quick as a flash, I walked towards the fallen phone and saw it. It was a very cheap phone - the kind you would be ashamed of holding. I bent down. I had already picked it up and was standing up when I heard a shrill HEY!. I turned. “what do you think you are doing?” Thin girl had materialized and I was caught. “Helping you of course.” I snapped. “Here” I thrust the phone into her hands quickly. She grabbed it and spat out “I’m sure you were. Helping me.” I started out towards the opposite direction, my heart in my hands. Being caught had never represented an iota of threat for me but I thought that was mainly because it had almost never happened. The worst moments I’d had were those like thin girl’s episode. ****** The wedding planner arrived and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. She was about two hours late and had really gotten everyone up-to-their-necks-deep in the worry ocean. Emma was to be married in three hours’ time and I was there as her maid of honor. I don’t believe she did it to spite me because like I said before, she was a nice girl- but I don’t think it was totally innocent since she had found out about me and Dayo from him. I tried to make myself useful and tried hard not to hear the voices of the gold and diamond bracelets, necklaces and rings left lying carelessly- calling my name and begging me to have them. I went into the make-up Chamber and admired Emma. She looked really beautiful and deserved every bit of the happiness I was sure she felt. “Have you seen Dayo yet?” I asked and immediately regretted it. “Of course not.” she replied and giggled while the make-up artist by her left tried to fix her lashes. “You know, the normal crazy rule of the groom not seeing the bride before the wedding.” “I am happy for you” I lied. The three make-up artistes turned to look at me. I saw in their eyes that they knew about me, Emma and Dayo. I left the room with a diamond coated hair pin and tears in my eyes. Dayo signaled me with his eyes and we met in a corridor. There was an open room close by so we entered and he shut the door. “I’m sorry Sandy. I know this must be hard for you.” I looked at his face and felt the pin’s edge dig into my slightly flabby stomach. “It’s okay. I’m over us. And you love her right?” It was not actually a question. “I…I mean I do ….” I knew what he was going to say next. He was going to tell me how he felt guilty about us. How he was trying to make it up to Emma by marrying her. How, anyways, she was pregnant and he had to do it. I placed a perfectly manicured finger over his lips. We hugged and his hand brushed against something hard. The pin. I went rigid for a full minute but it was pointless. He either didn’t notice or didn’t care. We parted and I saw a glimmer of tears. ****** She was with me even in the primary school where I taught social studies- the history teacher’s pink scarf, the headmistress’ pen, the English Teacher’s wrist watch and a few others. Little Sonia was caught with her classmate’s sandwich which was meant for the latter’s lunch. The community of class activists brought the matter to me. Their small eyes demanded justice. Nevertheless, I set Sonia free with a warning of something not as lenient if she repeated the action. That evening I went for Confession at the Catholic Church beside my house. The priest had a kind voice and I wished I could make him see her. Instead I confessed a sin and got reading the whole chapter 119 of the book of psalms as my penance. I had stolen my gold-pink-cover bible from a young woman I shared a bus with and did not fulfill my penance. I remember going home a week before last Christmas. Mama’s Diabetics was acting up and Papa’s was away on a campaign. He had a new love-politics. Three days after I arrived she and i caught a stray hen and I prepared dinner with it. Mama paused in between each spoonful and tried to catch up with her only child’s life. I chatted with her and tried to imagine how the farmer would react when he found out that one of his hens did not come back home. I saw him go to their shelter, nod imperceptibly and turn to retire. Then, turn back when it finally registered that the white hen with three black feathers was not present. “The meat is so hard” Mama complained and finally gave up trying to eat it. I wanted her to ask me something. Anything, to which I could give the answer, ‘I stole it’. The day ended without no odd event but somehow I cannot forget it. ****** I met Jide at an auction and we exchanged phone numbers. I didn’t love him or I would not have done it to him. I only prayed she would not be revealed in any way that would hurt him. We had a quiet wedding in Grace Chapel and had two kids three years later. I named the boy Honest and the girl Honorable. Two days before the day it happened, I had a distress call from home. Papa had a heart attack and was recovering. I spoke on the phone with Mama for three hours. She was hysteric and told me how she had met Papa. “I saved him from a mob who were about to lynch him” she sobbed “I don’t want to lose him now” “A mob? Lynch?!” She told a weird story that for some reason I wished I knew a long time ago. She had prevented an angry group of market women from seriously hurting Papa when he was caught stealing apples. “I wondered why a well-dressed man like him would be doing that and lay on top of him to prevent the blows…” Mama recounted the story of Papa’s struggle with kleptomania and how he overcame it. “We fell in love and got married” She continued like I didn’t know. “I don’t want to lose him now. I’m too young to be a widow.” I patiently sat through her lamentations and assured her Papa would be fine. She let me get off the phone when I promised to come home that weekend to see them. The day was a normal day. I took Honest and Honorable to school in my car. Teaching my pupils that day was as frustrating as it always was. I dealt with all the usual. Ahmed trying out his newly found karate skills on Chris who got hurt- Bisi and Naomi abusing each other’s mothers- Eight year old Hassan, sending love notes to Blessing - all these while the lecture was going on. It was a very tired me that got home that evening. My kids were back and in Bed. I heated the Okro soup I had prepared the day before and took some to eat. I didn’t bother trying to make Eba because I simply lacked the physical energy. I saw the onions when I went outside to bring in Jide’s clothes, which I had washed the day before. I knew Bola, my neighbour had put them in the ash tray, under the sun, so that they could lose their moisture and therefore last longer. I saw their robust round shapes, glowing purple skins and salivated. The tray was placed on top of the dwarf fence that separated my house from Bola’s House. I had a lot of onions at home but I had none as succulent. I felt the familiar pull and the accompanying adrenaline. I didn’t hear Bola approach. I didn’t notice her bring out her phone. What I noticed was a flash. I looked up in time to see the camera eye staring at me, from the mobile phone which Bola held. “Today I have caught you. Red handed” she hissed in pidgin English. “For a long time now, I’ve known that you are behind it.” Behind what? I wanted to ask in defense. I was mute. “Behind all the things that disappear when I keep it outside.” She did a mock victory dance and while I still stood foolishly, holding the suddenly-heavy onion bulb in my hand. Bola whistled and called the attention of the other neighbours. I could easily have dropped the offending weight a long time ago and denied her allegations. Instead I waited, still and not bothering. She came with her husband later that night to our house. Jide begged me to deny it and I didn’t. I guessed that this was my medicine. I needed the shame to make her go away forever. He apologized to Bola and her Husband. That night I was awfully quiet. Honest and Honorable were quieter and I did not look them in the eyes. I left for my parents’ house the next day. That next day is today and I am sitting on the front seat of a mass transit bus en route my parents’ home. I look out the window and wonder what Mama is going to say when I tell her the truth. Even if I suspect she already knows, I intend to. I bring out something from my bag. It is Mama’s necklace which I took a long time ago. Ivory gold, it is at once old and beautiful. She thought she had lost it at a party. I put on the necklace with a little difficulty. I think it will give me a starting point. I am trying not to think of the Blackberry phone charger in my handbag which I took from the old man in the waiting hall. I do not own a blackberry phone.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Kenya Art Fair 2014, is Kenya’s premier art fair in Nairobi, focused on contemporary visual art from the artists in Kenya. The Art fair will nurture, appreciate and recognize excellence in the contemporary visual arts and represents the only fair of this kind in the region open to the local and international art scene. The 4 day fair will be held during the week of 6th-9th of November 2014. Running concurrently with the art fair, will be interactive art talks and conversations on everything ‘ART’ facilitated by professionals and practitioners in the industry. Art Talk is definitely one of the most exciting activities in the overall Fair programme. These sessions are filled with relevant and timely topics concerning the contemporary art scene. Artists, gallerists, art historians, curators, museum directors, publishers, art lecturers, government stakeholders and art collectors will participate in panel discussions, presentations and interviews. The ART TALK series offers a safe platform for discussions that allows audiences access to an insider’s point of view. They encourage a multi-layered and multi-disciplinary exploration of some of the salient themes and issues reflected in the local Arts Scene. Dynamic dialogues will take place between prominent members of the art world, each offering their unique perspective on producing, collecting, and exhibiting art. The speakers will also address social issues that affect the general creative industry.
Monday, November 3, 2014
It was a departure of sorts, last time I saw them. Or maybe not at all. I had left sigh by sigh, breath by breath over the years. By the time my leaving party came, I was somewhere else entirely. From this place, I watched fairy lights being looped low over long tables and rose bushes being pruned. The matching china came out with the crystal glasses. The guards in our gated community were paid off to pre-empt noise complaints, as were the local police. Our racist neighbours were invited in time for them to book a night away. A credit card and a note on the fridge told me to go and buy a new dress (“At least knee-length, Kaba!!”). The entire dusty front yard was swept. Forthright, our maid, swept it once from the middle to the left and once from the middle to the right ensuring even distribution. She minced around the edges of the yard until she reached the right spot. Then she lovingly gave the earth a centre parting, like she was doing the hair of the daughter she seldom saw. Deftly, she made concentric circles with the rake, making certain not to be backed into a corner as she was in life. Paving would have been more in line with the style of the double storey house, the stiff mahogany headboard in my parents’ bedroom and the greedy water feature in the atrium. “From the dust we came and to it we return,” my father said cryptically whenever anyone asked why. Our relatives whispered in covens that BaBasil should have gotten ‘crazy paving’. They were adept at spending money that wasn’t theirs and would never be, due to equal measures of indolence and bad luck. The same relatives called me down to some new-found duty. I slouched my way to them and despaired again that these women would never know me as an equal. Instead, I was a comedic interlude breaking up days of haggling in markets, turning smelly offal into scrumptious delicacies, hand-washing thin and dim-coloured children’s clothes, and serving dinner to their husbands on knees that could grate cheese. I pitied them too much to be truly angry. Celebrations transformed them into long-lost gods and goddesses. We enticed them with Baker’s Assorted biscuits, school shoes and endless pots of tea. They descended from the village and came to town. Sacrifices were made; I kissed most of my haircare products and magazines goodbye. But it was worth it even though they were near strangers tied to us by nothing more than genetics, a sense of duty and vague sentimentality. Who else could pound fufu for hours without complaint until it reached the correct unctuous and delightfully gloopy texture that Sister Constance demanded? Uncle Samu, my mother’s brother had driven away his third wife with a steady rain of vomit and beatings. As the family’s best drunk he could play palm-wine sommelier. His bathtub brew was mockingly clear. Getting drunk on it felt like being mugged. And by midnight he and Mma Virginia, who according to family legend were kissing cousins in the literal and sordid sense, could always be counted on to break out ‘The Electric Slide’ to the entertainment of everyone watching. My aunties’ voices rang out from a corner of the garden that had escaped my mother’s plot to turn it into a suburban Tuscan nightmare. I weaved between the tacky replicas of Greek statues I had studied at university. The statues bulged like marble tumors from the lawn. A brown sea snail slid round The Boxer’s temple. A rogue feather blew past Venus in the wind. Sister Constance smacked her lips against her remaining teeth in disgust, “You took so long. They spoil you-o!” I didn’t reply and just contorted my features into what I thought was penance and respect. “Let them have this,” I thought. “They’ll let me go soon.” After all, my mother, if she heard I had been too insolent, was far worse than all of them combined. They told me to kill them – three plain white chickens. Expressionless and unsuspecting, they pecked the air while I shuddered above them, a wavering shadow. I searched myself for strength and violence while rolling up the sleeves of my blue Paul Smith shirt. “I guess I’ll have to kiss this goodbye too,” I thought glumly. I was about to look like an extra who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in a Quentin Tarantino film. I curled my sweaty fingers around a knife that someone had pressed into my right hand. I remember thinking how blunt it seemed; inappropriate for the task ahead. But then I grabbed a chicken and felt its frailty. “Wring and cut, Kaba. Wring and cut!” someone shouted. I was too queasy an executioner. My shaking exacerbated the death flapping of the fowls and their blood spurts. I kept going. One. Two. Three. Gone in a couple of minutes. I barely heard the meat hitting the silver-bottomed tub. I was roused from my trance by the glee-creased face of Aunt Lovemore. As I tried to make my way to a shower, one shirt sleeve dripping, my mind emptied and all that remained was something someone once said to me or maybe... I couldn’t tell where it was from. I still can’t tell. It was: “so much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” The feast was that night. I looked at myself in the back of a serving spoon that had some stray grains of white rice smeared on it. No one would need it. Who could be bothered with Basmati when there was kenke to be unwrapped from wilted banana leaves like a present? When nshima so soft and personable was at the serving table in a large white quivering pile just waiting for some kapenta and an eager palate to come by? No, the Basmati would be given to the beggars who came by in the morning and expected nothing less from one of the town’s richest families. Our generosity fostered expensive tastes. My parents’ cross-cultural marriage made for an exciting culinary event. From my father’s side came slow-cooked beef shin in a giant dented tin pot. Simply done, relying only on the innate flavour of the marbled red cubes of flesh and thinly sliced onion getting to know each other for hours. It was smoked by open charcoal fire and lightly seasoned with nothing but the flecks of salty sweat from nervy Auntie Nchimunya constantly leaning over the steaming pot. Mushrooms were cooked as simply as Sister Chanda’s existence. Fungi was hoped for in the night and foraged for at dawn. My favourites were curly-edged, red on top with a yellow underskirt and fried in butter. My lip curled as someone passed me a bowl of uisashi, wild greens and peanuts mashed into a bitty green mess. Little cousins cheekily defied their rank and begged for the prized parsons’ noses from the grilled chickens. My chickens. Their shiny mouths indicated they’d already had more than enough chicken for the night and their age. Tauntingly, I popped one of the tails into my mouth and refused to pass them the crammed tray. My mother, desperate not to be upstaged by her husband, reminded us all of her issue. The Fante chief’s daughter, swathed in kente brought kontombire. It was a swamp-like spinach stew flooded with palm oil, thickened with egusi, specked with smoked mackerel and quartered hard-boiled eggs. It was carried to the table by three people, in a boat-shaped wood tureen from our mezzanine kitchen and the ancient forests of Ghana. Even her mother-in-law was impressed. She unwrinkled her forehead and loosened her fists a little, revealing her fingers stained so yellow by the sauce. From behind my thick pane of one-way glass, I saw my uncle had a bit of red garden egg stuck in his beard, but munched along cheerily, stopping briefly only to push round glasses up the bridge of his Ampapata nose. He was ignoring his side of waakye. I was tempted to take it and scoff it myself but then I looked down, remembering the chunk of succulent grasscutter that I’d pinched from Ma Virginia’s bowl of light soup, still slightly hairy with a bit of gristle dangling from it. She was busy scanning the party for Uncle Samu’s characteristic beaten-in black fedora. Grasscutter, fried okra and plantain. Now that would be tasty. The chair to my left was empty but I preferred it to the barrage of information about my 30-year-old cousin’s upcoming wedding, courtesy of our great-grandmother on my right. “Bridget is off the shelf! Ow-oh! “Praise God! The glory is all yours, Jesus! “She’s so fat and in all the wrong places. Oh! And she insists on this mumbling. Gah! And the boys just weren’t coming, you know. So many weddings she had to see and cry at but no one was crying for her. “Ei! You know you guys, you’re just like their parents. You go abroad to these cold places where money is supposed to grow on trees. Even though there is no sun. You marry these white girls and boys who would die during our dry season, they are so thin. All bones. You get kept over there and we just hear news. Small-small news. And that you’re making it big out there, with our name. But never come back. Oh God! “But luckily this one never left. Just did what he was told to. A job, at least. Nothing much. But in the government, filing papers and not even important ones. So he will never get on the party’s bad side like my brother did in the 60s. Eh-eh! No we can’t have all that trouble again. Even though, God-willing we would recover. “Now I can say all my girls are settled. Uh-huh! I can die now. Someone else is responsible for them now. They will do as I did. They will live as I lived. I have made them so. I have taught them well. They will never lose themselves. That is enough. Yes. That is enough. What other claim does a wife have?” A chitenge-covered desk beside the second buffet table was for the DJ. There was a stack of records and the glow of a MacBook illuminated my older brother’s face. He played eclectically, switched from computer to record player. Computer to Supermalt. Supermalt to record player. Mostly high life, with Earth, Wind and Fire, Glen Miller and Elton John. The musical liturgy of the family. Everything he knew would please. Near the bottom of the pile of records I saw a tiny snail that had escaped being stewed, creeping slowly upside down on the underside of a WITCH LP. The fairy lights doused everyone in a soft glow. I think I was happy dancing with my little niece in the dust to the music; my heels forgotten by the hedge. Our yard was crowded and noisy until the sun came up. When I woke up in the afternoon, the noise echoed and resonated within me. It had embossed my inner ear. I’d captured it all. My brother had mentioned once that the earth was a conductor of acoustical resonance. If it’s true, maybe the same goes for people. The night played over and over again. I was there shrouded by night. I looked around the garden with moistened eyes, a bulb of white wine condensing in my hand. I saw growing piles of soiled dishes whisked away by staff. Cutlery gleaming like silver bones under the moonlight. The people, the scale, the grandeur. It wasn’t really anything to do with me at all. II I never wanted to admit it to anyone, but times were tough. I’d just left university with a distinction no one asked about. I barely managed to convince someone to hire me. Employers thought eight years of tertiary studies had left a gaping hole where experience should have been. In the year that the markets crashed, I was assured that the crisis would have sorted itself out by the time I entered the job market. It was nothing like that. I probably should have studied something more practical, but stubbornly I believed in my research. That there was really a place in the world for what I believed in. I rented a room in the bum end of town and there I plotted my future. I played clairvoyant, gazing over my neighbours’ corrugated iron roofs into the cavernous eyes of the mountain. Those were abrasive mornings. I tried to ignore the strangers in the abandoned lot opposite my window. Girls returned there the morning after the fact, looking for their dignity in the dirt or lost plastic chandelier earrings. Boys sprayed their scent on the crumbling wall, eyes on the lookout for scrap metal. The train rattled by, creaking as if each stop would be its last. Sometimes it was. I was late to work often. Gaudy prostitutes swooped indoors like vampires at first glimpse of the rising sun and the garbage men, part-time fathers of their children. My relationship with my parents festered. I could expect disapproving text messages and automatic EFTs into my account. They sent me a pittance for rent and over the years had made sure to cultivate the kind of unspoken relationship that meant I wouldn’t dare to ask for more money. Every ping in my inbox signaled another accusation. They told me that I was still young and there was still time to start a law degree. I baulked; their alms lessened. I tried not to let their unpleasantness taint my days, curdle the sea I swam in or sharpen the wind. That coastal wind, a blustering soundtrack to my days in that seaside city. It pranked me in public, lifting my skirt. I, and undoubtedly others, got used to a flash of my thigh and untrimmed hedge creeping just past the edge of my briefs. I wasn’t having enough sex to be greatly concerned with my appearance down there. Nothing in my top drawer could be rightly termed lingerie. In a town where everyone, through lies or privilege, was cooler and richer than you, I felt like I didn’t even have to try. It was liberating. I went where my heart led me. Took tables for one. That’s not to say I was starved for sex though. Every so often things would happen. Like at this party one weekend. The party went down at a formerly whites-only pub that had been reclaimed, much like the word ‘slut’ had been some years before. “Oh my god! Eb! You little slut! I love you!” shrieked my friend, Alice, all arms and legs. And at this moment, her arms were wrapped around the neck of her polyamorous boything, Eb. His real name was Ebenezer, I think. I was embarrassed by black parents who still handed out Dickensian names to their children as if it would advance them up the hegemony. Though kudos to those kids too dark to blush called Aloysius and Enid for rebranding themselves as Loyo and Nida. The colonial pub, all flakey gilt frames and lined beige wallpaper tempered by dark woods, was full of them. Of us, I mean. Another generation tasked with saving Africa, yet ignoring the brief. Overwhelmed, we sought to please ourselves as best we could, whether that meant siphoning profits off family businesses, accepting scholarships overseas and never looking back or being assimilated into the incompetent state. Laughing, talking, smoking and dancing we could have been young people on any continent. A girl and a boy sat down beside me and, after a perfunctory hello, asked me to join their threesome. Rather a forward approach, I thought, but then the boy backed out after I feigned some interest. He ran off. “I think he’s spooked. Sorry. I–” she said, trying to salvage the situation. I raised my eyebrows in response and she leant towards me in a way that could only mean one thing. She led the intrepid exploration of my mouth with a gentle suction that left me gasping at once for air and more of her. I gripped her side. We ended up in my single bed. I wasn’t dogmatic enough in my desire to be a lesbian but I liked the symmetry of being with a woman. Breast to breast. Gender didn’t matter really anyway. I talked to Alice over coffee about it. I remember saying, “Boys. Girls. Whatever. We’re always just two people searching... fumbling towards something.” Before she awoke, I surveyed her half-covered body. I was in awe as I always was when someone wanted to have sex with me. And then I saw it. Holding down her bottom lip with a finger, I tried not to wake her while getting a better look. It was an inner lip tattoo. God, it must have hurt – an egg. A single egg. I didn’t have time to ponder what it meant. She woke and instantly seemed embarrassed. Not by her fevered cries that split the night or the way she had gushed a little between her legs when her body was racked with pleasure. She was embarrassed by the window edges taped shut to keep out the cold. The suitcase instead of a dresser. My crusty two-plate stove that I made nshima and beans on every day that it didn’t short circuit the whole floor. She dressed in silence, turned away. When she did turn back, she looked at me, her eyes softened by pity. A bite of the lip said she hadn’t realised what happened last night was a charity event. She scuffed her Converse on the rough floor as if trapped and bored. “It-it was lovely,” she said haltingly, trying not to meet my eyes again. It was quiet for so long after that I nearly missed her squeak. “You might need this more than I do,” she said, leaving R100, like a bird dropping, crumpled on the blue crate I called a nightstand. I didn’t leave my room for two days after. The sheets trembled. But after my grief, I smoothed out what she thought I was worth and went and bought myself some fancy gin. After that I worked harder at work than ever. I was one of 100 unpaid interns at the bottom of a global firm. Our only hope of getting hired was archiving gossip and evidence of affairs or theft amongst our superiors and using them as leverage once we became brave enough. I regret not being braver. My days went down the drain as I alphabetised contact lists and took coffee orders. I filed things. Then retrieved them for executives a couple of days later. Then was told to redo the filing system. One night I was given orders by one of the art directors. She was having a crisis, she said. Meaning, she was on a deadline and her cokeaddled brain had no vision for the client’s product. It was two days to the big pitch and she needed to “cleanse to create” so I had to rub all her erasers until I reached a clean surface on every inch of all 30 of them. Grumpily, I walked to her desk. First, I checked the pockets of the fawn-coloured jacket draped over her chair. I rustled for snacks, change or something to pep me up. Rustle. Rustle. But nothing. Except a business card. Rectangular and rounded at the edges, it read: Karama Adjaye Benin, Chief Recruiter, FutureChild Inc. The ovum bank you can trust. III I envied people who talked in certainties and absolutes. In plans and futures. I felt like I had nothing. Whether doubt, anger or hunger gnawed at my stomach became irrelevant. I set aside time at home to cry. I used the internet at work to find more jobs, but I was already stretched thin on that front. Sleep was for the in-between moments, wherever they fell. I lied my way into focus groups and market surveys for products I couldn’t afford. My heels wore down. My gait changed. I saw myself in the blacked-out windows of a skyscraper en route to somewhere. At first I didn’t realise who the hurried girl with the hunched back was. I looked again. She looked hunted. I had to stay home trying to keep warm or risk having to party sober. I could coast through end-of-the-month weekend when everyone was generous at the bar or people threw parties at houses with cellars and drinks cabinets. Sometimes at clubs like The Pound, I let old men call me a doll and dribble nonsense in my ear over synth beats and the squeak of pleather. I listened, smiled and was intermittently witty, but generally I only spoke to say, “Double Jack, please.” They were men who lived on promises. I starved on hope. This was fourthwave feminism. I considered prostitution quite seriously after that one night stand with Ananda. The concept didn’t seem so far-fetched any more. In a way, the business card was my chance. Their offices were in an innocuous looking building not far from the CBD. It was difficult to know what to wear, but I wanted to look like someone who deserved to be reproduced. I looked nervously out the window at the wet mist blurring anyone who had the temerity to leave the house. I picked my most ironed dress and a smart jacket and took a hardback book to read. This choice too was the source of some anguish as it needed to be big enough to hide my face in case I saw someone I knew, but also had to double as a tool to intrigue and impress the recruiter. My father had always said Ulysses would come in handy someday. I was angry that he was right. The chrome chair felt sterile and sharp against my body. I looked around at the waiting room, gooey with pink branding about ethnically diverse angels, mama birds and dreams. All the framed stock photos were rosy assumptions of family life. I tried to concentrate on filling out the form handed to me. It was the only truth I had dealt with in a long time. I found it refreshing. I couldn’t fail here. I was qualified to do this, to be a donor. I would get a bonus for every year of post-graduate study I had achieved. Checking all the details, I was glad my natural mediocrity had its uses – healthy, black, 65kg, brown-eyed woman. A non-smoking, 24 year old, with regular periods and taking no contraceptives. A little girl with pigtails and a pinafore smiled up at me from my lap. These photos would complete my personal zine, to be handed over to the agency for consideration. The girl was blissfully unaware of what was happening, just smiling shyly like she always would. I turned her over. Why were the blank lines so easy when life was so hard? I looked so different on paper. Broken down into sections, I barely recognised myself. I felt that I had only ever heard of this woman, had never met her. I fake-read my book, which gave me time to really mull over what I was doing. I was sure it didn’t matter. The eggs were just lying around inside of me going to waste on the twelfth of every month. From what I remembered from school, I had thousands of them in reserve. I was a veritable mine of genetic material. This is was nothing to cry over. I signed my contract while lying on my back, during one of several ultrasounds. Injection by injection I began to think that it was meant to be. Maybe it was the hormones. The red-headed woman doing the extraction sacrificed congeniality for professionalism. I gathered that she wore all white, even outside work. The only thing that differentiated her from a robot was her revelation that she had also been a donor, albeit in her thirties. “I was just young enough. I had a lot of bills. I wanted to give the gift of parenthood to someone less fortunate,” she said, as if from a script. To convey emotion, she punctuated her speech with weird bobs of the head. To make awkward conversation while doing my scans, she asked about my degree. I sensed misunderstanding. Sometime after third year, I had learnt to let the confusion pass without comment or justification. They’d see. “Your ovaries are doing well.” A few months later I was forced to look up at her like I had several times before. Her whole face was like clingfilm, wrapped fast across sinew and bone. I squinted up, then dropped my head down, away from the scrutiny of the powerful lights. My neck slackened as I breathed in the gas. I lost consciousness counting backwards. “You’re a hero now,” said Karama as I stumbled out, still a little woozy and anaesthetised. Trying to be kind, she crushed me into her body. I didn’t feel like anyone’s saviour, even though there were two red stigmata in my knickers. My phone beeped somewhere at the bottom of my bag letting me know that I had been paid. I ignored it. After the extraction, I felt less lost. I knew exactly where I was and where I was going. I went home and climbed up the rickety fire escape to the roof, holding on fearfully to the rail afflicted with rust, making it wart-like to the touch. The cold mist cloaked me in damp as I stepped onto the crunchy pigeon shit roof. I stood motionless looking down at the swaddled city. I knew what was hidden below the mist. Shacks slanted with uncertainty. Sixlane highways and car ads clinging to billboards beside them. Wide boulevards bordered by alien trees and thin housewives in cafés. Narrow byways lined with needles. Underfunded primary schools with middle-aged men parked outside trying not to eat the sweets they used as bait. Cold modern apartment blocks; all light, expense and lack of privacy. Secret leisure houses cowering behind high walls. Leaning road signs waiting to be stolen by students. All of these places. I would never know where my child would be. No, I would. I would always be beating paths for it to follow. It would wind its way around my brain. I’d stage shadow puppet shows on the walls of my skull, playing out its careers, hobbies and loves. One director, one spectator. I didn’t want the child to be sheared between two lives, two minds, two imaginations. My own and its own. I pleaded to no one that they would spare it, not rip it apart. I hoped my ghost would not smother it. That my wishes would not hamper it. I prayed it wouldn’t be pained. Or nagged by the phantom limb – the gnawing mystery of my existence. I wanted its parents to take all the credit. I hoped they would never tell it. That my donation would just be fiction.
The first thing I did when we got to Leicester was ask Precious to use the bathroom. I did my business super quick, because I wanted them to think I’d only gone in for a long piss, and her loo had one of those inexplicable doors with frosted glass. I flushed, washed my hands, gave the room a blast of the good ol’ Glade, checked the bowl for skid marks and got out of there. Z and I had come down from Newcastle where we’d been slugging and whoring for a couple of days until the natives ran us out with pitchforks. He was a little off with me, because all the way down the M1 I’d stopped him every half mile or so for a pee—not my fault, I have a condition. The problem, as he put it, wasn’t so much my non-stop pit stop requests, rather the fact that I refused to use the verges like a ‘real man’. I admit, I was stoned and paranoid, but I’d heard this story from a mate about a bloke who had a mate who was answering nature on the verges when the ngonjos pulled up from nowhere, and get this, coz he was shaking it when they showed up, they did him for jerkin the gherkin, and had the poor sod put on the register. “This is my gororo, Simba. Simba, meet Precious,” Z said, using the exact same line he’d hit me with when introducing Sharon in Newcastle. Not that this knowledge was new to me, or that I didn’t know of other girlfriends, but in that moment a wave of righteous indignation washed over me. But this never lasts long: “Tafara nekukuzivai,” I said the mystic words and clapped my hands, old school. “Pleased to meet you too,” Precious replied in English. We repeated the ritual for Tamu and his girlfriend Sarah, Sylvia (Precious’s mate), and some random Zimbo—a blazo in shorts whose name I can’t quite remember. There was a lot of 2 clapping and repeating of the mystical words, until Precious’s two daughters came in. I don’t remember their names, but one was older and the other was younger than the older one, yes, I’m sure that’s correct. The kids didn’t speak Shona, so we were introduced in English, and check this out; I was “Uncle Simba”. The little one said something stupid like, “Oh, Simba from the Lion King.” I wanted to twist her ear nice and proper like my teachers did back in the day, but ended up explaining that Simba meant strength and my full name, Simbarashe, meant God’s Strength, because names had to have meanings where we’re from. Then again the rashe could be God or the king, so a more apt translation that keeps the ambiguity is “the Lord’s strength.” The kid just looked at me blankly like I was talking effing Zulu. “Would you like something to drink?’ Precious asked. “Tea,” Z said, and I gave him my wtf face. “What about you, Simba?” she turned to me. “I’ll have a beer,” I said. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like some tea first.” “Beer is my tea.” My little joke fell flat. The blazo looked at me with contempt. I reckon he must have been one of those Pentecostal types. Precious got me a Bud. I couldn’t believe I’d gone through that mini aggro for a Bud. Give me a wife-beater or a Sam Adams if you wanna get into it like that. My dad was hitting Black Labels at eight in the morning when I was growing up, and he never missed a day at work in twenty five years. But I like to think that I drink for religious reasons, Biblical ones that is. And I’m not just talking about Jesus’s first miracle, no man, Proverbs 31’s the daddy, and I‘ve got it all memorized, well, the important bits anyway: 3 Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish! Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. It’s pretty plain to anyone with a rudimentary theological background that Liz, Phil, Charlie, Wills and my boy Harry, oh, and Kate and the baby too, are, by divine decree, advised to stay away from Noah’s brew, and save it for us poor Third World immigrants. Z asked for the channel to be flicked to the news. Precious stuck us on the BBC, but Z requested Al Jazeera instead. “Maresults are coming and it’s the only channel I trust,” he said. “The winds of change are coming to our nation, just you wait and see.” We were hit with the Egyptian situation. I waited for it, Z was pro-Morsi and I was pro-coup, or was it the other way round? We’d spent so much time arguing about it until we became confused, but what I do know is that our positions on the issue were diametrically opposed and irreconcilable. He looked at me, gauging to see if I was going to say something. I held my peace and drank my crappy Bud. “I used to think Egypt was such a nice country before all this madness happened,” the blazo said. “Nice? They ain’t done nothing since the Pyramids,” I replied. “Do you always have to be so antagonistic?” Z said to me. “That’s such a racist thing to say. I mean, how would you feel if someone said that our people hadn’t done anything since Great Zimbabwe?” 4 “I wouldn’t feel nothing, because it’s the truth. We were the greatest empire in the world, but look at us now, we’re a nation of bums innit,” I replied, knowing this would goad him on. “You’re a prick. Ah, sorry, mune vana.” Z threw the kids an apologetic glance. “Very sorry about the language.” I fought to contain a snigger, tried to look injured even, and Z went on, “Wait until the election results, everything’s going to change, just you wait and see.” The Egyptian thing just kept dragging on as they covered all the angles, the Islamic Brotherhood opinion, the Opposition opinion, the American opinion, the British opinion, the Arab League opinion, the UN opinion. Everyone had something to say about it. I zoned out, my eyes fixed on some indefinite point on the DVD collection next to the TV. There were photos on the wall of Precious and her kids, a social-work degree certificate from some third tier university, and an empty rectangular shadow which I think must have been occupied by her ex-husband’s picture. I wondered where he was and why he’d left. Maybe Z would leave her for the same reason. Syria came on next and I felt a tinge of disappointment. In the last decade we’d shared the stage with Iraq and Afghanistan; now it seemed Zimbabwe couldn’t make the headlines if it tried. Perhaps the world had gotten tired of us with our crazy politicians and starving billionaires, topped off with an ultra-crap cricket team, the same worn out antics year in, year out; we’d gone the way of Big Brother 10. I can’t quite remember what else we spoke about, zoned out as I was, but I can guarantee it would have been among several topics Zimbos always regurgitate when congregating—how much better things were back home than in the UK (insert canned laughter), white people 5 (racist bastards), Indians/ in some versions labelled Pakistanis (racist bastards), Nigerians/West Africans (racist bastards), when was the last time you went home? (answers vary), get rich quick schemes (that go nowhere), work (mostly care work and other such menial occupations), food (yes, the food was so much better back home… that is, when we had it). All I had to do was wear a slight smile on my face and nod along. Z looked like he was monitoring my behaviour and would chuck me out at the slightest provocation. “Let’s not forget why we’re here, the young ones would like to present their story,” Precious announced, pointing at Tamu and Sarah. “We are ready to listen,” the blazo said. Israeli jets had encroached Syrian airspace. “You’re right, that’s why we came,” said Cynthia. This was outside the script. I was drinking too fast, as you do in boring company, my Bud was two thirds done. The blazo leaned forward and wore a grave face, the kind old biddies wore padare back in the day when we went kumakaya. “Sarah, perhaps you’d like to begin and then we can hear from Tamu,” Z said, like he was in on the whole thing. I sat up, or sank back in my chair. “We’ll help you in any way we can,” Precious said. “Auntie, we’ve come to you ‘grown ups’ because our relationship is in trouble,” Sarah said with great dignity. The blazo nodded to signal they’d done the right thing. “You see, this ‘boy’ and I have been going out for eight years. We met in high school in Mazowe, and we have been together ever since. I came here first and worked hard, with my own hands, until I 6 raised enough money to buy him a ticket so that we could be together. I love him, but now I have doubts as to whether he sees a future for us. “He promised to marry me three years ago and I’m still waiting. Every time I ask about it, he gets angry and defensive. He starts shouting things about money and work. But three years! Three whole years? He can afford to buy himself iPhones and videogames, but he says he can’t afford a wedding. I am tired. I can’t wait forever, eight years we’ve been together…” She went on, and on, and on, and on, and on, reciting a litany of accusations against Tamu who sat stone faced with his arms folded across his chest. A couple of times he sighed, blowing out long breaths of exasperation. “…because I can’t really see why if he is interested, he can’t at least begin to make an effort—” “Will you please shut up,” Tamu finally said. “See Auntie, see the way this ‘boy’ talks to me,” Sarah pointed at him, jabbing her finger in the air. “You’ve been talking for so long, iPads, computer games, I can’t even remember what you started off saying. How can I respond when you keep talking? I need to say my side—” “Iwe, don’t interrupt me, it’s still my turn to speak.” “You can’t expect me to keep quiet when you’re talking nonsense. For one hour, everyone has had to sit and listen to your rubbish.” “I haven’t been speaking for an hour.” 7 “Okay, okay, please, let’s try to be amicable,” Z said, holding up his hands. “You both love each other. I know that because you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t, so we have to find a way of talking nicely to each other and see how we can help you solve this problem.” “I think we should hear Tamu’s side of the story, so we can better understand what is happening,” said Cynthia. “That’s right,” said the blazo. Tamu opened his mouth to speak, but that’s when we came on the news. Precious increased the volume on the TV. Tamu started saying something, or maybe he didn’t speak, rather he turned his attention to Al Jazeera like the rest of us had done. The reporter was black, with a Shona accent, holding a clipboard, and she stood in front of a large green tent with the words “POLLING STETION” written outside it. She spewed some chat about how the election had largely been peaceful and the results were coming soon. A crowd formed behind her, their necks craned, as they looked into the camera. We all held our breaths. The ticker on the bottom scrawled stuff about Egypt. The news reports which we’d followed in the previous weeks as they popped up sporadically on SKY, BBC, CNN, ITV, and Channel 4, all spoke about how Zimbabweans were going to vote for change in this election. This of course meant that the Opposition would win, a fact we were asked to take for granted. That was the only acceptable outcome for which the media had groomed us. I took a sip and checked out the expectant faces around me. A nervous twitch made the left side of Z’s mouth dance Gangnam Style. The reporter’s lips were moving. I thought she was a very comely woman, like an early Renee Cox portrait, and then quickly corrected my sexist impulse. My beer was at critical. Was Precious going to offer a refill? I languished in my uncertainty, the future became a boot stamping on my face. 8 “Change is coming to Zimbabwe,” Z said. “It’s been a long time coming,” said the blazo. “As soon as our victory is confirmed, I’m packing my bags, leaving this goddamn country and going home,” Z went on. Which side was I on again? “Ndizvozvo, change is coming, I can feel it.” The blazo was swept along by Z’s optimism. The reporter was saying something about the ZEC, and the SADC, and the AU, and the EU, and the UK, and the US, and the RSA, but she may not have mentioned some of these acronyms. The results were out. The Party had won. The Party had won. The Party had won. The Party had. The Party? I saw a joyful smile mixed in with relief on Z’s face, because the Party’s win was a victory for him too. He had an asylum claim pending with the Home Office and if the Opposition had won, he’d have been screwed. He quickly mastered himself and frowned, now wearing a new look, a cross between sorrow and anger. “Those cheating bastards,” he shouted at the TV screen. “I can’t believe it,” said the blazo. “It’s all lies. Why did they even contest the election when the playing field had not been mowed?” “Levelled,” I said. “What?” the blazo asked. “The playing field had not being levelled,” I replied. “By mowing,” he said. 9 I closed my eyes and felt it pushing in from the void as it so often did. It was a pressure from an unknown dimension, a place before thought where only feeling and emotion matter. It came to me often during moments of crisis. Sometimes it hit me while I slept, forcing me from my bed to my desk. It was the act of being taken over by something so deep within oneself that it could have been from outside oneself, a seismic force of such magnitude that I was thrust from my seat. My hands were thrown outwards as though I was on the cross, and then my voice cried out: The children of Africa cry Waa-waa-waa When they should be laughing Ki-ki-ki Can you hear them, can you hear them. Will you help them, will you help them. The land of the fat hippopotamus The home of the mighty Zambezi The mystical ancestors The wide African skies The children of Africa cry Waa-waa-waa …. Out of me flowed a poetic response, a thermonuclear blast that left everyone stunned. Cynthia’s mouth was wide open. Z blinked a couple of times. As it lifted, I felt naked and tired, so tired. I fell back onto my seat and tried to control my breathing. I reached into my pocket, took out a notebook and began to write the verse as I’d received it. My t-shirt felt clammy on my skin. Everyone was staring. Precious told the kids to go to bed. 10 “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” Z apologised, “Simba is a poet.” “A poet?” someone said. “I’m a member of the Zimbabwe Poets for Human Rights,” I said. “What does that mean?” Precious asked. “Like, forgive my ignorance, but how can one be a poet for Human Rights. Does this mean that as a poet for Human Rights you’re not interested in love, landscapes, the stars, ordinary life?” I was so exhausted from my poetic attack that I couldn’t formulate a full response for her. The problem with our school system is that it never imparted the appreciation of higher art for all but a handful. The best I could do to educate her was to say that Poetry for Human Rights was the highest form of art. I’m not sure she understood, but she nodded and quickly brought me another beer. I drank in silence, pondering the awesome meaning of my new verse. I caught Sarah looking at me, and in that moment understood that she was a kindred spirit. There’s a sixth sense by which poetic souls become aware of one another. By poetic souls, I mean not only poets or readers of poetry, but those for whom poetry induces profound emotion and a heightened understanding of the world. Sarah had this soul, and the wide eyed look she gave me from across the room gave me strength and a renewed conviction in my mission here on earth. “We’ve been cheated again, but we will never accept this result. The people will mobilise across the country,” Z said. “Rise up, ye, mighty race!” I cried. 11 “The people will take to the streets. We refuse to live under this dictatorship any longer. If the Arabs can do it, so can we,” he said. “Behold, the African Spring flowers,” I said, waving my Bud, spilling libation for the ancestors on Precious’s carpet. “When we stand united like this, brothers, there’s no force in this world that can hold us,” the blazo said. “We will not accept this result.” It was easy enough to say all these things ten thousand miles away from the epicentre. Nothing we said or did meant a fart, and that was the truth of it. I checked Twitter and Facebook on my phone to see what everyone else was saying about it all. “How can we in the diaspora know what people back home are thinking, or who they voted for?” Tamu said in a quiet voice, as though asking himself. Not one of us had an answer for him. The net was abuzz and everyone had an opinion on the result. A lot of people were celebrating. Some of these were Zimbabwean, and a great many of those were just Africans who didn’t live in Zimbabwe. When I was a kid at the UZ (it was a different country then), I had an erection for Castro and Saddam, though, I’d never have wanted to live in their countries. “Would anyone else like something to drink?” Precious asked. “I’ll have a beer,” Z said, in a world-weary voice. “Me too,” said the blazo. “I quit last year, but what’s the point?” Cynthia asked for wine but got Lambrini instead. We nursed our drinks, staring at the TV, eager for more information. I got to thinking that Precious needed the wallpaper changed or 12 maybe the walls needed a lick of paint. The carpet needed washing. A cell phone rang, it might have been mine. No one answered it. “I just need to know if he is going to do as he promised and marry me, or else I’ll move on. I can’t wait forever, I’m twenty five. This is not child’s play. Some of my friends, people who were junior to us in school, are already married and starting families of their own,” Sarah started up again. “Auntie, everyone here can see I am committed to this ‘boy’, if money is a problem he should just say so.” “Ndezvekumanikidzana here?” Tamu replied, gruffly like. “You see, you see the way he talks to me like I’m a rag. I’m tired, that’s it, it’s over, Auntie.” Sarah got up, picked up her handbag which was on the dodgy carpet and made for the door. I almost forgot myself and made to rise, but Precious was up before me and blocked Sarah’s path using her considerable weight in a manner my skinny frame could only hope to approximate. She pleaded with her for a couple of minutes, saying certain things, the kind of things that calm people down when they’re seeing red. I don’t quite recall the exact words, but Precious said stuff about how one needs to be patient with men because deep down they are all spoilt little boys. Tamu sort of sneered and stewed in his seat, making no attempt to keep Sarah from leaving. He looked like he was tired of the whole affair and had better things he’d rather have been doing with his time. “I went through his phone, Auntie,” said Sarah, and Tamu sat up, attentive all of a sudden. “You can’t believe the things I saw in there.” “You went through my phone?” Tamu shouted. 13 “Yes, I did.” “It’s my personal phone. Why would you do that? You see, this is why I don’t want to be with you. How can I be with someone who doesn’t trust me? My phone is private. That’s an infringement of my sovereignty. Arrgh.” “Let’s calm down for a minute,” Z said. “I can see everyone is getting angry, so how about we all calm down and try to figure this thing out.” “Uncle, how can I be calm after what this ‘boy’ has done?” said Sarah. “You went through my bloody phone.” “Let’s all just calm down like Uncle Z said,” said Cynthia. She looked maternal and concerned. Sarah glared at Tamu who stared back defiantly. In that moment, our complete and utter inadequacy to help this young couple became apparent to me. This thing, this intervention, that we were trying to do, was a sort of attempt to bring Shona, old school, ways of doing things to the UK, like we were Tetes and Sekurus, but we were found wanting. Z was a manwhore of the lowest kind, and the young couple would see this when one day, in the not so distant future, Precious would be crying with a mincemeat heart over how he dumped her suddenly, with no explanation. The blazo in the shorts and Cynthia were both sufficiently middle aged so they should have been married but they weren’t. I didn’t know what they were, divorced, widowed, single, whatever, but what I did know, looking at them, was that if neither of them could hold down a stable relationship, then they sure as hell shouldn’t have been playing marriage counsellors. And Precious, poor Precious was compromised, if only because of the poor judgement she demonstrated by going out with my gororo, Z. 14 For my own part, I never cast a single stone in this entire charade. I was consumed with overwhelming fury, seeing what Tamu was doing to this little princess. How could he sit there, chatting nonsense about his privacy, as she trailed the list of names from his phone: “Tracy, Laura, Chloe, Sekai, Cynthia, Jade, Lucy, Susan, Miranda, Irene, Chido…” Sarah spilled out this litany, like she’d memorised the whole thing. “You shouldn’t have gone through my bloody phone. You were looking for something, yeah, well, now you found it. I hope you’re happy,” Tamu said. “Am I not a beautiful woman, am I not beautiful?” She turned to me, but before I could answer Tamu blurted out: “That’s right, you forgot Sally and Michelle.” “Come on, Tamu, you’re not helping here,” Z said. I wanted to get up and sock the ‘boy’ on the speaker proper. Sarah was crying. The two other ladies embraced her, Precious in front and Cynthia behind her, so she was sandwiched, like they were protecting her from another blow. I could feel a tremor in my hands. I clenched and unclenched my fists, felt a dullness, the mist descending. I got up with my fists clenched and the next thing I felt was Z grab my arm. “Let’s go for a smoke,” he said, as he led me out of the flat. He hovered by me while I pinched out the seeds and rolled one. I searched in my pockets for a lighter, but couldn’t find one. Z offered me his. I lit up, took a drag, and began to cry. Man, I wept like a pussy.