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Park Muses

By  Tinashe Mushakavanhu  (Zimbabwe)


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On a Saturday afternoon, while strolling in the Gweru Memorial Park, a member of the Jehovah’s Witness Church preys on me, asking me God’s name. I tell him, point blank, that God is God’s name. He gives me a tract: JEHOVAH who is He? I accept out of politeness. A few meters away, I crumple it and throw it away. I don’t want to think about God or what He could be. I am hungry and penniless.

I notice two lovers on the green grass, cuddling, and an empty pocket of Super Mahewu strokes my left foot. Startled, I jump, thinking it is a small, harmful creature.

The affectionate lovers; the guys head is resting on the girl’s thighs and she presses a kiss into the creases of his neck. A baby starts shrieking and I see his mother rocking him to sleep. She must be one of the Adventist people congregating at the Gweru Theatre Hall.

A line of cars follow the driveway and I snap at a ‘green bomber’ fly on my dry, parched lips. The fly sings round my head. I duck sideways. Where do all these flies come from?

A girl sneers at me and I think she must have been watching me for a long time. She waves and I reluctantly wave back with hesitant limbs, but she looks away and hurriedly disappears.

People are walking on the concrete pathways and I know I probably look burned out, insane, because they hurriedly get out of my way. They stir within me a great hollowness from which I seek to escape. I do not care what they think.

A line for a new poem clicks in my mind. One,two,three. But I do not have the heart to write it. I abandon the project and start coughing horribly. I cough blood. It trickles down my chin, onto my dirty, thinned-out T-shirt. I swab the blood with the back of my hand as a woman nearby screams, but I’m not worried.

I think of phoning my girlfriend. I need to talk to Juliana. I am sick. My stomach rumbles, echoing angry sounds of protest. I am hungry.

The Adventist people start streaking out of church. It’s lunch hour and they besiege the park with their packed sandwiches in twos and fours, and sometimes as whole families. The bell of the ice-cream man stationed at the gate of the park rings, but Adventist people cannot do business on the Sabbath, so they ignore him. He stands alone with his dairy box marked G12, waiting for customers.

A shining white Mazda 626 passes by on Robert Mugabe Way, the road adjacent to the park. The number plate reads: AAK 1949. I should know the driver.

Vatezvara vangu — it’s Juliana’s father. The taste of Cascade Orange Juice displayed at the gate reminds me of Juliana’s well formed bust and her inviting lips and the thought gives me a sudden erection. Priapism?

A woman with two little boys is sitting on one of the park benches. They make a sad family portrait minus the father. I wonder what he looks like; a bearded Goliath of a man with bunchy muscles? A bony, small stature man who is overloaded with the world’s troubles? The younger of the boys is dressed in oversized pants and a worm of pale-green mucus is crawling down his lower chestnut lip. It suddenly darts back like a timid creature. He is crying.

On the same bench is another woman with a child in blue dungarees. The child has bearded itself with ice-cream, making him look like Father Christmas.

I move away from this scene, take out a packet of Kingsgate from my shirt pocket, stick a bent cigarette in my mouth and try to light a match. The head refuses to catch and the humid, orange glow quickly disappears. After the third try a yellow flame sputters briefly.

The park is crowded. I see all kinds of people. A woman is sitting alone. She is wearing a white vest, a blue, short skirt and blue slippers. She smokes relentlessly and when she uncrosses her legs I catch a glimpse of her white, lacy underwear. Once upon a time, and a very good time it was, in the days of my childhood when looking between a girls legs, it resulted in shohwera; a small reddish pimple popping on top of my left eye. Those were the days when growing up was fun. But my present situation is more important.

The park, all these people, and I am one of them. We are all idlers, trying to find meaning in our lives.

Someone coughs but the noise gives place to an abrupt silence. The continuous burr and whirr of cars a few yards away remind me that the city is all round me. I am hungry and to relieve the burning hunger in my stomach I start chewing leaves from an appetizing-looking shrub, but they’re bitter and of no service. I am still hungry.

Gweru, in the grip of a fuel crisis, thunders with motor vehicles down the road, DHL and Swift motorbikes booming through the traffic, kombi’s hovering and heaving in and out of sight. Across the road the public taxi rank is divided from the majestic Government Complex building by a fence. Tenth Street separates the taxi rank and two buildings, a Shell Service Station and something called Wimpy: Home of the Hamburger. Wow. I have never had Wimpy food, but I do not think I will ever eat five-star restaurant either. It’s hard times these days. At the taxi rank people stand in short queues. Every few minutes a kombi swings into one of the bays, unfolds its doors and produces a random selection of humanity then disappears. Another one comes and disappears again, and this goes on and on, forever. Vegetable vendors sit under their newly built shades, selling fresh produce. I am really really hungry.

A street man walks out the park towards the Shell Service Station on the other side of the road and takes off his clothes. He squats, naked in the middle of the road and pisses. A line of cars slow down as they pass him. People crowd the roadsides, curious. Other people rush out and send for the police. The street man is made to clean the mess and removed. The police garb him in a wafer thin blanket. He’s insane, they say.

I am tired, very tired. Christ, my head is splitting. The street man, the road, the shit; why bother when you can piss, wherever, whenever.

A man I do not know comes and stands before me. The message printed on his green, T-shirt arrests my eyes: BORN FREE ARE TAXED TO DEATH. He yawns, releasing a reeking smell of bad breath. He disappears as he came.

I walk towards the newspaper vendor. The Saturday headlines are running mad, making me think of the stories of corruption I keep hearing, especially about the present crop of politicians, government employees, everyone in the top brass, including the president and his wife.




Amazing stuff, how some people are living pretty, the rest of us filthy poor. Outcasts from life’s feast. Does God help those who help themselves?

Chokwadi murombo haarove chinenguwo. Here I am, face to face with this dressed up woman, a grandmother who refuses to grow up! Her leather jacket is open to reveal her tightly T-shirted torso, the low neckline half disclosing her lifted breasts that could have suckled a dozen children. They are not young breasts by any standard. Her body looks aged in a way that her face does not. I find this slippage between her body and her face strangely exciting.

"Ubhudhi, ngicela isikhathi?" she asks. I don’t know what time it is, I tell her. What is the importance of time? The sun will go down, whether one knows what hour it is or not — and then what?

Birds croon in one of the big trees in the park. Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. My feet ache. I try to concentrate on other parts of my body. I have been on my feet for hours. My legs feel light, hollow, and weightless, like bamboo.

A security guard is resting on the soft, green lawn, lying on his back with a crumpled blue jersey for a pillow. He is masticating on air pies for lunch, waiting for night duty at one of the shops in the city center where he keeps guard. The park is a commotion of activity. I see people, and more people.

Something strikes me. My brown ‘farmer’ shoes are different; the left one sandy brown and the other one darker. I take respite in the fact that no two things are exactly alike. Life is a paradox. Just this past year everyone was saying I was the brightest guy in the whole goddamned university. People always exaggerate other’s individual qualities. And now, here I am one of the frustrated young men in the country, a first class graduate with nothing to look forward to. No future, no more education, nothing. It is discouraging, and on this hot hell of a Saturday afternoon I do not care where my future lies, where my dainty past is hiding, where my present course will maroon me. I think of other unemployed youth — boys and girls of my age — their days spent leaning against a wall or a streetlamp, smoking mbanje on the footbridges in the township or just sitting out the hours in bottle stores hoping that something or someone will turn up. Days crawl by and the youth let them crawl by as if days and time have nothing to do with them. There are such moments.

I badly needed to be alone with my thoughts. I looked for a secluded spot to rest. Peace and quiet; silence in which I can separate my thoughts.

Shit! A voice selling bananas and apples shatter my quiet. I hear it grow fainter and fainter as though something is falling inside me, but the voice continues, "Vachada mabanana nemaapples…" I thought the voice was passing, but it draws nearer and nearer. I feign sleep. The voice continues singing the enticing chorus, "Vachada mabanana nemaapples…" but I am broke.

The afternoon heat burns my skin. I’d like to take off my clothes and let the sun sup on my body, but they would hound me out of the park for public indecency.

Lots of women are passing by. Where did all these women come from? Where are they going? They make me yearn for another climate of the soul. Like all hermits, Gweru women resort to color; blue, white, pink, orange, and wear all kinds of outrageous outfits. They are all colors of the rainbow; facially, fashion wise, and even in their attitudes. The park is a colorful mosaic.

Goodness me. Here is a thick bush and over there a bed of red roses, then portions and portions of green grass; Gweru Memorial Park. Yellow steel benches are haphazardly placed on strategic points, yawning for people to sit and fart. Tall eucalyptus trees are placed in diagonal patterns to provide par revelers free shade. The children’s playground occupies a small portion, not surrounded by anything, and the children play on the swings and slides and teeter-totters, making a loud noise. I like it. It reminds me of something —a happy childhood, a long, long time ago in the 1980s when our country was a land of plenty and happiness. No! Not today. It is a sad country.

I always like to sit at some spot where I can see passing cars and transport myself to faraway horizons. It takes two to tango and two to be in love. I love Juliana. But is it about her stunning body, or about sex? Sex seems to be what makes the world go round. The things in people’s heads and the things not in people’s heads are equally weird.

I am so hungry I could eat one of the yellow steel benches. The sky is grey, sort of a malnutrition grey.

Is all love a fraud? Sekuru says, "Mazuva ano hapana musikana mustraight. Vasikana vese vaunoona mahure. Mahure chete." Whatever the body may be, the mind is its own world. And yes, the best things in life are worth waiting for, but I don’t want to die a virgin; the only twenty-three year old virgin. A male version of Virgin Mary. The Roman Catholic Church will have to make me a Saint and light candles for me once a year.

Is there anything the matter with me? Yes, I have trouble with my vision. My glasses are heavy and make marks on my nose, and sometimes my skin is sore around my ears, but I am not blind when it comes to good women. Oh my goodness, here is another of God’s beautiful creations. Her blouse is open at the top where a button is missing. Her breasts are naked, and she is wearing a blue-black wig, long, smooth hair falling on her shoulders. My teeth dig into my lower lip. I am not sure which thought is most dominant in my mind; the missing button or the swelling breasts. Naked breasts turn me on. Desire is swelling inside me. My God, what if I get run over by a car and they do a post mortem on me and discover that I was a virgin. Isn’t it true that there is a time for everything?

Behind the GWERU MUNICIPAL OFFICES, with walls coated in cream and a bit of green, men in blue overalls are at work; digging a trench. Their tools make grating, scraping sounds. A symphony is orchestra accompanying the rhythm of my thoughts. I love Juliana to bits. She is no lump of flesh I can pinch and grab at will. She is a beautiful face always smiling at me in this nightmare called life.

But let me get back to this hot Saturday afternoon, my brain in flames, the searing loneliness biting deep. I live a Spartan life, an ascetic life. I look around me. There are so many fascinating things to observe in the park—the way people dress, their facial expressions, scenes, snatches of conversation, the lively atmosphere, the diversity of the people. Today, I am preoccupied, troubled, turned inward.

I see a group of cameramen lounging on the green, puffy grass. They are laughing and staring at me, probably enjoying the red inscription on my white T-shirt: MENTAL ILLNESS HAS NO BOUNDARIES.

I will think differently tomorrow.

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