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Witness Relocation

By  Tinashe Mushakavanhu  (Zimbabwe)


Excerpt from Story to be published in Author Africa 2007


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Witness Relocation

By Tinashe Mushakavanhu

Certain moments in life are in another tense; they are going to become. And only when they get to that other tense do they reveal to you what they were and what they meant, then you know that one moment is responsible for everything that comes afterwards.

It was morning. I had overslept. Somewhere in the distance dogs howled. A cock crowed. I listened; it was ten o’clock in the morning. I slowly opened my eyes. Streaks of October sunlight blinded me. I closed my eyes again and rubbed the sleep off them.

I stretched on the bed and slowly awakened. The image behind the door, a cracking A3 poster of Tupac Shakur distracted my thoughts. I had dreamt the door opening and a figure entering the room; it was skinny and walking erect. Every inch of it was roasted, smouldering, black, charred, split and bleeding. The figure’s eyes dazzled with pain, and it had left bloody footprints on the dusty, cracked floor. It was me.

A feeble knock on the door interrupted my train of thought. I yawned and turned over, lingering a few moments longer before getting up. The room looked as always, in its usual state of disorder, and the unattended chaos reflected the general disorder that was my life. There was a broken Eagle Lager bottle on the floor, and cigarette butts and ashes swam in dark puddles of spilt beer. The floor was a collage of all kinds of things: burnt out matchsticks, egg shells, crumpled paper, and dirty clothes. A black pot lay on its side; close to it was a plate of half eaten sadza and green vegetables left from yesterday’s meal. There were onion skins and oddly, one of my old underpants stewing in a moldy pan I hardly used. The window of the room was broken; a large bottle of Vaseline partly blocked the large hole.

The knock became louder and more urgent. When I stood up to attend the door, a dizzy spell hit me. I carelessly dragged myself to the door in my blue underpants. Who could it be so early? I wanted to curse and shout obscenities at the bloody intruder. Opening the door, I found Charity standing in the doorway. My anger mellowed; Charity was the landlady’s daughter. My eyes were puffy and still swimming in sleep. I yawned. She stood there shyly, like a school girl being courted, interlocking her fingers, tying and untying them into knots. Her see-through nightdress revealed her trim, ripe body, but my eyes got stuck on her exposed breasts, which firmly protruded and for a moment I forgot I was half naked.

"Ma…mamukasei Sisi Charity?" I stammered probably because I was now more aware of the awkwardness of our situation. She avoided looking at me directly and spoke in a very soft tone. "Mukoma, ndatumwa naMama, hanzi komari yerent muchaunza rini mwedzi zvawakapera last week?"

Words stuck in my mouth, and my throat felt as dry and dusty as a fireplace that is hardly used anymore. My latest book, a sleek poetry volume, was not selling. People were not buying books; they were saving the little money they have to queue for bread, or soap, or other necessities, not books. I looked at Charity again and my voice trailed off in a plaintive whimper. "Manheru Sisi, ndichauya ndovaona." My rent was three months in arrears, and I dreaded the recurrent cycle of apologies, and worse still, my monthly pleas for an extension. What could I do? Living in a country suffering from severe economic meltdown, where the rate of inflation is over 1000%, where the rate of unemployment is over 80%, where the poverty datum line is pegged at $100 million. What could my poor soul do?

I licked my lips and slowly closed the door, my head swirling in circles. I sat on the bed for a while, until my mind ceased whirling and was empty. The call for rent pricked me to the core. My life was a big mess, and it was only now that I was grasping the truth of the old saying that there is no happiness in living. The reality of the saying now dawned on me. Living, after all, is carrying one’s painful self through the world’s troubles. I didn’t bother to bath; I just dressed into some crumpled clothes I fished from a corner.

A few moments later, I grabbed some books heaped beside my bed and stuffed them into the satchel I carried everywhere. They were my goblin spirits. Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man; Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born; Dambudzo Marechera’s Cemetery of Mind; Shimmer Chinodya’s Chairman of Fools; collections of Edward Kamau Braithwaite’s, Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou’s poems; and Yvonne Vera’s Without A Name. The Vera book gave me heart; nobody seemed to know my name, either. I was Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable, who couldn’t go on but had to go on.

I got out of the suffocating room at the back of Mai Charity’s house, walking away to nowhere in particular. I was not going to cry. As long as I kept moving, my troubles streamed out behind me like a dog’s tail; I knew the weight was there, but it didn’t burden me. Every month end, the landlady’s daughter was a reminder of my indebted existence and the financial obligations that tangled me. I owed big time: Mai Charity, Manu the money lender, Fashion Discount House, Nyore Nyore Furnitures, Zambuko Finance and Loan Company, everyone and every damn business institution. My life needed some model remaking. I had to strip off everything – my name, my identity, and my clothes – everything. I needed a complete overhaul, to become a whole new being. I wanted to lock the skeletons of my present woes in a closet and throw away the key and forget. But were there other men, who could look at a single event and perceive in it the tiny makings of the catastrophe that would set their lives on a different course?

I was falling to pieces, disintegrating. My life had no beginning, no middle, and no end. The world, I now suspected, owed me a living.

The sky was a cloudless, deep blue. I stopped to light a Kingsgate cigarette, shut my eyes and shook my head, trying to create possibilities and other conclusions from my present predicament. Smoke eddied from my nostrils. I could get out of here. I could just get on a bus and go, never come back. Change my name, a kind of witness relocation.

A passing car distracted me. It was a silver Mercedes ML320, gleaming in the morning sunlight. Some people have money. In the immaculate front seats sat a couple in their late 30s looking as classy and polished as their car. I seemed to be the only one in hell, screaming with no voice, beseeching for salvation. What a bloody hell life is? Hell? Wasn’t hell the more populated than heaven? Or, was I being cynical, blasphemous and too hard on God?

I ended up idling paJimalo at the Machipisa Shopping Centre, with Cliff nemamwe marasta. They were the kind of people you could leave at a particular spot, return after a couple of years, and still find them circling there, drinking the same mugs of masese. We sat for hours, admiring free booty and passing pornographic comments. We talked some more. We laughed. We ceased to be. As time tick tocked by seconds, it also signalled the mortal movement of life. I finished my sixth beer. Except for some roasted peanuts someone had offered me, I hadn’t eaten anything all day. It was hard to keep on listening and talking. My stomach grumbled and my bladder was full.

I walked into the toilet at the back of the crowded bar. Inside, in line behind three other men, I found myself staring at opened thighs and a vagina drawn on the wall. Beneath was shit graffiti scrawled KUDYA KUNONAKA KUNOZIPA, and lower down, someone had added a name: Pretty Magunje. The man ahead moved, and I took a step forward, my heart squeezed in the thought of Pretty. Finally I moved to the urinal and relieved myself. It was a bolt of crackling lightning. I sighed, leaned forward, and let my head rest against the dirty wall. Oh, pretty Pretty! She was the most famous whore in the township. I stood there a while longer, and then looked down; I had urinated on my fingers and the front of my trousers. As I walked out of the toilet, unconcerned with the state of my trousers, I was taken up by another inscription on the grimy walls. It was a graphic projection of male genitalia; a huge tube like arrow between two tangential balls and directly pointing towards the exit with the following words: THE TWIN CITIES OF SYPHILLIS AND GONORRHEA. That reminded me of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. A cold shiver ran through my body. Is the world heading for destruction, with the wars, the hunger, the poverty, the corruption that is going on? I didn’t stop long enough to think because I was not in the mood to philosophize at the current state of affairs. I was in a journey and had to proceed with it.

All of a sudden, in the bar were too many people screaming and shouting to each other, their voices scratching beneath the loud, discordant music of Alick Macheso and Orchestra Mberikwazvo. And because I still had to move on, I shouted some words to Cliff and the guys, I needed a moment’s peace, alone.


End of excerpt

See Author Africa 2007 for remainder



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