Our Soldier Friend by Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri

Our Soldier Friend

 

 

On his first day at work at Wellies Auto-Motors, Jude walked confidently into the workshop and shouted “Hi guys!” to his new workmates, smiling at them as if they were old associates. They looked up from their mechanic’s chores, and politely smiled back, some mumbling back responses. The way he burst into the workshop, unaccompanied and unannounced, confused several of the workmen. They almost felt as if they had met him before but just could not remember his face or where exactly they had met. Carrying his new company work suit, and a toolbox, Jude immediately introduced himself in a chatty voice. Everybody in the workshop was affected by his jovial nature despite not recognizing him immediately. They were a bit lost – but reluctant to ask who he was, until he told them he was Jude Chidhakwa the new mechanic coming to join the company.

 

“Just call me Jude”, he said.

 

Moments later Mr. Gundi the personnel manager arrived only in time to see Jude finishing shaking hands with his new workmates.

 

“Ah great, you’ve already met your colleagues,” Gundi said without much conviction as if he too had been caught unawares. “I thought you’d wait for me at the reception … . Anyway, never mind, it’s good to see the intro’s are already on course.”

 

“Sure sir, I found my way here”, Jude said casually. “I was eager to come to familiar territory.”

 

Jude smiled disarmingly at the personnel manager making a sweeping gesture with his arms to show that the grease, the car engines and gearboxes stripped from the cars was what he loved best. Head tilted at a cocky angle, he sniffed at the mixture of thinners, petrol and the greasy and musty mutton-cloths as if they induced in him giddy satisfaction.

 

“I presume you’ve already met your workshop manager, Mr. Lovemore Dzawo here”, Gundi said pointing at Lovemore.

 

“Glad to meet you, sir,” Jude said and shook hands with Lovemore a second time. The workshop manager’s greeting was quiet and rather withdrawn.

 

Most of Jude’s workmates soon agreed that he was steady, cool and likeable. They found him easy-going, with his ever-ready smile and the air of confidence he exuded made him seem an old master at his job. Within a short time, they realised that Jude understood and executed his work expertly, all the time, telling stories to his colleagues with confident charm. He talked about all the trendy braai and beer spots in town; and equally, he seemed to be on first name terms with the trendiest girls in town Lovemore always winced inwardly whenever he saw Jude getting warm with the rest of the workshop team, for he had a gut feeling that Jude was working out a cheap publicity stint, perhaps to mask certain inadequacies, even to hide a shameful, not so glorious past. Somehow, the new man was a bit too forward with everybody as if he were deceiving them into believing that he was decent yet deep down he was mocking all of them for not realising the fake he was. Lovemore secretly felt Jude behaved like an adolescent who had transferred from a school he presumes was more prestigious than his new station.

 

“Hi son of my father”, was Jude’s ingratiating greeting, implying everyone was a brother and close buddy. “How was your weekend, mwana waMudhara?”

 

The greeting implied familiarity – it created the impression Jude and the others were not just colleagues but shared something special and intimate; yet he was also careful not to over-step personal boundaries and encroach into other’s private spaces, acting popular and proper always in delicate balance.

 

Lovemore found Jude’s small talk insincere, if not belittling; it was as if by starting conversation with other people he was indeed in control over them. It was not just talk for talk’s sake but a subtle way of impressing his superiority over others; all done discreetly with ostensible innocence. Jude had the poise of one very conscious of one’s irresistible charisma, who couldn’t expect anybody to resist or to be antagonized by his genial magnetism. Even as he worked, he would somehow make himself the centre of attention, be it in suggesting the best way forward with the job he truly was talented, so that others were appreciative and saw nothing untoward; or in saying something to kill the time he would make people forget how much they had worked in a day. One couldn’t in all honesty describe him as someone who talked a lot, but he did talk and created talk, yet in Lovemore’s assessment Jude talked but said very little to make him really intimately known. What he said mostly meant very little – it was just inconsequential banter. Jude seemed easy-going and said anything as long as it did not hurt or offend anybody. He told stories about the trendy places both upmarket and in the high-density locations and rural joints where the local cool guys spent their leisure time. He was a keen follower of Harare’s popular culture and had religiously followed all the great musical shows by expatriate musicians. He had witnessed the torching of a car by incensed youths at Rufaro Stadium when the British group Misty in Roots arrived late to perform, leading the youths to moronically chant “we are not cabbages in society”. He had also seen the riots that seemed to curse Gregory Isaacs’ shows in both Harare and Bulawayo, (and he was friend to a friend of the boyfriend to the girl who was shot dead by police in the Isaacs linked Bulawayo riots). The best shows he’d seen though, he’d relate in a voice that sounded like a child who’d been given an ice cream for being good – were the Human Rights Now show in 1988 where he saw greats such as Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen and “whoo-o” Tracy Chapman, and the Reggae Sunsplash in 1989 with those “murderous” Rasta guys –Eric Donaldson, I Jahman Levi and Culture Joseph Hill!

 

To make sure he had absolutely everyone’s attention, Lovemore noted that Jude spoke knowledgeably – it could even be said intimately/fondly about home grown acts, too, so you could place your best bet seeing him at a Mukanya show, occasional Tuku bashes (especially after a De Mbare soccer match) and the legendary Mai Jojo at Warren Park’s KwaMereki. He’d gone for a beer with the Congolese musician Pepe Kale after his show at Chibuku stadium in the once famous Chitungwiza Unit K shebeen popularly known as kuMaForm Six.

 

****

 

Most of the times he reached his venues in his tried and tested “durable, efficient and classy” Mazda 626 sedan, “Pamela”. She fits in with all classes and places high or low, he’d say. He made sure that the inside shone as clean as the outside – not a piece of stray lintel was seen on the upholstery and the foot mats looked and smelled like new rubber every day. Pamela was the love of his life and he cared very little for driving other people’s vehicles, including the company ones. Pamela’s attributes were often recounted, not with obvious boasting, but she was always there in the adventures and escapades; Pamela made passenger pretty girls swoon when he out-sped the latest Mercs and Hardbody 4X4s, gliding smoothly and effortlessly without any jerks or bumps. He was in control, but still

 

Lovemore, for no clear reason felt everybody else except him was being taken for a ride.

 

Lovemore finally felt vindicated one Monday morning when Jude came to the workshop with a black eye. Although he made an effort, it was not quite as easy for Jude to act his usual calm and easygoing self because the bruised swelling inadvertently invited curious stares and concerned questions.

 

As if he knew what was going through their minds, Jude volunteered his story, before he was asked, neither really regretting nor boasting about his exploits over the weekend.

 

“It’s this bum of a soldier friend of mine. We often drink and braai together. When he takes one too many we sometimes end up in a scuffle.”

 

About three weeks later he came to work with a black eye again and an additional souvenir – a swollen mouth. Again he tried to underplay the seriousness of his injury by acting comic and once again, Jude freely offered his story when he noticed one of Lovemore’s surreptitious glances at him.

 

“It’s that soldier bum again”, Jude smiled. “But this time, I also whacked him bad.”

 

Lovemore hesitantly nodded, blinking his wide dreamy eyes as if he didn’t know what to think or how exactly to take the story. Battering each other for whatever reason didn’t seem much fun to his conservative mind. Jude nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders, and pulled a silly grimace followed by a reassuring smile as if to imply, “All is well, it’s nothing serious. Guys will always be guys, after all.”

 

The first time Lovemore saw Jude at a disadvantage was when his girlfriend visited the workshop and asked for him at the reception. Instead of waiting at the reception after Jude had been called through intercom, she strode into the yard between the administration offices and the workshop. Jude quickly picked up a cloth to wipe the grease off his hands and walked to meet her before she could reach the workshop. Lovemore could see that she had an athletic build and was a head taller than Jude. He tried to get a better look at her by shifting and keeping himself seemingly busy in a more strategic position. Her face would have been beautiful if not for her beady eyes and the sharp contours around her mouth that made her look harsh. Jude and his girlfriend spoke for a short time in the yard with she, looking unsmilingly into his face. After a short moment she turned and walked back the way she came with Jude following half a step behind her.

 

Once she had left and he returned to the workshop, his shoulders were squared up with his usual confidence, head held high, and his convivial banter did not take long to follow. Lovemore noticed Jude’s face was moist, as if he had daubed it with water to freshen himself; he suspected Jude had taken a few seconds alone in the lavatory before returning to the workshop in order to recover in the aftermath of his girlfriend’s visit. Nothing really dramatic had happened but Lovemore suspected that something significant had just taken place. He really didn’t exactly hate him, but definitely felt an intense dislike of him, yet he could not say it openly

 

“Oh that’s my fiancée,” Jude said on returning without anyone having asked him. “She wants me to go meet her aunt this evening, so it’s supper at tete’s”.

 

Typical Jude; seemingly telling everyone about himself as if he had no secrets whatsoever. That too, was the way he shortly afterwards broke the news that he was wedding his fiancée. The wedding was in a month’s time. He was inviting all his friends in the workshop to a bachelor’s party at a hotel in town. Lovemore wondered whether he was his friend given that the man had been at the workplace for four months, and didn’t even know Jude’s fiancée’s name. Lovemore doubted anyone else in the workshop knew her name either, although they were all prudent enough not to ask. They didn’t want to embarrass Jude. Lovemore blamed Jude for creating this awkward situation because he took the familiarity of all his workmates for granted who then felt it improper to ask about the obvious. Jude only introduced his girlfriend at the party when she visited briefly. She walked into the hotel and appeared to give him an instruction. The two stood away from the partying group and talked in low tones. She had the decency to later come into the lounge to introduce herself.

 

“I’m Tina, glad to meet you all,” she said in a brisk alto, giving each of the men a firm handshake and a wide unwavering smile. For a moment, the harsh ridges by the sides of her mouth dissolved. Jude nodded and smiled besides her, rubbing his hands together, and Lovemore felt the man appeared somewhat clownish, fawning by his woman.

 

Lovemore began to watch Jude’s every move, act, mannerism of speech with an even keener interest than before, to the extent that it was almost an obsession. At times, Jude caught Lovemore staring blankly at him and startled him out of his reverie by smiling politely and calling to him, “What’s up mwana waMudhara?”

 

A couple of days after the party Jude had a bloodshot black eye.

 

“That soldier again,” Paul the auto-electrician asked the moment Jude walked into the workshop.

 

“Sure guys,” Jude answered. “The guy is mad.”

 

“Why don’t you invite us over for a drink so that we can take care of him if he starts this nuisance,” Paul suggested. “I think he needs a beating to stop this.”

 

Jude was noncommittal.

 

“I can’t do that to him. He’s just a neighbor,” he said evasively. “After all, he is not such a bad dude.”

 

Everybody kept quiet.

 

“He always apologies soon after, and I don’t keep grudges.”

 

Lovemore thought Jude was struggling to sound sensible, and his own suspicions that Jude was concealing something were only heightened. The aggressive soldier was never mentioned by his name, as if Jude tacitly wanted to protect his reputation in spite of all the happenings. He wanted him seen in good stead, as a victim of countless bloody wars and strife he participated in over the years that left him a nervous wreck of sorts. The soldier had seen lots of blood in Mozambique’s sadistic civil war where MNR rebels chopped up peasants and ravaged villages. He was also in Somalia after the unceremonious withdrawal of the Americans, where he saw intoxicated kat chewing warlords who didn’t believe in orderliness or a state. He’d witnessed the outcome of cannibalistic actions in the DRC; rebel terror tactics such as the cannibalistic remains of roasted enemy prisoners of war on an open fire, to show the occupying SADC forces that they were not wanted at all. ‘Our’ soldier, actually, was fortunate to escape from captors in the DRC, and that possibly was his worst experience as he still went berserk whenever he thought of the episodes he’d been through there; he wrestled and grappled with the fiends in his mind – and couldn’t help hitting anybody who was near him.

 

“He’s a lunatic, he must be confined to a madhouse,” Paul said.

 

“Yes, he is in and out of hospital,” Jude said. “He can stop drinking for long stretches, but the loneliness eats him up and he can’t help taking another drink. At times you feel sorry for him because he can’t live with anybody. His poor wife divorced him.”

 

Very soon Jude was making a general analysis of the many combatants from Zimbabwe’s local and international wars tormented by atrocious experiences. It didn’t matter whether they were the actual victims, mere witnesses or cruel perpetrators of the violence, they stayed crippled emotionally and psychologically, and the psychiatric hospitals just couldn’t help. Paul the electrician agreed that war trauma could leave life long pain that could be destructive. Charlie the spray-painter believed everybody who participated in war must be cleansed by their own kith and kin to exorcise bad spirits.

 

“Otherwise, you can bring back bad winds into the family,” Charlie said. “Some of these spirits cause murder and violence. They just possess you, you aren’t your real self, and you don’t know what you have done until after the damage has been done.”

 

It was now a general discussion amongst the workmen in the garage. Very soon the veterans of Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial liberation war were dragged in as examples of the tormented that ought to have been cleansed regardless of whether they killed or not.

 

“Some war vets are normal people and you might not even know they participated in the war,” Paul said trying to be fair-minded.

 

“Yes, of course,” Charlie agreed. “Their families cleansed them. A traditional ceremony with beer and offerings is done or you remain troubled like the many we see roaming the streets raving mad.”

 

“What if you don’t have caring relatives to do that for you? Do you think someone can just come from the war and ask to be cleansed?

 

You might not even realize something is wrong with you?” Jude asked, obviously comfortable he was no longer the main subject.

 

“You just do it whether they like it or not. Those with no caring family – then tough luck! That’s why there are mad people.”

 

“When you tell some to get cleansed they can get angry – they feel insulted.”

 

“Government should just do something. There is need for a big traditional ceremony for all who died in any type of war – even those who died in the First Chimurenga. There are many angry spirits roaming the country and possessing people; that’s why we have these countless problems,” Paul suggested. “Don’t you think so, Foreman Lovemore?”

 

Lovemore had to participate in the discussions, but he did it in such a way that he did it without revealing his doubts and reservations about Jude.

 

“In South Africa they had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I don’t know how much it helped with healing the individual spirits of combatants. Of course on a national level it is a way of reaching out, a way towards reconciliation. But as for individuals… I don’t know,” said Lovemore.

 

“TRC is bullshit. The government cannot cleanse on an individual’s behalf. We are Shona and a TRC doesn’t work. You need a proper bira – a real cleansing ceremony, and your family must be ready to pay reparations – if need be, sacrificing a virgin girl to the aggrieved family. It’s something very ‘personal’ at a family to family level and government and courts have no business there, because spirits can haunt you even in jail,” argued Charlie.

 

“What if you don’t know the victim’s family?” Lovemore asked.

 

“There is a way out,” Charlie seemed to be knowledgeable about the customs. “The spirit mediums and good n’angas can tell you what to do. That’s why you find in some families some women just don’t get married, ever. It’s because they are betrothed to the butchered unknown vengeful spirit. War crimes are personal crimes that can trouble the entire family. Bad spirits can be avenged by anyone in a culprit’s family, it doesn’t have to be the perpetrator who suffers directly. You can’t just kill and get away with it.

 

Even if you serve a prison term you still compensate at a personal family level. Some try to distract the angry spirits by casting it into a goat and letting the animal just stray, but that’s a short-term and very temporary solution. Very soon the spirit will come back with renewed vengeance and anger, because the wrongful family will be seen as unrepentant.”

 

Paul interjected: “But I don’t see the sense; if I murder it shouldn’t concern my family…”

 

“It punishes all in the immediate lineage, even those who marry into your family, just to create confusion and conflict. Your brother’s sins are yours too, and you can’t choose or escape,” Charlie explained evoking some frightening primordial fatalism in his colleagues.

 

“It’s good that spirits avenge because some war vets killed in cold blood. They were not just fighting against Ian Smith’s Rhodesian army. Some were just cruel. Others took their own family problems into the war and compounded the problem. They joined the war already carrying the avenging spirit of ngozi and killed more and more. You know, the war leaders didn’t really know what they were dealing with.”

 

Even though the war veterans had some sympathizers in the workshop, they took the brunt of the criticism and blame for whatever was ostensibly troubling the country. Poor war vets. They were blamed for the sky-rocketing prices because the huge financial benefits they demanded from government in the late 1990s caused the first serious wanton printing of money that led to the crash of the local currency against major international currencies – hence war veterans and their ruling party allies were blamed for all national ailments.

 

Lovemore sensed Jude’s calculated satisfaction as the discussion dragged and meandered further and further from him. Jude was simply elusive and Lovemore was nearly tempted to set a trap to expose him, but he had his own principles. He dismissed the idea because he was worried that he was just envious, but envious about what exactly he failed to answer himself. So he remained observant, a bit obsessive, but fairly tactful so as not to raise suspicion. He constantly checked on Jude’s professional competence and skills, keeping an open eye for any errors, which annoyingly didn’t come when they were most wanted. He spied on Jude to see that he did everything above board. He thought that he might catch him borrowing tools from the garage without permission for example, but Jude did nothing of the sort.

 

Jude had no need to cadge for the usual mechanic favours; most mechanics and workshop workers occasionally asked to take pool cars home when they were not on standby, even though it wasn’t an entitlement. Jude had his beloved Pamela. Lovemore simply had no angle to catch out his secret foe and he refused to stoop that low to be unreasonably spiteful and vindictive. In spite of Jude’s near perfection, he still inexplicably rubbed Lovemore up the wrong way. He just triggered in Lovemore involuntary pangs of hostility, which for its lack of rational basis was probably deep rooted, primordial rancour, which he didn’t even disclose in something as base as a sneer, distressed impatience, anger or loathsome looks. He did nothing to make Jude suspicious. Thus, Lovemore was content with the wait and see game.

 

Several months later, Jude came into work in really bad shape; hardly able to walk, his face was one big bruise, thick and swollen. He looked terrible and they wondered why he had bothered to come to work at all.

 

“That soldier again?”

 

“Humnn… this time it’s really bad.”

 

Jude tried to smile, but the smile was more painful to the viewer as it seemed his whole face was about to burst open. Lovemore winced with revulsion at seeing Jude try to put on a comic show while in such a state. The man was simply unprincipled, pathetic, spineless and without any sense of shame or integrity.

 

“Man, you are hurt,” Paul hissed, bracing himself to look at Jude’s grotesque face. “You shouldn’t come to work looking like this?”

 

“I wanted to get permission for sick leave from personnel,” Jude said through clenched teeth. “I also wanted to show off my handsome face,” he added, contorting his face into what he supposed was a warming mischievous grin.

 

The sight of Jude’s lame clowning caused Lovemore to recoil. Lovemore thought there was a tinge of truth in his saying he wanted to show off his handsome face. If Jude was so ready to make a public appearance with such a swollen face, it could only be to seek public attention and sympathy. Those public appearances were a perverse indictment on whoever inflicted injury on him, and the public was expected to bear witness. Why else was Jude so self-humiliating? Whatever the real reasons were for his injuries, Lovemore was becoming convinced that Jude was somehow crying out for help in his own crazy way, but that he could only ask for that assistance through self-demeaning smiles and nauseating jokes?

 

“My bloody face is stinging hot,” Jude said through one silly grin. “Let me go to the toilet to daub it with cold water.”

 

Lovemore watched him limp to the toilet. The workshop phone rang and Lovemore picked it up.

 

“Hello.”

 

“Hello its Tina.” A female voice said anxiously. “Can I speak to Jude?”

 

“Oh, Tina it’s you.”

 

“Is he there yet,” she asked with a faltering voice. “He left saying he was going to work to seek sick leave.”

 

“But why for godssake …”

 

She didn’t give him the chance to finish.

 

“I love him. I really do,” she blurted out uncontrollably. “But he just makes me so mad sometimes.”

 

Lovemore was stunned by the near confession.

 

“He loves attention too much. But I’m busy running my beauty salon and can’t always cope with that. He thinks I’m ignoring him on purpose, or that I just don’t care – but I do – I love him so much – but then he starts this silly girl chasing – and he’s always polishing that damn car of his! He thinks it’s cool to tell me his conquest stories where he goes clubbing like I’m one of his boys! It makes me so crazy. I don’t know about other women, but I just can’t deal with all that… and talking about his car as though it’s the number one woman in his life – when it should be me! There is something in his eyes that one minute looks, so soulful, the next minute irritates the hell out of me and he never fights back – as if he wants to prove that I am a devil!”

 

Tina told Lovemore that she was on her way to take Jude to the doctor’s; leaving Lovemore bewildered by what she had just said – unexpected and unsettling. It dawned on him that Jude was indeed a pretender and a liar. His first instinct was to shout to all in the workshop that he now knew who Jude’s abusive soldier was. But first, he would follow Jude into the gents and tell him to his face that he now knew the truth. Those principles of his… Tina hadn’t actually said that she had inflicted the injuries on Jude – he had to get him to admit it and say it.

 

He found Jude standing before the sink and stood next to him.

 

“Tina phoned.”

 

Jude visibly froze. He stared at the other man through the mirror on the wall; not even his eyes moved. He saw the mockery in Lovemore’s and knew instantly, that his life was about to change. Jude’s shoulders fell; the muscles under his swollen face twitched as his head fell forward, already looking as though he was ready to be shamed and persecuted.

 

“I spoke to your wife,” Lovemore said disdainfully. “I now know the battering soldier.”

 

The cruel sarcasm in Lovemore’s voice was unmistakable. Lovemore wanted to say something even more cruel to really hurt Jude. He wanted to unmask the fake for the entire world to see and laugh at; he wanted to ridicule the upstart. But when Jude looked up and he saw the other’s dilating eyes and thick cracked slips twitching, his heart suddenly skipped in an empathetic response as Jude suddenly broke down and sobbed. Lovemore rubbed his chest where his heart was, recognizing that Jude was a kindred spirit, suffering familiar tortures, but still making an effort to keep a proud face in public. He moved closer to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. That brotherly touch instinctively induced a feeling of trust in both of them.

 

“She is like a mad woman,” Jude moaned, wringing his hands in desperation. “But I can’t help loving her.”

 

“She believes I cheat on her,” Jude’s voice was almost a muffled shriek. “I think I talk a lot, I don’t really lie, but I just want to be smashing. I say where I have not been, and I presume I make Tina jealous unnecessarily, chatting girls, playing macho and easy to get. She seems not to mind my flirtations because they are nothing more than that, but she is maddened by the way I’m all over the car. She hates Pamela, and has threatened she will smash her one day because I think more of Pamela than I do of her. She hates the competition. I love to drive around but Tina is too stiff and intimidating for casual social company with other people. Yet deep down I know she is soft and sweet.”

 

Lovemore held Jude’s hands in his own as if he was a big brother sharing the suffering of his pained sibling. Then he embraced him in a firm grip and felt the mix of Jude’s tears and the weeping from the cuts on his face make his shirt damp. His misery was infectious, just as his usual comic bantering was, so that Lovemore too, began to quietly cry.

 

“My ex-wife also used to batter me,” Lovemore whispered, stepping away from Jude, pulling up his shirt to reveal scalded skin. “She burnt me with a hot iron once, and threw hot cooking oil on my back the second time.”

 

Lovemore and Lucia had been married for ten years, during which time she hadn’t conceived and so Lucia found solace in her cross border trips to shop for goods in Botswana and South Africa for re-sale when she found the household too quiet and monotonous. At first he didn’t mind the diversion, but as the trips became more frequent and the duration of stay abroad longer, his family, especially his mother and sisters who never were happy with the childlessness in his relationship, started grumbling and hinting that she was cheating on him. He wasn’t exactly jealous, but the family talk wore him out. Any talk of dishonest wives and cuckolded husbands never failed to ruffle the ego of any self-respecting man whose wife embarked on regular cross-border trade excursions. Even for those strong men who really trusted and loved their partners wholeheartedly, the possibility was discomforting. Whenever there was talk amongst friends or family about these women and their forays, Lovemore felt it was an oblique attack on his person, although he never really thought Lucia would betray and disappoint him in that way. What he craved for was some reassurance of love and commitment and a reconstruction of the family candour and dignity that was conferred at the start of their marriage, although he didn’t really know what he wanted to satisfy that need.

 

The economic crisis had changed people’s attitudes and forced them to become pragmatic. Take Lovemore’s neighbour Boniface Murambiwa, for instance: a real traditional minded man who normally swore by his totem and Karanga ethnic group, and was sure of what was proper and improper in marital relations. He would frown at young girls wearing tight jeans and mini-skirts; such dress was evidence the woman was loose. It was also deplorable for a married woman to travel to far off places, worse still to a foreign country, without her husband. He couldn’t imagine his wife going to anyplace where he himself had never been before. When his sister-in-law assisted his wife to get a passport so they could travel together to Mozambique to purchase bags of rice for resell, Murambiwa literally burnt the offending document.

 

No self-respecting man who properly paid lobola can allow such looseness, he argued, anyway it is the man’s duty to fend for the family and the woman’s place was the home or the rural fields, he pointed uncompromising. He controlled his wife’s space and movement with unwavering strictness. But the crisis and the economy was his nemesis and one day he suddenly realised that his salary’s buying power had shrunk so dismally that he could not put food on the table. Life got so tough that he finally swallowed his pride after making countless futile shows of his manhood that sadly yielded nothing but debts. He eventually borrowed money from Lovemore to acquire an Emergency Travel Document for his wife to join others in the cross-border courier business, conceding defeat. Lovemore just couldn’t tell how many times Murambiwa muttered the word Zvakapressa during the time when he negotiated the loan, and made assurances it would be repaid in Pula or Rand since the Zimbabwe dollar was depreciating at an incredible rate.

 

Lovemore pleaded with Lucia to be tactful and show some consideration and restraint concerning her foreign visits. She needn’t go as frequently, he tried to reason with her, since they didn’t need too much for their own upkeep, but Lucia had become enchanted by the spirit of business. Despite the strains of travel like sitting for more than fifteen hours in a camped bus, ensuring the goods are not stolen or damaged en route, and the haggling with corrupt customs officials, she enjoyed the independence. She had always wanted to be occupied, but she also had to escape the bondage of subsistence to which they had been reduced to by Lovemore’s single salary. When she discovered she was good at buying and reselling ‘she specialized in negotiating individual orders’– spare motor vehicle parts, household utensils and furniture like crockery, pots and pans, and sofas, refrigerators and TVs – she took to it with the zeal a person takes to a new-found love. The necessity of her contributions to the home was undeniable. While Lovemore’s concerns were pertinent, they remained flimsy because he couldn’t face his relatives and tell them the truth – that their problem to conceive was more likely due to his medical afflictions – of not treating venereal diseases in time because of his sexual lifestyle as a youth, rather than Lucia’s suspected infertility. She realised the situation was irreversible ; never spoke of it and seemed to completely absorb herself in trading to mask her frustration and unhappiness.

 

Indeed, although she agreed that there were very real problems of muggings, robberies, rapes and sometimes murder of trans-border Zimbabwean women, what vexed her more was his suggestion that she reconsider her movements, especially when she suspected that he was speaking under the influence of his bad mouthing relatives who incidentally, shamelessly exploited her exertions and often bought on credit, but ultimately did not pay for her goods. Such double standards made her headstrong and inevitably the fights started. Their relationship worsened when Lovemore’s sister, playing the traditional role of aunt, demanded that Lucia stay at home and bear a child instead of chasing the wind and seeking material wealth which the Dzawo family, didn’t particularly want as they were content with their poverty, especially as whatever she brought home was coming from someone with questionable morals. Those visits and scolding from his sister only led to fights between husband and wife soon after the aunt left for her own home. Lucia felt he lacked the gumption to tell his family the whole truth and defend her. It wasn’t her duty to tell them what was wrong, so they fought. Lucia was proud and stubborn and things irretrievably fell apart. Jude and Lovemore understood each other just from looking into each other’s eyes. They realised they had never been this close before.

 

“My relatives forced me to divorce her,” Lovemore whispered in a tearful voice. “But I miss her. I still love her.”

 

“I love my wife,” Jude said shyly. “I really do.”

 

“I don’t think she was cruel. She was just misunderstood.” Lovemore added.

 

“She loves me and doesn’t mean to hurt me.”

 

“She still loves me. She told me. I would do anything for us to get back together.”

 

They finally stopped talking and feverishly embraced each other in a brotherly pact.

 

When the urinal cistern suddenly flushed automatic the two men jumped, startled, reminding them of where they were; who they were.

 

They laughed nervously, then walked out of the toilet side by side like Jesus and Judas having agreed on a truce .
Glossary

 

Braai – barbecue
Mwana waMudhara – Son of my father
Mukanya – Chimurenga music star Thomas Mapfumo is often referred to by his totemic deferential name – Mukanya.
Tuku is the nickname for popular musician Oliver Mutukudzi
Dynamos is the name for a popular Zimbabwean soccer team.
Tete’s – Aunt’s
Bira – Traditional spiritual ceremony
Ngozi – Avenging spirit
Zvakapressa – Things are tough

 

Nhamo Anthony Mhiripiri is a Zimbabwean poet and short story writer. He lectures in Media and Society Studies at the Midlands State University, Zimbabwe. He did his Masters at the University of Zimbabwe, and a PhD in Cultural and Media Studies from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He has published poems and short stories in the following anthologies; Dreams, Miracles and Jazz: new adventures in African writing, No More Plastic Balls, A Roof to Repair, Creatures Great and Small, State of the Nation and Ghetto diaries and other poems. Nhamo also writes and publishes critical academic works.

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