15 November 2008

In the Blood by Masimba Musodza

The urge to drink was strong, but there was nothing stronger to drink in the office than water. Batsi Makoni gulped down half a bottle before realising how refreshing, how calming it actually was. She stared at the bottle as if in wonderment, then at the rest of the displayed contents of the open fridge. The water had definitely cooled her down enough for her to sit at her desk and think. Leave the yoghurt and the cheese and the ice-cream and the cake alone. For now.

It was late in the afternoon. From outside drifted the slow progress of down town Harare's traffic. The window behind her looked over Africa Unity Square. From somewhere within the huge edifice that housed her suite of offices emanated the gentle whirr of a copier. Mundane, familiar sounds. The assurance of continuity and comfort. But her eyes fell on the folders on her desk, and the shock that had seized her moments earlier began to return.

Batsi Makoni was the founder and head of Makoni Heritage Services, Zimbabwe's first privately owned DNA-analysis firm. There was a growing local clientele, mostly to do with an increase in paternity suits among the wealthy. There was also the odd-researcher, keen to prove a theory about the origins of the Zimbabwean people or a particular family. But the bulk of her work was for international clients, especially the lucrative scientific community.

Her work in mapping out Zimbabwe's genetic heritage was attracting considerable and-let's not deny it-lucrative interest abroad. There were book and lecture tour offers, each worth millions of dollars. Suffice to say, Batsi Makoni at 29 was one of the wealthiest people in the country. However, you would not see this right way when you saw her slim, plain scholarly features. But she lived in Chisipite, and had six cars parked outside her house. No, she did not have a man; they found her intimidating and she had just about given up.

While it was true that one did not just get to where she was without so much effort, it was also true that one got there through so much effort because one was trying get away from somewhere else. In Batsi's case, it was her past, her childhood.

And now, in those three folders lying innocuously on her desk, in that office that she had worked so hard to get to and blotting out her past in the process, it had caught up with her.

The first folder contained a detailed DNA-analysis of one Michael Harris, a correspondent in a paternity-suit. The second belonged to a young teenage girl named Alicia Malunga. Makoni Heritage Services had established that there was a 99.9% chance that Michael Harris was the father of Alicia Malunga.

Then there was the third folder. Batsi pulled it from under the other two and fingered it gently, while her blood raced and she felt as though her office would begin to spin as it had earlier, gathering momentum rapidly until she was swirling in a maelstrom of her own thoughts.

The door opened, and her brother, Simon entered. 'I came as soon as I could,' he announced. 'What the hell is the matter with you?'

Seeing her brother, she could not contain her tears any more, and the tears came. Simon's expression of impatience changed. He moved closer, his gaze falling on the desk as he searched for answers. He took the file from her hand, and flicked it open. The applied genetics jargon did not mean anything to him, but the name on the folder did.

'Sally? What are you doing with Sally's folder?' he demanded. He picked up the other folders. 'Who the hell is Michael Harris? What about Alicia Malunga? Batsi, what the hell is going on?'

Sally was their younger sister. Half-sister, actually. And you knew she was a half-sister because she was mixed-race. The product of a rape that had irreparably torn the whole family apart, and left festering wounds.

'Michael Harris is Sally's father,' Batsi sobbed.

Simon jerked back as if he had been struck by those words. Then, he tried to deny what he had just heard. 'What do...are you sure?'

'The DNA evidence is irrefutable!' Batsi snapped. 'Michael Harris is the bastard who...'

'You still can't say it!' Simon accused.

'Can you?' she countered. 'Can you say what happened to Mummy? The look in his eyes answered her question succinctly.

The emotions were all there. The shock, the anger, the shame and humiliation. The guilt, the feeling that if they had not wanted so many toys and stuff, their mother would not have had to join other Zimbabwean housewives who supplemented the family income by cross-border trading. She would not have been raped on her way back by a drunk man who had given her a lift. She would not have given birth to this stark reminder of that rape.

Their father had not been able to cope at all. And in the end, he had left. He remarried and tried to start afresh. He tried the church, then he tried the bottle. He had died of liver-failure when Batsi was fifteen, and Simon seventeen. Sally was five.

Simon flicked through the reports as if he could suddenly understand them.

'I sometimes check records with those of family for the Human Genome Project I am contributing to,' Batsi explained. 'For instance, last week I found out that in the maternal line we are related to a small Ugandan clan, which goes back to the Ottoman Albanians who ruled Egypt until Nasser kicked out Farouk.'

'And you are sure about this?' Simon demanded, holding up the folders.

'Yes,' Batsi nodded, softly.

'You know what this means, don't you?' he said. 'We could get him arrested.'

Batsi shook her head. Simon stared at her, mouth open.

'Do you think that Mummy wants all that brought up again?" she asked.

'She is the victim here!' Simon snarled. 'A terrible crime was committed against her. She has a right to...'

'She has a right to move on or try to move on!' Batsi countered, rising. She walked over to the window and looked down at the passing traffic. 'It's all every well being the hot shot lawyer that comes after these rapists and gets them locked away, but have you ever thought that may be sometimes the woman is as much a victim of the justice system as she is of her attacker?'

He had heard her say that before so many times, it bounced off his hide like a pebble on a rhinoceros.

'Let's ask her,' he suggested. 'Let's ask her today. My next case is at 3, there's plenty of time if we go now.'

He was already marching towards the door. She sighed.


Mummy was in the living room of her Marlborough home, watching television with Tendai and Munashe, Sally's five year-old twin girls. They padded across the carpet, each bent on embracing both uncle and aunt at the same time, lisping childish voices threatening eardrums with permanent damage. The maid came in to hear what the commotion was. Simon handed her the keys, and bade her take them to his car. They loved the video-games they could play on his satnav.

'It's not my birthday,' Mummy said, eyeing them guardedly. Simon took after her more than Batsi or Sally did. Batsi took after her father.

As did Sally. Probably. But in her two lovely children, one could see Mother Nature's attempts to keep together a family torn by racial prejudice. That and the rape, of course. And the stigma attached to rape.

'Your DNA expert has found Sally's father,' said Simon.

Mummy was still for a very long moment. Then, she reached for the TV remote. When she turned off the television, her breathing was heavy. 'Did she ask you to look for her father?'

Batsi shifted uncomfortably under her mother's stare. Simon had always been her favourite. Simon could do no wrong. Even now, when he had just brought up the family taboo, Mummy was going to vent her feelings on Batsi.

'Did I ask you to look for her father?' Mummy demanded, when Batsi shook her head slowly.

'I was analyzing DNA for a paternity suit,' Bastsi said in that slow deliberate voice she had developed for arguments with her mother. 'The man is Sally's father.'

'I see,' said Mummy.

'Simon thinks you should take him to court,' said Batsi.

'And you just think it's fascinating your little test has got him!' Oh no, Simon could never do wrong.

'I wasn't looking for him, Mummy,' Bastsi snapped.

'Yes, but you found him!' Mummy cried. 'I'm trying to bury the memories, and you have found him!'

'How are you trying to bury the memories?' Batsi demanded. 'You won't go to therapy, no wonder Dad left….'

Considering the distance between their seats, the slap came as a total surprise. Mummy was back in her seat, adjusting her skirt with aplomb, before Batsi realised what had just happened. She touched her cheek and did not feel her hand.

'We think he should be tried,' Simon said.

Mummy shot him a look of shock and outrage. Then, she seemed to calm herself. 'No.'

Simon opened his mouth to speak, but she raised a warning hand. 'No. It happened, and taking him to court would not compensate for it. It would, however, bring up all the hurt from the past, and pass it on to the next generation.'

She glanced emphatically at the spot on the carpet so recently vacated by her grandchildren. He might be a rapist, but the man who had given them a complexion slightly darker than Sally's but lighter than that of the rest of the family was still their grandfather.

Simon rose. 'Well, if you should reconsider...'

'I have spoken,' Mummy said. 'Please go back to your work.'

As they stepped out, Batsi paused at the door. There was so much she wanted to say to her mother. There had never been a good time to say it, and there wasn't one now.


When she got back to her office, Batsi called Pilani, her lawyer ex-boyfriend. They had dated at university, but he had married a younger, less-educated and less-ambitious girl. It took a while to get over that, but when they both did, they had become friends. Pilani was handling the Michael Harris case.

'Are you sure?' Pilani exploded as Batsi told him.

'I have the results in my hands right now,' said Batsi. 'There is no doubt that your client raped my mother and the result of that rape is my sister Sally.'

'Look, there must be some mistake. I know Harris, he's a respected businessman, he owns that hotel across from Fife Avenue Shopping Mall. He…'

Batsi put the phone down, and got up from the desk in one motion. She was at her door when her mobile shrilled. It was Pilani. She pushed it back in to her purse and stepped out. The mobile fell silent. Then there was a sharp beep as a text message came through.

Don't do it!

She pushed the phone back, and pursed her lips. He knew she would. She had to.

It was still sunny outside, but traffic-both mechanical and pedestrian-had ebbed. Batsi debated with herself over getting a cab or just walking to Fife Avenue, and opted on the latter.

He was standing outside a black 4x4 parked on Five Avenue outside the Glitter Hotel. The title was a misnomer, hostel would have been more appropriate. Burly, curly-haired middle-aged white man with a paunch and posture that made one think of a faun. His face was earnest enough though, he had Sally's eyes and mouth. The nose was rather large. And as she watched him chattering away in a harsh, Afrikaner accent, she felt her flesh crawl.

She knew who he was because she had seen him before. Once, in a supermarket, about ten years ago. He had exchanged pleasantries with her mother. Then, she had seen him talking to her maternal grandmother. He had stroked Sally's cheek, and offered her $20.

And she knew that Michael Harris was no rapist. As a girl, Batsi had walked in on talk of an affair. The grown-ups had fallen in to silence, but she had picked up on enough. And she had shut it out of her mind, as if it was easier to handle the idea of her mother being raped and giving birth to a mixed-race child as a permanent and patent reminder.

Harris glanced absently in her direction, his mouth, Sally's mouth, moving rapidly a he delivered instructions in a curious mixture of English, Shona and the occasional Dutch word. Their eyes locked.

Then, Batsi turned and walked away. She was surprised how steady her legs were.

In the Blood was written by Masimba Musodza.

Copyright Masimba Musodza 2008.

I was born in 1976, as independence and all it offered to an erstwhile disenfranchised Black majority dawned on the country now known as Zimbabwe. I was educated at Avondale Primary School, Harare, and St Mary Magdalene's High School in Nyanga. Then I went to Film School, majoring in Screenwriting and Directing. So, while I am only just emerging in the literary world, I have been a writer for film and television for a while now.

I am the author of The Man who turned into a Rastafarian, an anthology of short-stories. A novel is due to published before the end of the year. I am now working on a ChiShona language novel that I think will push and redefine the boundaries of the genre. I also write essays of interest to adherents of the Rastafarian Faith.


Ivor W. Hartmann said...

In the Blood was another chiller thriller winner, in this modern gritty urban tale of new science uncovering old family secrets; of forgotten truths, remembered lies and hidden betrayals with lasting consequences.

I enjoyed the use of the irrefutable DNA science as the backbone, and really felt the characterisations and emotional interplay between Batsi, her family and Pilani.

However I did wonder a bit afterwards, if someone would really use rape (such a harsh stigmatic reality) as a cover story (even if imagined) for adultery, added to the fact that the father left afterwards anyway as a direct result.

jane said...
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jane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Masimba Musodza said...

I am having a look at this story again, and thinking about Ivor Hartmann's very constructive comments.

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