16 December 2008

To the Gathering by Emmanuel Sigauke

I was going to the gathering and no one, neither Maiguru nor Mai, would stop me. Nothing, not even the duty to herd the goats, nor other chores at home, would get in the way. The only person who could stop me was Mukoma, but he was away in South Africa and we did not know when he would return, so with no one to stop me, I was going to that gathering. The plan was to meet with Chari behind Chisiya Hill; then we would join the others, walk to Mototi Primary School and arrive before the dancing part of the service began.

I combed my hair and brushed my teeth with a toothbrush, which once belonged to my late half-brother, Baba John, one of the many that Mai kept in her hut. I had just squeezed the last smudge of toothpaste, something Maiguru would punish try to punish me for, but the gathering was so important that I had to look and smell my best. The shoes, my only pair, were already polished and, although they were old, they shone in the sun like glass. I had ironed my khaki pants nicely, creating creases sharp enough to slice any fly that dared land on them.

As I began walking out of the compound, Maiguru walked in returning from the river, staggering under the weight of a big water bucket. When she saw me, she hurried into kitchen hut and shot out again. She looked at me with a face full of surprise, her hands resting on her waist, her head tilted to the side, as if she was measuring my seriousness. If she was planning to stop me she was fooling herself. She needed to realize what I was about to do with my life was bigger than anything I had ever done and nothing she would say was as important.

I turned and started to walk, wiping out any thoughts about her presence. I felt certain warmth like relief, but I knew it was anticipation. On this day, I would make most people at the gathering see a new side of me. In my only set of good clothes, I felt important and thus ready to be seen by both the Mototi and Mberengwa people who were going to gather at the school. The thought of people seeing me helped me increase my speed.

“So young man, where do you think you are going?” Maiguru said, her voice relaxed as if she knew that stopping me would not be difficult for her. Maybe ten months ago that would have been true, but not now.

I continued walking with longer strides, but careful not to let dust get on my shoes. I wanted to hear more from Maiguru, just to see how she could try to take this issue, but she did not say anything, so I slowed down, turned and said, “I told you this morning.”

“Told me what?” she snapped.

“You already know,” I said.

“But you can’t go to the pastures in those clothes. You look like someone going to church,” she said. “If your brother hears you abuse the clothes he toiled for in South Africa, he will kill you.”

“No he will not!” I said. Before, the mention of Mukoma would have made me reconsider what I was about to do, but now I did not even feel a thing, no trace of fear. “No one is going to kill anyone, and life will go on as it has always done,” I said, remembering something I had read in a novel recently.

“You think so? Wait until he returns.” She coughed out a laugh.

“If he returns,” I said.

She started walking towards me, slowly, like she had no reason to be in a hurry. Maybe she didn’t have to be in a hurry, but to give her a reason, I turned and resumed walking.

She probably was right about Mukoma beating me if he ever found out that I went goat herding in these clothes, but she was wrong in thinking I was on my way to the pastures. In fact, I think she was pretending not to know about Gungano, the gathering. But I was not going to change my mind for anything, not even because of Mai, my mother, or her. Even if the sun or the trees begged me not go, even if clouds gathered urgently to send ropes of rain and chains of hail, I would still go. This was my time, and she, even though she was my brother’s wife, could not say anything that would make me do anything. I was going. Because I was, I walked more vigorously.

“Hey! Did you hear what I said? You can’t go to the goats like that!”

“You know I’m going to no goats,” I said, getting a little upset at myself for allowing her to keep talking to me like this. “You know where I am going. You knew this morning, you knew yesterday.”

“Oh, so you are actually going somewhere?” She paused. She might even have stopped walking. “And where are you going again?”

I wasn’t going to answer that. If she was hoping I would play games with her, she was dead wrong, just as she had been wrong about many things. Wasn’t she the one who had told me many times that Mukoma would return in two months, then two months turned to five, then into two years. I was old enough to know that she had been wrong about many things.

“Answer me!” she said, raising her voice. “Are you going to the Gungano?”

She was right, and I confirmed this by walking faster.

“Because if you are,” she paused, like she did know what to say next, “you are not.”

Yes, I knew she knew. With that settled, I walked without worrying about anything. I started whistling a tune; one of the new songs I had learned during the previous week, a song for the gathering. The song was so good I could almost dance my way to Mototi, if it were not for my shoes.

“Hey you! No one here, not even your mother, would let you go to those strange people.”

Ah, so she was still following me. I turned sharply and said, “Listen, I am going.” I increased my speed although I was now walking in reverse. “And they are not strange people. You know that.”

Maiguru laughed scornfully. She then bent to remove a thorn or something that had pricked her toe. When she straightened up, her laughter had died and her face showed something else, perhaps the ghost of that laughter, perhaps anger, especially anger, but, sorry, not today. I was going. I could picture the crowd gathering under the huge Muunga tree at the primary school where Varandavashe, the people she was calling strange, had rented several classrooms for the weekend-long service. I could already picture those nicely dressed boys and girls, but especially the girls. Not that I was going there just because of the girls, like Chari and Ngoni were, and that was not my business. I could picture myself being seen arriving, being seen by the girls and the boys and the men and women that had brought the girls and boys, especially the girls, from such a distant place.

“Come back here, boy!” Maiguru shouted, speeding towards me.

“You don’t call me boy!” I said with an authoritative voice.

Although I was only thirteen, she had no right to call me boy. As my big brother’s wife, the only thing she could call me was babamunini because I was like her small husband. If Mukoma ever found out that she called me boy, he would make her wish she had never been born. If anyone was likely to be beaten by Mukoma for anything, it was Maiguru not me, but that’s even supposing that he would be back any time soon. As for not listening to her now, I had nothing to fear because I knew Mukoma would approve, Mukoma who had told me on that night of his departure, “You are a big man now. Take care of things. Protect your Maiguru.” He had even told me once that when he was away, I was the man of the house, helping with chores, and listening, which I also took to mean being listened to. Even Mai had told me to stand my ground if Maiguru ever tried to beat me again, as she had done when I was nine. Mother even talked about the small husband thing, saying, “She is as good as your wife. If your brother dies, you could easily become her real husband when you grow up. She has to respect you like a husband.”

I stiffened and started walking tall, legs wide apart like a giant’s.

“You’re sure asking for a beating today, silly boy,” she said, breaking into a jog, which made her look funny, as if she was a locust with broken wings.

“I’m going to the gathering,” I shouted.

“No you are not!”

“I really am!” I broke into a trot too, but I was not running away from her. In fact, the though that she might think that I was running away made me slow down to a walk.

“Keep thinking you’re and you’ll see what I am going to do to you.”

“Yes, what can you do?”

She coughed out a laugh. “Have you ever been beaten like a snake found in a hut?” I could hear her heavy breathing. “Come back here right now.”

I kept walking without turning, but I could tell by her breathing that she was catching up with me.

“Don’t think because your brother is away you can do what you want here.” She cleared her throat. “You are still a child.”

No I am not, I thought, resisting the urge to turn, but the skin on my back crawled the way it did when a whip was about to land on it. I had no reason to fear her beatings now. At thirteen, fear was out of the question.

“If I say don’t go, then you are not going. It’s that simple!”

She caught up with and overtook me; then she tried to block my way. “I want you to go back home and take off those clothes! Now!”

I tried to pass by her left side, but she blocked me, saying, “I’m going to kill you! Serious!”

That made me laugh, her use of the word serious. She couldn’t be as serious as I was. Of that I was certain, and I would make sure that my serious would win over hers.

“Don’t play with me boy, understand?” she said.

That word—understand—coming from Mukoma, would have carried weight. But coming from her... no, I wasn’t going to understand, nor even over-stand, anything from her. I swerved to the right edge of the path, coming close to having my pants grabbed by a thorn bush, but there she was, in front of me again, her arms outstretched, flailing. I turned to the left, and she was there, shouting, “You’re not going to that church of evil!” She was drenched in sweat. “Evil people!”

She did not know me well. She was used to the bed-wetting boy she had always beaten with a rawhide whip, then bribed with sweets when Mukoma was close to returning home for the holidays. Well, now I was going to take care of myself. I would do it better than Chari had done to his maiguru only two weeks ago. She had tried to beat him up for forgetting to close the chicken coup at night, but he had stood his ground, reminding her he was a grown-up man. She had thought he would run when she took out his brother’s belt, but he had taken the belt from her hand and struck her twice before he took off. I had laughed at him for running away, but he told me he remembered his brother may have been somewhere near. Although his brother came home later and beat him up, Chari still bragged to me that he had taken care of his maiguru and she had changed the way she treated him. I was going to do better than that, and the way mine was acting, I might have to do it today without any fear since, unlike Chari’s, my brother was not around to beat me up later.

I did not think Mukoma would be disappointed to know that I had done what I had always seen him do—beating his wife with or without a reason. Everyone in Mototi knew that a loving husband was supposed to beat his wife occasionally or always. Mukoma would not beat me for defending myself with fists because he had always said to me, “When you grow up, don’t make your big hands go to waste. Form them into these,” at which point he would show me his fists, “and use them effectively.” So I knew Mukoma would not punish me for proving that I had grown up. Besides, who knew when he would return from South Africa? A wave of pain travelled through my chest as I thought of Mukoma’s promises. Who knew why he had not sent the clothes he had promised me, and all the money he told me about the night he left, telling me, “You will have lot’s of pocket money. You are now a man. A man should have lots of money.” Two years later and still, he had not sent a cent to me, or if he had, maybe Maiguru had kept it all to herself. And now she was calling the Mberengwa people evil?

My cheeks throbbed with anger. I charged at her, thinking if she chose not to move out of my way, she might as well be prepared to fall like a Mutsviri tree struck by lightning. I expected her to be scared and leave me alone, but she stiffened, and laughed as if my efforts were funny.

I stopped right in front of her, my eyes fixed on hers. Still, she did not move. She even gave a stupid smile, as if she was a girl my age playing some kind of game with me.

“Please, move out of my way,” I said with a shaking voice, but I didn’t mean to say please. I couldn’t say please, and I was not going to tell Chari that I had said please.

At first she lowered her eyes, but then steadied, her face wearing an expression either of surprise or anger. If the sides of the path were not overgrown with thorn bushes, I would have just broken into a run in a whole different direction, and there was nothing she could have done.

She remained still, her hands on her waist, a wide-eyed stare fixed at me.
I had no time for this. I had already promised Chari that I would show him my new dance moves. Maybe he had already decided to go without me. Others were probably enjoying themselves in the dancing circle as the drums sung a chorus no one could ignore. Just the thought of the lead singer’s voice tearing the air and the first drum reacting made me want to do something, I didn’t know what, to Maiguru.

I turned around sharply and ran back to the compound. I looked on the ground for something, but I had no idea what I was looking for, although I could not stop looking for something. My chest was boiling with anger. I looked at Maiguru, and she was still standing where I had left her, in a daring posture, as if she thought I was a helpless little boy. I wanted to teach her a lesson.

I entered the storage hut and grabbed the first tool I saw, a long, thick metal rod we used to dig pole holes. I reemerged with the rod and tore my way straight towards her. Everything was happening too fast. “If you are smart, you better run,” I thought. As I drew closer and closer to her, she seemed to getting shorter and shorter.

I was going to kill her for trying to stop me from going to my new church. What was more important than the promise I had made to Chari? The dance moves I had practiced for a whole week, which I was going to surprise the congregation with? And all the people cheering and applauding? Besides, I did not want to miss the launch of our branch of the church. If the leaders from Mberengwa saw my dance moves, they would surely make me one of the youth leaders. That I knew for sure.

I got dangerously closer to her and raised the rod. She opened her eyes wide and jerked backwards, stumbled, but she steadied again, as if she had realized that something was wrong.

“What are you doing, boy?” she said moving to the side as if to let me pass. “ Just try any silliness and I will beat you until you die.” She stamped the ground with her bare feet. “Like this, until you die.” She concluded that with a killing sign with her hand, but I pretended not see all that. She remained rooted on the same spot, hands planted on her waist again like she was posing for a photo.

A certain power propelled me forward and I heard myself roar, but was surprised to hear her laugh. I raised the rod higher, and when I started lowering it, she dropped her hands to her sides and took off towards Chigorira hill.

I let her run for a while, to cover some distance, before I bore down after her, holding the rod high in the air. I was going to whack her like a baboon, to show her that no one could stop m from doing what I wanted. She was trying to make me miss the first round of dances, which were the best. The girls would spring to their feet in response to the wail of the drums, forming into a two lines, as the circle of people around them widened to give them more room, to plough the earth with their bare feet…how they would quiver to one side, then sway and hammer the ground in tune to the deep groans of the bass drums and the tremor of the tenor ones. I didn’t want to miss the part they would spread out and not even pay attention to their flying skirts as their bodies shot high into the air and hit the ground like hail, only to bounce up again like their feet were made out of springs. The crowd always went wild, clapping and ululating, and drowning the drums with their possessed singing….
No, I could not miss all that. And I haven’t even mentioned what would happen when the boys joined the girls in the dance circle, especially since one of those boys would be me, displaying my new skills.

And here she was telling me to go do what? Herd goats?

I pursued her. She ran faster than I had ever imagined her capable. The thrill of it, the fact that the person who once chased me across the village was the one speeding from me, made me tremble as I ran. And if she thought she could outrun me and that I would give up, she was dreaming. I was right behind her.

“You are crazy!” she shouted without turning or slowing down. She was now consumed in a cloud of dust that her feet raised. She kept running, without saying anything else. When we reached Chigorira, she jumped onto a big rock, but failed to keep her balance. What happened next slowed me down, brought me to a standstill.

She fell on her back, landing heavily on the bare ground. Her head skidded on the ground like a pumpkin and stopped close to my feet. I raised the metal and was about to strike when I looked at her face and saw her eyes. My heart hammered my chest and I felt sweat forming on my forehead and armpits. This was not good.

I dropped the rod and flew in the direction we had come from. I ran, not knowing why I was running even after it had become clear that she wasn’t chasing me. I ran toward Chisiya hill, and to my surprise I started looking forward to joining Chari on the other side of the hill where he was supposed to be waiting for. But I knew I had already too long for him and he had left for the gathering. But I kept running, now gripped by a sense of urgency, to check for him on the spot we had agreed and proceeding to the school if had already left. My hear beat faster when I heard a sound in the thicket on my left. Then I heard Mai’s voice, “Where are you running to like that, boy?” She was coming from somewhere, a bundle of something that seemed heavy sitting on her head.

“Where do you think you are going?” she asked again.

“Nowhere,” I said. “Just running!”

“Liar! Just say you are running to that new church of yours,” she shouted. “Make sure you don’t spend all night there. You have to help your Maiguru with the goats, understand?”

“Yes!” I said, now out of breath, but increasing my speed. Nothing, not even Mai, nor Maiguru, not even Mukoma, would stop me. I felt lightness in my heart, as if I had freed from some heavy chains. As if Mai’s voice hade given me new hope, but I knew she did not agree with me joining the new church, and was not in support of my going to the gathering.

I ran and ran, now on the road to the school. I had not bothered to check for Chari on our meeting spot. As I ran I could, trying not to think about Maiguru, or Mai, I could hear the drum playing in my heart. I ran and ran and in my mind’s eye saw people dancing in a big circle. I flew and thought I heard Chari laughing when he saw I had not kept my promise. I ran and ran, then saw a group of young people walking towards me.

I slowed down to capture a better view. As the group drew closer, I saw it was led by Chari and Ngoni, who seemed to be arguing, but I soon noticed that they were laughing. I came to a complete stop. Then they started running towards me.

Was the gathering over already? Had they decided not to go after I had failed to meet them on time?

I tried to turn and walk away before they reached me, but I could not, because they were looking directly at me, smiles lighting their faces. Chari said, “You should thank evil spirits for causing the service to be cancelled.” He looked at Ngoni who laughed and nodded.

Service cancelled? How was that possible? I moved to the side, giving way to the since they were still walking fast, and seemed like they would not stop. But they slowed down, and all heads were turned to me.

“I was going show you your little skills were nothing compared to mine; then I was going to have the whole school laugh at you tomorrow,” Chari said, as they joined me and stopped.

I did not say anything, my mind racing: the metal rod, the running after Maiguru, the look in her eyes after she fell from the rock, my escape… But why had the service been cancelled?

Although I didn’t get to ask the question, Chari said, “One of the deacons fell and hurt himself badly. The elders, they had to take him…where did they take him?”

“To Gudo,” said Ngoni.

The others, Simon, Ellah, Lindiwe, Peter, they all stood like Chari’s disciples.

“You are one lucky idiot,” said Chari.

I was going to protest his use of the word idiot, but before I could speak he said, “But now you have to come with us to something more interesting.”

“What’s that?” I said, fighting an image of the falling Maiguru.

“Follow first, know later,” he said, signaling the group to resume walking. “Come one, let’s go, although you are overdressed.”

“That’s okay,” said Ngoni. “At least we will have one weird-looking person.”

They walked with their faces still turned to me. A walking group of boys and girls, a group returning from a cancelled service but already going somewhere I was needed as well, such a group could not be ignored.

I joined them and started walking toward wherever they were going.

I looked in the direction of our home, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw Mai and Maiguru walking on the path to Mototi. I sunk deeper into the group and smiled with anticipation.

To the Gathering was written by Emmanuel Sigauke.

Copyright Emmanuel Sigauke 2008.

Emmanuel Sigauke grew up in Zimbabwe, where he studied English and Linguistics at the University of Zimbabwe.

He helped found the Zimbabwe Budding Writers Association, for which he served as National Secretary from 1992 to 1995.

He moved to California in 1996 and studied English at Sacramento State University. He teaches composition and writing at Cosumnes River College and is one of the editors of Cosumnes River Journal.

His poetry has appeared in various journals in Zimbabwe, Finland, United States and Ireland, and he is the editor of Munyori Poetry Journal. He is also a member of the Sacramento Poetry Board and a book reviewer for Poetry Now, a publication of the Sacramento Poetry Center.


Ivor W. Hartmann said...

Still Going is a vividly descriptive and emotional story seen through the eyes of young boy, who is set on going to a gathering with his friends. But first he has to overcome the formidable Maiguru, his brothers wife.

I really enjoyed this story Emmanuel, it reminded me in so many ways of the similar battles I fought with my elder sister. That feeling of utter determination to get your way, yet also a sense of helplessness when faced with an older family member and their inherent domination of the younger. The burning need to break free and be your own person that leads your character to pick up the rod, a final desperate act.

Emmanuel Sigauke said...

Thank you, Ivor.

I enjoyed writing this story and still somehow feel that the boy should have listened to Maiguru, try to compromise and make some type of deal; but once I noticed that he was going to try and use the metal rod, I let the story take its course. You are right, it's a desperate act.

Ivor W. Hartmann said...

Well that's what caught me, you just know that he has been on the losing side of Maiguru too many times to count and this is it, the point when he has to physically challenge her, throwing logic, debate, comprises and evil deals to the winds and just finally let go and act on pure self/ego formation survival instinct.

p.s. My sister fled horrified and hysterical and locked herself in her bedroom until Mom came home. When I returned I got it good, but it was worth it and things changed for the better between my sister and I.

Masimba Musodza said...

I like the bit about Maiguru beating him up, then bribing him with sweets....

You did not say it in so many words, but it comes across that these two need each other to survive in their hierarchial society and they both know it.

Emmanuel Sigauke said...

Thanks Masimba. The StoryTime team is inspiring. I went to your website and saw that you are coming out with a ton of novels. Congrats!

What did you think about the part of this story I describe the dancing? In revising, that's the part I would start with...

Ivor W. Hartmann said...

Personally I would place the dancing description earlier, it's a great description but interferers a bit with what's happening right then.

Sarudzai Mubvakure said...

It's a story written with excellent grammar and writing craft.

Your story reminded me of the first chapter of my novel.!!

However, i did not understand the end the story. I mean the point of it. Nonetheless,good writing.

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma said...

Enjoyed this story very much. It's vivid and it flowed and it was very amusing...until Maiguru fell. I'm wondering whether Maiguru died, conjuring up what might happen when the boy gets home, or if Mukoma returns..

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