01 February 2009

Days of Trying Times by Nigel Jack

Life has never stretched a generous hand to me. I live by the meanest means and happiness comes by accident. I've got nothing to propel me to propensities but bitterness. I try more than many people I know but my coffers are always next to dry. Perhaps my levers to affluence are stationed at the penurious end of honesty.

Once again I find myself in Johannesburg South Africa, Mzanzi so the natives call it. I'm here where the word trust has no meaning or maybe the meaning of the word makes no sense. This is the most dangerous human inhabited city in the whole universe and as a place can only be second to hell if it is not hell itself. Humanity is at its lowest measure and people don't live the life but the day. The natives are known to be uneducated, lazy and dangerous save for majority of whites who live in hide outs of expensive places. But even they too at times live by the mighty barrel of the gun.

Guns are sold at street corners by hooligans with blood stained eyes and cigarette smelling breath -and assault knives are accessible as bread. However those who kill for a living prefer home made knives for affordability and efficiency. They stab for as little as a cell-phone, a pair of shoes already on feet, wrist watch and just a blue hundred rand note is a huge sum of money to them. Their conscience is totally dead and they live by instinct. They don't like anything that challenges the mind, they hate learning, they detest working but they like good living. Their hearts are always green with envy and their hands are quick to put covetousness to practice.

I've been here before, I've been robbed here before and my mind can not let go. As I walk down this lane from the cheap looking coach rank along Devellis street into Park Station I feel paranoia creeping down my spine. Urine is now full in my bladder because I have never arrived this late. Street lights are hitting hard on me and I feel I'm too exposed to the people I can't see. I've suddenly adopted a boastful and careful gait while talking to the old men walking beside me in a makeshift hoarse voice. I'm trying to look and sound inaccessible to thieves. I've got precious powder on me. It's more than just soil. It's gold in colour. It's called gold. I've got twenty-five grams of it and it's packed in two small balls of plastic papers, one placed in the boots that I'm wearing and the other one is in my underwear near my arsehole. As I walk it keeps on rolling out to the edge of my underwear but I keep on pushing it back. I don't want to loose it. It has around thirteen grams of gold worth slightly a thousand United States dollars. It's a lot of money here in South Africa but its not much back home. In Zimbabwe it buys two months groceries for a family of four, but here in South Africa many families live on it the whole year.

At park station the old man and I make a phone call to the buyer. We learn that he was shot dead by robbers at his home in Midrand two weeks ago, for a while we are dumbfounded, just looking at each other with our hands on our mouths. Later we decide to wait for a new day, so we both try to catch a sleep on cold steel benches inside the park station arena, but the police won't allow us. Every few moments they're waking up people asking for valid bus tickets. I hear they're trying to get rid of street-people mostly from my country. We both brave the cold mid-January night to wakeup very early into Tuesday not that we've run out of sleep but that it's worth while given the conditions. I'm home sick already. This is my first time to be here for this cause. I've never done gold-deals in this city before, I'm used to Polokwane and I'm here because my buyers are out of the country besides the old man told me gold has more value in Jo'burg than in any other South African city. The old man knows everything about the buyers in this city and I know nothing. I'm waiting for him to come-up with a contingent plan but it surprises me to hear him ask, 'What do we do now?' I figure out I don't have an instant answer to the question. But wait a minute, I know what I want.

'I just want to go back to Zimbabwe.'

'I just want to go back to Zimbabwe,' he carefully repeats the words one by one while looking straight into my eyes.

I think he has just made a mistake; he has just opened his eyes and mouth too wide that I can see the contents of his heart. I see betrayal, I see greediness, I see corruption, and I see blood and death. I've got nothing to say so I keep on looking into him careful not to give away my findings. But he had something to say,

'Ok, ah okay,' he clears the throat and continues, 'I'm calling my friend in Boksburg and he will give me another buyer. Actually, he's the one who linked me to the late.'

I still have nothing to say so he takes out two one rand coins from his pocket and slotted them into the telephone machine while the other hand is holding the receiver. I can hear him muttering something in a native language that's biblical tongues to me and I can feel my heart throbbing. He puts the receiver down, scratches his head and turns to me with stretched arms,

'I told you he can help, he said we can go meet him in Boksburg so he will take us to the buyer. By the way how many grams did you say you have?' he seems not confident with his question as much as I'm not comfortable with giving him an answer so he adds a bit of justification to it, I mean I have ten and I should know how much we have exactly so I can negotiate the rate knowing the total number of grams we have between us.'

'Five' my answer is quicker than he expects and that kind of startles him besides the figure that for an instant freezes most of his external body motion.

'Oh, ok' he smiles out of bitterness 'so we have fifteen in total'.

'Precisely,' I back that up with a nod.

'Right,' he is still unsettled within, 'lets go I mean ah, let's go to Boksburg and meet him,' he says with a raspy voice.

I thrust my right hand in my pocket and picked out two silver coins.

'Here,' I say to the old man, 'take-, call the person and tell him to come and pick us from the new coach rank -tell him the J.R Choeu rank. If he is serious let him come with the buyer there. I can't go there besides I've got no money left on me here to take me there'.

'If he is serious, what do you mean? Of course he is serious,' the old man shouts.

'Then let him bring the buyer,' I answer with my eyes fixed straight to his.

As the old man take his unsure strides back to the phone booth, I feel a grip of lividness in my throat. The wind pipe is almost shut with hot phlegm of guile and I can feel it cutting the inner threshold. I try to gasp to clear off my head that is totally intoxicated with anger, and suddenly I can't see properly so I fall back on the metal bench. From there I can hear the old man's tongues but I don't want to concentrate. The next thing I'm walking down Harrison Street to the coach rank and the old man is behind me. I can see dirty boys and men with red eyes, dry mouths, soiled hair, yellow teeth and black lips, clad in cheap fabric and canvas shoes starring and calling after me but I am not listening, I'm not afraid of them either. I feel I can tear them all. I'm even afraid of myself; I can see the fire in my own eyes I feel like I've turned into an invincible tall block of iron. I suppose they see it too that's why they are not daring to step forward with their cheap knives.

J.R Choeu coach rank is situated just after the bridge next to the old parking building that they call a taxi rank. They say on this land once stood one off the biggest post-offices in Johannesburg and its remnants can still be seen trying to resist the nemesis of time just next to the rail-line on which passenger and goods trains can be heard honking, churning and grinding at intervals shorter than an hour especially during the morning. The coach rank is a hive of activity for travellers from Zimbabwe. Most of the buses that drop and pick passengers from there also from Zimbabwe namely, Go-liner, Mars Mercy, First class, Ngwenya transport, Passengers express, Tenda buses, Mushandi coaches to mention but the big fry. Other coaches from outside Zimbabwe that do business there are Pangolin Luxliner, Phadziri brothers and J.R Choeu to mention but few.

My first port of call is First Class coach offices where I'm advised there is no coach leaving to Zimbabwe today. First class lost one of my bags on my previous trip from South Africa so they compensated me with eight hundred rands plus a return ticket to South Africa. And now I need them badly because I don't have a penny in my pocket I had put so much faith in the clandestine deal that I thought I'd go back flying -and grey hound would be the only option if I was to travel on a bus. It's very ironic that my means can not afford me wings, or the comfort of greyhound but the coach that disappointed me on my way coming. My trip to South Africa was a hustle; the bus broke down on the free-way just after Polokwane more than two hundred kilometres away from Johannesburg and all passengers ended up standing by the side road literally begging on coming coaches to stop for help. My complimentary ticket became invalid and I ended up paying the blue note to a 'chicken bus,' that rattled all the way to Johannesburg. The experience has terrible and we sadly arrived at the prime-time for thieves and commercial sex-workers

'So when are you expecting a coach to arrive?' I ask very much afraid to receive an answer that would not guarantee my departure today.

'Maybe tomorrow,' the officer answers nonchalantly

As I drag my feet away from the offices I realise just can't stop bleeding inside. I enter one coach labelled Ngwenga transport and here I'm throwing my trimmed weight on a very uncomfortable seat. The pain in my abdomen has awakened me to reality. I remember I've got a very talented mouth and I must put it to test. In less than five minutes I have negotiated with the bus conductor to pay when we I get to Zimbabwe. Though I've won my plea I reckon I'm the first passenger therefore I must be in for a fix of time because the bus leaves only when it is at least half-full otherwise a loss will be incurred. The old man is sitting next to me and we haven't resumed talking. I didn't hear him negotiate so maybe he has the money to fund his trip.

Its funny how this girl called the day turns old when her admirers can still smell the scent of her youth. Her life-spun is pathetically short that the freshness of her youth is highly regrettable. The radiance of her hopeful features quickly wane and her wrinkles come in a rush. Before she ages to an outright hag one of the First Class coaches arrives. I'm starring at it from where I am sitting thinking what's so fly about it to be called First Class, maybe the ability to disappoint clients I suppose.

Latter the inspector of the bus that I've turned into my sitting room decides to off-load few passengers it had attracted into a different coach so his could leave tomorrow hoping it will be a lucky-day for them. His crew that is half a dozen invites me out for supper and the old man follows. He is now a tick to me, I'm thinking he must have realised by now that his prime time is over.

'Is he also coming with us?' one of the young men is asking me.

The old man quickly raises his head and looks straight into my eyes. I'm looking into his eyes too, for a moment I don't have anything to say.

'Yes, yes he's coming with us, he is my old man,' I smile to the group and they smile back, off we go to the food vendors within the premises. They buy three plates of sadza and I'm eating to the delight of my empty stomach. The old is eating heart-fully too without contributing a word to the stories that are being told.

One of the young men tells a tale of one Roy Machokoto, a Zimbabwe born young man who commands a gang of seven. His line of business is definitely not a trade but a dirty profession. He enjoys robbing people when they're gathered at one place -especially in a bus. The young man telling the story gets carried away in the narration that he assumes to be Roy robbing people,

'Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls my name is Roy Machokoto and I'm a dangerous robber. To those who have never heard of me let me tell you that I'm the one who last year robbed the Tenda bus that was travelling to Beit-bridge. I'm not afraid of death and I'm not afraid of causing it so please behave all I want is your cell-phone, money and any other thing on you that you think can give me quick money. Thank you so much for listening, right now let's get to business.' Everybody laughs to the lines except the old man who can not relent on the meal.

My eyes and his meet and maintain the stare for a while, suddenly everybody is quiet. One of the young men whispers loud, 'Ah! People, the old man has a huge appetite.'

Soon we are back in the bus that has been turned into a bedroom by touts. I am trying to catch a sleep but most of my room-mates do not feel the same. They are talking about the sisters of the night and how daring they are. They talk of diplomat beer parlour where strippers baptise young virgin men. They are taking turns to describe their frames and instruments of work. Once again the night is unbearable. Mosquitoes are singing their war-cry loud and they are prepared to die with their mouths dipped in our veins. I suppose they are happy that we don't have blankets on us. They're biting the legs, toes, fingers, neck, they are biting every exposed part. I don't know if I want to laugh or cry. I'm in trouble. Mosquitoes like my blood. I'm scratching and the more I scratch the deeper the pain. My legs are itching. I have acarophobia. I wish I could run away. I'm trapped. I'm thinking could I be the only one feeling this trouble, then I hear a voice in the dark shouting, 'Ah boys we dead, the mosquitoes are biting more than hornets.'

I'm surprised most of the people in here are awake, they laugh to confirm the mosquitoes are terrible.

'Let them finish you, you work everyday but you don't want to by a blanket.' Another voice interjects and a heavy laughter follows.

'Why should I buy a blanket when I know I sleep in a bus?'

'Who asked you to leave home?'

'Mugabe' he is quick to answer 'one old man in Zimbabwe called Mugabe hates people who sleep in houses; you're forgetting he demolished our homes few years ago. What did we call that Tsunami -it was not only in Indonesia, it was also in Zimbabwe.'

Silence follows then a heavy downfall of rain. The sound is deafening and communication is impossible. For a moment I assume to be asleep but I'm awake and the rain has stopped, even the mosquitoes have stopped. It's time for the cold. Its cutting deeper into my bones and I'm trying to keep my-self warm, first I fold my body into a portable hip, then I put my hands in my armpits, later under my testicles but its not working, now I've decided to sit with my hands tugged between my legs. I put my hand in my pocket and I'm checking the time on my cell-phone. It's just after midnight -I must catch sleep by any means. I'm now up and the day is not, the night is still reigning but slowly paving way for light. I'm waiting to see the sun rise like a big yoke in the eastern horizon, but I can't see it from this depression, besides the towering buildings of Jo'burg can not allow such luxuries. Maybe if this station was at the east of the central business district.

The first coach from Zimbabwe enters the station and suddenly there is activity. Bathing is a luxury here. Most of my room mates have jumped out to go help arriving passengers bring down their luggage while their eyes are coated with wax. Those who have decided to bath are doing so behind a mucky wall on the east. They are using small water buckets, laundry soaps and face towels. At least they're bathing and I can't. I just can't bath in these conditions, maybe I should stay longer.

The old man calls me and tells me what we both know, 'he didn't come.'

'Yes he didn't come, so?' is my answer.

'So what are you planning?'

'I told you I am going back home, what else do want to know from me. See the coach parked there, that first class coach -yah- that's the bus that'll take me home. Tomorrow evening I'll be home talking about Jo'burg, about you, about the gold buyer that never was.'

He is looking at me with talking eyes, but I can't get what he's saying

'Alright, I am not going to ask you to stay, just want you to know that I'm staying,' he says, 'I'll find a buyer then I'll follow'

'I hear you old man, but tell me what will you be eating and where will you stay between now and the time you'll find a buyer for your gold?'

'My brother-in-law is here in Jo'burg. I'll be staying at his place, eating his food and using his toilet.'

'Funny. You are a funny old man indeed, its okay-I suppose you've done that before, I mean you sound confident so go for it. I'll see you in Harare'

'I'll leave when you are leaving, as for now I'll continue enjoying your act'

'Which act' really I don't know which act he is referring to.

'See I never knew you're this tough. You don't look like you have ever stayed in the ghetto but I'm starting to believe otherwise,' the old man says with a smile on his face.

'What? do you think I have an option?. This is life not an act -I mean it's not a play. This is it, its life, and life is always what it is when it is,' I'm trying to be philosophical and this is not the time so I prefer a different subject.

'I heard Gono is launching new brand of buses here, this afternoon.'

'Gono, which Gono, you mean our reserve bank governor?'

'Yes, his brother Larry stays here and he is the cover face for his brother. You see these expensive coaches with three stars painted at the back.'

'Yes Go-liner is the name'

'Right, if you check its stomach it's written Go-liner tours, I heard the ones that are coming will be written Go-liner supreme, and they have five stars painted where the these have three'

'So the guy is rich ha?' the old man sounds naive and I don't like it.

'Rich, yes he is -he steals from you and me to buy coaches that we don't have money to board. He is the worst central banker I know. He has put the economy of our country to its knees. He has murdered and he is still murdering our country. I heard he wrote a book called, Zimbabwe's Casino Economy, in which he is trying to defend himself. But listen, a few years from now Zimbabwe will claim her wealth back and people like him will have cases to answer. Unfortunately not even a person who appointed him will be able to cushion him from the attacks, because he too will be in desperate need of refuge too.'

Days of Trying Times was written by Nigel Jack.

Copyright Nigel Jack 2009.

I’m -a budding yet prolific poet among my peers- a novelist and journalist who is now best known for my vivid portrayal of the contemporary ‘third world’ Zimbabwe in my debut novel, Naked.

My passionate, imaginative, seemingly simple yet intellectually complex art is reminiscent of the unadulterated African lifestyle of the Shona people in Zimbabwe. I use coyness and mock modesty to address anomalies within the complexity of the race –my race– of which I’m so proud ‘and that which I love I chastise.’

Born in Mt Darwin on 16 November 1979, I began my primary education in 1986 at Dandamera Primary School in Concession. I attended four more primary schools, before reaching high school, during which time I experienced more than I comprehended.

I attended forms 1 to 6 at Oriel Boys’ High School where my mind and experiences fell prey to an indisputably well read English Literature teacher who had an unquenchable desire for intellectual supremacy. I Nigel, his ‘guinea pig’, innocently went through the process of intellectual revolution without conceiving any suspicion of its irreversibility.

My parents held my penmanship in sufficiently high esteem to send me to the Christian College of Southern Africa (CCOSA) from which I emerged, in 2001, with a diploma in communication and journalism. During the two years I spent in college I developed the hobby of writing and reading poems to my classmates.

I later decided to gather all the poems together - and came up with a manuscript that I entitled; ‘Yet you love them and other poems.’ I lost this, my one and only manuscript, to a prominent writer whom I had asked to peruse the document pending its despatch to a publishing house.

In frustration I gave up poetry and seasoned my mind to concentrating on my journalism profession and, in January 2002, joined a Bulawayo based newspaper, The Chronicle, where I worked as a junior court reporter. In 2003 I joined the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, where I was employed as a scriptwriter and researcher.

While I was at ZBC I experienced deep pangs of poetic nostalgia but frustration would supersede the intransigent passion that had, some time ago, earned me nothing but repentance. However, art is not a job it is a calling - I eventually gave in to the passion but this time I would try prose.

Within a fortnight I completed a novel that I entitled ‘An apology for the life of Sean Quincy.’ I thought about my work and found it an incomplete history so I started writing another novel that I entitled ‘Trapped.’ Later I joined the two books and the work became ‘Naked’.

My first book, Naked, was tailored for the reader to discover the common intent of meaning. This I deliberately fashioned without expressions of personal purpose and I’m at liberty with my conscience to dearly pardon oneself and apologize to others if such is therein occasioned. However a common secret I wish to divulge that one's life is bedrock upon which all expressions and impressions are derived. Single or several of them may be disapproved, disaccorded or even discarded by the reader but the fact remains that art is a journey in self discovery and discovery of the world.

Today, the stories that I write are pieces of historical fiction that people will read rather for assortment of matter and for profit of profile, than precision of figures and meticulousness of dates and numbers. They are sincere compositions and substances of my responsibility to myself, and the reading society, above all they are mirror images of my unalloyed commitment to art.


StoryTime said...

ST warmly welcomes and presents, Nigel Jack.

Days of Trying Times by Nigel Jack is a cutting story told through the wide open eyes of a stranger in a strange land. Nigel bravely, graphically and with a superb coolness (of an ordinary man, made extraordinary by the extreme), portrays the forced economic pilgrimage of Zimbabweans into South Africa. In this case a precarious journey where a few grams of life-saving gold, could mean a sudden death, severe mugging or prison sentence. For those who desperately dare to cross-border transport it for sale in South Africa.

sarudzayi barnes said...

Nigel, this is a fantastic piece of writing that has a potential for development in to a novel. I also enjoy writing about the Zimbabwean Diasporas in the UK,the problems we face in foreign lands where we don't belong.

I like the way you blend fiction with facts, and remind readers about the challenges faced by our people as they struggle to make a living in South Africa. Good work.

Emmanuel Sigauke said...

I agree with Sarudzayi on the need to develop the story. If you want to keep it as a short story, edit it to remove some of the details (like the information about the buses that transport Zimbas to SA). I would also limit the narrator's knowledge to avoid telling too much, or change the narrative point of view altogether.

As a novel, it would benefit from many narrative voices; this will allow the reader to access the different ways the migrants experience life away from home, their unique ways of coping.

Then five or more revisions may produce wonders in this story with great potential.

So far, you have done well in capturing details that make up the content of a story; next, I would recommend controlling the details so they are presented in a more dramatic way, pulling the reader in, and even potentially entertaining.

Nigel Jack said...

Thank you so much Emmanuel and Saru for your comments. I enjoyed every single word, however I wish to let Emmanuel know as a friend that i'm a writer of protest literature and i cant really do away with facts even though i give them a touch of fiction. The story is 50 percent factual and 50 percent ficticious. The mention of bus companies in the story does not only serve to bring the reader (especially a reader living in Zimbabwe today) closer to the emotion in the story but succeeds in bringing to book some of the known culprits in this economy that is currently crawling on its knees. Im part of those who feel it everyday, im one of those who bleed, and i strongly believe one in pain does not speak in riddles, he calls a spade a spade. In Zimbabwe most people dont sell gold because they are in business they sell it because they want to live the moment. Im livid. very- i dont just write because i have the talent, the truth is i write because circumstances attract talent. Nevertheless- thank you, and thank you so much... im learning a lot from your writings too. You are great guys and that can not be taken away from you coz its natural.

Sarudzai Mubvakure said...

A unique style of writing. I could imagine all what was happening at the bus stop with the young man and the old man waiting for the gold buyer that never pitched up.
You write in a way that makes the story vivid - like a giant screenplay. Brilliant. keep writing more.

P.S. The information that Emmanuel asked you to omit is what i found engaging. I understand what emmanuel is saying, but what he is referring to is style. Your style is different. Take in the feedback as far as you can but never let go of the truth of who you are.

Keep writing!

Nigel Jack said...

thank you so very Saru Mubvakure for the kind comment. i appreciate the fact that you understand there are different styles of writing. Nevertheless i still respect my brothers comment, i mean Manu, our network is healthy. i woulike to express my warmest welcome to you

Anonymous said...

The guy you wrote about in this in real life he does exist and he is claiming that you wrote this script without his knowledge. Roy Machokoto is the guy I'm talking about the main character in the story.

StoryTime said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comment. Yes, Roy Machokoto does indeed exist and what he does (and is mentioned in this story) is public knowledge (see this for a link to a newspaper article which clearly mentions him and what he does - Zim's notorious armed-robber gunned down in SA). Given the nature of his crimes and numerous warrants out for his arrest, I'm sure the police would be very interested to hear his complaint in-person on this particular matter.

So to be noted:

1)As the information used in this fictional story is public knowledge, neither Mr. Machokoto's knowledge nor consent was needed.

2) Mr. Machokoto is not the main character in this fictional story, far from it, he is only briefly used as a scary story to illustrate the perils of travelling to and from South Africa, from Zimbabwe.

I hope this puts things into perspective for you, and Mr. Machokoto.

- Ivor W. Hartmann Editor/Publisher StoryTime

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