08 February 2009

Riddle of the Broken Circle By Beaven Tapureta

Each day unfolded with a different attitude, a different pace and a different thought. Each individual a silent different song crooned to keep themselves company, to run away from the snapping reality.

And nobody cared about him any longer. They had shunned him, written him insensate. Daily when the sun disappeared beyond the horizon he watched from his window, the night approaching in her nightdress of painful dreams to terrorize the whole nation in its sleep until it was exhausted, hopeless, and helpless. He watched the deluding cover of darkness raping the country apart, baking it from disease to disease to AIDS, while the Anti Retro Virals were looted and the AIDS orphans and other beneficiaries died in the countryside, heroes of tomorrow who did not make a constituency and who did not vote died! He loved his people so badly but he realized he was still looking for himself, wondering if this was the way it was supposed to be. His own culture had already disappeared; everyday the gifted young ones died one by one, falling to the fatal calls of carnal desire, calling it freedom and independence. Damn it! He was like someone looking for himself in a world ruptured by a riddle of a broken circle.

What is it, my Lord, about my country?

He looked out through the window from his room as if to run away from the same nagging question. Children of the slums played outside, so meek like cherubs oblivious of the economic war happening around them, oblivious of the man society had shut out.

Many of the houses in this area had been built slapdash after the clean up exercise by the dirty cruel city council's bulldozers! Victims like him with nowhere to go simply hid somewhere temporarily and then stole back to their destroyed shacks and re-built them, re-built their fallen city. They were safe here. He was safe here. The children were safe here. This was home sweet home.

The majority of the people were poor security guards, general gardeners, unskilled industrial workers, shoe makers, dealers, thieves, vendors, prostitutes, and a lot of young people who had neither a decent means of survival nor a better future to look forward to. Everywhere the pit-latrines oozed unbearable gases onto the dusty roads and homes and cholera visited the children very often. O how deeply devastated he was when two weeks ago Sinikiwe, that sweet daughter of his neighbour Scooter, fell to diarrhoea and nearly died! Chickens and stray fly-ridden puppies roamed all over the place dropping their excrement without knowing that there was no one in great need their manure. The ghetto really needed some kind of different spiritual manure to let love grow again, let it flower like a rose again, he mused.

But this was the place that carried his dreams and his joys. Nothing could take away this truth.

He wanted to close the window but in a parting glance he suddenly saw a hen that sat with her wings warmly embracing her pullets. He looked up to the sky and saw an eagle hovering. He waved and pss-pssed it away and it flew in a different direction. The hen tilted her head to look at him and as if to say thank you to him, it cackled and let go its pullets to play with others in the grass nearby.

He closed the window and walked back to his desk to read his book again.

His room a miserable cave of art with ugly walls smeared with old and peeling new paint. A sooty perforated roof of rusty zinc sheets hung uncertainly above.

On his desk there were books piled one over another. He had a great taste for poetry and African story telling, as if he had a vision that a key will materialize from those books and liberate the minds of his people; liberate them from the riddle of an un-satisfied desire, a broken circle, and a collapsed future. Next to his desk was a box full of manuscripts, old newspapers, magazines, newspaper cuttings and heavily annotated novels. Reading haunted him like a devil. On one of the walls a well thumped portrait of the late legendary Robert Nester Marley wailing in concert, hung like a religious flag of one love, the kind of love that could only be found by struggling, creating struggle out of stone and destroying it again, calling it revolution. Below Bob's poster he had pasted a statement written in graffiti style reading '...and finally the tables are starting to turn'.

Next to the window was a poster of a young dreadlocked writer speaking behind the microphone, the one he loved, the one he missed like a brother, the one whose books haunted him like a devil. A quarter of his floor space was taken up by rusty gadgets such as paraffin stove, pots, plates, cups, spoons, and even some underwear. His clothes hung like animal hides on a wire fixed from one corner to another near the roof.

On certain Sundays he would go outside the house, sit under a tree in the middle of the yard to look at people passing by. Sunday was the day he would be seen socializing with people but normally he sat under the tree, fiddling with his book. He would silently embrace the hectic noise of both church goers and non-church goers. The youths who had turned into lousy Rastafarians sat in the verandas of their shanty cabins, wooing women, smoking ganja as atrocious raga vibes boomed liberally from their ill-gotten ghetto blasters, speaking the language of Rand and greenbacks which no one knew from where they earned them.

Out on the dusty roads young children in the company of their cleanly dressed parents sprightly headed for the church, carrying Bibles and beating tambourines. Adults walked like Israelites temporarily marching out of the land of bondage. Somewhere beyond the sky there was a better palace built for them.

He wished he could be one of them when they walk into those gates of heaven. Humans were mean, heaven was not.

One of the Sundays he got bored by what he was seeing outside his room and so he went inside and lay on the straw-mat. A few houses away some soft rock music oozed into the air, the kind of music that he liked, but also the kind of music which was rarely heard in the ghetto. He coaxed his ears. It came distantly but clearly, a sound fat with tangibility, like an ice-cube, melting into his ears, into his blood, re-activating those good old days' memories. The thudding baselines intertwined with tuneful tweaking of electric guitars brought his memories back to the kind of Zim-land he wanted. What is it that is troubling my countrymen? What is the problem mama-land? What?

He jolted up and soon was standing in the middle of the room, listening like he had heard someone calling his name from a far land. He looked out through the window and saw a car parked a few houses away, its doors ajar, generously letting out rock music. Next he began to nod his head, and then his feet tapped the floor, following the rhythm of the intrusive music. His soul liberated itself and finally his whole body was dancing, waltzing erotically like a man so driven by an emotion that comes but not often. He slowed down his pace as the music started to die out gradually. When the music eventually faded he lapsed back onto the straw mat, exhausted, and slightly perspiring. In a moment he began to feel dejected again. The joy he had felt diminished until it was like it had never touched him.

It happened that in the past four months or so Scooter had been accumulating a very heavy debt from one of his friends whom all those who spent time at the local beer hall feared. Prince, they called him and Prince they feared him yet Scooter had all along been dodging the Prince's battle of blood.

Scooter's mind seemed to disintegrate at the thought that he owed Prince more money in foreign currency than any one else in the neighbourhood.

'I feel like someone cursed by money,' Scooter told him one day when they met outside their houses. Scooter really looked worried. 'Prince had been demanding his money for weeks and today he threatened me with death because I didn't meet yesterday's deadline.'

'How much do you owe him?' he asked.

But Scooter could not tell the truth. It seemed it was so much money.

Even if Prince wanted to grab anything in Scooter's house to commensurate his payment it still needed a top-up of something because nothing was worth confiscating from Scooter's house. The evening gradually turned darker and darker. Scooter lay on his back on a mat they used for a mattress. His wife was busy cooking the evening meal outside on a fireplace. There was no electricity in the ghetto. There had never been any in actual fact probably because the ghetto was run by a Local Board, and not a Council that has more bargaining powers, blah, blah. Through the slightly open door Scooter could see his daughter Sinikiwe huddled beside her mother at the fire, grimacing from the smoke eating into her little catty eyes. Fiona finished cooking the meal and soon the family gathered in their room to enjoy their supper of borrowed vegetables and sadza.

The night boomed with nothing but the shrieks of whores and murderers, the hoot of stray rich youths driving into ghetto houses dubbed 'girls high schools' which belonged to the lost women. The shrieks and hooting alternated with crickets trilling and the bass orphaned orchestras of frog-fathers hunting down virgins along the un-flowing Jacha River.

The sky, heavenly blue even at this time of night, was the only prophet of the current human situation.

The Scooters slept peacefully for some few hours until Fiona woke her husband up and whispered to him that she had heard footfalls coming from outside.

Instinctively, Scooter hurried up and quietly tip-toed to the door. He looked out through the little crack in it and his heart nearly fell out through his mouth when he caught sight of Prince and his gang. Before Scooter knew it there was a loud knock on the next door, luckily not on his door.

The man, whom society had shunned as he had shunned it back, opened his door. He hadn't slept yet because he wanted to finish reading the fifteenth chapter of his book.

'May I help you?' he asked.

'We want a gentleman named Scooter please,' Prince replied.

The man pointed at the door behind which the hunted was secretly hiding from the hungry hunters now come.

'Knock on that door I hope he's still awake with his family,' the man said.

And it all sounded like a betrayal only when he went back to his desk and began to read his book as well as think about why those men were looking for Scooter at this time of night. He had been trying not to meddle in people's affairs but Scooter's story came afresh in his mind.

The night shivered as a heavy knock pounded on Scooter's door. Scooter shrunk backwards from the door, clutching his chest and standing still like a statue. Scooter could not even hear his wife's whisper because of fear.

'Who are they?' Fiona whispered again.

She was answered from the outside by a voice that she knew only belonged to the ghetto rascal whom cowards in the neighbourhood had crowned Prince, for his outstanding contribution in the proliferation of crime in the society.

'Wake up you fool! I am going to teach you a lesson boy. You played da game with a wrong guy fellow.' Prince's words were followed by disparaging laughter from the other guys accompanying him.

Fiona shivered in the blankets trying to figure out what was going on. Scooter knew the time had come now for him to either swim or sink, and/or thwim or thwink.

He faked a sleepy voice and answered, 'Coming guys, I am getting dressed.'

Scooter lighted the candle and opened the door but nothing good awaited him outside.

'Bastard, you thought you are clever?' Prince said and beckoned his men to do the work he had hired them to do. 'Teach him enough sense guys,' he ordered and stepped aside.

A short guy nicknamed Bin Laden was the first to kick the shit out of Scooter. Bin Laden like an electrified karateka dished out a side kick that ate into Scooter's face; and then the other men closed in on Scooter. They kicked him like he was a snake in their house.

Fiona flew outside the house screaming, 'No, no, please.'

Prince gave her a clean swipe on her face and a kick in the butt and she fell face first onto the ground. When she rose again to defend her husband she was strongly kicked back into the house, and because she didn't want to let the child Sinikiwe awaken to this real horror she kept herself indoors, silently sobbing and fattening with anger.

Outside her husband groaned in pain on the ground, pleading with the Prince.

'Please, -lease, don't do this to me. I will give you your money before the end
of this week, please'

'I don't need any talks!' Prince shouted and quickly used his head to say to his men, 'Teach him some more.'

A tight fist crashed his head and then something like an electric cable slashed him across his back before the Prince and his men vacated, leaving him wallowing in agony like a half-dead buffalo.

The man who had shut society out had already lapsed into a deep dream on his desk. All that had been happening outside was nothing but broken decibels of a society's song of fortune and misfortune, a society which he seemingly lived far from.

The bats patrolled the night like un-paid guards. The crickets wailed like widows shrieking for the return of their lost husbands. He had his eyes open suddenly when he heard a knock on the door. Carefully he left his desk and went to open the door thinking it was Scooter but he was only surprised to see a woman standing on the doorstep, crying terribly.

'My husband is dying, please, please,' Fiona threw herself onto the ground. There was a suppressed feeling about her that he noticed.

'Fiona?' he whispered in shock and walked over quickly to where she lay sobbing, hitting the soil with her fist in grief.

'Fiona, stand up. Stand up Fiona, what's wrong? What happened?'

He lifted her up and she pointed to her house and reality dawned upon him. Scooter was lying in blood and agony on the doorstep of his house, struggling to rise up and get inside. Fiona wept as he rushed to lift Scooter and helped him to get inside the house.

And soon afterwards the world drifted like a cloud flying on a string of torture.
Despite the pain, morning came up the following day without remorse.

He could not read as he used to, or write often like what he used to do. Every thing seemed to have been re-scheduled before he could tell why. Since last night the ghetto life had pick up speed and he seemed to be following unsteadily behind. He could not understand himself, his society, life, why?

The chilly wind blew sharply and stirred the flora everywhere. He was sitting under a tree, basking in the little sunshine that came from the north-eastern horizon, beyond Mozambique. Clouds not very heavy occulted some of the sunshine and a dark umbra would cover the whole ghetto like a dislikeable blanket.

Costermongers selling vegetables and fruits touted for customers along the road, some of them who meant serious business attracted attention by ringing a hand-held bell and singing attractive songs. A few meters across from him Sinikiwe played with her friends in the sand, busy making mounds of earth which they called houses, animals, people and sometimes drew absurd lines on the ground.

Sinikiwe noticed him and left everything she was doing and ran towards him.

'Uncle, uncle I didn't see you outside,' she said.

'Did you sleep well, child?' he asked as usual.

The little girl called him uncle because her parents told her that was the right name for an old man living alone as their neighbour.

'Uncle, dad was hit by thugs last night,' the girl's face suddenly turned sad.

He could see how much Scooter was loved by his family regardless of the kind of poor man he was.

'He's going to be alright. I talked with him this morning. He's improving very quickly.'

'But why, uncle, why do people hit my dad?'

'Let me tell you sweetheart, those people who hit your father will be burnt in hell. So don't worry.'

He smiled and offered a hand for peace which she joined with hers and the two embraced like discoverers of only one kind of love. She sat near him on the ground while he asked her questions to test her intelligence.

'So tell me what you want to be when you finish school?'

'I want to be a nurse because I want to heal my father when those thugs come back for him again. But uncle, tell me did you finish school?'

'Yes why?'

'I see you reading every day like you are studying something. Is there a reason
to keep reading books after finishing school? I would rather find something to do, like work in the hotel, be a nurse. Do you know how to cook, uncle? Who cooks for you?'

'I do it alone.'

'Uncle, tell me that story about why people burn in hell.'

'You are a good girl. Alright, I will tell you a different one why people rejoice in heaven, alright?'

'Alright,' she nodded and attentively waited.

He began.

'There was a man whom suffering visited and ruined all that he had. His name was Job. He suffered all sorts of physical and spiritual pain but he remained innocent to God. People threw him out of their villages but in his heart he held no crime against them. He forgave them for all the pain they inflicted on him. You see now, this man is now the source of knowledge and wisdom for the whole world. You see, the man whom people always want to rebuke and hit and call all sorts of names because he is suffering is the one who knows the meaning of life.'

At this point their talk was interrupted by Fiona who all of a sudden appeared a few meters away from them and beckoned Sinikiwe to come inside for her mid-morning meal. When Sinikiwe was gone he felt lonely again...

What was it that he didn't know about himself, or his people, something hidden away from him, a thought stashed in the marshes of suppressed freedom where it buzzed and lingered like a lost bee…he wished he could go over his life again to where it all began, searching for the source of the long river. But in the middle of this storm he saw himself rolling onwards like an unfolding carpet towards the King who would one of the days walk gracefully over it again - over his LIFE - inspecting, examining, judging, for Him only can judge.

He thought one day he will be over it, will find the answer.

Riddle of the Broken Circle was written by Beaven Tapureta.

Copyright Beaven Tapureta 2008.

Beaven is a zestful creative writer, journalist, poet. Beaven was nominated for the NAMA 2009 in the Media Print category, for Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ) Magazine & Freelancer.


StoryTime said...

From the recently NAMA nominated Beaven Tapureta, comes the cutting, Riddle of the Broken Circle.

Set in current-day Zimbabwe it plunges deep into one man's vision and survival against the odds. Who like a shell-shock victim seeks to shut himself off from the daily horror just to survive, but no man is an island and life has a way of knocking on the door.

Emmanuel Sigauke said...

Good one, Beaven.

I like the parts of your stories where you have your characters do something and the pacing of the story increases.

StoryTime: Weekly Fiction by African Writers.
All works published in StoryTime are
Copyrighted ©.
All rights reserved.