14 February 2009

With Leticia by Emmanuel Sigauke

I bumped into Leticia on Bank Street, where she was almost hit by a car as she ran across to greet me. She shouted curses after the speeding car, but when she turned to me, she had calmed, like nothing had happened. She dodged my hug and offered a hand which I shook gratefully.

“I always see you here. Do you work somewhere close?” she asked.

“I work at Sales House,” I said, noticing that she was still ugly, which is why I had once thought I could have her in high school.

“Sales what?” she asked, and before I could answer, she started laughing, an honest, toothy laugh, like she could just die on the pavement and go to heaven. At first I pretended to be confused; then I started laughing too. It was just a wonder looking at her teeth, which reminded you of things that dug things, but again, I had once loved them.

My eyes focused on her forehead, which was creased when she laughed. I stopped laughing and decided to cough. That’s when she said: “I always knew you would fail.”

“Fail what”?

“Now you are going to lie to me and say you passed A-Level? News already traveled and it’s been what? Seven months and you are already talking about ‘I work at Sales Houses’. It was always clear you would end up somewhere like that.”

“How did you know that I would fail though?” I said.

“Do I even have to explain that? Who went to the front of the class and wrote that nonsense on the board?” she asked, her voice thicker like she had phlegm to clear.

“What did I write on the board?” I said, moving closer to her, to let people walk freely around us.

“Remember, in class, waiting for the teacher?”

“Slap me or something, please,” I said, leaning even closer to her and feeling the softness of her sweater.

She laughed again, her voice splintering, as if the laughter had decided to turn into a cough. “Don’t tell me you already forgot.”

“I’m serious; I’ve no clue,” I said.

She didn’t believe me. The doubt was in her eyes, which were her main asset. They were wide and slanted. Big. Perhaps she was talking about that embarrassing incident in Literature class, where I had mispronounced the word querulous and the teacher laughed at me for five minutes and the class laughed for five days.

“I don’t know about that one,” she said. “Remember, I didn’t study English. I did---.”

“Geography, Shona, and History, I know.” I said, hoping that she would not pursue that matter further.

“So what happened in Lit class? How exactly did you pronounce the word?”

“Pretend I didn’t mention it,” I said. “Just tell me about this thing.”

She tilted her head and looked at me sideways, as if she was sizing me up for something. I liked that look, actually, with lips pushed forward a bit like a ripe wound.

“What’s crazy is Chari thought you were funny, like some kind of class hero,” she said.

Chari, the class monitor, had thought I was funny? How? He was the funny one, not me.

At that moment the image of a class dying with laughter while Chari and I danced in the front came flashing back, flitted away….then came back. Oh, that? She was silly.

“Why would you even think about that? It’s been...let's see...Seven months?”

“You asked me how I knew you would fail,” she said, her lips getting ready to release another guffaw. But they retracted and she said, “I knew you would remember.”

We had now resumed walking. I knew where I was going. And if she wanted to go with me, well, that was fine too. When we met I thought I saw that she had been going in the opposite direction, but …oh well. I walked faster, weaving my way through the lunch crowd. She kept up with me, still coughing out brief laughs.

“So what’s your point with all this—the laughter and all?” I said, slowing down.

“Just look where you are now. You caused this to yourself, that’s what you did,” she said. The breeze of her laughter swept her so close to me that her chest brushed against my shoulder. I felt momentary warmth like there was nothing to worry about in the world. Walking with her at that moment felt good, despite the laughter.

“Look where you are now,” she said again.

“Where am I?”

“For someone who was absolutely certain about going to university, it is just interesting to see that—.”

“What you don’t realize is I love my job and might become a manager soon,” I said.

But her laughter rose again, and she even went in front, turned to face me as she walked backwards. I stopped, to give her a signal that we didn’t have to continue walking.

“I’m not bothered by the fact that you didn’t get enough points to enter the university, but just seeing you here, which is nowhere close to UZ, cracks me up, especially since you’re the one who sung about it and made fun of everybody.”

She waited for a reaction, and when I didn’t give one she said, “Mr. Genius from the village. What was that place you came from again, where you read in the caves?”

No, she was taking this too far. I resumed walking and it didn’t sound like she was following me. I turned and saw that her laughter had overcome her again and she bent like one about to throw up. So now I had to wait for her, to set things straight, and to let her know that no one could talk about my village that way.

Perhaps I deserved to be laughed at, considering what I had written on the board: Vamwe vedu chichava chiroto kuenda kuUniversity. The class had interpreted the sentence to mean: “Some of you will taste university life only in dreams.” Which is what I had intended. I just don’t remember why I wrote it. The class had laughed, everyone except a few people like Leticia, who had stood up and said I was not funny. But Chari had turned the sentence into a song. We had danced, he and I, until the teacher arrived and made us dance some more when he saw the sentence on the board.

I had felt like a hero, but so what?

She was still laughing. But the laughter had slowed down to brief, faint bursts. When she stopped she said, “So now guess who didn’t get to go?”

“Well, why don’t I just tell you now that I am re-sitting the exams in November?” I said.

“Why even waste time? Don’t you know that once you fail A-Level you’re done?”
If she wanted to laugh at me for working in a department store, let her. But I wasn’t going to work there forever. People like her didn’t realize things like that.

“You’ll see me at UZ in no time at all,” I said.

“Very sad,” she said, wiping tears of laughter.

“What’s sad? That I didn’t get accepted or that I am here with you?” I said.

“The storekeeper job—it’s depressing. I feel sorry for your village. What do you call that place again?”

Not again. She saw that I wasn’t going to say more, and walked quietly, hesitant, like she was done with me. But no, she burst out again. I walked on, thinking that she was really crazy. What had DeLeon seen in her? Were they still together? Perhaps that’s what I needed to ask her, although I knew she thought I didn’t know.

We stopped by the entrance of the Bank Street café, which served sadza and stew. She stood by my side looking at the entrance. It looked like this was probably her destination too, which meant that she probably worked somewhere near.

“So how about you?” I asked. “Are you now at the university?”

She did not answer. Just stabbed me with her stare.

“Perhaps I should say: How is life at the UZ?”

Her face took that pensive ugliness I had always found attractive. I leaned closer to her.

“I failed,” she said, pushing her lower lip forward, then stretching it to force a smile and adding, “like you”, and while pointing at me, saying, “Because of you.”

“What?” My heart skipped a beat. I had once pursued her, but there was no way that would have made her fail. Besides, hadn’t she made it clear that no matter how hard I would try, no matter how much English I would speak, I would never date her? To prove her point, hadn’t she gone ahead and dated DeLeon, who already had three other girlfriends? Now why was she standing here accusing me of causing her to fail?

“I think your stupid prophecy affected me on the exam day. It’s your fault that I’m here now instead of there.”

“That’s what they call a blessing, right?” I said.

“Seriously, I didn’t make it,” she said, smiling. “But I never wrote things on the board though, like someone I know. You prophesized your own doom, my friend.”

Friend, huh? And she was smiling too? I waited to hear more, about herself, where she worked, whether she was available always at this time.

But her lips balled into a mound that I knew was about to scatter with laughter.This time she found me ready. I laughed first, then she joined in, and that felt good.

We laughed for a moment longer, even moving further away from the café’s entrance to leave room for those who were entering and exiting. My laughter was louder while hers was controlled, like a lady should laugh. And those lips, man! The eyes too, with their beaten-by-laughter, teary honesty.

Then the laughter stopped, and we looked at each other. She leaned forward and brought he lips closer to my ears and whispered, “Someone has to say the next thing.”

“I know,” I said, bringing my mouth to her ear, but accidentally brushing her lips since she hadn’t finished turning away from my right ear.

There was a moment of confusion, for her at least, I am sure.

“You are beautiful,” I said, by which I meant I was sorry.

“What?” she asked, walking away from me and entering the café. I followed her, to say something, to apologize. When I caught up with her I said, “Did you hear me?”

She rolled her eyes, pouted and said, “I guess I should say thank you.”

“Don’t mention,” I said. Confused a little, I still wanted join in if she had some laughter left in her.

“Wanna grab a bite?” she asked.

“Yes; that’s what I was going to ask you, but we were already here”, I said, following her to a booth table near a window.

“We can update each other on what’s been going on in our lives,” I said, as I sat opposite her.

“Sure, if you don’t have to go back to work soon.”

“I am okay. This is good.”

“It is,” she said, looking at me with roving eyes.

“Especially if DeLeon if out of the picture,” I said, surprising myself. I had no idea where that came from.

She frowned, raised her head to a posture that showed she didn’t know how to react. If it was not going to lead anywhere, at least this was my real match to her laughter. She sunk deeper into the booth and stretched.

Her lips started swelling and I felt mine quivering and before long we leaned towards each other and burst out again. For the first time since meeting her I was truly laughing.

With Leticia was written by Emmanuel Sigauke.

Copyright Emmanuel Sigauke 2009.

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...

A really sweet story, I loved that it started with his current humiliation from childhood deeds. There's nothing quite like the bond of shared childhood memories. How easily they connect these two people who have been apart a long time. It's like that quote from Mary Schmich's sunscreen speech "...The older you get the more you need the people who knew you when you were young...".

Thamsanqa N. Ncube said...


Its taken me some time to go through some of the work on ST, but i am working my way through, and stumbling upon this gem was soothing to my soul! How i lived each minute of the conversation is trulty amazing, and the story took me through the familiar journeys we all travel when we meet those we once knew...Excellent work.

Sarudzai Mubvakure said...

This story is different from your story entitled Kennedy, which i read halfway through.... hopefully i will finish it some time soon. "With Leticia" engages you from the beginning. It's a good story...enjoyable.

Please read "The Visa" by Thamsanqa Ncube. It's a mulitifacted story i.e. multiplots and multi-themes all wrapped in one short story.

You might also want to have a look at Ivor Hartmann's Story called "Lost Love"

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