11 October 2009

A Story for Nandi by Fungai Machirori

I have always been a lucid dreamer. Once, as a child, my grandmother told me that dreams as clear as mine - as clear as spring water - were my mind’s own way of diluting its distresses. Some people, she said, cried out their woes. And others, like me, found clarity and peace through their dreams flowing with cool relief and reassurance.

Sometimes I imagine Trevor to be such a dream – a still pool of peace amid the chaos of my tainted being, a yearning of my subconscious for purity.

But he is real.

With soft mounds of flesh about his growing bones, big brown searching eyes and a one-two beat to his shallow breath, I can reach out my hands to touch him, unlike any of the other reveries I had before. And I can hold him, smell him and watch him sleep and be certain that neither he, nor I, will dream ourselves away.

Yet somehow, the clarity that he has brought to me has thrown a veil of dimness over everyone else. Even as he was born, no one celebrated except him and I; I heaving and sobbing, and him writhing within his tiny body to take in the still afternoon air. An unfazed midwife and a slight breeze through the clinic ward’s open windows were our only companions and witnesses to the consummation of our eternal bond.

Moist and tired and in pain, I convinced myself that I was in one of my dreams - so deceptively real that I couldn’t find the fine seams that hemmed it to reality. How else could this not have been a dream? There were no anxious relatives beginning to gather at my bedside, no supportive man stroking my hand in admiration, no cards, no flowers, no balloons, nothing to celebrate – just the garish greens and pinks of the curtain that cordoned me off from the next patient’s bed.

“You shouldn’t have had him.”

Those were the first words my mother muttered sullenly as I handed Trevor over to her for the first time. Just three weeks old, he slept peacefully in his matching pale blue vest and pants, his skin laced with the scent of lavender talcum powder. She went on to fold her arms across her withered chest and look away from the both of us as if we were a pair of lepers, disgusting in her sight.

As I pulled my baby back and hugged him to my chest, I watched every detail of my mother’s face. Her thin lips, tightly pursed; her dark crinkled skin, hanging loosely like crepe paper off an undeserving gift and her eyes – her deep unfeeling eyes – blinking rapidly at the wall she had turned to face. On that wall was a framed poster of Jesus Christ, his eyes warm and his palms open and emitting a brilliant golden light.

Matthew 11:28 ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’

Amid this irony of rest and rejection, I left my mother’s home knowing that that would be the last time that I would ever see her.

Sometimes I would see her in my dreams, exactly as she had looked on that day. In my dreams though, Trevor would be a young man, about 16 or 17, helping his grandmother to her swollen tired feet. Her eyes, rheumy with age, would begin to well up with tears she would wipe off with her chapped hands.

“You proved us wrong,” she would say to Trevor, her voice breaking with emotion.

I never knew where I was in such a dream. Perhaps I was just the narrator, all-seeing and all-knowing. Or perhaps I would be standing in the corner of the room, by the old polished wood display cabinet that housed all my high school trophies and accolades – and now also Trevor’s. Or maybe I would just not be there. Either way, all that mattered to me was the words my mother would say to her grandson - words that trickled warm and clean from a once vomiting sewer.

I haven’t yearned for much else but acceptance since Trevor was born. But all I have received instead is the scorn and spite that forces me to retreat into the reveries of my mind.

Just like any other ‘normal’ baby, he has ten toes and fingers and a heaving cry and a curious stare. But what everyone who should have love Trevor unconditionally sees him as lacking, which is a father and a certain future, sets him apart in their minds as less normal and therefore, unlovable.

One day when my little boy becomes old enough to read and write and understand his world beyond the impalpable things that I tell him, he will ask about a daddy and aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas. Will I tell him that I am not too sure who his father is, that I can offer him at least three possibilities – but only their first names - without any certainty about which one of them might have given him the cute dimples in his cheeks when he smiles?

And one of those days, with a challenging stare, he will make me explain why I have taught him to say H-I-V instead of H-I-J as the ABC song he will learn will go. Three letters, one misplaced in the alphabet, marking both him and me different, less normal, unlovable.

Could I ever tell him that because of HIV, his grandma was too disgusted to cradle him, that she and everyone else had told me to get him ‘taken care of’ when swelling with new life, I found out that I had the virus? How his grandpa slapped me and called me a slut for having brought such shame to the name of a God-fearing family?

If my mother had given me half the chance to speak when I had visited her with my newborn baby, she might have let me explain that she need only not love me, that Trevor was not dying from the curse that I carried within my body, that he was loveable. He was born HIV negative. But after her obvious disdain at seeing us, I decided that she didn’t deserve to share that good news with us.

In my dreams, I see Trevor growing into a beautiful young man whom my family will feel remorse at never having known. I see his grandmother one day looking up at him for the comforting hand that she was not willing to offer to him, and I pray that wherever I am – dreaming amongst the living or within the cradle of the dead – this act of acceptance might finally bring relief for the pain and shame that throbs so intently within my being.

A Story for Nandi was written by Fungai Machirori.

Copyright Fungai Machirori 2009.

Fungai MachiroriWriting about myself.

What a deeply challenging task. When asked to go back in time and tell someone about me, I am never too sure where and when to begin. Should I start with my birth date – April 2, 1984 – or with the beginnings of my passion for writing – which emerged around the time I was 12? Should I tell you about all the frustrating challenges or just about the deeply fulfilling successes?

I am never too sure.

And so I make a calculated guess at what might be interesting for you to learn about me.

I distinctly remember how, as a young girl, I always seemed to have my head buried in a book. It was torture for my older sister as I always recited what I had read to her on our long morning walk to school. I little realised that that natural inclination towards books was grooming me towards creating my own worlds of poetry and prose.

Throughout school, I always did well in literature and won a few inter-schools prizes along the way. But at 19, out of school and trying to make sense of myself, I realised that the world of arching birches and gargling brooks bore no resemblance to my own lived existence. I realised that though my writing was eloquent, it was not true to me as a young Zimbabwean going through the political and financial turmoil that marked our nation’s entry into the new millennium.

So, I would say that my writing career truly began in 2003, when I let go of my false existence and embraced the contemplative, and at times morose and even comic, voice that I recognise as my own.

At 21, I was privileged to participate in the British Council ‘Crossing Borders’ project – a project which sought to link Zimbabwe’s creative writers with mentors from Britain. It was a great privilege for me to sit at the same table as Zimbabwe’s most acclaimed talents – who included Chris Mlalazi, Raisedon Baya, Masimba Biriwasha and Megan Allardice – and have my young voice be heard among theirs.

Simply put, my career has grown exponentially since then. In 2006, a short story I wrote placed second in the national Intwasa short story writing competition – a deeply exciting achievement for me. As a result, I had a short story published by amaBooks in the anthology ‘Long Time Coming: Short Writings from Zimbabwe’. My poetry has been published by the British Council, and I am currently working with three other Zimbabwean women to have an anthology of our poems published in 2010. Also, I am working on my first novel – which I hope to have published in 2010.

Besides being a creative writer, I am also a journalist and blogger with a special focus on HIV, AIDS and gender issues. Thus far, I have been recognised for an Africa-wide award for excellence in HIV and AIDS reporting by the African Network for Strategic Communication in Health and Development (AfriComNet). The prize, which I won as a wide-eyed 23-year-old has done a world of good for my confidence in my journalistic writing.

I am thankful to God, each day that I can see the potential in everything I happen upon to become a story, an article, a poem.

I know that I am on the right course with my life because each day is so full of ideas and alive with adventure.


Novuyo Rosa Tshuma said...

Wow Fungai,your writing ebbs with a lulling rhythm,smooth, engaging,poetic..I love the images you conjur up,the way your descriptions bring to life vivid and palpable images.great stuff!

Myne Whitman said...

This is a very well written and evocative short story. Paced so lyrically that one is carried smoothly along, it delivers it's main theme with a strong punch. Well done!

wordsmith said...

you are a great writer waiting to blossom.....nice piece, you handled the theme well,starting with a great plot from the first paragraph, and kept me reading until you resolved it.you sure have a knack for expressing your self and have readerbility. keep it up.

Fungai Machirori said...

Thank you so much for your comments. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to assume the voice of this nameless woman, who could be Nandi or me, or anyone else. Many thanks.

Jude Dibia said...

Really good! I loved the way your words and language moved and carried this tale. The pain and anger was felt... the hope, though, was the arc that kept the story intact. Well done.

Delta said...

Hey Fu!! Just finished reading your story and I feel pained, agonized and shamed by the callousness of the human race - a race I have no option but to call my own.
Your story is too real to take lightly; the issues of rejection are too prevalent a phenomenon to just ignore - in fact rejection is a festering sore, a malignant tumor that ails the soul of the rejected and yet in your story you give us a thread of hope to hang on to so that we do not plunge into that abyss of utter despair.. What beautifully grotesque portrayal of the stigma that HIV carries. You make me feel ashamed when I know I have done no wrong...there is no pain deeper than the pain caused by those who should love us best and the invisible scars carried from such wounds last for a lifetime.
Your story is timeless dealing with the one theme everyone can relate to - rejection.
Well done ntombi yakoMachirori!! Am proud of you.

mbonisi said...

You have a Go-given ability to read into other people's experiences and live through them as if they were your own. Besides being able to rein in language into saying things that would defy space and time (that goes for most of the pieces I have read before) you are able to reflect the brutally human impulses of our nature - love, hatred, disgust, hope...You are going far my Sister

NoViolet Mkha Bulawayo said...

what a moving tale, and very, very, beautifully written and nicely paced. a quiet piece and a memorable character... this is serious writing!

Fungai Machirori said...

Thank you so much for your comments. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to assume the voice of this nameless woman, who could be Nandi or me, or anyone else. Many thanks.

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