01 November 2009

Thinking Aloud by Nigel Jack

We used to play hop-scotch (pada) in our backyard watching the sun steal away where the earth ends. Our noises would sink into the early evening breeze like the lovely voice of cheese in our little mouths. Girls tugged their size one skirts into their innocent under-wears as they hopped with spread legs on the boxes marked on the ground. Their whole front look was almost as plain as ours just that their pretty faces used to keep us on the edge of our juvenile curiosity and the ribbons on their young hair would radiate our semi-ignorant hearts. We were never love-slaves, just passive artists.

Even when mothers and maids announced, time to bath from the window, parting was usually as painful as the pockets of urine stench that the bottoms of our counterparts puffed into silent air. Parting at first call was unheard of. To us parting was meant to come naturally like the movement of stock birds in summer. There was an indulgent perception boldly endorsed on the canvas of our minds that life was the present. Our prospects were limited to the indicators of what was to us given. Our desires never instigated blueprints but regrettable mischief. Some of them were not even regrettable, just forgettable, like being caught learning to mate while standing under the cover of long linen on the wash line.

We were raised by the best. We grew up feeling we were the first; we recognised but never acknowledged the prowess of the rest. It was always like we were hosts and others were guests. Our parents were everything even though they had nothing. The good thing is that we never realised then that they were the small fry. And how could we have realised when all we needed was a morsel of Sadza served with a substantive amount of relish. That would allow us to play hide and seek under moonlight or positively solve primary school arithmetic lying on cold cement floor. Our homework books were inspected before retiring to bed. We used to take sleep for granted so we could dream dreaming and wake up with swollen eyes covered in wax. In the morning our minds were very expeditious, we could dream thinking or think dreaming, the difference was the same.

Here I am today and It is so amazing that it is in this same life that I was once a pint sized being sitting cross-legged on rural red soil watching with profound awe, Gwenyambira’s dreadlocked grey hair shake rhythmically to the sharp sound from his deze while humming deep tunes of remote yesteryears from the aged walls of his smoke smeared throat. His pauses were only a result of an unquenchable craving for bute, the fine powdered tobacco that smelt of the past and uncompromised nativity. He would pull out his gonan’ombe from somewhere in his ragged outfit and deftly tap it against his left palm like it was a salt-shaker. Wearing a dare-devil face, he would close the small mouth of the portable wooden container with a chicken further and return it to its place before dexterously squeezing the powder with the tips of his fingers. The usual next thing was to use a whirlwind from his dusty nostrils to haul the powder down into his lungs. Sneezing was not an option. He would continue to play sitting under the eaves of my grandmother’s round kitchen while leaning on the rough mud poll wall. Sometimes in the evenings while at the stock pen, tying notorious bulls to corner poles, I used to hear his voice racing with the smoke smelling wind. The metallic chipping of his self-made instrument and the sea-deep humming from his raspy voice used to make my mind spread like the sky into thoughts too way out of range.

I would lose myself into a plethora of sharp toothed imaginations. Facts turned into opinions and opinions into discoveries. From the supporting poles where I usually found myself clumsily perched, clad in my extremely and imperatively casual outfit -wild thought would catch with me spontaneously like breathing. I wanted to know what life was all about. The routine was too redundant and absurd for me. Surely it couldn’t be all about waking up to a dish of hot porridge hearing cattle mooing, birds chipping, cooing and hooting, watching dew melt away from green blades of healthy grass while appreciating the scent of a youthful morning as her skirts were being gently pulled up by the sun. I supposed it was not only about the senses; there must have been something more to it, something too hidden to be found in a hurry. I wanted to know if I was immune to death. Just the thought of death brought an immediate and imminent sadness that left me tired and hopeless. I did not want to die much as I did not want to think about the possibility of me dying. The funniest thing I did not possess any such suggestive handsome fortunes nor had I any emotional synergies as can be built by titular cleavage like Mr. or Sir, the mistake that I had for a reason was having started living. I was too addicted to life and I could blame it on the parties that were involved in the irreversible event of making me. Now the forgettable event had turned into a complex process that I could lose sleep upon thinking of losing it. What used to baffle me even now is the uncertainty of returning it. I want a voice from the unseen to assure me of the unseen. I am coward for life.

Now I’m a full man and I realised that in life there are some things that the human mind chooses to ignore at least to attain solace even when it is for just but a while. There also things that the mind chooses to keep in oblivion but each time they reoccur, especially death, there rises a corroding anxiety deep within. News of death is a tip of an iceberg -it causes the mind to once again reflect on a larger picture called life. The pain of such undesirable but inevitable assimilation in the fabric of the grey cells is indescribable and horrific. Perhaps religion regulates the magnitude of the fear.

I’ve heard and read about the Arabic Jihad and wondered how one can be tutored and seasoned in the doctrines of sheer value to believe one could murder oneself and members of other races through suicidal bombing and still instil in oneself hope for an attainment of blissful full life beyond death. It’s unfortunate such ones never get to realise that those who recruit them stay behind to live full lives and die natural deaths. It's shocking how one is made to spend years and years in tertiary education institutions to master the most challenging of disciplines -for example aviation- so that such a one would graduate by stirring a plane into a building. All the distilled litres of knowledge acquired would at once crush and burn together with hundreds of victims.

But this is not a Jihad.

The truth is that I’m peeping outside my window to see how a dying dog speeds. He is the biggest dog in this yard but that doesn’t count anymore. He ran in front of a speeding car and got his front leg broken. Since then he has never found joy, he receives the best of meals but the appetite is gone. Now he stays under the dark shadow of a big Acacia tree from morning to evening, from dusk to dawn patiently awaiting the touch of death. He can hardly move out of this yard, and even in this yard he seldom moves away from that point, he is a pity but I can’t help it.

It’s giving me a lot of strange pains watching his ribs move up and down in motions too frequent for comfort while he groans from a closed mouth, eyes cold with despair. I can see he misses the good old days much as he wishes this cup to pass. And now I regret being a spectator because that makes me involved. I don’t want the dog to die but I think its best that the dog dies. If he dies there will be no unnecessary investing of emotions and there will be no sounds of death. Just the smell of death will linger for an instant. Eagles with white necks are already celebrating in the sky above the dog as if they are vultures, maybe they are just enjoying the liberty that the dog doesn’t have and will never have.

Ah no. Wait a minute. The dog is now looking at me with eyes red with anguish. His piercing pair is virtually starved of shame. He is slowly raising his head and the younger dogs are once again running away. Terror has risen. He could be an ancestor by now or maybe he is a living ancestor, alive but dead. Ancestors don’t have a heart, they are insensitive to mortal matters and so is the old dog. His barking is now deafening but I see no intruder.

Everything here is confusing, a thousand bleak hours for a moment of bliss that tarries. Most times one has to bear the burden of creating just that moment which is just a negligible fraction of happiness for happiness in its full measure is virtually unattainable and the furthest one can go in pursuing it is to feign it. The problem is when feigned happiness is sin. Most times we pretend we don’t mind the dog stays in the yard but we keep indoors and look for something soft to slowly munch on while waiting to hear the airwaves go sane with silence again. All we want is to forget our woes.

A woman can do the magic. One evening I described her using musical instruments as if she was a piece by an orchestra. She smiled with her eyes fixed on the floor like she was a dub-poet trying to remember a lost line. I told her that her hair was a new violin that I played from a heartbeat, that her lips were a flute that drowned me with a fine sound. I told her that her breast was a piano that I could play the whole night without losing my fingers. Her buttocks were drums that I could rhythm whenever I got bored or tired of other instruments and her middle was a saxophone that has a noble sound but needed to be played with all carefulness and fulfilling passion. I told her she was a delicacy. She was a mature wine that could only be served to the king on special banquets. I told her she was an addictive drug that I could hardly live without. She lifted her head, silenced my mouth with her point finger, held my cheeks on both palms and reached for a deep, full and lengthy kiss that left both of us trembling and weak. Her irises were looking a bit averted like she had slept the whole night on a bowl of highly intoxicating grapes. Her features had instantly blossomed and the guard of reasoning seemed nullified. I had a feeling my chastity was in danger and my principles had been brought to a test but I would be glad to fail. I had not vowed to practise a life of celibacy but I just wasn’t sure of wearing a completely new feeling. I could see she wasn’t sure too, but a look into each other’s eyes send us ripping off each other’s apparels. We found ourselves working by instinct. Sooner than anticipated we were playing deep tunes without having gone through a rehearsal. We wanted to sing more but the tune was too new; so we quickly retreated to the comfort zone where notes do not injure the throat. We could still sing some other day and perhaps try high codes.

We were not in a hurry. We were happy. As happy as watching a handsome blind man who is singing about love and the beauty of beauty, amazingly painting the mysterious emotion in colourful colours that he has never seen. His eyes of lesser blink wide open to the world and the world can see the hinges of his heart. After the last elastic note that tears through his humble lips, he smiles to the audience already immersed in tears and they wish he could see how much they appreciate him. They ecstatically scream his name that he gasps; he wishes- more than before, he had eyes. He then clutches his trembling mouth with both hands and contributes a loud cry into the noises. The other contestants in the singing competition are crying too- their hearts have been nabbed by the air. If the competition is to be made to continue nobody will pay attention, everyone is fighting tears and hoping to recover a stolen heart. The mind too is paralysed. After the show people are sleep-walking home.

At home, the wounded dog is hurting. He has gathered all the bones to himself and he is playing it hard on others. He can’t stand watching them gnaw at liberty. Now, they have to struggle to put something in their stomachs. Its not that they are afraid to put up a fight but it’s against their nature to fight and old unrepentant dog that is already knocking on hell’s door, it’s cowardly. Whenever an opportunity presents itself they steal away from the yard to scout for food from neighbours or afar off in the woods fraught of many dangers. For a while they feel good far away from the maddening dog but safety is not guaranteed. Those that remain behind see no good times. With the passing of every hour they get leaner and leaner while watching the old dog is waxing fat and growing oily furs. It’s unfair.

When the gate is opened, the old dog is standing right in the middle of the driveway barking at the oncoming car. He is now the stupidest dog in the yard, it could that old age is playing foul on him. Others are down the driveway watching the proceedings with eyes weak with hunger. They just don’t care what happens.

“What’s up with this dog?” my cousin is worried.

“What about him?” my uncle who is in the driver’s seat responds with a question.

“He is ailing but he can’t stay away from trouble,” the remark is too general.

“He misses good old days I think it’s a pity he can’t realize how old he is,” he shakes his head and he adds, “Its not his fault dogs don’t think they do everything by instinct. Instinct tells them yesterday is today and tomorrow.”

Slowly the car is driven in avoiding to run over the stupid old rabid dog. His barking is deafening and irritating. But he never used to be like this when he was young. He was adorable and his mouth was void of vain trumpery. Whenever he barked everyone would pay attention and check the yard. He could get along well with other dogs and could share with others. He was selfless and teachable. But now he is big-headed and very selfish. Everybody hates him.

Thinking Aloud 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.


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