29 January 2012

Tears Run Dry: Sunset by Tendai R. Mwanaka

No one has the right to tell me what to do, not now when I am walking the walk of pure pain. There was a time I could have listened to what other people say but not now, not now when nothing is holding me together except the love that I still hold in my heart for Monica, half open half an echo...

As I move to the Mususu tree, to the east of our homesteads, I am satisfied with the road that I have chosen to walk. I also know the truth of suffering on this road is benign and impermanent. I also want to think this is how my friend, Misheck, felt some summers ago.

It’s the middle of the night in this year of 1990, and is so silent that I can almost hear the sounds of the Mususu tree as it is rustling, heaving, and murmuring excuses. Maybe, it wants to be excused from watching the night’s imminent calling or maybe its swoosh-swoosh whisperings, were prayers for me? No one is awake to witness so in my booze-befuddled way I approach the Mususu tree. I want it to enclose me in its many limbs and boxed-arm branches and assure me of a new found relationship. With each step I made towards this tree, shadows seem to be move causing a deceitful play between light and dark. The light sowed promising frontiers I could try but I am not so sure I should try them. The shadows might return in my indecisive moments and speed me headlong away, the shadows that have force within them, dark and irresistible.

Should I pray? Do I ask for forgiveness? Am I worth forgiveness, really? Do I ask to be accepted in the eternal place? Was that mine too? But, who could accept me? Not me, not my kind, not the faint hearted, haunted, has-been desiring to become part-of? I only know that shortly I had the rope that I’m carrying tied securely to a big strong branch with a beautiful loop that could fit as a tie around my neck. In another moment, I am high in the tree, the loop around my throat. The abyss yawns like black dye from below; deep and attractive, drawing me into its dark embrace. Then I feel the contradicting pain. I raise my hands to grab the noose at my throat to loosen it. I can feel my hands grappling for the rope. My hands are sweaty and slippery on the rope. I try to heave myself to a branch above to release myself from the chocking that has engulfed me. Part of me says I am not going to die but another part tells me that I am surely dying.

I can’t breathe, there are yellow sparks all over me, which turn to orange, purple, and then dark purple, but before passing out I go down memory lane re-living life over again. Visions of my past come as surging waves on the ocean’s beach, as does the pain all over my body. It’s like being punctured and wounded by hundreds of thousands of pins thrusting into my inner body. At times when these pins are mid-air in their slow descent into my flesh, the pain subsides and the visions drift in again.

I am in my second year at the University of Zimbabwe and we are at the sports-grounds with friends to play soccer. We are in the second half of our game when a member of the opposing team intercepts the ball from my team mate. I run out to recapture the ball which had gone near the neighbouring volleyball court. Someone there picks it, but instead of throwing it, she brings it to me. We lock eyes and I peer deeper and deeper into her eyes, never seeming to reach the bottom of those candid brown eyes. There was a magical magnetic attraction between us and we are drawn into each other’s realms, into each other’s lives and I love the way our pheromones are broadcasting on all frequencies. I feel us settling into the warmth between us. I could have kissed her straight away. This closeness was broken when my team mate called after me for the ball. What my strike partner wasn’t aware of was this magnet that is taking hold of me. Nevertheless, I throw at the ball to my friend with all the force expressive of the anger I felt at having been disturbed. My face, a damaged constellation! When I turned back to her she smiled and I thought if I am the answer to such a sweet smile, then at least I am not the wrong answer this time. Then, she strode off in a lolling beautiful gait in a manner which prominently but innocently displayed the full curvaceous quality of her body. I remained glued in my place, eyes reaching out for her and she still seemed to be there with me.

I had played the soccer game with my friends until the end, but I wasn’t in it any more for something else had taken hold of my wild eyes. The fields were now backlit by a low falling sun and I constantly searched around the grounds for her. For doesn’t excitement builds at the edges while falling in love? However when we finished our match she was nowhere to be found. I searched around for her at the campus but failed to locate her for the next three weeks. How to describe those three weeks to you, which words, what moments of agony!

Three weeks later we were to have a combined class with marketing students and they were coming to our accounting class for a lecture on financial management. It was to be three hours spent peeling the onion of knowledge but what mattered most to me was the absence of her smile, which seemed to have been absorbed by the atmosphere around me. It was not true silence, what was in me, but some kind of solitude.

When it was questions time, I heard the lecturer saying ‘yes’ to someone whose voice floated to me as if from deep memory. A voice like a song, a clavichord singing polyphonies, like the point of the wind stirring memories. I turned to see who owned such beauty of a voice. When she finished her question, she darted a glance at me and I knew it was her. At the end of the lecture, I was the first to stand up and purposely stride to the back row. I didn’t want to lose track of her again. I caught up with her as she was exchanging pleasantries with one of my classmates. I suppose he was making sketches at a future go at her and I hadn’t cared enough to give him the chance to do that. So oblivious of him, I burgled into their conversation by greeting her and ignoring him. She agreed to meet me later that afternoon and go town together. With that achievement, I had left her to that guy who all along hadn’t drawn back.

That was the start of the whirlwind through ragged mountains, through the dense thick forests, through the wild raging seas, through three good beautiful years together. Through memories of rooms that I never left, through memories of rooms of invisible walls, through memories of rooms that I had existed in but never truly lived in before. All through finding a love that I never thought existed.

I was born the only child in our family. I never knew my father for he had left my mother when she became pregnant. When I was born she tried to look around for him so that he could take some responsibility for me, but he was said to have left for Botswana. My mother never heard anything more about him so she raised me with the help of my grandmother. She later married, and I stayed with grandmother in the rural areas of Seke. I had a half brother and a step brother from her marriage, but I never got to know them well because they stayed in Harare with my mother and my step-father. They later died in a car accident including the step-father whom I never really got to know. My grandmother died a couple of years after Momma had returned to stay with us.

“Momma, I have something very important to tell you.” That’s how I started the conversation and I had come from what Momma thought was from the workplace, but I hadn’t been to my workplace that day.

She was surprised, had stopped knitting and every part of her body seemed attentive. “You look pretty serious, what could be the cause of this mood Tate?”

“I went to see my doctor.”

“What, are you ill Tate?”

I didn’t know what to say, but I still remembered the doctor’s words as he told me of my condition. He had assured me that I was not ill, not that I believed him. Should I have said Momma, I have this condition, or should I have told her that I was plain ill? After all that condition led to another and in the long run I would be ill so why differentiate between them when the whole thing meant that I was ill? “Yes... I am ill Momma!”

“Ill, but from what Tate?”

From the wound inside me that would never stop paining! I thought. Are all wounds supposed to heal, and are all wounds supposed to be painful? I don’t know the answers but I only wish for the choking pain in my throat to stop.

My mother was busy exploring my head with her seeking eyes, and hands, and then she moved to my face, especially my eyes and she was also feeling for my heartbeat, touching my forehead, hands and throat. After a few minutes and in a rather assured voice she asked me again what ailed me. I also remembered Momma’s doctor saying that we could save Momma from an earlier death by hiding devastating disclosures because thinking a lot could cause her blood pressure to soar and another stroke could have done her in. Since then it had always been my duty to hide disclosures that I thought could be detrimental to her health and it still was my duty, even as I tried to avoid her searching gaze. Was she really that strong enough to receive this bomb? Yet I had to take the risk for she must have grown somewhat immune. Here I was for the first time, staring into the ghostly eyes of death.

I must die and how soon no one knew except myself and who then could have known the cause if I hadn’t told those that I loved. I had no guts to tell Monica so it better be Momma, and I only hoped the disclosure I wouldn’t do her much harm. “Momma, I have been diagnosed HIV positive.”

It took mother a good five minutes before she could say anything in reply. In between, I almost panicked. She had remained quiet and static, but her gaze, emphasised the depth with which that disclosure had sunk in. I also could see that deep down her eye’s sockets were brimming with tears.

“Oh no, no, no my boy, I am so sorry.” She said, and embraced me in her reassuring arms and we remained locked into each other’s embrace until I felt wetness on my shoulder. I knew she was crying silently. Tears being the last thing that I wanted to give vent to again, I told her to stop it because I couldn’t take any more of anyone’s crying.

After an effort she stopped and started asking me about this and that, the why and when, and in a good hour she was herself. “That doesn’t spell anything for you, I am sure your doctor told you so.” She affirmed.

“Even you and the good old doctor know like the hot-hell it spells death, Momma.” I said.

“Not for a long time anyway.”

“But in-between I have a life to live huh?”

“Yes.” She agreed readily.

“But I would still die and what’s it worth anyway, I mean this life you are talking of when you know that very life hangs in the balance of death’s jaws. Tell me what life could that be Momma?”

“Knowing that one day I shall wake up extremely ill, knowing that I would be a burden to everyone, an emotional stress, living my life empty of love because I couldn’t be able to give it out without hurting somebody, without killing. I would be untouchable, like a leper. I can marry but it would be an absurd and ridiculous marriage without consummation.”

“Tell me Momma how could I live this life knowing that I destroyed someone’s life with my stupid follies?” Then, like someone drowning but lucky to have a chance to draw-in a fresh breath of air I stopped and took a heavy breath of air, I continued in a spent and subdued voice. “Tell me what life could that be Momma?”

“Tatenda, listen to me son.” She said, and took me in her arms and fiercely stared into my eyes while some alchemical laboratory turned her speech into silver and golden nuggets of motivation. “We are born to die one day or another, whether we like it or not, Tate. That’s one thing for sure, death is a dark thing without footsteps, it comes with no warning. As we live and enjoy our life without an ailment to worry about we fail to realise that our existence is all too fleeting. Those who have this disease think to themselves that they are dying just because they have the disease and that the disease kills, yet they should be the ones so sure and have come to terms with their lives because they are already aware of their situation and what it might ultimately lead to. They should appreciate life, that it’s not a given. Tate, there is no excuse when your time is up. All of us, to death, we are warm and urgent, unaware of the empty spaces, waiting to be filled by memory’s negatives for those we will leave behind. You are blessed Tate because God is saying he is not yet ready to take your life. God is saying my son; take this life because you deserve it. I have always thought you were a fighter Tate, what’s gotten into you. What is it that has made you so lazy to succumb to such a minor snag like that one? What is it Tate? I know your fear, baby. But don’t give in to it. There is always someone hurt in the process. Don’t ever forget that Tate. Don’t look at this with anger but smother that which is gaining ground on you with hope, determination and the belief that you can succeed Tate.”

It must have been her best speech ever because it helped me to gain courage to look at the whole predicament with a fresh pair of eyes. But there was still an inside joke to all that. In my joys, I had savoured life’s beautiful and tragic truths and time had come for me to fold my arms and welcome this sweet, sweet, truth. I was now weary of life and I didn’t feel I belonged any more to this insecure world: so insecure that I was being punished and sacrificing someone for doing a thing only once when others had sex on a daily basis but lived.

Maybe there is a thing as realising that your life is doomed and I had discovered that about Misheck. We were in the sixth grade and were friends, but he always had problems, existential problems. Misheck came from a very poor family, his father neglected them, was abusive, a drunk, and a wreck. His mother tried all her best to take care of them and protect them, but often failed. One morning I had awakened to hear that Misheck had tried to commit suicide by poisoning himself with pesticides but survived. Afterwards I had difficulty connecting with him. My mother was concerned for my safety. She said I should stop playing with him. Anyway, after a couple of months, we played together again. Deep down, though, I was still afraid of him. He was cursed. Anyone who tries to kill himself is viewed as cursed. Nobody should play with him, talk to him, talk about him. Had he succeeded in killing himself nobody was going to cry for him. There would be no funeral for he was going to hell.

Nevertheless, that evening Momma had talked about Misheck, again, but by the time I went to bed it appeared to Momma as if I had accepted her advice. That’s what I wanted her to sleep on that night. For the first time in years, I came to a conviction that Misheck had been right, that killing oneself was a better option sometimes. Talking with Momma about Misheck had galvanised this in me all the more because, maybe, there is nothing really wrong with killing oneself. That evening, momma also asked me whether I had told Monica about my illness. I lied to her by saying that I was going to tell her the next day. I said all that to tap into my mother’s anxiety over me, but I knew that such an opportunity was never to be. Telling Monica about my illness could have given name to it, HIV positive condition. I didn’t want to embrace this name; it means hope, to be positive, and giving it this name had consequences, that I had to be hopeful over a situation that was hopeless, positive over a situation I had to be negative..

When the pains had drifted away again and some memories were wafting back to my mind, everything was happening in another part of my body, in a part of my world that I hadn’t known about, that seemed dead? The memories started from the day when Monica and I spent our first night together.

The next day, we went out for a walk and a movie. Then, we returned to my place and spent another night together. That night, I looked into the geometries of our love, that inside were tacked the softest rumble of things. That apart from our minds making dreams, our bodies had also created mythologies beyond orgasm, in our touches, in our feel. My body and mind in synchrony, I had connected to my innermost intentions. That night I came to a decision.

I went to see my doctor. I gave some blood samples and was told to return for the results the coming Friday. I told no one that I was seeing the doctor. The week of waiting was one of the hardest and longest in my life. It seemed the minute hand of the clock had gone on an eternity’s leave and like the stupid thing that it was, the hour hand had followed suit. After what appeared an epoch of waiting, that Friday arrived.

Had I reached the end or was it the beginning? Did I deserve some choices, did I merit hope? Even though I had been straight and faithful to Monica, that did not make up for my experience before I met her? Wasn’t Misheck deserving of a second chance in life too? Misheck had told me he was leaving school after the end of our form two and he left to go to a farm that was nearby to work as a general hand so as to earn some money to get by and help feed the family. Maybe he thought he could leave behind all his problems

He finally succeeded in killing himself through drinking painkillers.

On Thursday night, I slept at our rural home at Mayambara. My appointment with the doctor was next day at ten. I was there a good hour early anxiously waiting for the doctor.

After what appeared just a couple of minutes, I was summoned to the doctor’s office. Was the race really over? Finally, with jelly legs and a funny tip-tilting stomach as if I had been drinking sewage water, I made it in to the doctor’s office. While the good old doctor scrutinized the papers as if he couldn’t believe what was written, I, uneasily waited for my verdict. After a few minutes of silence, I asked him in a broken voice whether I had the disease.

The doctor started to say something: then, stopped. He tried to look into my eyes, but failed to meet my questioning gaze. I knew then I had AIDS. I was struck by the fear that touches a fish in the pond when it is covered by the shadow of the fisherman. I just withdrew inside myself.

He came behind me and held me by my shoulders and said. “Yes.”

Even though I knew I might have the disease all along. I always tried to assure myself that maybe I hadn’t caught it. Susan was dead. I couldn’t ask her grave whether I had the disease. I couldn’t talk to her now, and tell her she has destroyed my life, that she infected me with the disease, that I had huge hope for us, three years ago. Three years down the line it was the same hope I had in Monica and me. It was that hope that had given me enough courage to find out the truth. Now that I was faced with the truth; it was hard to process. Why hadn’t it turned out the other way? Why had I hoped for better?

“You don’t have AIDS but the virus, you are HIV positive Tate.” The doctor spoke reassuringly trying to make me feel that there was a difference.

“With a positive condition, you can live many years. It’s what you make out of this life that is important. You should start living positively, eating healthier food, being hopeful, and involving yourself in exercise and sporting activities, and shy away from alcohol and drugs. I also think you should call upon advice of counselling agencies for they can be so much help to you.”

“I prefer to keep to myself.” Surprisingly, my voice had returned. It was so steady as if nothing mattered to me.

“You can only destroy yourself by keeping to yourself. I think you need to tell your parents and above all Tate. You also should tell your girlfriend and get her tested as well if you have one. Then, you can see what you can plan for your future together.”

Suddenly, it hit me, have I passed the virus to Monica and she is going to die because of me? In that instant, I knew which road to take. I knew I could never ever recover from what I was feeling. I knew the time had come for me to do what I had obsessed about for a long time. I knew painkillers would be an easier way to die, but it was hanging that I deserved. It was the only thing that could wash away the pain I was feeling and pay for the wrong that I caused Monica. I started crying for Monica and for the predicament that had befallen her by loving me. Wrecking sobs and tears flowed in a torrential as if a dam behind my eyes had broken.

It took the doctor nearly half an hour to calm me down. He must have given me a lot of advice but I couldn’t remember a thing in my anguish. I managed to thank him and assure him that I had no intentions of leaving anyone in the dark, but also knew that I could never pluck enough courage to face Monica with that disclosure.

I went to look for her at her lodgings. I knew she was home because I had asked her to wait for me there.

This time it’s neither painful, nor moments without pain in which I live and re-live this conversation with Monica. I only know there is a darkness all over me. Darkness like emptiness is also speaking. It is so gorgeous that I relish swimming through it.

“Monica, I am so sorry for wasting your time. I have had a change of mind. I need to keep to myself for a long while.” My voice had strength enough to reach her even though it doesn’t have a sound but darkness. If darkness is a voice, it reached her.

“What are you saying Tatenda?” She seemed not to believe her ears.

Should I talk to her about my condition or our condition for that matter? No, over my dead body, never! “I can only serve to give you troubles and that’s what I have been doing.”

“No, you haven’t been giving me troubles and you know that yourself, so whatever are you trying to say Tate?”

“We don’t have a future together Monica.”

“No, no, no, wait a moment.”

I hold up my hand to motion her into silence. “I know that just like I know the back of my hands. Please don’t ask me how I came to know because there is no answer to that. I am so sorry; we simply don’t have a future together Monica.”

“Please stop this Tatenda. What’s gotten into you? Is that the wonderful news you promised me?”

She wails frightfully as if she is seeing a hissing-about-to-strike-her-snake. “You have another girl!”

“No! Another girl? No, no, no, it’s not that.” I am shaking my head, not believing what I am hearing: exasperated too.

“So why are you doing this to me Tate knowing how much I love you?”

“It’s not about that. You know I have nothing to complain about you Monica, don’t you know that?”

She is nodding her head, but still has lots of queries. She can’t understand why life is throwing this well between us, and why life is sending us in opposite polar journeys.

“It has everything to do with me Monica. I don’t know how best I can express it for you to understand?”

“You really have to try Tate because it’s affecting me and I have to know what it is.”

“Come off it Monica!” I am almost about to tell her, but have to find a way not to.

“I can’t help thinking you are still hiding something very important from me, Tate? We have always told one another the truth no matter how much it hurts, Tate. Are you keeping that promise?” She probes me suspiciously, probably still wondering what the heck is wrong with me.

“Monica... There are some things better left unsaid because it’s not wise to say them. They are extremely sensitive issues that are so shameful and painful to say. I want you to find just that very small ounce of forgiveness in your heart and use it for me. Please don’t cry.”

I am feeling so rotten to be the cause of her pain. I embrace her and hold her in my arms. We start a torrential outpouring of tears together. For awhile, I am absorbed in this state and, carried away by guilt and broken promises. Deep down, though, I know that I have to get away. As the tears start drying and she is able to hear, I bid my farewells. “Don’t ever think that I don’t love you. You are the only one that I truly love. It’s me who the problem is. Please forgive me Monica. I hope that someday if we meet again, then you won’t still feel I wronged you so much that we could never to be friends again, Monica. Bye, bye Monica.”

“Bye, bye my love.”

I touch her shoulder as I start walking toward the door. I open the door and turn. Monica is looking at me with a face so wet with tears. She is begging me to stay. I want to stay and comfort her but I can’t.

I just can’t because darkness doesn’t comfort anyone, neither does it have voices.

“I wish you the very best that this life will offer you. I have had my share...” I don’t know whether I am saying this or maybe, it is the darkness that is talking. The pain in my heart is indescribable.

Then, I close the door?

Do I hear someone calling my name?

Is that Momma who is seeing me hanging on the Mususu tree, or is that Misheck who is welcoming me, or maybe its Monica still begging me to stay and see everything through together?

I only feel the winter’s chill and the early sunset enveloping me.

'Tears Run Dry: Sunset' was written by Tendai R. Mwanaka.

Copyright © Tendai R. Mwanaka 2012.

Tendai R. Mwanaka is a Zimbabwean writer and author of Voices from exile (Lapwing publications, 2010), a collection of poetry on Zimbabwe’s political situation and exile in South Africa. Keys in the river, a novel of young adult love stories will be published by Savant books, USA in March 2012. The story 'Tears Runs Dry' is part of this collection. 'Logbook Written by a Drifter', and 'Voices from Exile' were finalists in the 2009 and 2011 Erbecce Press Poetry Prize respectively, and he has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2008 and 2010, and received a Highly Commended for the Dalro Prize 2008. He has published over 200 short stories, essays, memoirs, poems, and visual art, in over 100 magazines, journals, and anthologies.


Donijo said...

Wow!... so much suspense. Was on the edge of my seat all through, didnt know when my eyes started getting wet. This is definitely not the end of this story. pls, i'ld really like to get the full story......

mwanaka said...

Thanks very much Donijo, for your kind comments. yes the story has a second part entitled Sunrise. I am glad you enjoyed reading this part, and i want to encourage you to blog it for me, or to refer your friends to the story, so they would have a read. The second part of this story is part of the novel ,Keys in the river, so i would like to interest you to buy the novel once its out. You can get in touch with me for a copy. thanks very much

Anonymous said...

that was so touching I wanna read more! It rings so close to home and I wished the story kept on going.

mwanaka said...

Thanks Anonymous. I am glad you enjoyed reading it. There is a second part like i said which is part of the novel, KEYS IN THE RIVER-Notes from a Modern Chimurenga. Maybe i might interest you to buy a copy in the future. Its coming out end of this month, thanks


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