24 July 2011

The Journey by Vivianne Masiyambiri

I did not hear the rumbling engine of the bus, as it took me away from my rural home in Shurugwi, nor its strong stench of diesel. I did not see the scorched earth, dry grass, or drooping trees that raced past. I sat there, gazing outside the window, trying to reorganise what was left of my life, of my future, if I still had any, that is.

A part of me was telling me to turn back, to go back home, and how much I longed to. But, my mother’s deathbed words haunted me, like her ghost sometimes did in the middle of the night. “Be strong my girl,” she had whispered. “Be strong for your siblings. Look after them. Promise me you will do that.” I had nodded. Could I do it now? Could I really?

A boy beside me was trying to engage me in conversation, boasting about his newly acquired teaching diploma, but I did not, chose not, to hear it. Perhaps, if it had been another day, another time, I’d have been interested. But now, I was quiet, listening to the silence inside my head, willing my mind to think of something fast, something to get me out of this mess.

I thought of my little sisters and brothers, and tears glistened in the corners of my eyes. Would I ever see them again? I wondered. What was going to happen to them? Who was going to look after them? Who would wake them up, make them eat all their porridge, hurry them to school? Would they even be going to school at all?

I thought of my mother, as she lay dying, wasted away to skin and bones. Cervical cancer, the doctors at the clinic had said. Removal of the womb is the only cure, they advised Baba. But he said no, you can’t remove my wife’s womb. What woman will she be without a womb? The doctor’s tried to reason with him — that she would still perform sexually, that although she would no longer be able to bear children, five were already enough. But what did he say? No!

He took her to traditional healer after traditional healer instead. Some accused Babamunini, his younger brother, and others Tete, his sister, for bewitching her. They gave Baba herbs to give to the whole family, as if we were all sick. She tried, I tried, we all tried, to reason with him, but as always he knew better.

She wasted away, right before our eyes, while he travelled from ndari to ndari, socialising with his friends, consuming copious amounts of beer. He vowed no womb, no woman, no wife, and she would have to go back to her people. Until finally, she died, a woman, with her womb.

The bus stopped at Tongogara bus terminus. Very soon I would be arriving in Shurugwi town, my new home. I watched disinterested, as vendors peddled their wares, knocking at my window with a loaf of bread, or a soft drink. I had not eaten since last night, when Baba handed me the bus fare with the devastating news, and still I had no appetite.

A grin on his swarthy face, Baba had handed me a few notes and I wondered what for. It could not be for the month’s groceries; because I was used to begging and begging him for a few cents to go and buy salt. It was October, too early to go and buy Christmas clothes. What was it for? In had asked.

“You are going to Shurugwi town tomorrow,” he said. “A man has paid your roora.”

“Roora?” I asked incredulously. Someone had paid for my bride-price? Someone wanted me to be his wife?

“Yes. Jabangwe has married you.”

I laughed until the insides of my stomach hurt. He always told funny jokes.

“This is not a joke,” he said, his face serious. “Go and pack your bags. Jabangwe is waiting for you.”

It was not a joke. I could not believe it. Jabangwe? No! That old man with a goatee and sickly amble? That man whose eldest daughter already had two children? That man who was always putting snuff up his nose, whose phlegm was as black as the insides of a chimney? He had paid roora for me? “What do you mean, Baba?” I asked, trying to remain as calm as I could under the circumstances.

“Tomorrow morning, before the first cock crow, you should be by the bus stop, ready to go to your new home.” He said, calmly, as if he were talking of the weather, and took a gulp of frothy beer from his huge cup, oblivious to the death sentence he had just delivered.

I shook my head, trying to disentangle the cobwebs of disbelief crowding my mind. “I am not going anywhere,” I said, vehemently, enunciating each word so that it would penetrate into his alcohol-bloated head.

“What did you just say?” he said and glared at me, his eyes murderous.

“I said I am not going anywhere,” I repeated. Never in my life had I spoken back to him. He had always cowed me into submission, and I had hung on to his every word, following his rules, but now he had overstepped his boundaries.

“What nerve have you to talk back to me? Huh?”

“Baba,” I said defiantly, “I am not going anywhere.”

A loud clap sounded in the house, followed by a stinging, painful sensation on my cheek.

“I don’t want to see you here by the time I wake up tomorrow,” he said, and staggered off to his room.

I woke up whilst the witches were still doing their rounds, scared to defy him, lest he take his cattle whip and do what he had done once when he had seen me talking to that herd boy.

I woke my little siblings to tell them goodbye and our tears flowed profusely. “Don’t leave us,” they pleaded, “Who will look after us?” The only answer I had for them were the tears in my eyes, but I fought valiantly not to show them how much it hurt me to leave them.

“You’ll have to look after one another. But I promise, I’ll always come back and visit you.” I said, and could hear my heart split into pieces as I looked into their faces. So soon after their mother had died, they were losing someone else, and I was losing what had become my life. But there was not much I could do. Staying would not solve anything; Baba would find a way to make me go.

After trying to wipe the tears on their cheeks and hugging them goodbye, I stood up. “Take care of each other. Tell Baba I have gone,” I said, and left.

The bus rumbled on and on, drawing me nearer my destination, my future. I could picture Jabangwe, with his toothless grin, waiting for his young, chaste wife. I shuddered. I dared not think of the dreams I had had as I lay on my mat at nights; of a nice city boy coming to take me to the city, in his Volkswagen or Corolla, and I, living happily ever after. Never had I imagined that I would lose my virginity to a toothless old man, let alone bear his children and spend the rest of my life with him. How detestable it all seemed!

A sign read ‘Shurugwi Town: 20 KM’. I was getting closer and closer to my destination. The boy beside me was still trying to get my attention.

“Life is so short,” he was saying. “Sometimes we only get one chance at love and if we do not use it, we will live to regret it forever. I fell in love with you the moment I saw you and I promise you, if you come with me I’ll look after you. I’ll care for you. I will marry you.”

I looked at him, diploma, suit, tie, and all, everything pronouncing security, and an idea formed in my mind. I did not know him at all but he seemed better than Jabangwe. Should I? Should I not? I wondered.

“Where are you going?” I asked him.

“Bulawayo,” he replied.

And I decided to plunge right into it. I told him about myself, where I was coming from, where I was going.

“Come with me,” he said softly, as the bus pulled into the Shurugwi bus terminus. “You are a beautiful woman, you don’t deserve this. If you come with me, I will marry you.”

I looked at him again. No Volkswagen, no Corolla, but the diploma, the tie, the lure of a better future.

The bus pulled out of the terminus, taking him and I with it.

“Where do you stay in Bulawayo?” I asked.

“At number 45.”

The bus trekked slowly upwards the steep road, towards home. As I saw the familiar landscape, the baobab trees, the green grass, a smile crossed my lips. After six long months in an alien land, I was home. Home at last to see my sisters, my brothers. Home at last to be with my loved ones.

Instead ashes greeted me where our house used to stand. I frowned, wondering if I was lost. “What happened here?” I asked a passer-by.

She looked at me closely and I recognised her the moment she recognised me.

“Vimbai!” she wailed, and fell to the ground.

Perplexed, I helped her up. “What is it Tete?” I asked, my heart palpitating with fear.

“They are dead,” she whispered after a while. “The fire killed them all. Your father, he couldn’t pay back the roora he had received from Jabangwe, so Jabangwe set the house on fire.”

I fell to the ground and rolled around in the dust. No tears escaped from my eyes. It is all your fault, your fault, a voice sang in my ears. They are all dead because of you.

My son kicked inside my womb. Number 45, I will call him once I give birth. Number 45 was where he was conceived. His father took me there when we met on that bus. Suddenly, he had not been as friendly as he violently tore my panties, my hymen, and forced himself repeatedly on me. I later woke up in the streets, tried to look for him and could not find him. I was so scared and alone as I wandered the streets, asking all and sundry, “Do you by any chance know where number 45 is?” They had screwed up their faces and wrinkled their noses in disdain, then shook their heads and walked off.

I had no strength for anything else. Losing my family had sapped it all away. Like an old woman, with failing limbs, I struggled to stand and slowly trudged to the bus stop. I sat there, a kaleidoscope of my life reeling before my very eyes; pain, fear, hatred, regret, overshadowing the joy and laughter.

I sat there, waiting for the bus, to nowhere, to anywhere...

The Journey was written by Vivianne Masiyambiri.

Copyright © Vivianne Masiyambiri 2011.

Vivianne Masiyambiri is a young Zimbabwean who is passionate about literature. She is currently in her fourth year at Midlands State University studying Social Sciences. The Journey is her first published short story.


Tatenda William said...

hey, what a good piece of writing depicting the plight of the african woman who is downtroden and after blamed for everything. This story brought me to tears

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