06 June 2012

Shadows by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Book Excerpt)

I want to be alone.

But man is never alone in the township. The township is like a loud woman who follows you everywhere, staggering with a Castle Lager in hand, and will not let you alone. The children are standing in the street with their tongues stuck out to taste the precious rain. But there is no rain just yet, only the smell of it in the air, and clouds sullen and grey.

My feet are light on the asphalt. I arch my head; the sky is ceilinged by uniform silver sheets. They reflect a light which stings my eyes. If you look at the people as one throbbing mass, they blur into a colliding clash of colour: fleshy, colourful buttocks rumbling beneath a sarong; pink Madonna stretched taut across bouncing breasts, nipples visible through the flimsy material. Somewhere colour becomes a stench – I’m stumbling past Nyoni’s house, beneath which a sewer station burst several nights ago, so that the family woke up to find shit bubbling through the cracks in the kitchen floor.

I walk. Past Kaduna Shops, where a newly arrived mealie-meal truck is wreaking havoc. Faces I have known all my life – Dlomo, MaMloyi, Malaba with his bald head and Mupostori thicket, even Poppi with his spatula nut and a comic face squashed into stupidity – distort into monsters, hungry for so long all they now know is how to be greedy. I walk. Past MaG’s shebeen, where I ignore the greetings. In the gutter, a stream of shit flows. And there, in the midst of all that shit, wild clumps of sugar cane flourish, their stalks pumped full of sewer water.

The houses shrink before me until I come across the one I’ve been looking for. It’s a brick fa├žade with plastics in the windows and an asbestos roof with a hole gaping at the sky. There is Nomsa, dark chocolate skin bent over a fire under a lemon tree. With the dishevelled hairs on her head running into and out of one another like a commotion, and the cakes of sleep in her eyes questioning the existence of this morning, she’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Her face is narrow, her nostrils flared, her lips full. It’s as though I am noticing her for the first time, her narrow neckline, slight breasts and the curve of her hips filling out into her sarong. A rosary dangles from a necklace caked with rust, tucked into the space between her breasts. I wrap myself into her, as a boy into his mother, as a lover into his love, and fight the urge to weep.

She sways me to the rhythms of her body and begins to sing:

‘There’s a rainbow,
Ayo ayo, ayo ayo
Over the hill brow down
Ayo ayo,ayo ayo
If you listen closely
Ayo ayo, ayo ayo
You will hear the birdsong sung
Ayo ayo, ayo ayo
The birdsong sung’

‘I think my mother is about to die,’ I say.

Her eyes flutter.

‘Hold me.’

The scent of a woman is a comforting thing, motherly and erotic at the same time. She smells of Geisha. When I was a child, Mama used to lather my skinny brown frame in Geisha soap. Whenever the Geisha advert aired on Ztv, I would run into the house in time to mimic, ‘Geisha, lasts and lasts like a mother’s love!’

‘Mpho? Are you sure? You know, you’ve said this before.’

‘I know. But this time I really think she’s about to die. And she won’t let me help her.’

‘Are you all right?’

I am not all right. I am hard and limp at the same time, aroused by the hope of her, defeated by the troubles of my life. I push her into the house even as she protests, into the one room I rent for her, onto the mattress I have given her. The room smells of paraffin. It’s a modest space, with a two plate stove in the corner and clothes spilling out of a battered suitcase. A poster of Mariah Carey, cut out of a People’s Magazine, is cello taped behind the door. I grope for Nomsa. My hands are shaking. My plunge is rough. I can tell from the way she cries out, in pain and not pleasure. But I am limp again, and the smell of her is nauseating. I roll off her, onto my back so that I’m staring at the roof. We remain like that for what seems like hours.

The rain begins, at first a slow, cajoling drizzle that calms me.

Pitter-patter, sings the rain. Pitter-patter. Pitter-patter Peter Piper. Peter Piper pought a pack o paper pickles. Pitter-patter Peter Piper.

Down it comes, in slanting, sullen spits. My whole body becomes limp. Nomsa runs her fingers through my dreadlocks in the way I once told her soothes me. I swat her away.

‘You cannot do keep doing this,’ she says. ‘Talking to me, ignoring me, running to me, away from me. Talk to me.’

I get up and leave. Nomsa tries to run after me, but she cannot, not in the rain. She becomes a blob of mud in the distance, standing in the middle of the street like a mad woman, her arms curled over her bosom. Her body bops up and down as she makes sounds that the rain snatches and gobbles up. I imagine she is screaming my name, over and over, her vocal chords vibrating like the keys of a mbira instrument.
I angle my face away from the raindrops. Very soon I am soaked, and my dreadlocks are soaked, and my spirit is soaked. The people at the shops are now clambering onto the mealie-meal truck, grabbing, willy-nilly, soggy bags of mealie-meal now heavy with the weight of rainwater.

I sit on a stone across the road.

I take out a joint from my pocket. I shield it from the rain. Light it. Smoke it once, twice, thrice, before it too is soaked. I watch them, these people I have always known, screaming and kicking and kicking and screaming, turning into people I have never known. Pretty grins and waves at me from the scuffle. I wave back. She is wearing a yellow frock which, now wet, clings to her curves. I used to slink into her house whenever her mother was away on one of her cross-border trading trips, right after she came back from Jozi, and fuck the nonsense out of her. When Pretty came back from Jozi, her body had filled out, with rolls around her waist that the men at MaG’s joked would make for better handling. The dimples had sunk deeper into her cheeks, which clambered up her face each time she smiled, adding to her countenance a deceptive, childish sort of innocence.

Kanti have you seen the way the girl now rolls her hips when she walks?’ Dlomo said. ‘Mounds of flesh rolling to her step, khwa khwa khwa on the virgin streets of Bulawayo in one of those gumba-gumba South African heels!’ His eyes bulged out of his head as he said khwa khwa khwa.

‘Oh, somebody has already taken the virgin out of her!’ Shoko said. ‘Probably some gun slinging njiva with a gusheshe and a big house. Or one of the juju peddling Nigerians – the poor child must have heard ‘ma sista-o’ and gone all gung ho!’

Pretty was all innocence before she left, steering clear of boys such as myself loitering at the shops, whistling at her as she walked by. Now, her sweet voice, which used to make the Pentecostal ladies weep in its spiritual crescendo, has acquired a husky quality.

I stare at her nipples, straining against the wetness of her dress, and lick my lips.

She grins. She puts her thumb to her ear, her pinky-finger brought to her lips.
I laugh. Of course I won’t call her. She’s fucking Tendai, the baker, these days. He gives her as much bread as she likes, even when there is no bread on the shelves.
Tendai must be fucking half the township, these days, ever since he got the job as a baker.

The rain stops suddenly. I look up and there is a rosy sky. But there is not the smell of cleansing in the air. It is, simply, the wet smell of runny shit.
Luther, the township vagabond, staggers past pushing his scania. He grins and waves.
‘Hey s’phukuphuku, give me a piece of paper.’

Luther’s eyes dance in their sockets. His tongue hangs from his mouth like a dog. He claps his hands and fishes a dry receipt among the debris in his scania.
‘Good boy s’phukuphuku. Like a little good dog. There’s a good dog!’

Luther claps his hands again and scampers off, leaving his scania behind. From my pocket I retrieve the Eversharp pen I always carry, the pen my friends say carries my dreams. I turn the receipt over and begin to scribble. I should have told you at the beginning; words flow from me like shit running from a buttock:

Big Hearted Woman
Vein of Gold

Vein of Gold! Vein of Gold!
See how her leg scatter as she walk
See how her leg scatter as she walk!
Tripledoom be falling down her thigh
Oh, Tripledoom be falling down her thigh!
Her heart her bladder and a knife
Heart bladder and knife!
Somebody gone done stabbed her heart
Somebody gone done stabbed her heart!
And now she done gone falling apart
Trickle down thigh falling apart!

I look up. A fight has broken out between Mai Nyari and MaGumbo over a bag of mealie-meal. They squawk and claw at one another, splashing in the mud like a pair of happy-go-lucky children. The people laugh and clap, egging the fight on. There is nothing to laugh about, and everything to laugh about:

Oh, Big Hearted Woman
Vein of Gold
Flesh Shake ’n’ Shiver ’n’ Shudder Sorrow
Smooth Peanut Butter Roast in Sun

Do anybody know where she go?
Morning in, morning out
All she do is stagger ’bout
With Tripledoom trickle down her thigh

Tripledoom trickle down her thigh!
Do anybody know where she go?
That Big Hearted Woman with Vein of Gold
With hips that span century of heartbeat told
See her gold trickle down her thigh

Trickle trickle like rain in July!
See how the children from her fly
Firefly trickle dying in dark

There’s a queue for the men and another for the women, then a special one for the women with babies but none for the elderly. So everyone is borrowing a baby and scrambling for special privileges:

Big Hearted Woman Vein of Gold!
She try bend over catch her heart
But see how her gold seep through finger

Do anybody know where she go?
See how her gold trickle down thigh
Tripledoom trickle trickle Tripledoom trickle
See how her gold seep through finger

Do anybody know where she go?
That Big Hearted Woman
With Gold Vein of Old

Shadows was written by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, and published by Kushinda (June, 2012).

Copyright © Novuyo Rosa Tshuma 2012.

Ukamaka OlisakweNovuyo Rosa Tshuma was born in 1988. Her short fiction has been featured in publications which include A Life in Full and Other Stories Caine Prize Anthology, The Bed Books of Short Stories, StoryTime, African Roar, and Where to Now? Short stories from Zimbabwe.

She won the Intwasa Short Story Competition 2009, now known as the Yvonne Vera Award, for her short story 'You In Paradise'. She was shortlisted for the Zimbabwe Achievers Literature Award 2012 for her short story 'Doctor S'. She is currently studying towards a Bcom in Economics and Finance at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa.

Shadows is her first book, and is available on Amazon (click book cover above) and all good bookstores.

To keep abreast of all the latest news about the author and the book, follow the Shadows facebook page, and her site Novuyo Rosa Tshuma.


Zino A said...

Loved it!

Francis said...

Wow! Reads like poetry. I love it. So strong bold. 1988, wow you are so young! You write so beautifully! Congratulatiosn! Is Amazon only place to get the book?

Elias Ozikpu said...

Wonderful, Novuyo! So, so spectacular! You are an Artist who knows the rudiments of her craft. I am impressed. Do not ever let your ink run out, please.

tinashe chiurugwi said...

Sharp and crisp, that's all I can say. Well done Novuyo!

Kiru Taye said...

An enjoyable read. Congratulations to Novuyo!

Nkiacha Atemnkeng said...

Excellent,Novuyo knows how to make the flux between palpable poetry and prose which is fierce and boundless. she transcends the prosaic writer with a big margin.she is a prodigious writer who would be there for years to come. kudos Tshuma

Novuyo said...

Thank you. Elias, I hope the ink well is a 'bottomless' one :-) Thanks Nkiacha, Kiru, Tinashe and Zino A. Francis, for the moment the book is available in online book stores and local bookstores in the UK, where it's published. It depends on where you are? It will soon be available in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

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