THE DARK HAIRED गर्ल फ्रॉम माय नोवेल 'मद बोब REPUBLIC
We were out in Harare. It was end of March, on a Wednesday. I had given notice at my workplace. I had decided to leave the country for South Africa. Going to work now was a wasteful exercise. The monies I was getting at the end of the month weren’t even enough to get me through the first week after pay in. Things were beyond my reach, and the truth was even if I could afford to buy some of the things they were not even available in the stores at that. Business at the company where I worked, a motor vehicle sales company was down. We were spending days on end without any sale to talk of. I was spending most of those days getting into queues to procure basic necessities like bread, mealy-meal, sugar and other commodities. Times when I was at work I was busy looking for employment outside the country. Lately I had been concentrating on South Africa. I had given up on getting better work in Zimbabwe. Since I was seeing my last month of the three months notice I wasn’t so keen on working anymore. I had also been seeing Natasha for slightly more than four months.
It was one of those drifting jobs with her, but we were spending a lot of time together. I knew she liked me a lot but I wasn’t so sure of how I felt for her. That day I was looking for job offers in South Africa. The jobs that I could qualify for had a lot other demands that I couldn’t meet like a work permit, international driver’s licence and many others. I didn’t have the monies to access these. I had been saving for a year now and it was just enough to get me transport to South Africa, and for an emergency travel document which was cheaper and less difficult to access than a passport. I had no one I knew of in South Africa. I had no other arrangements with anyone in South Africa so I didn’t know where I was going to be staying as I would be looking around for work. I had just a bit of change money for food for some days.
I got bored with the results I was getting from the job bank I was using so I decide I needed a break. I called Natasha.
“Hello Tasha, hi baby!” I said after she had received my call. She was so happy from the tone of her voice, to be hearing from me. “Hi Tendai, how is your day today?”
“Are you bored? What’s boring you?” She asked me.
“Work I suppose. I think it’s about everything..., do you think you could come over here Tasha? We could hang out, sort of. I want to talk to you about something else.” Natasha wasn’t going to work anymore those days. She had been offloaded at her workplace, at some fast food place in Harare city centre so I knew such a kind of offer was one she couldn’t have refused.
“Tendai, you want me to come there right now, now? Are you not working today?”
“There is not much work to do today.”
“But I don’t have the fares into town.”
“Can you go to my place Tasha? I am talking to my cousin now. Get the bus fares from George and come over here. I will give you the return fares when we meet.”
“Ok, I will do that.”
“Love you Tendai.”
“Love you too Tasha.”
I hang up and phoned my cousin and told him to lent Natasha some monies for transport into town. George was still working at a company in the outskirts of Harare, the other side of that city. For him to get to work he had to take two lifts to work so he had been going to work once or twice per week. He had just about given up like me. He didn’t care whether he got fired at his job or not. He reasoned the best thing was to stay home most of the days than to waste the little he had by going to work. There was even not that much of work at his place as well.
She came into town and then phoned me when she had disembarked at the charge office bus stop in Harare city centre. It was about twelve mid afternoon. I lied to my immediate boss that I was off to do car valuations at Kingdom bank. It was easy to dupe him because I had been carrying out vehicle valuations at this company that week. I was happy to see her waiting for me at the bus stop. I hugged her feelingly, kissed her and was really enjoying seeing her. She had let her hair go back to a soft medium natural black. Her breasts and buttocks were big and jutted out proudly. She was an attractive girl by any stretch.
I took her to the Chicken inn at the corner of Inez Terrence and George Silundika Street. It was the biggest there was in the city so I knew we would definitely find the food we were looking for. She ordered a quarter chicken and chips. I did the same. I didn’t mind wasting a bit of the money on these orders. I was past caring about a lot of things. I also thought it was a good and fitting goodbye for Natasha. I just wanted to spoil her a bit. We talked silly nothings whilst we worked on the chicken and chips. After that we ordered ice cream for dessert. We nibbled our ice cream corns as we loitered through the dense afternoon crowds of the city. She said we could go to Harare gardens where we could sit and talk, so we made our way to the northerly direction towards these gardens. When we found some good spot to sit in the gardens I told her straight away that I would be leaving the country for South Africa.
“South Africa, but why Tendai?”
“I have been serving notice at my workplace Natasha. For almost three months now and this is my last month. I would really like to try to get a job down South Africa. There is not much work at the company where I am working right now so it’s a matter of time before I am laid off. I would like to take the initiative now. There are bound to be better prospects in South Africa, I should think?”
“But you have never told me that’s what you have been planning to do all these months, why Tendai?”
“We have started barely getting along Tasha. I wanted to tell you, I have been meaning to do that but....”
“So what does that leave us Tendai?”
“I love you Natasha. I would like you to eventually join me.” She loved me anyway and I knew it. It’s so calming to know someone loves you. It stills your own thoughts almost to a halt.
“I am not so sure, yet.” She started sneezing and I knew she was crying, head bent in supplication. She somehow knew if I leave it might be difficult for me to return back, let alone to let her join me there. I asked her why she was crying. She said nothing. I asked her if she was crying because she thought I wouldn’t be returning back. She asked me if I would really return back. I told her I would be returning back in about three month’s time, a job or no job. She didn’t want me to go she told me that. She said I could get a job, another job at another company in Zimbabwe so I should stay. I told her I could get a better job in South Africa, and that it will be for a couple or so months that we will be separated. I couldn’t have told her I was going for the long haul. I still wanted to hold onto her. I didn’t want to have to hurt her unnecessarily. That afternoon, I had to spend that afternoon trying to convince her that it was a good move for the two of us in the long run and that she had to have hope in us, the hope that I didn’t have but I couldn’t have told her that. I told her that eventually we will be together.
That afternoon I did not return back to my workplace. I phoned Mr. Rusere, my boss and told him that the work I was doing would see me through that afternoon. That I would not be returning back to the offices after I was through but that I would be going home straight away. Mr Rusere was a good manager. Good because for the three years we had been working together he never made any unnecessary fuss over anything unless it was absolutely necessary to do so. I knew he would never check my story. He said it was ok with him. That afternoon we loitered through the streets and talked, infact I had talked her into the vision that I had for the two of us, making her feel like a part of the deal. We had argued and now we were getting along fine but I knew there was still a question she hadn’t asked me, or maybe she was hesitating to ask me. Later we returned home together. We were at her parents’ place where she stayed with her parents. We were at the gates and I was saying goodbye to her when she asked me why I was saying goodbye to her as if I was leaving for South Africa right away. All those months we had been seeing the other I never said goodbye to her when leaving her for the day. We would just hug and kiss when it was time to leave each other’s company, so I answered her.
“But I told you Tasha that I will be leaving for South Africa.” I couldn’t help reminding her.
“Are you going like right now now, like tomorrow Tendai?”
“Yes, I am leaving tomorrow Tasha. I thought you realised that?”
“You are joking, are you joking Tendai?” Sadness and pain coming to squat on top of those words, she said. “What’s the matter with you Tendai?” She said that in a sheepish voice, like a little girl, like as if she wanted someone to put her out, a candle’s fire.
“There is nothing the matter Tasha and no, I am not joking Tasha. I have already prepared for an afternoon departure, tomorrow afternoon Tasha.”
“But why this rush Tendai?”
I knew it simply would have to be performance art from there onwards, some part of my heart told me I had never really been in it with her.
“I am not rushing anything Tasha. I have already made the arrangements. I don’t see why I should stay around for a little bit longer. If I go early Natasha, I will be able to return sooner as well. I also want to go before they are many complications with my travel arrangements at the border.”
“How are you travelling to South Africa?”
“I will be jumping the border through Limpopo River. A lot of people are doing that these days. I don’t have enough money to apply for a Visa now.”
“Limpopo River is infested with crocodiles Tendai. Are you crazy? Are you not afraid of the crocodiles? Why are you risking your life like that....?” She couldn’t complete the sentence because she was crying again. Drowning in the river and getting feasted upon was a painful and frightening thing for her to bear as was life to innocent children born in harm’s way. A man’s life is difficult, for how is he supposed to provide for his family? Isn’t it in our own undoing that new possibilities arise? I had to go through the motions again, trying to convince her that I will be okay and that no danger would befall me. By the time I left her for home I knew somehow Natasha had come to accept the inevitability of our separation? There was no need to explain to her that the chain was now broken and that the curve of the horizon will be my guide. She was still despondent but tried to smile up a bit and be polite. When I left her she was still sneezing silently. I couldn’t even ask her to accompany me to Mbudzi turn-off on the outskirts of the south western suburbs of Harare where I was going to take a truck to South Africa the morrow day. Trucks were cheaper so I would save a bit and the truck driver would link me with the Malaitshas (border gangsters) who were doing some roaring trade helping people cross into South Africa through Limpopo River and also transporting these people all the way to Johannesburg.
The morrow morning I was surprised when she came over to accompany me to Mbudzi turn off. She was wearing her best dress with tiny flowers all over it, with black buttons from above her naval upto her neck. I couldn’t help staring at the buttons, buttons have always fascinated me. It’s exciting to know you will be watching both the insides and the outsides of a girl and buttons are at the threshold to doing that but I didn’t like seeing her though that day. I just wanted to go without a fuss that day. I just felt like I could sort of take-off, well-pretty off, giving spark of flight to a moribund heart, light with happiness, some kind of happiness. I couldn’t quite this vagabond heart from feeling the way it was feeling. Maybe she realised about that so she didn’t make any fuss over me. She was so meek as if she was afraid I was going to ream her for being late. We hadn’t talked that much as I made my final preparations, even as she accompanied me. She seemed much calmer, not exactly grounded though, hiding behind politeness like a shell and nursing grief alone.
We took some chicken bus to Mbare Musika (Mbare market place) in Harare. On our way we were basically quite and estranged. Her facial muscles were not moving much, her posture was extremely drowsy, shoulders folding inside. Her chest hiding inside those shoulders, she was troubled. She seemed to be working on a sleeping body. I kept to the surface and did not dare invade the quite of her chosen cell. I had nothing more to say to her, nothing to promise her again so I was watching the sides of the road which were green with brush. The tall grass sighing, hanging suspended in the day’s clear air. Here a chinaberry tree, and there a mimosa tree, here an acacia tree there a poplar tree and the bluebells reeled their dances out in the air without us.
When we cleared Irvine farm and were hugging the outskirts of Waterfalls suburban we started walking to the bus’s doors. I had very little on me, just a satchel with a clean pair of clothes, some food, some toiletries, emergency travel documents and some monies. I didn’t want to make my travel difficult for I knew we would be walking quite a lot for part of our journey so I travelled light. We disembarked before the bus entered the circle and turn off to Mbare Musika. The southerly breeze was blowing slowly and the late morning shadows were rubbing along the earth. It was about eleven o’clock, almost, and they were a lot of trucks coming through on their way to South Africa so we didn’t have to wait and hang around longer. I did let a couple of those trucks pass and boarded the third one that came through. I hugged her goodbye; I kissed her in a way that I didn’t think I could have done. I told her again that we will be together again sooner. That, I loved her. I really wanted to take credit for those small three words and be less lonely. Closing her eyes, she linked her hands to mine and started pulling me in; hoping for the best. When she took me into her arms again I fitted in, this stranger fitted in as he had always done. Then she nodded and smiled and as usual her bright sunshine smile leaked too much loom for fooling the sun. Something inside me broke, breaking open with her smile. I felt something ache with an unspecified longing in my heart. When she smiled like that I would really love to juggle the stars for her but I also wanted to love her in a way that would leave me free.
Then, I left her and boarded this truck into the unknown. I didn’t look back. She stayed back maybe waving her arms goodbye to love, tearfully. The dark haired girl slipped out and fell through the grains of a hazy late morning day, but she had clang on, on my mind, the face that sometimes curved a sweet smile. I could not decide if by leaving her she had done me a favour or if she was really the victim?