Emily sees Ezekiel shake his arms and hands around his head. This can only mean that the mosquitoes are back. Ezekiel is haunted by the buzzing of a thousand phantom mosquitoes. They fly close to his ear; it is always the same ear, the right ear. He swipes at them, but this only increases their agitation. He longs to hit one, just one, and see the satisfying streak of blood across the wall. Sometimes he slaps a hand against one, again, again, but he hits nothing but the wall, and more often, himself. 

He has to be bandaged often, Ezekiel.

In between the buzzing mosquitoes, Ezekiel says that he hears other sounds: shouting men dressed as soldiers, the dry crackle of the straw on burning huts, screaming children, crying women. More frequent and disturbing than that is this, the high intermittent buzz of the thousand mosquitoes. To keep their noise out of his head, Ezekiel sings a song that Emily remembers from Sunday School:

Father Abraham, please send Lazarus

To rescue me, I am burning in this fire.

Yuwi maiwe yuwi,Yuwi maiwe yuwi.

Please send Lazarus, to rescue me

I am dying in this heat.

And when he screams ‘Abraham, Abraham’ at least twenty times, the mosquitoes are still.

His shouting puts him in conflict with Sister Emilia. She raps him sharply on the head with her knuckles. He stops screaming, and whispers ‘Abraham, Abraham’ near the window close to where Emily stands.  She sees him trembling, and instinctively, puts a hand on his shoulder. They stand in silence looking out at Second Street Extension, at the embassy houses of Belgravia and the golf course across the road. Through the metal grille and the mesh wire, through the reinforced windows that separate them from the outside, they can see small figures on the eighteenth green.

Only outside this window is there change, yet even there, a repetitive pattern asserts itself. On Second Street Extension, the cars, buses, emergency taxis are filled with people going about the business of living, the occupants within unaware of the gazes without. One time, two times, five times a day she sees the vans and cars from her suspended life. Up and down, goes the little green bus, moving between the city centre and the university. ‘University of Zimbabwe’, a white station wagon says in blue lettering, ‘Faculty of Law.’ So close is the car that she can make out the faculty motto below the university crest: fiat justitia ruat coelum. The motto is more than just the words of Caesoninus on a crest, it is a song in her soul, the reason she is a law student, the meaning she wants to give to her life. ‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall,’ she says aloud. Outside, the traffic, golf course, the houses. Inside, the Annexe shuffle.


They bring her to Dr. Chikara, Emily; the Dean of Students on one side, the Warden of Swinton Hostel on the other. Dr. Chikara is not who she expected. His office is an empty space with nothing on the walls. There are no books by Freud and Jung. There is no couch in sight. He does not talk about the id or the ego. Instead, from behind his government-issue desk, he directs her to a government-issue chair.

He smokes Kingsgate cigarettes, one after the other.

He writes down everything she says.

‘Canst thou minister to a mind diseased?’ she asks him. ‘Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow?’

He writes this down.

‘May I have a cigarette,’ she says, without a question mark.

‘Do you smoke?’ he asks, with a question mark.

‘I do now,’ she says as she lights one of his cigarettes. She coughs out smoke through teary eyes.

He writes that down too.

‘I am sending you to the Annexe,’ he says, ‘the mental wing at Parirenyatwa Hospital.’

The word mental and the word hospital combine to produce a loud clanging in her mind. ‘I am not mad,’ she says.

‘No, of course you are not mad’, he says. ‘Madness has nothing to do with it. You only need rest, all you need is rest.’

Emily is pliant, obedient, she needs rest.  The Warden calls her a taxi, to be paid for by the university. ‘I am visiting a friend,’ she tells the driver, even though he has not asked. Inside the Annexe, the door shuts behind her. A man in a striped robe walks the slow walk that puts her in mind of the undead of film and television. In his face is vacant possession.

‘Do you have Parade, sister,’ he slurs.

She turns towards the door but there is no handle on the inside.

‘I am not supposed to be here,’ she says, ‘let me out, let me out.’

‘Sister may I have Parade,’ the man says, and touches her face. The man attracts others, and two women shuffle towards her, with faces as empty as his. Like a persistent interloper, the rhyme from Stephen King’s Tommyknockers reverberates in her mind. Late last night and the night before, Tommyknockers, Tommyknockers, knocking at the door. The door won’t open, and she bangs on it to escape the shuffling figures in their striped robes. A nurse comes to her, face clouded with concern.

‘Is it not that you are the girl from the university?’ the nurse asks in Shona. ‘Is it not that Dr. Chikara sent you here?’

‘No, No,’ Emily says in English, ‘Let me out. ’

I want to go out, dont know if I can.

‘Are you not the one we are expecting?’ the nurse asks again.

‘I am lost,’ Emily says, ‘So sorry, so lost, I should not be here.’

I am so afraid of the Tommyknocker man.

The door opens and she stumbles out.


In her room on P corridor at Swinton, she announces to no one in particular:  ‘I am going to keep a journal. I am going to write down everything that happens to me. Today I ate my banana,’ she says, ‘so I will write that down.’

‘I ate my banana,’ she writes.

Only it comes out ‘I hate my banana,’ and, seeing this, she laughs hysterically. Then she sees that this is not so funny, this is, in fact, a sign that everything is against her, she can’t even trust her own pen, her own hand, her own thoughts, her very actions betray her, everything is against her, everything is wrong, so wrong, nothing will ever be right again.

She dissolves into tears.

It is as she cries that the Dean of Students and the Warden enter her room to take her back to the Annexe. ‘I know my rights,’ she says through her tears. ‘I am a law student.’







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Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas

The Annexe Shuffle by Petina Gappah

Page 1