Psalm 37by Wadzanai Mhute
But the meek shall inherit the earth;
And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
What makes you think that you, a market trader, will catch that man's eye? Ehh? Single you out for special treatment. Haiwa get on the bus like the rest of us and let's get moving.
Looking? Who? Where? My dear, he is not looking at you but through you. Sorry. That's how it is with us. They don't see us. They see our goods, our wares, they even smell us but they don't see us. Come, on Mai Chiwuri, let's catch this bus before it leaves us. Our husbands will be staring at the empty Paramus stove, getting angrier by the minute. Those factory jobs are not easy, let's hurry so we can feed them. This little money will appease them, hanti? You'll see. Hende mhani!
She ushered Mai Chiwuri into the loaded bus full of day laborers and market traders going home to the locations. The conductor whistled and hustled "Chitungwiza, Seke, Seke, Chichi Chitungweeeza!" The bus driver seemed to suddenly decide to leave. He revved the engine and shut the door in the conductor's face. He didn't seem surprised, he merely continued his catcall until the bus was gathering speed, then he ran after it. The passengers heard rather than saw him climb on the back of the bus by the ladder hanging precariously on the side of the bus. His running feet made a pounding sound on the roof making one afraid that it would collapse. With agility that was not seen, only imagined, he opened the door from above and sidled in. The passengers cheered and clapped with relief as if this was the first time they had seen this treacherous display. Maybe they were realists, guessing that one day some poor conductor's luck would run out and they would be witnesses to a byline in Kwayedza newspaper. Today was not such a day so Letty and Mai Chiwuri turned their attention back to the cramped space in between the standing passengers. Sweat blanketed the bus, one's nostrils had to accept and breathe on because after much maneuvering and turning amidst protests of "My foot," "My hand," "My baby." One encountered an even stronger version of the sweat from the east-facing window.
Mai Chiwuri frowned and frowned. "Tskkkk" was her inappropriate response to an everyday situation. Eyes darted back and forth to her and to known and unknown allies.
"I guess some people have never been on buses, they are used to Pajeros!" This drew laughter from the passengers, a relief from the crotchety bus that hit every bump and pot hole at high speed causing swaying and more silent protests. It seemed that the displaced anger was placed on Mai Chiwuri and other vocal passengers. The conductor's eye though, watching the road and glancing at his tickets in hand was sizing up Mai Chiwuri. He looked like he was ready for a confrontation. Like he could not wait to throw someone off the bus. Letty nudged Mai Chiwuri in the chest, the only accessible place at their angle.
"Shhh" followed by an intense look shut Mai Chiwuri's mouth.
They felt every minute of the thirty-minute journey. The little stick in the sand marked their stop.
"Go home to your Pajero!" was heard amidst the groaning of the departing bus.
The resulting laughter was not heard but seen as white teeth gleamed and bodies shook up and down instead of sideways.
"Me I prefer kumba, people know each other, they are not so rude." Mai Chiwuri seemed to be addressing the bus in the distance.
"You should be grateful that you are in the city and can make some little money." Letty struggled with her bags of left over vegetables, she eventually lifted them over her shoulder in one swoop and walked leaning forwards looking older than her 28 years.
"Aah I don't know, I liked being home."
"What will your husband say? Hmm? He saw fit to bring you here, you are lucky, most leave their wives in the rural areas and have a city wife! Here you are complaining, are you ever satisfied?" Letty didn't let her answer. "Amangwana." With that she turned into her mud and marrata house. The door creaked and protested at the bending of hinges in the wrong place.
Mai Chiwuri sighed and turned two metres to her own shack and opened the wooden door, this one protested too but not for the same reason as Letty's. It may have been protesting that it was a grand door plucked from the dump heap and placed on a rrata frame. It was out of place here. Like Mai Chiwuri. She, newly arrived from the rural areas, had more manners than these city girls. And they had the nerve to call her "bush" or vsrb - very strong rural background. Better a rural background than seemingly none at all. She would not share her first name with anyone here. Mai Chiwuri was her name, she was married after all, what more was needed to identify her. Even her husband, Diggie called her Mai Chiwuri. Hopefully one day this would be replaced by her child's name, if they ever had one. She breathed in deeply, a pain going through her chest. One day. Except it had been three years with no child. The gossiping drove her to the city, she could not bear it any longer. Talk of a second wife was mentioned on more than one occasion and very deliberately. Diggie was not one to be swayed by popular opinion. He did not care what people said. He flunked school and dropped out with only the Zimbabwe Junior Certificate despite his high marks in school exams. He then left an apprentice mechanic job to be a sculptor. Despite protests from family who were getting used to the steady income and promise of more to come once he finished his apprenticeship, he left and did not turn back. Now he could be found at Chapungu village or Avondale shopping center grinning his white teeth at tourists who seemed to be fascinated more by the teeth than the sculptures. "Such unusually bright teeth, not so Henry?"
"Yes, yes I wonder what they use? WHAT DO YOU USE TO CLEAN THEM?" As if shouting would make one comprehend a language.
Diggie played along. "Colgate, sir, real good for teeth, even yours will turn back to white."
Sometimes this backfired and the sure sale would walk away in disgust.
Most times he ignored the questions and just repeated the prices of his art until the tourists relented. He could always tell the Zimbos who had been "out" by their shoes. They sauntered by as if in passing, speaking strained Shona and trying to ingratiate themselves with the sellers. Everyone knew the deal, these self same Zimbos would buy their art and maybe even work out a deal to have some shipped over from the source and then they would sell them at more than 10 times the selling price. It seemed that the tourists were the only ones that really appreciated the art for art's sake. Diggie only sold to them. If he saw foreign shoes on local feet, he bolted or took a break or pretended to not understand Shona, Ndebele or English.
"Nyanja chete" he would say and grin his white teeth grin.
So subtle and not so subtle comments about his wife's inability to bear children did not phase him. Less mouths to feed, he thought. He didn't care to have children when he could barely feed himself and his wife, let alone the many relatives in the rural areas. Children on top of that? No. If it happened it happened, but more than likely it wouldn't and he was equally fine with that. Now to just convince the wife that it was ok. She was talking of visiting the Family Planning Clinic that had all sorts of solutions for barren women. He tried to coax her, telling her she was beautiful skinny as she was, a baby would make her gain weight and weight wasn't good on everybody. That made her cry because she wanted the weight so people would stop whispering about the disease. He couldn't win so he agreed to her visiting the clinic. What solutions did they have anyway, whatever it was cost money they did not have to spare so either way he would win. Women always brought more problems than they were worth.
Take Lydia for instance, his off again, on again girlfriend. She knew that his wife was in town yet she would walk past the shack and call out his name. If Mai Chiwuri came out she would say she was a sculpture buyer. She looked the part, what with the golden weave, red lipstick, penciled in eyebrows and the black "glass" shoes, she could be mistaken for a suburban streetwalker instead of a location one. Cars' lights would flash at her during the day and she would get angry.
"Man what do they take me for, ey, its broad daylight, I have class, mhani." Though she would glance from the corner of her eye at the potential customer. Pajeros, Mercedes Benz were not seen in these parts except when they were speeding past on their way to their farms or suburban homes. Still that didn't stop Lydia from hoping that one day they would stop and free her from this location business. Diggie was a regular though he didn't pay, in fact she seemed to owe him, bringing in clients for his sculptures, luring the white tourists to his lair. "This is where they are made authentically." Then she would whisper something in their ear and automatically came out the wallet. You would think that she would have retired by now with these white clients, but they merely paid and left, back to their foreign lands and foreign white-washed wives. Now the local Pajero and Benz owners, they could keep her as a mistress and not have to worry about the disease; she protected herself with imported condoms, straight from the US. Diggie, unfortunately, was no winner she could back. She liked him enough but she needed a brighter future than his white teeth could promise.
Mai Chiwuri knew of Lydia and Glenda and Gerty. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned Shona names? Maybe that was the problem, the white names further alienated these young girls from their roots. They really felt like they could be Lydia's and Gertys without consequences. Nobody knew their family names, so no one could tell on them. Except Zim was small and the locations even smaller. Christian or non-Christian names didn't matter; one could recognize some family members just on sight. The news was known in the rural areas but was ignored because to acknowledge it would mean to forfeit the steady income. Mai Chiwuri insisted on using condoms on the rare occasions they had sex. Diggie often wondered how in fact she intended to conceive if she was blocking the very thing that would begin the process. It wasn't for him to question, he was happy with the status quo. He still behaved as if he did not have a wife.
Letty's husband was indeed sitting staring at the Paramus stove. Their two children were listening to the transistor radio. It didn't matter what was on, they listened anyway. Radio 2 "Maziviso" Radio 3 jams. Radio 1 country music. It was all entertainment and helped them forget their growling stomachs. They ate one meal a day, at night when their mother came home. Their father ate breakfast and supper though one wouldn't have guessed it with his skinny frame that seemed to sway in strong winds, even light winds caused some worry on passerby's faces. His neighbors knew that it wasn't the disease that made him skinny but genetics, after all he was not known to wander from woman to woman. Letty was the only known one unless there was some rural woman somewhere. Unlikely is what everyone agreed upon. Mudhara, as he was known, was well-respected though he was also one of the factory no-title workers, he commanded respect with his deep voice that seemed alien on his skinny frame. He was in his 30's like the rest of them but acted as if he was an ancient relic from days past. He still held on to the old cultural values. Which made it even stranger that he was a resident in shack city. He, like Mai Chiwuri, was out of place in such a harsh environment. One almost felt sorry for them. Refugees in their own country. Except they were more slick and savvy than they first appeared as neighbors knew about Mudhara and soon learned about Mai Chiwuri. They were more aware of their environment and the possibilities in a seemingly impossible situation. Mudhara sold transistor radios from the back of his house, he was a tinkerer who repaired any electrical device. There was speculation as to where his money disappeared, but it was concluded that he had a savings account that he did not touch. The money the family used was the money from Letty's market selling. All other monies were ferried into the affordable, all accepting POSB savings account.
Mai Chiwuri sewed and knitted choosing to sell both vegetables and jerseys side by side. She had ambition to move to Avondale shopping center with Diggie. Maybe with time she would be an expert and make those brightly colored jerseys the tourists wore. Till then she made coarse brown, black, grey and blue jerseys that could be worn at most government schools. Those were her biggest customers because parents could barely afford uniforms these days let alone the luxury of a store bought jersey? Only in winter and even then in mid July is when tight fisted women paid the final installments on their purchases.
"Can't you make it cheaper nhai sisi?" This from a robust woman who seemed to be well fed.
Mai Chiwuri's look dared her to say she was hungry in these hungry times.
"OK but next year I won't be back!"
Yes, thought Mai Chiwuri, because I will not be here. This time next year she would be selling at Avondale, maybe even Borrowdale, who knows where her talents could take her.
It was Mudhara who gave her the confidence to venture beyond Mbare in record time. Three months to be exact. Even Letty was surprised and slightly wounded that her husband had given Mai Chiwuri the necessary connections to set up a market stall on the side of Borrowdale Road.
"In fact it's even better because you catch the private and government school children in that one area." Mudhara encouraged.
Mai Chiwuri couldn't stop smiling. "The catchment area! Eish, Mudhara, do you think I can do it? Those complicated collar patterns…?"
"Just speak to the maids around and ask for samples of the school colours and practice at home. Practice getting those lines straight and you'll be alright."
"Thank you Mudhara, so, so much."
"Hah, it's nothing Mai, we look out for each other here." He turned back into his shack, pulling the creaking door whose many holes due to panel beating showed the inside anyway.
Mai Chiwuri clapped her hands and raised them to her lips like in prayer. She closed her eyes and ululated, jumping up and down, turning half a circle one way and half a circle the other. Eyes peered through opened and unopened doors. She didn't care, she assumed either the neighbors would be envious or they would wish her well. She never thought that they would try to derail her ventures. She still thought she was at her beloved rural home. Her ululating lingered in the air long after she had entered her home. It hung on the doors and plastics of the shacks in the yard. It rang in the ears of neighbors whose dreams of leaving this place had long disappeared. Even Diggie seemed to have felt its effects before he returned home, people told him at the bar where he was spending the $100,000 he had received from the sale of the "Mother and Baby" sculpture. He tsk, tsked the matter but could sense a change in the hearty thanks for free drinks he was steadily supplying his Friday drinking friends. He left the bar before midnight, disappointed that early-morning drinking and subsequent treks home would now have to be curtailed. It was hard to survive when you had a target on your back. He cursed Mai Chiwuri silently as he was walking; occasionally he would yell into the grey night, practicing what he would say to the overly ambitious woman who called herself his wife. Not three months in the city and already she had alienated a few neighbors, now with this Borrowdale market she alienated the remaining ones.
"Women are nothing but trouble." He drunkenly assured himself. He, however, was sufficiently sober since he had not had the time to drink himself into a stupor. The cold air did not help his cause. Therefore when he opened the wooden door he had lost most of his courage to talk so he quickly removed his belt and flailed wildly at the sleeping figure by the Paramus stove.
"Aaah, I am being beaten, maiwe!" Mai Chiwuri seemed to do a dance as she sidestepped the belt that was flying and upsetting everything in its wake. The stove fell, the plates separated, some tumbled on the concrete floor, others stayed balancing on the slab that was the shelf. The whack, whack did not bring the neighbors out even when Mai Chiwuri took her pain into the yard.
"Can no-one hear me? He's beating me." Dry tears fought their way out.
"Shh, we are trying to sleep mhani!." Was the only response.
This being the locations, the street saw a steady stream of foot traffic at 1am. Some glanced and continued walking while others stopped to watch and smirk at the spectacle. It was Mudhara who came out to once again save Mai Chiwuri from her misfortune.
"Diggie, Diggie, what's going on here? Mai Chiwuri go into the house." By this he meant his house. Letty ushered her into the pitch blackness while holding onto to her unfolding wrap.
"Heh? What's the meaning of this Diggie?" Mudhara's skinny frame was naked except for flimsy shorts. If he had been standing by a tree people would have had a difficult time differentiating the two in the dark.
Diggie wanted to continue swinging, specifically into that overconfident head that loomed over him. After all, he was the cause of this unfair promotion. Diggie should have been the one to move, at least then people would understand, he was already going back and forth to Chapungu Village so people would not have minded so much. Now his woman would be earning more than him and every other person in the yard, and Diggie did not want to move from this place.
The screeching of tires in a near-miss accident was the wake up call in shack city. No cocks crowed here, the skinny remaining ones had long been eaten or stolen. It was with awkward movements that Mai Chiwuri left her neighbors' shack the following morning. Mudhara had left for who knows what so early on a Saturday morning. Diggie's snores could be seen rattling the shack. Mai Chiwuri had learnt her lesson that achieving too fast can be detrimental to one's health. So she resolved to settle for the time being into her uninteresting life selling wares at Mbare market. Unfortunately for Mai Chiwuri circumstances would not let her life stay that simple.
It was a Tuesday night at 8pm when a loud knocking was heard throughout the compound. Mai Chiwuri rubbed her smoke-filled eyes to be confronted by a heavy set woman, a skinny man, and a shivering girl of about 16 (she was actually 19, Mai Chiwuri later found out.) All Mai Chiwuri could think about was how come Harare women continued to gain weight despite the lack of food in the country, they must have been literally eating out of their husband's plates. Therefore this scene that was repeated in Zim households day in and day out was not immediately recognizable to her.
"Yes, what can I do for you?" Her manners had left her because of the hunger threatening to burst forth into a rumbling song within her belly and in front of this well-fed woman no less.
Silence. So she, too, stared at the dumbfounded look on the trio's faces. This impasse could have lasted longer than the two minutes it did if not for Diggie's whistling, pausing then retreating sprint back through the gate from which he had entered. "Iwe!" This from the father who seemed to have received the gift of speech and the ability to run at the same time. His yells of "iwe" seemed unconvincing as Diggie gained ground and jumped into a kombi that was waiting at a traffic light. The skinny man stood on the side of the road hunched over breathing deeply and fast. One would think that he had never run in his life. Yet Mai Chiwuri could ascertain that he did not arrive in his own car; he seemed a city man and in Harare one always ran for kombis and lifts. Therefore what was this lack luster display of pursuit? Mai Chiwuri was disgusted. He returned to the women who had only moved their eyes.
"We'll be back for our husband." He said between gasps.
"Whose husband?" Mai Chiwuri questioned though she had already surmised from the determined look on their faces that Diggie's latest indiscretion had resulted in something that could not be easily forgotten or paid off.
"Get out of my yard!" Silly man couldn't even catch the culprit, now he and his family were lingering as if they had a right to be there. "Shoo, shoo, away!" She dismissed them and resumed her cooking.
Diggie returned three days later to a locked door. For all the flimsiness of these shacks they were impenetrable when they had to be. Double Sheffield locks were on the door. Even the glassless windows had metal bars that needed a welder to undo. So he sat waiting in his yard for Mai Chiwuri's return which was at nearly midnight because now she had set up her Borrowdale stall, far to travel with the scarcity of transport and the money to pay for it when it did come. She walked half of the 15.2 kilometers in order to keep her profits. She had not yet made friends to stay with in the area. Soon she would have to find a place closer to her stall.
His hand touched the neck of the jersey. Mai Chiwuri's hands went over his. He did not immediately pull them away.
"You are doing a great job here, you are thriving." He smiled approvingly.
"What kind of cooking is this heh?" Mudhara's roar and subsequent throwing of plates brought the neighbors outside. It was not a sound they were accustomed to. Mudhara never raised his voice much less shouted at his wife. Married men in the compound glanced at each other, smiling, silently welcoming Mudhara to their reality.
"What kind of a woman cannot even cook for her husband after a long day? Useless woman!"
Letty's wails started slowly then rose hysterically.
"Shut up! Shut up mhani!"
She continued to cry.
"What is this crying? You want people to think I beat you is that it?" Mudhara came out of his shack to see a gathering outside.
"What is it?" He asked his silent neighbors. "Tsk!" He exclaimed and returned seemingly embarrassed to his lair. The wails continued apparently now aware of the audience outside. They rose and fell and eventually ceased. The neighbors seemed disappointed at the quick end to the unusual scene, so they lingered hoping for a continuation of the drama. None came. The silence inside was due to Letty lying face away from her husband who was sitting in a corner staring at his home and family. It was a heavy silence that threatened to clutch and choke Mudhara. He opened a curtain and glanced at the waiting crowd. He pulled the curtains tighter so no gap remained, closed his eyes and attempted to sleep sitting up.
Mai Chiwuri did not regret her affair with Mudhara. After all this was Harare, take or be taken! This city was not for the faint of heart like Letty. It was unrealistic to think that marriage was for one man, one woman. Mai Chiwuri's Borrowdale business was surpassing even her expectations. Her demeanor was one of the silent and daft village girl who smiled and sold seemingly at a loss to her steady customers. However her fellow stall owners knew she was neither silent nor daft, she maneuvered and stole established customers with a cunning that one wondered what type of village produced this girl and how come it had kept her there this long? With no friends and Diggie in shack city and her in Borrowdale during the week, loneliness gripped her in her one-bedroom boys' quarters. She was not used to this. The droning radio irritated her. She could afford a second hand television but wouldn't dare waste her money on something that was a thief's number one target. Mudhara's visits were infrequent but became steady and eventually routine. They were usually at her place. However this particular Saturday was Heroe's Day with the Zim soccer team playing Malawi. The compound was practically empty with everyone either at the game or visiting relatives. Letty was away at her village. She had been gone a week and would be back the following weekend.
The quick-footed steps of Letty were heard within. Mudhara and Mai Chiwuri hurriedly jumped out of the floor bed though not in time to prevent Letty from entering and seeing what she had been suspecting for some time. Letty looked at them both, calmly picked up a pot on the wooden structure that was meant to be a cupboard and aimed, hitting Mudhara's face that was in motion and advancing towards her. She turned on her heels and ran towards the kombis heading to the city center. She was breathing heavily as she withdrew the remaining money in the POSB savings account.
The last she had heard of Mudhara and Mai Chiwuri was that they were no longer together. Mudhara had been seen trying to eek a living from his tinkering and day job and still living in shack city. Mai Chiwuri was eventually pushed out of her business in a hostile takeover by the market women who were tired of this woman who not only took away their business but was steadily making her way through their husbands. She was now in Waterfalls, the next big trading area, head down and not making waves in this the original "take or be taken" part of the city.
And Diggie? He had moved to the village to seriously pursue his art. Unfortunately he was still pursuing other men's women. There was a village meeting beside and near a dry river where he was confronted and soundly beaten.
"What does Diggie mean anyway?" One mischievous man asked.
"Dignty!" Chuckles and snickers were heard.
The man who was stripped of his shirt and shoes crawled in the brown slush, crossed to the banks and ran away in the direction of the bus stop to the city.
Letty swept her yard refusing the gardener's cries of "Madam I can do this, madam?" She finished and looked back at her property. A three-bedroom house in Mabelreign. Not bad for a subsistence farmer's daughter. She smiled to herself as she heard the advancing voices of her children returning from school.