My Daughter Is Coming
by Temba Magorimbo
He lay on his three quarter base bed looking at the roof where he could see the white ceiling through the pink mosquito netting which had been treated. Whatever mosquito fighter bomber that thought it could take a dive bomb lesson against him like a Junkers dive bomber going after British shipping in the Second World War had better think twice. The treatment worked wonders whenever those creatures touched the nettings. They dropped dead. It was hot.
Beyond the ceiling were intricate carpentry fittings of beams and rafters joined together and to the main walls that formed his cottage section. His rooms were small and neat. The cottage block had been constructed in a letter L. His two rooms which were interlinked within the interior formed the larger stock of the 'I'. At the end was a small toilet and shower, close to it was a washing room with taps and washing basins made from concrete. The foot of the L had a slightly large room bigger than the standard (3, 5 x 3, 5) m. It was almost (4, 5 x 3, 8) m wide. At both corners ran a verandah with decorative brick details enclosing it within the building. At the beginning of the L was a wrought iron screen which was locked. Burglars were prevalent here as in the back country except here the police where better equipped, more efficient, politics free and quick to respond. Maybe it was the mood of the national economic situation that affected the police.
He had a bedroom with a built in wardrobe, out there was a small kitchen with a fitted 2-plate hob, underneath the kitchen sink was one of the smallest built in fridges he had ever seen. It still worked wonders. It had been five years now since had had crossed the border southwards holding onto his temporary travel permit which had expired four years and nine months ago. He had never bothered applying for a passport which on official channels was cheaper than in reality.
He was not worried about deportation because he knew the ropes now. He was crossing the border every year around December 23 coming back around January 17. There was one thing that kept him sane like a jailbird on life sentence, which was hope. Hope kept him and millions other immigrants alive and surviving. There were two options. Hope that one day the political situation would come to terms with a new and fresh crop of political leaders from councils up. Then the second was if Castro could survive past half a century, maybe he would await the mandatory number of years to apply for full residence status in his adoptive country. The third was that in whatever situation, nothing lived forever. The Soviet empire had collapsed after eighty odd years. The Third Reich had collapsed too, General Franco was no more, and Pinochet was no more. What had happened to Suharto? One day the Lord would write with a hand on the wall that a person’s ruling period was over and He, the Lord was handing his kingdom to another tribe. Maybe he would be alive to witness that day. He mused that even the war in Angola which started in the late sixties against the Portuguese and turned black-on-black in 1975 had ended. Even the Eritrean guerilla war against Ethiopia‘s Mangitsu had ended.
His knowledge of the local language was good. Being an educated general worker had its advantages. He had picked up a two boxfuls of language courses on cassettes. He had carried them home to learn, speak and read the two languages he could converse in now, Afrikaans and Zulu. They confused his tone for Venda. It was much better that way because foreigners in his adoptive country were not well tolerated. The mobs here had stopped lynching political sell-outs because apartheid was no more. They lynched foreigners when the mood was upon them.
The letter he had read worried him. Every month he had been to the coach station sending groceries going up north. The list had grown as the economy further up tumbled and crumbled. In the early days he used to send things like rubbing soap, cooking oil, rice and toiletries. Now almost everything was imported from here especially their staple food corn meal. Even bottles of Coca-Cola! What a mockery of a country which used to produce so much maize that agricultural ministers had once warned farmers to de-crop maize lest they fail to find export markets. Now the next thing to be imported would be water, he thought wryly.
He remembered when he had first arrived here.
“My name is Nhamoinesu,” he had said shuffling his feet. He looked at his feet. He held a fork. He had been working on the flower beds, amongst the rendendrons, larkspurs, jupiters and flame lilies when he had been disturbed. He was meeting the lady of the yard for the first time in the three days he had been working. He had been cycling from some ghetto outfit where they lived in an ex-container fitted with lights. The water and toilet facilities were communal. When bathing one never let loose of their towel lest it disappeared in the wink of an eye. There were three depressions coming here where township boys awaited the unwary.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“It means that the Lord has let my troubles forsake me,” he replied.
“That is not a correct name,” she replied. “I am a Christian. I don’t like those names associated with bad omen. What is it with you Africans, calling children after events, El Nino, Thursday because the baby was born then etc?”
“Didn’t Nomi change her name to Mara when she left Bethlehem to go into the land of the Moabites with her husband and her two sons because she came back without all three?” he asked.
“That is correct but don’t you have an English name?” she asked.
“The same way I can learn to pronounce, read and write your Afrikaans husband’s surname is the same way you can learn to do about me,” he replied. “Du Plessis, was that well pronounced?”
“Unfortunately yes,” she had replied with a movement of her upper lips.
“I used to watch a Du Plessis who is blind and knows cricket better than the sighted in my home country, Dean to be exact,” he had replied. “Go on ma’am.”
“All right,” she had replied. “Where you shown the worker’s cottage?”
“Not yet madam,” he replied. “I was cycling to work everyday.”
“I take it you are from across the Limpopo?” she asked. “North of us.”
“Yes madam. That is why my name is Nhamoinesu saying the Lord has left hyper inflation and dictatorial tendencies take our economy to ransome,” he replied. “I left behind my culture, my dignity, my personality, my job and salutation to start all over like a crawling baby. I left my three children and wife because a good work grade did not put food on the table for me.”
“You speak good English,” she replied.
“I learnt to ma’am,” he replied. “I guess I pray in English at times hence the Lord does not want broken English. He mended my tone.”
“Come and see the cottage follow me,” she had said. Her two huskies followed her. Now they no longer bayed for his blood. He had learnt to compromise so had the dogs. He still did not trust them when it was dark and he was returning from anywhere should he start living in the cottage. “Only the maid lives there. No male friends, you socialize outside my yard and no chain of girlfriends too. This is Durban. You never know who may be carrying an Okapi knife.”
“I hear you ma’am,” he replied. At forty-two he wondered why he would need a girlfriend. He was broken hearted by his move here leaving his family behind. His daughter was seventeen years old now. She should be doing lower sixth but her passes could not see her through the bottleneck for lower sixth.
“The maid will give you breakfast and lunch. Then I will provide you with materials to cook your supper every evening. Luxuries like clear and opaque beer you drink outside these premises. However the reason why landladies like me and others like foreigners is because foreigners are hard working, decent, trustworthy, crime free and willing to learn new ropes. The locals will as quickly as they can send a gang of robbers to their own boss. Talk of biting the hand that feeds you.”
“I hear ma’am. I do not drink or smoke,” he replied. He always chose the road instead of short cuts through the depressions. There were two inclines that made his muscles burn coming here. Going back the same made rubber burn.
“Fine, I will show you what I want done,” she had replied.
His daughter had written that she was coming to see him. She had his cell number. She had telephoned before. She said she was bringing a friend. She was within the same country for six months now. How embarrassing for him. He had forfeited a better job offered when he had been a waiter at madam’s wedding anniversary in place of his daughter. It had better prospects.
How could he, who had been a senior postal clerk, tell his daughter’s friend that he was working as a garden hand for five years because he had escaped the harsh economy of his own country?
“Dad,” Sharon had said. She was brilliant looking. She was as dark skinned, tall and slightly stout as her mother. She must have been a metre seventy. Her friend was a charming young man almost twenty-four to twenty seven years old. He had known as they had entered his kitchen that both were from the home country. “This is Moses the friend I talked about.”
“How do you do Moses? Care for a mineral drink?”
“How do you do sir? That will be fine.”
“Sharon, this is the fridge, the plates and cups are in this cupboard and help your selves. Feel at home.”
“I and Moses are working as hands on two different lodges, fifty kilometers apart. He has been in Durban since three years before. We met at college. He is almost through with a degree in Business Administration,” Sharon had said. She was doing a tourism management diploma, almost through now, attached to the lodge where she had been working.
“I haven’t concluded Institute of Administration and Commerce. I am on the third level,” he had replied. He still held hopes high that when there was a political settlement, when European and North American donors descended on the country to rebuild its shattered economy, he would rejoin the working class with higher qualifications.
“Moses used to be a bursar at a government worker before he crossed south to become a general hand at a tourist establishment so don’t be embarrassed that you are in the same boat too,” Sharon had replied.
“What did you do back there?” he had asked.
“I used to be in records management within the Home Affairs ministry,” Moses had replied. “I did a three year diploma at the capital’s polytechnic college. I had to change careers when I came down here. I started all over again from scratch.”
“Believe you me, I used to be a senior postal clerk and here I am,” he had replied.