by Temba Magorimbo
Imelda normally made three treks per year from her rural homestead into the city of brilliant neon lights, Harare. Normally she could migrate to the city limits between mid-August and mid-October before she rushed home to check on her summer season preparations. Sometimes, a baby would be clutched at her back stuck there in the midst of cotton cloth baby carriers. Then she would migrate in mid-May to end of July. Of course, she returned to the city around 17th of December and returned by the 22nd with not only Christmas preparations but her husband in tow as he started his industrial shut down only to return around the second week of January. Going to the city helped many such women folk keep in step with modern society which they brought back to the rural areas. In terms of social chit-chat, she was then more knowledgeable than the stay-in the rural areas women.
She could take the bus at Buyu Business Centre. This was a ramshackle collection of shops in the Eastern Highlands, about a hundred odd kilometres north east of the mountainous capital of the Eastern Highlands, Mutare. Here mist and clouds worked side by side with the latter working throughout the day and the night while the former worked during the night and early morning. The former disappeared when the golden brown face of the sun started appearing turning into its brilliant Godly splendour. At most times, rain descended on the mountain slopes like steam. Those that were not rain facing had rivulets which they converted into channels of irrigation ditches and canals that kept them unaware they did not receive as much precipitation as their other neighbours. Transport was not a problem, with much agricultural activities in the valleys like growing of tobacco, maize, green beans, bananas and in the hills, apples, avocado etc, the traders came in trucks and lorries. When they missed the bus, village folk hitch hiked on the lorries/trucks for Mutare or further on to Rusape and thence to Harare. There was no need to go to Rusape via Mutare, there was a straight road.
From Buyu, she would have tracked up through the mountain ranges for a distance of about ten kilometres which took the better part of two and a half hours up and down hills. Her homestead and those of her neighbours looked like tourist resorts with streams of crystal clear water running through rivulets. Theirs consisted of about four round huts thatched with grass and one brick under asbestos square shaped bungalow with two verandas on sides, south and north. It had three bedrooms and a large living room.
Bananas, avocado pears, peaches, mangoes and green/reddish apples adorned trees like Christmas decorations. Fruit trees dwarfed houses with avocado trees appearing like giants jutting out of mountainsides.
She waited for the bus with other people of her area. One went everyday to Mutare and returned the same day. They called it a daily. Unlike the Harare bound ones which differed in that they left the Eastern Highlands early in the morning and reached Harare in mid-afternoon or early evening. These had pairs which criss crossed on the same route. The bus soon rumbled along, it was the first of three buses which were available in that area. The problem was by the time it reached their business centre, there was no sitting capacity left. She dutifully clambered aboard, took hold of both hand rails and awaited the start of her journey.
“Good morning [mother of Roger],” one neighbour said pushing backwards because even standing capacity was limited.
“Good morning [the one whose totem is the river],” she replied. “How are you this morning?”
“I am fine, neighbour. Are you going to Harare?” the other asked.
“Yes my dear,” she replied.
“I am going to Vhengere, in Rusape to see my [cousin] brother’s daughter who wants to marry. The man she eloped for was here last week so I need make talks between him and my [cousin] brother possible,” she said.
By the time the bus reached Rusape, she found a seat with relief. She held her four year old son in her arms as they headed first for Harare’s Mbare bus terminus from whence she collected another bus headed for Chitungwiza, unit J to be precise.
“We are almost home,” she said to her four year old. The sun was setting.
“I don’t see papa,” he replied.
“Soon,” she replied stepping off the bus near the major road that lead to Seke (7) Primary School. She hoisted her travelling bag with clothes and a white sack with a mixture of raw bananas, avocados and etc. He walked near her hands in his pockets looking around him because the views changed each time he came in tow with her.
Her husband was not at home even though she had telephoned from the rural service centre. She was hospitably received by his fellow lodger whose wife provided her with food and comfort. Her husband arrived around nine in the evening, there had been a maintenance problem and he had been taken by surprise by the amount of time he had had to take. It was true, she thought because a Mazda B2200 truck with company names had dropped him off.
They thanked their hosts before retiring to their big room where mother busied herself making a snack for her husband. The boy was the youngest. By that virtue, he was the family favourite too. He partook of better goodies than the rest. While the rest took turns at odd intervals to visit the brilliantly neon lit city, he visited it every time his mother came.
Three weeks later, he and his mother prepared to vacate their Unit J stay in order to head back for Buyu. His father had prepared their groceries which consisted of two huge white sacks filled with necessities. They were escorted to Mbare Musika where the father and his friend kept vigilance until their bus had started off because Mbare was rife with thieves, pick pockets and confidence artists.
Soon they arrived home. The elder siblings played a welcoming party which they had done for the past four days expecting their arrival. Schools were over for the day so three of the siblings stood by the bus stop. Dust gathered around the bus when it stopped. Tendrils of smoke rose and pushed spectators away. The moderate drone of the diesel Cummins engine was a very welcome sound.
“Hmm?” thought the eldest in the family who was doing the second form.
“What?” asked the younger by three years.
“I guess that Thomas will not remain family favourite for long,” he suggested. “You dislodged me several years ago.”
“I don’t see why Roger,” the other replied.
“Just a wild guess Fatima,” Roger replied. Some things were better left unsaid. The family favourite was soon down from the bus. They hoisted their groceries sharing the load amongst themselves. The other siblings were happy to see their mother back and the groceries were welcome too.
The youngest insisted on walking first before alternating between being carried and walking to their homestead. The fact they arrived in the evening when the sun was down, nobody bothered to care, everyone was happy mother was back. The homestead had an adult who looked after the children when the mother was away. The adult was a female relative who obtained sustenance from the family in return too. Where would she get milk, bread, food, bars of soap and sugar for her two children? There were seventeen goats excluding kids. There were three cows-in milk. Then there were two off milk heifers. Besides that there were seven calves including four that had been weaned. For draught power there were three large oxen. The last bull for the family had been delivered to the butchers.
They made another parade in mid-July as their mother clambered aboard the bus alone with her suitcase. The last in the family shade tears because he was used to accompanying her. Roger had the little boy in his arms as they waved their mother away.
“Shush Thomas, she will be back within three weeks,” he had said. A few Crystal® sweets and the tears stopped coming. They trekked off.
They made a welcoming party when news had arrived that mother was arriving exactly nine weeks after she had left. Roger was in the lead. Secondary school soccer practice had been on, Roger was a full back.
“Thom,” Roger had whispered. “You shall not boast anymore.”
“Wait till I tell mother that you mistreated me,” Thomas said as the bus appeared on the hill. Its’ dirty yellow colour and animal fenders in front were the most welcome colours for the siblings. Why was it that it seemed the bus travelled in a bent position?
“I doubt she will be listening,” Thomas said. Their mother clambered off with her belongings. There was a small bundle that she did not let go of. “I surely told you Fatima that the favourite’s reign is over.”
“Prophetic,” Fatima replied.
Copyright © Temba Magorimbo