Sleepy headed, I sauntered towards our bedroom window to open it. Screeching seagulls gave the first morning call. Early morning taxis speedily cruised down the street below, joggers ran eagerly towards the promenade, whilst sleepy-eyed folks grudgingly made their way to work. The sun was well on its way, gradually the hue in the sky turned from sapphire to lavender blue.
Hidden behind the high-end beachfront properties, you couldn’t see the ocean from our modest block of flats. As a child I had always imagined how magnificent it would be to live close to the ocean. I loved its raw smell, signalling life, the symphony of waves at night when the streets were asleep. Foolishly I used to tell myself that a day would not pass without a visit to the waters. Now that I was finally here, I rarely did.
There was a euphoric energy in the air, or perhaps I just mistook it for the freedom that comes with the weekend. Well, at least the illusion of freedom: a fleeting moment that allows you to forget about dreaded deadlines and projections.
The fridge hummed while I soaked my teabag in the cup, lazily stirring the sugar. Dirty dishes from the night before were piled up in the sink. I walked down the corridor to check on Ru. The best thing that had ever happened to me was fast asleep. I didn’t always feel this way. If it hadn’t been for KB I probably would’ve never seen her as I do now.
“Tatenda… TA-TEN-DA,” KB shouted annoyed.
“I’m coming.” I poked my head into the bedroom, glaring at him. “What are you shouting about? Ru’s still sleeping.”
“Your phone was ringing,” he mumbled.
When I picked up the phone there was an unknown number staring back at me.
“Who’s calling you so early in the morning?”
“I don’t know. It’s an unknown number.” Shrugging, I headed back towards the kitchen.
Just as I had flung the phone on the kitchen counter, it began to vibrate against the marble.
“Hi Tatenda.” There was something familiar about the voice on the other end.
“Uh… May I ask who’s speaking?”
“Taku,” the voice repeated.
I suddenly felt a gnawing sensation beneath my chest.
“Hello… Hello… Tatenda are you there?” I hung up.
Moving lamely back towards the bedroom, I crawled under the blankets. My silent tears trickling down his back, I held onto KB tightly. He turned around, half asleep, worriedly he held my face in his hands.
“Babe, what’s wrong? Who was that on the phone?” KB’s forehead creased. “What’s wrong Tatenda?” There was panic in his voice.
“It’s … it’s,” I heaved between my words. “It’s Taku, he just called me.”
“The fuck, who?”
He took a deep breath to assuage his emotions.
“Where the hell did he get your number? I told that fucker if he ever called you again I would skin him alive.”
The phone began to vibrate again on the nightstand. Ducking KB, I made a grab for it before he could get his hands on it.
“Give me the phone.” KB held out his palm.
“No. I have nothing to say to him,” I protested. “This is just giving him a door back into our lives.”
“Give me the damn phone, now, Tatenda.”
Taku never called. He had not called in years. He knew better than to call. The years without him in our lives had been the best years of my life. His disgusting energy was like a contagious disease that infected everything around it.
They say blood is thicker than water. What they don’t tell you is that diluted enough, even blood can easily reach the same consistency as water. Where’s the thickness in that? The Taku I had known as a child had been diluted. He was dead to me, a living ghost, stubbornly refusing to leave the realm of the living, to piss off and leave me to my living.
I was sick of having to pretend that he was absolved from all wrongs. Having to soothe my mother when he refused to speak to her. I had been forced to comfort a woman who had betrayed my trust, although I had always shown her loyalty. A woman I had loved unconditionally, and yet she loved him more. The very thing I hated the most, she and her husband had shielded, leaving me the broken one.
“The phone!” KB shouted. Grabbing my wrist, he yanked the phone away.
“Taku?” KB switched on the speaker.
“KB, I need to speak to my sister.”
“The hell you do.” His eyes glossed over with rage. “She stopped being your sister a long time ago, buddy.”
“KB please, I need to speak to my sister, it’s important.”
“She doesn’t want to speak to you Taku, you know this already. You need to stop this.” KB’s voice was rising fiercely.
“This is family business. I don’t need your damn permission, you fucking ape,” Taku snapped.
KB’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t test me Taku and don’t call my wife again.”
“Our parents are dead.”
Silence echoed through the bedroom.
“Are you being serious?” KB’s eyes darted towards me. I did not react.
“I know you think I’m the scum of the earth.” Taku’s voice was tense.
“Because you are.”
“I wouldn’t lie about something like this.”
KB sat on the edge of the bed beside me, moving his fingers along the breadth of my afro. My tears had subsided and hearing of my parents’ passing did not replenish them.
“Babe, maybe you should talk to your brother,” he whispered. His anger had faded.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” I uttered weakly.
“Your parents, Tee. Maybe you can just speak to him for a few seconds?” KB’s voice was gentle now, plaintive. “Then you don’t have to speak to him again.”
I gave in. It had been so long. It was so awkward. I listened apprehensively. There was anguish in his voice, the kind of distress that comes from a creature with a soul. I remembered my Taku in that moment.
“You’re lying.” I choked as I spoke.
“Tatenda… Why would I lie about something like that?”
“Why won’t you just leave us alone?”
“I’m sorry Tee, for everything. I was cooked on those drugs, young and stupid. I didn’t know what I was doing. I know I messed up.” He confessed. “I’m leaving for home today. When can you come?”
“I don’t know if I’m coming.”
“Please Tatenda, you need to come home.”
“I’ll think about it… Bye”.
He did not call back.
Going back home was something I had no intention of doing. What was the point of going to say goodbye to people I had bid farewell years ago. It didn’t matter how I felt though, KB bought our flight tickets anyway; the curse of marrying a traditional man. He believed that grudges could not be harboured against the spirits of the dead. If I did not make peace, the burden of these spirits would be passed on to our children, he was convinced of this. So we prepared to leave.
Taku was on the same flight as ours. We had to pass him to get to our seats. He smiled at us, sitting upright as if he expected acknowledgement. I did not smile back. My coldness ate into him, it was written all over his sombre face, I didn’t care. We did not speak the entire flight.
He was there again as we waited for our luggage, conspicuously peering over the heads of the other passengers to see where we were. Standing on opposite sides of the carousel, our eyes met unexpectedly. His red-eye gaze, imbued with anxiety, locked with mine over the rotating bags. Still we did not speak; he knew better than to push me. Seeing him there, being in this place again, made it real. I was home.
My parents’ house was filled with people I did not know, or had more likely simply forgotten. There was no quiet – the kind of quiet one might expect at a time like this – the kind of quiet that allows you to hear your own thoughts. There was just noise. The church choir singing monotonous hymns, children that refused to be still on their mother’s laps, men taking down Chibuku like water, the elders sucking on their gums and sniffing tobacco, while the women competed in the wailing contest. I needed a moment of solitude just to be sure that “mama” and “baba” would never roll off my tongue again, even though they had not for many years.
We had taken refuge in my old bedroom for the night, the tainted space in which my life had been irrevocably altered. The sordid wails and spiritual hymns had engulfed the house until the roosters in the backyard crowed the next morning.
There was a loud knock at the door. Ru did not wake. KB’s eyes opened, then closed when he saw me lift the blankets to rise.
My mother’s older sister stood at the door. She wore an African print cloth wrapped around her head that matched the chitenge around her waist. Her shoulders draped with an old faded t-shirt from which an image of the hands of Christ glared at me, above text that read, “Born again in Christ”. Her T-shirt was rather amusing. It was too late to be born again. For all her sins, she only had death to look forward to.
“Mangwanani.” Her voice was hoarse.
“Mangwanani amaiguru. Marara sei?” I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
“Mushe. Warara sei?”
“Mushe.” I yawned.
“Wear something decent and come to your parents’ room. There is something we need to discuss.” She walked away, not waiting for a response.
Her head bowed, a Bible gripped firmly in her hands, Amaiguru looked up at me as a walked in and forced a smile.
Their room was just as I remembered it. Dull brown carpet that looked like something out of a tacky Rhodesian hotel draped the floor. Pressed floral bedding covered the breadth of the bed, a white frill liner hanging from the lower base. Mama’s dressing table stood next to the window. Her cosmetics were arranged according to the time of day; night creams and perfumes on one side and day cosmetics on the other. Baba’s armchair stood in the corner next to the door, his books untidily scattered on the vintage table he took from Sekuru’s house when he died.
“Come sit here next to me.” Amaiguru patted a spot on the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine … I guess.” I didn’t know what she wanted me to say.
She examined my face, her eyebrows rising slightly, the corner of her mouth twitching.
“Your mother made it out of the accident. I saw her before she went into surgery, but it was too late to save her.”
“Oh … ok.” I scratched my neck nervously, hopelessly faking empathy.
“You were the last person on her lips.”
“Inini?” Unintentionally I rolled my eyes.
“Yes, you. Your mother loved you Tatenda.” Amaiguru began to cry.
I wrapped my arm around her shoulder, trying to soothe her.
“She did muzukuru. It haunted her that you stopped loving her.”
“What? I still loved her amaiguru.” I tried to sound convincing. “Please don’t cry.”
“She told me to tell you this. She was so sorry about what happened, you know, that thing.” She paused and looked me straight in the eyes. “That thing… with Taku. She asked for your forgiveness. She was so sorry, it broke her heart for years.”
“Amaiguru,” I scoffed. “Don’t you think it broke my heart? Apologies from the dead won’t change anything.”
Amaiguru clasped my hand. “You cannot go on forever with anger in your heart.”
Trying to conceal my malice, I rubbed my free hand on my forehead. Hoping she would let go of the other.
“I’m only here out of respect amaiguru. My husband insisted we come.” I glanced at my aunt with a stern look. “Otherwise you would have never seen me again.”
“Aiwa kani, asi…”
“No … You have no right to tell me how or what to feel. What you allowed was unforgiveable, all of you.” I ripped my hand from hers and stood up. “My brother, my own brother touched me. There’s no sorry. It’s too late. You all acted like nothing happened, swept it under the rug. He raped me amaiguru!”
“We can’t change what happened, but we…”
“There is no we. You lost that privilege a long time ago. He gets to walk around here freely. I have to face him. He’s in this house right now, with your daughters and nieces, and you’re pretending like he is above reproach.” I slumped back onto the bed, shaking my head. “Amaiguru, I couldn’t even look at my own child for years. Every time I looked at her I remembered what he’d done to me. Do you know what that feels like?”
My voice began to crack. “I don’t think you’ll ever understand what was taken from me that day. What am I supposed to tell her when she grows up and hears the whispers? It’s all gone. I’m the one everyone said was loose, kahure. I was just a child. You protected him, and none of you bothered to protect me. I was forced to tolerate him for years.”
Shutting my eyes for a few seconds, I gathered my thoughts and tried to ease my heart palpitations.
“You did that to me, all of you. Never once did you stop to ask if he would do it again. You let him wander around me for years and you want my forgiveness… Never!”
Amaiguru began to cry uncontrollably, burying her face in the chitenge around her waist.
“Huh-uh, please don’t cry for my benefit.” Taking a deep breath, I fought back the tears. “I died a long time ago and you all buried me with your silence. Your preference for your deranged incestuous male child brought us here.”
“We all want to make this right,” she whimpered.
“Are you going to give me back all those lost years? Are you going to erase him from my child’s DNA? Are you going to tell everyone the truth?”
“Ah Tatenda… We thought we could organise a cleansing…”
“Chii? Cleansing ceremony. Ten years later? It’s late amaiguru.” I started laughing awkwardly. “I cleansed myself of you people a long time ago. I won’t help him get into the next world. He’s going to burn in hell and you can tell your family I said that.”
“Once we bury them I’m getting on the first flight home.”
The nervous stutter I lost years ago returned briefly in my moment of anxiety. “Wh-wha-what did b-ba-ba-baba ever say about all of th-th-th-this?”
Speaking of baba made me nervous. I hadn’t realised it until that moment, or at least I had pretended not to for years. Baba had disappointed me the most, begrudgingly I had punished mama for both of them. Naively so, I guess I just always thought he would’ve been the one on my side, the one who would’ve protected me. Isn’t that what ana baba did?
“It was a difficult time muzukuru.” Amaiguru bleakly tilted her head. “People didn’t know how to talk about these things.”
“And now you’ve finally got the balls, because mama didn’t want to go to hell. Good riddance to both of them.”
“Tatenda, you do not curse the dead!”
“But it’s okay for them to have cursed the living.”
Their bodies were brought to the house that day. They lay in caskets made of shiny ebony wood, shoddy golden strips lining the edges. Mourners dragged their feet by the caskets in concentration camp style lines, during the body viewing. I couldn’t understand the appeal people found in seeing dead bodies. It was creepy. I did not view the bodies nor could I muster any tears.
A sea of glistening cars followed the hearse in an extravagant procession. Neighbourhood kids ran behind the convoy, until they could no longer keep up.
Taku, my uncles and male cousins carried my parents’ coffins into the graveyard, mourners straddled alongside them.
The doors of hell opened for their welcoming. Everyone sweated profusely in the heat. Folks sitting in the tent flicked their hands about squatting away the flies, they tugged at their clothing uncomfortably, sending the young children to collect water. Sweat droplets gathered on the preacher’s forehead as he gave his sermon. Mama and baba descended into the ground.
After the ceremony the mourners proceeded back to the house rather eagerly, so they could loot and furiously battle one another for my parents’ possessions. That did not interest me, so I stayed behind. KB did not leave me, but he stood at a distance. It had suddenly become real. Mama and baba were gone. I can’t remember how long I stood there, staring at the heaps of sand that lay above my parents. Clouds begun to gather in the sky, threatening rain. Quiet seemed to engulf the earth, even the crickets were silent, the gravel paths in the graveyard deserted, the blades of grass crying for water.
“Mama, baba,” I said woefully.
I knelt down beside their graves. “It’s Ru’s birthday today.” I didn’t know if they would hear me, wherever they were. It really did not matter now.
The sky opened and I wept with the earth.