Elliot Ziwira At the Bookstore
THERE is so much determination and nerve-wrecking urgency in the roar of a trapped and wounded animal of prey, which can only be ignored at the peril of those within its territory; such a roar that warns of an impending calamity to those that dare stand in the way. Most well minded people are aware that the best form of defence is attack, and that the best way to win a battle is to be at the losing end of it, for a cornered animal is at its most vulnerable, and, therefore, at its lethal best. Such is the revelation one gets from an engagement with “African Roar” (2010) edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor W. Hartmann.
The book is an eclectic collection of short stories by African writers, who refuse to be gagged by seafaring orgies and be fettered by geographical, or cultural boundaries, as they ramp on a roar to announce their grandiose arrival on the literary scene, to tell their story of toil, subjugation, turmoil, pain and sutured hope.
The stories are told in different individual voices that merge in one collective one, which transcends cultural and ethnical angsts. Though most of the writers; six of whom are Zimbabwean, write from outside their own countries, the stories are set in their own homelands; which gives them a true African savour.
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma’s “Big Pieces, Little Pieces” explores the mordant nature of intolerance and stoicism through a child, who relives the heinous torture and violence perpetrated on her mother and sister by their incorrigible, intolerant and brutal father. At a tender age she is taught to believe that in a patriarchal world, it is norm for women to be “disciplined” for their infirmities and foibles. Her taciturn mother is always reminded by her husband’s sister Auntie Tshitshi, that she should learn not to make him angry and that she should endure because a bride price was paid for her.
She stoically takes the beatings and the yelling from her husband, whose warped mind tells him that a good woman is one, who is docile and neither talks back, nor imbibes. However, things got to a head when the narrator’s sister, whom she takes back in memory lane through the story, accidentally breaks her father’s beer mug when cleaning it.
In a feat of blind rage, Father pummels, kicks, yells and swears at the hapless child, ranting: “You stupid. Your faulty. Stupid like your mother. Stupid. You stupid?” (Sic). Sensing danger and the pangs of motherhood, his wife tries to intervene and he strikes her so hard that she “seemed to be flying, flying right across the room. Her head hit a corner of the coal stove and she fell face down, a sick crack, crack with each bounce.”
She eventually dies and her husband is arrested, leaving their three young children at the mercy of the predatory world. In the story Tshuma is contemptuous of the sadistic nature of Man, his impatient and chauvinistic inclinations, which are baneful on the family unit; his intolerant consideration of trivial issues, and blindness to crucial ones. Indeed, the little pieces of our existence are ever etched on the bigger pieces of our actions.
“Behind the Door” by Kola Tubosun, visits the thorny issue of HIV/AIDS as the narrator is caught up between his nerve to go for a test and the reality that he faces if the coin drops to his disfavour. The pain of waiting for the results seems to be more intense than the mere need to know his status and what the aftermath has in store for him. This is especially compounded by the female phlebotomist, who tells him that one in 10 people tests positive to the virus every day.
Much to his relief he tests negative and the motherly phlebotomist admonishes: “You young children of nowadays should at least consider your parents before you take your stupid risks. If you don’t consider your lives, you should at least consider theirs.” When he is about to leave, he espies a young man of his age, who had come earlier than him, crying behind the door as fate frowns at him.
Masimba Musodza’s “Yesterday’s Dog” explores two epochs on the Zimbabwean socio-political landscape through an Intelligence officer, Stanley, and Nyamhanza, a former soldier in the colonial army in the liberation struggle. It examines the possible outcomes of hunting as roles shift. The former soldier once tortured the brilliant and young Stanley over flimsy charges emanating from jealous neighbours.
The pain and suffering that he endures at the hands of Nyamhanza and his cahoots, inspire him to join the liberation struggle, after which he becomes an operative. Unbeknown to him the former dog asks for a lift from the once upon a time prey. This change of roles pits the former soldier against his victim, who is determined to mete out instant justice. However, Stanley’s better judgment wins over his momentary madness, and he reminds the man of his heinous deeds and he lets him go free, after spoiling him on beer. He realises that he has assumed the soldier’s role and has to defend what he believes in, thereby creating enemies in the process.
In the short stories “Quarterback & Co.” and “A Return to the Moonlight” Chuma Nwokolo Jnr and Emmanuel Sigauke respectively, poke at the allure of the Diaspora on the treasure hunters littered on the impoverished African continent. The succivorous West, however, saps the hunters dry as it is bent on profiteering and protecting its capital.
The migrant hunter awakens to the reality that away from his fortress, he is just a fly that can be swat by the back of the hand any time; therefore, he should make hay while the sun shines.
Sigauke also highlights societal expectation on those, who leave for the foreign hunt and the rather puritanical nature of the hunters, as they cling on to past toils and suffering to justify their long absence from home, instead of bettering their lot; that kind of feeling one gets when reflecting on Brian Chikwava’s “Harare North” (2009) and “Hunting in Foreign Land and Other Stories” (2010).
The first person narrator in “A return to Moonlight” chronicles her brother Ranga’s return from America after a ten year hiatus, which exposed them; her mother and herself, to the village rumour mill. Ranga, who has been sending money home through Fati, for five years, has failed to build a proper house for his mother, who lives in squalor. The house he thought he was building stands like a ghost in the yard; roofless and door-less. Realising the shame of having nowhere to sleep with his wife, Noma, he decides to drive to Zvishavane where he had booked a hotel room.
His wife saves the day by refusing to go with him insisting that he should feel the pain of living in a roofless house when one has a son in the Diaspora. Meanwhile, the reader also learns that Noma has facilitated her parents’ passage to the United States of America so that they could live comfortably. Ranga, whose mother also picked it from the grapevine, marries without her blessings and he tells them that he only paid $5 000 as the bride price because her parents were “reasonable.”
This rationale of the prodigal son, who only thinks of his own comfort, also obtains in “Tamale Blues” by Ayesha H. Attah. The story tackles the painful nature of love, especially when it seems to sprout from the least of places, where it is unlikely to withstand the vagaries of outside forces. The essence of love and its permanence of memory on individual psyches have also been engagingly tackled in Ivor W. Hartmann’s “Lost Love”.
The destructive nature of superstition and religious fanaticism if taken overboard, find home in “The Nestbury Tree” written by Ayodele Morocco-Clarke. Beaven Tapureta highlights the nature of hope in a society weighed down by too much suffering to the extent that the only acceptable reasoning is that the seed of hope does not only need a conducive environment to germinate, but will never see its petals above the soil. But as hope keeps on fleeing, so will the African writer keep on roaring.