The storyteller in Farayi Mungoshi

Beaven Tapureta : Bookshelf

This week can be called the Mungoshi’s week! On Monday there was a story about the Mungoshi artistic dynasty led by the brothers Charles and David Mungoshi. Today, Bookshelf digs into the young storyteller Farayi Mungoshi who comes from this amazing dynasty. Farayi, son of legendary bilingual writer Charles Mungoshi, will remind many readers about certain realities (or illusions) of daily life in the ghettoes which we would rather not talk about for fear of awakening the psychological sleeping ghosts.Farayi’s debut English short story anthology titled “Behind the Wall Everywhere” (2016, Mungoshi Press) engrosses with amazing plots and introspective characters who are wandering and trying to eke meaning out of their different circumstances or issues.

The anthology has five short stories, “Scones, Bridges neZvitorobho”, “Dot.com”, “Winds in the Blood”, “The Towerlight, Weed and Becoming” and the title story “Behind the Wall”.

In some of these stories, the town of Chitungwiza especially the Zengeza high-density suburb comes alive and the crises of human nature hiding more crises underneath are creatively handled through ‘subversive’ plots which largely make use of flashbacks and/or back-stories.

The author’s deployment of teenage characters in his stories, with their innocence and guilt, makes them not only witnesses but participants in the world of adults surrounding them.

In the first story “Scones, Bridges neZvitorobho” Farayi is exploring the question: How does a man, in this case Mushasha, feel when suddenly he becomes aware that the family he has been taking as his own is actually another man’s family, worse still, his cousin’s? And the cousin (who is in the UK with the family, writes a letter to say he is taking his “family” back!

Readers will sympathise with Mushasha who after everything has been said and done, and now heartbroken, is contemplating suicide at the bridge near which some teenagers are having a small innocent birthday party for their friend, oblivious of the ‘looming’ tragedy.

In the end it is not Mushasha who falls over the bridge but the heart-wrenching letter (from Jonasi) which he has been reading. How quickly Nomatter, one of the teenagers, snatches the letter and let it take the suicidal dive down to the riverbed leaves the reader open-mouthed, yet relieved!

Something interesting is how associative two or more of the stories are. For instance, we see Mushasha being referred to in the story “Winds in the Blood” which is set in the UK where he once lived. In this story “Winds in the Blood”, Punha is wishing his friend Zvidzayi could not be deported back to Zimbabwe the way Mushasha was sent back home “dressed in nothing but his pajama and gown . . . ”

In “Scones, Bridges neZvitorobho” the pajama becomes his trademark clothes by which everyone in the ghetto identifies him, yet on this day at the Manyame Bridge he is wearing a new suit!

The two stories “Scones, Bridges neZvitorobho” and “Winds in the Blood” share certain things either in their characters or plots. There is a constant use of marijuana by some characters in both stories, which probably could again indicate the author’s effort to capture a ghettoish social milieu or background. Nugget’s comical behaviour in “The Towerlight, Weed and Becoming”, that is, climbing up the Towerlight like a monkey and threatening to throw himself down, leaves the reader wondering if it is marijuana he has just smoked or the stress about being deserted by his mother who now lives in the diaspora!

Introspection, generally known as the contemplation of one’s own thoughts, desires and conduct, is at the disposal of Farayi’s narrative drive. Back and forth the reader traverses either the gloomy or blooming world inside the character’s mind.

We come to know of Mushasha’s past as his mind flashes backwards while he is at the bridge, and similarly in the title story “Behind the Wall”, we delve into Easy’s past as he is triggered into contemplation by a present event, that is, the death of a best friend to whom he and others made a certain promise that they now need to fulfil.

In fact “Behind the Wall” has huge amount of introspection which acts as a backstory. At some point, you could think the flashback is too much (covering almost 19 pages sandwiched between a few pages of opening and closing scenes) but then Farayi cleverly brings Easy’s past alive, making it a story on its own, with own transitions between action, summary and dialogue. You never experience any un-dramatic moments in Easy’s long ‘recollection’ about the colonial past, the racial bias during his school days, his friendships and sporting gusto at Prince Edward School, his participation in the land redistribution exercise and the disappointments and misfortunes that follows mainly due to his personal weaknesses.

Normally, in local urban slang “dot.com” implies “latest rumour” and in the short story “Dot.com” rumour is the oil of the ghetto. It influences people’s relations and often misunderstandings. The narrator, him also married to a rumour-mongering wife, is worried about the friendship between his son Jonso and a neighbouring worldly girl named Ndodi or Ndodiwa, both teenagers. Worse, he is worried that his son may turn gay. Farayi’s passion for teenage characters is evident here also. Nomatter, a teenager in “Scones, Bridges neZvitorobho”, penetrates Mushasha’s world, seeing “something else in his eyes – an emptiness akin to a need to be reached out to, a desperation that had sucked out the life out of the life in the hollowness around his eyes”. Jonso, a teenager in “Behind the Wall” kind of ‘disillusions’ the adults’ world at Ndodi’s funeral.

It is a tragic story as Ndodi, who has been abused several times by Uncle Mondoza, dies after trying to terminate a pregnancy. Though tragic, author brings up comic scenes at the funeral. Instead of condoling the mourning, the discussions at the funeral degenerate into exposures of each other’s secrets, violence and angry outbursts.

“Winds in the Blood” is set in the UK and captures the fears that some Africans living in foreign lands go through. Zvidzayi is on the verge of being deported back to Zimbabwe because his work permit has expired and he cannot go back home to mourn and bury his father because of ‘those in the winds”, meaning “evil” spirits from one’s ancestral history.

This story, and others, achieves a cleverly weaved “magico-religious” point of view of life generally from which majority of Africans see the world. One can see that the African characters, at most times, have inklings of African “magic” and/or traditional religious beliefs lurking in their minds despite Christianity taking a toll on them. In “The Towerlight, Weed and Becoming” narrator gives the Towerlight a godly character, the silent overseer of all things done in Zengeza during the day or night. “I am sure it knows what happened to little Lucy that day they found her body thrown in the open drains . . . her face mutilated, chest cut open by a sharp object . . . ” says the narrator Muda. There are various “magico-religious” views expressed on what could be the purpose of the little girl’s murder.

Farayi’s cinematic descriptions in his stories may be because of the influence of film on him as he is also a film-maker.

The graceful pace with which his stories move, with cunning maneuvers of the short story genre, puts him close to his contemporary Lawrence Hoba whose stories in “The Trek and Other Stories” (and in various anthologies) also use introspective characters.

Born Farayi Gilbert Mungoshi in 1976 in Bikita, the young Mungoshi studied film at the European Film College in Denmark. Apart from writing fiction, he has also written for both film and television.

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