Dr Sekai Nzenza on Wednesday
At Spencer’S funeral last week, it was the girlfriend in the red dress who cried more than his two wives and the five children. We stood on a rocky outcrop in the blistering heat at the foothills of the Mhandamiri Mountains in the Eastern Highlands burying Spencer.
People pointed at the girl in red and whispered that she was the one from South Africa, “musikana waSpencer”. She was the one who bought him the biggest phone anyone had ever seen in the village. It was the phone that looked like a small television screen. I saw it being passed around when we arrived for Spencer’s funeral the night before his burial.
Then in the morning, that big phone disappeared. “Musikana waSpencer” demanded the phone back. But we believed Mai Mishi, Spencer’s wife number two, deserved the phone. Mai Mishi is our relative and the reason why we went to the funeral in the Eastern Highlands last week. We, meaning my cousin Piri, my niece Shamiso and her husband Philemon, were there to support Mai Mishi.
Mai Mishi is Shamiso’s cousin, on her mother’s side.
Philemon and Shamiso were separated for six months after Shamiso refused to live in Philemon’s village. Despite the separation, they have been seeing each other.
When Spencer was in hospital for one night, Mai Mishi had kept the big phone and responded to all the other girlfriends and lovers’ messages, pretending to be Spencer.
One long conversation on WhatsApp came from the girl called Farai with a South African number. In the message, Mai Mishi had written, “I love you” and Farai from South Africa had said, “I love you too and cannot wait to visit your mother at Christmas.” Farai was not her real name. It was just a unisex name that Spencer created, like what most men do when they think their wives will get hold of their phones and read messages.
We heard that Spencer died at home after arriving the night before to visit his mother.
His temperature just shot up, then he vomited and collapsed.
Then he stopped breathing and died.
Just like that. Maybe something had been eating his body. Maybe that malaria he had a month or so ago was not cured.
On the way to the funeral from Harare, Mai Mishi said she had spent a whole week with the phone before Spencer came back to take it.
During that one week when Spencer was with Mai Mishi, he was admitted into hospital overnight. Doctors suspected malaria. They gave him tablets and Spencer got better.
Then he returned to his cross-border truck driving job and Mai Mishi did not see him again.
We arrived in Spencer’s village late at night. Already, the varoora, wives of Mai Spencer’s nephews, were making funny skits, pretending to be Spencer’s wives. This was their traditional role, to make everyone laugh and ease the pain of mourning.
Spencer lay in a brown coffin, surrounded by his mother, relatives, five children, first wife, girlfriend from South Africa, ex-girlfriends, workmates and many others from the surrounding valley in the Eastern Highlands.
Singing and drum beating went on all night. In the morning, around 10, we all stood in line for body viewing.
Spencer’s girlfriend, “Farai” from South Africa had travelled all the way to the Eastern Highlands to mourn Spencer and to see where they would bury him. The first wife, Mai Rachel and mother of his two girls, looked on as the girlfriend stood at the coffin for body viewing. “Farai” looked at Spencer and broke into hysteric wailing. Her two friends held her gently and took her away.
“That’s her,” said Mai Mishi, pointing to the crying girl in the red dress.
“That’s her. She is wearing the same weave on the WhatsApp profile. She ate all Spencer’s money.”
I nudged Mai Mishi gently and pushed her forward to join the line of body viewers. Her face looked angry and there were no tears. Piri grabbed the baby boy from her and whispered, “Say goodbye to your husband.” Mai Mishi reluctantly walked towards the coffin, took one look at Spencer and she burst into tears. Then Shamiso placed her arm around her and they walked away from the coffin. I was next in line and I also took a quick glimpse of Spencer.
Apart from the darkened face, due to death, he looked much the same, beard and all.
Spencer was a handsome, truck or gonyeti driver. We all knew Spencer well. How many times had Spencer arrived in Chitungwiza with his big gonyeti to visit Shamiso and Philemon? It was too big a truck to be driven along suburban crowded streets. But Spencer did not care. He said there was no policeman around to stop him. Even if there was, he would try his luck at offering a little money to stop the policeman from giving him a fine. The children often stood around the truck, touching its big wheels, trying to open the big tent to see what cargo Spencer was taking to Tanzania or somewhere.
To get in the big truck, you climbed a few steps to where the driver and passengers sat. Just behind the driver and passenger seats there was space for a bed and enough room for two people to sleep comfortably.
Whenever Spencer had company, he stopped at the designated truck stops along the route from South Africa to Tanzania. To avoid boredom, Spencer often took his wife or girlfriend on the long journey. She cooked for him and they enjoyed a few beers along the way.
Before she got pregnant, Mai Mishi travelled in the truck twice from Durban all the way to Ndola. When Mishi was born, she was forced to stay at home in Glen Norah. She saw Spencer once or maybe twice a month for one or two days. Most times, Spencer was driving his cross-border long truck.
He loved his truck. Mai Mishi said the truck was his real love. Women and children came second.
“And so the girlfriend with the red dress and a long curly weave under a black headscarf fell down hysterically crying and shouting, ‘Spencer, ah, Spencer wandirwadzisa!’” Piri said, placing her hands on her head pretending to wail the way the girlfriend in the red dress had done.
“It was so sad. And what about the poor children? And his mother too,” I said, as we drove away, leaving Mai Mishi sitting among the mourners. She had to stay there until all Spencer’s clothes were distributed and the after burial formalities followed.
“You think she is waiting for the clothes’ distribution? Aiwa. She wants to know if her name is on Spencer’s pension as a beneficiary,” said Shamiso. “Chances are, Mai Mishi’s name exists nowhere. Remember, these people were not even married traditionally or in court.”
“That Spencer. He looked so big and full of knowledge. Yet he dies and leaves his business in disorder. If it was me, I would have written a will with my first wife, second wife and all the children’s names as beneficiaries,” said Philemon.
“And why would you put first and second wife on a will? If you are the type that falls in love so easily the way Spencer did, just put your mother’s name or your sister’s name and every single one of your children’s names on the will. At least you know that your mother or your sister will never leave you,” Piri said.
“And maybe Spencer had more children and more lovers in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi and Zambia and Mozambique. Who can blame him? His work required travelling long distances alone. The guy needed company,” said Philemon.
“This is why I now want to go to church with Philemon. Over there, they only allow one wife. No funny games with girlfriends who buy phones that look like television screens!” said Shamiso.
“And you think the church will stop a man from finding a lover or a small house?” asked Piri, shaking her head.
I was driving up Christmas Pass, past Mutare, and did not want to comment and lose concentration. This is one of the most beautiful and most scenic places of the Eastern Highlands. We stopped on top of the mountain at the viewing point and looked down into the valley. Farther to the east going towards the Mozambique border, we could see the hazy picturesque Mhandambiri Mountains where we had been.
“Spencer failed to move with the times. There is no room for one more in a marriage, even if the cross-border truck has a bed for another. It should be left empty,” said Shamiso going back into the car.
We drove along the immaculately tarred road, silently, thinking of the handsome truck driver called Spencer. After only 40 years on this earth, Spencer was lying peacefully six feet under, and gone, leaving us to worry over his little estate, wives, his girlfriend and his many children. He should have written a will.
- Dr Sekai Nzenza is a writer and cultural critic.