When the repairman needs to be repaired

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Elliot Ziwira @The Bookstore
HOPE is that indispensable ingredient that allows us to see beyond the present predicament in the recipe of our existence, so that we find a purpose to soldier on; without which everything loses meaning.

When our valuables break down; from the seemingly trivial things like socks, shoes, slippers or sandals to bicycles, roofs, vehicles or any other such movables, we are cushioned in the knowledge that they are repairable. A repairman of some sort will always avail at our doorsteps in the nick of time.

The vagaries of life however sometimes throw a lot at our paths, which dislodge not only our valuables, but our physical and emotional being as well. Many a time our hearts are dislodged and our souls lose the spirit to live; and it is during such times that we yearn for the repairman to reassure us that all is not lost upon the wind after all.

As we celebrate Christmas Day today, gentle reader, countryman and dear friend, let us take a moment to reflect on the meaning of life to those of us who have lost hope, yet hope is the driver of all our dreams.

Now that the repairman wears Santa Claus’ garb, there is so much hope and good cheer for the psychologically vanquished, seeing that the spirit of giving is upon us all. What happens then gentle reader when the seemingly benevolent Santa Claus asks for alms from those of us born to beggary?

What then gentle reader, what then becomes of us, if the repairman who is our reflection, also requires mending? When the roof of conscience, hope and aspirations disintegrates under the heavy storms that are norm to humanity; who will come to our rescue if the repairman is also in desperate need of repair?

Hope is what the wretched of the earth, the downtrodden, the feeble and vulnerable feed on, and if it remains a mirage far down the horizon where the repairman takes his marbles and tools exposing them to the pungent smell of their poverty, should they eat their puke?

These and more questions will ring loud as one engages with “A Roof to Repair”, a collection of short stories by Memory Chirere, Nhamo Mhiripiri, Ruzvidzo Mupfudza, Joyce Mutiti and Lillian Masitera.

It is a poignant chronicle of the demise of hope in a society burdened by hypocrisy, deceit, betrayal, violence, witchcraft and superstition, aspects which are baneful to the family unit, community and nation. Save for the exploitation of the extended metaphor of repair, which calls for critical depth, the book appeals to everyone as the plots are simple to follow and the language is user friendly.

Through use of characterisation and setting, the anthology tackles a variety of themes pervading the post-colonial African landscape. Individual characters drawn from the entire familial and national spectrum are given voices as outlets from their burdensome existences. These voices intermingle and merge into one national discourse.

The use of misogynistic characters highlights the claustrophobic nature of marriage, which however, is an integral component of the family unit, which should be sanctified, not only for regeneration, but harmony.

Pretence seems to be the major undoing in most marriages as couples fail to repair the cracks that glaringly stare at them, pretending that everything is well until it’s too late. This rationale obtains in the stories “The Diners”, “The Fags”, “Alone Together” “Sixteen” and “A Roof to Repair” by Joyce Mutiti, Nhamo Mhiripiri, Lillian Masitera and Memory Chirere respectively.

In “The Diners” Mutiti holds the essence of relationships premised on pretence and hypocrisy as detrimental to both individual and societal pathos. It is the story of two young women, Ester and Rudo, long time friends who meet in a restaurant to update each other on the state of disrepair in their lives. Rudo, who married young to escape from her lack, feels of her marriage: “Sometimes I feel like a prisoner. I feel like screaming but I know I can’t start, coz once I start I’ll never stop. It’s even affecting my work.”

She endures the violence synonymous with her husband Fred; puts up with his chauvinistic nature as a married woman is wont to, as this is said to preserve the family unit. However, the fact that she gives all and receives little in return is what affects her soul as she seeks solace in the physical presence of her husband and children.

Ester on the other hand is still single at 25 because her dream partner is one who is “relatively wealthy, handsome, charming, considerate and faithful.” Rudo reminds her that such a man will never be faithful because “half the town’s women” will be after him. She plays puritanical and yet at the same time she sleeps around with different men, most of them much older than her. She cushions herself in the freedom of singlehood, yet she yearns for company.

Nhamo Mhiripiri also visits the all familiar turf of putting up appearances in “The Fags”, told through the narrator, Paul, whose smoking habits are not known to his mother until he decides to light a fag in her presence. As if on cue Tania, his wife, lights hers, much to Paul’s chagrin and his mother’s thrill.

The ensuing harsh exchange of words in his mother’s eyes hastens Paul’s resolve to throw his wife out. No sooner does she leave than his mother takes out her pack of export quality cigarettes, offers him one and lights hers, much to the narrator’s surprise. Taking a big sigh in wafts of smoke she says: “Free at last. Run and bring back that young lady. Tell her, it’s me who wants her back. She is a fighter. I don’t know what she saw in you, but if she as much as saw anything you should thank your God and cling on to her.”

Astounded by this declaration of freedom from his mother, “a lay leader in her church”, the protagonist dashes in pursuit of the daring Tania, but unfortunately he could not catch up with her, which prompts him to go to his favourite imbibing haven where he meets a friend, Chipo and intimates his plight. Surprisingly Chipo, who calls herself a champion of women’s rights, calls Tania “trash” and “a presumptuous bitch” that thrives on borrowed airs alien to African ethos.

Chirere, like Mupfudza and Masitera, also explores the paralysis, stasis and malaise permeating the family unit and reflecting on the national discourse, through the youth. In “Sixteen” the narrator, Muchaneta, hopes against hope that her mother who is diagnosed HIV positive, and father come to their senses for the sake of their offspring’s dreams.

In “The Eyes of a Walk”, Mupfudza reveals the extent to which individuals go in their attempts to escape from poverty and stunted dreams. The narrator, Musafara, like most of his ilk, finds the elixir from the restrictive nature of home, poverty and unemployment, in sex, alcohol and drugs.

This escape through the carnal vent leads to incestuous relationships, immorality and rapeas is the case with Baba Sorry who impregnates his cousin and subsequently marries her and Musafara’s sister, Zvaparara, who is raped by her father and falls pregnant. Sex becomes a pastime in a society devoid of hope notwithstanding the heinous consequences it brings.

Betrayal at the personal, familial and national levels is explored in “A Roof to Repair”, “Heroes Day”, “Queen of Darkness” and “The Return”. Liberation war combatants are reduced to poverty stricken imbeciles who become the laughing stock of the community as they remain clinging to past glory when the gravy train passes them by.

Lillian Masitera’s “Now I can Play” lambasts the sadistic nature of men who prey on unsuspecting virgins with promises of paradise. The heroine, Nancy is raped by her former teacher Rex, who drugs her.

She learns after collecting her O-Level results that she is doomed as she realises that Rex, who got her pregnant and infected her with herpes, has reneged on his promise to marry her by disappearing without trace. Her decision to go to a traditional healer for an abortion almost exposes her to the carnal thinking of men, as she is told that the only way to administer the medicine is through sex.

Reminded of Rex, and the doctor who treated her of herpes, she snatches her clothes and runs stark naked to safety. Although she eventually gets rid of the unwanted fetus through the herbs she discovers clinging onto her clothes, which frees her soul and gives it impetus, she is not really mended as the memory of it persists.

This may also be compounded by the fact that the herpes could degenerate into a malignant opportunist like HIV or AIDS. However, although the anthology highlights the need to identify where the roof leaks as the first step in mending it, it does not offer solutions on how the disintegrating roof can really be repaired because everything is left in abeyance as the repairman lies forlorn on the ground, in desperate need of repair.

Merry Christmas!

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