When ‘True Lies’ become a liberating force

Elliot Ziwira-At the Bookstore

The essence of the truth, or what is considered to be true, has a way of washing away bridges or building them, which makes it all confusing, really.

As Rassol Jibrael Snyman reasons, “The problem in today’s society is that the truth is in short supply and people love soft lies more than hard truths.”

In “East of Eden”, John Steinbeck writes: “An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back (the) truth acceptable to our times. There is punishment for it, and it’s usually crucifixion.”

The Chinese, on the other hand, have a saying that translates to the fact that if the lie is big enough it will be believed.

Yes, “A lie, when believed, becomes the truth”, concurs Michelle M. Pillow in “The Jaded Hunter”.

When it comes to the truth, and what it entails, the persistent questions then are: What exactly is the truth and who determines what is true? Is it really true that lies can be turned to truth, or the truth can be said to be a lie? Whose truth should be believed if everyone has his or her truth to tell?

It is often said: the truth will set you free. There is no better truth than that which issues from your tongue; for your tongue should not be held responsible for your own foibles.

Unlike facts, which are indisputable, the truth can always be tampered with to suit our means, for it is always in a state of flux it constantly changes.

If you perfect your truth, it will surely be believed, but if no one believes it, then brace yourself for the guillotine for peddling lies, because even “in war the first casualty is the truth” (Terry Hayes, “I am Pilgrim”).

Often-times, we are entangled in an intricate web where our truth hangs between our lifelong relationships and the aspirations that shape our destiny. Our worst fear becomes not only the expression of our truth, but the aftermath.

We do not know how our foes and loved ones alike will respond to our truth. That is why in such situations, we look up to a discerning voice to come to our defence truth’s defence.

That voice comes from artists, for it is through them that the crux of our values and aspirations as a community are replicated.

It is against this backdrop that the reading of “True Lies” (2015), edited by CJ Mylton (Chitsime Justice Milton) and published by Forteworx Press, becomes a refreshing experience.

The book is a collection of 10 short stories by 10 emerging Zimbabwean writers, whose thematic concerns range from the macabre, bizarre, scary, heart-rending, and yet surprisingly hopeful.

The fictional experiences depicted interact and merge into a national discourse which is so authentic that the reader is left spellbound. 

The “lies” so often believed to be simmering under the burdened tongues of the oppressed and spiritually anchored, find their way out to give impetus to a shared vision.

Notwithstanding the teething glitches, which are commensurate with inexperience, the writers explore the nature of being in a cosmopolitan world where individual desires are not only fired-up by the power of imagination, but are realised.

The use of conventional time is as liberating as it is refreshingly authentic. The reader is easily swept off the floor of his/her own wonderland, as the space adeptly created in the fictional experiences explored, beckons.

The individual’s story becomes a collective one, because the reality of the conventional setting used conjures the metaphors and symbolic elements upon which societal mores and values are perched.

This rationale is especially obtained in CJ Mylton’s “Bedroom Cry”, Brian Tafadzwa Penny’s “The Pay Day” and Munashe M. Rupazo’s “Gravity”.

In “Gravity”, Rupazo purveys the vanity of individual aspirations in the fight against norm, or what is considered to be a universal truth. Metaphors are her forte and symbolic elements the Holy Grail, which she is able to effectively exploit.

Using natural symbolic elements, Rupazo examines the fluidity of life and finality of death through Tony, a leaf.

As is expected of youth, with its ebullient and dare-devil nature, Tony prides himself in being part of the leaf family called “The Uncles of Gravity” “because they lived in the sky and did not fall until when one dried out of age.”

Pampered by the belief in their superiority over their cousins the weeds at the mercy of the farmer’s hand, the leaf family enjoys the luminous limelight.

However, Tony’s rebellious or rather ebullient nature is not satisfied by merely hanging on to his mother’s arm.

He wants to fly wild and free, like “the birds flapping all over the sky in various altitudes’’.

His desire to defy the force of gravity spurs him on, until it becomes a nagging call which makes his mother wilt inside.

He decides to let go, and be his own man with drastic consequences.

The momentary thrill ebbs and the lurking danger in the woods awaken him to the reality of death away from familial support and love. It is this lack of gratitude and selfishness that the writer is contemptuous of, as she lambasts such inclinations through images and metaphors drawn from nature.

Catherine Mapanda’s “My Life as an Illegal Immigrant” highlights the frustration and despondency culminating from the quest to seek solutions in foreign lands.

The narrator in the story realises that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.

The depiction of the foreign land as a monstrous beast that crouches on the horizon of hope for the downtrodden, who because of antagonism in the host country, retrace their steps to the Motherland where dreams are fashioned on resilience, also obtains in the story “Going Back” by Nkosiyazi Kan Kanjiri.

Man’s carnal desires that usually expose his inherent weaknesses his death knell and downfall, are explicit in “The After Party”, “A Misadventure That I Will Never Tell My Wife”, “The Pay Day” and “Bedroom Cry” by Edmond Shonhiwa, Givemore Mhlanga, Brian Tafadzwa Penny and C.J. Mylton, respectively.

Man, indeed, has a way of creating problems for himself and crying foul if his own decisions are put to scrutiny.

The familial ties which inform a productive trajectory into the future are severed in the wake of momentary satiation.

Sex as a form of escapism does not bring the desired results, but becomes yet another problem that one has to escape from. 

The societal fabric is shred as individuals seek a carnal vent out of their misery and at the same time exacerbating the same. The first person narrator in Mhlanga’s “A Misadventure That I Will Never Tell My Wife”, like the narrator in Penny’s “The Pay Day”, seeks the elixir in alcohol and sex. Sex becomes a commodity that can be brokered without any investment in love. Money buys it at the expense of the family meal.

In both stories, individual decisions inflame the collective dream. 

Hopley, a shantytown on the outskirts of Harare, is ironically central to the hopelessness that pervades the collection. Salaries are traded for sex and diseases, and the family unit disintegrates.

The narrator in Mhlanga’s story unknowingly engages a ghost in his drunken stupor, for a possible night of sex, only to discover it on the morrow when he wakes up in a                                 cemetery.

The first person narrator in “The Pay Day” buys sex from whoever offers it as if it is going out of fashion, and in the end he buys himself HIV, much to his dejection and regret.

Such is the gadabout and careless nature of men that the writers take a swipe at in the stories, as breadwinners trade the family’s bread for carnal satiation.

Mylton’s “Bedroom Cry” also depicts the spiritual connectedness which brings the issue of sex into perspective.

It is the story of Tanya and her disturbing midnight screams. Her Warren Park neighbourhood is left baffled, especially as the cries can be construed to either mean sexual ecstasy or pain from brutal attack.

In the end, the source of the weird cries is revealed as a snake spirit in the form of a huge cobra, which licks her and makes love to her all night long, as her husband, Danny deeply sleeps.

This spirit, which is responsible for her barrenness, is exorcised by Prophet Davison, hence giving hope for regeneration.

Cheryl Matizamhuka’s epistle, “A Letter to my Mother”, highlights the thorny issue of domestic violence, which plays havoc on the familial, communal and national platforms.

Men’s macho tendencies are as destructive as they are selfish, and leave a trail of broken hearts and shattered dreams. Children, who are the ultimate losers, are left hanging on to straws, as the ugly scourge rears its ugly head.

Such is the impact of a good story under the ambit of a competent storyteller — all that is known but could not be told in any other way becomes the truth that liberates — becoming true lies in “A Race against Time”, as aptly captured in Eleckias Eugene Manyadza’s story.

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