He tried to scream, but the effort expelled the only breath still trapped within his cooling chest
By Nhamo Muchagumisa
The cloud of eternal gloom finally settled on Zvinake. The bruises on his face, elbows and knees had stopped burning. His chest was, however, still ablaze.
Fire filled three quarters of it. The numbness that filled his head cleared his mind of every thought except that of Uncle Musiwazvo. Uncle Musiwazvo was dead.
Zvinake was certain that he would not leave the thicket, in which he lay, on his feet. He had to be carried out of it and loaded into a police van, just as Uncle Musiwazvo had been packed into the police car two days before.
He knew that by the time he would be discovered, it would be too late for him to experience the hospitality of a hospital ward. A hospital mortuary would be the right place.
He had participated in a “mass” demonstration two days before. He, together with a score of other unemployed youths, had been unleashed onto the streets of Masvingo by their political handlers.
Chanting avidly, he and his friends had erected barriers on the roads leading into town.
This job had been accomplished before dawn.
At around seven in the morning, Zvinake and his comrades, armed with iron bars, clubs and stones, stationed themselves at the main railway crossing, waiting for pedestrians who would be crossing into town from Mucheke and Rujeko.
That morning there was a large volume of commuters getting into town on foot from the two suburbs because of the barricades that blocked buses an commuter taxis from driving into town.
As soon as the first group of pedestrians reached the rail crossing, the leader of Zvinake’s gang blew a whistle as a cue to start the planned onslaught.
Missiles rained into the crowd. There were screams of agony as the panic possessed commuters fled the scene.
Zvinake picked up a sizeable stone and fired it at the dispersing crowd. It landed on the back of the neck of a middle aged man, propelling him forward for about five metres before he fell flat on the railway line. The gang leader blew his whistle again and the gang stormed into town, chanting obscenities and hate slogans.
“All tools down,” they shouted, “unless your intention is to use them to club our criminal leaders to death.”
“We shall bath in the blood of our foes. Zimbabwe will never be the same again till a new political dispensation takes the reigns,” the chanting continued.
Their next stop was a fast foods outlet.
A handful of customers were eating their breakfast when the gang invaded the place. “We kindly ask you to vacate this place before hell descends upon you all. No food shall be sold today,” said Zvinake to the petrified customers.
The customers fled from the shop, leaving the food to the mercy of the gang’s insatiable appetites. Zvinake and his gang devoured the food with the appetite of a locust swarm.
“Give us a loaf of bread each,” the gang leader ordered the senior shop assistant. The man counted twenty loaves of bread which the gang scooped into their arms before marching out of the shop. Back on the street, the gang was appalled by the sight of armed police officers.
They fled in different directions before the armed men of the law would pounce on them.
The morning after the day of the demonstration, Zvinake was reposing in his bedroom when he was disturbed by the arrival of three women. They entered the sitting room, speaking in low, but perturbed tones. They were narrating uncle Musiwazvo’s ordeal. “He did not return from work,” said Mrs Musiwazvo’s voice.
“At first we thought he had decided to work overtime,” said another female voice, “but he should have phoned back home as he used to do.”
Only this morning did we receive the news of his death from two police officers, sent from Masvingo Provincial Hospital,” said Mrs Musiwazvo’s voice.
Zvinake’s mother screamed in protest: “No! No! Musiwazvo can’t be dead! He can’t join his brother this early.”
Zvinake scrambled out of bed and entered the sitting room. His cousin broke the sad news to him. Between sobs and gasps, she told him how a missile, hurled at her father at the rail crossing was said to have broken his neck, before he dropped unconscious on the railway line, how he was ferried to hospital and such.
Zvinake’s heart jumped into his mouth. Uncle Musi was the only man who had fallen that day! It was no mystery who had slaughtered his uncle.
Tears softened his hardened heart, running down his cheeks like enchanted rivulets. But it was not yet time to confess.
The gathering at Uncle Musiwazvo’s Mucheke home swelled and so did the intensity of the self indictment that raged in Zvinake’s heart. Life would never be the same again.
Uncle Musiwazvo was the very person who had sent Zvinake to the United College of Applied Sciences, where he had stayed away from his books and the learning rooms until he was forced to withdraw because of his recurring unsatisfactory performance.
Recently, Uncle Musiwazvo had been persuading his employer to give him a clerical post and his prospects of getting the job were bright.
Zvinake was a member of the delegation assigned by Uncle Musiwazvo’s family to go and collect the deceased’s body from the hospital mortuary.
Together with his two cousins, he had packed Uncle Musiwazvo’s remains into his coffin.The gruesome experience had added another indelible mark on Zvinake’s heart.
Back at Uncle Musiwazvo’s home, Zvinake felt he could no longer stand the agony in his heart. It was perhaps time to confess.
But where would he borrow that courage from? Towards sunset, he sneaked out of Uncle Musiwazvo’s place and headed for Mucheke Bus Terminus.
There he bought five courses of anti-malaria tablets from a general dealer. He then left for the rail crossing where his uncle had fallen.
Standing on the very spot, Zvinake swallowed all the fifty tablets without water. He then followed the railway line going eastwards.
When he could no longer walk, he left the railway line , making for the thickets to the right of the line. He crawled into the heart of one of the thickets, bruising his face, elbows and knees.
He lay face buried in the damp earth, until breathing became a major physical task.
His body was lifeless except his chest in which tonnes of angry flames raged. The voice of Uncle Musiwazvo defied the numbness in his skull. “Zvinake, “ Uncle’s voice said repeatedly, “you are a bullet headed boy. One day you will achieve great things in your life.”
As the flames in his chest slowly subsided, Zvinake saw his uncle’s smiling face floating before him, although his eyes were closed. He tried to scream, but the effort expelled the only breath still trapped within his cooling chest.
Nhamo Muchagumisa is an English Language and Literature teacher, and he writes from Odzi. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on +263777460162. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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