She dealt in tie-and-dye clothes and embroideries. Her fortunes began to diminish when Zimbabwe was hit by a foreign currency crisis which made the rand very expensive

By Nhamo Muchagumisa

Nothing seemed to have changed back home when Mrs Chipango arrived back from South Africa. The same crowds of vendors, fast outnumbering the buyers at Sakubva Bus Terminus remained the heartbeat of the busiest place in Mutare. The piling garbage in various corners of the marketplace remained an affront to the open eye.

The occasional burst sewerage pipe, gushing with raw human waste remained the loudest threat to a healthy town life. But home was home. After all, South Africa, despite being the leading economy in Africa south of the equator had its own dirty corners.

The endless fights for passengers among touts seemed to have worsened from the day she had left, but this was nothing compared to the violence that often occurred in South Africa. The use of vulgar language remained the same, though louder.

Her house kept its state in anticipation of her return. The peeling wall paint, two broken window panes and the rotting faciar boards. She was back just the same.

There was no other place where sleep meant sleep, not just passing the night in bed. But today she was not sure if things would remain the same.

She was two months pregnant and her husband was in hospital, recuperating from a lung disease at Mutare Infectious Diseases Hospital.

“For how long has your father been ill?” Mrs Chipango asked her twelve-year-old daughter as she sat wearily in a sofa.

“He was admitted three days ago. Your phone was unreachable throughout,” her daughter answered, her moistening eyes affecting a feeling of contrition in Mrs Chipango.

 

 

Mrs Chipango remembered the long journey by rail transport from Johannesburg to Musina, on the other side of Beit Bridge Border Post, nothing sentimental about it, the only thing positive about it being that it was a journey homewards.

Although she had learnt to stay longer in Mzansi, this time it had not been out of choice. Covid-19 restrictions had caught up with her in a foreign land. Then came the mandatory repatriation of people who had no work permits. That is how the express journey homewards began.

The horrors of that journey remained foregrounded in her mind, even as she faced the worse reality of her husband’s illness. She recalled how the colossal length of speeding wagons seemed to be plunging into the abyss each time she dozed off.

Mrs Chipango made it for the afternoon visit at MIDH. Alighting from a commuter omnibus, opposite the health rehabilitation centre, Mrs Chipango felt her nerve fibres turning into tight knots. She owed her husband a confession, but where would she borrow the courage from?

The sprawling health centre was at the foot of Christmas Pass, one of the most scenic mountains in Mutare and the entire province. A sudden thought to climb up the mountain, never to come down, seized her.

She would just hang herself and suffer the pain for a few minutes, instead of living to be an embarrassment for the rest of her life.

 

 

The woman, however found herself crossing the road, heading towards the hospital.

Once inside the building, Mrs Chipango was greeted not by the smell of death as was the case whenever she entered a hospital. The air within was instead punctuated with the smell of life. The place was full of people hoping to live again.

Her husband did not appear as ill as she had dreaded, but that was not a consolation at all as that did not take away her worrisome condition.

Mr Chipango was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling of his hospital ward as if it held a whole constellation of his prospects. He had, however, not lost his sensitivity, especially to the sound of his name on his woman’s lips. “Diana, my sweetheart,” I knew they would release you. Welcome back home,” Chipango said.

“I have every reason to feel better now,” the sick man continued. “I am pregnant by another man,” Mrs Chipango did not say.

“It pains my heart that you had to go through this without me,” Mrs Chipango said instead, tears suffusing her eyes. She only managed to suppress a sob. The doctor explained Chipango’s illness to his listening wife. “Scientists have discovered a more effective medicine for this variant of tuberculosis.

Your husband is completely on the mend, but because of the incidence of Covid-19, he will have to stay longer in hospital.”

The doctor’s words made a lot of sense to Mrs Chipango, yet they made her situation worse. She was two months pregnant, and his prolonged stay in hospital would make it impossible to settle the issue with her husband, without him suspecting the involvement of another man.

Mrs Chipango was a cross-border trader. She dealt in tie and dye clothes and embroideries. Her husband was profusely grateful about her contribution to the family breadbasket. Her fortunes, however, had begun to diminish when Zimbabwe was hit by a foreign currency crisis which made the rand very expensive.

That forced her to hike the prices of the South African goods she bought and sold back home. Her customers had begun to rediscover their way back to the conventional shops. Mrs Chipango did not allow this crisis to bring to a dead halt her cross-border dealings. She was used to having her own money, so giving up was not an option.

 

 

Instead of just selling her wares in SA, she resorted to doing menial jobs for affluent families Down South. Back home, the earnings from ignoble jobs amounted to something of economic value, and she ventured into the money-changing business, albeit informally.

Business and adventure sometimes run together. Along came a South African widower who lured her into his arms. He made her life south of the Limpopo easier by reducing the drudgery of demeaning jobs she had to undertake to supplement her earnings as the generosity of his wallet changed Mrs Chipango’s situation.

He bought her all the grocery items she needed on her every return home. Her husband whom Mrs Chipango used to flood with photos of herself doing various menial tasks, gladly received those items as proceeds from her sweat.

Now she was back home after a stressful four weeks in quarantine, and the horror of discovering that she was pregnant by the wrong man while she was in quarantine.

Throughout her first night back home, she seriously considered abortion as her only escape, yet no Zimbabwean doctor, would risk his or her professional standing for a few denominations of foreign currency.

Another way of doing it was to seek the help of women who knew about the use of traditional roots for the purpose. She did not know any such women in her locality.

She might be required to travel to a further off place, where enquiring about such people would not have gossipy implications. The limiting factor was the hospital as she had to visit Chipango’s hospital bed twice every day.

 

 

 

When she finally made a choice, it was with the same audacity that had found her in bed with her South African lover.

She bought the formula from a herbal market stallholder five days before her husband’s release from MIDH. The herbalist had told her of instant results, especially as she was only three months pregnant.

She had much anticipated the pain that would follow the ejection of the fetus, but the fetus did not come out, and it might turn out terribly necessary for Mrs Chipango to consult a gynaecologist before the dead thing inside her started to rot.

The pain within her became unbearable, but before her children, she pretended to be well, but once they left for school, she would go back to bed, clueless of what she would do next, journeying to MIDH for the next visiting hour.

Whenever a neighbour visited her, enquiring about Chipango, she pretended to be well. But the pain doubled afterwards.

“You do not look so well, Diana,” one female neighbour finally remarked.

“I am well. Worrying about Marvin’s condition every day and night is the problem,” she explained, wishing to add, “and carrying a rotting fetus in my uterus makes everything worse.”

 

 

The neighbour asked, “Are you not going to collect him tomorrow?” as if that would make Mrs. Chipango feel better.

The day of Chipango’s discharge finally peeped into his Sakubva bedroom through the curtains that needed washing. Mrs Chipango, though not prepared to face the day, persuaded herself into considering that it was only the passage of time that brought matters to their conclusions.

She did not know how her husband would react to her deteriorating condition, but time would let her know. He had acted blindly in the past, but would he always remain blind?

She had played tricks behind the lace of a curtain, but his eyes had not been able to penetrate the thin transparent cover. But she was now ill and he would soon know the cause of her illness. It was a police case and she wished she could buy a doctor to fake the cause of her illness beyond the reach of the eyes of the law.

Dressed in a purple dress, she emerged from her matrimonial house to face the rigors of the outdoor world. Slowly she walked towards the gate, the pain in her abdomen telling her of the certainty of incapacitation, but how could she not be there on the day he was to be discharged from hospital?

Something strange was happening within the marrow of her thigh bones, as if the iron rich substance was flowing up to accumulate in her tortured uterus. She raised her hand to touch the gate handle, but her hand was as heavy as a bar of lead. She collapsed and her senses drifted into oblivion.

The first thing that crept into her senses after a long blackout was a fairly high ceiling staring back at her open eyes, as contrasted with the intricate patterns of the roof trusses of her bedroom. As darkness cleared from her eyes, she could make out a pattern of golden rings decorating the ceiling. She was certainly in a place she had never been to before.

 

 

An attempt to think how she had possibly been transported to this unfamiliar place once again knocked her senses out of her. When next she opened her eyes again, she saw a man wearing a white coat towering over her frail body. Shortly afterwards, Chipango joined him.

He began to explain something to Chipango, his pen pointing at an enormous sheet of paper. Mrs Chipango wondered what was wrong with her ears because she could not hear what the doctor was saying.

An effort to strain her ears to hear more nearly blotted the waking world out again. Her head was aching agonisingly. But then she caught one word from what the doctor was saying, and the word was “blood”. The mention of blood made the life drain out of Chipango’s already pensive face.

She felt a small wave of relief when the doctor indicated to Chipango that it was too early to make her talk, but there was one certainty that spelt doom for her relationship with Chilango, that the doctor had told him about the secret of her womb. Whether the doctor chose to call it an abortion or a miscarriage, it would not make any difference to Chipango.

He would have to face the difficult truth that someone else had made her pregnant.

The life started evaporating from her body after eating her first solid meal since she had been admitted to the hospital more than forty-eight hours before. Gradually as the lightness of her body seemed to float on the hospital mattress, the pain within her started to subside.

Chipango arrived in time to see her leave the world of mortals. As he placed the palm of his hand into the numbness of hers, she wondered who would comfort him. She desperately wished to ask him not to commit suicide as she had children to return home to. Yet, it was only her wish that was still alive. She was practically dead.