Lying on the cave floor, facing the roof, Mataka watched the first light of dawn cutting into the cave like magic knives

 

By Nhamo Muchagumisa

A mighty earthquake shook the floor, the walls and the roof of the cave. Mataka thought he had heard the last drop of the scream of a terrified woman as the violent groans of the earth’s bowels subsided. Then finally a strange calmness settled in the cave, only that there was a ringing sound in Mataka’s ears that assured him that a terrible noise had shaken his eardrums.

The dawn of a new day was slowly dispersing the black particles of receding night but all the occupants of the cave were purring in the comfort of deep slumber as if they were in their home bedrooms. Only Mataka seemed to have heard the noise of the terrors within the belly of the earth. Although it was a cold July morning, Mataka was sweating profusely as if he had run a long race under the ultraviolet storms of the October sun.

The earthquake had awakened him just after he had, in his dream, placed his hand under Tracy’s skirt. She had not protested when he had gathered her in his arms; neither had she turned her face away when his lips found the softness of hers. With his left hand around her waist, he had reached for the hem of her denim skirt with his right hand as Tracy sighed her approval.

He had watched Tracy on a daily basis, but Tracy never seemed to notice him, except when he came to her makeshift market stall to buy a mineral powder. Mataka would add water to the mineral powder to make a beverage he would then use to dilute his gin.

 

 

Tracy always wore the same clothes to work, a blue denim skirt and a pink blouse, whose brightness complemented the glitter in her eyes. Other female traders changed their clothes on a daily basis. Despite the scarcity of water in Chiadzwa, Tracy’s clothes were always spotlessly clean. She should have been renting a bathroom in the nearby village because she was always smart and presentable, unlike other traders who changed clothes without taking proper baths.

The presence of Tracy always made Mataka’s heart beat faster and his manner slow and hesitant, presenting himself with the courteousness one would not expect in a diamond thief.After Liana’s death, Mataka had thought that no woman would ever permeate his heart, but Tracy was probably a woman and a half, even though she appeared in the same clothes everyday. Despite all the simplicity wrapped within the blue denim skirt and pink top, Tracy had been able to break the walls of sleep into the territory of his dreams.

Liana had been Mataka’s live in girlfriend and he had hoped to solemise their relationship in court. Mataka’s social status had soared after he had dropped formal employment to venture into diamond panning. Liana had been a precious partner in Mataka’s lucrative diamond dealings because she had connection with the highest paying buyers.

Mataka and his woman found themselves scaling the ladder of prosperity, and within four months in the diamond business, they left Sakubva, where they rented accommodation, for Yeovil, a much cleaner and more affluent suburban section of Mutare. The couple started considering buying a piece of land to construct their own house.

 

 

Things went wrong when Mataka found a love message in Liana’s phone. He would have been less peeved if he had not known the person tendering his heart on a purple platter to his one and only woman. The man, Makuture, was one of his buyers whose financial muscle made him a possible candidate for a mineral extraction tender at Chiadzwa Diamond Fields.

Mataka demanded an explanation as Liana, entered the bedroom from the bathroom. “That message does not mean anything to me,” Liana protested.

“It means everything to you because you have starred it,” Mataka said boiling with rage.

“You are entitled to your opinion, but the love message does not even suggest that we are in love. He is attracted to me, but I have not been involved with him.”

“Nonsense!” shouted Mataka, seething with fury. He rose from the bed, where he had been sitting and struck her across the face with the back of his open hand. Liana hit back, crushing her knee into Mataka’s loins saying, “I cannot be so abused, especially over such a trivial matter.”

Mataka groaned as his bottom connected with the bed. Ignoring the pain between his thighs, he rose within a second, grabbed Liana by the arms and shoved her towards the closed bedroom door.

“Trivial,” he thundered. “Today I am going to teach you a lesson in semantics.”

 

 

Liana’s body hit the door with a bang, then she collapsed, cursing inaudibly. Mataka was too drunk with anger to check whether Liana was hurt or not. He descended on her like a speed demon and sat on her tummy. He then grabbed her by the long hair and banged her head three times on the floor. Liana screamed hysterically, but the occupants of the main house could not hear her distress call because of the high volume on the radio.

She lost blood through her nose, mouth and ears. Mataka, having lost all compassion, plunged his six pounds fist into Liana’s bleeding face, despite the mess his violence had already caused. Liana lost consciousness. Mataka dressed up quickly, opened his safe and loaded his satchel with all the cash in it and left.

As he sat at Meikle’s Park, questioning the wisdom of what he had done, his mobile phone rang and the number of his landlord appeared on the screen. “We have rushed your partner to Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital; please make a follow up,” said the property owner.

“But what..? What has happened?”

“Act now,” said the landlord and cut the line.

Mataka did not rush to the hospital. He instead switched off his mobile device and hurried out of the city towards the shelter of Chiadzwa Diamond Fields.

 

 

He finally turned his device on, but only for a moment, when he arrived in Shonje Forest that hosted Chiadzwa Diamond Fields. The message from his landlord, that his wife had passed on, stared him in the face. The hunt for him would start soon. His mind began to swim, as he remembered that only less than twenty four hours ago, he was a prospective husband to the dead woman and a promising house owner in one of the upcoming suburban areas at the edge of the border town.

So here he was, trying to increase his fortune before skipping the border into South Africa or Mozambique. An indescribable sense of loneliness seized him. He thought about how he had met Liana, an innocent looking girl who treasured her autonomy. He had stolen that autonomy and terminated her life. How cruel of him. The thought of suicide crossed his mind, but it only made him realise how he needed his life, although he had messed it up.

He remembered how he had helped Liana to cross the flooded Odzi River after a security raid on the diamond fields, how he had swum with one arm across the mass of rushing brown water, the other arm locked in Liana’s, as he sailed both of them to safety.

There was yet another occasion when they escaped death by a hair’s breadth when a hailstorm pounded the diamond fields. It had all started like an ordinary shower, but turned out to be a hell of natural treachery. The wet skies exploded at close intervals as Mataka and his new found love raced out of the fields to find shelter. They finally found it in an abandoned, dilapidated grass thatched hut.

 

 

As they watched the conspiracy of natural phenomena through the door of their precarious sanctuary, they beheld with horror the fall of hailstones, like a meteor shower, burying the weeds that surrounded the hut. What an experience! But Liana would never be there again to share the reminiscences.

So he was here, the diamond fields looking like a whole new world, a stop gap towards a long desert march. Then a day after his return to the land of gemstones, he noticed Tracy.

He longed to say at least one love word to her, but each time when he was on the verge of saying it, Liana’s name formed on his tongue, but he would quickly swallow the word before making it airborne. Tracy’s presence made his loss of Liana a devastating reality. Even if he proposed to Tracy and got a positive response, she would not be Liana for all that beauty. The love of Tracy’s heart would not rinse his hands of Liana’s blood nor disinfect his conscience of her gruesome death.

Tracy however remained a distraction to Mataka, stealing from him the sense of urgency that had propelled him to Chiadzwa, making him not seriously consider the hunt for him that must have begun.

 

 

Because of interminable police activity in the area, the panners and traders shifted bases regularly. Mataka was, therefore, not surprised to see Tracy emerging from the same base with him on his third day in Chiadzwa. She had spent her night in another wing of the cave female traders and panners occupied for the night.

For two consecutive mornings, Tracy and Mataka emerged from the same cave, Tracy to go and sell her sachets of mineral powder at the bush market, Mataka to find buyers for his gems and/ or to squander another day away from Mutare where he dared not return. He started to think more seriously about crossing into Mozambique or South Africa to start a new life before it was too late.

He did not enter the diamond fields every night; he did not need to, but when he found it necessary to get into the lucrative diamond deposits, he joined the stream of other panners just after 7 pm, armed with an iron bar, flattened at one end and a sack in which he would carry the diamond ore. More often than not he was lucky to find a nine carat glass diamond or an assortment of rough diamonds (popularly known as ngoda among the locals).

The night after his first dream of Tracy, he fell into another dream of her. In the dream he had hugged her endlessly as if an adhesive had been applied on their tummies to make their bodies one forever, but finally, Liana appeared from the blue, wrestled Mataka’s body free of Tracy’s and struck the other woman across the face with the open palm of her hand. Tracy and Liana vanished instantly and Mataka woke up, gasping for fresh air.

 

 

Yes, he loved Tracy, but realised that, given the prevailing circumstances, she was not accessible. He longed to take her by the hand and lead her into another world, but knew deep down his heart that there was no such world, especially for him. His only world was the one in which he would be haunted to death by his gruesome deed.

It was not yet dawn when Tracy and Liana evaporated from his dream, but he did not allow himself to drift back into his world of dreams. He busied his mind with his plans to skip the border before it was too late. Lying on the cave floor, facing the roof, Mataka watched the first light of dawn cutting into the cave like magic knives.

Then the sound of the careful tread of footsteps coming towards him made him turn his eyes towards the entrance. The figure of a woman clad in a denim skirt and pink top was walking towards him. His heart skipped a beat.

“Tracy!” he exclaimed in his heart.

When Tracy reached him, she ordered him to rise. “I am detective constable Abigail Mwaruza. I have a warrant to arrest you Mataka Makanyise on positive identification over the murder of Liana Munhuwazvo of 10 Railway Drive, Yeovil.”

Mataka remembered that he had called her Tracy only in his mind because she ought to have had a name which he had found no confidence to ask.

 

 

Mataka rubbed sleep from his eyes, though he had been awake for hours. As he did so, Tracy, as Mataka wished to call her, extracted a pair of handcuffs from a pair of short trousers she wore under her skirt and swiftly secured Mataka’s wrists within the bangles before he could wake up to the reality of the situation.

So, Abigail was a member of the Criminal Investigation Department, unleashed onto the diamond fields to comb for a fugitive murderer by the name Mataka Makanyise, Mataka realised. Why had he not been smart enough to suspect anything of that nature?

Tracy began to drag Mataka away as his cave mates watched the spectacle with awe. Diamond panners never ganged up to fight police officers deployed to pick up individual offenders. They only became violent when raided by law enforcement agents in the process of digging up the mineral.

Tracy, as Mataka had loved to call her, had taken Mataka’s satchel and slung it over her shoulders after securing his wrists in the loathsome bangles.

Mataka remembered that he had vainly imagined himself taking Tracy’s hand and leading her into another world. Now it was Tracy, dragging him, not leading him, into a whole new life.

He had not covered his tracks, Mataka remembered. He had left the safe open in his haste to leave the crime scene. He kept a photo album containing his favourite photos with Liana in the safe. So Tracy should have brought the photos to Chiadzwa in search of a fugitive murderer. Now she had found him, what then was left for Mataka to expect out of life?

“I will not make your job difficult for you. I will simply confess my sins because I love you so much,” Mataka had finally found the chance to confess his love to her, but without feeling the sense of gratification that he had thought such a confession would fill his heart with.

 

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 +263771271478 Email him at: muchagumisan@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

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