Short story by Brian Moyo
IN these uncertain times when winds of change are buffeting my country, The House of Stones, I find my thoughts turning constantly to the beginning of our freedom on 18 April 1980.
That day, The House of Stones joined the league of nations as an independent country. Us, the proud citizens, cried tears of joy as our newly minted flag was unfurled before the eyes of the admiring world.
Our flag, that magnificent bright cloak of self rule, depicting a formidable bird standing guard over a gallery of colours, red for the blood spilled by our warriors, green for our fertile agricultural soil, black for the rightful owners of the country and yellow for our diverse range of minerals, is a permanent reminder to the sacrifice of thousands of lives who paid for our freedom.
I shudder to think what those compatriots would say if they could rise from their graves today and see The House of Stones drowning in a pool of shameless greed and mismanagement.
What would they think of the Godfathers of violence who unleash riot police into the streets, to whip people lamenting about a wrecked economy? What would they say about the distress of unpaid workers, or about the sly police who demand bribes from motorists in every street corner?
Gazing over the fence of history, back to 1980, I feel my head flood with yesteryear memories as I am transported back to the past, to that night when we became dignified citizens of The House of Stones.
I see thousands of people mingling, dancing and drinking, into the early hours of the morning, while Bob Marley, and the Wailers blasted No woman no cry.
I can almost touch the infectious merriment of the crowd and taste the flavour of unbridled joy as thousands of people embraced a historic moment.
The face of a drunken man who had the audacity to change Bob Marley’s lyrics from No woman no cry to No woman no crime, lights up in my mind when I recall some of the dramatic moments of that night.
He was a charming soul. Like the legendary Pide Piper, he soon had an army of followers. As he crooned, No woman no crime, skipping and jumping around like a crazy imp, scores of men and women started imitating his swaggering antics and singing, “No woman no crime!”
I also remember Chimgwido and Ntembuzane, the couple who mesmerised the crowd with their dance moves that night. People say the pair met for the first time that night, inside the giant stadium where thousands had gathered to celebrate the birth of The House of Stones.
But if you had seen them dancing as though they had criminal intentions towards each other, their entwined bodies dripping with sweat, their feet executing dazzling footworks too quick for the eye to follow, you wouldn’t have believed they had only just met.
It was as if they had been transported to a cosmic field, to dance on the ashes of Rhodesia, with only Cupid for company, their conjoined hearts pumping with the joy of political liberation and love at first sight.
At the end of the show Chim and Ntembu, as they became fondly known, were bequeathed the title, Golden couple.
And so the legend of Chim and Ntembu was born that night, inside a stadium throbbing with reggae and great anticipation for the fruits of freedom.
A journalist who became obsessed with Chim and Ntembu reported a week later that they were getting married – just twelve days after their first meeting and amazing dance extravaganza! When I read that story, I smiled and wished the Golden couple well in my heart.
Ten months later, the same journalist delivered another exclusive – Chim and Ntembu had been blessed with a son! “No prize for guessing the night the baby was conceived,” the report said. “Nor for that matter for guessing the name the Golden couple gave to their little bundle of joy – Independence!”
I wasn’t the only one who shed tears of joy for Chim and Ntembu after reading about the birth of Independence. I know for certain that thousands of people across our beautiful land shed bucket loads of tears as well, because such sweet moments do not belong to the happy couple alone. We, the masses, have a legitimate claim to such treasured moments because it is part of our history too.
I prayed that little Independence would grow into a diligent and hardworking young man, ready to serve The House of Stones with whatever ability God bestowed upon him.
Fast forward to 2016, the year frustration spilled into our streets as youths with flags draped over their shoulders marched in protest and demanded answers to their hijacked dreams. That day, I stumbled upon a newspaper article about Chim and Ntembu. It said the Golden couple were wilting away in the streets as pensionless pensioners.
“Homeless, penniless, miserable and constantly hungry, they roam the streets of Harare with a squadron of flies keeping them company,” the article noted. “They carry all their belongings in plastic bags slung over their shoulders and beg for their daily bread by reminding anyone who will listen to their lament, that they are the Golden couple who almost danced themselves lame in the football stadium on 18 April 1980.”
If you are prepared to listen, Chim and Ntembu will tell you that their nightmare started when their savings and value of their pensions were gobbled up by a strange creature called inflation.
Moreover, their landlord had trebled their rent, just as food prices skyrocketed so much that a loaf of bread which used to cost only $2 went up to $50 within a month.
The final humiliation for Chim and Ntembu came when they were thrown out of their house and had their car repossessed by a credit firm. “All those things happened the same month Chim and I were made redundant from our teaching jobs,” Ntembu quips sorrowfully.
Kind people, and there aren’t many these days, sometimes give Chim and Ntembu some loose change to buy food. But most people walk away hurriedly when they spot the Golden couple in the street.
People have been asking questions about Independence. Why wasn’t he taking care of his parents? After all, he graduated with a first class Economics degree from the University of The House of Stones.
Our ever resourceful journalist, though now getting on a bit himself in years, went to work. Carrying a photo of Independence taken on the day of his graduation, he searched for the young man all over Harare. He eventually found him drunk to his eyeballs in a slum on the outskirts of the city.
The journalist wrote the following account: “Everyday Independence and his friends congregate in a shabby little dwelling made of plastics sheets where an elderly woman sells them a home made brew known as: ‘Kill me quick.’
“With tears streaming down his face, Independence opened out his soul to me,” the reporter wrote. “He poured out a sorrowful account of a life lived on the extremes of poverty since 2007 when he graduated.
“Tragically, Independence ekes out a living selling oranges and bananas around the very football stadium where his parents first met in1980. But he is not the only vendor with a degree in his pocket. There are more than six million vendors countrywide, many of whom are youths with degrees or other tertiary education qualifications,” the article concluded.
People say it isn’t surprising that desperation has compelled millions of young people to slip out of The House of Stones, to seek greener pastures abroad. Factory machines which used to hum incessantly, producing clothes, shoes, tyres and foodstuffs are now as silent as tombstones. Theft is the only growth industry.
People say The House of Stones must be cursed because how else could anyone explain how billions of dollars worth of alluvial diamonds discovered in year 2000 in Marange could have been exhausted so quickly without new houses, roads, schools, hospitals or jobs being created around the country?
Whispers about the missing $15 billion from the sale of Marange diamonds abound. People say the money vanished into thin air, like fart, without a single thief being cornered!
The introduction of bond notes, that promissory currency of idiocy, in the House of Stones, marked a new low in the integrity of commerce. Some thought the bonds were better than the old currency which Chim and Ntembu used to carry in huge plastic bags to buy a single loaf of bread or a small packet of meat.
“Bonds are worse that fake American dollars,” Chim whispers to the reporter. “At least fake USA dollars sometimes fool shopkeepers. Ntembu and I know a man who kept his family well fed for a whole year before the supermarket he frequented realised that he was using fake USA dollars.”
Ntembu nods and smiles.
Suddenly, she starts giggling childishly. She points at a giant billboard across the street on which a larger than life portrait of man in a smart suit and tie enjoys a commanding presence. The portrait’s stern watchful eyes gaze down at Chim, Ntembu and the reporter.
“That one has no need for fake USA dollars,” Ntembu says. “He has enough real money to travel anywhere in the world at short notice and go shopping with his wife, She Who Must Be Obeyed and their children.”
Chim nods his head and says: “Some people say he even bribes his hair and whiskers with genuine American dollars to stop them turning grey and showing his real age.”
The reporter grins, shakes his head and writes something in his notebook. He thinks the couple are weird but great fun to be with, if one is prepared to ignore their blood chilling body odour.
“We have to go now, my friend,” Chim says rising stiffly to his feet. The reporter hands Chim a dollar note and watches the couple walk away with the squadron of flies following them faithfully.
The reporter turns his head towards the man on the giant billboard. The watchful eyes unnerve him.
He is not alone in that fear.
Masses who walk past that portrait everyday also experience the same overwhelming trepidation. It’s as if they are afraid that those stern eyes can see inside their heads and can read all their thoughts.
The man in the portrait is sometimes known as His Master’s Voice. He is fond of issuing stern warnings to the citizens of The House of Stones. His favourite story is about the Big Bad Wolf from the West. He says it is salivating at the prospect of securing another colonial yoke around our necks. Moreover, he says he alone can save The House of Stones from any colonial menace. He alone has the guile to keep the Big Bad Wolf at bay.
But that message started to sound fake a long time ago in the minds of the citizenry. Even the old warriors, most of whom have grown old in the service of the man in the portrait, find it increasingly difficult to swallow that message too.
Of late they have been gathering in their ranks and speaking openly about their disgust and shame at being duped for many decades. They have frequently been embarrassed at rallies by His Master’s Voice’s other half, She Who Must Be Obeyed.
People say when she married His Master’s Voice, she was a velvety skinned beauty who showed no signs of a ferocious temper and appetite for power. Nowadays, she takes every opportunity to humiliate those she suspects might nudge her out of pole position.
In no time at all, She Who Must Be Obeyed developed a passionate love for all things nice. People said only branded goods earned a place in her bulging wardrobe. Then out of nowhere, she started demanding unconditional obedience from His Master’s Voice’s lieutenants. The House of Stones people watched open mouthed as her arrogance shot through the roof and she became a Jezebel who brooked no arguments.
Then one day, She Who Must Be Obeyed mentioned the unthinkable; she pledged herself ready to inherit The House Of Stones’s reins of power from His Master’s Voice.
“Oh, but how can she rule us? She was only 14 years old when we created The House of Sones,” somebody whispered.
“Don’t ever let her hear you say that,” a friendly voice cautioned. “She must be cleverer than most people in The House of Stones because she obtained her Doctorate within a year of not studying or researching anything.”
Alas, the old warriors who had sat close to His Master’s Voice, keeping him in great comfort even when The House of Stones people were dissatisfied with his rule, started to think the unthinkable – a day when they could be without His Master’s Voice as their undisputed heavyweight ruler.
The old warriors had reason to desire change at the top, they had watched in horror as some of their Comrades were purged, unceremoniously, mercilessly and thrown onto the dustbin of history in order to pave the way for, She Who Must Be Obeyed.
But one day, when His Master’s Voice and She Who Must Be Obeyed were contemplating a bright future in their palatial home, news reached them that the dynasty they were dreaming of creating was under threat.
The ‘Things Fall Apart’ message they were given implied that neither She Who Must Be Obeyed nor her little picaninis would be allowed to follow in the footsteps of His Master’s Voice. Even their hopes of living forever in their palatial home couldn’t be guaranteed. How had things changed so fast? Why hadn’t their spies discovered the dastard plot to interfere with their plan to control The House of Stones in perpetuity?
When the House of Stones people heard that the old warriors were announcing a new order that would scuttle She Who Must Be Obeyed’s dream, they rushed to their mobile phones, for the news was too painful to be aired on national television.
Some people swear that they will always remember the moment when a senior warrior announced that the old order was being fazed out, and that His Master’s Voice himself and his hangers on would be nullified of power.
The warrior, who was dressed in battle fatigues as he made the announcement, said The House of Stones deserved a new order, and that the hopelessly cowed citizenry who had suffered for many years deserved to be handed back their integrity.
Like pensionless pensioners, jobless graduates and street traders, the old warriors had seen the light too and resolved to take corrective measures to bring back sanity across The House of Stones.
They too remember the mesmerising night in 1980, when Chim and Ntembu brought smiles to our faces.
They too cherish the memories of 1980 and have pledged to recreate the dream, ululate long into the night and sing No woman no crime once more!
Brian Moyo is the founder of Team Buntu Africa website. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org