*** I first met Monica Cheru at a writers' meeting in Harare. The mistake I made was to ask her: ‘You, what do you write?’ Monica’s stories project the ‘African reality’. She writes right from inside of the African world view. All those who enjoy Gabriel Marquez or Isabel Allende will like Monica’s short stories. In Zimbabwe, the closest to Monica’s art is Wonder Guchu, especially ‘My Children My Home’. The following piece is from Monica’s collection of such short stories called ‘Chivi Sunsets’. Monica comes from Chivi in Southern Zimbabwe. I know that Sarudzai Barnes of Lion Press likes these stories.
‘Power Struggle’ (a story by Monica Cheru)
There are some teachers who are good people and are dedicated to their profession. Such a specimen was Ronald Musafare, Ronnie to his friends and family.
Ronnie was only twenty-three and one of the youngest teachers at his school. The school itself was at a rural service center that boasted of electricity, piped water, a clinic and several shops and bottle stores. So Ronnie was very happy and had no intention of moving to any other school.
He also happened to be the most educated member of staff, being the only one who had five O’ Levels and a Certificate in Education. Other members of staff including the school head were of the older generation, who held colonial qualifications. The rest of the teachers were untrained ‘temporary teachers’.
Being humble, Ronnie had no problems with his peers. As he was dedicated to his profession, the kids were safe and suffered no abuse at his hands. The money he earned was adequate for a bachelor and he had even made a lot of headway in saving to buy his own house in town. It was a happy life for Ronnie.
When trouble came to him, it was not of Ronnie’s making. One day some pen pusher in the ministry looked down at the schools running smoothly under the control of capable, efficient and proven heads with colonial qualifications, and the pen pusher was not pleased. He spoke to some desk jockeys and they all agreed that the situation was intolerable. The future of the galaxy would be in peril if something was not done As Soon As Possible. A decree was passed that stated that all heads had to have five O’ Levels by a certain date or lose their positions. There was a panic. Rusty brains were taken out, dusted and set to work. Attempts were made to comply, but in most cases success proved elusive. After spending years adding nine to six to make fifteen, 2x + y = 13 proved incalculable. By the time the deadline arrived most heads had failed to achieve the target.
The pen pusher and the desk jockeys then came up with a brilliant solution. At all schools were the heads were now unqualified, the teachers who were already there and in possession of the correct requirements would automatically be promoted while the dumb old blokes would be demoted. If no one at the school met the required criteria, then a new face would be imported from another school that had more than one candidate.
When he was told that Ronnie would be the new boss, the old headmaster neglected to pass the good news to Ronnie and decided to solve the problem in his own unique way, African style.
The first time that Ronnie woke up and found himself lying on the floor instead of on his comfortable double bed, he put it down to sleepwalking. The fourth time that it occurred; he thought there might be some other reason.
He told his story to colleague. Ronnie moved from his room and went to share the colleague’s room. It happened no more but a strange black cat took to shadowing Ronnie whenever he stepped outside after dark. None of the other teachers was ever bothered by the cat. An owl came into Ronnie’s classroom and sat on his desk one afternoon. He did not have the guts to kill the bird and asked some pupils to chase it away.
More and more eerie events seemed to single Ronnie out. He lost weight. Ronnie told the head that he felt like the victim of some malignant spirit. The head was sympathetic but could offer no practical assistance. Ronnie went home to his parents. The family consulted various n’angas and self-styled prophets. Was there some long-dead ancestor who had come back to claim his pound of flesh for some forgotten slight? No satisfactory explanation could be found. A cleansing ceremony was held and Ronnie went back to work. A prophet claimed that Ronnie was the victim of some malicious devil spirits and tried to ‘hook’ the demons out of Ronnie with song, dance and ‘tongues’. After several exhausting days of much noise, the prophet gave up and returned to his own home to recharge his spiritual batteries and assist those who were ‘helpable’. Poor Ronnie had no choice but to return to work without having his problem solved.
On the first morning after his return, Ronnie’s shoes walked out on him! His best pair of shoes clumped out of his bedroom right before his very eyes. He had just come in from his morning ablutions and was about to get dressed.
Ronnie ran out of the room, stark naked and made for the head’s house. The wife of another teacher, who was sweeping her yard, saw Ronnie running towards her in his birthday suit and assumed that he meant her no good. She ran away calling on the world to come and save her from the mad rapist. She went for the nearest house, which was the head’s. Her husband, hearing her screams, left the Blair toilet in which he was bathing with soapsuds as his only claim to modesty. He joined the sprint to the head’s house as he chased after Ronnie. Other teachers and their families were attracted by the woman’s screams and also joined the circus.
The teacher’s wife barged into the head’s house and threw herself on the sofa. Before she could regain her breath and explain herself, Ronnie stormed into the room, grabbed the head and started dragging him to the door. The soapy husband then also came onto the main stage and made straight for Ronnie, making known his intention to teach that young man lessons that had so obviously been skipped in his pathetic upbringing. Three other teachers who had entered the room right behind the indignant fellow restrained him and calmed everyone down. The head’s wife brought her cloth wrappers and the naked pair covered themselves up. Those who could not squeeze into the room vied for front-row seats at the doorway and at the windows.
“The man must be totally mad to go after the ugliest woman in the district,” declared one spectator, who happened to be the young brother of the Shona teacher.
“Are you saying her husband was blind when he fell in love with her?” queried someone else.
“Oh, him! He is equally ugly so they suit each other very well. But look, Mr. Musafare is not even looking at that woman. I don’t think he was following her at all.” Another spectator added his two cents’ worth commentary to the drama.
Eventually, Ronnie explained himself and the head asked everyone else to leave. Teacher number two was satisfied that his wife’s virtue was safe and conceded that he too would have gone insane at the sight of his shoes walking independently without the benefit of his own horsepower.
The head sat Ronnie down and offered him some advice. “My son, at times like this, it is good to look at a situation and think deeply. You are being warned. Someone is trying to avoid actually hurting you. Maybe you should move to a new school before you die. People can be very dangerous.”
Ronnie was humble but not stupid. He left the school immediately and spent several weeks at home while waiting for the processing of his transfer.
At the new school, Ronnie suffered no further mishaps. When he heard that his former head was dead, he expressed shock and grief. It was when he was alone that he allowed himself a small smile and congratulated himself on using his compassionate leave days wisely. Ronnie remarked to himself that it is always a bad tactic to start a war when you do not know the strength of the weapons that the rival force is able to deploy. Ronnie returned to the old school as the headmaster.
*Talk to Monica Cheru: email@example.com