(a story By Memory Chirere)
The boy has been watching his parents, sometimes coming very close that he wonders if they are aware of his presence or are also quietly playing his game, better than him.
Where do they think he is? Or, do they think anything about him at all?
For days, he has spotted their two freshly built huts at the edge of the linear village along the dirt road. From his different hiding places, he can see smoke spiraling thinly from the fresh thatch of one of the huts. He only needs to go and knock on one of the doors and declare himself.
But, he holds on, despite the opposing impulses. He does not know why but he holds on, day by day; out in the bushes, his brown boots-turning gray; his hair – growing wild and his clothes – getting redder and redder with earth, sweat and the steaming heat. He does not know why but he feels angry and justifiable.
For food, he comes down to pick, break and eat water – melons in the nearby fields. For water, there is a stream nearby with the clearest and coolest water he has ever seen or tasted in his life.
From behind the rocks, he has seen his mother fetching water from the stream. His mother still has her wrinkles and dreamy eyes. When she lifts her tin full of water onto her head and faces his direction, he is not sure if she does not recognise him. Or, does she even see him?
She goes past the canopy trees at the caroling pace of a soft wind. He follows her up for a distance, once, almost shouting, “Mother!” but he dares not. I will wait, he resolves. “I must wait.”
In the morning he sees his father tethering two black goats by the edge of their still stump – studded compound. The boy remains stiff, behind a baobab tree where he has spent the night.
Then he wonders why, when his father comes back for the goats in the evening, he does not seem to notice the thorn – tree twigs the boy has gathered for the goats to pick at and nibble. Doesn’t he notice, or, is he playing mental games with the boy?
And they should notice the boy’s blanket spread out on the rock outcrop by the road where he spends the nights! But they just pass by, taking the slightest note, if any, causing the boy to recoil with disbelief as he watches from his hiding places.
Were they not even seeing the prints of his boots around the huts in the mornings? Fools! Or, as new comers here, do they think it is a custom of the locals to stray and walk around other people’s huts at night?
But he will not walk up to them at their open –door cooking fire and say, “I am here. I am your son! Someone told me that you came to settle here and I followed up from the city! Why did you leave without first sending word to me in the city centre?”
He does not want to do that. Never! Never! They may feel big and proud and unrepentant, he reasons. And they may never notice that he was now a man. “A man!” he pronounces it and dances on the spot.
“I hitch hiked all the way to this place. You can’t rid of me.” Will he say all that little-mouse-talk? Not him!
And what can they say to all that? What could his father, particularly, say when it was his constant unjustified beatings and harangue of the boy that made the boy walk out onto the streets?
Will his mother spring up and embrace him, as they say mothers do to their long lost sons? How can a mother spring up and embrace him who has not gone out to join any army or take up a job in any distant town? Even if she felt like it, would she parade such affection for the boy in front of her begrudging husband?
The boy shudders at the thought that his father was his mother’s husband. Husband! He has never associated that word with his father. He sympathizes with his father for not cutting the picture of a husband in a world where real fathers should be husbands.
The boy remains behind the bushes, the tall grass, the baobab tree and rock outcrops, playing hide and seek with his parents.
Then, a thought strikes him: someone will notice my game, one day. Someone must have spotted me by now! What if I am mistook for a thief, a thug or worse – a rapist… Wandering through the bush, that is when he comes to where his father is laying fast asleep on the ground, weary from the logs he has been cutting. The boy sees his father’s axe – resting against a tree.
He does not know why, but he grabs his father’s axe like a warrior. Its sharp edge glistens innocently in the noon day sun and the boy thinks that he has never had such an inspiring possession.
He looks down at his father’s exhausted figure. The man is snoring from inside his heavy remnant of a policeman’s tunic. There is the exposed part of his neck, bulging and collapsing, as he breathes.
Then it is just a thought: if only he can walk closer, raise the axe and let it descend on this bully’s neck! He will be avenged!
Soon it is not a thought anymore because he is beginning to do it! Standing above his father’s sprawled figure, feet astride, the boy raises the axe. It will be easy. Nobody will discover. So let the axe fall!
But, as animals sense intrusion, he turns suddenly, and what does he see? His own mother, balancing a plateful of boiled beans (his father’s meal) on her head. The boy does not know if his mother identifies him or understands what he was about to do with the axe because she just wails and skips backwards. The plate of beans slips and travels to the ground.
The boy sees the prostrate figure of his father stirring but he does not drop the axe. He only skips over two freshly cut logs and flees through the thicket.
That evening, the boy’s father and mother sees a small man with an axe slung across his shoulder, walking unassumingly, into the homestead.
His father grabs a smoldering log from the fire, stands firm and calls out a challenge, “Who goes there? I must warn you that I’m armed! You’ll have yourself to blame!”
It is only when the son says, “Batsi! It is me, Batsirai!” that his father relaxes and his mother rises from where she had slumped into a heap. His mother spreads out her arms and stiffens. Maybe she wants the boy to drop the axe from his shoulder, first and come to her willing arms.