Thursday, December 24, 2009

A story for Christmas (from the Zimbabwe fast track land reform): ‘Baas, are you packing?’

‘Baas, are you packing?’

(flash story by Memory Chirere)

Mundoza found farmer John Hurston furiously pacing up and down the farm workshop, gathering pieces of metal and wire. Mundoza wanted to pick a rack and disappear to the garden, but, feeling taut himself, asked, “Baas, are you packing?”

John dropped everything. In his deep blue overalls, the gardener surely meant no harm. “Mundoza, tell me, are they finally coming here for the farm?”

“Who, coming baas?” Mundoza asked, picking the rack clumsily.

John knew, from experience that the bird had flown. He had always lacked tact and he knew it. There would be more days and nights of hoping against the worst. Many nasty things had happened on the farms in the districts recently and for some unclear reason, John felt his turn was not very far ahead in the future.

“Who is coming, baas?” Mundoza repeated and came nearer, screwing up his eyes.

“Oh, just a thought.” John said. He walked to the vice – stand, as calmly as he could. No need to panic, he thought. The following day he summoned Mundoza and showed him a billy goat. “Take it to your family. I forgot to give it to you last new- year’s day.”

Mundoza gave thanks and hat in hand, dragged the not so reluctant goat on a leash until he disappeared behind the gum trees towards his home in the villages across the river.

Then something must have dawned on John for he suddenly called, “Mundoza! Hey!” but Mundoza had gone beyond earshot. John laughed, excitedly and dashed indoors. He went for his biggest and ripest wine. I must think, think, think, he thought. He measured out a deep glass and soon he felt the fog rise slowly from a long way inside him.

After the weekend, Mundoza came across his employer in the orchard and said, “Baas, last night in the village we heard gun – shots and we thought maybe you were on a goodbye hunt, shooting in the land- rover light, too! But then, we realized that it was too early in the season to shoot kudu. So we argued and argued amongst ourselves, in the village and I said I would get the truth from you.”

“What?” John asked. “Mundoza, what good- bye hunt do you refer to?”

Mundoza laughed and the mischievous twinkle in his eye was hint to a sudden mood shift.. “Oh, we thought you were bidding good- bye to the old season, baas. You do it often between seasons, baas.”

John stood still and said, “Liar. You lie, my friend.” And that phrase – my friend, irked John the white man like a fresh wound. It told an inside story about the new happenings, fears and anxieties on the Zimbabwean farms and estates exactly hundred years after the first Hurston settled here.

John immediately drove to the village on the other side of Mupfurudzi in his jeep, wanting to get the story out of them. He thought he was working on an impulse and he felt it was natural and was glad. Would they sing and dance and flood onto his farm Svosve and Masembura style? True, they could still count their ancestral graves on his farm. Would they come? Would they not? And if they did? If...

“How does one get to old Mutero’s homestead?” John was asking at every stop.

And each time, an interviewee on the footpath or cattle track looked at him and said, “ Oh, Hesoni, too late.” Or, “Hesoni, the world gave in. Go round there and when you get to the fig tree, turn right and the third compound is what you are looking for. Is all well with you, Hesoni?”

Back in the farmyard, he asked, “Mundoza, why didn’t you tell me old Mutero is nomore? He was Pa and Grandpa’s friend, you understand?”

Mundoza dropped the garden fork he was working with and cried, “Is it?” But he quickly feigned calmness. “Oh, I have heard it said, but, from what Mutero himself used to say about all this-” Mundoza pointed at the orchard, the house, the fields and the hills. “From what Mutero said about all this and about your Pa and grandpa, then, I think there is... there was an unfinished story, baas.” Mundoza looked at the garden fork and added, “There were Cat and Mouse games between your people and us, Mutero’s people since the end of the wars of the Germans.”

“Come on,” John said. He came closer to Mundoza but hesitated because he thought Mundoza had picked up the fork and held it in an awkward way, prongs up. “Grandpa came here from the wars and you know very well that they gave him and others this side of the river because you folks here could not work this heavy clay in summer. You get it?”

“I see,” Mundoza said. He looked up at the hills and said, “Maybe the story has its left and right shoes and all we see is a shoe on the wrong foot. But, why don’t we wait, baas?”

John knew Mundoza to be generally well meaning. Not much older than John, Mundoza had a distant look, sometimes, like a cat stalking a not so identifiable roddent.

“You take all these vegetables home, Mundoza,” John said, for want of a more friendly subject. “We want something different now, say spinach or covo.” Were they not playmates? Were they not sparring?

In the evening, John saw Mundoza spring away home with a bundle of vegetables in his armpit, looking all over, furtively.

John prayed for a peaceful night. No knives and knobkerries from the gloom or a loud descend into a Mupfurudzi pool, with a boulder tied to one’s neck. No, they will not do that. This time they are quite clear, he thought. Don’t they sing in a mob to announce their arrival, even in broad daylight?

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