“You’re a boy. It’s different for you”, you had argued to me when you were only eleven years old. I was thirteen. I would like to think that it was my youth and a dash of self-preservation that prevented me from acknowledging what it is that you were referring to.
“You are called Makomborero and I, Mandishora. I think it is no mistake that you are likened to blessings and I, when I was born, Mama felt like God had scorned her. Not that it matters what they named me. No one ever remembers my name anyway.”
I protested that you were being irrational but I knew what you meant.
I too, had seen how all the tetes would sing my praises as “Mhofu” whenever we were at a family gathering. I remembered how, on one occasion, Tete Mai Rosiwe forgot your name. “Iwe. Iwee. Hanzvadzi yaMako.” I don’t know what was worse; being referred to as “You”-as if you were but a stranger- or having me used as your point of reference.
Try as I might, I still remember the pained expression you wore. The corners of your eyes scrunched up, your thick dark lips slightly open as if you were about to say something, or maybe trying to swallow the imperceptible hurt she had hurled at you. Your body rocking ever so slightly. I remember how I couldn’t quite look you in your eyes. Scared that I would see the disappointment I felt would be mirrored in your pools of pain. Disappointment that I could stand up to the neighborhood bullies who teased you about your smooth yet dark skin, but could do nothing about the ones you really needed protection from; the ones who made you believe you were invisible.
I dreamt about you last night. We were back in Mbare. Back in our childhood home; “Flat 13, Matapi blocks, Madale Dales” as mother always jokingly said.
Ha! How it used to irritate you, seeing as we did not live in the posh suburbs as she pretended. The tight, dilapidated apartments that had seen no improvements since Smith’s time, with their broken boarded up windows and laundry hanging outside every window were a far cry from the lives we had never seen but were sure people on the other side of the railway lived.
That’s where you wanted to be. The other side. You would look out of the window to our apartment at the dumping site Mbare had become and talk about how you were going to one day leave this place and become “someone who mattered”.
In this dream, I’m sitting by Bro Tindo’s makeshift barbershop. The tiny aluminum box is blinding even in fluid vision. You appear at the corner, clutching your only doll to your chest. All of a sudden, you’re not 14 anymore, but an older, less recognizable version of yourself. And I; I’m suddenly jogging on a paved road that looks to stretch endlessly to the eye. I’m trying to outrun you. I manage to get away but your cries “Mako, Makomborero” pervade the dream; I wake up muttering my own name.
I have woken Cynthia up. She makes as if she understands but I know she really doesn’t. She wears that sympathetic ‘I-understand-what-you’re-going-through’ smile of hers. The kind of sympathy that people extend at funerals; in between catching up on family gossip and speculating on what sexually transmitted disease the deceased suffered from.
But she cannot understand. Till now, I’m not sure I fully do.
It happened soon after you turned 15. It was a Wednesday. I remember because I can still picture myself in my too-small khaki uniform, that one with the scuffed collar. I only wore that on Wednesdays when we didn’t have assembly.
“Mandi! Hurry up mhen. You’re gonna make me late again. Mandi” I shout “Are you telling me you can’t hear me? Nxa”
You are sitting at the edge of your bed with your back to me. I inch closer. You’re muttering under your breath.
“Manje ini handidi” .
“You don’t want what Mandi?
Bu your attention is directed to the green-black mold in the corner of the ceiling. It is only at my touch that you become acknowledge my presence.
“Hona avo,” you say pointing at the ceiling. Apart from evidence of neglect, I see nothing.
“Who, Mandi?” I ask, my curiosity piqued.
A minute elapses with you looking at the ceiling in silence
“Ha Mako! Did I tell you? Cynthia went and got herself knocked up. All those brains down the drain! Heheh For what? A combi tout too! And with the way that she used to think she was all that in a bag of chips!”
“Mandi…Ahhh come and eat breakfast. This is not time for your gossip! We are going to be late for schoo mhen. I thought you had serious issues”
“But we have just eaten”
“8 hours ago, maybe. Are you not having porridge today? Too good for our food Miss High-and-Mighty?” I tease.
“Waisei nhai Mako?” The serious expression on your face reveals that this is no joke to you. “What did you put in the food?? You and your mother! You want to kill me. It will not work manje! I, Mandishora, I know a lot.”
We never went to school that day. Do you still remember the fuss you caused? I do.
You went over to Mai Junipah’s tuckshop and demanded that she give you 10 packets of maputi, a packet of candles and a 2 liter bottle of cooking oil. She managed to convince you that you didn’t need cooking oil at that moment but you wouldn’t be talked out of your snack.
You must have walked the entire streets of Mbare that day, clutching to the twenty-pack of maputi. I would know because I followed you around until you got so tired you could be convinced to come home.
The next day Mama got on a bus and took you kumusha, far from the madding crowd, or rather from prying eyes. But gogo soon sent you back. She didn’t think the rural areas were the right place for a girl “not quite right in her mind”. Or maybe it was that she was too old. I can’t be too sure anymore. All I remember was that for some time you were bounced back between relatives until they all decided you were too much of a burden.
I still question myself how much I really could have done. The best answer so far is more. Just that. More.
I could have done more than stand by when they treated you like nuclear waste material, people deciding what would be the ideal disposing place.
I could have done more than accept it when Mama said you had run away and there was little point to looking for you.
I could have done more to protect you.
I could still do more…
I know where you make your home these days. I have seen you walking up and down Strathaven shopping centre; your hair in braids that have matted up with time and dirt. I don’t recognize the clothes you wear these days, but the years have passed have they not? Though you still hold onto that little raggedy doll you got the one Christmas Baba got a bonus, the years have started to show on you.
I have been thinking that it would be good one of these days, for me to come get you, get you to meet Cynthia. That’s after I tell her the whole story about you.
Soon my dear. Till then, I’m just glad you made your own way to the other side of the tracks.