The Escape by Matthew K Chikono

For reasons unknown to anyone that night Nhau took upon himself the task of feeding our captors most unique and priced weapon: a pack of seven mighty wolves tamed and trained for the sole purpose of hunting and killing people. His torso ended up being in the animals’ jaws. Nhau screamed long enough to be heard and rescued before the beasts had mauled him to death.

There was a lot of stir in the camp as people came to see what the commotion was all about but they quickly returned to their tents to sleep, the sight of a dying slave wasn’t interesting enough to hold their attention for long. Most of those who stayed a moment longer were young women captured from the same village as Nhau but the soldiers who now owned the quickly came and dragged them back to their tents to warm their beds. When the crowd had dispersed Nhau was thrown back to the wolves and the taskmaster ordered the rest of us to watch as the seven creatures ripped and tore Nhau into pieces. This time Nhau did not scream or struggle. There was only a small growl and moments later small puddles of blood and flesh on the ground to prove the once existence of Nhau.

As expected the taskmaster gave a little speech befitting the circumstance. He wanted us to work, he said. He did not want us to be distracted in our daily duties by mourning or burying bodies so from that day forth to save everyone’s time and strength unabled bodies would be thrown to the seven dogs. We were ordered to get some sleep for the next morning we were to start preparing for the soldiers’ march to the north.

“We have to try again tomorrow Nhamo,” Jaji my friend and fellow slave whispered into my ear as we made our way to the centre of the camp where we slept,”you have to warn Rudo about the changes now or else she will be in huge trouble if she get caught.”
I nodded and made the usual manoeuvre to sneak away from the rest of the group. I knew I wouldn’t be missed for a while, and if I did my friend Jaji would cover for me untill my return. I made my way to the east side of the camp without making any noise or rousing suspicion. Despite it being a moonless and almost a starless night I reached my destination without any trouble. I now knew the camp like the back of my hand and could navigate it from end to end with my eyes closed. I had made it my priority to know everything about the camp and its surroundings before I made my escape.

Rudo was waiting for me at our appointed meeting place. She had a little bag with provisions and looked ready to go, I was sad to disappoint her.
“You have to go back,” I told her,”the plan failed tonight but we will have to do it .”
“Why, what happened?” She whispered into my face. She did not look weak or sickly and it made me believe that she was at least getting some food. I told her how another slave had attempted to feed the wolves and got eaten making Jaji’s task of poisoning them with small pieces of meat impossible. If it had succeeded we would have ran that night, with dead wolves the soldiers had no way to track and follow us at all. Rudo startled me by sitting down on a huge stone near us.
“Don’t worry Nhamo I have some few more moments to spare, Nyari is on duty tonight.” She said and it took me a moment to remember who Nyari was, another girl who was in the same predicament as her.
Rudo started playing awkwardly with her hands, a gesture she did when she was nervous or guilty. I asked her what the problem was.
“You know there is a thousand ways this plan can fail,” she continued,”if we get caught we will be killed instantly.”
I took a closer look at her, she smelt of garlic and perfume. I was wrong to think she was almost starving she was getting plumpy and I hadn’t noticed it.
“What I am saying is that we haven’t thought this through…” she stammered. I couldn’t believe it, Jaji’s suspicions had been proven true.
“You don’t want to go?”
“I do but I don’t think now is the best time can we wait just for few more weeks perhaps? ”
“I can’t believe it! You want to stay here at this place of death? Do you want to continue living as that evil man’s property?” I heard my own voice rise, I ways getting angry. How could Rudo ask me to continue living as a slave? Each passing sunrise did not guarantee that I would see the next sunset. The taskmaster would acquire younger new slaves and I would be disposed of or one of the captain would look at my face and dislike it then I would be gone or simply someone would discovered about my sneaking to see Rudo and I would be hanged before the next meal. The more time we spent trapped in the camp, the more likely we were to die before winter began. If the ancestors were to spare us that long then they planned to kill us with the northern winter cold.
“Rudo tell me, why you want to stay maybe I might understand.” I pleaded with her
She didn’t answer but continued looking up at the dark sky. I looked closely at her silhouette and calmed myself with reasons I loved her. Rudo had been my friend since we were toddlers. When we grew a little older I knew she was the love of my life, the only one the gods would ever grant me. So I married her in a huge wedding feast our village had ever had in years. For two weeks we lived like husband and wife. We were happy, I presume. Then they raided our village in the dead of the night, the Masashi army did. We woke up to find our huts burning, children crying and worst of all enemy soldiers with spears dripping our loved ones’ blood. In a matter of hours my village, my home and my family were no more. Our way of life had been reduced to ashes. They took our wealth, everything my people had. The Masashi people emptied our granaries, added our cattle, sheep and goats to their already bountiful herds they had already stolen. In my despair I believed that everybody was dead, I mourned them. I thought they took me prisoner then turned me into a slave because I was the last of my line, a trophy of their atrocities.

For almost a year I toiled in the Masashi solders’ camp doing what ever I was ordered to. Once in a while I would find enough food to keep hunger from ripping my stomach apart but most of the nights I slept on an empty stomach hoping the next day would be better. Other slaves came and went, when I say went I mean die. Some tried to escape but the wolves caught up with them, they were mauled by the beasts to death or if they were lucky enough they would be beheaded on the spot. Some were beaten to death by their masters for laziness but usually most worked so hard that they just croaked to death whilst doing their chores. For reasons I don’t know I wasn’t among those that fell ill or starved to death. If death had came for me sooner I would have graciously accepted it with both hands. I never bothered with escaping because I had no where to run to or someone whose arms to run into.

Then one day I saw her again, almost a year since the raid. My dear Rudo was wearing a grey cloth and carrying a clay pot filled with water on her head, a familiar sight I had fallen in love with years earlier. She was coming from the river with the other slave girls. There I was, digging latrines for the solders’ crap with other male slaves when a group of young women slaves passed us talking and laughing with my dead wife amongst them. I continued staring at her with astonishment until one of the girls noticed me and whispered something in to her ear. Rudo turned to my direction and saw me. Her bewildered face showed that she was twice as surprised of seeing me than I was of seeing her, plus she stumbled and almost fell in the process. She quickly looked away from me but I believe I saw blood drain away from her face.

Conversations, contact or any form of relationship between male and female slaves was prohibited and punishable by death or by flogging if you happen to be a worth property in their eyes. It didn’t matter though, the solders always flogged offenders to death. It wouldn’t come as a surprise that it was almost a month later when I was able to talk to her alone. It was her who came up with the places and times we could meet, three months later we haven’t been caught yet. On our first reunion night I asked her how she survived the raid, she told me how she and the other women were weeping after the soldiers had dragged all the men away when a young captain flanked by two soldiers walked by and took a liking at her. The captain who was merely a boy, probably a prince, claimed her for himself. None of the soldiers objected and that is how she survived the initial slaughter of our people. She told me that the Captain ordered her to ride on one of the donkeys that way she didn’t suffer from blisters or died of exhaustion on the two month march to the west kingdoms, which killed the rest of our people. For almost a year she had been his slave doing whatever he asked. I tried to tell her about my own tale but she didn’t want to hear of it, she said it was too sad to be ever talked about again.

“Rudo tell me why you want to stay maybe I might understand.” I asked her again. For three months after I found her again I had plotted a way to get us away from that place, now it was almost done the person I did it for didn’t want to anymore.
“You don’t have to yell Nhamo please,” Rudo’s voice sounder angry from the darkness around me, “please listen to me Nhamo.”
I waited for her to continue. The silence and the darkness of the night was familiar from the days of our courting, only the feeling of love and happiness that hard flowed in our veins then had now turned to despondency and fear. Although we could still hear songs and laughter from where we were sitting, it wasn’t of our neighbors and kinsmen anymore but that of the Masashi soldiers, rough voices of ugly men singing praise songs of their own looting and murdering of the poor and the weak. I would have preferred to hear croaking toads, howling jackals and hooting owls than those bloodthirsty captors from the south singing of their own glory.
“Nhamo tell me, do you honestly believe we can safely escape from here, return to our village and rebuild our homes and be happy for the rest of our lives? ” she finally asked.
“Yes I do. I don’t see why that’s impossible.” I replied kneeling in front of her, trying to show her hope still lived in me,”If not our village we might go to Vhera village, I still have relatives there.”
“He won’t let me go just like that you know,” Rudo continued, “Prince Mhtuli is powerful and dangerous, he will send a whole battalion after us and it won’t end well you know it.”
She had never mentioned the name of the man who now owned her until that night. I had learnt from my fellow slaves that Prince Mhtuli was the first cousin of the current Masashi Emperor himself, if I took his slave away I would be more than in trouble. but wasn’t our love worth it?

“Nhamo tell me the truth, if we manage to escape how are you going to feel for the rest of your life raising your wife’s bastard? An innocent child of a man who enslaved you, killed your family and burnt your village to the ground?”
“Rudo you know I love you …”
“I know you love me Nhamo but what I don’t know is if you will love this Masashi child I am carrying in me right now. ”

I paused for a moment and looked up to the sky for answers, none weren’t brutal. Was I selfish to think that my love with Rudo would triumph over her love of her unborn bastard child?
“It’s late we should go and rest, ” I said with a yawn,”we have a long journey tomorrow. ”
A million and half thoughts ran around in my mind that moment. If I promise to take care of the child, I would always see it as a bastard no matter what. Wouldn’t it be better if the child grew up a semi-royal and a semi-slave. That moment I made my decision, I loved Rudo a lot to put her in pain.
“Goodnight my love, I will see you tomorrow. ” I lied.
“Nhamo please,” Rudo said before starting to sob. I walked away full of rejuvilation and filled with vigor to escape and live again. Rudo’s weeping reminded me of death. Jaji mourned with me after I returned to the camp and told him she was dead. In a way she was dead to me, without her love I had no use or need for her. Sometimes I do wonder what happened to her after I left her crying on that rock.

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Letter to my unborn child

love-letter
Tafadzwa Chiwanza

Dear child, if you are reading this, it means I’m already dead. That’s all right, your daddy never was afraid of death. Regardless of my imperfections, that you should now be fully aware of, my love for you was perfect.

I was a ruthless thug with a stone in the place where others have hearts. Bereft of any remorse, I did some horrendous things that will make the bravest of men scream in their sleep like little girls for the rest of their lives.

I was not proud of the things I did, but neither did I condemn them; the evil and the good was part of me. I had lived at peace with my darker side. When you hear of what happened to the Jairos family, know that daddy is not proud of it. The whispers are true, dear child, we woke up at the middle of the night and torched their house because they had voted for the wrong political party. Their views were against the the mandates of the liberation struggle. I did it for you my son, It was unfortunate that little Joan could not get out of the house before the fire turned it into an inferno.

I have relived that day everyday. My child, I see the little girl with her dress spluttered with blood trickling from her innocent eyes and her mouth muttering, “Why did you kill me?” I have not slept properly ever since, but understand that I did it for you my son!

If you have heard of what happened to Sekuru Kandere at Zengeza bridge, you must be thinking I was some sort of a devil, I don’t blame you, I did it for you. The old man had been part of us for a while, but one day he grew a conscience and decided to betray us. I had to stop him. It was not my idea to tie him to his bicycle and throw him into the river but I stood and watched as his screams drowned in the brown churning waters.

Such was my life when i met your mother. A common village girl, ugly as a Gothic caricature, no man would look at her twice without having to spit at her. She smelled like a tavern, her teeth were rotten, her eyes swollen and her skin resembled the bark of a burnt Msasa tree. I hated her at first sight.

As fate would have it, one day I got overly drunk after we had massacred hundreds in the nearby villages that had stopped supporting the Chimurenga, I was in desparate need of a bed warmer. She being the only thing that resembled a woman near me, I took and raped her.

I shake as I write this, tears start to gather in my eyes. Oh son! Please forgive me for what I did that night! She did not deserve it! She did not, I see it now. I used her in the vilest of ways, tore her apart and left her bleeding on the floor. I despise myself for these tears that are spoiling the paper I’m profusely writing on.

About eight months later we returned to the village to gather supplies for another raid to the west. Flames of rebellion had started from the ashes. That’s when I saw her, her hair a little shorter, her eyes as wide as those of a person who has swallowed two mangoes and she was with child. My child.

I immediately summoned her to my quarters and questioned her. After a few attempts at hiding the truth from me, I finally got it out of her through means I wish not to tell you. For the first time in my life, my knees started shaking, I was afraid! I despised myself for such pusillanimous emotions but they were not groundless, for our mission also included burning her and the whole village. I could not burn my own son.

So I sat down and began writing this to you, for I am about to commit treason by giving your mother one of our rovers to escape in. They will find out eventually, hopefully she’d would have made it across the border. As for me, they will torture and kill me. That’s okay, daddy is not afraid of death.

“Traitor! Open the damn door!”
Child that’s my superior banging on the door. I don’t have a lot of time left…

circles

Circles

Matthew K Chikonomat

The three men wearing strange clothing stood tall and proud beside our village of Chief. The rest of us sat on the dirty ground whispering and chattering to each other. I sat between Rudo and Monica, the two girls who couldn’t stop giggling whenever we talked about boys. The Chief was saying something that seemed important but we were distracted. Rudo had her eyes on the boy who had came with the three men in strange clothing and Monica was telling her on how to proceeded on her quest. Although she had just recently turned twelve Monica was the oldest among the three of us and we all deferred to her for advice. I was the youngest and smallest, the rest of other girls had started picking up on me whenever we went to take a bath in the river.

The three men who were clad in red and black garments and feather headbands were hunters from a village fifty kilometres from ours. They were not ordinary hunters but witch hunters who had been summoned by our Chief to cleanse off all witchcraft from our villige. That is all I heard, I wanted to listen but I was an eleven year old girl and witchcraft wasn’t my problem. Besides Rudo was making headway progress, she had slyly smiled at the boy and he had finally noticed her. As abruptly as we had been called to the village’s meeting place we were order to go back to our homes till called upon.

The house I grew up in was the usual old dilapidated round hut, mostly important I felt safe inside the red bricked wall. My mother and I had moved into the hut soon after my father’s demise to alcohol poisoning. It once belonged to my maternal grandmother, Gogo Magi, and was the only place I called home so when the Chief said we wait in our homes for further orders my mother and I huddled together waiting for nothing interesting to happen. I was almost bored to death doing nothing, I couldn’t stop wondering what had happened to Rudo and the hunters’ boy after we had been dismissed.

They came for my mother that evening, just like they had done for my grandmother. The sky was orange and the sun was halfway into the horizon when I noticed the three witch hunters followed by the rest of the villagers streaking to our humble homestead. The three men leading the mob seemed possessed, they were jumping and dancing just to raise unnecessary dust. Our fellow villagers were now mad and calling for blood, they wanted her dead. Even Rudo’s newfound love interest was pointing at and calling my mother a witch.

We didn’t have any relatives, it was just my mother and I. We were really close. Growing up my mother used to tell me all about her life story. Everything including the horrors, which seemed to dominate her entire life, and the joys, which apparently were very few. She always told me about her mother, a herbal healer who was sweet and kind. She was around ten when they came for my grandmother. The witch hunters had bulged into their hut and ordered them out. They searched the kitchen last where they broke some fine set of clay pots. The hunters said they found ‘it’ hidden in one of the clay pots. The ‘it’ was something no men have ever seen before and my mother couldn’t even describe it to me properly. My grandmother was shocked and angry with the accusation. That night my grandmother was on fire, literary. They burnt her outside the village and mother witnessed it all.

Twenty five year later I now stood at the door as the people gathered on our homestead, hoping and praying that none of my mother’s horror tales came to life that night. I couldn’t stop ugly images of my burning mother from choking my brain. Or would they just be content by just hammering three inch nails into her head, just like they did to the adulteress the previous year?

They dragged my mother out of the house and poured a bucket of cold water on her. I cried and begged just as my mother had done twenty five years earlier. My mother shouted her innocence but they wouldn’t listen again. They went into our hut and search it, honesty they went into our hut and trashed it. I could hear plates and cup breaking, pots and pans crashing and floors and walls echoing death and destruction. All our ragged clothes and tattered blankets were thrown outside for the world to see, every grain of fake dignity we harboured vanished into the cool evening air.

They brought ‘it’outside, the thing no one had ever seen before. From the look on my mother’s face I say she didn’t know of its existence either. They said they found it hidden in the claypot, the only claypot we had. Yes, the one we used to brew mahewu in. They said it was a goblin, custom spelt and illegaly imported from the south. The started binding my mother with ropes, just like they had done to my great grandmother, Mbuya Duri. Now I remember, Mbuya Duri was drown to death in the river, after they found her guilty of being a witch.

I wondered what would happen to me. Would I live long enough to bear a daughter who would witness me being hanged for witchcraft too? Then twenty five years later would they drive a stark into her heart whilst her own daughter watched? They didn’t and I couldn’t and neither will any of my off spring leave this village, we are rooted and anchored to this land. After they dump my mother’s corpse in the cold ground I will continue to live as if nothing had happened. Come morning I will visit Monica and giggle a lot whilst Rudo tells us how she had fallen in love and was going to marry the witch hunters’ boy. She will follow him to the worlds’ end upsetting people’s lives. Maybe they will come back twenty five years later for my own demise, continuing the cycle. But then not all cycles are circles.

“black skin, white masks”

Black Skin, White Masks
If our eyes are to be believed;
We could claim to have seen it all,
having grown with shackles on our legs;
And timber collar round our necks;
While the whip scorched our backs,
With our hands branded with scars,
There is little we’re yet to see!

If our ears are to be believed;
We could claim to have heard it all,
we’ve heard whispers in gloomy corridors;
Of surrogate plots and conspiracies,
Plans to build tumbrel and guillotine
To behead the flame of a black man;
There is little we’re yet to hear!

Poem by Tafadzwa Lemuel Chiwanza

*title adopted from Frantz Omar Fano’s Black Skin, White Masks

 

THE MOVING FINGER

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By:Tafadzwa Chiwanza

From the moment I allowed myself to be caged by her charms like a diamantine, I knew I was in trouble. Regardless, I loved her religiously and worshiped her dearly. It felt so wrong, given the circumstances to be blindly devoted to a woman who I knew, to my sorrow would never love me back.

Pause you who read this and laugh if you will at my folly, but when you are done, spare a thought for me. For without doubt, she was the most intoxicating woman on the face of the red African soil. Willingly I allowed my eyes to be trapped by the petals the graces of her flowery eyes exhibited, unwillingly I gave her my heart to keep, and break as you will learn.

I beg the indulgence of the reader, for this story is true throughout. Due to this I’ve hitherto refrained from mentioning her name because of the effect it has on me. Haha love is evil, howbeit, a necessary one.
I pause as I write this, my writing hand has begun to shiver, my palms sweating and my heart drumming violently. I wonder if I should go on writing. I take great pains in putting my thoughts on paper, my greatest hope is that my pen may be my instrument of liberty.

I do not know how it started. Perhaps it was the way she looked at me with the sprightly sallies of her eyes, or the way she laughed careless or maybe it was her carefree attitude towards life. I don’t really know,. What I have come to understand is that between the time I met her and the time I found out that my love for her would be the end of me, I was doomed.

“I wish this could last forever. ” she whispered one day as if in a soliloquy. My long farm boy’s arms were wrapped around her as we watched the sun set from the top of a hill a few kilometres from our village. I didn’t see the need to respond to her whisper, I just tightened my grip around her body.

“Why does it have to be like this?” She asked. Despite the howling winds I could hear a tincture of sorrow in her voice. Perhaps I imagined it, but when she turned to look at me, I noticed tears welling in her eyes.
“I don’t want to go back to him, I suspect he knows about us.” she told me. We had had this conversation almost every time we had retreated to our lovers’ Creek. I shook my head to shrug aside her fears, but this did not persuade her. “Let’s go. You and me, to the capital. He will never find us.” I kept staring into her wondering eyes as they desperately searched mine for an answer.

“He beat me again this morning, see this?” She unbuttoned her dress to show me a wound just below her breasts that was still dripping blood. “I cannot endure him anymore.” She implored. I sighed heavily and kissed her forehead before saying, “go and pack your bag now.”

Like a twelve year old she scuttled down the hill with divine energy. She could have been mistaken for a deer as she skittered down the hill and her blue dress flattering behind her like a dance of the gods at Mount Olympus. I watched her recede out of sight with eyes reddened by love’s touch. then I waited. And I waited. Seconds trickled into minutes and minutes bundled into hours. It was not after the sun had surrendered to the moon that fear gripped me; what if something terrible has happened to her!

Immediately, I flew down the hill kicking stones as I did. After half an hour I arrived at the village. The stillness of our usually hive village made my heart palpitate in me. My tired legs began shaking beneath me. Sweat started pouring from my heart profusely. Images of his powerful arms strangling her to death flashed in my mind. She’s dead, I thought and my heart threatened to give up on me. If she’s dead, I’m dead too. I told myself.

I reluctantly trudged towards her place only to be greeted by teeming villagers gathered around it. They were whispering, chattering and laughing scornfully. I moved closer to them, and I noticed that they were all pointing to something that was on the ground with disdain. I shoved forward in the dense crowd until I stumbled at the thing they were point it at; A corpse. His corpse. And beside him, sat the love of my life, with her hands covered in blood. She had killed him.