Yesterday I tramped in dog shit or a huge pile of cow poop (I don’t care much for chicken poop but that would have been okay) when I was walking home and a group of girls who were watching me with their school skirts hiked up high above their knees so I could almost see their panties when they bent down all pointed me out to each other and laughed at me. They were all in high school and I was still in primary. Now I was alone when I was walking home. I figured if I had had a buddy, a friend on whom I could have solely depended, the situation would have been different. We could have turned the table on those girls who thought they were so beautiful because they used those skin-lightening creams and who braided each other’s hair over the weekend. I could have pretended nothing out of the ordinary had happened and just walked on home.
Zimbabwe when I was a little kid
In a nutshell I wanted a buddy. I wanted a silent friend (so he would agree with me all the time, be pleasant and never have a bad word to say about me to anyone). So I invented him. I made him up. I imagined him into being as living and breathing as I was. Please don’t think I was crazy for doing that. I just felt lost, confused and baffled as a child. A mugging outside your home, growing up feeling miserable because I was always alone, dirty, poor and took to speaking English and taking to poets and other writers as if I was born in a countryside were all those poets in our school curriculum came from. I devoured books even textbooks. Look there really was no other choice for me. It was either that or join a gang, go through an initiation rite to get accepted, stab someone, nick him, get a tattoo or have a family at sweet sixteen, a girlfriend and baby in tow. I knew loads of people who had landed up in jail over a petty crime like stealing a chicken and then they came out of that furnace of a prison a hardened criminal ready to give anyone some tough TLC.
I wanted a friend who could believe in me because they, my mother and my father, certainly didn’t. There were too many mouths too feed. There were nine in total, all jostling for attention. Shame, they all said (all the people I spoke to abroad when I left my Heartland that had been my home for most of my life). Afterwards when they heard about my childhood, they all said almost in unison, thank God he was gifted, talented in some God given way. In other words he wouldn’t have made it as far he did. Across the ocean, to London they meant. It was a breeze man, I wanted to say. There was nothing to it. Just cross the line, cross the graveyard of your blind mind like that feeble mouse in that English nursery rhyme, make it your internal rhyme to break the rules and break a few English hearts along the way.
Mummy, Mama, Mother, Ma
There was an absent biochemistry within my mother in my household long before I was born. With wet eyes, cheeks that were damp from her wild sobs as my father beat her every night as we lay sleeping under the kitchen table. Piece by piece by piece like some magician’s fairytale she salvaged the materials from her family that were of importance to her and shelved them in the empty makeshift cupboards, locked them up, put them in secret boxes with no names on them so we wouldn’t know what was what and who belonged to what. She compartmentalised them before their history ran out of space, and before I ran out of room to grow. When she peeled onions my mother would cry. When my father would beat her she would cry. When one of her children were naughty and wouldn’t listen to her she would cry. My mother was a crying woman but I also knew she was an extraordinary machine that made all of the cogs and wheels that the mansion she worked in was built on move.
Excerpt from a writer’s diary
When there was bread we ate bread. When we were spoiled with jam and fruit we ate jam and fruit heartily spitting out the pips, caressing them on our tongue greedily, always wanting more of their sweet taste and catching it, clasping it within our fingers. When there was nothing we ate nothing. We lived like beggars one day and kings the next when my mother brought home her lunch from the mansion. We would all crowd around the kitchen table; wait with bated breath until it was our turn hoping for a piece of meat or chicken dripping with juices. We would wait for something that we could chew on and fill our bellies with or a cold potato with crispy bits sticking to it. Avocado was my favourite. We sprinkled salt on tomatoes, put it on a slice of bread and smiled ear to ear knowing it would soon disappear down our throats, wanting the taste of the salt in our mouth mingling with the red, bursting tomato with its palm of golden seeds to last forever in front of our eyes.
At night my father tore my mother apart with his fists and his brutal threats of what he was going to do to her if she said anything. If she breathed a word she was dead. He would kill her and then in a great amount of detail no matter how drunk he was, with us, his children within earshot, he would tell her how he was going to do that. He was just that kind of guy and I think that I said more than enough on this subject. Case study on emotional and verbal abuse, domestic violence and wife battering in a township closed.
The dream to go on an expedition into the West
My father was not the kind of guy I wanted to be buddies with. I wanted a buddy to shoot marbles with, to shoot the breeze with, to walk to school with, to play soccer with before my mother came home from work from the mansion with its high walls and Dobermans on guard who could smell fear as much as my father could smell my mother’s fear at night when he rocked up at our door three sheets to the wind, unsteady on his feet, dead to her, to his own children and to the world around him except the loose women that jived with the men to music that came out of the loud speakers at the shebeen. You know the kind of woman that I am talking about here. The kind women who snaked their hips around their dancing partner’s waist, bumping up and down on their heels, grinding into their dancing partner’s private parts. This was not a show for kids. “Slut.” He spat on the ground. “Get up. I’m not finished with you yet. Did you hear me? I’m not through.” He raised his fist. “Nah, this is just wasted on you, bitch.” And then he laughed out loud. I was terrified and wet the bed.
In the morning she was resurrected like Lazarus and set to work getting us ready for school, putting on her ‘mansion clothes’. All nine of us wanted bread and kisses. Some days there was no bread but there were always kisses. Sometimes my parents would smooch and my face would burn. I would turn away and pretend I didn’t see him pocket the money she gave him. My mother was like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, newborn like magic. When I came home from school I would wait for her to come home from work. When she did come home she always had a faraway look in her eyes. I could tell she was miles away in dreamland. She worked in a mansion for a white lady with posh manners who liked the silver to be polished just so.
Coming home to Rhodes from living in exile
They’re making a fucking movie out of my book. All I felt was euphoria, jubilant when I heard the news. I nearly pissed myself. This meant I could finally go home to Zimbabwe. Rhodes. “The house of hunger” would flash on the screen with subtitles. It will go to video, to the movie theatre, around the world, America. But I would still wake up and hear, “Fight back, I dare you. Strike while the iron is hot. Don’t, don’t let me raise my voice again.” When it came down to it I was chicken, scared shitless I’d end up like him. Working as a mortuary attendant, seeing all that death around me day in and day out, getting brainwashed by the sharp odours of the chemicals and getting attuned to seeing bodies that were wrecked, stabbed to death, bloody or without limbs, just a torso lying there without a head. I could never imagine getting used to the sight of so much blood and my dad, sobering up, as he slopped it up with a mop and disinfectant. I called the mortuary ‘The house of horrors’. You can guess why I called my book ‘The house of hunger’. Hunger for knowledge sent me packing.
You want to pick my brain. So how I came up with the title ‘Mindblast’ was like this. If you want me to tell you it came to me in a vision or a dream then I’ll tell you it came to me in a vision or a dream. I’m just that kind of guy. I go with the flow. They, the establishment, the system published ‘The cemetery of the mind’ after my death. Africa’s enfant terrible they call me. The international headlines were screaming.
I threw a plate at a chandelier. They called me mad for doing that. They were going to give me some sort of award that night at some poncy do, some sort of prize and I failed to make a grand, flashy entrance that befitted the occasion (did I look like a bum, I don’t know). I failed to make an erudite speech. I failed to attend a few classes, an exam at the prestigious New College, Oxford and they thought I was mad. They wanted me to go for voluntary psychiatric treatment so I said no, no, no, you bastards can’t catch me with that trick and attach me with labels, distract me from the truth of the situation. Those priviledged Whiteys were all fools thinking they could give this anarchist – me – breathing space. They were all being very ridiculous. No lunatic asylum for me, thank you. London. The first time I saw snow. London. The first time I slept with a girl. London. The first time I blacked out after an all night drinking binge. London. I went to my first grown up party. London. It was my first everything of real life, not the street life of a thug or a gangster.
To Dambudzo Marechera with love and squalor
I felt people in general did not understand me. Someone somewhere one day will say what became of this madman. I will answer. Growing up in a circus where every living thing is a clown, behaves like a clown, talks disturbingly like a clown in a chain of voices, behaves like one (not by pulling a rabbit out of a top hat or sawing a pretty woman in half, that’s magician’s work) and then this clown would expect you to respond there clowning about as any rational human being would as if it was normal. It will make any one go mad. When you live in the gutter, go to sleep with nothing to eat, when you go to bed hungry. No one will remember me; my celebrity. I hear the system say, “His ideas were a thing of beauty, what wonders to behold. What became of this futurist?” Why did he falter in his quest for the glittering prize to claim life, to sustain it, some sort of balance, equilibrium?
Why I drank so much
Now they ask these questions when I am in a glorified tug-of-war between becoming worm food and a Saviour. I miss writing. This gnaws at me. I am sincere when I say that. If I didn’t venture into the unknown, if I didn’t write down the facts of the matter, of what everyone was thinking at the exact same time ‘what is the matter with him meaning with you’ then so much would have been lost. ‘What a waste,’ they, the system, the establishment said when they buried me but I was half-dead long ago. “You’re a savage, buddy. You’re a savage when it comes to anything in your life. You bite your teeth into it and you don’t let go.” Someone (maybe it was this buddy of mine that I met at Oxford who didn’t want me tell anyone that we knew each other or God forbid that we were ‘friends’, that we knew each other intimately) told me who I met in London at the college long ago. “You drink as if it’s your last day on earth and you’re going to die of thirst in heaven or hell.” “Where do you think I’m going to?” I asked him curiously feeling slightly lightheaded all of a sudden.
Rebel with a cause
“Buddy, you sure as sure aren’t going to heaven when you are so hell-bent on sabotaging your relationships with your professors here. You’re self-destructing all over the place.” You see I did find a buddy eventually. I wasn’t a complete pariah. I nicknamed him Buddy. He nicknamed me Buddy. On and off we were inseparable. He knew me when he had options; when it benefited him and that suited me just fine. I was a bum. Who knew? He was a real live wire that guy. I met him at Oxford. He loved that Earl Grey and cucumber sandwiches sliced just so tea time. He even had a tea cosy in his rooms. He would enjoy inviting me round for these sessions. It was important to him to keep up with the rest of them, those priviledged Whiteys at this prestigious college, to impress them (the alumni) with his knowledge to the brink that his conversation with a girl, any girl that he was trying to sweep off her feet was torture. I tried to give him advice but he wouldn’t take it. He wouldn’t listen to me. Couldn’t believe a drunk like me had more luck with the ladies than him with my love poetry and sonnets.
Why I slept on park benches
I was a free man. I had no mother tongue, no family, no close friends, no clothes, no extra pair of jeans and I imagined I had no emotional baggage. I was just a bum. When I was young I grew up fast but I wasn’t free. I was a quick learner, an outsider; a loner. School wasn’t hard for me at the mission but the bullies, Whiteys with their fangs spitting insults into my face and depriving me of any dignity, pinning my hand behind my back made my life hell. I held my breath (I had this technique which I did when they pounced on me, the outsider) and saw the blisters on my mother’s heels when she took her shoes off. They were too small for her feet. I just stood there grinning like the Cheshire cat. If looks could kill, they say. But I had to bear it. I had to bear a lot of things I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to learn how to kill someone with my bare hands. I just was not that kind of guy. I was sensitive and even that like my writing was open to interpretation by anyone who thought they could read into my behaviour even though they couldn’t relate to a poet and a writer coming from a Third World country. They found poverty exciting. The violence, abuse and brutality of where I came from invigorating because it was something unlearned for them, unheard of in their society, fresh, novel and because of that I became a critical success. They were not conscious of it as they sat and ate their meals in front of their television sets with their little blonde-haired or dark-haired cherubs, their spoilt little brats and then the system began to throw those words around again. Those most hated words. Some said I was mad and others called me a genius. I really feel I don’t deserve them. I might have been a tad eccentric maybe in my ways. Schizophrenic was harder to grasp. I was productive. I was writing. I was a productive bum.
I just was madly into English sonnets and poets and when I got to New College, Oxford, London I discovered I was just as much in love with booze be it whisky or claret. I wasn’t a free man until I wrote to my heart’s content my heart’s desire. Maybe suffering from coming from a household where abuse was rife, left, right and centre and the impact of that, of going from an anxious child, a worrier who wet the bed to a boozy writer I wouldn’t be surprised if God makes me an angel in my next life. Was it the alcohol that made him tick, made him a genius who knew how to twirl and manipulate words to hustle us, I hear the system asks? It makes me feel that I was a part of the scenery growing up just to hear that, just part of the lush, green English countryside, that I have finally escaped from some deserted landscape of a slum wilderness, even the cuts on my wrists have healed.
The end is in sight
In time they will fade and leave scars behind like my love poems. My destiny has always been that to write and write and write and in death hopefully to leave a legacy of sorts. Perhaps I died too young, drank too much, didn’t pour enough energy into beastly exercise, enough love into the relationships I had with others, with beautiful girls who fell first in love with my poetry and then with me.
I am too thin because of a poor diet. I want to say to my unborn children dreams kill. Be careful what you wish for because wishes have this cruel habit of coming true when you least expect it. What I am trying to say is I see all these academics praising me instead of tearing me to pieces respectfully. You see I was thinking that would be a more suitable fit for me. I was set up to fail right from the start and I thought that my words would be lost forever in translations.