Mapisaunga had stopped listening to his stomach. The moment demanded the patience of an intellectual destitute. The long winding queue had virtually disintegrated, but not dispersed. It had merely transformed into a crowd of people whose predicament was not very different from Mapisaunga’s. Most of them were civil servants waiting to withdraw their monthly salaries. It was like being caught in a gigantic spider’s web because once one joined the crowd, one would not leave until the closure of the business.
Standing at the lower slope of the pavement, he felt like he was drowning in a very deep well with all those human bodies sitting on him. The Central Bank had raised daily maximum withdrawals by one thousand percent and as if the teller machines were overwhelmed by the projected task, they had temporarily fallen out of service.
The cash crisis had become every formally employed worker’s daily nightmare. Either there was no cash, or the machines were offline or the banking staff was afflicted by such strange tiredness that it would take one teller nearly one hour to serve a single client.
Yes, the flames raging in Mapisa’s stomach had temporarily subsided, but nothing would cleanse his head of Runako’s ghost, which lingered in his thoughts like a disembodied shadow. She was not dead, but he needed to treat her as such in order to recover from the blow she had dealt him.
He had paid the bride price in full. Runako’s parents and relatives had unanimously endorsed the formalisation of the young lovebirds’ marriage in court. But Runako’s cousin who worked in London had “better” plans for her. She had bought her an air ticket to London, leaving Mapisa wallowing in the ashes of a stillborn relationship.
Whenever he thought of the car he had sold to raise the bride price, the smell of Runako’s blood assaulted his nostrils. He had murdered her countless times in his dreams.
Now life had ceased to be difficult for him; it had become impossible. Every day had an overdose of insurmountable problems, yet none of his daily problems was strong enough to rinse his heart of Runako’s shadow. Nothing sweet or sour would possibly disinfect his mind of the memory of her.
Runako and Mapisa had honeymooned in his dreams, till his pillow could no longer accommodate such madness, and as he realised that Runako was indeed lost forever; his dreams of her ceased to be romantic. Then he would strangle her, stab her, or gas her in his dreams and curse at the bedroom walls when he emerged with a jerk from each dream.
A stab in the ribs awakened Mapisa from his reverie. Beside him stood a slender, young woman who seemed to be in a hurry to take him somewhere.
“I should be standing right in front of you. Nature’s call had forced me to leave the queue,” she said with an apologetic smile on her face.
“You are free to reclaim your position, but there is no more queue,” Mapisa said, his thoughts of Runako temporarily receding from his mind.
As they continued their conversation, he thought he could hear an echo of a younger voice behind every word she spoke. He wondered where he had heard that voice. Her face was elegantly composed, he had observed, the most striking feature on it being a pair of baby eyes that gave her a perennial smiling expression.
Their conversation was interrupted by Mapisa’s workmate, who had just joined the crowd.
“Takuranashe Mapisaunga, soldiering on as usual,” the man said.
“Dambanashe Mbiri, the proverbial black survivor,” Mapisa responded with feigned exuberance.
The two young men chatted for a short while before Damba left.
The young woman made a half turn to look at Mapisa once more.
“My uncle used to call you National Foods because of your prominent childhood tummy,” she said smiling shyly. This time no distant echo accompanied her voice.
“Mwedzi!” he exclaimed and a few faces in front of them turned to look at him. “You used to cry when I jokingly called you my wife.”
“If you do that again I would cry even more loudly,” she threatened, an involuntary shyness making her smile seductive.
Mwedzi should have been four years younger than Mapisa. Both had been raised in the dust of Munyoro Village in Chief Zimunya’s area, but they had not met for more than a decade now. He was now a high school teacher, while she had just completed her diploma in Information technology.
“So where are you staying in town?” he asked.
“I am staying with Uncle Sanganai in Yeovil.”
“I wish him to have another look at my belly,” he said, stroking his tummy.
“What happened to it?” asked Mwedzi.
“Does anyone have a belly anymore?”
“Some have them. If you look around, you will see them,” she said matter of factly.
“But not in our daily queues,” he contended.
Mwedzi and Mapisa exchanged notes about the lives they were living in. Each one’s life was nothing short of a daily fiasco. He learnt something about Mwedzi which he had never imagined. Her mother had died when she was hardly two years old and her father had left for South Africa and never returned. That explained why she had grown up in the custody of Uncle Sanganai and Aunt Ruramai.
The urge to tell her about Runako was overwhelming, but a voice deep inside him restrained him. Something stronger than the pain of loss, more formidable than a childhood fantasy had suddenly taken possession of him. His mind, heart and soul unanimously urged him to express it, but his self-restraint reigned supreme. Yes, he loved her. He had loved her when she was barely ten years old, but it was not yet time to say it. Her manner seemed to betray an interest in him. He would ask for her contact details before they parted.
The teller machines started working at 1530hrs, closing time. Assured of their overtime allowances, the bank tellers shook off their fatigue and worked avidly to clear the banking hall of the enormous crowd. Mwedzi and Mapisa had spent the whole day standing, sitting on the pavement and standing again. They had exhausted everything worth talking about except such issues that touched their hearts emotionally. They were served after 1900hrs.
“I’m staying with a friend in Chikanga, so we may go on foot together if you don’t mind, then we will part at your uncle’s place,” Mapisa suggested as they left the banking hall. Mwedzi uttered her consent with relief as she had no surplus coin to pay for a commuter ride.
So they walked side by side towards Yeovil, swimming in the quasi darkness of the dimly lit streets. They talked about their plans for the following day. Both still had cash trapped in their bank accounts, so they would meet again at the banking hall the following day.
Although their muscles raged with cramps, the walk to Yeovil had not seemed so long.
“I will see you tomorrow,” he said as they stopped in front of Uncle Sanganai’s precast walled house. Then they were suddenly in each other’s arms and the entire universe had shrunk to the size of the spot where they stood, lost in the delight of having found each other without much effort. Both were aware of the ropes that had started binding them together since they had started the conversation in the queue.
“I love you Mwedzi. You are the new life I have waited for since my fortunes began to dwindle.”
“My heart echoes the same,” Mwedzi said, her voice trembling.
Runako’s shadow vanished from Mapisa’s thoughts. There was a sudden surge of energy in his body, despite him not having eaten anything for the past eighteen hours.
They finally let go of each other and he said, “Tomorrow it is then.”
“You are not going anywhere Mapisa,” Mwedzi said, “You are going to be my uncle’s guest tonight.” Her thumb was on the alarm button as she spoke and finally, she pressed the button.
The gate opened before them and Mapisa’s lungs filled with the freshness of a whole new life as he followed her into Uncle Sanganai’s yard.
This is purely a work of fiction written by Nhamo Muchagumisa, poet and an acclaimed essayist.