Mrs Chinesimba watched as her husband breaks the watermelon. The gaiety man held his favourite fruit with both hands and bumped it three times against the hard ground until an even crack ran around the turgid ball. He forced his thumbs into the crack, splitting the juicy melon into two appetising slices and began to feast on it, tearing the delicious flesh with the tips of his fingers, and loading the pieces into his mouth.
Suddenly another man like Chinesimba – his very replica – appeared on his side, sitting on an identical stool and eating an identical watermelon. Before she could ask what was happening, two other Chinesimbas joined their brothers, followed by another two and yet another two, until the whole yard was a sea of identical men, enjoying watermelon flesh. When the treat was finished, the men started coughing in one mighty voice and then retched. Mrs Chinesimba screamed herself awake and she could hear footsteps retreating from her bed, running towards the closed bedroom door as she awakened.
The coughing and retching were how her husband’s death agony had begun. He had been bedridden for two months, coughing violently and retching. The mess that crept back from his stomach in convulsive reverse peristalsis was always laced with pinkish watermelon flesh. What a strange illness, what a bewildering sight! Why would the incessant vomiting not cleanse his stomach? He had stopped eating watermelons, so what really was happening?
Mrs Chinesimba and her husband had had a quarrel before he succumbed to the watermelon disease. He had banished his pleasure-chasing daughter from home.
“How could a decent girl elope to five different men, accusing each of having made her pregnant? She has to leave my home right away and go where she pleases,” Chinesimba had declared.
“Where can she go? All the men have denied responsibility. Do you think..?” the wife had protested.
“Think what? Who does not think, except Saliwe?” Chinesimba had interrupted.
“Give Saliwe another chance. I beg you, my husband. Give…”
“Another chance, for another scandal?! This time it will be ten men. No, I will not have her under my roof anymore.”
Saliwe took refuge with her aunt. Mrs Chinesimba was not amused with the banishment of her daughter. Whenever Chinesimba was away, as he worked in the city, she would readmit her into the family, only to send her away when his return was imminent. Whenever he returns home, she would beg him to reverse his unfatherly decision, but Chinesimba was as firm as a brick wall.
“You are not the first to have a daughter of such a character, neither are you going to be the last,” she would say.
“Saliwe will serve as an example to Spiwe, Susan, Tatenda and Chioneso. They must know that I have no space for such nonsense under my roof,” Chinesimba would conclude such arguments.
Then a plan hatched in Mrs Chinesimba’s heart, flourishing like a flame, licking at dry straws until her heart was ablaze with the desire to find a traditional way to tame her husband. Mrs Gonhi was an expert at taming troublesome hubbies. Once Mrs Chinesimba had made up her mind, she did not waste time. She visited the woman whom she thought would level the playground between her husband and her.
The prescription Gonhi gave was simple. Only one dose was enough to melt away the hardness of Chinesimba’s heart. All that Mrs Chinesimba would have to do was to fill a hypodermic syringe with the liquid extracted from Gonhi’s roots and inject it into a watermelon.
Mrs Chinesimba had carried out the herbalist’s instructions to the smallest detail, but the result was not what Gonhi had promised. Chinesimba’s soul had evacuated his body after a traumatic battle with a strange illness.
The presence of the watermelon flesh in Chinesimba’s vomit had always made his wife want to confess, but the courage eluded her as soon as the words touched the tip of her tongue. The agony of her secret tortured her day and night.
When Chinesimba’s soul finally evaporated from his emaciated body, the sight of his coffin being lowered into his grave was not a dreadful sight to his wife. The sight of the stone lid used to seal the deeper section of of the grave did not send chills down her spine. Stone lids were commonplace at burials. The shovel fulls of earth men threw into the grave did not ruffle her nerves at all. It was the stones that were thrown into the filling pit that turned her nerves into a network of live wires. The rocks somehow looked like pods of green watermelons in her tearful eyes. The men framed the grave with huge flat surface rocks and piled stones within the frame until she could see a platform of watermelon pods. Her legs finally gave way to the weight of her body and she collapsed in a faint.
When she regained her consciousness, she was lying in the shadow of a musasa tree that stood adjacent to her kitchen hut. Her breathing was spasmodic and her chest was a blast furnace. The fire in her chest gradually subsided and a strange coolness sat in her chest. They led her into the kitchen and mourners poured into the shelter to commiserate with her. She had to endure the ordeal of describing how her husband had fallen ill and how his health had continued to deteriorate till he gave his last breath.
After the funeral, the watermelons would not leave her dreams. The watermelon dreams wasted her body, and she knew that the entire village was talking about her condition. Saliwe had returned home, but that did not bring any comfort to her mom, neither did the arrival of her baby. Mrs Gonhi packed her belongings and left the village for an unknown destination.
In the next farming season, Mrs Chinesimba did not plant any watermelons, but the seeds scattered from the previous season germinated just the same. Nothing aggravated her more than the sight of the Cucurbitaceae flower. As the watermelons ripened, her health deteriorated drastically. Her watermelon dreams became more frequent, but nothing affected her psych more than her husband’s recent nocturnal visit in which he was accompanied by a multitude of other Chinesimbas, eating watermelons.
Whenever she walked alone, she would suddenly break into a run, shouting unintelligibly like a lunatic. She began to shun the company of other women.
One morning, Saliwe woke up to see her mother perched on the roof of her kitchen. She wondered how her mother had got up there without a ladder. Horrified, she said nothing to her mother but hastened to alert the neighbours and within half an hour the place was flooded with onlookers. The neighbour had brought a ladder, but Mrs Chinesimba would not even look at it.
“Please MaSaliwe, come down,” one neighbour entreated her.
“First clear my yard of all those watermelons,” she answered.
“What is the matter, Mrs Chinesimba?” another neighbour asked.
“I see an ocean of watermelons. Please, don’t throw them at me! Oh please stop it! Stop it!” The neighbours were flabbergasted.
Before the neighbours could do anything, she came down, rolling from the roof, breaking her neck as the solid ground received her body. She coughed thrice as her body convulsed, and then she folded her legs and breathed her last.
It mystified the neighbours.