A bus hoots as it turns from the Mutare-Masvingo highway and heads towards the bus terminus at Nyika Growth Point at full speed, raising a cloud of dust.
As the bus nears the terminus, food and airtime vendors position themselves to pick strategic points to sell their wares to passengers travelling on the bus.
Among the crowd is a young boy of primary school-going age. As the bus gets closer, 11-year- old Simbarashe Chapinda makes signals directing the bus driver where to park.
He raises his hand, directing the driver to stop, and the driver, a man old enough to be the boy’s grandfather, obliges.
“Mutare, Mutare, Mutare,” the boy shouts with authority, while clinging onto the door of the bus.
The young boy is a bundle of energy. Besides controlling passengers queues, he also assists with loading luggage onto the bus and onto the bus roof carrier.
It is apparent that he has good relations with fellow touts, drivers, conductors and the vendors operating from the busy terminus.
Simbarashe quit school when he was in Grade 2 and has been a tout for two years, having started the trade when he was only nine.
He says he was driven into touting when it dawned on him that he had to find alternative means to survive after enduring abuse at the hands of his stepmother.
Simbarashe comes from Mupakwa area near Silveira Mission in Bikita. His biological mother died when he was a baby and he does not remember ever seeing her. He has never met his mother’s relatives.
“I would love to be in school but I was abused and denied food, so I had to move away from home to fend for myself,” Simbarashe said. “I was told that my mother died when I was very young. I hear that I only had two teeth when she died.
“It’s a difficult job (touting) but at least I make enough money to feed myself every day as well as make some savings which I give to my grandmother, who is looking after two other young children in Bengura.”
Simbarashe said on all the occasions that he has gone home, he has been physically and emotionally abused, resulting in him concluding that life at the growth point is far more pleasant than being at home, despite having to sleep in a doorless or windowless disused building.
He says he loves his father very much but believes he was “bewitched” by his stepmother, so that he won’t take any action when she abuses him.
“I love my father and he sometimes comes here. When he comes, I even give him some money,” says Simbarashe.
“But I have told him that he was bewitched by my stepmother and that is why he fails to protect me against abuse. Many other people believe that as well.
“When I was being abused he would do nothing about it. On most occasions I would be sent to do some chores and in my absence they would cook food and everyone would eat but nothing would be left for me.”
Despite his tender age, Simbarashe can be seen in bars and nightclubs at Nyika Growth Point, where he is popular with patrons and ladies of the night alike.
He is a runner for some patrons and sometimes acts as a match-maker and go-between for patrons and sex workers.
“He is a likeable character and actually he has more money than some of the guys who call themselves gentlemen here,” said a lady of the night, who called herself Miriam.