Short Story: And Yet I Am Alive

Lazarus Mukwapatira
They say each one of us has a story to tell but most people are often too busy to listen. Like this
warm, summer evening. I sat at my favorite spot on the veranda staring into the Zimbabwean
sunset. I had no one to tell my story. There was just the lonely dove perched on the branch near her
nest. Each day, same time, she homed onto that very branch. I used to wonder what her story was.
Perhaps she quietly wondered what my story was too? Well…

I was born in a shrine. It was our home. Somewhere in Zimbabwe. Way back in the year 2000. By year
2020 I had grown into a tall young adult. My twenty years of life had been quite hectic. It was not my
fault really. Ok, it was mainly my fault. That was just who I was. At first, like any other infant, my life
revolved around three things; mother, food, and toy, in that order. As for my father, I was pretty
convinced he was at my mother’s mercy as I was. After all, we all depended on her cooking. I never
went far from the courtyard but I played to exhaustion, running around with the other infants. Each
day I would wake up bowling, demanding tea and bread. After that, it was my toy airplane I turned
to. After all, did I not see airplanes fly past overhead? I did. I would fire my mother with the same
questions over and over again. She would get irate but would soon relent then go on firing my
imagination. Of course, people flew in airplanes, they came from somewhere, and of course, they
went places beyond our shrine home.

The only thing which would dampen my spirits is that my father had no appetite for airplanes. In
fact, he always admonished my mother for making me toy airplanes and making my dream. He
personally made a small hoe and gave it to me as a toy. He was an accomplished blacksmith while
my mother was a talented basket weaver. A hoe! A hoe would keep me looking down and I would
never notice the airplanes. He said it. Do you think I would not remember him saying so since I was an
infant? Anyhow, he did say that. Not just that. He also said I had this stubborn streak from my
mother’s side and that curiosity would get me into trouble one day. This takes us to the next
phase of my life.

Enter primary school years. Not in the usual sense. I never attended primary school. No one at the
shrine taught me anything except bits from my mother which she taught me behind closed doors yet
I went through the whole curriculum. How come? Remember I said as infants we never went far
from our mothers’ doors. However as we grew more independent, we began to venture a bit farther
away. My father often went away from the shrine to sell his metal craft. I had to stay behind
working either in the maize field or in his makeshift workshop. Saturdays were worship days at the
krawa. Most boys of my age never ventured far. The girls are even worse. They were stuck by the
cooking huts. The din of a very busy life outside the shrine always made me wonder what life was
like outside the shrine. Cars hooting, engines roaring, music blaring occasionally. However, one-morning

curiosity got the better of me and I ventured to the shrine fence what did I see? Boys
and girls in their neat uniforms carrying backpacks off somewhere. I began to take occasional
sneaks to the fence whenever I could. One day, a certain young girl noticed me and dared approach
me. She fired questions whose answers I had never thought of before. Why shrine children did not
attend school, what I would like to become when I grew up if I read the Bible. School? Bible? My
father used to speak of a Bible but said it was like molded leftover mealie-meal pulp. Useless. No
longer needed. But here was this girl telling me something else. A whole different world was opening
out to me. I just had to ask that question. Did she know if there were really people who fly in
airplanes and where they went? Yes, of …., so mother was not just pulling my leg! Thus began my
secret academic education. Hectic life. Sneaking, smuggling books, stationery and homework into

and out of the shrine. How I got registered for and set for primary school leaving exams is another
story for another day.

Entering teenage came with the initiation ceremony. One could now also go out of the shrine to sell
wares and bring home food and other necessities at decreed times of the day. Possessing electronic
gadgets and getting an academic education were taboo. As for me, my appetite was already wetted.
I found a way around that hurdle. I came up with a ruse. You see, in the shrine, modern medicine
was strictly forbidden. Especially immunization. Many of my childhood friends had passed away
having suffered terribly from measles. There were also quite a number who got afflicted by polio.
My little sister and I had survived by my mother’s ingenuity. She had a ‘dark’ secret as did some of
her friends. I shall not speak. But I made a vow to change the status quo one day. At around sixteen,
I began to act kind of weird. Laughing at the rocks and so on.

Every time an airplane passed
overheard I would jump, scream and wave goodbye. Soon, I was dragged to the Rabahuma (High
Priest) who concluded that I had been bewitched. My father blamed my mother for my airplane
obsession and eventual “lunacy”. Things were working my way. Soon I had dreadlocks and was going
in and out of the shrine at will. The adage that you can fool some people sometimes but you cannot
fool all the people all the time holds true. All the private teachers that I visited saw through me and
enjoyed my antics. They gave me a nickname. Mad Professor. I managed to sit for my Advanced
levels in hard sciences. The mad boy act also meant that I could enter the shrine with a cell phone
hidden on me in silent mode without being detected. This is how I managed to be up to date with
world events. In December of the year 2019, news of a deadly pandemic broke out.

This was covid-19. I
managed to get the news to filter into the shrine. The Rabahuma called for a special meeting. He
said,’’ No one in the shrine must worry about social distancing. Although we all lived in cramped
conditions, sharing one “holy” well for the community, the epidemic was prophesied long ago in
1959 and will not harm anyone in the shrine.” Beginning of May of 2020, still, no vaccine or
therapeutic drug was available and the death toll was rising exponentially in some communities
throughout the world. Our country was also in danger of going the same way.

One evening of that May my mother surprised me completely. She came into my hut and said,
“Isiah, you have to do something. For years I have pleaded with your father to embrace modern
medicine but he will not listen. He keeps insisting that his religion’s doctrine dates back years in his
family and those who survive pandemics do so by God’s benevolence only. He will not leave this
shrine. I cannot abandon him now. He is too old to be by himself but surely we will be wiped out by
this covid-19 if things don’t change in this shrine. Call someone on your phone and alert them about
our living conditions so that they can come and help us.”
How on earth had she… but I said, “You know I am a mad man and I don’t have a cellphone.”
My mother laughed loud and long and clapped her hands in the way women do in our tradition
when they are laughing at a joke. ’’Isaiah,” she asked, “Are you going to keep up that pretense at the
School of Aviation?” Now I was shocked. How on earth did she know about this one? She continued,
“Either you make that call or no breakfast tomorrow. Goodnight.”

By six the next morning the COVID-19 task force was at the shrine in full force. The leader of the
task force started by thanking a caller who had called him on the toll-free number. He then explained
the need to improve hygiene and enforce social distancing. The Rabahuma stood his ground about
prophesy and talked of freedom of worship…
“Grandpa, aren’t you afraid all alone out here on the veranda?” asked my nephew.
“Lord! Did I knock off? It isn’t daylight yet?” I asked.

“Old man, it will be dawn soon but not yet”. We sat there quietly, looking at the stars. A red fuselage
light made its way across the night sky.
“Grandpa, during your pilot days, did you fly at night?“ asked the young man.
I said, “That is a very long story, young man.”
“I can wait,” he answered.
So we sat there quietly again, waiting for dawn. And did I see her, the dove, look at me and nod her
head? Maybe it was just my tired old eyes.

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