I woke up to a lot of noise outside. I kept my eyes shut although I was quite alert. I did not move from the bed. In the ghetto, you don’t wake up to the sound of birds chirruping or piping.
One wakes up to the grinding poverty and daily struggles of life. At the worst, the raw sewage flowing in the streets emitting horrible suffocating smells. After some time, you learn to live with the putrid smell of raw sewage and rotting vegetables.
I had already got accustomed to certain sounds. I normally woke up after Mudhara Pinjisi had made his morning round. He sold home-made floor polish. His voice was always pitched high shouting, “Cobra! Cobra! Cobra!”
He moved from street to street on his old rickety bicycle. If it happened that he caught you outside in your yard, he would try to convince you to buy his ” tried and tested” floor polish.
Most of the women in the streets would duck or stay indoors until he had passed by.
There was also Sekuru Mabhodhoro who collected empty beverage bottles in exchange for sweets. He was very popular with the children. He had a deep voice that carried far. “For only a bottle, come and get a handful of sweets!”
After that, there would be other sounds from trucks that delivered bread. The mini buses which transported workers and schoolchildren would make a great deal of noise, hooting to attract passengers.
The conductors, commonly known as mahwindi would hang precariously on the doors of the moving kombis, whistling and touting for passengers.
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The noise was outrageous.
And at times, I would slide the dirty curtain sideways and peep through the cracked bedroom window. The market women would be carrying heavy loads balancing delicately on their heads going to the market. Mostly they moved in pairs chattering and gossiping together, adding to the confusion of the early morning hours.
At last, long after Mudhara Pinjisi had passed by, I blinked. I could hear Mai Maidei in the next room preparing the children’s food before they left for school. After that she would take a quick bath and rush to the market to hawk her goods which included vegetables. Of late, she had also started selling children's secondhand clothes.
They sold like hot cakes on good days.
I was always the last to leave the house especially when I was on night shift at work. I finally got up and took slow deliberate steps towards the kitchen which we also used as a sitting room. All my children were crowded at the small old kitchen table and they were taking hot spoonful of the thick porridge which had been liberally laced with peanut butter. Marita and Marwadzo were trying to blow it cold as it was still hot.
“Baba, can you buy bread for us today. We also need eggs,” said Maidei. I kept my peace for a few seconds.
“One loaf is not enough,” she continued.
“Where are your manners? How many times have I said that you should greet first before you say anything else,?" I said, my anger slowly rising although I was trying to suppress it.
“Good morning dad,” they all said.
“Good morning my children,” I said.
"We don’t have enough money to buy more bread,” I said. “You are fortunate enough that we are sending you to school. Work hard so that you will have a bright future,” I said.
And then Mai Maidei entered.
“Why are you telling them all this?” she asked.
“We are breaking our backs so that they can have food and better education than us.” I was annoyed.
“They are still children,” she said.
“Of course, but they must know that we are sweating to make ends meet.
"In your case, you spend the whole day hawking at the market under the scorching sun. It’s not a joke.”
I was getting furious. They were getting three meals a day which cannot be said for many families these days.
By now they had finished their porridge.
“Take your satchels or you will be late for school,” said their mother.
She escorted them outside and came back almost immediately.
“Maidei has no pen,” she said.
I gave her a dollar. “She can buy the pen on her way to school.” I frowned.
That was my last dollar. The month was still halfway to the end. My salary was already finished. For the next two weeks, the family had to depend on the money earned by Mai Maidei from hawking at the market.
I was seriously pondering on leaving my current work. I could not continue like this.
Several times I asked myself; Where had I made the wrong turn? Somehow, many people were in this jeopardy. It was not really comforting. The wrong turn led to nowhere except pain, humiliation and poverty.
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