EACH time my uncle visited, I always had a nervous breakdown. Uncle Philip was not an easy person to get along with. Ten minutes with him was a lifetime. Other people found him easy going and fun as he was always cracking jokes. Sometimes, he was always the first to laugh at his own jokes. But I knew him better. A lifetime in the rural areas made him a bitter and crass character.
He would stay with us for two or three days at a time and this depressed me a lot. He would remind me that were it not for him, I would still be climbing mountains and herding goats and cattle deep in the woodlands of Wedza.
At the start of each new agricultural season, he made his sojourn to town. He would buy seed packs and chemicals in preparation of the new farming season. On this occasion I noticed that he had a deep scar that ran down the left side of his cheek. Someone must have taken one of his jokes with a pinch of salt and the scar was the reward.
We were all crowded in the kitchen that evening except for Mai VaMaidei. She was cooking in the open fire outside. All my three children were crowded around me. Uncle Philip looked at us and started shaking his head in disgust.
“There is no space here. Your house is too small,” he said. His eyes were sweeping over our frugal belongings.
“This is no life for children. You should come and live in the rural areas,” he said.
I was not in the mood for arguments, but out of politeness I said,” There are no industries in the rural areas.”
“What do you need industries for in the rural areas?” He said. I could see that he was getting excited. I even knew what was coming next.
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“The land is enough to sustain you better if you work on it,” he said.
“Look at me,” he was gesturing, his arms pointing in all directions. “I am doing well, better than you guys living in the city,” he said. He was too full of himself. He started laughing. I could see all his teeth; they were brownish for lack of brushing. He laughed uproariously.
“All the sewage flowing in the streets is not good for your health,” said Uncle Philip.
And sure enough, there was raw sewage flowing on our street. As soon as one stepped outside, the putrid smell of raw sewage would almost knock you out. At times we had to leap over the raw sewage. Every morning I had to help my children cross to the other side of the street to avoid stepping on the human waste. It was even worse when the garbage went for days uncollected.
Life was not good in the ghetto. The city fathers never attended to our problems in time. Each time I saw this decay around me, it was a reminder of the hopelessness of the situation. The struggle was real.
By the time Mai VaMaidei had finished cooking, I was no longer hungry.
“I am going to the shops. I will not take much time,” I said.
”I will come with you,” said Uncle Philip, boisterously rising up and following me. I was in trouble and it seemed there was no option. We went to Zororo Bar in silence. There was too much noise in the bar. Fridays were always like that, the noise was atrocious and this often led to scuffles and fights would often break out. As soon as we entered the bar, I observed carefully Uncle Philip. His face had brightened up with excitement.
I headed for our usual corner. I was hoping that I would see Fatso. , Rasta or Baba VaTata. Neither was present yet. Uncle Philip was in tow behind me. And then I saw Comrade Mobilizer as he made his way towards us. He was in crutches having lost one of his legs in battle during the war of Independence.
“I have been looking for you guys. Where is Baba VaTata?” he asked. He was always looking for Baba VaTata who never failed to buy him a pint or quart of beer.
As his eyes suddenly met Uncle Philip, I saw Comrade Mobilizer jump backwards in surprise or revulsion.
“It’s you?” he said pointing an accusing finger at Uncle Philip. The latter looked dumbfounded. For a brief moment I saw the confused look first and then fear in his face. Then Uncle Philip started to walk away fast.
“That man is a sellout. He sold us to the enemy during the war,” said Comrade Mobilizer. He was angry. I was surprised and confused. Things were happening too fast. “What do you mean?” I said, but Comrade Mobilizer walked away in anger.
I ran after Uncle Philip. When I arrived back home, he had already packed his bags and was gone. I was quite sure I had seen the last of him.
“What happened?” said Mai VaMaidei. I shrugged my shoulders. It seems there were too many skeletons in the cupboard.
Many years ago, when I was living in the village, there were strange rumours which were whispered around. I was a little boy then. People in the village said that Uncle Philip had abandoned the war under mysterious circumstances. Now I had the half-truth, Uncle Philip was not only a deserter but a sell-out.
The truth cannot be hidden forever. One day I will find out the whole truth.
- Onie Ndoro is a an IELTS tutor, ghostwriter and storyteller. For feedback: Twitter@Onie90396982/email:[email protected]