Wednesday, March 2, 2011

For Mzu...

This story has no real title yet but it is called for Mzu because it is inspired by one of my amazing big sisters called Mzu. She is an amazing human being who has made me laugh on facebook more times than I can recall. In fact, Sis Mzu is my go to big sister when I need some comic relief. She has a huge heart and that rare gift of being able to find humor in the simplest of things. This and the fact that I treasure her wise words and her encouragement made it the most natural thing to write a story with her in mind. My friends, do keep in mind that this is fiction! Pure fiction, even though those who know us may have seen me call her “Pumpkin!” This story is not her biography. She was the inspiration to it. So Sis Mzu here is your story, with tons of love!!! I really appreciate you!

For Mzu
There is something exquisite and poignantly beautiful about a father openly lavishing affection on his daughter. It is something magical to observe. It is a sacred thing that one only dares to look at in awe, but from a distance. Ntombi was her father’s world. The sun rose and set with her in his eyes. She was the fourth daughter and last child of her parents, who had been born when they least expected her. Her mother had been told that she could no longer have any more children after the third cesarean section and had had her tubes tied. Ntombi was a huge surprise, an unexpected a gift.
On this particular occasion, Seka Ntombi stood in the front door way looking out onto the gold tinged evening. The sun was setting, hurtling quickly towards the horizon, turning from bright yellow to a deep orange, where it would dissolve like an egg yolk, staining the fluffy clouds with its fiery hue. The air was perfumed with the warm musky scent of damp earth and the isolated chirping of an overzealous cricket added to the magical quality of the evening. There was a stillness that even the commuters jumping out of kombies and whistling as they hurried home with newspapers under their arms and a loaf of bread in a Lobel’s plastic carrier bag could not disrupt. There, just outside the gate, to the right of the house, sat Ntombi on top of an ochre-red termite mound.
Seka Ntombi looked on with tenderness in his eyes and a piercing anguish twisting his heart.
“She is beautiful. Like my mother.”
Ntombi was trying desperately to mould small farm animals from the rain soaked red soil of the mound. To her frustration, the animals kept falling apart. She sighed as she disgustedly hurled the rear end of a red pig across the street.
“Nxa!” She muttered: “Wrong soil”. She sucked her breath over her teeth for good measure, eliciting a protracted hissing sound.
Seka Ntombi observed his daughter, and a deep longing to protect her blanketed him. His desire to see her always happy nudged him forcefully and he found himself swearing an oath:
“Before my dead father and mother, Ntombi I will protect you at all cost. I will even kill for you if I have to. Let no one cause you suffering in my life time, because I will cause him the worst kind of sorrow. Let no one cause you suffering after my death because in his sleep, I will be his worst nightmare. I have spoken.”
Little did Seka Ntombi know that the day would come when he would have to fulfill his oath in the worst way possible and in horrible circumstances.
 Oblivious to her father’s intense gaze, Ntombi played happily on the termite mound. The rays of the setting sun kissed her rich, light brown skin, infusing it with undertones of gold. Everything about Ntombi was round. At seven years old, she had a delightful round face with deeply dimpled cheeks. She had a round, pert button nose set perfectly between almond shaped eyes. Her plump pink lips always quivered with a smile, threatening to break wide into loud infectious laughter. If she was upset they would quiver and pout, slightly curling down, a signal that big ripe tears would soon be trailing their way down her cheeks.
Ntombi was the epitome of every mother’s ideal child. She ate well and therefore she was round and chubby.  Neighborhood mothers would sometimes be heard chiding their children:
“Eat all your food so you can become big and strong like Ntombi! “
All her features melded together to create her unique charm, which was accentuated by her good nature, kind heart and a keen sense of mischief.
Ntombi knelt on the termite mound, peering down the gaping hole at the very top of the granulated hill.
“Hey wena!” Growled her father, feigning harshness he had absolutely no capacity of feeling towards her.
“Be careful. A snake might just crawl out of there and bite you between your eyes! Worse still, he might wrap his whole self around you in tight coils all along your body and drag you down that hole!”
Ntombi looked up her face a mask of sheer pleasure, as she jumped back from the hole and slid down the short but steep slope. She squealed as she flew down the side, leaving a trail of deep red mud in her wake, while totally soiling the back of her pale blue sundress.
Ntombi continued to scream as she ran barefoot round the corner, into the driveway and into her father’s out stretched arms. Seka Ntombi laughed heartily as he scooped her up and twirled her in the air before settling her on his hip.
Mantombi! Thanga lam’! How come you did not come to meet me at the bus stop today? I was disappointed when I did not see you!”
Ntombi giggled: “Baba sorry! But it was raining and umama would not let me go out.” She wriggled in his arms.
“Then after the rain stopped, I wanted to check to see if izinhlwa are coming out tonight. That is why you saw me over there.”
Ntombi turned her torso to better point at the anthill.
“Then you said I would be eaten by a snake. Then I ran to you so you can save me!”
Seka Ntombi’s heart melted and he suddenly felt weak. She had this effect on him.
“Yes, I will save you thanga lami.”
Ntombi had earned herself the nickname pumpkin as a baby and it had stuck. The soft roundness of her stature and her sweet nature had kept the nickname relevant. Even her grandmother would call her ‘pum-kee’ when she visited from the village in Empandeni. The house would reverberate with Ntombi’s peels of laughter as she tried to correct her grandmother’s pronunciation:
Gogo , it is pump-kin, not pum-kee!”
In mock seriousness, Gogo would take a deep breath and look at Ntombi as though in deep concentration. Then she would slowly enunciate, “pum-kee!”
At this utterance, Ntombi would roll over on the floor howling and clutching her sides as she laughed uncontrollably…

The rest you will have to read in my short story collection of which you will be hearing about very very soon…..Big love!!!!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Minus the morning- Jennifer Armstrong. A Book Review

“My story starts in the womb of innocence- a cozy and comfortable womb, as every womb is, and ought to be.”
Thus begins an intriguing and at times heartbreaking account of a childhood that is in so many ways like any other childhood, but that is in as many ways unique. Jennifer Armstrong’s account of coming into consciousness during the early years after the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by Ian Smith, the then prime minister of Rhodesia in 1965, is a personal tale of living and existing with a status quo which she played no part in shaping and against which she was powerless. The adults were powerless, however what makes this story so compelling is the utter powerlessness of the child. It is the powerlessness of the adults in the story, particularly her father, which she captures with amazing prowess, yet using simple, child-like language. She is then able to demonstrate how this sense of impotence and loss of control and adherence to Christian ideology, which he dared not question, created a war within him, a raging minstrel which spewed its heat over her, the female child who was different because she was curious and dared to question. The young Jennifer turns inward, becoming quiet and as still as possible in order to avoid the unpredictable, explosive outbursts of anger from her father. However, it seems at times as though her very existence is an affront to his authority and a source of great irritation.
Armstrong’s discussion of the war of liberation of Zimbabwe from colonial rule provides the context to the complex emotions and the visceral fear that adults experienced and how these in turn impacted on her psyche. She chronicles events in a circuitous manner much like the memory, which does not always recall events and experiences in a linear fashion. One might call it an emotional geography, in which nature, events and subjects are all contexts for emotional expression. Yet one is truck by the richness of her descriptions of Nature, which she calls the “umbilical cord” to which she was attached.
Amstrong’s family eventually emigrates to Australia after her father resigns his job as a lecturer at one of Harare’s tertiary educational institutions. Life in the new country is described in emotional terms and the teenager Jennifer wrestles with the loss of Nature as her primal source of energy and happiness, paternal unpredictability and issues of sexism and patriarchy, which she meets head on with a defiance and determination that brings her to a point of personal emancipation.
Armstrong’s voice is very consistent but at times petulant; a child’s voice that is focused totally and exclusively on herself, with events and circumstances always being relative to herself. This is the case throughout the entire narrative, which gives it a cohesiveness, which its esoteric style might otherwise have threatened.  The esoteric quality is what makes the story such a delight to delve into. It demands that the reader delve in with an open mind as well with as an open heart. It compels the reader to think deeply, all the while enjoying a gently cruising pace, giving pause for reflection on one’s own inner child and the innocence, which gives the young Jennifer the gift of exacting immense pleasure and joy from the simplest of things like jumping into a cool swimming pool on a hot afternoon.
This is a story told in a unique way. It is solid.   What makes it a gem is the author’s audacity to tell of her experiences in a way that she wanted to, in a voice with which she is completely comfortable. By taking a risk with experimental form, Armstrong has demonstrated what a memoir ought to be - a means of recollection, told in a manner in with which she is at home. This in turn enables her readers to “feel at home” in her narrative.
Excellent read Jennifer! I am hoping that there is more where this came from!
Barbara Mhangami-Ruwende