Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Unwanted Stranger...Flash Fiction by Bertha Mukodzani

 Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’
Martin Luther King Jr.

Image From the Internet
The man clenched his jaw. He circled me as he scanned my body, examining my arms, thighs, chest and behind. This unwanted stranger, who had not uttered a single word since he slithered into my bedroom, carried himself like he owned the air I breathed. Something in his eyes and the way his mouth contorted told me I disgusted him. Why was he even here?
     ‘I suppose you will do,’ he finally muttered.
     His voice was soft. Too soft for a man, I thought. His dull green eyes resembled the colour of frogs bundled in the corner of a riverbank. When he leaned closer, I wilted under his gaze.
     ‘Don’t be scared. I don’t bite.’ He grinned, the wrinkles under his eyelids deepening. The scar sliced horizontally across his forehead shifted towards his hairline. 
     Pivoting on my trembling legs in the middle of the room, I gathered my nerves and glared at him. ‘I am not scared, Sir.’
     ‘Then we have nothing to worry about,’ he said with a smile.
     His teeth were flawless. Neat rows of pearly whites. From the look of his clothes, shoes and accessories, he was from a wealthy background. He looked and smelt better than the others. The kind of man who could hand out a big fat cheque without wincing. Not that it mattered or changed anything. I did not know my worth; I was not to know.
     ‘Nice hair,’ the man said.
     I jerked my hand towards my head covered with a triumphant carpet of long, brown weave. ‘Thank you, Sir.’
     Adrenaline coursed through my veins at the thought of what was coming. Even though I had spent the entire morning steeling myself for this man’s arrival, seeing him undress me with his lecherous eyes made me realise just how unprepared I was. This was indeed happening, and no pep talk would quell my anxiety.
     ‘This will be a quick one. I have a meeting with my boss around lunchtime. After that, another briefing with a colleague. Can you imagine? What a drag.’
     It amazed me how the men Derek sent my way expected me to care about their lives. They griped and grumbled, sharing their problems as if it was part of the package. As if my grasping of their world somehow legitimised their presence. But I knew my place, so I put on my usual Oscar-winning performance.
     ‘I wouldn’t know, Sir, but it sounds interesting. You must be a very important man, Sir.’ I forced a smile.
     Derek Thomas insisted on perfection.
     Nausea rose in my stomach when the man unbuckled his belt, dropped his trousers, and laid bare what was underneath. Oh, God, why me? My chest tightened, and I struggled to breathe. 
     Using a blue handkerchief, the man wiped glistening sweat from his forehead and tucked a wisp of ginger hair behind his ears. ‘Don’t worry. I am a simple man. Just take your clothes off and turn around. I will be done in a jiffy, as they say.’ He gave a nervous laugh. 
     There was nothing simple about this man. Or any of the clients I had seen, for that matter. Hesitantly, I turned around as instructed. To my surprise, the man paused. Had he changed his mind and wanted to talk instead? Alas, my hope was in vain; he then ordered me to bend down. With fearful bewilderment rising inside me, I did as I was told and primed myself for what was coming. 
     Grabbing me by the waist, he thrust his manhood into me and rode me like a horse. To avoid wailing, I gritted my teeth and ignored his hot breath and the perspiration dampening the small of my back. I willed my mind to wander. Back to my childhood, living with my parents. Back to the time I used to play skip with my friends in the school playground. I imagined myself inside my mother’s kitchen, sampling her fried, pumpkin leaves and sadza. My happier days, when life was simple. There was nothing I would not give to go back and undo all the things I had said to my parents when they tried to teach me right from wrong. If only I had listened to their ancient stories, which at the time seemed far-fetched. I felt a wrenching inside. A sadness so encompassing I wanted to die. I had brought this upon myself. All of it.
     A jerk and a groan later, it was all over. I came back to reality, watching the wretched man clean himself dry with the handkerchief he had used to wipe his face. Then he quickly got dressed.
     ‘Mind if I smoke?’ he asked, already dipping his hands into his pocket.
     Shivering like a reed, I shook my head.  
     He drew a cigarette from a shiny silver case, inserted it between his lips, and lit up a match. Smoke billowed around the room as he took a drag and released. Despite feeling the comings of a headache, I kept my face choreographed to his taste.
     ‘I’m Patrick, by the way. You are?’ He ejected another puff into the air.
     ‘You already know my name, Sir.’ I dodged his eyes.
     ‘Yeah, yeah, I know your business name. I meant the name your parents gave you.’
     If this was business, then I was Oprah freaking Winfrey, I thought. ‘I am Maka. Short for Makanyara.’
     Patrick dipped a nod. ‘I don’t know what that means, but it sounds nice. I dare say it’s pretty. And, well, enterprising.’ His compliment curdled into mocking.
     I managed to feign another smile, despite the loathing in my heart. According to Derek’s word, I was to conceal my emotions, withhold opinion, and avoid getting personal with my clients. My utterances were restricted to casual pleasantries, unless the men insisted on more. I was a robot.
     Patrick ambled towards the window, opened it, and tossed the burning cigarette on the lawn outside. Then, he walked back to where I sat curled around the contours of my plump, fluffy pillow, unable to move. He glanced down at me, tossed a wad of notes in front of me, and sauntered towards the door. As he reached for the handle, he turned around and beamed. ‘I shall be requesting your services again. I think I like you after all. Something about you.’ 
     With those words, he slammed the door behind him.
    Despite his smile and his voice, Patrick had a hard look about him. He reminded me of the previous client who slapped me across the cheek for refusing to be tied to the bed pole. That nasty man had made a complaint to Derek and removed himself from the register. I welcomed his departure, but he left a yoke around my neck. For a month, I wasn’t allowed to take advantage of my weekly chaperoned shopping. The only time I tasted the sweet smell of freedom, though tense and awkward it was.
     I collapsed on the bed face down. Unable to contain the pressure in my head, the throb between my legs, and the ache in my heart, I sobbed. I sobbed for my sorry little life. For what I had become.
     I was about to take a shower when another intrusive knock struck the door. Patrick must be returning for some item he had forgotten in my room, I thought. I sprang to my feet, shifted my eyes around the room, lifted the pillow, rolled back the rug, scanned under the bed and checked behind the door. There was nothing that belonged to Patrick. As I darted out of my room and towards the front door to allow him back in, something dawned on me. Without making a sound, I peeped through the keyhole and saw two men in black uniform standing on the other side. The men had portable radios stuffed in their pockets. One of them held what appeared to be a notebook. A diary, perhaps. I had heard stories about the men in uniform who patrolled the neighbourhood and made impromptu home visits. At the time, I did not pay close attention. People said a lot of things, especially my fellow immigrants. ‘Don’t do this. Don’t say that. Always carry this.’ It was as if I were a child. Looking at the two men outside, though, something in my stomach churned.
     With my heart pounding, I tip-toed back to my bedroom, slipped under the duvet cover, coiled my body up in a fetal position, and held my breath. The tapping persisted, sending disquieting vibrations into my stomach. It had been years since I ditched my nail-biting habit, but my thumb found its way into my mouth, my teeth tearing at the fingernail. After moments of quietly begging the good Lord to put an end to the incessant knocking, my head went into a spin, and an ache shot across my forehead. I suppose my nerves could only endure the terror for so long before my body went into a violent protest.

     After what seemed an age, the knocking stopped. I crept out of my room, teetered towards the front door, and pressed my ears against it, listening for movement. Any sound to alert me to danger. To satisfy my mind, I peered through the window in the living room and inspected the driveway. I exhaled, and my thrumming heart rested when I saw no car and no shadow of the two men. Sinking into the couch in one corner of the room, I covered my face with both hands and stilled my body, digesting everything. Then I let the tears seep through my fingers. When was this going to end? 

Sunday, 1 July 2018

My BBC Radio Berkshire Interview...

Tune in to #BBC #Radio #Berkshire tonight as I chat with the beautiful presenter, Bridgitte Tetteh from 8 pm to 9pm. 

We discuss everything from African culture to politics and immigration. I also read a poem I wrote. You really don't want to miss it. 

Click the link to listen online and for the podcast BBC Radio 

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Dear Dad,

I am writing to tell you why the month of April haunts me.

It is the month we bade you a final farewell, all those years ago. At your funeral, people wailed, I wailed, and songs depicting your character tore the atmosphere. Finally, you were at peace. Since then, the memories you left behind have become taxing on the heart and soul. 

We were close; as close as father and daughter can get. You were not one for gushing, but your love was noticeable in the little things–your smile, your lousy jokes, your far-fetched tales, your warm gaze when you thought no one was watching, and in the way you hammered into me that the only inheritance worth having was a sound education. 

I get it now, I really do.

You entertained my curious mind, all that endless talk about my dreams, and you believed I could become whoever I wanted to be. You said all I needed was to be grounded, to have the faith and courage to hold on to my authenticity and uniqueness. To cement your words, you reined in on my immaturity and over-inflated confidence by recounting poignant moments where you had experienced failure, missed an opportunity and took unnecessary risks. However, you were quick to heighten my spirits by stating that life had not denied you some glory. From your overflowing bag of wisdom, you drew upon your success stories. How you scaled your trips around the world; and navigated the challenges of diversity as you interacted with people from all walks of life, among other things.

Of all the things I remember about you, it is your belief in your ancestors that I found staggering. I was a Christian; you regarded yourself as more spiritual than anything else. As I write this, my mind recalls one of our conversations where you spoke in riddles:

‘Can you see it?’  
‘See what?’
‘The future.’
‘What? In your palm?’
‘Yes, and yours, my dear child, is as bright as the morning star. Look, right there.’

I creased my brow, laughed, shook my head in disbelief at your unearthly utterings. It was utter nonsense, and yet I hung onto every word. You became my muse. Now, having experienced life as I have, I know why you did it.

The last day we talked, you ditched your usual eccentricity and crammed your speech to give me the abbreviated version of your sentiments. You did not mince your words for you knew we had limited time. I treasure those final words. Sacred words of the dying every loved-one seeks to find closure.

I wish I could say that the adage time heals all wounds rings true for me. It does not. 

After your untimely departure, I rode the dragon of grief, just like everyone else. I heeded the advice you gave me over the years. I am grateful for your preparation which gifted me with the resilience to withstand tough times. The foundation you laid, cultivated in me, a rooted sense of self, and the propensity to accept that, in life, we do not always get what we want, when we want. You taught me that sometimes down is up and lost is found.

And yet, the ache of longing for your presence never fades.

During my rueful moments, my mind threatens to explode with pent-up emotions. I have things to say. Things to show you. If only you could feast your eyes on what I have achieved. It is not much, but you would have rejoiced and reminded me, with a smug look on your face, of the day I dubbed you a crazy old man because of your weird prophesying. I regret you are not here to listen to your grandchildren’s insane stories, perhaps teach them a thing or two. I want to whine about my problems, share my joys with you, and seek your advice, draw from your well of wisdom, but I can’t.

Your face has become elusive in my dreams. I see your lips moving, but your voice is distorted, and I do not understand the words you speak. There is a misty fog billowing around you, and my eyes cannot penetrate through it. Everything has become a blur.

You were not the most perfect dad in the world, but in my eyes, you were kind and prudent. 

Despite your flaws, you insisted on my schooling. 

You were by no means the perfect parent, but you were the one who stayed. 

There have been many seasons since your passing, but I am still consumed with rage. My heart still jolts from the harsh reality–you are gone forever, and all I have are the relics of my heartache, the constant reminder being the tombstone under which you lay interred in the cold grave.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Friends Like These

Image courtesy of the internet

If you are like me, then you have friends or have had friends with whom you parted or who have become mere acquaintances. Perhaps, you wish you had the foresight not to have lingered for as long you did when they manifested themselves in your life. Take heart, I am here to open your eyes as to which kind of friend deserves you. 

There are what I call good weather friends. Those who overlook you and seek the pleasure of your company at their convenience. This kind of friends cannot handle your strife and tolerate you when the sea is calm. Should you find yourself in the throes of trials and tribulations, their phones become unreachable, and your messages are never returned. They are forever rebuffing your invitations and cries for help and apologising for their busy schedules which deprive them of your friendship. 

Some friends invite you for coffee to assure you of their perpetual sympathy. They console you but never splurge on congratulations on your victory, achievements and success. Their habitual pitying words give them the upper hand and feed their superiority complexes. Like ticks, they suck every detail about your sorry little life only to jeer and spread it like the gospel when your back is turned.

You are so strong, I admire you. I will lend you a tenner, pay me when you can. Ah, poor you, I don’t know if I could have survived your ordeal. Why don’t you do this to avoid a, b, c, happening in the future? 

Their tongues are like daggers piercing your chest. Your blood boils as you watch the condescension in their carefully modelled faces. Their snide remarks are swathed in tenderness, compassion and concern, but really, they are aimed at reducing you to size and making you feel worthless. 

Deep down, you know that were it not for the circumstances that compel you to endure such degrading insinuations, you would have the gumption to rid yourself of such poison and set your sights at cultivating better friendships for yourself.

Then they are vile friends. Those who sit back and watch you heading towards disaster. They foresee danger and your demise but choose to withhold counsel. Like the chameleon that changes to suit its environment, they sing your praises in your presence, to inflate your ego and give you a false sense of security, but participate in your slander and whisperings about your shortcomings. Some of these friends genuinely do not want to ruffle anyone’s feathers and do not know what they stand for. But among these, are those secretly itching for your downfall. Beware.

Only when you find yourself in the pit of hell, do you become privy to such friends’ real thoughts. Their real character. You should have, why didn’t you, had you, I wish. What’s the bloody use?

If I have dampened your spirits, do not despair. There are great friends out there. Friends who see the tears behind your smile. Loving friends gifted with the discernment to know what I am doing just fine really means.

Everyone deserves to have that one friend to whom they can empty their heart and soul. The one who will jealously guard their deepest and darkest secrets and take them to the grave. That friend who brings out the best in them, cries with them, celebrates with them and stands firmly by their side even when the universe condemns them. The kind of friend who is not too proud to say I am sorry, I need your help, I love you.

If no one has ever said wake me up anytime, I will be there it is time to change your circles. If none among your friends has ever chided you behind closed doors and spoke the harsh truths no one dares to utter to your face, and later hugged you, then it is time to do some soul-searching.

This kind of friend does exist. When you find them, treasure them for they are rare.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Things That Keep Me Awake At Night.

Image courtesy of the internet

Sometimes it's the cold or the heat. Easily remedied by peeling off a layer or two of my covering, the hot water bottle or... 

On other days all it takes is a nagging word. That careless whisper among friends. A derogatory phrase or statement that unintentionally spills into my ears. I am not in the habit of eavesdropping, but I cannot 'unhear' the words spoken about me or to me. I spend minutes, hours, mulling as I try to decipher their meaning. The intention. When answers fail me, I remind myself of that all-important doctrine which says, I am the master of my thoughts. I have the power over my reactions. I choose what I entertain. So, I let sleeping dogs lie and drift off to sleep.

Sometimes it is the near-misses. Words I could have said to change an outcome. The missed opportunity. That wrong turn I made. If only I could undo it all. What is done is done, I finally let the harsh truth sink. It is only then that I begin to feel the weight of my eyelids.

Image courtesy of the internet.

Occasionally it is the hefty bills. Those red letters the postman keeps tossing through the letterbox. That pile I have not dared to open. The endless phone calls from the lender. As if one reminder is not enough. Don't they know that threats and final warnings will not change my circumstances overnight? That if wishes were horses, I would be buying their electricity and gas company? That I will be the CEO of the most magnificent bank in the world? Yeah, tell that to my sleep.  

Excitement. Joy. Superimposed upon worry. It could be the pains of motherhood. On the one hand, my heart bursts with pride to see my children grow. As time shifts them from one stage to the next, I hold my breath and hope they are learning what they need to learn. At night I break into a cold sweat when I imagine the world in a few years’ time. The time when they will have to fend for themselves. When I am no longer around? I pray I am a good role model. That I have done enough, doing enough. For now, I am glad they are sheltered in my bosom. But I worry the world will soon swallow them up. Things are constantly changing. Wherever they go, messages and indoctrinations are continuously being injected into their brains, subliminally or otherwise, through the internet and other channels. I hope and pray that our preparation will prevent them being tossed out to the sea. Or that when that happens, they can find the strength and courage to swim back to shore.

There are times when I lie awake at night planning and plotting. It’s not what you think. It usually starts with the panic that comes with the realisation that I have wasted the entire day, my whole life. As the guilt of hours spent watching the marathons of Scandal and Autopsy on Netflix rips through me, I go into full-blown panic mode. How could I let the precious hours go to waste without filling a page or two with inspired words, perhaps a bit of editing? My dreams will not materialise out of thin air. At which point I spring from my pillow and compile a comprehensive list of all my deserving accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the little things. After all, ‘gratitude shifts your energy and brings you more of what you want.’ I toss these platitudes around to quell despair. I give myself a pep talk - Bertha, you deserve to rest. You deserve some ‘me’ time. After all, you completed a chapter yesterday. You saved a life at work. Now, that is a good compromise, don't you think? 

Sometimes during the small hours of the night, I wrestle with my raging mind. How it shows no mercy by dragging me to back to yesteryear. Back to my roots. Those earlier times when my parents still roamed this earth. Before death snatched them away. As I lay my head on the pillow and squeeze my eyes shut, I swear I can see my father smiling at me. I can hear his laughter and smell his snuff which, even now, still tickles my nostrils and almost makes me break into a violent sneeze. 

The yearning for my mother's gentle touch also disturbs the night's tranquillity. I long to hear her sweet voice egging me on. Slowly, the fond memories turn to horror. As reality sets in, sweat and tears drench my nightgown and my pillow. I stare at the ceiling. There is nothing to see except darkness. Nothingness. The void left behind makes my heart jolt with grief. My chest tightens. Sometimes I can feel it being pulled sideways as if by the surgeon's retractor. God, why? Why torment me with such memories if there is nothing I can do to turn back the clock?

There are some moments during the night, which quite frankly, I could do with a pick and a shovel to bury ghosts. Relics from the past. Those friends and lovers with whom I have parted. Why open that Pandora's box if it only curtails my sleep with things that no longer concern me?  Thanks to social media, all it takes is a tap and a click to glimpse into someone's life. Poring over pictures and comparing. How the heart rests when one sees the bulge around their nemesis's waistline. One can't help but notice the banger sitting in their driveway. Hurray! My life is better than theirs. I have a cuter husband. The lies we tell ourselves when we succumb to such whims. I suppose it is human nature to wonder. But I would like to think that such nights are sparse and far in between.

I wish you all pleasant dreams. Come back soon. 

Take care!