They are just everywhere, walking, rushing, running, toyi-toying, fists and machetes and knives and sticks and all sorts of weapons and the flags of the country in the air, Budapest quivering with the sound of their blazing voices: Kill the Boer, the farmer, the khiwa.
Image from Flickr via Kent Yoshimura
The guava season is getting ready to end so now we prowl Budapest like we’re hunting animals. We carefully comb and comb the streets, eyes trained on the trees so hard our necks could strain. We don’t really talk about it but I know all of us are thinking of the end of the season, when Budapest will have nothing for us anymore, of the long, boring months before the next season starts.
Maybe we should start hitting inside, Bastard says, speaking real slow and thoughtful-like.
No. We’re not thugs, Godknows says, and I almost clap for him for talking sense for a change.
We are strolling down Queens and underneath our feet, the road is burning from the sun. It’s when we turn the corner of Mandela that we see the man.
Yes, we’re not those kind of people, Sbho says.
I tell you, we’re really missing out, Bastard says, his face all screwed up with seriousness.
We are strolling down Queens and underneath our feet, the road is burning from the sun. It’s when we turn the corner of Mandela that we see the man. We can tell from his uniform that he is a guard. We haven’t seen any guards in Budapest before so at first we are not so sure what to do with him. He beckons us with his black baton stick, and because we are too close to turn around and run we just walk towards him.
Yes, so what prompts your presence in this territory? the guard says. We’re right there with him but he is busy shouting like we are on Mount Everest. He looks us over with his dirty eyes, and we look him back, not answering, just watching him to see what he is all about.
I can’t figure out if he is frowning or it’s his general ugliness. He is tall and his navy uniform looks like it’s just been slapped on him. On his left arm is a discolored white patch with a picture of a gun and the word Security embossed in red letters, and on his breast is a ZCC church badge.
The trousers barely reach the ankles, and his boots are unpolished. He is wearing a black woolen hat and matching gloves, never mind the heat. Everything about him looks like a joke and we know he is a waste of time—if we weren’t this close we’d probably call him names and laugh and throw stones.
I command you to immediately turn around and retrace your steps. Extricate yourselves from these premises and retreat to whatever hole you crawled out of. Under no circumstances should I ever lay my eyes on you again, you follow? the guard says, pointing us to the road. He speaks with this tone like he owns things, but we know that even the baton stick in his hands is not his, that if he weren’t on this street he’d be nothing.
Why are you talking like that, did you go to university? My cousin Freddy went too and can speak high-sounding English as well, Godknows says, but the guard doesn’t even look at him.
Are your ears malfunctioning? the guard says with a raised voice. Then he bends a bit so his face is level with ours. Be on your way right at this juncture, he says, but we just stand there, unmoving.
Who accorded you the permission to perform filthy functions on this street? Who? the guard says.
We don’t know you, Bastard says, and spits. That does it, the guard gets all animal-like as if he were a dog and somebody yanked his tail.
Who accorded you the permission to perform filthy functions on this street? Who? the guard says. He is rapidly jabbing a crooked finger at Bastard now, and then the spit, and then back at Bastard.
What, you are complaining about just spit? Our friend has vomited on these streets before, Godknows says, pride in his voice. And why didn’t they give you a gun, or a guard dog?
What if we were armed and dangerous? Godknows adds.
I demand that you wipe it off right now, the guard says to Bastard, his face all dead serious.
Do you even have handcuffs? Godknows says.
Wipe what? Bastard says.
Your filth; do you think you can just come here and desecrate the place as you see fit? Do you know I can perform a citizen’s arrest on you right now and ferry your despicable personage to jail? You really wish to see the inside of a cell, don’t you, big head? You are begging for it, huh? You want me to take you there? the guard says. He is walking towards Bastard, motioning with his baton stick all menacing-like as if he is going to use it.
But how will you take him to jail? Where is your car? Do you have a driver’s license? Godknows says.
You, you seal your trap, cantankerous idiot, don’t play with me. I can arrest you too, the guard says, half turning to Godknows and making like he will poke him with the stick.
He thinks Godknows is making fun of him but Godknows is real.
So where are the handcuffs and squad car, or are you going to call the police for that part? Where is your roger-over, can I see it? Is it true that they can kill you there, in jail? Godknows says.
Ah, last week, when Sekuru Tendai was coming to see us, the police stopped him at a roadblock near town, Sbho says.
Did they put handcuffs on him? Is he in jail now? Did they beat him up? Godknows says.
No, they begged him for a bribe and then they just let him go, Sbho says.
You believe this to be your father’s street, boy? You see the sign says Mandela and you think he is your father, is that it?
You, cease all conversation, right now, both of you, you hear me? Refrain from utilizing your vocal organs unless and until you are addressed, the guard says to Godknows and Sbho. I giggle quietly. Then the guard turns back to Bastard.
You believe this to be your father’s street, boy? You see the sign says Mandela and you think he is your father, is that it?
But the spit has dried up, see, Stina says, pointing to where Bastard’s spit was, and we yell and clap and laugh.
So you fancy I’m a piece of entertainment, huh? You think I wake up in the morning and don this uniform specifically for your pleasure? You think I have no pressing matters to attend to but your nonsense, huh? the guard says, waving his long arms and baton for emphasis.
Since when did you even start guarding this place? We’ve never seen you before, Bastard says, looking at his fingernails. These days he is growing them, for what, I don’t know.
Since your uncultured fathers started terrorizing this neighborhood. It’s your fathers who’ve been coming here, preying on the sweat of decent citizens, isn’t it? Isn’t it? And now you are surveying this place on their behalf, aren’t you?
Well, tell you what, let them come and I will reduce them to size. Go and get them right now, you hear me? Go and get them, not tomorrow, not in three hours, but right now, I want them, the guard says. He is sweating on the nose and foaming at the mouth, looking at us from one face to the next like he really believes we have time for him. I am starting to get bored and just want us to get on with guava hunting.
But really, how much are they paying you? Bastard says. He walks to the gate like it’s his and leans against it.
Stop that, just stop, you dirty pest, hear me? Don’t you ever—remove yourself, get away, right now! the guard hisses.
We watch him do a brief trot over to the gate, baton stick raised above his head, all ready to strike. Immediately we start shouting and booing. He unleashes the stick on Bastard, who ducks, runs, and stands at a safe distance. The guard starts to pursue Bastard; he slips and staggers briefly like he is going to fall, but he manages to steady himself. He stands there looking at Bastard, who is just having fun because he loves this kind of thing. You can tell from the guard’s face that he is getting frustrated, that if he could land his hands, his stick, on Bastard right now, he would do him bad.
I will catch you and you will wish you were never born, you pathetic, fatally miscalculated biological blunder, he says, his mouth all quivering. Then he turns to us like he has just remembered we are there. Go, get away from here at once. Is this what they teach you at school, huh? To behave like animals? Move, depart! he says.
Ah, we don’t go to school anymore. The teachers left, don’t you even know what is happening? Godknows says. The guard starts saying something but then just stands there like all his big words are gone. You can tell he doesn’t really know what to do with us.
When the small red car comes gliding from down the street the guard takes off towards the other gate. We clap and cheer for him, then we watch the car like maybe it’s a bride. Unlike Stina, I don’t know much about cars, like I can’t look at one and tell you what kind it is, but even I can see that this is an interesting car. It’s low like a child can drive it, with this strange design, all points and edges and creases. Up close, the sound of it is like there’s something humming inside the metal. Stina nods his head, whistles, and laughs. If he could run and hug the car and talk to it, he would.
The guard is already at the gate of the cream house with the big satellite dish and massive grounds. We watch him hold the gate open for the car, standing all tall and puffed up now like he has grown some height and muscle in the last few minutes, like he is actually the owner of the car and whoever had borrowed it is bringing it back to him. When the car passes we see a hand flash a wave. The guard waves back and smiles. He is still waving and smiling long after the buttocks of the car have disappeared into the large yard. He doesn’t look our way and we know he is avoiding us.
Okay. There’s nothing else to do, let’s go, Sbho says. Yes, let’s get away from this place, he’ll arrest us, Godknows says, and we laugh. That, right there, was a Lamborghini Reventón, Stina says. When I go to live with Aunt Fostalina, that’s the kind of car I’ll drive, see how it’s even small like it was made for me? I say. I just know, because of this feeling in my bones, that he car is waiting for me in America, so I yell, My Lamborghini, Lamborghini, Lamborghini Reventón! My voice rings in the empty street and I laugh and do a hop-step-and-jump.
Ah, shut up, you, Bastard says.
Let’s just look for guavas and leave this clown alone, Godknows says.
We look and they are pouring down Julius like angry black water and we know immediately that it was a mistake for us to come to Budapest today.
On Julius Street, we finally find a tree with guavas, not a whole lot but just enough, and we’re in the middle of harvesting when we hear this crazy noise. We look and they are pouring down Julius like angry black water and we know immediately that it was a mistake for us to come to Budapest today. They are just everywhere, walking, rushing, running, toyi-toying, fists and machetes and knives and sticks and all sorts of weapons and the flags of the country in the air, Budapest quivering with the sound of their blazing voices:
Kill the Boer, the farmer, the khiwa!
Strike fear in the heart of the white man!
White man, you have no place here, go back, go home!
Africa for Africans, Africa for Africans!
Kill the Boer, the farmer, the khiwa!
They are going to kill us, Sbho says. I can’t see her face because she is on a branch right behind me, but I know, just from the tremor in her voice, how tears are already streaming down her cheeks and that they will eventually get into her mouth.
I don’t want to die. I want my mother, she says. Now she starts to proper wail like she is a radio and somebody just turned up the volume.
Shut up, what are you doing, you want us to get killed? Godknows says.
Shhhh. Sbho, listen, keep quiet. If we don’t make noise, if we just stay here and be quiet, they won’t see us. They’ll just pass, then we’ll go, Stina says in a whisper, sounding like he is somebody’s sweet mother. Sbho stops the crying but you can still hear her sniffling.
Ah, what, they won’t do anything to us. Me, I’m not even afraid, Bastard says, and we all look down at him. He is sitting on a fat branch, one arm wrapped around the tree, his cracked feet dangling in the air. It’s like he is just striking a pose and is maybe waiting for someone with a camera.
The gang has spread out in packs now, and they go about kicking down gates or jumping over Durawalls to get into yards…
Can’t you hear that they are looking for white people? I’m telling you, they won’t touch us, we’re not white, he says. We watch him spit, reach out for a guava, wipe it on the picture of the rainbow at the front of his T-shirt, and start attacking it in quick bites.
What if they don’t find any white people? Godknows says. Then they’ll come for us.
Stupid nonsense, they always find white people, Bastard says.
The gang has spread out in packs now, and they go about kicking down gates or jumping over Durawalls to get into yards, where they pound on doors, shouting for the people to come out. They are wild, chanting and screaming and yelling and baring teeth and waving weapons in the air, and I’m reminded of the gang that came for Bornfree; that is how they did. One group charges in our direction. They kick down the gate, pass right beneath us. That’s when we notice the guard from before; they have taken his baton stick and bound his wrists behind him. He is walking barefoot now and is looking like the nothing that he really is. If we weren’t up here like this we’d laugh at him.
Then one of them stops, puts his weapons down, and just as we are wondering what will happen, he unzips his trousers, takes his big thing out, and starts urinating against our tree. Now I’m just perched there trembling. Even though I know it won’t do anything, I’ve prayed twice already, to God and then to Jesus’s mother as a just-in-case. There is guava in my mouth, sitting there like a bitter stone; I can’t swallow it and I can’t spit it out. I have all sorts of thoughts in my head, like, What are we going to do? What if he looks up? What will they do to us if they find us?
When the man finishes urinating, he zips his trousers, gathers his weapons, and rejoins the gang. I have to hold tight because I think I’m just going to faint.
Ah! Did you see how big his thing is? Godknows whispers. We don’t answer.
When I am big my thing will be like that too, he says.
Open up! If you don’t open now, we smash this door. Open now, now now now, open! they yell down below. Then the tall one in the red overalls, the one who’s brandishing an ax, goes to the big window. We hear the sound of shattering glass.
They have broken the window! Godknows says.
Shhhh, shut up, somebody whispers.
Then one of them pounces on the door with a machete and starts hitting it and hitting it, and the others join in with their weapons. The guard is standing to the side as if to say he doesn’t want to be caught doing anything bad. I wonder what his face looks like right now, I wonder what big words he would use for this. They continue with the slashing, pounding, clobbering, but before they can really break the door down it swings open, and they cheer. Then two white people, a man and a woman, come out of the house looking like rats pulled from a hole.
The man is tall and fat and is wearing khaki shorts and a khaki shirt and a khaki hat, like he is maybe a schoolboy. He is barefoot, which is the first time I’m seeing a white person going barefoot like he is trying to say he can’t afford shoes. His legs are so hairy you could comb them. The woman, who follows behind, is thin like maybe the man eats all her food, like she has the Sickness. She is wearing a black dress and white shoes. We didn’t really know, coming here, that it was a white people’s house.
It’s the littlest dog I have ever seen. I start to laugh but then I remember where I am and what is happening.
Then there is this sound, and a small white thing that looks like a toy comes out of the house after the couple.
What is that? Godknows says. At first nobody answers because we are all looking at the thing, trying to see what it is.
It has four legs, it has a tail, it barks, even if it’s a strange bark, Stina says.
It’s a dog! Sbho says. I know, it’s a dog!
Then slowly I realize that indeed it must be a dog, and that the sound is really supposed to be a bark. It’s just a weird bark, like the dog is playing, or is not even used to barking. It’s the littlest dog I have ever seen. I start to laugh but then I remember where I am and what is happening. The dog rushes towards the gang as if it will gobble somebody up, then it stops suddenly and just stands there barking its crazy little bark. Now the gang is busy killing itself with laughter. Listening to them, you would think that it is what they woke up and told themselves they needed to do for the day: just throw their heads back and laugh long and loud. You would not tell, from the sound of it, that they are also brandishing things that can cut a person and make it rain blood.
But it doesn’t look like a dog, it looks like a plaything and it can’t even bark. How will it bite and kill anybody? How will it hunt? Godknows says.
It’s a white people’s dog, it’s supposed to be strange, Bastard says.
Me, I wouldn’t even be afraid of it, Godknows says.
Then the white woman bends down and scoops the dog into her arms. She cradles it against her chest like she is cradling a baby. The gang explodes with laughter again; I keep thinking they will throw their weapons down and slap each other and clutch their stomachs or something. Then a man in a pink shirt snatches the dog and throws it to somebody, who catches it and throws it to the next person. They are making like they are playing netball now, and they cheer as the dog is passed from one person to another.
The woman throws her hands in the air, exasperated-like. She looks as if she is saying something. We can’t hear her above the noise but you can tell she is begging them to let the dog go. Finally, one of them catches the dog and takes a few steps away from the group, towards our tree.
He’s coming, he’ll see us, somebody whispers, but just as we are wondering what will happen, the man stops. He throws his machete onto the ground, holds the dog in front of him by one paw, so it is dangling in the air like a rag. Then we watch him take a few steps back and shake his leg. Then he extends the leg back and up, and we know he is aiming to kick.
He is going to—somebody starts, but before he even finishes, the man’s leg shoots out and connects. There is a bhu sound and the dog sails in the air like it has borrowed wings. It keeps rising and rising and then finally disappears on the other side of the Durawall with a thud and a sharp yelp. The men in the gang jump up and down and whistle and cheer and scream, Goal!
What do you want? The white man is shouting now, and you can tell that if his voice had teeth, it would devour. Then we see one of them, the only one who is not carrying any weapons, step forward and hand the white man a piece of paper. He does it like a bride, slow and respectful-like, the proper way you are supposed to do with white people. We watch the white man snatch the paper, open it, and look at it for a while, and then his face turns a deeper color, like somebody is cooking it.
What is this? What is this? the white man says, jabbing at the paper with a finger. The anger in his voice is as if there’s a lion inside him. He towers above everyone, head leaning forward as if he is about to do something. The woman is there beside him, wringing her hands.
Can’t you read? You brung English to this country and now you want it explained to you, your own language, have you no shame? one of them says. The guard shifts on his feet like maybe he wants to be asked to read the piece of paper; I think it’s something he would just love doing.
Bloody nonsense! This is illegal, I own this fucking property, I have the papers to prove it, the white man says. The lion inside him is raising its hairs now.
And you, stupid white man, we don’t care, you hear me? If you didn’t bring this land with you on a ship or plane from wherever you came from, then we don’t bloody fucking care, says the boss. He is waving his ax in the white man’s face now.
We know, sir. I’m sorry, but it’s just the times, you know. They are changing, you know. Maybe you’ll understand one day this has to be done, you know, says a new voice. It is soothing, like a woman’s, and I’m craning my neck to see what kind of man speaks with a voice like that.
You, stop reasoning with these people, I always tell you that! And quit your bullshit colonial mentality, what are you calling him sir for, is he your father? Are you gonna act like that sellout over there, says the one with the red overalls, who also looks like he is the boss. He points to the guard to indicate sellout, and the guard shrinks away. And you, stupid white man, we don’t care, you hear me? If you didn’t bring this land with you on a ship or plane from wherever you came from, then we don’t bloody fucking care, says the boss. He is waving his ax in the white man’s face now.
Listen—What, do you hear him, Sons of the soil, do you even hear him? the boss says, tilting his head towards the gang. Just like a white man! He has the testicles to tell a black man to listen in his own country. Somebody please tell this white man here that this is not fucking Rhodesia! the boss says. He has turned back to the gang now and is addressing them with his ax in hand. His face is tilted up like he is speaking to us as well. The boss has an ordinary face; his skin is the color of the earth. He turns back to the white man and starts waving the ax again.
Know this, you bloody colonist, from now on the black man is done listening, you hear? This is black-man country and the black man is in charge now. Africa for Africans, the boss says to thunderous applause.
Who are you? the white man says, looking the boss up and down. You can tell from his voice that he despises him, despises them all, and that if he could see us up here, he would despise us as well.
I am an African, he says. This is my fucking country too, my father was born here, I was born here, just like you! His voice is so full of pain it’s as if there is something that is searing him deep in his blood.
Don’t you know him? This is Assistant Police Commissioner Obey Marima, and watch that tone, white man, because you don’t talk to him like that, talking like you’re shitting, a raspy voice says.
No, you listen, the white man says, like he didn’t just hear the boss warn him about telling black men to listen.
I am an African, he says. This is my fucking country too, my father was born here, I was born here, just like you! His voice is so full of pain it’s as if there is something that is searing him deep in his blood. The lion has bared its fangs now. The veins at the sides of the white man’s neck are like cords, his face dark with anger. But nobody minds him. They are leaving and storming into the house, their chants about Africa for Africans filling the air. The white man and woman remain standing there near the guard like sad plants, just standing and looking after the gang; maybe they are afraid of the weapons and that’s why they don’t try to stop them or follow them inside.
What exactly is an African? Godknows asks.
Shhh, look, Bastard says.
The white man starts tearing the paper in his hands; he rips it and rips it and rips it, throws the pieces onto the ground. Then he starts trampling them with his feet, his enormous legs moving swiftly. A small cloud of dust lifts. He moves like dancing, stomp-stomp-stomp, as if he is hearing a drum somewhere in his head. The woman watches but doesn’t do anything.
Then, as if that is not enough, the white man gets on the ground and starts pummeling it with his fists, just pummeling and pummeling, and I think of Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro when he fights with a demon. I picture the white man’s knuckles cut and bleeding, the brown earth drinking the blood. When he finally, finally stops, maybe because he has worn himself out, and just stays there on all fours, dangling his golden head like he will never look up again, the woman kneels there besides him and lays her hand on his broad back as if she is about to pray for him. Then her shoulders start heaving and heaving and heaving like she is crying for the world. The guard just stands there looking. Then Sbho starts sniffling again.
What, are you crying for the white people? Are they your relatives? Bastard says.
They are people, you asshole! Sbho says in this hard, hot voice we have never heard before, and I almost fall out of the tree because nobody has ever called Bastard that. Never ever. I wait to see what he will do but he is looking at Sbho with confusion on his face.
What are they going to do? Godknows says, and just as the question leaves his lips we hear the sounds of smashing. The white man and woman keep kneeling as if they don’t even hear the noise but the guard is pacing around nervously. I don’t know why he doesn’t run away, it’s not like his legs are tied, like his hands.
Maybe they are killing things, Godknows says, answering himself. We sit there and listen to the sound of things breaking and crashing and falling and damaging.
I want to be in there, in there smashing things, Bastard says, and he laughs. He has taken out his pocketknife and is stabbing at the tree, tattooing it.
Me, I’m going home; I should have stayed behind with Chipo, I’m going home right now, Godknows says, his voice sounding like somebody who is fed up with playing.
Wait. Wait until they leave, Stina says. Plus, look at the white people still down there, they’ll see us.
After a long while, after we are tired from sitting in the tree, the smashing stops and they come out of the house.
I don’t care, I’m going. I’m not even hitting Budapest anymore, Godknows says. He starts to move, but Stina slides down his branch like a snake, reaches, and grabs Godknows by his Don’t Be Mean, Go Green T-shirt. There is a sound of cloth ripping. We sit in silence and wait, Stina holding Godknows by the shirt as if he’s a mad dog that shouldn’t be let loose. Bastard has finished tattooing the tree. It reads Bastad; he has left out the r but I doubt he even knows this.
After a long while, after we are tired from sitting in the tree, the smashing stops and they come out of the house. The boss walks in front, ax dangling at his side. They are no longer making that much noise and they look a little tired even. Like they have been exorcising demons and devils in there. They do not talk to the white people, they just grab them and lead them away, together with the guard, herding them like cattle. When the group passes under our tree, the woman looks up like God whispered to her to look up, like something told her we were up here. I see a black shadow flash over her kind of beautiful face; it’s like she’s a chameleon trying to change color and take ours.
I cannot look away from the woman’s eyes, but I’m ashamed that she is seeing us up in her tree, ashamed for her that we are seeing them being taken away like that. The black shadow remains on her face, and she keeps looking, like maybe she wants to pluck us out of the tree with her eyes, and I begin to think we will fall out from being looked at like that. We know from the look, because eyes can talk, that she hates us, not just a little bit but a whole lot. She doesn’t say anything; they move her past, and we exhale.
Where are they taking them? Godknows says, sounding like himself now.
Maybe they are going to kill them, he answers himself. Maybe they’ll take them to the forest so their screams for help are not heard, and kill them there.
When we are sure they are gone-gone we quickly climb down the tree and head straight for the house. It’s the first time we are entering a white people’s house so we pause by the door, like we don’t know how to walk through a door. Godknows, who is at the front, wipes his feet on the mat that says Wipe Your Paws but then just keeps standing. Bastard comes from behind, pushes Godknows aside, and steps in like he is the real owner of the house and he has the keys. We all pour in after him.
Inside, the cold air hits us and we put our hands on our bare arms and feel goose bumps. We look around, surprised.
How is it cold in here when it is so hot outside? Sbho says in a whisper, but nobody answers her, which means we don’t know. Around us everything is strewn about and broken. Chairs, the TV, the large radio, the beautiful things we don’t know. We stand in the wreckage; nobody says it but we are disappointed by the senseless damage, as if it’s our own things that they have destroyed.
In the sitting room, we stand before the large mask on the wall and stare at the black face, the eyes gouged out. It is a long, thin face, white lining the eyebrows and the lips. The forehead is high and protrudes a little, and yellow dots divide it in half. The nose is long, and the round mouth is open, like it’s letting out a howl. And finally, a horn grows at the top of the head.
Bastard picks his way through the strewn furniture and unhooks the mask from the wall. He covers his face with it and starts barking like the white people’s dog.
That’s what pagans do, they wear things like that, Prophet Revelations Bitchington Mborro said so at church, I tell Bastard, but he keeps the mask on and continues barking and barking and barking. It’s not funny so nobody laughs. We leave the sitting room and go to the next large room with the long table that’s now broken and the many chairs that are lying all over the place. Dangling from the center of the ceiling is a large light, part of it smashed.
Why do they have two sitting rooms? Godknows says.
This is not a sitting room, it’s a dining room, Bastard says. And get out of my way and stop asking kaka questions. We poke our way through the room, then we stop by one end of the wall to look at the pictures that have been left untouched.
Why do white people like to take pictures? Godknows says.
It’s because they are beautiful, Sbho says.
No, the white people.
In the pictures we see women in long dresses and funny hats. A boy rides a black horse; he looks happy, the horse doesn’t. A man stands next to a long rock, pointing a gun. He bites his lower lip in concentration, like maybe he is constipated and he is trying to push it out. Another man is dressed in a soldier’s uniform and carries a red beret. His left breast is flashy with metal thingies. He looks at the camera like he doesn’t know where to look. A man dressed in khaki stands in front of a field of maize. A man and woman are getting married, surrounded by happy people carrying drinks in their hands.
It’s like a museum, Sbho said. This is what they do in a museum, look at pictures and things.
It’s called a gallery, Stina says.
You’re lying. What would a white person even be doing at your kaka house? Bastard says.
In a very large picture that takes up a big part of the wall, a tall, thin man with graying hair parted at the side is dressed in a suit that matches his kind of blue eyes. He holds a cup and saucer in one hand. His free hand is raised slightly, like he is speaking with it. At the bottom of the picture are the words The Hon. Ian Douglas Smith; Rhodesians never die. In the next picture, a little toddler stands holding hands with a monkey. They are dressed in identical blue thingies that are half shirts, half vests, like they are twins. And in another photo, next to the twins, a nice-looking woman with a round face smiles. She is all bling: a sparkling crown sits on her head, with a necklace and earrings to match. The picture is not even interesting, and she is not even crazy beautiful, but we all stand there and lift our eyes to her like maybe we are looking at a flag.
Why does she look like that? Bastard says.
Like what? Sbho says.
Like that thing is heavy, Bastard says.
It’s called a crown, I say. And she is called a queen. I know her.
How do you know her? Bastard says.
She was at our house. A long time ago.
You’re lying. What would a white person even be doing at your kaka house? Bastard says.
Yes, she was. Under the bed. Under Mother of Bones’ bed.
The queen was under your grandmother’s bed? Godknows says.
Mnncccc. Sbho sucks her teeth and rolls her eyes.
Her face was on this British money that Mother of Bones kept in her Bible under the bed. That’s how I know her, I say.
That crown on her head is very heavy, that’s why she is smiling like that, smiling like she just ate a whole bunch of unripe guavas. It’s heavy because it’s made of gold, Godknows says.
I thought crowns were made of thorns. I saw a picture of it in the Bible, there when they were killing Jesus, Sbho says.
Maybe you saw another Bible. In the one I saw myself, Jesus had a real crown made of gold too. I mean, his father owns the whole world, Godknows says.
You are both lying, gold is not heavy, and you wouldn’t carry it on your head, Bastard says.
How do you know? Godknows says.
My uncle Jabu told me. He worked in the mine, remember? He said it was yellow and sparkling, but he never mentioned any heavy. He was going to bring it for us to see but then those kaka soldiers shot him down there, Bastard says, his voice starting to rise with show-off-ness.
We know the story. You’ve already told us, Sbho says.
In the bedroom everything is smashed as well but we still get on the bed and jump on it, except Sbho, who stands in front of a broken mirror and paints her lips red, then sprays herself with this blue bottle of perfume.
Yes, but I didn’t tell you about how they tried to hide his body. It was in all the newspapers, Bastard says, but we are already moving to another room. I am thinking of my cousin Makhosi’s hands of rubble, when he too worked the mine. When I look behind me, Bastard is busy patting his Afro like there’s a crown there he wants to fix in place.
In the bedroom everything is smashed as well but we still get on the bed and jump on it, except Sbho, who stands in front of a broken mirror and paints her lips red, then sprays herself with this blue bottle of perfume. We jump and we jump and we jump, the springs lifting us so high we raise our hands and almost slap the white ceiling each time we go up. Then after we get tired of jumping we get under the sheets and close our eyes and make snoring sounds. The bed is soft and smells so nice I don’t even want to get up from it.
We are like Goldidogs, I say from under my sheets. The three bears are coming, I say, but nobody says anything and I know it’s because they never read the story back in school.
Let’s do the adult thing, Sbho says, and we giggle. Now her lips look like she’s been drinking blood, and she smells expensive. We look at each other shy-like, like we are seeing one another for the first time. Then Bastard gets on top of Sbho. Then Godknows moves over but I push him away because I want Stina, not chapped-buttocks Godknows, to get on top of me. Stina climbs on me and lies still and we all giggle and giggle. I feel him crushing my stomach under his heavy body and I’m thinking what I’d do if it burst open and things splattered all over.
We are lying like that, giggling and doing the adult thing on the white people’s soft bed, when we hear the ringing. We jump up and look around, unsure what to do.
What is that? Godknows says.
It’s a phone, Stina says.
It’s a phone! It’s a phone! It’s a phone! we yell, running out of the bedroom towards the sound. We hunt for the phone in the living room and quickly find it under a towel. Stina flips the phone open and says, Hallo. Then he laughs and gives it to Sbho, who laughs and gives it to Bastard, who laughs and gives it to me. I am the one who speaks better English, so I say, Hallo, how are you, how can I help you this afternoon?
Who is this? a voice says on the other end. It is surprised, the way you sound when you find something you were not expecting.
It’s me, I say.
What? Who are you?
Okay, is this a joke? How did you get the phone?
No, it’s not a joke, and I got the phone from Bastard, I say.
Bastard? Okay, wait, can you just give the phone to the owner?
The owner is not here.
Where is she? Where are they?
We don’t know. They took them away.
What? Who is we? Who took them away? I can hear from her voice that she is maybe frowning. I also remember that I haven’t been using the word ma’am like we were taught to at school and I almost want to start the conversation over just so I can do it right.
The gang, ma’am, I say, doing it the right way now.
The one with the weapons and flags, ma’am.
Where did they take them?
I don’t know, ma’am.
By now everybody is looking at me like I’m something and as for me I’m just proud that I’m finally talking to a white person, which I haven’t ever done in my life. Not like this.
Jesus, Dan, can you find out what’s going on here? I just called Mom and Dad and some weird African kid has Mom’s phone, the woman says to somebody called Dan.
By now everybody is looking at me like I’m something and as for me I’m just proud that I’m finally talking to a white person, which I haven’t ever done in my life. Not like this. Then a new voice, a man’s voice, comes on. When he starts speaking to me in my language I laugh; I have never heard a white person speak my language before. It sounds funny, but I’m a little disappointed because I want to keep speaking in English.
The white man asks me what has happened and I tell him everything, but I don’t tell him the part about us stealing the guavas. In the end he tells me that I should put the phone back and that we should get out of the house because it’s not our house and we have no right to be there. I close the phone and put it back under the towel, where we found it, but I don’t tell the others what the man said about getting out of the house. I am already thinking of how many people from Paradise can live here in this big house. Maybe five families, maybe eight.
In the kitchen, water gushes from opened taps and we stop them. The table and chairs have been overturned, and plates and cups and pots and gadgets litter the floor. When we open the fridge we find it untouched, which surprises us. We gorge ourselves on the bread, bananas, yogurt, drinks, chicken, mangoes, rice, apples, carrots, milk, and whatever food we find. We eat things we have never seen before, things whose names we don’t even know.
Wee fawgoat the fowks, wee fawgoat the fowks, Godknows says, sounding like a white man, and we giggle. He starts towards the cupboards and rummages and rummages and rummages, and then he is back with the glinting forks and knives and we eat like proper white people. When we miss our mouths we laugh, fling the things away, and go back to using our hands. We stuff ourselves and we stuff ourselves, stuff ourselves until we almost cannot breathe.
I want to defecate, Godknows says, and we all leave the kitchen to hunt for the toilet. Our stomachs are so full they could explode. We walk like elephants because we are heavy, and the food has made us tired. We find the toilet at the end of the long passage. There is a big white round thing where they bathe, then there is the glass shower, the soaps, the gadgets and things. There is also a terrible reeking smell,and we look at the other end, and there, near the toilet, we see the words Blak Power written in brown feces on the large bathroom mirror.
NoViolet Bulawayo NoViolet Bulawayo is the author of the novel, We Need New Names. Her stories have won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing and been shortlisted for the 2009 South African PEN Studzinski Literary Award. Her work has appeared in The Boston Review, Newsweek, Callaloo, and the Warwick Review. NoViolet earned her MFA at Cornell University, where her work was recognized with a Truman Capote Fellowship. She is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. NoViolet was born and raised in Zimbabwe.