Tendai slid his cellphone shut with a force unbefitting of such a delicate object. His neck was aching and his throat was dry. He didn’t want to go back in. It was supposed to be a happy occasion, but he wasn’t really interested in the people eating and drinking, squashed in the two-bedroomed council flat.
However, he knew he couldn’t stay outside forever. His fingers were already throbbing from the cold and his ears were ringing as they did every time he stayed out too long. He paced back and forth then leaned over the railing to get a good look at the sky. If it snowed, he thought, London might just get a bit warmer and that would be nice. He jumped up and down a few times to keep his circulation going before re-dialling his uncle’s number.
The number you have dialled is currently unavailable. Please try again later.
He slid his phone shut even harder and banged his fist against the wall as the front door swung open.
‘What the hell are you doing out here. It must be minus 2!’ Chipo looked at him worriedly as she rubbed her arms briskly. ‘Come inside. I was wondering where you were. I don’t know anybody in there.’ He looked at his girlfriend thoughtfully, grateful to see a friendly face. He gestured for her to wait, then dialled his uncle’s number one last time.
Chipo spoke more persistently, ‘I prepared a plate for you.’
The number you have dialed …
‘Oh shut up, bitch!’ Tendai barked.
‘No, not you babe. It’s just, I can’t get through to my uncle. He’s been on the train for over an hour. I think he’s lost.’
‘Don’t worry. He’ll make it. After all he’s lived in London for nearly fifteen years, right?’
‘He has to be here.’
‘Tendai, he’ll be here. Come inside. Please. I’m freezing.’
Chipo took Tendai’s cellphone in one hand and his frozen hand in the other. She led him into the flat as a wave of screams rose from the kitchen. Someone had just put on a Sean Kingston CD.
A couple of women danced with reckless abandon, rubbing their thighs together. He recognised them as his brother’s fiancée Lois and her friend Sandirai. They were doing a performance for his brother who sat licking his lips as he leaned against the kitchen counter, quietly nursing a beer.
In the lounge, a motley group of men sat huddled in front of a widescreen TV that nearly covered the entire wall. Four women in their thirties and forties sat on couches and the floor nibbling on chicken bones from their plates full of sadza, stew and roast chicken. Two of them, Auntie Mable and her friend Stella, had overnight shifts at the local nursing home beginning at 8 p.m. and wanted this ceremony to get started as soon as possible.
Mable complained to her brother about the delay but he seemed not to hear anything more than the commentary hissing from the TV that dominated the small room. He was amongst three older men and two twenty-somethings sitting in feverish anticipation of a possible goal by Wayne Rooney. Maybe Christiano Ronaldo would have the golden boot this afternoon. After all, the boy was on fire this season.
Tendai and Chipo nearly bumped into Auntie Mable as they all reached the kitchen door at the same time. Mable was a nervous woman who seldom looked anyone in the eye. She passed the couple as if they were as inanimate as the furniture around them.
‘Lolo, we need to start this ceremony now. Some of us have got shifts,’ she told her young niece who was now bum-jiving with Sandirai while her fiancé Sam looked on.
‘OK, Auntie,’ she chimed in happily, ‘Where’s Mummy?’
‘Varimu lounge,’ she answered impatiently.
Lolo was about to leave when she saw Chipo giving Tendai a heaped plate of food.
‘Sam, you’d better tell your brother to eat fast. We’re about to start.’
Tendai ignored Lolo as he often did. He despised her vulgarity and lack of respect. He looked at his brother who was blankly admiring a fridge magnet and willing the tension in the air to disappear.
‘You can’t start yet,’ Tendai said to him, ‘Babamukuru hasn’t arrived.’
Lolo stood to her full height of 170 cm and wrapped an arm around Sam as if to taunt Tendai. She liked the drama. She wanted the attention. She lived for it. ‘You know, Tendai,’ she spoke with a hint of a smile, ‘Ever since Sam and I started going out you never wanted us to be together, and now you’re trying to stop this ceremony again. But you know what – you’re not going to succeed. Today is my day. Got it?’
Tendai laughed incredulously shaking his head as he kept his eyes locked on his brother.
‘Sam, this is not how it’s done. We wait for babamukuru.’
‘You know what, to hell with your little traditions,’ Lolo pointed at Tendai for emphasis, while glancing from side to side to make sure she had everyone’s attention, ‘My family’s here and Sam is here. This is going to happen whether you like it or not.’
Chipo took the plate away from him and set it down on the counter, worried that it could be dropped to the floor, food and all. She knew her man. Situations like this could set him off in a rage.
Auntie Mable, who was closely monitoring the exchange, decided it was now time for her to join her niece in the pointing game, ‘Nhai iwe, Tendai, chii chirikumbokunetsa? This is England, things are different here, things don’t have to be like they are at home.’
Sam looked at the women who blocked him from his cowering brother.
Tendai’s breathing quickened and Chipo held onto his arm, keeping him steady, keeping him next to her. She’d seen that look in his eyes before and knew this was not the time and place for him to lose his temper. He’d lost his last job for punching his boss. He said the man had referred to him as ‘You Nigerians’ just one time too many.
‘Tendai,’ Chipo spoke to him softly in the crammed kitchen, ‘take it easy. It’s OK.’
‘No it’s not! Keep out of this,’ he hissed at her before turning back to his brother. ‘Sam, is this what you want? You want to have some Mickey Mouse ceremony without your family … without an elder to stand with you, to show that you also came from somewhere. I can’t believe you would go into a family holding onto a bunch of women’s skirts.’
‘Oh no, you don’t! You’re such a sexist pig!’ Lolo bellowed.
‘Stop it! All of you! It’s enough!’ Sam’s voice resonated in the small space, even surprising Sam for a split second. There was a loud roaring cheer that filtered in from the lounge like a tidal wave. The odd cry of ‘Ronaldo’ could be heard above the din.
Auntie Mable stood perfectly still, looking at her niece, silently willing her on.
‘Tendai, come on,’ Sam pleaded with his older brother, ‘My boys are here. You’re here. We should just go ahead.’
‘Since when do we get married with – the boys?’ Tendai spoke slowly as he tried to maintain his cool, ‘I didn’t pay for your flight here and for your college fees so you could forget your family and our traditions. You weren’t born in the London Zoo!’
‘But Tendai, we’re in the UK! What does it matter?’
‘Samson unopenga here – are you crazy? Everything matters. We’re family, and we have to stick together. You can’t listen to the rantings of some woman. When the ceremony’s over, and all these people have gone home, and your wife finds some other little boy with cash and decides she doesn’t need you – what you have left is family.’
‘You gonna let him talk about me like that?’ Lolo looked at Sam in fury as she flicked her long straight weave behind her back. ‘Well, are you? Because I thought you were on my side.’
Sam looked from his brother to Lolo and turned back to the magnet for guidance before facing his brother again. Ever since their father passed away when Tendai was in Form 4 and Sam was in Grade 7, Tendai had always taken it upon himself to be Sam’s father figure but, in Sam’s opinion, he just came off as a bully.
The CD had stopped and the only sound that could be heard was the steady commentary from the football match emanating from the lounge.
Sam was about to speak when a phone started to ring. Everyone checked their pockets, but Chipo was already holding the offending cellphone towards Tendai.
‘It’s your uncle’s number.’
About the Author
Rumbi Katedza is a Zimbabwe-based film director, producer and writer. She is an award-winning writer and filmmaker who has lived in the USA, Japan, Italy, Canada, the UK and Zimbabwe. She has also worked as a radio presenter/producer on the popular former Zimbabwean station, Radio 3. Her articles have been featured in numerous magazines including Vertigo, AV Specialist and Hype!, and her fiction writing has been published in Women Writing Zimbabwe, the BTA/Anglo-Platinum Winners Collection and Illuminations.
Women Writing Zimbabwe is available at Weaver Press and at www.africanbookscollective.comPost published in: Arts