The following is an excerpt from the short story ‘Crossroads’ by Tendai Huchu, one of the 15 short stories in the anthology Writing Free, was published in 2011 by Weaver Press.

They took the stabilisers off too early when they handed my brother his first bicycle. I remember it clearly, a small red BMX with matching red wheels. My father had bought it from Jaggers wholesalers in the nostreetlight, one-street town-centre of my birth. I marvelled at it when he took it from out of its the packaging on the morning of my brother’s sixth birthday. I suddenly wished I was much older – alas I was second born and felt second best. My yellow tricycle with its steel frame, solid rubber wheels and safety flag now looked childish compared to this wonderful new contraption.

I counted the months until my birthday. The only problem was, I wasn’t too sure when it was. I was too busy with important things like catching frogs in-between playing cowboys and indians, climbing trees or hard at chikweshe.

My father spent the morning teaching my brother to ride on the quiet road that led to our house. We lived in a bungalow that belonged to the mine where my father was foreman. It was a red-roofed white building that was at the end of Shashi View, a street of identical homes.The mine owned the town. Beyond the road was a bush path. I thought we were at the very edge of civilisation. It was my forest then and I still think it belongs to me, even though years later, I would return and find the trees had been torn down and replaced with houses built as far as the eye can see. Progress, I suppose, but no one had bothered to tell me.

I followed behind them on my tricycle. My father was on his Black Horse – an adult-sized bicycle that seemed gigantic to me. My father too was a colossus, I could walk between his legs if he opened them wide enough. My brother wobbled beside him though he had a stabilizer on either side of his new bike. I was desperately trying to keep up but I didn’t stand a chance. Their big wheels chewed up more tar than my tiny ones. I expended energy, peddling furiously as they casually pulled away. It was no contest. The handicap was too great to overcome.

Kudos to the inventor of the bicycle-chain. I stopped and watched them until they were as small as me. Once they reached the top of the street they turned back, the sun

glistening on their spokes, their shadows behind them. I followed as they rode past me and stopped in front of our house where my mother in her nurse’s uniform was beaming proudly at the gate.

‘He’s doing all right. I think he should try without the extra wheels,’ my father said.

‘Give him time, it’s only his first day.’ Mother was always more realistic. I clung to the hem of her dress trying to attract her attention.

‘Nonsense, these boys walked before they crawled.’ My father was referring to the fact that as toddlers my brother and I had taken to duckwalking, holding onto pieces of furniture until we were able to stand on our own. We skipped the crawling bit.

‘I’m not sure…’ Mother said hesitantly, but father was already removing the stabilisers. What did women know about cycling anyway?

That was all such a long time ago. As I sit down and loosen my tie, looking out through the double-glazed window onto the street from my penthouse, I hear myself sighing. My wife enters the room and kisses me with her thin lips. Her flowing hair brushes ever so gently against me.

She has brought me a glass of goji juice in a narrow beaker. My trem-bling hand accepts this offer and under her watchful eye I gulp down the repulsive liquid. She urges me to down drink the last few drops and leaves the room, satisfied that I’m doing my bit. I’m always doing my bit.

My Blackberry rings. It’s the office again, Phil calling. He mumbles something, I grunt back. I move to my laptop and check my e-mails.

‘I thought you promised that you weren’t going to be working this evening?’ my wife says, re-entering the living room. Her chest rises and falls slowly.

‘It’s the guys from the office. They have something I need to see urgently.’

I download an attachment and flick through it, instantly noticing a dozen errors.

‘But you promised.’

‘I know babe, but come and see this.’ She doesn’t move. When you marry a woman who is not half as educated as you are, this is the price you pay.

‘You’re always finding excuses. I’m beginning to think you’re not as into this as I am.’ She walks away in a huff and bangs the bedroom door.

I should follow her but I don’t. We’ve been through this routine many times. I know the problem is hers, not mine. I go to the window and peer down into the street below. How times have changed. The boy who grew up in wide-open spaces is now locked away and confined in a box in this a concrete jungle. The trees have been replaced by lampposts, the duikers, which bounded across the yard, have become cyclists, the predators have morphed into cars, birdsong has been replaced by their honking; the boy too has become a man. An old woman with a trolley walks by slowly along the pavement.

Several young people pass her without so much as a nod of acknowledgement. She moves stoically, seemingly impervious to the incivility of the times. I shudder at the thought of greying hair and wrinkled skin. I am still youngish and I intend to stay that way. If I want to make partner in the firm then I must get back to work.

The traffic below makes a soothing hum as I settle down with my laptop. From the bedroom I hear the sound of soft sobbing cleverly calibrated to be just loud enough to reach the lounge. How much longer must I play these emotional games? I have half a mind to ignore her but a husband must do his duty. I raise myself up and walk barefoot across the costly off-white carpet she chose for us in our first year together. A van Gogh in the hallway looks down on me reproachfully. Yet another of her purchases. I would have bought something nice by a local artist but she wanted an imitation, to me another demonstration of her limitations. I knock on the door gently. Her sobbing increases exponentially.

Imagine that! A man having to knock on his own bedroom door! I open it gently and stand a short distance from the bed. Its red satin sheets dominate the entire room. They represent a time when she was trying to turn the room into our own little love nest. There’s a dressing table dominated by various expensive perfumes and cosmetics on which she has spent what shopping money I’ve given her. The wardrobe too is bursting at the seams with clothes she never seems to wear. I move in and sit next to her, throwing my left arm around her shoulder.

She buries her head in my chest and says, ‘Don’t touch me.’

My hand is limp and I do not know what to do. I haven’t paid lobola for this one, so I don’t own her.

‘All right hun, I won’t do any work today, okay? Stop crying now.’

‘It’s not about your bloody work. Why does everything have to be about your fucking job?’ Because I’m the one who pays the rent and puts food on your table, I want to answer, but I bite my tongue. I can never picture my father having this sort of conversation. No sir, he was from an era when men were men.

‘Then what is it about?’ I ask, my hand stroking her back.

‘I want you to be honest with me,’ she says and sighs, wiping the tears off her face. ‘Do you really want to make this work?’

‘Of course. How can you even doubt that?’

‘I just don’t think you’re making an effort, or maybe mummy has found you a nice girl from the village.’ There’s nothing but spite in her voice.

‘Oh come on. Here we go again.’

It’s true that mother never particularly liked this one and wanted me to marry someone nearer home, but that was a long time ago. I fail to understand why my wife can’t move on. I chose her, after all. On the wall a clock ticks. I like the sound of clocks, especially in the morning.

It’s a reassuring sound. I kiss her cheek and tell her that I’m not going anywhere. To cheer her up, I even offer to cook.

Tonight we’ll have something healthy: vegetable risotto. What I’d really like is some sadza with mufushwa and a helping of maguru but these days we’ve become vegans. We no longer drink and she has given up

Post published in: Arts

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