‘Sins of the Fathers’

The following is an excerpt from the short story ‘Sins of the Fathers’ by Charles Mungoshi. It is one of the 24 short stories in the anthology Writing Still, which was published in 2003 by Weaver Press.

Charles Mungoshi
Charles Mungoshi

Everyone had gone and they were now alone, Rondo Rwafa and his father, the ex-minister. Unknown to the father, the son – who’d never handled a gun before – had one in the inside pocket of his jacket. By the end of the day he would shoot – or not shoot – his father.

They were sitting at the dying fire under the green marquee stretched out over a corner of the big yard of Rondo’s house in Borrowdale. Metal and bamboo chairs were ranged haphazardly round the huge fire that had been kept going for almost a week now.

Rondo hadn’t been there when the accident occurred but his mind had been repeatedly going over what he imagined could have happened that day. He could see his father-in-law, Basil Mzamane, singing his song to the two girls, the one that he had been singing earlier that day to him, Rondo. Just as he had joined in to

accompany the old man – Mutukudzi was also one of his favourite musicians – he could hear his children singing, ‘Todini?… Senzeni?… What shall we do?’He imagined a lot of laughter in the car, the old man so involved in singing and the joy of being with his grand-daughters that he forgot to pay attention to what was on the road. As he thought it through again, Rondo still couldn’t let his children see what was going to happen to them in the next few seconds. Only the old man saw it – too late – and his ‘Maiwe-e

zvangu!’didn’t register on the children’s minds. Or so Rondo preferred – wanted – to think. He couldn’t bear to imagine what would have gone through the children’s minds if they had seen it coming towards them. Probably – it is just possible – that they did see it, but couldn’t understand what it meant. It is also possible that they might even have cheered the behemoth coming towards them, towering above them. The sight of it moving inexorably – so Rondo wanted to think – might just have made them unaware of its destiny.

So, after all, they just might have died happily – or, at least, obliviously. Rondo was trying to erase the pain, trying to come to terms with it as it coursed through him again and again.

He was sitting on the same sofa he had sat on for the past week, chin lodged in the heart-shaped cup of his hands. He had only left the sofa at the insistence of his workmate, Caston, who, under the pretext of buying groceries for the mourners, was really trying to take Rondo’s mind off things a bit. For the whole week he had been hearing the low continuous buzz of murmuring voices, broken now and again by the keening and wailing of some female new-arrivals, as the mourners came in and went out of the tent; sitting with them, the bereaved family, or leaving to attend to some urgent personal business, but always coming back again later to keep them company, to mourn with them. Of course, Rondo was not unaware that all these people came for different reasons: some out of the genuine awareness of neighbourly goodwill, some out of respect and some – well, you could see it in the way they stared into the cameras as they shook hands with the old man, the ex-minister, Rondo’s father. These photos would open doors in the future. People would be remembered. Rondo had seen the crowds milling all over the place.

He had heard their voices, low and consoling, but sometimes also, loud and laughing, seemingly having forgotten why they were gathered at this house. (These loud voices seemed more honest than the low ones.) And then he heard all the voices as one, a strong hushed roar – wild beasts on the rampage? A distant river in flood? Only it was July, height of the cold dry season. Some voices had found lodging in his mind and he had heard – and understood – that they were all talking of what had happened in his home. It was not natural, they were saying. And then there were the songs.

The haunting songs that the women had sung all night, every night, throughout the whole week, and that were now echoing back to him as he sat there across the fire from his father. They sat like that for some time in silence. Rondo started, as if waking from a deep sleep. He was certain that something had roused him, touched him physically, but he couldn’t immediately tell what it was. He looked up. He turned his head right and left. He was surprised to find that his father was now sitting beside him, on the sofa. The thought that his father had changed places without his being aware of it, scared him. He also noticed that his father’s hand was resting on his knee. Despite the fire and the general warmth in the seat, Rondo felt the coldness of that hand through the thick material of his jeans as if shards of ice had been deposited on his flesh.

‘Your grief will pass away like dew in the morning sun. One day you will be grateful, glad that this has happened now and not later. You will remember me and thank me.’

‘Why, Father?’Rondo’s mind was elsewhere. His voice sounded strange to him. They were not talking about the same thing.

‘You will hear people talking. They will try to give you all sorts of advice. It’s lies. Don’t listen to them,’his father was saying, but Rondo found himself straining his ears, only to hear a silence settling down inside him, heavy as a huge stone, in that space which his children’s voices would have filled. He felt his father’s fingernails digging into the flesh of his knee as if he were trying to make him understand something that he couldn’t say in words.

Rondo’s eyes fixed on his father’s. He saw, in the older man’s eyes, the glow of the dying fire. A little flame flared up, flickered and died. Slowly, almost contemptuously, Rondo removed his father’s hand from his knee. His father’s eyes opened a little wider, in surprise, then quickly he gave a little sad laugh, ‘Nothing lives for ever. You are still young. You can have other children.’Without another word, the old man rose and shuffled towards the house. Rondo heard him coughing horribly; then the cough was abruptly cut off as the door to the main building banged shut behind him.

As his father entered the lit area in the veranda, Rondo had thought his shoulders looked narrower and droopier than he had remembered them. With more intensity, the thought which had begun to visit him with almost daily frequency since the accident, came once more: I mist have been afraid of just a shadow. His wife, Selina, might have been right after all. To admit that she might have been right, that she could possibly be right, was not a pleasant thought for him to entertain: You are always in the shadow of your father. She’d even gone as far as saying: I could do better in your pants.

In the shadow of my father, he reflected again, as his thoughts grew clearer. Exactly what am I doing to myself? His mind moved on to his colleagues in the journalistic fraternity and their attitude towards him. While they didn’t exactly laugh at him to his face, they certainly didn’t take him seriously. They might have wanted to, but Rondo was one of those people who at any gathering, inadvertently became a laughing stock. And the worst of it was that Rondo, feeling defenseless, would join in their laughter, as if to say: Well, if you see me as a fool, I’ll be one. In short, everyone seems to be telling Rondo to ‘Grow up. Get a life,’ and yet – There was the scrape and squeak of a door opening. Rondo looked up and back at the house. Silhouetted in the doorway, with the light behind her, so that he couldn’t see her face, stood his wife, Selina.

They looked at each other like that for a long moment and then Rondo turned his gaze back into the fire. He realised he was expecting to hear again the squeak and scrape of the door, to tell him that his wife had gone back into the house. He didn’t feel he could endure company at the moment.

Then he heard the snap of a twig very close to him and he looked around. It was Selina. He restrained himself from shouting at her – which would have surprised her. He hadn’t heard her footsteps as she approached him across the thick lawn. This thought, combined with the earlier one of his father changing places, alarmed him as he realised the possibility of many things, things to do with life and death, that were happening to him without his being aware of them. But this thought quickly melted away when he felt – gratefully – the warmth of Selina’s hand on his frozen shoulder. He could smell the wool of the blankets she’d risen from, recent sleep still lingering on her. Without looking at her, he raised his hand and laid it on top of hers on his shoulder.

Then, her fingers cracking as he squeezed them in his, he was trying to say something to her that couldn’t be said by word of mouth. And also trying to get from her something which was more than body warmth. He let his head rest against her belly, his skull just nudging the underside of her breast.

‘You haven’t slept a wink for the whole week,’ Selina said in a very low voice, as she crouched by the fire, knocking several pieces of wood together into a blaze.

‘I feel as if I have been asleep all my life,’ he said, at the same time wondering whether she understood what he meant. He sank his fingers into her dreadlocks.

‘I finally managed to sleep last night – thanks to your mother.’

Selina was silent for a moment, then she went on, ‘All night, every day, we sat side by side. Then last night – I suppose she saw me nodding off, and she just took my head and put it on her lap. I hadn’t realised how exhausted I was. And how I needed a mother to hold me just like that.’Another silence. Then, unexpectedly, ‘A great woman, your mother.’

Because he was thankful or confused – Rondo said, ‘And my father?’ Selina tensed: ‘What do you mean?’

‘Oh, nothing.’Now he was – as always – on the defensive. Of course he didn’t mean ‘nothing’. What he really wanted to know was what his wife really thought about his father. So far, she hadn’t said anything at all about anything, not since the accident in which her own father and their – his and her – own children had perished. It exasperated him that she always seemed to hold herself above everybody else, as if passing judgement on them – and him – weaker mortals. Subconsciously, what irked him, was that she hadn’t said anything – good, bad or indifferent – nothing that would, at least, indicate a direction for him to take. Although he might have not known it throughout their life together, he now seemed to have an inkling that she had always made all the decisions. (A fact which had been quickly commented … and acted … on by his father.) Now, how he was to handle his father largely depended on what she, Selina, said about the old man. But now she was behaving as if she – Rondo wondered if she knew. He could never tell with his wife. Or, possibly, his own mother could have told her – they were inseparable, his wife and his mother. The two of them also knew how to get information.

Rondo had always been surprised – he would burst into his, or his mother’s, house with what he thought was something neither of them would have heard. But the thing about them was that they wouldn’t embarrass you by letting you know the ‘news’ was old hat. They would look kindly at you and from that look you would know that they had been hiding the information from you for the past month – or even a year. They preferred not to offer ‘news’.

‘Very strange’, Rondo said to Selina.

‘What?’ ‘This accident.’

Selina stiffened. Then she turned her head slowly away from the fire and looked at him. She stood up, took both his hands in hers, and gently pulled him up, ‘Come on. You need rest. Let’s get you some sleep and then I will prepare you a big breakfast. I can’t remember when I last cooked you something since we started employing a housemaid. Come on. I don’t want to lose you as well.’ ‘Lose me?’

‘To the maid.’But she suddenly let go of his hands as if she had remembered something else she would rather forget. She put her face into her hands and gave one big heave of the shoulders.

Rondo put his arm round those shoulders.

‘I think I’ll accompany Papa’s body to Bulawayo tomorrow,’ she said after she had stopped crying.

‘We will go together.’


‘Why? Are you blaming –’

‘No No No Noooo!’ She didn’t quite scream, but she put her hand to Rondo’s mouth and then rushed off across the lawn and into the house, crashing the door shut behind her. He looked after her at the closed door, feeling the way she’d gone. She’d realised he’d been about to say something, he thought. Something that hurt only him – but would later filter out to those near him. She was always telling him that he apologised too much. It was a form of selfishness, she said. But he had been brought up in a different world: she had been brought up by people with ‘long hearts’– people who forgave others – all this he understood now – and he? Rondo remembered telling Selina about his first disappointment – and the first sermon from his father, who was then – he didn’t know in those days of political troubles – but, of course, his mother knew. Anyway, an uncle had given Rondo an old guitar. He was only four then. His father had come home – in Old Canaan, Highfield, then – and found him strumming away tunelessly on the instrument. His father had broken the strings and thrown the whole contraption into the fire, saying, ‘No Mick Jaggers or John Whites in my house! Scum! They have no sense of responsibility, those people. Flowers of the sun. Playing and singing on trains with no destination in mind. Railway followers. Tch. Tch. Tch. Rolling Stones. No son of Rwafa has ever been a rolling stone…’

He had been only a child – and he didn’t have any idea who Mick Jagger or John White were. But he had remembered the fear that had been planted in him then. (He’d peed in his shorts – he’d told Selina!)

And he had told her all this because he loved her and he was about to lose her because his father, a full-blown bhuru rokwaNyashanu, would not let the Rwafa family be demeaned by an effeminate son who wanted to marry into an ingnominious muDzviti family. And he would have lost her if she hadn’t stood by him – she, her father and his own mother. The flames of that burning guitar had gutted

all the courage out of him.

It had always brought tears to his eyes to see his mother and wife together – while his father frowned – and even spat – at the relationship. And throughout, Rondo didn’t know what was behind all this – tension – in their relationships. Once, his mother tried to simplify it for him: ‘Your father is Zezuru-Karanga and, once-upona-time, they were raided by the maDzviti-Ndebele. Well, in those days or even in these days, if you have a war, you have a war. It doesbad things to people’s minds. So they will always remember the

pain of the scars rather than the relief of the healing. Your father, mwanangu, is one bombed-out battlefield of scars. And his deepest scar is that he cannot forgive: not just his enemies. You. Me. Anyone.’

It hadn’t meant anything to him then, but it had been easier to accept than, ‘Well, my son, give me a grandson, to whom I can leave all this.’All this was, Rondo thought, his cars, houses and money.

And his charisma – because, though he might have been afraid of him, Rondo really thought that his father, his Daddy, was the greatest.

About the Author

Charles Mungoshi – born 1947. He has written novels and short stories in Shona and English, as well as two collections of children’s stories, Stories from a Shona Childhood (1989) and One Day Long Ago (1991); the former won him the Noma Award. He has also continued to write poetry and has one published collection: The Milkman doesn’t only deliver Milk (1998).

He has won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa region) twice, in 1988 and 1998, for two collections of short stories The Setting Sun and the Rolling World (1987) and Walking Still (1997). Two of his novels: Waiting for the Rain (1975) and Ndiko kupindana kwa mazuva (1975) received International PEN awards. The prolific writer released a new book in 2013, Branching Streams Flow in the Dark (2013), which was published by his family. The book just like it’s title focuses on despair and hopelessness of those affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic before the advent of life-saving anti-viral drugs.

Post published in: Arts
  1. Francesco Sinibaldi

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