‘They are coming’

The congregation is not very large; its members, all singing, are kneeling before the priest in neat rows, their white gowns contrasting with the monotony of the earth colours of the autumn bush. When the priest, Siziba, sees Ambition, he raises his long staff over his head, as if he wants to hook something above him. The singing stops immediately. Ambition stops before him and hitches up his shorts.

Christopher Mlalazi
Christopher Mlalazi

The priest regards him silently. He’s an elderly man with a clean-shaven head and a long white beard. A huge red cross is stitched to the front of his gown.

‘You’re late today,’ Siziba’s voice is low and grating. ‘It’s past eleven now.’

‘There were Green Bombers in the street,’ Ambition replies. ‘My mother didn’t want me to leave the house.’

‘We saw the fighting from here,’ Siziba acknowledges. ‘Has your sister returned home?’

Ambition shakes his head. ‘No.’

‘When did you last see her?’

‘She was with the Green Bombers today.’

Siziba raises his face to the sky, closes his eyes, and breaks into a song. The congregation do the same. Still singing, Siziba hands his Bible and staff to the woman kneeling beside him, his wife MaSiziba. Beside her is MaChivanda, the money-changer who lives in the big yellow house behind Ambition’s home.

Then, stretching his arms towards Ambition, his eyes half-closed, the priest flicks his fingers in and out, beckoning him nearer. Ambition steps forward and kneels in front of Siziba, who grips his face in both his hands, and looking up to the heavens breaks into tongues, while the women sing.

MaChivanda is leading in a light but beautiful descant. Ambition feels Siziba’s palms on his cheeks squeezing them so that his lips pout. It makes him feel silly. Given a choice, he would have preferred the priest to place his hands on his head, as he does with the adults.

Finally, the prayer ends, and Siziba joins in the singing again, smoothly taking the lead from MaChivanda. Removing his hands from Ambition’s cheeks, he takes a strip of red cloth from a bag at his feet and, still singing, he ties it around the boy’s forehead. Then he takes a length of white cloth from the bag, pours a little water on it, and hands the cloth to Ambition.

‘Go there and face towards the source of the evil, my son,’ the priest instructs, pointing at a slab of rock. ‘Cover yourself with this cloth and pray to the Lord to make your sister see reason and return home.’

With the red band around his forehead, and without a shirt, Ambition feels like a WWF champion. He kneels on the slab of rock, the white cloth draped over his small shoulders, its ends in his hands. He has not yet covered his head to pray. The scene before him is too interesting. His mind wanders.

The land rises slowly toward the houses on the other side of the Masiye-phambili Road. To the left is the Lobengula Beer Garden, which is built on the rise in such way that it seems as if it is sliding backwards towards him. Ambition can see that people are assembled in a group in the middle of the garden, in the space reserved for dancing, just in front of the jukebox. But there’s no music coming from there today, no rumba, no Solomon Skhuza, the beer garden patrons’ preferred music. Adjacent to the beer garden is Ilanga Youth Centre where the Green Bombers have their camp. Unusually, there is no activity inside its barbed wire fenced grounds.

A group of people emerge from behind the beer garden. Ambition instantly recognises their green T-shirts. He squints hard trying to see Senzeni, but it is far too far away to see any one individual. So he looks for the flag, and can’t see that either.

A police truck comes to a stop beside the Green Bombers. Police officers jump out, and the two groups engage in conversation. Ambition looks back to the beer garden.

The group there seems to be being addressed by a man in a white shirt. Ambition wonders if it could be Mr Nkani. Then the Green Bombers turn away from the policemen and run into the township. Ambition bends his head again, knowing he should be praying for Senzeni. He wonders if the priest is watching him.

  • **

Ambition heard that Mr Nkani was entering politics when his father had complained to his mother, and he’d been surprised. Not Mr Nkani! Not the weak-bodied teacher from Lobengula II High, whom the children in both the primary and secondary schools called Airport because of the bald patch on his head!

It had been after supper some months back, and Ambition had been lying on his parent’s bed, half asleep, while they were still in the kitchen.

His mother was sitting on the floor weaving a reed mat. His father was on the faded sofa doing nothing after a long day and a bad back. ‘We send our kids to school to learn, but now those same teachers are holding secret meetings that will get the country into trouble,’ he complained.

‘We must buy cards for both parties,’ his mother responded practically.

‘A day will come when the youth will conduct door-to-door searches and we need to be prepared!’

‘I won’t waste my hard-earned money on such foolishness,’ his father replied. ‘I don’t mend shoes all day sitting on a rock to spend my money on party cards!’

‘This isn’t about politics, Ambition’s father, it’s about survival.’

‘Okay, so what if you mistakenly produce the wrong card?’

‘We’ll be careful. We’ll keep them separately. I’ll keep one and you the other.’

‘So, which one will you keep, and which one will I be made to keep?’

‘Ah, Ambition’s father, that doesn’t matter. We wouldn’t be saying that we’re now voting for them, or that we’ve become members of their party. Like I said, we’ll just be doing it to make sure they don’t bother us. We have to think for our children.’

‘Okay, buy the cards then, but you keep them both. I don’t want to have anything to do with such nonsense,’ Ngwenya said firmly. ‘Why should we be afraid of our own political parties when they’re supposed to ensure that we live in peace? And that Mr Nkani is now one of them, too.’

Ambition’s ears pricked up.

‘I’ve heard that,’ his mother said. ‘He’s been given a position in the MDC, and now wants to be an MP.’

‘But how can a schoolteacher be involved in politics?’ his father asked.

‘A teacher needs time to plan his work so his pupils can pass their exams. If Mr Nkani enters politics, where’s he going to get the time for his schoolwork? I ask you, should we be surprised when Senzeni comes home with bad marks?’

‘Our daughter was not doing well long before Mr Nkani became involved in politics, Ngwenya,’ His mother put a stop to the conversation, knowing that once her husband had a bee in his bonnet, she’d have to listen to him for a long time. Ambition could hardly wait to go to school to break the news that something was soon going to happen to Mr Nkani. Politics was a dangerous game. Didn’t his father always say that? And everyone knew that you didn’t play around with ZANU-PF.

But imagining that Mr Nkani had the heart to risk his life was indeed surprising. The teacher was not known for his bravery.

Ambition remembered an athletics competition, when Mr Nkani had almost been beaten up by Mrs Gumbo, his class teacher. With his students watching, Mr Nkani had run away when Mrs Gumbo attacked him. Undeterred, she’d chased him round the athletics ground. At last, Mr Nkani ran to the primary school and hid in the office and the headmaster had to placate the angry Mrs Gumbo.

Ambition never found out the real reason why Mrs Gumbo had wanted to beat up Mr Nkani; there’d been so many rumours he just didn’t know what to believe. One theory was that Mrs Gumbo was just a bully who wanted to make trouble for Mr Nkani. Certainly, Mrs Gumbo didn’t need any big excuse to beat students in class.

Another, the juiciest, was that Mr Nkani had entered the ladies’ toilet by mistake and without knocking and had found Mrs Gumbo with her pants down. But this rumour came from Power and Ambition hadn’t believed it, as Power was famous for telling lies. Besides, thought Ambition, how do you enter a ladies’ toilet by mistake?

But despite the stories, and meek as he was, Mr Nkani had been given a position in the MDC, and Ambition was sure that trouble would follow like a shadow.

About the Author

Christopher Mlalazi, is currently Writer in Residence in Hanover city, Germany. In 2012 he was a participant of the Iowa Writing Program, in 2011 he was Guest Writer at the Nordic Africa

Institute in Uppsala Sweden, and in 2010 he was the Guest

Writer at the Villa Aurora in Los Angeles, USA. Prolific as a prose writer and playwright, in 2008 he was the co-winner of the

Oxfam Novib PEN Freedom of Expression Award at the Hague for theatre, and in 2009 was awarded a NAMA award for his short story collection, Dancing With Life: Tales From The Township. He was nominated for another NAMA for his novel 2009 novel, Many Rivers. In 2010 he won a NAMA for his play Election Day. His latest play Colors of Dreams, also opened to a full house at HIFA 2011. He has also written the novel is Running with Mother (2012). They are Coming (2014) is his latest novel.

Post published in: Arts

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