The tale of “The forgotten”

The skies were blue and clear, birds chirping merrily in the distance. Now and then, a mild breeze would sweep through the surburb, diluting the intense heat that was coming from the scotching sun. The old surburb of Torwood (Kwekwe) embraced me with a strange aura filled with unsaid sorrow, fears and bitter-sweet memories of the past, the days when Zisco Steel was alive.

We got to her home, it looked abandoned, for a second, we actually thought the place had been deserted. doors locked, the tiny windows shut, its brown walls made my stomach turn, the dingy,dirty, torn curtains  hung loosely, threatening to fall off if the mild breeze outside decided to be stronger. Freedom knocked on the door, a couple of minutes passed before we got any response. The door was opened just enough for a frail old face to peep outside, her old crinkled eyes that were obscured with cataracts so completely that I could not tell her eye colour looked hard at us, eyes wide open with fear.

Like a detective, she asked us questions just to make sure we were not the police nor people from the city council. The tragedy that had befallen her on 23 July this year, had left her traumatised. She let us into her little home, dark inside and short of good furniture. Everything in the house was old, from her brown sofas that had neat yet torn covers, grey scale pictures that hung crooked on her walls and the Television set on her table that was supported by bricks. 84 year old Utaba Imana, narrated her ordeal to us.

Redcliff City Council in July this year locked out families of New Zimsteel workers and in other cases widows of former Zisco Steel workers from houses which belonged to their employer. The houses were handed over to council for free some 20 years ago.Houses in Torwood’s H-section, which were built in 1942, are now an eyesore with dilapidated infrastructure. Utaba Imana is among the 19 victims of this insensitive exercise, evicted over outstanding rate bills.

She stays in her little home with her child and grandchild, but she remains the breadwinner of the family because her child “anorwara nezvirwere zvakauya izvi  (is a victim of these diseases that are rampant in today’s world/ubulawa yimkhuhlane yalezi nsuku)” I quote. As she was narrating how they slept out in the cold for two nights, and to add insult to injury how they were sleeping on an empty stomach, locked out of the home she stayed in for the last 35 years, tears filled her eyes, and she let them wonder all over the place, evading our gazes as she unsuccessfully tried to hide her pain. The dreadful memories chocked down her voice, she spoke in almost a whisper.

This old, strong-willed and frail woman made headlines in the newspapers as she challenged her eviction in an ex-parte application (an urgent application where requiring notice is waived because it would subject one party to irreparable harm) filed at the Kwekwe Magistrates’ Court. Her eviction order was then rescinded and she was allowed to reoccupy her house until finalisation of the court case. 

When we told Utaba that we had come from Harare after reading her story from the papers and on seeing her on the National news, she stared at us inquisitively, and asked if her grandchildren who were in the capital had heard the news too (because they had taken no action). The whole team was tongue-tied, no-one had the right answer to this. I saw Freedom shrug in his seat, compassion written all over his face, his hand flew to his eyes, he was not crying but something deep and unexplainable was stirred in him.

Time was not on our side, we had a 396km journey back to Harare ahead of us, we quickly wrapped up with a prayer, and Freedom gave Utaba some money to buy groceries for the family, she ululated, with unwatched tears rolling down her cheeks. She went on to take her mealie meal container and showed us that she had used the last mealie meal the previous night to make mealie porridge for the family which they had had for supper.

Utaba Imana

It’s grossly disheartening to think of all the widows that faced the same horrendous circumstances, “The Forgotten Ones” because of the way they were treated…however like an orphan is “EVERYONE’S CHILD” each of these widows is “EVERYONE’S GRANDMA”.

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….my heart penned this…

Sitting on my bed and listening to the late Mbira guru -Chiwoniso Maraire’s soulful music, particularly Mai and Iwai Nesu, i fell under a spell of nostalgia and her lyrics cast me under a spell of melancholy, the memories swept over me vividly as if it  had all happened just yesterday.

I remember how i felt the first time i laid eyes on my Dad after hearing the news that Mama had passed away…”ooogh Gosh, i love this man, he is all i have, i don’t want you to go anywhere daddy,”, my mind screamed repeatedly as i rushed to my Dad’s open arms. Before i could crush into his embrace, he held me at arm’s length, looked deep into my tearfilled, hopeless, lost eyes and said, “watokura so mwanangu, mama vazorora”, this was venecular for “you have grown now my child, your mum has gone to rest”. If these were his words of comfort, he had done a dismal job, i wailed louder, heaven knows if that is what growing up meant, then i didnt want to. When he finally locked me in his arms, i cried hard, i dont know how i could take it if he had not been there too.

I was only fourteen, learning at a “reputable” Catholic Girls School, on that fateful morning, apart from having had a nightmare the previous night everything was normal, until i was called to the Convent. My heart raced for no apparent reason, my palms became sweaty, my tummy turned, and i could not think straight, you dont just get called to the convent. As i got there, i found my aunt who was a nun, waiting for me having a deep conversation with the nuns from our school, they went quiet the moment i walked in, and Sister Alletta (my aunt), rose to her feet and came to give me a long warm hug. As much as this seems odd now considering she  hugged me before saying anything, i did not  suspect anything then. Ogh she smelt heavenly as usual, what i did not understand is why she had decided to visit me on a Monday when we were having lessons instead of weekends like she always did. In a few moments i had learned that the reason for her visit was to collect me from school because my mum had “fallen seriously ill”. This all was too much to take for my small mind, i had 101 questions for example, when did she fall sick, when did she get worse, why was i not told? it was too big a shock. She drove me to her convent where she said we would wait for my Dad.

Upon arriving, the nuns from her “house” were remarkably very hospitable, except for one who was the eldest one i assume, from the grey hair, spectacle lenses that were thick as the bottom of a coca-cola bottle and respect she received from her colleagues. Her presence was unsettling me, she kept looking at me and firing questions about how old i was, when i had last seen my mum, how i felt about heading to Harare on my own since my Dad was taking time, i wont lie, i loathed her, whatever it is that she was trying to do she should have just saved it for another day i was not in the mood. Sister Alleta organized that i get breakfast. For the thirty minutes that followed i forgot about the troubles of my life, having been used to poorly cooked boarding school food, the cheese, bacon, eggs, sausage, toast and pure fruit juice i had was “five star”.

As soon as i finished, reallity gave me a hard slap in the face as i went to the room where Sister Alleta and five other nuns were seated, the artmosphere was thick you could cut it with a knife. I asked Sister Alleta for a pencil and plain paper, i wanted to draw something for my mum. I loved art, (this is a talent i got from my maternal side, both her brothers were artists cum designers) i drew her a rose, taking my time. it looked beautiful, like it could prick me if i perfected it more, i am trying to say if almost looked real, Beneath i wrote in big italised words- “Get Well Soon Mama, i am praying for you”. deep in my heart i was saying my rosary prayers, for God to heal my mum. The phone rang, and Sister Alletta left the room to answer.

When she came back, she headed to sit next to me, she placed her hand on my lap, in a low, calm voice, filled with emotion, she said “….hanzi mbuya vatisiya ( i have been informed that your mum has passed away). It felt like a bullet had pierced thru my skull and settled at the core of my brain, i could feel its cold metal, it made me numb. the next thing i remember- i was throwing the pencil across the room and the writting pad and my beautiful drawing to the floor. Sr Alleta hugged me, my body was shaking, tears cascaded down my cheeks salty, and uncontrollable, thin mucus too, escaped my nose as i cried out loud. I screamed “Why me God, ooooogh why meeee, why did you have to go so soon mama…”, i kept shaking my head, NOOOO this had to be a long bad dream. when i had calmed down on the physical, with episodes all the precious moments i had shared with my mum making their own slide show in my head, the other nuns took turns to come hug me and express their condolences. Disbelief tormented me, confusion doing the harassing part, pain consumed my heart and all the dreams i had.Image

Death is a subject that unsettles us all, we never give ourselves time to think about it, often we take the people who matter for granted, like we know they are going to be there forever, we dont even want to face the thought of our own death, too many plans,dreams and goals, we are just too busy to give that stubborn angel of darkness a thought or two.i had never imagined this day would come, when i would lose mama. there are soo many things i would have loved to tell her, but i never did, so many things i would have loved to do with her, apologise for all the times i was a bad child. add more lyrics to the “love letters” we wrote each other. The last memory of her lying lifeless was beautiful, she looked peaceful a faint smile was etched at the corner of her lips, she looked gorgeous, this was confirmation to me that she was in a better place. Sometimes i look at people’s profile pictures with their mothers and wish Mama was still here too so i could take a picture with her so you could all see how much i am a splitting image of her. Death is never timely…days will turn into months, months into years, but every time you think of a loved one who has gone to be with the Lord, the pain will always be fresh. You know what makes people cry when they lose a loved one, its the full realisation that life will never be the same again without them…the anxiety, uncertainty of how tomorrow will be…

….Rest in Eternal peace Mama…