I heard the singing when it was just the odd sound in the distance. It grew into a hum, then a buzz, then a drunken man’s drawl. It was odd that he should sing like that; papa was a quiet drunk who grew inward with every pint. He drank and sat quietly avoiding anyone’s gaze; he’d have that look that made you afraid of his thoughts, not of him.
“Haatiina musha pa- a nyika! Tinoda…”(“we have nothing here on earth”)
But that was him outside wailing out that sad church hymn at the top of his drunken voice; Pulling all the wrong notes and making it all so much sadder. It was a morbid song for a drunken man. If Ma had been here to hear him she would have been out quickly to shut him up before the neighbors heard him, but she wasn’t here. And I was quite certain the neighbors had heard him anyway, not that I cared what they heard or didn’t.
“Maybe papa is singing like that because mama is not here,” I thought as I watched him from the kitchen window.
When he reached the porch he went dead silent, tucked in his shirt leaving some parts hanging out, and overall made a decent effort to be presentable. He did not knock, he just waited there, slightly unsteady. He was more drunk than usual.
I went to open the door…
“Now honey, I can explain…” he started, then stopped and looked at me.
“Where is your mother!?” he asked.
He knew she had gone to her mother’s for the holidays; she was staying for the long weekend. But that was his sober self. This here drunken man before me didn’t know that. But he wanted her here, scolding him for being so drunk, he’d been waiting for it. He ‘neated’ up for it; his face lost its boyish guilt and revealed the tired drunk behind it.
Before I got into telling him that mama had gone to grand mama’s, he stumbled inside past me and headed purposefully for the lounge. He’d be in his seat before the heater, watching until bedtime. He’d done this so many times before, at least in a more modest fashion, since he lost his job six years ago and never found another.
When I brought him his supper of rice and chicken-feet, he was blankly staring at the parade on TV. These heroes day festivities had been on since morning. More precisely, since a month ago, they had been advertising it continuously.
“As we celebrate our fallen heroes whose blood was spilled for our freedom, we must…”
That TV voice had been saying things like that all month. Father sat there blankly, seemingly attentive to what he usually called hogwash and propaganda when he was in more animated spirits. At those times he would then complain about our dying country calling it “a mother who fed on her offspring” and all sorts of other funny things; he uttered these things in serious and bitter tones, and we always laughed the more, he couldn’t be serious.
I laid before him his supper and he moved to eat, I turned to leave.
I turned to face him; he was looking at the tv.
“Yes, father?” I asked.
I sat and looked at the TV, now they were playing footage from the army drills that had been in the national stadium in the afternoon. Those neat rows and columns, how they moved as one; I could see why one might marvel. And my father’s eyes were glued to the screen like I was not there, but I knew better than to try to leave, he wanted me there with him, though we were not really together, we were each of us consumed in our own mentalities, connected only by the television screen light shining in our eyes. We were looking at the same pictures, we were together alright.
I turned to look at his food still untouched. It was going to grow cold.
“Daddy, your food will grow cold,” I said testing our silence.
He nodded and shuffled forward in his seat as if to reach the table, but then just continued with his eyes to the screen. They were now showing those old war pictures, camouflaged figures running in the bushes, against the monotonous soundtrack of some odd oration by that same TV voice saying words like “sacrifice,” “independence,” “our land” and so forth.
I still stared blankly, but all this “hogwash” was saying something to my father’s drunk mind. His face showed it. It was not a look that so much said that he understood as remembered.
He starts to speak about memories… how they would sing during the war, the songs, all the rallies, night meetings, how there was excitement for war and independence.
How he fell in love with some girl, who later joined the struggle.
How they trusted the soldiers.
How his father was taken in a witch-hunt for sell outs.
How the stories came of what happened to him, torture.
How he never came back, so much for sons of the soil, so much for the war of independence…
P.S Inspired by true events from Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence.
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