WRITER’S PROFILE Tinashe Mushakavanhu is a young Zimbabwean writer born in 1983. He received a First Class Honours degree in English Literature from the Midlands State University. He became the first African to study for the MA in Creative Writing at Trinity College in Wales. In 2004, he was the youngest writer to participate in the Crossing Borders Creative Writing Project, a British Council and Lancaster University. He is the National Secretary in the Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe’s Executive Committee. Before coming to Europe, Tinashe was an active literary arts journalist in the Zimbabwean media. He has had several short stories and poems published in various publications including three award-winning Zimbabwean anthologies. Has given readings in Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru (Zimbabwe), Port Elizabeth (South Africa), Carmarthen, New Castle Emlyn and Cardiff (Wales). He is currently completing work on his book, The Harare Hermit and Other Stories from Zimbabwe. At the moment he is also currently co-editing an anthology of short stories and poems (to be published by Parthian Books). He is also in the process of establishing a journal of African writing, MAZWI Literary Journal (www.mazwi.net) to be launched in February 2007. Selected Publications Author Africa 2007, (contributor), Cook Publications, 2007 Budding Echoes: A CD of Poetry Recordings, (contributor), Budding Writers Association of Zimbabwe (BWAZ), 2005 Short Writings From Bulawayo II, (contributor), amaBooks, 2005 Short Writings From Bulawayo III, (contributor), amaBooks, 2006 Writing Now: More stories From Zimbabwe, (contributor), Weaver Press, 2005 A Touch of Haunting: An anthology of short stories and poems, (co-editor), Parthian Books, 2007 The Harare Hermit and Other Stories from Zimbabwe (forthcoming) Brief Festival/Conference Participation Notes Poetry Reading, Harare International Festival of the Arts, Spoken Word Segment, 2004 Readings, presentation of a seminal paper on contemporary Zimbabwean Literature in English, Uncwadi Writer’s Conference, Port Elizabeth, South Africa, 2004 Readings, Intwasa Arts Festival, Bulawayo, 2006 Presenting a paper on Life Writing in Wales at the Nineteenth Annual Conference of the Association for Welsh Writing in English, Gregynog, March 30 – April 1 2007 One of the 12 young African writers invited to participate in the annual Caine Prize for African Writing Camp in Kenya, March 2007 Readings + launch of anthology (co-editing) at the Hay on Wye Festival, May 2007 African Literature Programme Coordinator, Hay on Wye Festival 2007
Park Muses By Tinashe Mushakavanhu On a Saturday afternoon, while strolling in the Gweru Memorial Park, a member of the Jehovah’s Witness Church preys on me, asking me God’s name. I tell him, point blank, that God is God’s name. He gives me a tract: JEHOVAH who is he? I accept it out of politeness. A few yards away, I crumple it and throw it in the bin. I don’t want to think about God or what He could be. I am hungry and penniless. I notice two lovers on the green grass, cuddling, and an empty pocket of Super Mahewu strokes my left foot. Startled, I jump, thinking it is a small harmful creature. I am wary of rats, there are so many of them at home. The affectionate lovers; the guys head is resting on the girl’s thighs and she presses a kiss into the creases of his neck. A baby starts shrieking mad and I see the mother rocking it to sleep. She must be one of the Adventist people congregating at the Gweru Theatre Hall. A line of cars follow the driveway and I snap at a ‘green bomber’ fly on my dry, parched lips. The fly sings round my head. Bzzz. Bzzz. I duck sideways. Where do all these flies come from? A girl sneers at me and I think she must have been watching me for a long time. She waves and I reluctantly wave back with hesitant limbs, but she looks away and hurriedly disappears. People are walking on the concrete pathways and I know I probably look burned out, insane, because they hurriedly get out of my way. They stir within me a great hollowness from which to escape. I do not care what they think. A line for a new poem clicks in my head. One, two, three. But I do not have heart to write it. I abandon the project and start coughing horribly. I cough blood. It trickles down my chin, onto my dirty, thinned-out T-shirt. I swab the blood with the back of my hand as a woman nearby screams, but I’m not worried. I think of phoning my girlfriend. I need to talk to Juliana. My stomach rumbles, echoing angry sounds of protest. I am hungry. I am sick. The Adventist people start streaming out of church. Its lunch hour and they besiege the park with their packed lunches in twos and fours and sometimes as wholesome families. The bell of the ice-cream man stationed at the gate of the park rings, but Adventist people cannot do business on the Sabbath, so they ignore him. He stands alone with his dairy box marked G12, waiting for customers. A shining white Mazda 626 passes by on Robert Mugabe Way, the road adjacent to the park that carries you straight out of the city limits and heads all the way to Bulawayo, and straight to Johannesburg. The number plate of the car reads: AAK 1949. I should know the driver. Vatezvara vangu – its Juliana’s father. The taste of Cascade Orange Juice displayed at the gate reminds me of Juliana’s well formed bust and her inviting lips and the thought gives me a sudden erection. Priapism? A woman with two little boys is sitting on one of the park benches. They make a sad family portrait minus the father. I wonder what he looks like; a bearded Goliath of a man with bunchy muscles? A small bony man who is overloaded with the world’s troubles? The younger of the boys is dressed in oversized pants and a worm of pale-green mucus is crawling down his lower chestnut lip. It suddenly darts back like a timid creature. He is crying. On the same bench is another woman with a child in blue dungarees. The child has bearded itself with ice-cream, making him look like a dwarfed Father Christmas. I move away from this scene, take out a packet of Kingsgate from my shirt pocket, stick a bent cigarette in my mouth and try to light a match. The head refuses to catch and the humid, orange glow quickly disappears. After the third try a yellow flame sputters briefly. The park is crowded. I see all kinds of people. A woman is sitting alone. She is wearing a white vest, a blue, short short skirt and blue slippers. She smokes relentlessly and when she uncrosses her legs I catch a glimpse of her white lacy underwear. Once upon a time and a very good time it was, in the days of my childhood when looking between a girls legs resulted in shohwera; a small reddish pimple popping on top of your left eye. Those were the day when growing up was fun. But my present situation is more important. The park, all these people and I am one of them. We are all idlers, trying to find meanings in our lives. Someone coughs but the noise gives place to an abrupt silence. The continuous burr and whirr of cars a few yards away remind me that the city is all round me. I am hungry and to relieve the burning hunger gutting my stomach I start chewing leaves from an appetizing looking shrub, but they are bitter and of no service. I am still hungry. Gweru, in the grip of a fuel crisis, thunders with motor vehicles down the road, DHL and Swift motorbikes booming through the traffic, kombis hovering and heaving in and out of sight. Across the road, the public taxi rank is divided from the majestic face-bricked Government Complex by a fence. Tenth Street separates the rank and two buildings, a Shell Service Station and something called Wimpy: Home of the Hamburger. Wow. I have never had Wimpy food, but I do not think I will ever eat five-star restaurant food either. Its hard times these days. At the rank people stand in queues. Every few minutes a kombi swings into one of the bays, unfolds its doors and produces a random selection of humanity then disappears. Another one comes and disappears again, and this goes on and on, forever. Vegetable vendors sit under their newly built shades, selling fresh produce. I am really really hungry. A street man walks out of the park towards the Shell Service Station on the other side of the road and takes off his ragged clothes. He squats naked in the middle of the road and shits. A line of cars slow down as if following a funeral procession as they pass the street man. People crowd the roadsides, curious. Shit! Other sensitive citizens rush out and send for the police. The street man is made to clean the mess. The police garb him in a wafer thin blanket. He is insane they say. I am tired, very tired. Christ, my head is splitting. The street man, the road, the shit. So what, why bother when you can shit, wherever, whenever. A man I do not know comes and stands before me. The message printed on his green T-shirt arrests my eyes: BORN FREES ARE TAXED TO DEATH. He yawns, realising a reeking smell of bad breath. He disappears as he came. I walk towards the newspaper vendor. The Saturday headlines are running mad, making me think of the stories of corruption I keep hearing, especially about the present crop of politicians, civil servants, everyone in the top brass including the president and his wife. PRESIDENT, RBZ CHIEF HOLIDAYS IN KUALA LUMPUR GOVERNMENT TO SPEND $428 BILLION ON CARS FOR MINISTERS NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM PLAYERS BECOME BILLIONNARES Amazing stuff, how some people are living pretty, the rest of us filthy poor. Outcasts from life’s feast. Does God only help those who help themselves? Chokwadi murombo haarove chinenguwo. Here I am, face to face with a dressed up woman, a grandmother who refuses to grow up! Her leather jacket is open to reveal her tightly T-shirted torso, the low neckline half disclosing her lifted breasts that could have suckled a dozen children. They are not young breasts by any standard. Her body looks aged in a way that her face does not. I find this slippage between her body and her face strangely exciting. “Bhudhi, ngicela isikhathi?” she asks. I don’t know what time it is, I tell her. What is the importance of time anyway? The sun will go down, whether one knows what hour it is or not – and then what, and so what? Birds croon in one of the big eucalyptus trees in the park. Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. My feet ache. I try to concentrate on other parts of my body. I have been on my feet for hours. My legs feel light, hollow and weightless like bamboo. A security guard is resting on the soft, green lawn, lying on his back with a squashed blue jersey for a pillow. He is masticating on air pies for lunch, waiting for night duty at one of the big shops in the city centre where he keeps guard. The park is a commotion of activity. I see people and more people. Something strikes me. My brown ‘farmer’ shoes are different; the left one sandy brown and the other one darker. I take comfort in the fact that no two things are exactly alike. Life is a paradox. Just this past year everyone was saying I was the brightest guy in the whole goddamned university. People always exaggerate others’ individual qualities. And now, here I am, one of the frustrated young men in the country, a first class graduate with nothing to look forward to. No future, no more education, nothing. It is discouraging, and on this hot hell of a Saturday afternoon I do not care where my future lies, where my dainty past is hiding, where my present course will maroon me. I think of other unemployed youths – boys and girls of my age – their days spent leaning against vandalised streetlamps, smoking mbanje on the footbridges in the township or just sitting out hours in bottle stores hoping that something or someone will turn up with keys to their happiness. Days crawl by and the youth let them crawl as if days and time have nothing to do with them. There are such moments in life. I badly needed to be alone with my thoughts. I looked for a secluded spot to rest and sleep away the day. Peace and quiet; silence in which I could separate my thoughts. Shit! A voice selling bananas and apples shatter my quiet. At first, I hear it growing fainter and fainter as though something is falling inside me, but the voice continues, “Vachada mabanana nemaapples…” I thought the voice had passed, but it draws nearer and nearer. I feign sleep. The voice continues singing the enticing chorus, “Vachada mabanana nemaapples…” but I am broke. The afternoon heat burns my skin in a soothing that you would wish there where beaches around. I’d like to take off my clothes and let the sun sup on my body, but they would hound me out of the park for public indecency. Call it democracy! Lots of women are passing by. They make me yearn for another climate of the soul. Like all hermits, Gweru women resort to colour; blue, white, pink, orange and wear all kinds of outrageous outfits. They are all colours of the rainbow; facially, fashion wise, and even in their attitudes. The park is a colourful mosaic. Goodness me. Here is a thick bush and over there a bed of red roses, then portions and portions of green grass. Gweru Memorial Park. Yellow steel benches are haphazardly placed on strategic points, yawning for people to sit and fart. Tall eucalyptus trees are placed in diagonal patterns to provide park revellers free shade. The children’s playground occupies a small portion, not surrounded by anything, and the children plat on the swings and slides and teeter-totters, making a loud joyous noise. I like it. It reminds me of something, a fading memory – a happy childhood, a long, long time ago in the early 1980s when our country was a land of plenty and happiness. No! Not today. It is a sad sad country. I always like to sit at some spot where I can see passing cars and transport myself to faraway horizons. It takes two to tango and two to be in love. I love Juliana. But is it about her stunning body, or just about sex? Sex seems to be what makes the world go round. The things in people’s heads and the things not in people’s heads are equally weird. I am so hungry I could eat one of the yellow steel benches. The sky is grey, a sort of malnutrition grey. Is all love a fraud? Sekuru Barnabas says, “Mazuva ano hapana musikana mustraight. Vasikana vese vaunoona mahure. Mahure chete.” Whatever the body maybe, the mind its own world. And yes, the best things in life are worth waiting for, but I don’t want to die a virgin; the only twenty-three year old virgin. A male version of Virgin Mary. The Roman Catholic Church will have to make me a Saint and light candles for me once every year. Is there anything there anything the matter with me? Yes, I have trouble with my vision. My glasses are heavy and make marks on my nose, and sometimes the skin around my ears is sore, but I am not blind when it comes to good women. Oh my goodness, here is another of God’s beautiful creations. Her blouse is open at the top where a button is missing. Her breasts are naked, and she is wearing a blue-black wig, long, smooth hair falling on her shoulders, caressing her 8-figured buttocks. My teeth dig into my red lower lip. I am not sure which thought is most dominant in my mind; the missing button or the swelling breasts. Naked breasts turn me on. Desire is swelling inside me. My God, what if I get run over by a car on my way out of the park and they do a post-mortem on me and discover that I was a virgin. But isn’t it true that there is a time for everything? Behind the GWERU MUNICIPAL OFFICES, with walls coated in cream and a bit of green, men in bright yellow overalls are at work; digging a trench. Their tools make grating, scraping sounds. A symphony orchestra accompanying the rhythm of my thoughts. I love Juliana to bits though she may never realise it. She is no lump of flesh I can pinch and grab at will. She is a beautiful face always smiling at me in this nightmare called life. But let me get back to this hot Saturday afternoon, my brain in flames, the searing loneliness biting deep. I live a Spartan life, an ascetic life. I look around me. There are so many fascinating things to observe in the park – the way people dress, their facial expressions, scenes, snatches of conversation, the lively atmosphere, the diversity of the people. Today, I am pre-occupied, troubled, turned inward. I see a group of cameramen lounging on the green, puffy grass. They are laughing and staring at me, probably enjoying the red inscription on my faded white T-shirt: MENTAL ILLNESS HAS NO BOUNDARIES. I will think differently tomorrow.
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