Excerpts from Elegy for Easterly

By Petina Gappah

…with the mangy dreadlocks that are now a declaration of African authenticity if you believe that the authentic Africa is a place without combs or water to wash the hair.

‘..in the short term, law can be an instrument of social change, but ultimately, it is not the consciousness of man that determines his material being, but his material being that determines his consciousness…’

And it is known that the Governor of the Central Bank who has vowed to end illegal sales of fuel is himself involved in sales of fuel on the black market. And the President…well, that which is not spoken or written down is not real. Only the official truth matters, only that truth will be handed down through the history books for the children to learn.

….the government cleaned the townships to make Harare pristine for the three-day visit of the Queen of England. All the women who walk alone at night are prostitutes, the government said—clean them up. The townships are too full of people, they said, gather them up and put them in the places the Queen will not see…..And so the government hid away the poverty, the people put on plastic smiles and the City Council planted new flowers in the streets. Long after memories of the Queen’s visit had passed, and the broken arms of the arrested women were healed, Easterly Farm took root.

In the days before a loaf of bread cost half a million dollars..one hundred cents made one dollar.

‘Before the President was elected, the Zimbabwe ruins were a prehistoric monument in Masvingo province. Now, the Zimbabwe ruins extend to the whole country.’

In Siyaso, it was not unknown for a man whose car had been relieved of its radio or hubcaps to buy them back from the man into whose hands they had fallen. At a discount.

…was a winter of broken promises. The government promised that prices would go down and salaries up. Instead, the opposite happened. The opposition promised that there would be protests. Instead they bickered over who should hold three of the top six positions of leadership.

If the government said inflation would go down, it was sure to rise. If they said it was a bumper harvest, starvation would follow. ‘If the government says the sky is blue, we should all look up to check,’ said BaToby.

His mother was one of three women arrested in Mufakose, two for attempting to take their clothes off in protest, the third, the child’s mother, for clinging to her box of produce even as a truncheon came down, again, again, on her bleeding knuckles.

The car is so close that she can make out the faculty motto below the university crest: fiat justitia ruat coelum. The motto is more than just the words of Caesoninus on a crest, it is a song in her soul, the reason she is a law student, the meaning she wants to give to her life. ‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall.’

She asks Emily what tribe she belongs to. ‘This is what slows progress in this country,’ Emily screams. ‘The notion of tribe is a patronizing Western construction….the Goths, Vandals and Visigoths, those were tribes, they talk of Serbian nationalism, but African tribalism. I do not have a tribe, I belong to the nation.’

Her name is Estelle, and she is a star rising high above the reaches of all that is ordinary and elemental. Nothing can touch her, and nothing does.

In the Annexe, she finds that she is not the only one who is not mad.

Their non-agnatic status in the family means that not only are theirs the lungs that provide the loudest mourning, theirs are also the hands that cook and clean at family gatherings.

‘Why estimate the length of a snake using the bark of a tree when the creature is right there for you to measure?’

Death does not sever the ties; it binds them ever tighter, for it is in death and its attendant processes that kinship asserts its triumphant claims. He had been loaned to us as husband and father, but in death, the clan reclaimed him….Kinship asserted itself through the funeral rites, in the ceremony to release his spirit, and in the accompanying ceremony of inheritance…His family had even attempted to speak on his behalf…But my father’s spirit, however restless, could not undo the will that he had written and signed in his own hand. And when the Master of the High Court pronounced this as the final word, the aunts and uncles could only curl their mouths into their noses.

The government renamed places that the whites had renamed….The changes did not affect people like my grandmother for whom independence was a reality that did not alter their memories.

She told us stories of the war, the guerillas marching to her village in Lalapanzi and demanding food, the soldiers following the guerillas and threatening to shoot the villagers who gave the guerillas food, then more guerillas coming and threatening to shoot all vatengesi, traitors who sold them out to the soldiers or refused to give them food.

I thought no-one had noticed, but SisiBlandina noticed everything. When my period came, SisiBlandina was there to say, ‘Well, you are in Geneva now, and you will be visiting regularly. Better make sure those boys you like to play with keep themselves to themselves.’

My heart longs for you like tea longs for sugar. I wish for you like meat wishes for salt, and I miss you like the postman misses his bicycle.

‘She won’t let me eat any leftovers, imagine, her dog eats better than me. Ufunge, she even rides with her dog in front with her in the truck, and me in the back with the sun and dust.’

‘It may well be that there will be this socialism, Juliana,’ she said, ‘but I can tell you right now that no amount of socialism will make my madam wash her own underwear.’

The Charge Office was a confused mass of policemen in red-brown shining shoes and khaki uniforms, and people complaining about crime, people accused of crime, and people enquiring about people accused of crime.

There is but one disease that drives men to turn their Toyota Camry’s, their Mercedes Benzes, Pajeros, BMWs in the direction of Warren Park. There is only one illness that pushes both the well-wheeled and the un-wheeled to seek out the prophet. It is the big disease with the little name, the sickness that no-one dies of, the disease whose real name is unspoken, the sickness that speaks its presence through the pink redness of lips, the slipperiness of hair, through the whites of the eyes whiter than nature intended.

He had never tried such an arrangement; small house women expected as much money and attention as the real wives. The thought of not one, but two women expecting everything from him, each treating him with that special brand of passive aggression that was fed into women with their mother’s milk, was enough to make him give up sex altogether.

…what was it with really beautiful women? There was something wooden about them, like they had been told so often that they were beautiful that they did not seem to feel the need to make an effort.

…she thought how worn the gloves were along which they moved their quarrels. She could feel herself saying all the clichéd phrases of a thousand injured women before her…she wanted to make it specific to him and her but it all came down to the same thing, promises not kept and not made. Words not said, embraces not given. Their quarrels were never resolved. They were simply postponed to another day. And they were never about what was wrong.

He had not been the first, but he was the last. She had not been his first, and she certainly knew she was not the last.

Nobuhle had died at five years….She had Busisiwe and Nkosana after that, but like a missing tooth that is present even in its absence, Nobuhle remained.

Thulani had once asked for divorce. She had felt then a wave of rage so sharp it threatened to cut her sanity…In his language she had told him, ‘First you undo me this scar, then you can unlearn me this language. After that, you can come back and we can talk about divorce.’

The government will throw anything at the new farmers to make them produce: cheap fuel, free tractors, free seed, free fertilizer—even free labourers; they were using prisoners on farms at one time. Pity they can’t throw in a bit of free motivation because the thing about the new farmers is that they don’t use the cheap fuel for their free tractors; instead, they sell both tractors and fuel to people like me, and people like me sell them on to the vast majority of the unconnected non-preferential-rate-getting masses that can only get fuel on the black market.

I am an all-commodity broker: if it can be bought, it can be sold, and if it can be sold, I am your man.

…No guarantees, no returns, no refunds. No wire transfers, no credit cards—as the sign at the Why Not Hotel, Esigodini says, Mr Credit was Killed By Mr  Cash.

When the Comrades redistribute the land, they also make sure to redistribute any crops on the land, all machinery, any furniture, plates, knives and forks, and any whisky that might be in the house.


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