As a goat slaughterer – he was not very different. As a goat thief, he felt even worse
By Nhamo Muchagumisa
Hazvieri had hardly started his nocturnal respite when an unannounced visitor entered his room. Lying on his reed-mat bed, blinking the night away, he saw an old woman dropping to her knees at the edge of his bed.
She held a plastic bowl, presenting it to him with the zeal of a newly eloped wife. Hazvieri gasped at the sight of the contents of the bowl – a dehorned goat’s head, swimming in a pool of brown soup.
Hazvieri groped for his matches. His aged visitor regarded him eagerly as he clumsily opened the box, his fingers trembling a little.
Then he struck the match and a red flame exploded, incinerating the darkness that surrounded him, then he brought the flame into contact with the wick of a candle next to his bed.
The old visitor evaporated with the darkness. Hazvieri hoped the half spent candle next to his pillow would last the remainder of the night.
He wondered if his visitor was real or she was just a figment of his imagination. If she was something his mind had made up, why did she look so real? If she was real, why had she melted away when he had struck the match?
The smell of goat meet that filled his bedroom reminded him that a strange visitor had indeed brought him a meal. Who could Hazvieri’s visitor be? Maybe someone from his family’s past. His future wife perhaps, whom he had not yet met.
John the Baptist
The contents of the plate made him recall a biblical story his Sunday School teacher had told her class on various occasions, the story of the death of John the Baptist.
If he were Salome, he would have asked for all the gold in the King’s vaults. How could she be promoted by her mother to ask for the Baptist’s head? Silly girl!
For the first time, he thought more seriously about the story. What a painful death had the man of the word suffered.
He imagined the blade of the knife landing on the Baptist’s throat, how it had severed his windpipe, how the holy man’s blood had gashed through the opening and how the Baptist had kicked violently in his death throes.
Hazvieri’s stomach crept as he drew a parallel between the guard who had been sent to behead the prophet and himself. As a goat slaughterer, he was not very different. As a goat thief, he felt even worse.
He sold the goat meet to Netsai Zvamatombo, a woman who ran a catering business. Of late, she had earned loads of cash in local and foreign currency – driving to Chiadzwa Diamond Fields to sell prepared food to panners and traders.
The following night Hazvi’s visitor came again, but again dissolved into the night when Hazvi struck another match. Who could she really be? Mbuya Nhika? She did not resemble Mbuya Nhika in any way, but she was possibly her messenger.
Mbuya Nhika was his latest victim and the oldest one. She had courageously left the safety of her bedroom hut (the night Hazvi had visited her goat pen) to check on her goats when she heard their terrified bleating.
She had approached the goat pen like a being from the spirit world as Hazvi emerged from the goat pen, dragging the biggest goat of the flock.
Hazvi had let go of the goat, that rushed back into the pen, and marshalled his way towards the octogenarian, dispossessed her of her walking stick and struck her hard on the head with the thicker and heavier end of the stick.
Enfeebled by old age, Mbuya Nhika could not withstand or absorb the impact of the blow that had landed on her head.
She dropped flabily to the ground and Hazvi collected the goat of his choice from her pen, carried it across his shoulders and walked away, towards Netsai’s shop, seven kilometres away. Hazvi had never felt guilty for having dispossessed anyone, but his recent victory over Mbuya Nhika and his subsequent encounters with her messenger marked a turning point in his career.
Puncturing a hole into the solid rock that had been his heart
The wish to compensate Mbuya Nhika welled up in him, glowing like an oiled flame. The unidentified woman’s visits had punctured a hole into the solid rock that had been his heart.
“I feel I must compensate Mbuya Nhika,” he told Netsai, a week after robbing Mbuya Nhika. He was sitting by Netsai’s side on a sofa in the backroom of her shop at Wengezi Business Centre.
“What madness. You told me that she never could have recognised you, so you are just a ghost in her memory. By the way, how do you hope to approach the old witch?” Netsai was visibly appalled by Hazvi’s first display of weakness.
“A voice deep down my soul is telling me every day to do it without any further delay,” Hazvi said.
“The voice will tire itself into silence, like the groans of a dying goat.”
Netsai extended his hand towards Hazvi and led him by the hand across the room towards her bed. They spent the remainder of the night in Netsai’s bed under one blanket. Netsai was such a comfort that when Hazvi woke up the following day, Mbuya Nhika had temporarily vanished from his mind.
“You must try your luck in the diamond fields once again, ” Netsai enthused as they breakfasted the following morning.
“I have tried a countless times without success,” Hazvi said, remembering how some panners had got trapped when tunnels collapsed above them, and how some had been trampled upon when they fell while fleeing from the security officers.
“This is the time to make a second trial after a protracted break,” Netsai said persuasively.
Back in his bedroom, he slept with the candle light on, dreading the sudden return of his aged visitor. He lay pondering upon Netsai’s suggestion for another trial of luck in the fields of fortune. It was a wise suggestion, he decided. After all, he might get the means with which to compensate Mbuya Nhika, even fourfold.
Start a new life with a girl of his own age
Spurred by the resolution to compensate Mbuya Nhika, he had sat next to Netsai as she drove to the diamond fields. He had had a long intimate relationship with the divorcee and he had allowed her to treat him like a puppet on a string.
This time she would not stand on his way. He would compensate Mbuya Nhika and start a new life with a girl of his own age. This cross generational relationship had emasculated him.
As the darkness of the night settled, layer upon layer on Chiadzwa Diamond Fields, Hazvi and scores of other panners had already crossed the fireguard into the prohibited area.
The security officers seemed to have slept on duty that night as that night all the panners who invaded the fields were able to dig up as much diamond ore as they could carry for a distance of about three kilometres back to their bases.
By the time the first gunshots were fired, Hazvi and those in his company were a safe two kilometres away from the boundary. It had been a good sign, Hazvi thought.
Hazvi rested his head on the heavy sack containing his loot as he lay in his base. The stench of decaying flesh troubled his nostrils as he slowly drifted into a tired sleep. A dead animal was probably decomposing just a metre away from where he lay.
Bad smells were common place in all bases, and therefore Hazvieri never considered changing base until he fell into a dreamless slumber.
As the sun rose, Hazvi emerged from sleep, rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands and carried his loot a few metres from his base.
He then emptied the contents of his sack onto the bare ground. The last thing to fall from the sack sent his thoughts spinning.
Its lips were gone. The eyes had disappeared from the holes on its decomposing face, yet a few patches of skin reminded its beholder that only a few days before, the eyes that had been lost to the appetite of worms had looked forward to a brighter future. All the hair was still in place, matted with the dust of the diamond fields.
This was the luck he had not tried for a long while. He furtively checked his sides and walked away slowly, going nowhere.
Nhamo Muchagumisa is an English Language and Literature teacher. He can be reached on WhatsApp +263777460162 or Email: email@example.com