THE RUNNING TEACHER
Over the years Brian matured and Bonius grew taller and stronger. They became inseparable as a tire and its tube. School holidays were their favourite time of the year and Brian would eagerly look forward to getting on that bus bound for Lower Gweru at end of term. At the village Brian enjoyed unparalleled freedom where he spent every free time with his friend Bonius. Their friendship had grown to the point that everyone in the village knew they were inseparable in everything they did. “Such a strong boy!” The elders would often quip about Bonius when they saw the two walking together. Brian knew that people wondered about their ill-matched friendship. He knew they laughed at Bonius because he was slow and of below average intelligence, but Brian valued his friend. Their symbiotic relationship served them well. Bonius kept Brian alive through strength while Brian kept Bonius alive through wit.
On one Friday during school holidays after amusing dainty and beautiful Sindi in the afternoon, Brian was invited over to her house in the evening to continue on their interesting conversation in the privacy of her bedroom. Sindi had strongly assured Brian that her parents would not be at home as they had embarked on a trip for the burial of a relative in Gweru. At 17 Brian had developed into a typical teenager with a raspy guttural voice and face abundantly infested with acne. Unlike Bonius he had taken an interesting liking to the opposite sex. With bulging veins of chivalrous hormonal energy and the impressive ability to string a few sentences in the Queen’s English, that sent many girls’ tongues wagging in the village, he was every teenage girl´s dream boyfriend.
Perhaps for the sheer love of late night adventure or possibly the need to further impress the love struck girl, Brian enlisted the company of Bonius for this mission, who readily accepted. As Bonius’ family had fewer restrictions than Brian’s, Bonius sat patiently by the gate for about four hours before Brian emerged. Brian had had to sit through the daily evening prayers at home which seemed more protracted than usual on this night. After a few errands for his grandmother and receiving a full set of instructions for the following day’s work from his grandfather He finally retired to his room. He lay there in bed, ready with his shoes on, waiting for all to retire so he could sneak off for this mission.
It was quite late into the night when he joined Bonius at the gate. Bonius, ever jovial, beamed broadly as they set off for the township in the hills as that was where the house was. It was a cold night and they both had warm jackets on. Brian wore his leather jacket that was handed down from his cousin in England. Although the jacket fit his arms, the shoulders bulged out making him look like an emaciated scarecrow on a short stick. Bonius wore an oversized brown coat of woven wool with half its bottom back missing. His arms jarred out of the short arms of the coat as if they were running away from the jacket. It took them about half an hour to reach the township on a brisk walk. It was a dark night and cool night but it was even darker at the new town ship as there was no electricity. Brian had been instructed to just knock on the door when he arrived.
After a few raps on the door, he wondered whether Sindi may have drifted off to sleep waiting for him. Unbeknown to them, that evening the Sindi’s father had decided to take the whole family with him, including Sindi. As their knocks became louder and more daring, a flickering candle light appeared from the house next door. Bonius moved to shield himself from view when the light came on, and in a fearful voice observed that maybe they should consider desisting from this fruitless endeavour. This was the first time Brian had sensed fear from his friend.
The door from the opposite house creaked open and a dark figure appeared and emphatically demanded to know what their business was at that residence. The two boys kept their silence contemplating this challenge. Bonius, with all form poised for flight began to step back further into the dark.
“I think we should go now”, Bonius observed again with more threat and firmness. Brian knocked a few more times hoping this would be the time that Sindi opened the door to his rescue. The figure at the door went on to declare boldly and with conviction that the two boys were responsible for the spate of theft that had befallen the dark township.
“You have finished people’s chickens and goats!” he declared.
“…and you do not fear!” the figure quipped while retreating back into the house. At this point Bonius was half way through the yard into the back of the house shouting how he was going to leave Brian behind if he did not leave and follow him at once. Brian could only see Bonius’ figure fast disappearing into the darkness. Suddenly, the door opposite burst open again with the man charging towards them wielding an object in his hands. As Brian momentarily froze to engage his mind to what was happening, he felt objects whistle past his head as the spurting man discharged a quick succession of pebble shots with his slingshot. Brian recoiled automatically into the ground and quickly sprung back onto a sprint towards the back of the house stumbling on the uneven ground. He could see the figure closing in fast behind him and he was sure the whole township could hear his rancorous bestowment of all obscene words under the sun on them.
With much profuseness, the man referred to various bodily parts and fluids of their known relatives, as this was the vilest insult one could ever deliver on any human soul in the village. He called them infant thieves, rogues, unclean bastards, uncultured children who were not born well. All the while the man was advancing fast and through the darkness in between the drying maze stalks, Bonius was leaving a brutally flattened trail of destruction. He was bulldozing his way towards the barbed fence at the end of the yard in full flight. Brian’s own intrepid bolt was however halted by a washing line that caught him straight under his chin. The force on his neck lifted his feet straight off the ground whence forth he was quickly returned, back-of-the-head first. Dazed, throbbing and with the whistling pebbles still shooting past, he did not afford himself time to moan his pain let alone his predicament. He shot back up on his feet only to see Bonius being swallowed by the ground ahead of him. Bonius let out a sharp yelp and this was quickly followed by agitated scrambling sounds from the place where he had disappeared.
The man behind them had greatly reduced the gap and Brian could hear his thunderous footsteps much closer behind him. As Brian approached the fence contemplating how he was going to leap over it he beheld a sight that surely tested all his loyalty. Bonius was frantically trying to scramble out of an empty latrine pit he had fallen into. He was desperately mauling the sides of the pit in an attempt to climb out. Brian hesitated briefly before unashamedly leaving his good friend to his fate in the pit. The threat behind him demanded egoistic decision-making at this time, he thought. He thus attempted a dive between the barbed wires but clumsily fell on the other side leaving a good part of his new jeans caught on the fence. Fortunately for Bonius and very unfortunately for Brian the dogged man leapt across the pit unaware of the delirious occupant, made a clean skip over the barbed wire hot in pursuit behind Brian. By this time Brian’s heavy leather jacket felt like it weighed a ton. Brian could hardly propel himself forward any faster. The man had begun shooting with his sling again forcing Brian to run switching from left to right in an attempt to dodge the flying lethal stones. But his strength was quickly ebbing away and he did not think he could keep up the pace any longer. He had visions of ending up on the ground aired-out and being subjected to a horrific pummelling as often meted on thieves. It was the sweeping past of Bonius as he skipped over bushes quickly disappearing ahead again that injected fresh energy in him.
Bonius was fast dematerialising between the thin Mopani trees before Brian’s eyes. His frazzled unfastened coat flew in the wind catching the branches and leaves of the trees. Bonius was a real muscle machine. An entire expanse of lean rippling muscle. He was built for strength and with that he was abundantly endowed. He hung mounds of undulating muscle on his shoulders that half swallowed his neck and all this was natural power, a result of a daily ter de somendus ingestion of unrefined sorghum, wheat, groundnuts and field mice with the very occasional fowl. His shiny tarred skin colour meant Bonius looked meaner than he really was. The exaggerated brow where his hair line receded to the top of his head, left his two tiny eyes undecided in the middle of his face.
Bonius had just celebrated his sixteenth birthday but could have easily passed for 32 had it not been for his feminine unbroken voice. He had the tiniest voice and got teased for this from only those foolish enough to risk a thorough thrashing which he would readily deliver. On the many occasions that Bonius wore a backless shirt one could see the pronounced immaculate individual muscles on his back. On this night all Brian could see was Bonius tearing through the thorny bushes at breakneck speed while he still dodged the slingshot assaults. He watched Bonius double the distance between them in no time and selfishly hoped Bonius would trip and fall so he could catch up. Brian’s jacket was heavy now, and he knew that sooner or later he would just have to let it slide down his arms. He dragged his burning thighs with horrific pain as lactic acid set in and froze them.
Every stride became conscious and agonising and his lungs panted for that extra oxygen as it felt like someone had sucked it all out of the sky. His eyes blurred and his mind began to deceive him. He was soon flying and swimming at the same time. The world was spinning and he was eating salted fish. Of course he was not flying or swimming but he was flat-faced on the dust tasting the salted blood on his split lip. All warmth had abandoned his body, especially his feet. He felt like he was going to have a bout of diarrhoea any moment. When he soon realised what had happened, he conceded and awaited his fate. Brian was expecting a vicious trouncing from the man. He had the vision of being paraded at the shopping centre as the village thief since no one in his village would believe any other explanation. People in the village worshiped sensationalised stories. They would make a field day out of this.
A minute passed without any slicing pain on his body. He could not hear any noise coming from behind him and the whistling flying pebbles had stopped. Having chased the two boys for a good 800 meters, comfortably away from the township, the man had turned around, satisfied and headed back home. Brian eventually picked himself up slowly, desperately wishing for water and the toilet. That night it took him an hour to get home. Bonius was nowhere to be found and so Brian walked alone too tired and in pain completely unbothered about the dark.
The two met the following morning and both bawled with laughter. They spent the whole afternoon sitting by the fence overlooking Bhilidhi Sibanda’s homestead laughing about the events of the night before. They had later discovered that the man that chased them was a teacher that taught at the Nsuka secondary school. Brian was relieved that the teacher had not pursued them any further as he would have recognised him straight away since they met at church every Saturday.
As the two reminisced and laughed they were interrupted by some shouting noises coming from over the fence at the Sibanda’s residence. The Sibanda’s were the long disgruntled neighbours that shared a hedge with Brian´s grandfather´s house. When Brian’s grandfather arrived about 14 years ago in the village he was the first man not only to build a brick house, but an angular brick house with an asbestos roof. He had also connected electricity to the house much to the displeasure of many in the village. “He thinks he is better than us”, the women often scoffed. The men were however brave enough to come and investigate this new house. So Brian´s grandfather often entertained evening visitors when the lights were on.
The men would sit in their dusty clothes on the velvet sofas and surprisingly never declined any offer of food or Mazoe drink. They would sit and admire the house, the TV and the stove until it was too late and had to stay for the evening meal and prayers. Not caught up in the whole furore of the new house and seemingly disinterested, Mr Sibanda the neighbour had only visited once with his wife. They both arrived in the morning guiding each other and each with a cane for support. Both now in their seventy’s, all their six children were grown men with their own families. Four of the men and their families had built mud houses not far from their parents’ house. The shouting noises were coming from the youngest daughter of one of the sons.
“Father! Father! Run and see!”
“Grandma and Granddad are fighting!” The young girl shouted amidst excited laughter. Hearing this from over the fence Brian and Bonius pricked their ears and peered over the hedged fence to see. The girl was bouncing around and ringing her hands in excitement. Brian moved his gaze to see where the girl’s gaze was fixed and he saw Mrs Sibanda (NaBhe) sitting on Mr Sibanda, SaBhe’s chest delivering a good punching as hard as she could in her petite frame. The old lady was working at such frantic speed on saBhe’s face and chest, clearly incensed. Her ashen, shrivelled legs were straddled and balancing on the ground on either side of the body. SaBhe’s body was half out of the door of their mud kitchen and Brian could not see the rest of his upper body but he could tell though it was him from the same patched brown trousers that he wore daily. The young girls’ father, saGlo, came sprinting across the ploughed field to witness this.
“What’s happening mother?” saGlo demanded from the old lady still fighting on top of the old man. He moved closer brushing the young girl out of the way. Brian and Bonius strained their necks to get a clearer view. By now Mrs Sibanda was dragging her husband by the legs out of the hut and onto the open ground shouting that she was going to kill him on this day.
“I will kill your father, me!” the old lady screamed kicking the man all the while.
Another of the sons came bursting into the scene with the wife hot on his heels having heard all the commotion in the yard. Mrs Sibanda had resumed her squatted position on her husband’s chest and had carried on pummelling the poor old man. On beholding his mother on top of his father, the second son burst out laughing pointing at the two brawling on the dust.
“Father I can’t believe you’re getting beat by mother!” the second son laughed, still pointing. The old man made a feeble attempt to wriggle his way out of the woman’s thigh grip but she was well balanced on him now raining fists and slaps on his body.
“Get off me you witch!”
“I didn’t know I lived with a witch in this house”, the old man screamed from underneath the old lady’s skirt.
Everyone always knew the Sibanda’s were an odd family and that fighting and shouting happened with such unashamed regularity in the homestead. It was often saNko ( the second son)’s four year old screaming across the fields fleeing stones thrown by his father who would more than likely be squatted, basking in the morning sun right round his dilapidated hut. SaNko would be promising to decapitate the toddler. Cutting all kinds of the infant’s body parts and throwing them to the dogs. Squatted and arming himself with all kinds of missiles he could reach as he hardly moved from this squatted position for the entire day. The poor child’s fortune only lay on his father’s unwillingness to move from that position. If it wasn’t saNko’s homestead it would be saZwe’s where usually naZwe, a very strong and industrious wife will be regretting loudly why she married such an apathetic, idle donkey of a husband. A husband who couldn’t even tend his ploughed land.
It was naNko, who had followed sprinting behind her laughing and pointing husband that began to encourage the battling old lady.
“Beat him gogo!. Beat him!”
“Hehe ahh! This old lady has power”, naNko gaped, with arms akimbo and dangerously close to the battle as if she would join in. Brian had concluded that no one was in a hurry to separate the two on the floor. The old man on the floor was still much very alive against all odds. He was now trying to elbow and knee his way out of this baneful combat. In his attempt to preserve his decrepit life, the old man began to lose his trousers faster than his dignity during the combat. The chewed tree back that had been used to secure the trousers on the waist could not withstand the flaying movements and gave in. It was when the trousers began to slide down that saGlo decided it was enough. He simply lifted his mum up from the man’s chest and placed her on the floor
“You may just get killed dad while we watch on”, he barked helping the old man off the floor. The battle therefore ended as such with the old woman celebrating in victory and the man holding up his dignity and trousers. As the onlookers dispersed Brian wondered what would have caused such grownups to fight in this manner. It later emerged that after painstakingly preparing a lovely field-mice meal for the two the grandma fell back to enjoy a much deserved afternoon siesta. The old man, struggling to resist the saporous aromatic meal, thought he could just have a taste. Soon, a tiny taste became the whole meal. The old man only Jolted when he realised that he had cleaned and licked the plate dry even after clear instructions from the wife to keep away from the pots. The old man then simply covered the pot and waited for his fate as he knew very well what would be his certain punishment. On waking up, the wife went straight for the pots as if she knew what to expect. Having confirmed her worst fears, she launched the empty pot at the already pleading husband and thus the battle commenced. Later on in the day as they sat laughing about this Brian and Bonius saw the brawling pair emerge out of their hut, stooped and balancing on their canes going for their daily stop at the local beer hall.