I had seen him watching me from across the bar. I had many reasons to return his glances, most of all his appearance, which I may, if I ventured to describe, call a scrotum melted onto a face. One could read the scars of a nation on the hieroglyphs of his ugliness etched by Time’s fingers turning. Finally he came over and asked if the stool across was taken.
“No,” I replied, and smiled, tight-mouthed, trying not to swallow his craken-befitting halitosis seeping between jagged rocks of front teeth. He sat down, bummed a cigarette and lit it like Kenny Roger’s gambler, unlike whom he had a little to say, an ocean of nostalgia for his younger days to spew into another generation. He did not know it, I have been told I look much older than my years, so I was neither offended nor inclined to object when he invited me to reminisce with him on the days of our youth in a country I did not find.
“My children came home today. From boarding school. I had money, a lot of money, but now I am broke. No worry though, if my children spend my money I have no regrets, I would have blown it on whores anyway.” He grunts a laugh, the offensive wind pounding my face. I smile while holding my breath, drawing a cigarette from the pack and finally exhale behind the wispy veil of tobacco incense.
Secure behind the smoke fortress, I can finally contribute and turn our interaction into a dialogue. “That’s what it means to be a father, to be a man.”
“Indeed mfowethu, that’s what it means. I want my children to remember me not as the drunken sod I am, I want…I want them to remember my generosity. Remember the provider, I want them to lack for nothing, or at least have what they need.”
I looked down and smiled. I love these random heart-to-hearts, but how do I tell him without being harsh or completely ignoring him that I paid for Wi-Fi and would rather concentrate on interacting with people who are not with us than talk to him? Just then three things happen to me. I realise the irony in my annoyance, then my instinct kicks in to demand a sample of his soul. I also remember there are no coincidences; there’s a reason I am still online even though my voucher has expired, and consequently still in the bar. I close my tabs, save my work, push my device aside and haul in my beer.
“Do you remember our fathers?” He doesn’t have to know I am not as old as he thinks I am so I just nod. And smile. “My father used to work at Railways. Back in the day when blacks were not allowed to live in the East. Every time he came home to the reserves was an occasion, especially at Christmas.
“He would drop off at the bus stop by the growth point some ten kilometres. We would have to fetch him. The donkeys would be harnessed onto the cart, and then we would go and impatiently wait for the bus.
“You always knew he had brought you something. You knew amathanda-foot (ankle cut canvas shoes) were there along with Christmas clothes for you and everyone else. He would also be laden with groceries, ehole ibonus, sweets and biscuits, rice and fancy stuff. You knew some of the food, especially the special stuff would be saved for Christmas. And even your clothes, they were special; you only wore them on Christmas Day and special occasions like church thereafter.
There would be a party on Christmas, at your place and at almost every other household where the head of the home worked in the city. There was a lot of booze, but we weren’t drinking then, although we got to sipping and experimenting later…
“Ah Christmas, everything would be brightened by our new clothes and the mirth of the season. The gramophone would come out and we would dance idabhi. Do you know idabhi?” Again I said nothing; just smiled and let him continue. “Do you think these young boys know what idabhi is?” I let that one hang rhetorical.
“Then there were the girls. The new Christmas clothes gave you a new persona, you felt like you could do anything in them, including get laid, but it never worked out; we were peers to the girls and they knew you too much to give it up.” A sadness fell upon his face, he furrowed his brow in contemplation and something tried to come out, his lips were poised for its escape but instead he lightened his heavy countenance and said, “There is a Happy Hour special next door, come along, the beer’s half-price there.”
“I will be with you in a moment.” I downed my beer, packed up and sat there thinking of my own childhood in a middle class family. There was white-Santa’s lap at Miekles, a man who looked too sweet with his chubby red cheeks and frameless glasses to ask why he hadn’t given me what I had asked for in my letter. Then there was helping Santa when the ruse was up, but the folks decided we needed to keep my little sister in her bubble of joy. Then there was black Santa and his cotton-wool beard, almost as atrocious as Hollywood casting whites to play Egyptian gods. And then there were the drunken years of youth, serial debauchery and blowing chunks as polychromatic as a Christmas tree. Then Christmas didn’t mean anything anymore.
Then of course there was Morgan Tsvangirai, last year, accusing Robert Mugabe of stealing Christmas. Then there was Tsvangirai again, reminiscing about the good old days in Rhodesia when he could get drunk for a dollar.
And then there was the future to write.