When I was 16 I had the dubious honour of escorting my grandmother to Harare for her medicals. She was a proud woman, my grandmother, she refused to be a burden to anyone. While her resilience was commendable it sometimes came across as a stubborn streak especially when you were trying to get her to do something for her own good. She had a cautious distrust for systems and structures. A habit bred from the liberation war era.
During the war, soldiers would come to the village and round up all the able-bodied men, for their own good. They returned in coffins and sometimes never returned at all and even then, those who came back, they were never as they were before they left. My grandmother buried her children and waited for those yet to return.
That was one of the reasons she refused to move from her homestead, back in the village, long after she had buried her husband, my grandfather, she still waited. What if one day her lost sons returned and she wasn’t there to welcome them back home. She refused even as her arthritis flared up and other old-age ailments troubled her. She was adamant, even as the family insisted she relocate to the city, to be close to doctors and to be looked after, for her own good.
“What would I even do in the city except wait to die?” She announced as she carried her hoe making her way to the fields, her goats following behind her, a certain defiance in her step. As if to vindicate her, that was the summer one of her lost sons found his way home. Almost twenty years after independence, he just showed up, no explanations. He didn’t speak much and no one was brave enough to ask. Grandmother cried and I found it odd. That was the first time I remember seeing her cry, she never wept for the dead.
He was the one who managed to convince her to go to Harare for her checkup. She agreed because he had said he would wait for his lost brothers. If they were to return in her absence he would welcome them, who better than him, her first born child, first to be taken. Someone was needed to accompany her. I was conveniently on my O Level holiday while everyone else was conveniently busy… And that’s how a small town kid found himself in the big city for the first time in his life.
How does a young lad convince his grandmother that cars stopping at traffic lights will not run you over as long as the green walking sign is displayed? With great difficulty bordering on impossible. She was convinced the cars were conspiring against her, waiting for her to get to the middle of the road, then vroom vroom – game over. As you can imagine, by the time she decided, okay, fine, it seemed safe enough to cross, the lights were already changing and so of course as soon as she took two steps, the cars started moving. Screeeeeeeech
“Told you they wanted to run over us!!!!”
Plan B was to use an alternative route which did not have traffic lights so we took a roundabout way. Oh, I had told you this was my first time in Harare and this was before the era of mobile phones? I had been given supposedly simple directions: The bus will drop you off at the RoadPort, walk along 5th street till you get to Samora Machel, you’ll see the Reserve Bank, then walk down that way till you get to Karigamombe Center Standard Charted Bank. That is where my uncle worked and he would drive us to Parirenyatwa Hospital.
Now as we had to take a circuitous route which eliminated having to cross traffic lights, after a couple of turns I was well and truly lost. I could imagine us being announced on the radio that, “Attention, a boy and his grandmother have been found lost in the streets of Harare if these are your kin, please come and collect them from the police station.”
I wanted to ask for directions, but Harare people have always been in a rush. The name Harare can be translated to mean The City That Never Sleeps. People are always hustling, walking brusquely by, they won’t even look up when you greet them, they just keep walking, never slowing down. Those that do look your way, have a certain calculating manner about them, as if they are measuring how much you are worth, if you are a potential client or a target, if you can fight back or how fast you can run….
The only thing that kept us going was The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, the tallest building in Harare. You can see it from practically anywhere in the central business district of Harare. With my grandmother’s hand in mine, we made our way towards the landmark feature of Harare’s skyline.
I had a crazy plan that we would ask for directions when we got there because one could not possibly be robbed outside the RBZ building, right?. this would make it the safest spot to talk to strangers. Fortunately, when you are standing by the Reserve Bank and you looked down the Samora Machel, you can see Karigamombe Centre just a few blocks away….
We made our way into the cool air-conditioned reception hall of Standard Charted Bank and I asked to see my uncle. Package Delivered.
Stories of Home: WinterABC