MP– We are motivated as we publish a mind spinning short story by one Zimbabwe fast rising poet ,writer ,storyteller and journalist Richmore Tera . This is the first 2018 Short Story entry in our Time of the Writer blog journal . More stories are coming through and we will unveiling them for you readers and our beloved followers here on MP and other platforms. Send more stories, follow our blog site,leave comments on the site and contact us at email@example.com( Mbizo Chirasha-Editor)
THE day that the peach tree in Naume’s yard was struck down by lightning one stormy night was the day that she never stopped grieving.
It was an old tree, this peach tree, old and solitary, like Naume herself who stayed alone in the big unfurnished house.
According to the local grapevine, Naume had ‘eaten’ her husband, Zairegondo, several years ago, so that she could own this house herself.
To aggravate it, so said the talk, the widow had made sure that she would never conceive by eating powerful herbs that were believed to sweep a man’s sperm from one’s womb like a broom.
“What kind of a house is it where a child is never heard crying?” was one proverb her neighbours always used whenever talk about Naume cropped up.
It was such a powerful aphorism whose meaning was close to yet another saying that they favoured.
“Does she want to be buried with a rat on her back?” “I heard she squandered her “prime time” selling her body to men at the local beerhall, swallowing family planning pills like a hoover.
“And when she eventually met up with Zairegondo, whom she blinded into marriage, it was too late for her to conceive because her womb had gotten so used to the pills that it spewed out the sperm.”
These were some of the whispers that were bandied around by the rumour-mongering women of her neighbourhood. And they would burst into cackling throaty laughter, beating their palms together in gleeful mockery.
The peach tree, like its owner, had never bore a single fruit in its lengthy existence.
It was a short stout tree, with sinuous branches laden with green and yellow leaves that made it look like a woman fresh from having a colourful hairdo.
Despite its ‘effeminate’ appearance, though, no one in the neighbourhood ever saw the tree in flower, let alone ate its fruit, in all its life.
There was a kind of filial closeness between Naume and the peach tree.
Every morning, she would wake up, go to the tree and wistfully observe it from root, trunk to branch. Yes, there were some roots that protruded from the ground like vines. Dutifully, like a mother or sister nursing a beloved daughter or twin, Naume would construct a round ridge at the base of the tree, and then water it. All the time, her eyes would be trained on the branches of the tree, as if she expected flowers to suddenly burst into bloom and transmogrify into fruit before her eyes.
But for years, such a miracle never happened.
Only until one morning, a few weeks before the fateful night when the tree was eventually struck down by lightning.
That particular morning, Naume had woken up late, having gone to bed late the previous night, for reasons only known to herself.
Parting the curtain to let in the sun, something outside had suddenly caught her sight. It was the peach tree, now resplendent with some pink petals like the hair of a delicious damsel freshly coiffured.
Gasping, and then smiling, the widow had flown out of the house, her nighties flowing behind her like a parachute.
She had hugged and kissed the tree like it was not something inanimate. All the time, tears were cascading from her eyes.
“Oh, you have done it! You! You! I am so proud of you!” she whispered gaily.
“Do what?” “It’s not me, it’s him,” said two little voices from somewhere up the tree.
Her heart felt like bursting.
Looking up, she saw two boys who had been rocking precariously from a branch, staring back at her with eyes laden with fear.
Pointing her broom at them, Naume’s anger suddenly exploded.
“You stinking little monkeys, what are you doing up there in my tree? I don’t care whether you fall and break your bones, but what I want to know is, who has sent you to shake these flowers off from my tree?”
Not waiting for an answer, she hurled the broom at them, which nicked one of them on the left buttock. As the boy tried to dodge the missile, he suddenly lost balance and came hurtling from the tree, falling onto the ground with a thud. He landed on one of his arms, whose fragile bones instantly snapped.
He screamed in pain.
The boy’s mother, who lived next door, was attracted by her son’s screaming voice and came charging from her house like a wounded rhino.
“John, what is it?” yelled the mother, chest heaving up and down, as she did and undid the wrapper around her waist.
“It’s my arm. Mbuya Muroyi hit me with her broom and I fell from the tree, causing my arm to break,” cried John, clutching at his little arm like it was a broken twig.
That is the day that Mai John and Naume never saw eye to eye again.
The other week, when Naume had visited somewhere far away, some of the mischievous kids in the neighbourhood had improvised a swing by tying a wire around one of the tree’s branches. The wire was then linked to an old tyre that the children used as a seat as they swung to and fro through the air. As they swung, the wire would cut into the branch, and red sap would ooze out of its deep wound.
When Zodwa finally returned home and saw the children rollicking on the swing tied to the tree, she was so disappointed and pained that she felt as if it was her shoulder that had been cut into by the wire.
As if by magic, the branch, that could no longer bear the children’s weight anymore, suddenly relented and heaved to the ground with a whooshing sound. The canopy of the branch buried the screaming children in its petticoats. They sustained scratches and fled to their homes like they had escaped death from the clutches of a fiend.
Then it had started raining. It was a storm that had broken in the morning and went on without respite throughout the whole day and into the night. Heavy lightning roared and tore through the storm in accompaniment. As the storm pelted on, a bolt of lightning suddenly cracked from the sky and cannoned into the peach tree.
Finding the buffeting storm and the lightning too much to withstand, the tree smashed to the muddy ground as if axed by a giant. Had not lightning and the storm hit the tree, still a colony of termites that had been eating up the roots of the tree, might have brought the tree to its end.
Eventually, when the storm subsided and day broke, Naume woke up with the intention of sweeping her yard. But she was shocked and pained to see the tree lying on its side, its petals scattered around its leafy branches like diamonds around the crown of a dead beautiful queen.
She mourned the tree like she had lost a dear relative. When her neighbours tried to console her, she was inconsolable.
From that day onwards, Naume was always seen clad in her black widow’s clothes, clothes she had dumped in her wardrobe on the fifth day after her husband’s death.
Then one day, she brewed a shocker for the people of the neighbourhood. She woke up in the morning, armed with the carpentry tools that her late husband used in his trade as a carpenter when he was still alive.
“What do you want to do with those tools?” asked her neighbor, Masamba as he peered inquisitively through hedge that bordered their houses.
Naume kept on lugging the huge tools-box until she reached to the place where the dead peach tree lay.
She sighed, and for a moment, she sat on the huge tools-box, breathing heavily from the effort of dragging the heavy load.
She cast a contemplative look at the tree trunk. Yes, the thickness was good, ideal for the job, she concluded.
Masamba kept on staring, gaping, wondering what this eccentric old widow was up to.
He quietly sipped something from his metal cup, grimaced, all the while watching her through the hedge.
“If you want to make a washing line, I would be happy to come over and assist,” he finally suggested with a lascivious, lopsided grin on his face.
Zodwa thought for a moment. Then a gem of an idea suddenly sprang into her mind.
“By the way, you too are also a carpenter?” she probed.
“Oh yes. Have you forgotten that I used to be your late husband’s assistant, eh, Naume?” he hesitated when it came to calling her by her first name. But almost everyone in the neighbourhood called her Naume, nothing more, nothing less, save for those string of dirty nicknames they had given her.
“Ah, then would you be of some assistance to me?” she asked, now facing his direction. Masamba’s heart started leap-frogging in his chest.
“Yes, yes. I…, I ….What is it that you want repaired? Has the frame of your bed collapsed?” he asked suggestively, a mischievous twinkle showing in his eye.
Naume seldom laughed. But this time around, she let out a titter.
“You make me laugh, Masamba, you jolly old fellow,” she said.
“Yes, the frame of my bed needs some repairing, but as of now, my sights are set on something else. Tell me you will help me through making the thing I want made?” she coaxed, managing to ladle some sweetness into her voice.
He choked on his drink from the metal cup, thumped his chest a few times with the edge of a clenched fist, and then replied: “Ma’am, I am at your service!”
Things were going exactly the right way he wanted them to go and suddenly he felt a spring of pleasure welling up inside him.
Steady, man, steady, he chided himself, lest the waves of over-excitement suddenly break out inside you and sweep you off your feet!
“Ah, then you can come over,” she offered.
In one mouthful, he gulped down the contents of whatever was left in his metal cup. He didn’t wait to go round and enter through the gate. Too late! He just poked his way through a hole in the hedge and in a few seconds he was sitting next to Naume on the tools-box.
In the sky, a pall of clouds that had been shutting out the sun drifted away, and the sun poured down its warm rays onto the earth, bathing them in sunshine.
“But you haven’t told me yet whatever that is you want to make?” he asked, casting a lopsided gaze at her. He could smell the perfume of her bathing soap or was it skin oil, coming from her. From the corner of his eyes, he could tell that she was still as beautiful as ever despite her age, and her chocolate-brown skin was still smooth and devoid of wrinkles. How she managed to keep herself in this pristine condition boggled his mind.
“What did you say?” she asked, turning and staring him squarely in the face.
He didn’t realise that he was thinking aloud.
“Oh, I was saying, what is it that you want me to help you make?” he fibbed. But she had heard him.
“Ah, okay. It’s something that you have been making for ages. I even used to see you making it with him before he passed away,” she paused and cast a look at him.
He averted his eyes.
She continued: “I want, I want, eh to help you me make…make eh ….make a coffin!”
At her words, he suddenly sprang up from the tools-box where he was sitting and leapt a distance away from her reach as if he had been sitting on live electricity cables. Or like someone who had suddenly realized that he was all the time sitting with a ghost which had just revealed itself.
“WHAT? Are you crazy? What do you need a coffin for?” he blurted out, almost turning to run away.
This woman was sure out of her mind, he concluded.
Then as an afterthought, he asked, “Or is it that you have found a customer who needs a coffin for a dead friend or relative?”
She couldn’t suppress her laughter. She laughed and laughed, face tilted up towards the sky, mouth wide open that he saw the roof her mouth.
He was now confused. Eccentric, sure this woman was! And very, very insane!
Then, as another blanket of clouds shut away the sun above, so did her expression suddenly changed to a somber and more serious mood.
She tensed, and her eyes focused into space, as if she was seeing some faraway place in a distant world visible to her alone.
“Come here,” she gestured with one hand, patting the top of the tools-box next to her where he had been sitting before. For a moment, he hesitated.
“Don’t worry, I won’t eat you,” she persuaded. “Do I scare you? I am still human, not a monster.”
Steeling himself, he then went and sat on the edge of the tools-box, maintaining a distance between the two of them.
“You see what, good old Masamba,” she started her story, her voice snapping in her throat as if the story she was about to tell him was very painful to relate.
“Ever since Zairegondo passed away, I have never experienced peace of mind. To me, it seems as if a piece of me was buried with him,” she swallowed hard and faced him.
“Again, do I scare you with these words?” He just shook his head nervously, not knowing whether he wanted to continue hearing her story or not.
She went on: “People call me all sorts of names, but they don’t really understand how much we loved each other Yes, I don’t conceive, and I never gave him a child, but he loved me like that. I tried many things, ate all sorts of herbs, approached many doctors and spiritual healers, but still I could not conceive. And then he died. Just like that, leaving me alone in this big empty house, mourning daily,”
She paused briefly and sighed.
“He was many things to me.” Her eyes were now glistening with tears.
The pall of clouds drifted off the face of the sun above and in poured a shower of sunshine, further accentuating the glint her in her moist eyes. He wanted to wipe them away with the back of his palm, but he restrained himself.
“He…he…was my husband, yes, but above everything else, he was my best friend, the best I have ever had. And I don’t think the void that he left in my heart will ever be filled.” She looked down at the dead peach tree lying at their feet before them on the ground.
“This tree you see here symbolized hope, life, to me. But look at it now, lying there dead. All hope for me snuffed out, never to bear any fruit for me,” she moaned, and her voice had now grown hoarse with emotion.
The emotion was palpable. He felt a pang of pain leaping from her heart and lodging itself inside him. God, this was too much, he said to himself. But he didn’t realize that he had actually mouthed the thought aloud. Again. Silly me, he rebuked himself.
“Yes, this is too much,” she agreed. “And this is the reason why I have asked you to come and help me make this coffin because I am tired of this world. God take me,” she whispered. Her voice now came out of her like a dry wind. It frightened him. But he didn’t run away. Instead, he surprised himself when he realized that he was now standing before her, then leaned down towards her and gathered her up in his firm embrace. Warm. The perfume of her bathing soap mingled with that of her skin oil wafted into her nostrils in a delicious scent.
He tilted her face towards his, and this time looked her straight in those glinting eyes. “Naume, Naume, Naume!” her name rolled in a cadence out of his lips.
“I understand what you are going through. Yes, you loved him very much. But now he is gone. And that is a fact you must learn to accept and live with. You can’t undo things. God has his own way of doing things.”
He paused, and could feel her ample bosom heaving against his chest, her breath against his face. She just gazed into his eyes, and felt her palms closing fast into his. This time, he didn’t flinch. He returned the gaze.
“You know what, Naume, all these years, I have been dying to tell you how I feel towards you. But I couldn’t bring myself to saying it, lest you shame me,” he said, letting out a nervous laugh.
“Then what has made you say it today, after all these years?” she bullied. Again, that short nervous laugh.
“It is probably because God realized that you don’t deserve that coffin of yours yet, after all, and this is the reason why he has sent me to deliver you from your death-wish,” he was now smiling down at her, face edging close to hers.
“So, should I call you Angel, since God has sent you like an angel to save me?” she asked with a mischievous grin and a twinkle in her eye. Then their lips interlocked. “Hoorayyyyyyy!!!!” delighted voices screamed in unison around them.
These were the people from the neighbourhood, both young and old, who had gathered around the new lovebirds as they poured their hearts out to one another.
That day, the lovers, basking in the sunshine of their newfound love, spent their day sewing, planishing, chiselling and hammering out a new bench from the trunk of the dead peach tree that lay in Naume’s yard.
The coffin project had been abandoned. Now it was a bench for two.
Rich more Tera (Richmore Tera is a poet, short story writer, playwright, actor and freelance journalist who once worked for Zimpapers (writing for The Herald, Sunday Mail, Kwayedza, Manica Post, H-Metro) as a reporter but currently focusing on his creative work. Currently, he is the Associate Editor of Chitungiwza Central Hospital’s weelky online newsletter. His works have been read in Zimbabwe, Africa and the Dispora in various publications which he contributes to. He is the author of the monograph, “Here Leaves Silently Fall, a collection of poems, which was published by Arts Initiates in Namibia in 2009)