Hard Medicine

by Thabi Di Moeketsi

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The cock crow was like thunder, echoing through my ears until my eyes could not shut.

My day had begun. I felt sick again as my body heated up, from the head down to my toes. It was time to get up. There was no mealie meal for bota, and if I didn’t stand in the queue on time, there would be no sadza for supper. The day before, I had stood in another queue, the money queue at the bank. The week before, I had slept there, only to be told that money had run out.

The cooking oil had run out.

The bread in the shops had run out, as had the flour, sugar and salt.

It all had to do with Petrol shortage, Radio Zimbabwe said.

“What will we eat Nico?”

Her voice was like a dying cricket’s shrill. It came from the heap at the corner, a heap which smelt of pills and urine, a heap of bones, a heap I couldn’t see because the room was too dark and there were no candles to light.

“I will see,” I replied as I lifted her to the side.

She felt like feathers.

“I will see,” I reiterated, as if I was really sure that I would get food for the day.

There was still a bit of water to wash her—but no soap. I fumbled through the drawer in search of my box of matches. I wanted to see her mouth, to see whether her shingles had dried up. She had cried all night saying her whole body itched. She had scratched until she bled. Her blankets smelt of fresh blood.

“Better today?” I asked.

Someone had to break the silence. Silence scared me. She responded with a whizz before bursting into little fits of coughs. That was better than silence.

The box of matches had one match stick left; the very one I needed to light the fire. I couldn’t waste it and so I put it back in and continued with the wash, trying to be as gentle on her as I could. She screamed, in whispers. I rubbed cooking oil on her dry scalp. She smelt of cooked food, but, used cooking oil was better than nothing. I massaged her head before covering her up with the same blanket that smelt of fresh blood.

“This needs a wash,” I thought to myself.

“It needs a wash,” she responded as if she had read my mind.

I almost jumped.

She was better. The fact that she was talking meant she was better. I immediately rushed out. I had to do all the chores while she was still better.

Outside, men and women walked and ran, on their way to work. I left the bucket of water on the doorstep for the dog to drink. He didn’t move. His jaws stuck out like needles. His eyes said it all; he was hungry and wanted me to give him food, my faeces. But I had nothing to give. 

Next door, inside the high dura wall, Radio Zimbabwe echoed out in tunes that pricked into my ears. The Pastor was up. His family was getting ready for another day. The smell of peanut butter bota filled the air. Tea burned on the fire. My nose could even pick up the fresh bread from Manica Bakery. It made my stomach twist and turn.

“What time will you be back, Nico?” she asked.

“Soon…very soon,” I whispered before walking away from the house, my bare feet touching the cold ground.

I knew I had to run to the queue—to the chemist and to the health care worker, to get some gloves. I had to run back home to treat and feed her, to make sure she was clean. I had to clean the Pastor’s house, for extra cash, for our food and medicine, for school fees.

I ran, not like a hungry person, not like someone who had been awake all night.

I suddenly had wings, wings that carried me with the wind.

In no time, I was up the hill and down. I turned round into Shasha Street and near the shops, my feet sinking in and out of the potholes. I overtook passing cars and zig-zagged through bicycles and donkey drawn carts. I accelerated like a horse, not tiring, my fingers crossed, hoping that if Mamma remained well, I would maybe go to school, get ten out of ten in my tables and play ball with my friends.

Thabi Di Moeketsi resides in Pretoria, South Africa, with her teenage daughter Valerie Tendai. Her previous work has appeared in Frostwriting. She is currently working on her first novel.

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