Tomorrow Is Another Day
Baba’s job’s been gone for years now.
“No coal,” he says.
After more than thirty years, Darwin Mine has no coal, they say.
But Darwin Mine has coal. The whole nation is running off to Bocha, Zimbabwe finally has diamonds and so, who needs coal? You scavenge for the gems, sell one bag and say goodbye to the ghetto, goodbye to poverty.
“They are buying houses in Borrowdale, and brand new 4 by 4’s,” Mama says.
Over the years she has tried to convince Baba to switch trade, to pack up and join other men in Bocha. Our life could be different, if Baba switched to diamonds, if he had the guts to opt for short term gains. But common sense is what my father has and so he scavenges for scrap metal in dump sites, bins, and at times, road sides. He is not too keen on the new gems.
“Too risky. Too many politicians involved,” he says.
Baba’s playing it safe with the metal. Scrap Metal Specialist, that’s what he has become over the years. No one really cares about bits and pieces of metal when Bocha is clustered with diamonds. Baba has all the metal to himself, except there isn’t much metal in Zimbabwe. He tears down road signs usually when he is desperate and has to pay my school fees.
“Who needs Stop signs?” he laughs. “Who needs speed limit signs when the whole nation is rushing off to Bocha?”
I am still at school, thanks to Baba and his creativity. Thanks to him, I haven’t yet turned to picking from poor people’s pockets or selling myself to diseased men who cruise up and down our potholed avenues looking for cheap sex. I still drink tea. With or without milk or sugar, it’s still tea. Half a loaf is better than none, they say.
Before Darwin Mine got out of fashion, I ate peanut butter bota every morning. My tea was good brew, Five Roses. Each morning, I chewed into whole meal bread, its thickness the size of our doorstep. My bread was often evenly spread with Golden Syrup. Every Sunday we sat round the kitchen table feasting like Pharaohs. On good days, we had bacon and baked beans. On excellent days we had Boerwors.
But coal is out of fashion now, and so, it’s tea with nothing, or Air Pie: something that one feasts on only in their imagination. Thanks to Baba and his common sense. It could have been Air Pie, three times a day, poverty at its worst.
“Two weeks to go,” Baba says to Mama.
This time of year, Baba has to meet a deadline. For the next days he will wake up at 3 a.m. and walk round every dump site. He will sieve through the dirtiest of rubble, walk to Norton, Ruwa or wherever it will take him, to get the scrap metal he requires. If need be, he will tear down every road sign along the way, searching for what has become his own precious metal.
The road to Bocha is a road to riches and a good life, a road also full of risk. Baba doesn’t want to end up in jail, not this time of year, not before December 31.
For now he will search, grab and sell until the day our fire smells of tea cooking with sterilised milk. On that day, bread the size of Mount Kilimanjaro will bake on the fire side until it’s golden brown, until it’s aroma spreads all around Musasa Street. The chicken will be boiling in Mama’s cauldron of creamy curry sauce, peppers, tomato paste and all sorts, until the stew turns orange, like a setting summer sun. Finely ground samp smothered with crunchy peanut butter will be simmering by the fireside.
In the next days, Baba will be up from dawn till midnight, in thunder, lightning or hail, toiling like a dog, racing against time like a greyhound.
Come December 31, I will say a very short Grace and Amen before we all sit round the kitchen table and our knives and forks dance to the tune of our mouths, as we chew and grind, like cows chewing cud.
“Happy Birthday,” Mama and Baba will say.
I’ll be quiet, munching, grazing, drinking, so overjoyed to have survived another tough year, thankful that tomorrow is another day, whatever fate it brings.
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.