Dambudzo Marechera (Harare, 1986) by Ernst Schade.
© Please do not reproduce without artist's permission.
Dear Reader, allow me (the writer) a moment or two to give a metafictional introduction to this story: The whole thing’s a gimmick—pure pastiche. The writer Tendai Huchu is writing as the writer Dambudzo Marechera, just as a thousand other minions write as James Patterson. A woman (Fungai Machirori), who you may or may not know, suggested it as a way of celebrating Zimbabwe's foremost literary figure.
THE SECOND COMING OF
by Tendai Huchu
Sustain disbelief. There’s no need to pretend that this is anything other than just another story in just another cheap magazine. In a language not my own, which I’ve learnt to love through the master’s cane. Someone else is writing me—and he’s a lesser writer than I. (Insert digression.) Everyone’s cashing in on MichaelBobElvis. Why not (on) me?
‘Methinks that’s a bit harsh,’ said a dog pissing on the pine tree next to my head.
‘Woof,’ I replied.
‘You woke up. Good. Everyone thinks you’re dead. Buried. Gone. Kaput.’
‘I drank too much last night.’
‘Hail to thee, thane of Zimbabwean letters.’ The dog gave a sarcastic bow.
My head was aching. It felt like I’d lain on hot train tracks, listening to the chugging of the steam engine, only to remove myself at the last moment as the wheels shaved off my hair.
I saw I was crucified by brutish people on the Union Jack of Africa Unity Square. The grass grew long blades that pricked the pores of my skin—entered my muscles, bones, and buried themselves in the marrow of my black soul. It was raining. Large Black tears from the Black sky in a Black land. The water felt good on my face.
‘He’s alive!’ someone new cried. A buck-toothed face hovered over mine as I extricated myself from the burning cords that tied me to the earth like Gulliver.
‘Fuck you,’ I said, gave him a head butt, grabbed my typewriter and bolted. Dried grass and particles of dirt fell from my hair. Pain moved to my gut-rot, rolling in my intestines, a mass of venomous snakes injecting poison. But my words! I’d lain prostrate, legs spread wide open, crying out in anguish as I gave birth to my words. And they had gone. Into the world. Never wrote a letter back. If I went home, maybe I might still find them there.
Kingston’s Bookshop was just across the road. The typewriter in my left hand weighed me down, so I walked slant, like the half-cripple my people were.
A mighty—Almighty—cluster bomb mindfuck when I walked into the store. The salesman was standing behind the till, his hand to his ear, jabbering, kak, kak, kak, like a monkey. I stood at the bookshelf with the label, Fiction A-Z, picked up a banana off the fruit-for-sale shelf next to the Complete Shakespeare and walked out. The salesman shouted:
‘Hey, you must pay for that!’
I went back inside, took out a silver dollar and placed it on the counter for Judas to receive. Now that I’d given him a name, I had no more story for him.
‘Keep the change,’ I said.
That’s how I left him, jaw on the floor, a hippopotamus waiting to bite the man who was long gone in the canoe that floated on time’s Zambezi, going down with the current, amidst the rocks and rapids, the thick smoke ahead, Victoria Falls, a certain plunge into the abyss. A deep endless—
—hole I emerge from, and she is beneath me, glistening with sweat. Her legs coiled around my waist. Only the tip of my head is free from the prison between those thighs, until I pull myself up with a jerk. Fall beside her. Sweat cascading off our backs. Salt. Scent. Semen. Saliva. Survival. That’s all. A mattress stuffed with the feathers of dead chickens. I sneeze until not a molecule of air is left in my lungs, just a vacuum that refuses to drag anything in. And as I gasp for air:
‘I knew you’d be back.’
‘This was a mistake.’
‘That’s what you always say.’
‘I’ve become a cliché.’
‘Some say you are mad.’
‘Some are mad. Where are my pants?’
‘Have a beer instead.’
I keep quiet and drink. The beer is whisky. Southern Comfort. I almost weep for the slaves in America. She knows I hate whisky. They gave Jesus vinigger to drink. He was a Jew. Jews are the only white people you can’t say shit about. My country is the Jew of Africa. I drink my whisky without protest. My throat burns, like my dick. VD scares me and my back spasms, arching like the struts across Birchenough Bridge. Who is she? My agony, my pain: the landlord when the rent is two months late. The brutal knock of the Rhodesian police on the door.
I arrived at Flat 8 Sloane Court dazed and confused. My shirt was wet and clung to my skin as skin clings to itself after a whipping with a sjambok. I looked behind and there was a thin black/blue stream from the rain that mixed with the ink from my typewriter, and this became the breadcrumbs by which the world would find me. And I was lost. Had been. Would always be because my mind was too broken and fragmented to be in one place at the same time, instead, little bits found each other and connected and lost each other again, so one bit said, Hello, have you seen that bit? to the bit which may have seen another bit, and so on, until all the bits knew of the other bits—even the deep, hidden bits that dared not venture out, but remained hidden in dark lesions fleeing the terrific radiation of Black Sunlight.
I stood in front of my door and realised I’d lost my keys.
The little dog from the square reappeared. He was white with a brown spot around his left eye. He came over and nudged me to one side saying, ‘Pardon me,’ in an unmistakable RP accent. I gave him the finger. The dog wiped his paws on the mat, took out a key from his arsehole and proceeded to fiddle with the lock.
‘You know it’s rude to give people the finger in this day and age,’ he said with a wounded air.
‘You’re not people,’ I replied.
In Harare Gardens, two women had accosted me. I was busy stepping over beggars and street kids sprawled out on the brown lawn like a collection of clothes and rags with humans in them. The vortex had its eye over the gardens and this was the only part of the city where it wasn’t raining. The women came up to me breathlessly, waving copies of a book I didn’t recognise, but had my name on the cover. Someone! was publishing under Dambudzo Marechera. Was I a pseudonym?
I took out two fifty cent coins and gave them one each to buy ice cream.
‘We’re writers too, you know,’ the younger one said. Her hair was wild like mine. She needed a comb.
‘Oh, I thought you were prostitutes,’ I said.
They told me their names were Petunia and NoViolence. It seemed they wanted me to sign this book by my doppelganger. I took a pen, and as I bent over to sign, they vanished into thin air. Poof. I found a bottle of Cola Cane in my back pocket and took a swig.
doG opened the door and said, ‘After you,’ with a flourish. The flat was dark and dank and smelled of shit and sex. Not my shit. Someone else’s sex. I had the distinct feeling that I’d walked into the wrong house. Some things were familiar. Everything was wrong, and if this had been John Wayne striding into a bar, the music would have stopped and everyone would stare at the hero as his hand casually groped the dangling six-gun holstered to his waist like an extra penis, sheathed, but erect, ready to use at a moment’s notice. I was the bullet. A tiny fragment waiting for a hammer to strike so the powder in my being would ignite, and I would incinerate at the speed of sound.
doG pointed to my bedroom.
A cop was sitting inside, reading a copy of the Herald. Date: 18 August 2014. He finished the story he was on and looked up at me.
‘Oh, there you are,’ he said.
‘Yes, I know I am here,’ I replied.
‘I know you know that I know you are there,’ he said.
‘Is this a philosophical pause?’ I asked, placing my typewriter down and taking a swig of booze.
‘I asked specifically to be assigned to your case when I heard you’d come back. It’s always a joyful moment when a dead author returns to us!’
‘I should have ridden in on an ass.’
‘Hosanna in the highest.’
In the next room, I could hear two people fucking. Someone was taking a loud shit in the bathroom. A condom filled with semen lay on my bed. I sat beside it (the condom). Whose was it? Millions of children dying in that plastic—modern holocaust. There was a stack of novels on the desk next to the window. Authors with names I did not know.
‘You’re out of print now,’ the cop said.
‘Everyone goes out of print eventually.’
‘We have new books now, new writers.’
He got up, went to the gramophone in the corner and played music from Wagner’s Rienz. It made me feel like a Nazi on parade. Hitler’s youth. It made me feel old. I could just about hear the fucking and shitting over it. This made me irredeemably sad. I got up, took off my belt, fashioned a noose and hung it from the light socket. The cop observed me with detached interest. doG soiled my rug. I inserted my head in the noose—
And that was the image that seared through the troughs and erosion gullies of my deserted mind, which the white man had tried to cure with the DDF contour ridges of his education and police dogs and truncheons. Two gandangas are hovering over the black township. I am in my mother’s garden reading Dostoevsky, and these gandangas are like the prophets of old descending from the sky with the message of liberation, freedom, black power. They sway in the wind like string puppets: heads drooped to the side, their feet oscillating in the African sky back and forth like pendulums under the roar of Ian Smith’s helicopter. The string around their necks—made of fine Rhodesian rope. A message. Or. A puppet show. Entertainment for the masses, in the coliseum that is the black township. I bowed my head and got back to my book.
—and got bored, so I extricated myself and sat down on the bed next to it (the condom).
doG went over to the cop, fished out an American dollar from his anus and gave it to him.
‘I told you he wasn’t going to do it,’ the cop said.
‘He must be mad. If he were sane, he’d have done it,’ doG replied. Police dog? Police—dog?
The cop’s crotch vibrated. I’d never seen anything like it. He pulled a plastic box from his pocket, placed it against his ear and began to speak to himself or to it (the plastic box). After a while he said bye and turned back to me.
‘I almost forgot I’m here on business,’ he said.
‘To arrest me,’ I replied.
‘Arrest you? Why on earth would we do that?’ He looked genuinely shocked and surprised. The fucking and shitting went on. ‘I just brought your contract, that’s all. We thought you would need it since you’re back.’
I must have asked what the contract was about. He reached into his breast pocket and took out a small roll of papers bound by shiny wire.
‘It’s just routine. The contract merely says that if you decide to write again, you must not write about politics and/or poverty anywhere in Africa. Now, before you go off jumping to the wrong conclusions, it’s not the government that’s drawn this up—why should we care? no one buys fiction anyway—we’re even considering disbanding the Censorship Board. No, this one comes from the African critics; they say there’s far too much politics and poverty in our literary works which must be excised. Fiction must not reflect reality, it must transcend, it must be art.’
‘How does this work?’ I asked.
‘In practice, no one knows. One of your fans, China Miéville, may have come up with a solution,’ he said and paused for effect. The pause turned into silence and I knew he wanted me to ask something.
He was satisfied and continued:
‘Unseeing. You essentially live in two worlds that are crosshatched together. For example, you are a middle-class guy walking across First Street, all around you are shops selling overpriced goods and people wearing designer labels, then you see a beggar in rags or street kids with snot on their noses; they are clearly in an alternate reality, far and separate from yours, which you must never acknowledge unless you want to breach, so you unsee them—they immediately cease to exist, airbrushed from consciousness and history. With enough practice it becomes a reflex action.’
‘Like white literature in colonial times?’
‘Exactly! You see, it’s so easy,’ he said with a certain amount of glee.
I took the contract without hesitation and signed it in my own blood. The cop rolled it up and put it back in his pocket. Then he opened the briefcase at his feet, took out three glasses, one for each of us, and poured some hemlock out. It was blood red, like young wine in a new skin, and it sparkled in the dark dankness of my bedroom.
Wagner reached crescendo and whoever was fucking in the next room climaxed. We clinked glasses as we had at Independence and Christmas and Heroes Day, and took hearty sips of our poison. doG coughed and I patted him on the back. He was a little embarrassed.
My head became numb and heavy. The poison was sweet, a soothing, cooling ice block navigating its way down my alimentary canal, lodging itself in the gut-rot that was the black in the centre of my soul.
Everything had changed, yet it was all still the same. Bad breath and maggots. I could be an idea: write an idea. Words on a page still mattered (not). Fuck that! I got my things and left—again.
Tendai Huchu’s first novel, The Hairdresser of Harare, was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, and has been translated into German, French and Italian. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The Manchester Review, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Gutter, AfroSF, Wasafiri, Warscapes, The Africa Report, Kwani? and numerous other publications. In 2013, he received a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Sacatar Fellowship. He was shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize. His new novel is The Maestro, The Magistrate, & The Mathematician.