By Clive Gill
Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, 1971
In the intense, deadening, stagnant afternoon heat, Bulawayo city house dwellers willingly allowed their droopy eyelids to fall, while sitting in soft armchairs or lying on satin bed covers.
Wide, empty, paved streets, enclosed by dusty sidewalks, quivered in heat waves.
* * *
With a sour, rubbery taste in her mouth, a sleepy gray-haired widow opened her eyes to stare at the familiar dull white ceiling. In the silence, her ears vibrated with a shrill, monotonous whine as she thought longingly about her husband, dead from cancer, ten years ago. She shook her small, straight-haired head with a wrinkled face, pulled her legs over the side of the bed and stood. Looking in a mirror, her hollow eyes travelled to her sparse frame, her gray face and dark hairs on her chin.
Now she slipper-hobbled to the kitchen, filled a kettle with tap water and pushed the electric switch down with a clean, short-nailed finger. She removed a white, floral-decorated tea set from a cupboard, then placed two cups on saucers for herself and her daughter. Black tea leaves were spooned from a metal container into a teapot, and while she waited for the water to boil, she checked inside the cups to ensure her African servant had cleaned them well.
“Tea’s ready,” she called to her daughter, who lay resting in one of three bedrooms.
The woman brought a full tea tray into the living room, held firmly by dry, translucent hands speckled with age blemishes, and placed the tray on an low, wooden, oblong table. The mother sat on her favorite, firm-seated armchair and waited five minutes for the tea to brew.
She poured milk from a small jug into the two cups, then transferred brewed tea from the teapot through a strainer and sat down heavily, wiping her clammy brow with the back of her hand. Two spoons of sugar, taken from a sugar bowl, were dropped into each of the tea cups and the cup contents were stirred. As she looked around her living room at her practical furniture, a phone rang.
“Just when I sit down to my tea,” she muttered as she shuffled to a black phone lying in a cradle on a small table in the passage.
“Hello, Mrs. Kinman. This is David Goralsky speaking.”
“Hello Dave. I heard you were living in California.”
“Yes, I do live there with my wife and baby daughter.”
“Wonderful. How are you, David?”
“Uh… not too good, actually. We’re visiting my family here and I’m in a very difficult predicament.”
“What is it David?”
“Uh… uh… we had a big family discussion, and my father shouted at my wife and me and told us to leave the house. I… uh… I’ve tried all over town to find a room in a hotel, but all the hotels are full because of the long weekend. I was wondering if… uh… you could put us up for a night.”
“I tell you David, I’d do it with pleasure, but I’ve got relatives staying with me at the moment and I just don’t have the room.”
“I don’t know what to do! My daughter has a bad rash and needs to get medication.”
“I wish there was something I could do, David.
“Mrs. Kinman, my …
“You know that if I could help you, I’d do it with pleasure.”
“Mrs. Kinman, my wife is terribly upset. She can’t stop crying.”
“I can imagine. I understand, of course.”
“I see. I’m terribly sorry to have bothered you, but…”
“No David, don’t apologize. After all, many times you used to sleep over at our house, when Mervin was still living here. And you were his good friend.”
“Do you think that Mervin might… uh…”
“Oh, Mervin was up half the night with a colicky baby and he’s only got a tiny flat, you know.”
“What about Barry?”
“Since you’ve been away, Barry’s brother-in-law has taken over his big house and Barry’s only up here some weekends. He’s living in Johannesburg now. He’s doing well, you know. His father left him a fortune.”
“Well, we’ll find something. Sorry to have troubled you.”
“That’s all right Dave. Come over when you’re settled and have a cup of tea with us.”
She scratched her thin hair as she limped towards her favorite armchair and her cup of cooling tea, mumbling to herself. “Known his family for thirty years. Small town. Can’t get involved in family arguments.”
* * *
Dusty sidewalks hemmed in wide, lonely, paved streets, quivering in heat waves.
Copyright Gill 2012