I basked in my father’s glory

Onie Ndoro is a an IELTS tutor, ghostwriter and storyteller.

A white man, yes, I saw a white man in our neighborhood. In our ghetto in those days you didn’t really get to see a white man quite often. I was curious just like everyone else. What was he looking for?

It’s a flashback. We were just coming from independence. I was young, I was scared and I was more stupid than I am now.

Thirty seven years ago, a white man driving around the ghetto was a rare sight in our country.

I was playing soccer with the other kids in a dusty open space and each time the ball was kicked, red dust rose in the air like a small whirlwind.

We were all barefoot  as we kicked around a hand-made ball, made from old newspapers and plastics. The others all called me Pele after the famed Brazilian  soccer star.

The white man was driving his car slowly and he seemed to be looking for a certain address.

We all stopped playing and stared at him. Life seemed to stand still.

He disembarked from his car slowly like he was afraid of us, then at last he was standing by his car looking in sixes. He was holding a piece of paper.

Then Pedzisai, my friend did the unthinkable. He sauntered towards the car.

I think he wanted to prove something although I was quite sure that he could not string a whole English sentence.

I was sure he was about to embarrass himself. I am saying this because he was always last in class.

I was the bright one but I did not have enough confidence.

We saw him approach the white stranger and the latter gave him a piece of paper.

Then he looked back and shouted excitedly.

“Pele!Pele!Pele!” He shouted.

“Come here Pele!”

He was calling me, Pele was my nickname.

And now I was really scared. What did he want with me?

My mind told me to run away but I found myself approaching the white stranger who was stroking Pedzisai’s kinky hair.

I was given the piece of paper which had our address and my father’s name. I was confused.

“I want to see your father,” said the white stranger.

My father later told me that the white man’s name was Mr Hawkins.

“Is Nelson your father,” I nodded.

Mr Hawkins looked pleased with himself. By now all the other boys I was playing with had crowded around the car.

Our house, number 1453 was just across the street.

Mr Hawkins opened the door for me. I was afraid of being kidnapped but that did not deter me from boarding the car.

I sank in the passenger seat which  felt very comfortable and there was a rich fragrance all around which spoke of money, lots of it. 

Pedzisai was given a dollar much to his surprise and he ran away with much joy.

His Christmas had come several months ahead, quite a windfall then.

I knew that I was going to be a hero in the next few days and everyone would want to be my friend.

There was no one at home when we arrived. I thought Mr Hawkins would wait in his car but he actually followed me right up to the door.

My heart was pounding with excitement and all the time I was thinking about what I was going to say to him all the time.

My brothers, Harrison, Anderson and Christian were not home yet from school. Mai VaHarrison, my mother spent a great deal of time in the countryside.

By now, there were a lot of kids milling around on the street and some had their noses pressed on the windows of Mr Hawkins white car.

When I looked at the latter, he seemed quite unperturbed and was enjoying himself.

There was one good chair in our house and he sat down.

“So this is where Nelson lives, your father is a very good painter,” said Mr Hawkins as he looked around.

All the time, he was looking at the dirty walls. I was quite embarrassed. The walls looked even dirtier than never before.

My father was quite good at his job. Most of his clients were white people in the northern suburbs. He was quite good and had a lot of referrals.

When the work was too much, he enlisted his younger brother, Shadreck to assist him.

They were both skilled painters, they painted houses, buildings like offices  and warehouses and they loved their work, and derived great pleasure from the satisfaction of their clients.

“Are you going to school?” He asked. I nodded, even though he was not expecting an answer and by then I was getting confident bit by bit.

I grew up hearing stories about Ian Smith and the other whites grabbing our land and driving all blacks to the dry and barren scorched reserves like Gwaai and Shangani.

Mr Hawkins looked quite innocent enough. He could not have killed innocent blacks.

He looked quite young enough and was among the whites who had embraced Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s call for national reconciliation and had not gone abroad to escape black majority rule.

The war of liberation had seen a lot of bloodshed on both sides and finally in 1980 we had got our country back.

I suddenly heard slow measured footsteps outside. That was my father, that’s how he walked, slow deliberate steps, and then the door burst open.

I was quite relieved when I saw my father silhouetted in the doorway.

I rushed to him, glad to handover his visitor. Mr Hawkins gave me two dollars and I went down on my knees in gratitude .

Two weeks later, our house had a new coat of paint, both the exterior and interior walls.

For several days, I enjoyed unusual attention from other boys who wanted to know more about Mr Hawkins’ visit. I basked in my father’s glory.


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