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It was once a land of hope


Friday 18th December 1981


     Think straight and get a grip.

     You haven’t gone deaf, you silly cow. Listen. Yes?

     That weird, muted woolliness and indistinguishable buzz in my ears is, here and there, starting to separate into individual sounds. Like strands of yarn, they’re unravelling and beginning to register in my senses as something real. Screaming. Someone is screaming. No, more than one person. Shattering and splintering. Glass. Glass falling from many windows in many buildings over many storeys. Going on and on and on. Then your voice. Behind me. Clear and utterly calm, as if you’re identifying fruit in the supermarket.

     “That was a bomb.”

     I know. I knew even as the air hit me and turned my eardrums to wool. Is that what they call a shockwave? Gave me a bloody shock. Probably how I ended up on my knees. As time seems to be standing still, I take the chance to inspect them. Yup. They’re grazed, and they sting.

     Actually, thinking straight doesn’t seem to be an option open to me. Muddled doesn’t come close to describing my world right now. I don’t understand. The war is over. It’s all supposed to be all right now.

     Time gets going again. It’s all happening. People are surging every which way around me, apart from you, with one steady hand against my back, the other one on my shoulder and your presence grounding me and keeping me from joining the frantic, aimless throng. A middle-aged woman in a blue pinafore-type dress appears in front of us, makes contact with her panicked eyes and yells, “It’s near that bakery! The bakery’s blown up!”

     Your voice is still completely calm when you say, “The ZANU(PF) offices are above the bakery.”

     There’s a log-jam of crazily-angled cars up ahead and an acrid sting in my nostrils. A haze of smoky, dusty stuff is drifting along Manica Road from the east, over the cars.

     ZANU(PF) headquarters. The North-West Bakery. Dad, and his jokes about the leadership party operating out of a tiny, dingy office over a bread shop. Mum, telling me it sells the best bread in town. Lasts well, no maize-meal in it, if you need good bread, my girl, you go there to get it, yes? I may well have done that this morning if Moira hadn’t been grocery shopping yesterday.

     While I have this completely inane nonsense rattling in my head, down below a deep chill of pure horror is seeping into my legs. In a matter of minutes, you and I might’ve been walking past the bakery, looking for a gap in the traffic so that we could cross the road to Meikles. And Mum might’ve been queuing there today.

     But we’re all still in one piece, me, you and Mum. Us here on the pavement in First Street and Mum – where would she be now? – probably on the way down to Southampton, trying to get used to the winter cold and totally oblivious to this. For now at least. It’ll hit the world news later today of course.

     And I told them it’ll be fine. I told them, go, I’ll be okay, I know what I’m doing. I said that more than once, didn’t I? To parents, to Rosie and even to Charles and Moira and Gill. And you.

     Right. Come on, get back to the here and now. Think. What do I do? Now where’s that guy going?

     He’s the one who helped me to my feet and, together with you, held me upright. He peered into my face and asked me if I was all right, but now he’s let go of my arm and is running across the road, dodging round a stationary car, shouting. He’s yelling in Shona; looks like he’s recognised someone on the other side of Manica Road.

     Christ, when Mum and Dad hear about this they’ll go berserk. They’re more than likely to command me to leave on the next available flight and join them. Will they try to come back and fetch me?

     How the hell was I supposed to know which was the right choice? It’s not like I made the decision just like that – snap. No, I did months of agonising, running pros and cons, creating arguments, upsetting the whole bloody family, driving myself crazy. Then I thought I knew. I chose. And now? Now it all, quite literally, blows up in my face.

     Well okay, not in my face. Not even right near me, thank God.


     Come on, you don’t believe in God so why do you even say that?

     Think, think.

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