She had invested everything into this new venture. Faraji had laughed at the new laptop. ‘Modern technology.’ He had claimed just yesterday, his voice still tinged with the old accent. The sharpened pencils beckoned to her. She longed to get out into the world and see the huge expanses of exposure. To draw her world. The four walls of her apartment could not stifle her, she would not allow it. In her mind, the terrible expression on Faraji’s face stifled her as he lived in his brain and yearned in his heart. Her heart ached too but she quelled the dull burn and never let its flames consume the new life she was investing so much in.
His foot stamped a staccato beat- smashing, crashing on the ivory drums. Animals had been murdered illegally for those innocent drums. Faraji tapped his foot to the rhythm and she could see he was no longer in the dinghy apartment. His music had transported him a plane journey away. Zimbabwe, Nigeria, she did not care where he was. She believed in living in the present. Culture was important of course, to a degree. After the computer course, she had drawn up her business card. Faraji could not read English so she was safe. He did not approve of adaptation to setting. A glimpse of her apartment through stranger’s eyes had her coat on in a flash. The image of the withered poinsettia that graced the mantle place followed her downtown. Along with the sinking feeling that her life was withering as she watched herself become everything she had always promised herself she would not. Her hands itched, ached, throbbed with the desire to fix or mend. If not people at least she should recreate objects. When she looked down, the beggar on the floor before her had soulful eyes. She identified with the overwhelming pain that seemed to have swallowed all his features. It was torture to glimpse the extinguished fire in his gaze. She felt a yearning to yank him up from his despair. Him and all the people of the world who were in the gutter. ‘So much potential.’ She did not realise she had voiced it aloud until the beggar looked up through hooded lids. His giant orbs were suspicious yet intrigued. ‘Easy for ya to say, ya gotta try the cold out night, freezes the soul it does.’ She took a seat on the cobblestones of Market Street. She should have worried potential employers would see and be put off. Nevertheless, the stone embraced her and it felt right.
‘Been there, she informed the beggar blandly, ‘No excuse to drink a life away, waste good hands and an able body only to freeze at night.’ She did not know what she was saying. She had never frozen at night. She had never been alone. She had always had Faraji on those nights. Then in the day, when the vengeance of the equatorial sun sought them, they would cower under trees. Always together, always resilient.
After her impassioned outburst, the beggar looked none the wiser. In fact, he looked reluctant and sulky at the rebuke. ‘What is your name?’ She queried, suddenly inexplicably curious. He again looked doubtful but muttered a reluctant, ‘James’ in response. She grabbed her bag and chucked him a hundred dollar bill. It was the last she owned. 10 hours of hard slog had gone into that crisp paper. His features lit and suddenly he was all, ‘Yes ma-am of course ma-am!’ She was unimpressed. Before she ambled off, she looked into his deep hollow eyes. ‘Now you listen to me beggar man,’ her cheeks flushed with passion as she continued, ‘This here is an investment. Prove me right.’ This time his cerulean eyes looked thoughtful as she stalked off-chin up. It was a risky wager but if she could not help her brother, at least she should help someone.
‘Hey there ma.’ Faraji spoke blandly. ‘My dear son? What’s de world coming to?’ Ma had gotten hold of a phone for quarter of an hour. He did not want to waste it on pleasantries. ‘Um sorry. It’s just been a hectic week.’ He enunciated each word carefully so it travelled the thousands of miles without cracking. ‘It’s ok, tell your Ma what happened?’ the rich chocolate tones of his mother’s voice melted his previous resistance. ‘Ma, I’m a tough English guy now I can’t tell in public!’ Even as he said it though, he felt his shoulders relax and his voice dip deeper into the old accent. ‘Adana’s gone out to work. I cannot find a job. Nobody wants someone with no technology experience.’ It blurted out of him so fast, all he had been withholding. He had been carrying this burden around with him like a sack of rice to the next village. Ma cackled, ‘Why you need experience? Field is field and de crops won’t grow widout de workers?’ He loved the way she was indignant for him. He adjusted the phone in his clammy palm. His time was nearly up and still he had not told her. ‘I’m on the streets Ma; there are no fields here, only big buildings that block the sky and lights that dim the sun.’ He talked on relentlessly. ‘I won’t use these new-fangled things even if I have to come back to you a failure!’ He stated adamantly. Silently he aimed a glare at the cell in his palm. ‘You’re not coming back to Africa.’ Ma’s tone was iron. She could also be stubborn when necessary. It had helped her through the years the harvest failed and when the children had had malaria that summer. Ma was stubborn and they loved her for it. The line went quiet as both sides mulled over the helplessness that filled them.
‘Getta life man!’ two teens cackled raucously as he jumped in fear of the automatic door. Faraji, still on the phone, heard Delita the ‘modern’ villager asking for the phone back now. Ma never cried but her throat sounded clogged now. ‘You tell your sister she not leave you out in cold England -yes?’ Worry coated the rust on the telephone wires. Worry and fear of the unknown and insecurity.
Hunched, Faraji and walked into the shop. ‘You all right?’ the burly man had kind eyes. A funny cell phone stuck out his pocket and a black thing filled his ear. Faraji nodded and added some Swahili to show his foreign origin. He watched the pity bloom in the man’s gaze and tried in vain to make his expression less lost. He died a little inside as he envisioned what the world saw of him now. He had said he would not. Never buckle under, never cower and yet here he was. Despair yawned an aching chasm before him.
Each day again Faraji went out there and each day, he tried to find employment. He stooped to jobs previously dubbed as below his dignity by Adana and himself. Lowering himself to levels, he had never even had a nightmare about. They had seemed out of his realm. On that flight from Zimbabwe, Faraji as much as Adana had thought they would not see Dzivarasekwa again. No one came back. People only left Dzivarasekwa. When he remembered the slum, Faraji got a burst of energy every time. Slumped shoulders became the regular even as his accent improved. Collecting money and begging others to support him became the norm, even as Adana settled down and offered him residence and food. He could not take from her as he rejected the culture she now held so close to her heart. Her heart, it used to be tied to his. Siblings not just by name but also by every virtue of the word. Now, he was just getting by. Faraji needed a job. 3 months was too long to be out of work in the cold cruel world he had sacrificed everything for.
Faraji wiped his palms on his trousers, anxiety coursed through him as he looked up from the plum carpet into the eyes of this potential employer. Across the mahogany desk, steely blue eyes were ice chips in the pale face of the boss. When he had plucked up enough courage to take a second peek, he checked the man out properly. He saw the wrinkles and the weathered face and relaxed. This man had clearly seen the dark side of the world too. A hand was extended across the desk, a kind of gesture of peace. ‘I’m James, you must be Faraji.’ The boss initiated smiling, ‘So why do you want to work here?’ He inquired. Genuine curiosity painted his features and suddenly Faraji was in tears. It took a long time until the story was on the table. It was a muddle of confused languages and hopes forsaken for reality. One hour later Faraji was employed and had one English friend, with the promise of many more.
Then James told him his story. How one day when there was no hope left someone had coloured his future in a sunny yellow. How on that one day, one woman had lifted had lifted him from the depths of his despair and encouraged him to build on it. When Faraji went home later that day, his step had a ring to it. It was reminiscent of the drums from the old country and as he regaled Adana with the story of his miraculous chance encounter, her mind wandered to that day. Long ago when she had helped someone and she wondered where he was today...