“What time are the guests coming this evening?” Mama asked, busy in the kitchen, putting the last-minute touches to the celebratory meal. Glued to the screen, Baba was oblivious to the question.
“Is it 7 o’clock? Some people are bound to arrive early.”
Raising her voice, Mama said, “Aren’t you supposed to be sorting the barbecue outside Baba? What are you still doing on your laptop? Close it for goodness sake. You always leave everything to the last minute!”
“Don’t fuss woman! I have just finished answering my work emails, and I have still one un-opened one, from Itai. It must have come overnight. He is landing in a few hours, so I am not sure why he needs to write. What time are we supposed to pick him up from the airport?”
“Mid-afternoon. Itai sent you the flight itinerary way back. Are you listening to me? Baba?”
“Come! Come and read your son’s email for yourself. I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Why is Itai sending you an email anyway, unless the flight arrival time has changed? Let me get my glasses. What’s he saying which can’t wait till he arrives?”
P.O. Box 2490
25 November 2020
Dear Mama and Baba
I hope you are both well since I last spoke to you.
I still cannot believe that I have finished my degree and continue to thank you for all you have done for me. It was good to catch up with you over the weekend. I should, however, have mentioned one important issue up during our call, but I chickened out because you both sounded so excited about my planned return.
Mama and Baba, I am not coming home now that I have completed my studies, maybe later. I have also decided I am not taking over running the family business even though I know Baba has plans for his imminent retirement. A braver person would have told you to your face. Unfortunately, I am not that person. As the eldest son, I have always struggled to develop a close business relationship with Baba. But we never really had we heart to heart conversations. Since I told you both I didn’t intend to marry the girl you had chosen for me, followed by the massive blow up, I haven’t recovered and instead retreated more into my shell. You know I am not one for difficult conversations.
“What is this son of yours talking about? Have I missed something since yesterday’s call?”
“Baba, finish reading the email, and why is Itai now being referred to as my son? He is our son! What else is he saying?
“Do I need to read any more? He isn’t coming back to take over the business. Is he serious? After all the resources I have invested in him, including creating a strong company with branches countrywide. We are now a household name and one of the largest employers in the country. Unless we shoot ourselves in the foot, we will continue to be in a niche market which will never suffer from shrinking profits. Did you know anything about this? You are the one he talks to. I have always said that you mollycoddle him. Now if he had been…”
“Honestly, Baba! Read the email to the end, then you can comment. Let me sit so I can see properly.”
I am sorry, Baba and Mama, I have sometimes only told you what you wanted to hear. I know you have so many plans and expectations, and one of them is my taking over the family business operations. I am very grateful that Baba’s business acumen and success have enabled me to finance and realise my dreams. I have secured a teaching post at my old university. I will eventually apply for tenure then dual citizenship. This decision has nothing to do with how you brought me up or my relationships with my siblings.
The main reason is that I feel that there is nothing back home for me. Before I came here, I remember Mama asking why I was giving away most of my things as if I was going for good. I had already made up my mind. Baba, that stint when I worked under you over the summer break, made me realise that your ambitions are not mine and I am more academically inclined. I know you will say that academics do not make much money, and all they do is dream. But that is a misconception and money is not the be-all and end-all in life.
Another reason I am not coming back is that back home, we all seem to be in denial about where our country is going. I stopped reading news of home a long time ago. The stories were so inherently depressing. They are all about infighting among and within political parties, shady currency deals, corruption, and ongoing talk of economic and social hardships with no immediate solutions or an end in sight. Even with the current global COVID-19 crisis, all I see on social media from home is business as usual; masks and social distancing seem to be foreign concepts.
During my last visit before I flew out, I drove past Coca-Cola Corner and downtown. I saw the mass of the unemployed milling about in the streets, trying to avoid broken pavements and open drains while struggling to make a living in the informal sector among the street markets. What is there to go back home to?
I know I don’t need to tell you what is going on. You are on the ground. I know we are better off than most in our cocoon of wealth in the leafy suburbs. But you can't miss how, for example, the city centre is awash with dilapidated office blocks. I won’t even start on the situation in the rural areas where people seem to have lost their will to live. At least with them, the continual drought cannot be blamed on the government. It is a sad testimony that my generation is growing up without ever knowing any other life apart from seeing endless month-end queues of people being rationed their own money by the banks.
I am digressing. It wasn't just that one trip, but an accumulation of events which have highlighted the fact that I am becoming an increasingly bitter person. The scholarship to study abroad gave me the chance to dream afresh. As a country, we have lost our sense of self-pride. The optimism and spirit to rise out of the ashes-where has that gone? No one seems to be concerned about anyone anymore, except themselves. We are no longer our brothers’ keepers.
I am sorry I know that I am probably a great disappointment to you. I will write as often as I can and will visit you both regularly. But don’t expect me to change my mind. Yes, I shall never have the chance to make it up to you, but I will become the best of what you brought me up to be.
Sorry for the long email. I told Nyasha of my plans when I went to stay with her just before I left. Please don’t blame her because she didn’t tell you. I told her in confidence and said I would find ways and means to talk to you myself. Unfortunately, I took the coward’s way-through a letter.
Your loving son
“I am now so despondent. Reading between the lines, this means Itai is not coming tonight. After all those preparations. What do I do with all this food?”
“Mama, the least of our worries is your cooking. There are more important things to be dealt with. I thought I could retire while I still have the energy. Isn’t that what you wanted to spend more time together?”
“You! A workaholic taking early retirement? That will be the day. I agree your succession plan is now up in smoke. Try talking to Itai and persuade him to rethink his decision. He must realise he can't save the world.”
“What’s the point? He has made up his mind. I can’t force him to take over a business he doesn’t want. He could even run it to the ground just because he isn’t interested. It’s probably my fault. I can’t believe I didn’t read the signs when he came and spent a few months in the office. He was very attentive. But, was he going through the motions to please me? I have put my heart and soul into this enterprise, no mean feat in this harsh economic climate. Who turns their back on such a profitable going concern and instead chooses to bury their head in books? I can never understand the youngsters of today.”
“Don’t blame yourself. It’s not as if you haven’t a potential successor. You don’t have to sell the family business.”
“You are way ahead of me. Who can I groom at this late stage in my life?”
“Nyasha? You mean our Nyasha? You can’t be serious.”
“I am surprised that you haven’t considered her. Hasn’t she been the backbone of your business since she started straight after completing her accountancy degree? She knows the operations like the back of her hand. You even said so yourself. Isn't she the one who has been incorporating new product ideas and going head to head with our competitors? You already have a solid business plan which she helped put together. She is smart and already in situ. Nyasha is family. She wouldn’t let you down. In this day and age, who says a woman can't run a multi-country operation delivering funeral services?