Excitement. Anticipation. Elation and exultation....
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Excitement. Anticipation. Elation and exultation.... Everything was coming together. All the things that Iwanted were tying themselves up into a neat package which presented itself to me with a flourish. I, Tambudzai, so recently a peasant, was I not entering, as I had promised myself I would, a worldwhere burdens lightened with every step, soon to disappear altogether?I was impatient to get to those gates. The drive was too long. The car had to go faster to get me there in time.
We had a rather wild laugh at this even though it wasnt very funny. But we needed to laugh to forget that this was the end of our closeness and to that extent our friendship. the cost of my uniform, which, he told me dourly, would have paid for my whole years board and tuition at his mission.I was infatuated when we turned into the school gates. The grounds were majestically spacious... a thicket of conifers that seemed to signify that within this rich kingdom we had left the province of the physical and entered the realm of mental activity... dormitories, bright and shimmering ...the Greek style, not the Roman, ... serenely green with a lavish, permanently moist lawn... floweringshrubs. Delicate mimosa ... silvery white,... Two swans cruised elegantly ... goldhsh, goldfish which were nota pale imitation but definitely gold. Their rich, ruddy glow ...... Nyasha thought she ought to remind me that I had come to school and not on holiday. Reluctantly I remembered.I sent up a little prayer of thanksgiving that Babamukuru had seen fit to drive the green Ford, but I noticed that he always arrived in the Rover after that. Nyasha accurately perceived that all this affluence was dazzling me. Maybe that was why his nerves were so sharply on edge that afternoon, making it a bad day for both the man and hisdaughter. Anticipation. Disappointment. I looked and looked and searched carefully through the crowd, but I could not find a single black face which did not belong to our party,except of course for the porters. The porters were carrying trunks, but none of them offered to carry mine.At the door a nun, smiling beatifically, made us welcome by shaking our hands and asking us Which one is this? And the Africans live in here, she announced, triumphantlyflinging the door to my new life wide open. The room was empty. I was, it seemed, the first black first-former to have arrived. Mr Seegaookey, she smiled, you have only one coming. Which one is it? She had forgotten already although we had been introduced at the door. Ah, yes, agreed the Sister, proud of the fact. We have more Africans here than usual this year and so we had to put them all in here. Have a good time, you African, she grinned. We parted with laughter and requests and promises to write and reply and to visit.It was all so heady and affluent and new that I was sure I was on the path of progress. I did not want to be leftbehind, so I threw myself into everything: exotic languages, like Latin and French and Portuguese, with unfamiliar sentence structures that told of brave legionnaries the enemy laying waste and pupils who wrote with the pen of their aunts. There were nuns to be observed and classified according to whether they were human or not, lay-teachers whose idiosyncrasies had to be identified so that you didnot fall prey to them. The white students needed careful study to decide whether they were different or similar to me, whether theywere likeable or not and what their habits were. Most importantly, most wonderfully, there was the library, big, bright, walled in glass on one side and furnished with private little cubicles where you could do your homework, or simply lose yourself in any one of the hundreds of tantalising books whose glossy covers never seemed to get dirty or torn. The sheer number of books in that library made me deeply ashamed of my ignorance. I resolved to read every single one of thoseinformative volumes from the first page to the last.Besides, although Nyasha did not visit, she wrote often. She wrote long, expansive, entertaining lettersfull of lucid, irreverent detail: my fathers latest method of extorting money from Babamukuru... Maigurus progress with respect to her emancipation and the way Babamukuru was coping with his more adamant wife; that Lucia had passed her Grade One so well that they were moving her into Grade Three; news about my mother she was well. She did not write much about herself until one day I received a serious letter from her.I am missing you badly, she wrote, as I knew I would and told you so, but I did not want to worry you with it because I know about yourguilts, and I did not want guilt over your luck to stop you enjoying it. But the fact is I am missing you and missing you badly. In many ways you are very essential to me in bridging some ofthe gaps in my life, and now that you are away, I feel them again. I find it more and more difficult to speak with the girls at school. I try, Tambu, but there is not much to speak of between us. They resent the fact that I do not readtheir romance stories and, if I do not read them, then of course I cannottalk about them. If only they knew that when I was ten my mother usedto scold me very severely indeed for sneaking them down from thebookshelf. But I was ten six years ago and that is a long time to havegrown out of such habits. I should, I suppose, have acquired moreuseful habits instead. I should have learnt to be light-hearted and gay, but its difficult, you know. Besides, I am convinced that they have other reasons for disapproving of me. They do not like my language,my English, because it is authentic and my Shona, because it is not!They think that I am a snob, that I think I am superior to them becauseI do not feel that I am inferior to men (if you can call the boys in my class men). And all because I beat the boys at maths! I know that Ishould not complain, but I very much would like to belong, Tambu, but I find I do not. I spend a lot of time reading and studying now that you are not here for us to distract each other, but I must admit I long forthose distractions its not virtue that keeps me so busy! I think, though, that your uncle is pleased with the quieter environment and Ihave discovered that it is restful to have him pleased, and so these daysI am doing my best not to antagonise him. You can imagine how difficult that is. Impossible, it seems. I cannot help thinking that what antagonises is the fact that I am me hardly, I admit, the ideal daughter for a hallowed headmaster, a revered patriarch. I have asked him several times if we may come to see you (through my mother, of course its always best to be quiet in his presence), but he believes it willspoil you.This letter did cause a pang of guilt. I believed I was beingirresponsible. ... No spare moment came my way, nor did I find the time to make one, before I received my cousins next letter. ...When you come back you will find a svelte, sensuous me.Preoccupied and tense, he came alone, informing me that Nyasha was keeping to her books. There was no conversation during the ride home, no enquiries from my uncle about the lessonsIn fact too svelte. By my standards she had grown definitely thin, but I knew that she preferred bones to bounce and so I said nothing.
Three months had passed. In those three months she had grown skeletal. She was pathetic to see, but when she hugged me hello I was surprised at the strength inher arms, so frail they looked as though they would snap if she so much as picked up a pen. When Anna called she put away her books and came to the table. She sat down very quietly and that was thebeginning of a horribly weird and sinister drama. Babamukuru dishedout a large helping of food for his daughter and set it before her, watching her surreptitiously as he picked casually at his own meal topersuade us that he was calm. Nyasha regarded her plate malevolently,darting anguished glances at her father, drained two glasses of water,then picked up her fork and shovelled the food into her mouth, swallowing without chewing and without pause except to sip between mouthfuls from a third glass of water. Maiguru ate steadily and fussed over me, placing another chunk of meat, another spoonful of vegetables on my plate and making cheerful conversation about my lessons, my friends and the food at Sacred Heart. When Nyashas platewas empty they both relaxed and the atmosphere returned almost to normal. Nyasha excused herself immediately. I thought she had gone to the bedroom to read but when I followed her there the room was empty. I could hear retching and gagging from the bathroom.It was not a difficult problem. She had made a careless mistake. Silly me, she said when Ifound her mistake. Im not concentrating hard enough.You know how it is when something that has been a cornerstone of your security begins to crumble. You start worrying about yourself. For that reason alone, even if others were lessselfish, I knew I could not leave.