This, ladies and gents, is a story of human kindness, of romance and tragedy. It’s a story of love in a fictional place somewhere in post independent Zimbabwe. Let’s say it all happened in a village called Providence…a little place, fifty or so kilometers from Bulawayo.
The almost regimented segregation of races found in Bulawayo pervaded the towns close by and Providence had not escaped. Although most had embraced the new order to some extent or another, little had changed since Independence: whites lived here, blacks lived there, whites did this and blacks did that. They greeted each other, but they didn’t socialise much, certainly were not friends. Acquaintances, rather. Government jobs had been taken by blacks, after Independence, but the white-held bastions remained: the yacht club, the gymkhana club.
Coloureds were little known in Providence. There had been no mixed race families before Independence and only a few moved in after. They kept to themselves mostly. Like many rural folk, they enjoyed fishing, camping out, but they didn’t have much time for entertainment. Life on farms is hard work, and they were trying to pay off loans, educate their kids, make a living.
Jimmy, a Greek gentleman and seeking his fortune in the newly Independent Zimbabwe, was blissfully ignorant of the social norms. A caterer back home, he opened a small bakery in the main street of Providence. He rented a little house and fixed it up. He planted a garden, flowers and a lawn.
Into this scene one day, came his Destiny.
When he moved to Providence, Jimmy had no intention of falling in love, of starting a home and a family. But that is exactly what happened. One day, he lifted his head to serve a customer and was faced with his Destiny.
Now let me tell you, Destiny was not a prostitute, she was not bad. She wasn’t out to ‘catch’ Jimmy. She was just a simple, very pretty girl who lived in a kraal about twenty kilometers away. She had ridden into town in the huge green and white bus to buy provisions. Dressed in her best clothes, she’d patted her hair into an attractive style and carried a cloth to clean the dust off her legs. She wore sensible shoes, albeit pretty ones. Jimmy looked up and he was gone. Gone…fallen into her eyes.
And, I want to tell you, it was love at first sight for both of them.
He persuaded her to move to Providence from her home. And she did. She was only eighteen years old. What does a girl like her do, faced with a love this powerful? Does she consider what people think? Does she think about the, ‘what if?’ No, of course not. And Jimmy didn’t hide that he adored her. He wasn’t like other white men, who kept their affairs with black girls a secret. No, she moved into his cute little cottage in the village and they settled down, blissfully happy. She fell pregnant and he was overjoyed. He insisted she take it easy, rest up. He didn’t want her to go home to have the baby as her mother suggested, he couldn’t bear to be parted from her for that long, he said. He prevailed, and the child was born in the local hospital.
Jimmy was doing quite well now. OK, so he was still in debt to the Bank and the Small Loans Development Corporation, but he was making a profit and he was happy. Happy with his Destiny.
And her? How was she doing? Well, she was caught up in it all. She didn’t go home as often as her mother would have liked, although now, she didn’t have to catch the huge old bus. Jimmy took her there in his little Nissan bakkie. Did she miss her friends? Perhaps. But they sometimes came to see her at the shop, and later, in the little house in the village, to congratulate her on her baby. None of them said anything about that fact that Angel, didn’t look anything like them, or their friend Destiny. Or Jimmy. They politely smiled and cooed as they looked down at the mocha face, the profusion of soft fuzzy ringlets.
Her little Angel was eight months old when the Providence Police came to Destiny to inform her of Jimmy’s death. A bus had tried to overtake a lorry and there was not much left to put into the coffin. Destiny sat numbed, as the bank sold the ovens to cover their loan; the furniture from around her. When one day, her landlord told her to either pay up or leave, she left, her baby Angel, the only addition to what she had carried into Providence. She walked out of the long main street and across the railway line facing towards home.
Home. A hut, in the communal lands. A room she would share with her sisters, and Angel would have to share with their children. Her Angel, Jimmy’s darling, who had been raised in Providence in his cute little house, would be the odd one out.
She stopped walking and removing the baby from her back, she stared down at Angel’s pale mocha cheek, vulnerable against her own dark softness. In Providence with the polite world around her, she had been able to ignore the fact that she had a child who looked like neither of her parents, a child who would always be marked as different. But now her Jimmy been taken to another place, Destiny knew life would be a battle for her Angel. She would always be different. Very different. Her hair was long already, she had a bridge on her nose and her skin was light.
Destiny knew what she had to do.
Schooling the sadness from her face, she turned into the drive-way of a farm belonging to a coloured family. Destiny knew of these people. A huge family, with children ranging from three to thirty. They had come here to Providence and bought a farm, built a shed. They ran out of money after building it, paying for a tractor and ploughing their lands. So they lived in what will one day be the office block.
I’ll call the mother, Charity.
Destiny clicked her tongue for attention, until Charity appeared. She strode out of a room they had converted to a kitchen and stood, hands on her bulky hips.
Destiny greeted her, and Charity returned it. She imparted her condolences which Destiny accepted. Now, Charity has had numerous children of her own, and has more grandchildren than she can count, but cannot resist a sleeping baby. She accepts the bundle and looking down into Angel’s face, brushes a ringlet away from her cheek. She rocks and coos and does what all women do when they have a baby in their arms.
She tries to hand the child back, but Destiny steps away.
“Please Madame. Please keep her.”
“Keep your child? What are you talking about?” barks Charity. “She is no relative of mine.”
“She is your kind,” said Destiny. “I cannot take her home. There is no one there like her. Please.”
Let me tell you, Destiny tried very hard to get Charity to take her child. She pleaded, begged, cried. But Charity was adamant. She couldn’t afford another child. She swept her arm around at her dusty yard, at the mangy dogs, the half built house and shook her head. And anyway, she said, it wasn’t right. Angel had a mother, and children need their mothers. She forced the child back into Destiny’s arms and turned away, back into her kitchen.
It would be five years before Charity saw the girl again. She had heard though. She had heard how the other children teased her. How they threw stones at her, pulled her hair. Called her Mukaradi and half-half. How men were wary of marrying her mother. They didn’t want to be seen walking with a woman and a coloured child. People would think she had cheated on him with a white man. Without the child, they were prepared to marry her. She was pretty and she worked hard in her mother’s fields.
This time, Charity watched Angel walk up her driveway herself, her mother holding her hand. She wore a slip of a dress and no shoes. Her hair was clipped very short against her head, in an attempt to hide that fact that left to grow, it would quickly form tight ringlets tumbling down to her shoulders, framing her heart shaped face.
Charity stood near the steps, her hands on her hips and the child, untroubled by her inflexible stance walked towards her as if in a dream. Angel couldn’t take her eyes off Charity’s face. A face so very like her own: the same colour, similar features.
She was home.
The pair stopped near the verhanda.
“Please,” begged Destiny. “At least until I have come back from Bulawayo. I promise, I will come back. My business will take more than one day, and I am scared to have her with me. It’s not safe.”
Destiny didn’t need to explain to Charity, the dangers of a small coloured child and a woman alone in a large town, without the protection of her family.
“But I will be back,” she promised again.
Charity nodded and Angel, her eyes still on her, moved up the steps and into the house.
Now I want to tell you, Charity has a kind heart, but she is a formidable looking woman. Large, with strong forearms and thick legs. She has a flat yellow face and always combs her hair back, pulling it into a small bun. Charity doesn’t smile much, isn’t very demonstrative. She hides her soft heart behind a brusque manner, and yet it appeared Angel saw right past that facade, directly into her soul.
Now, staring down at the tiny child, she hid her horror at the see-through, dirty slip, the thin arms, the cracked bare feet.
“Well, my girl,” she said. “You have walked far. You are dirty. Do you want a bath?”
Angel nodded and smiled her gap-tooth smile, and Charity thought her heart would stop.
She led the child into the bathroom and smothered a laugh at Angel’s yelp when the water gushed out of the tap. She tried not to cry at the look of ecstasy when Angel palmed the bar of soap, breathing in the scent, or her soft cuddles against the towel. Together, they dug about for clothes because the little girl wore nothing underneath the thin cotton slip. She rubbed milking salve into her hands and her feet, Vaseline onto her legs.
The child remained close to Charity all day, hiding in her skirts when the family returned home for lunch. She peered around at each of them; their faces, tiny and large replicas of her own. She spent time standing in front of the family photos, looking at herself in the mirror. She helped Charity wash the lunch plates before the pair of them retreated to a rocking chair.
Late the following evening, Charity noticed a figure, standing in the shadows of the big tree at the entrance gate, a huge bag at her feet. A hand lifted, the flash of a palm. She raised her own, in an inadequate salute and felt a tiny hand grasp her skirt.
Destiny stared across the thirty metres of the driveway, at the two pale figures, their hands raised in unison, the tiny one rotating at the wrist. She reached down and effortlessly hoisted the huge bag onto her head. She had only to make the ten paces across the driveway from the big tree, and like the most famous of catwalk models, her bright eyes glittering, she tread them.
I’ve already told you Destiny was a pretty girl. But head held high, the skin on her face pulled taut against her cheekbones, she was beautiful. She walked those ten steps, never looking to the left, as her heart slowly shattered. If she had glanced across, even once, on that long, long walk, her resolve would surely have tripped.
Angel grew up with her ‘kind,’ her mother a distant observer. She looked so much like her adoptive family, a chance visitor to the farm wouldn’t notice she wasn’t a blood relative. She attended school with Charity’s children. She laughed and played with them, did chores with them, side by side. And when they grew up, left home and moved away, she remained.
Angel was always Charity’s special child. The one who crept into her bed in the early hours, the one who coaxed her with soup when she steadfastly said she was OK, she just had a head-cold. It was Angel who always ran back to hug her, one last time, when the family went away to the dam, or on a fishing trip. Only Angel knew her ‘special’ anniversaries: the day her own mum had died, the day she met her love.
She was at Charity’s deathbed, moving about like a gentle butterfly and after Charity’s husband died, Angel moved to Bulawayo, married a coloured man, and has children who look just like them.
Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a true story, of human kindness, of compassion and strength. And remember, it’s not a story about Providence. Or Destiny, or even about Angel. This story is about Charity.
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