The commuter bus did not stop at the popular DST Bus Stop, but moved on into the city. The few passengers who had “Pass Letters” howled at the driver. They were the lucky ones, these passengers, the ones allowed to board the bus and enter the city during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic outbreak. The bus had stopped at a manned roadblock some two kilometres away and the traffic police were satisfied with the evidence they were shown. Indeed these passengers had genuine reasons to come into the city.
The passengers continued to yell at the driver:
Where are you going to drop us now, huh?
Hey stop here!
This old man is a deaf idiot!
But the old metallic bus, with its
deafening engine, moved on. The rattling noise from the old engine drowned out everything else and some women who were already enjoying the spectacle laughed amid the confusion. Passengers who had left their seats intending to drop off at the popular bus stop stood along the aisle but the bus rattled on. Now it was weaving its way through the fast build up of traffic as workers eager to be at work early competed with each other amid the hustle and bustle.
Jealous, a tall middle aged man wearing a black cap with the inscription ‘New York’, sat pensively by the seat close to the door. Because he was close to the driver, he could see the old man struggle with the handbrakes.
“I will drop here, Conductor!” announced Jealous.
“Noooo!” responded the conductor.
“You will get me arrested for jumping at a traffic intersection from a moving bus!”
Tired of standing, Jealous sat down and gazed through the window at the old building: Victory Building 1953. This was the building that was turned into one of the thriving Nyaningwe Supermarkets years ago. One of these Supermarkets had accepted multicurrency purchase of goods soon after the formation of the Government of National Unity (GNU), but to imagine it being closed now was difficult to fathom.
Something unusual caught Jealous’ eyes. Where were the vendors who by now would have been unzipping their sacks of merchandise and laying them on the pavements? Why were the foreign currency dealers’ cars with dark-tinted windows not at their parking lot?
The conductor burst into Jealous’ thoughts: “Tickets please! Tickets please! Tickets please!” He extended his arm to receive back half torn tickets.
The bus had now arrived at the deserted old rank.
Jealous stepped down the bus, into land. There was a deadly silence and a cool wind was moaning softly through what used to be a busy and noisy terminus. As it blew from the east, it swept some scrap papers in all directions. Jealous wiped dust from his eyes. The bus rank was deserted and bus sheds were bare and empty.
Was he at the right place? He could not believe his eyes.
The only sound he could hear was the grinding of a machine. And it was monotonous, oddly so. He could also make out a bunch of unemployed men clapping and shouting: “Hit it! Hit it!”
“Damage it! Destroy it!”
Jealous moved faster, urged by the spectacle from the crowd. Men, women and vagrants milled as they cheered wildly at the noisy Cat Demolition Caterpillar vehicle. As he moved closer, he could now see its sharp claws twisting and turning in the air as if looking for prey. The driver reversed the Caterpillar and it advanced forward amid wild cheers, its target a lone pillar.
With forceful strength it hit the pillar. The pillar at first stood its ground, shaking sideways buoyed by steel rails that had held the cement for years; but then, its resistance would not hold forever, and so it dropped with a deep thud. It left a cloud of dust in the air.
“What is happening?” Jealous asked.
Nobody answered him at first
“I said, what is going on here?”
A man with dusty hair nudged and cupped his mouth to his ears. “This is the Demolition,” he said. “The Municipality is demolishing all illegal shacks that have been erected here at the bus terminus all these years.”
Three weeks in advance, word had gone that the Municipal authorities were going to pull down all the sheds and shacks that had sprouted at the popular Kudzanayi Bus Terminus. This terminus had been built before Independence for rural bus operators to pick and drop passengers. With the turn of the century and the economy worsening from 2005-2008, vendors had erected more stalls, some selling their merchandise in form of nails, hoes, shovels, even yokes, and fencing wire. From another end where the omnibus picked up passengers commuting from high density suburbs, where the majority of low income earners lived, vegetable, fruit and tomato stalls sprouted alarmingly. Then the small groceries mini-shops mushroomed. The “poor man’s shops” as they became known as rose. They sold basic commodities like cooking oil, sugar, soap and salt in the much detested Zimbabwe bond notes currency. One could get any product in these mini shops.
But with the invasion of the Coronavirus threat, the city fathers could have none of it. The Mayor of the City of Gweru had been in the news announcing that the shacks would be destroyed in order to bring back sanity to the city and enforce strict City By-Laws. It had been rumoured that some of the Municipal Officers were running clandestine stalls, using middlemen to run their illegal informal businesses. This brought more urgency for the speedy destruction of the stalls to avoid prosecution.
Jealous had come into the City of Gweru, the City of Progress, as they called it those days, for his education. Staying with his Uncle Jethro in the high density suburbs, he applied for an Engineering Certificate Course at the local Polytechnic and commuted daily. He was already making plans for his future. With so many industries in the city, he believed he would find a decent job after finishing his course.
Two years had passed and Jealous had achieved his dream, a Certificate in Engineering. After he informed his father of his plans to get a good job and proceed to the University, the old man shook his head. He advised him to take a wife. “The city is not safe for a working young man,” he said. He did not want to disappoint his aging father, so he got married.
Uncle Jethro was a Municipal Police Sergeant then. His work involved supervising street raids. Despite vendors being allocated stalls, others had resorted to laying their wares on street corners. This practice infuriated Jealous, for at some street corners there was disruption of free movement. Uncle Jethro had at one point invited Jealous to apply for a job but he was quick to turn down the offer. To imagine him an Engineering Certificate holder chasing after women vendors was an affront to his qualification. But Uncle Jethro had insisted on him getting employed so he could support his family even as he schooled. Besides, to Uncle Jethro, University was a big dream killer. Most students had become drug pedlars, misfits of society, and of loose morals by cohabiting in University Hostels. He even told him others had turned into gays and lesbians. Jealous did heed all this talk. He focused on furthering his education.
That was two years ago. Now, all his dreams had shattered. The economic meltdown came at the turn of the century, when Zimbabwe experienced a hyperinflation never felt in the country’s history. Left with no option, Jealous teamed up with friends, secured a passport, and found himself crossing borders into Botswana to buy groceries for resale at home. It worked as Weekend Street Markets were opened.
Things worked well for some time, and then, everything jolted to an end. The short-lived experience taught Jealous a valuable lesson in survival.
The economy never improved. Could he still stay at home, waiting to be fed by his Uncle Jethro?
Jealous shook his head no. He was a family man now. Had a wife, an old father, other relatives too numerous to mention. Now, each day Jealous would wake up and visit the produce market. He would find the market full of tired and sweating people moving with little effort and speaking in low voices as if to conserve energy. Here and there were banana leaves and yellow buns in open baskets, cracking in the cruel sun. There were tobacco leaves dangled from strings like dead rats. The people milling about at the market were drowsy, as though the burning rays had melted their strength and resolution. Even insects, which always fluttered and buzzed about happily in the mornings, the light gleaming brightly on their wings, had now disappeared into the shadows. Life was hush, people were hustling and the bus terminus has been turned into a sprawling marketplace of heterogeneous products. Amid this entire melee, there were basket-weavers and storytellers and petty thieves and brigands in abundance.
Now all this was gone. Jealous had heard his Uncle talk about the demolition, but then the lockdown was already being enforced.
As he stood visibly disoriented, he could not believe that right where he stood was the exact location thriving business was once conducted. He tried in vain to reconstruct in his mind the details of the stall he had owned. Why had he not listened to words doing the rounds about news of the demolitions assuming they were mere rumours? Of course the city fathers no longer wanted informal traders to do their business in the Central Business District.
Jealous remained stranding, confused. Inside him the world had crashed and his body felt heavy.
He moved away, away from the Municipal Sergeant accompanied by his team who had jumped from a pick-up. Police details wandered a distance away.
“We said we no longer want people,” he shouted. “But you keep on coming! Move away! Go to your rural homes and cultivate!”
“Or don’t you have rural homes?” another Municipal Policeman mocked.
“And you young man! You are an embarrassment standing as if you have nothing to do!”
Jealous tried to force a helpless grin.
“I said move before I bushwhack you!”
The sun rose like steam. The demolition continued, the roaring sounds of the Caterpillar deafening the environs. The crowd soon dispersed one by one. Their feet negotiated their way through rubble, big concrete slabs, contorted metal poles and remnants of broken planks and black plastics that had provided the shed to their wares.
The Rural Terminus was at last gone. Gweru the City of Progress had regressed into an abrupt quietude.
As Jealous looked at the demolition for the last time, an overwhelming worm of despair and sense of irredeemable loss wriggled in the very marrow of his bones and was slowly eating him away as he retraced his steps home.
HOSEA TOKWE works as a Chief Library Assistant at Midlands State University in Gweru, Zimbabwe. His first story appeared on the Munyori Online Journal. In 2012, he participated in performance poetry in Zimbabwe. He performed at Poetry Slam organised in Harare by the Pamberi Trust. Hosea Tokwe is one of the poetry contributors in the Best New African Poets 2015 Anthology, and Zimbolicious Poetry anthology. Currently, he is working on a collection of short stories.