I am Ruben Moyo – This is My Murambatsvina

This is a work of Fiction. Although inspired in part by a true incident, the following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.


The morning started for me far earlier than I’d ever planned to rise that day. The rumble and roar of heavy machinery had disturbed most of the night as diggers, bulldozers, and road clearing equipment was massed at the edge of our suburb. To us it seemed that just another government project was being prepared and we’d have to put up with the disturbances of loud machinery as industry ploughed its way forward through our land. Little were we aware of the true operation for which these hoards of mechanical beasts were being amassed.

I’d tossed and turned in the dying heat of the day trying to get comfortable on my mattress. Gilbert my younger brother was lying next to me quietly lost in the throes of slumber, exhausted after his daily commute to and from school. I could hear our parents talking quietly in the next room as I faded in and out of sleep, never fully dozing off. I could smell the paraffin stoves of those around us as the familiar buzz of subdued activity led to families eating before settling down for the night.

In my mind I wondered what would really be happening in the morning. I knew I had to be at the stall early as I had two bikes being delivered to me for a client who was paying good money for a specific order. It’d taken longer than I’d expected to find someone who could locate and acquire the exact model I was seeking, and now that everything was in place and under way, I had that nervous unease in the bowl of my stomach that I always got when I was involved in clandestine dealings of this sort. I’d long ago learnt that survival was about learning what laws could be broken, when they should be broken and how to avoid attention when such dealings were taking place. However no matter how many times I’d done it, I’d never accepted that I’d resort to dishonesty for survival, nor did I enjoy the fact that someone suffered as a result of my actions, but survival was the name of the game, and I’d accepted that needs dictated what was acceptable and what was necessary when it came down to the crunch. And so it was that on occasion, I was willing, when the situation was right, and the needs dictated that such actions were appropriate that I’d deal in stolen goods.

With the knowledge of tomorrow’s deal pressing on my mind, and the fact that dad wasn’t well, my mind failed to quiet that night. As a result I’d tossed and turned and in my restlessness began to feel apprehension that something was just not right. I sat up, sweat dripping from my skin and sat quietly in the gloom thinking. I was mulling over in my mind what it was that was making me feel so disturbed. What was it that had bothered me so?

I reached over and checked the time on my digital watch, pressing the button to illuminate the figures. It was two thirty am, far too early to be awake and far too early to be letting the nerves of today’s exchange at the market to get to me. I began to slowly sink back to the mattress when it dawned on me what was wrong. I sat up right immediately, my body alert and on edge. I knew now that something was really very very wrong, and had I not been so on edge about other things, I’d most certainly have missed that warning sign, the one that always alerted the camp to trouble. Silence. That’s what was wrong. It was just far too quiet for that time of the morning, no matter that it was almost three am on a Friday morning, a school night, no matter that everyone is normally quite simply dead to humanity as they snore the night away at that time of night. No, not even the dogs were making noise, the plant machinery was quiet, no sounds of drunken men singing on their way homeward, nothing.

I quietly stood, feeling my way to the board covering the doorway, and lifted it carefully to my side. I stepped out into the makeshift passageway that led between the three rooms of my home. Since dad had fallen ill we’d never quite gotten round to fitting a roof over this part of the house, and so it was in a way like a walled garden, except the wall was corrugated iron sheets, and the ground under my feet was bear earth, but this was my home and I’d learnt to feel safe in these walls. As I stood in the night air, I shivered, realising that I’d not put on a T shirt. I looked upward towards the night sky and could see the stars twinkling above me. I could smell the mixture of burning paraffin and wood smoke of the many fires and stoves that either warmed the huts or had been left to burn out. It was defiantly too quiet.

I turned to make my way into our room where I intended to retrieve my T shirt, when I heard the unmistakable sounds of people moving stealthily through the avenue. I froze, a given that even though I was inside the walls of my own home, I knew that there was something strange going on outside those flimsy walls and it made me feel threatened. I suddenly became filled with a fear that something very bad was about to happen, and I stepped into my room quickly, leaning down to my brother, covering his mouth as I shook him awake. He let out a curse muffled by my hand and sat up rubbing his eyes. I placed my mouth next to his ear and whispered the words I hated to use, “Brother, passop! There’s trouble around!”

Gilbert’s eyes snapped to mine, a look of panic rising up within him. His hand frantically searched the ground next to him for his clothes as he pulled away from my mouth and nodded that he understood my warning. I turned and located my shirt, pulling it on as I slipped my feet into my tackies. I stood and threaded my belt as Gilbert pulled on his tracksuit pants, the quiet of the room split as he zippered up the front of the garment, my heart leaping at the sound which in that moment might as well have been a tank driving through the room. I spun around and hissed at him to be cautious in his movements.

I leant over and whispered into Gilberts ears that I would wake mom and dad, and that he should wake and warn Enoch and Faith in the third room of our house. Lifelong friends of ours, they’d shared our home since arriving in Mbare from Mutare the year before. Enoch was a grass weaver and Faith, his wife was pregnant with their first child. They were so excited to be about to start their own family, even if times were hard for us. As a unit we did very well for ourselves considering. I had taken over dad’s bicycle stall at Siya-So market, and mom sold vegetables on the road by the stadium when she could. Enoch used the same spot to sell woven baskets and various other items, and between us all we managed to pay Gilberts school fees and pay for dad’s medication. He was too far gone now to walk around much and had taken to spending most of the day in the house. When mother was not out at the stall selling, she was home tending to dad and this was our life.

However, I knew in my bones as I crept in to my parents room that night that for some reason I was unaware of, things were about to change. I knelt next to their bed and put my hand to where I expected to find my mother, only to discover that the bed was empty. Panic gripped me as I reached further across the bed in haste to find her. My hand touched my father, I heard him stir as I bumped against him, knowing that he’d not wake as the tablets mother would have given him earlier would help him sleep through the night, through the pain, through the suffering. But still my wild search of the bed had not discovered my mother, and I really began to take fright. I pulled back from the mattress in haste, my mind spinning as I wondered where she might be. It struck me that she may be at the latrine at the rear of the house, but I was aware that I’d not heard her moving about the house since I’d woken a while before. I sat there in the darkness, my mind whirling as my haunches began to burn with pins and needles as the blood circulation was cut off by my awkward position. My fear was no longer at the mystery that lay outside the walls of my home, but more in the mystery of my mother’s whereabouts.

I scrambled to my feet, almost stumbling for a moment as I realised that feeling had been restricted to my limbs and the intense sensation of thousands of pin pricks stung at my feet as the circulation rushed back into my muscles. I took that moment to go through in my mind where mom might be. It began to dawn on me that she must have left the house earlier, and if that was the case heaven only knew where she could be now. I stepped out of the room to be confronted by Enoch and Gilbert standing quietly in the hallway. I moved over to them and we huddled our heads together. I very hushed tones I told Gilbert to sit with dad and instructed Enoch to get Faith ready to run out the rear of the house if anything untoward should happen.

“Gilbert, mother has gone out and I have to find her. No matter what happens brother, do not leave father on his own!”
I looked deep into Gilberts eyes, making sure that my point sunk home. I did not want father on his own in his state of drug induced slumber.
Gilbert nodded that he understood. “I will not leave him, no matter what Ruben.”
“Ruben,” Enoch mumbled, “where do we go? Where do we meet?”
“Enoch my brother, Faith and your unborn child are far too important. If things go wrong run my brother and do not stop until you know that they are safe.”
“But where will we meet Ruben?” Enoch seems distraught at the hint that we may be torn apart.
To be honest I was as distraught as he, but didn’t want him to see it in my eyes, so I looked at the ground.
“When the time is right Enoch, meet me at the market.”
I looked up and at Enoch. Tears were running down his cheek but he nodded his understanding. I think each of us deep down knew the reality of a new dawn was upon us.

For us our nation had been teetering on the brink of destruction for far too long. Inflation was out of control, unemployment was at the highest known in any nation third or even fourth world, crime was the name of the game, survival was a gamble every day. Most people my age were on deaths doorstep, it was unusual to find many older men anymore. Our government ransacked us daily, the police lived in a military state where they did as they pleased. Food was scarce, education was difficult to come by, health and medicine was only really available on the black market, and money was cheaper than toilet paper. Yes for us we knew that we were living in a time bomb, and with the recent challenge in the parliamentary elections having given our government a shock as the mass turn out at the polls led to a knockout blow being delivered to our esteemed leader. Despite that the election results were disputed and despite the fact the whole world knew that Robert Mugabe had been effectively knocked out of power, we at home knew that things were not so simple.

As we each turned to go undertake our individual responsibilities we each knew that for us tonight, the world as we knew it was about to change, and not change in a good way. Fate had caught up with us, and the anger of an institution backed into a corner was about to be unleashed on the people it deemed to be the cause of its body blow. I put my hand out onto my brothers shoulder for a moment and stood there feeling him as I steadied myself against the wave of nerves that washed over me.
“Be strong Gilbert!” I said and turned to the door.
In my haste to leave the house for fear that my brother would see me faltering, I had failed to notice the noises of boots outside the tin wall. In my rush to speed off and discover my mother’s whereabouts I failed to realise I was walking head first into pure danger. My instincts that had warned me earlier had fled me, and I was operating on pure adrenaline in that moment as I pulled open the outside door, scrapping it across the earth underneath it, my head stooping under the plastic hanging from the semblance of a roof above my father’s room across the top of the door. As my head exited the threshold of my home, my foot about to land on the ground outside of my door I heard the whoosh of movement in as much as I felt the movement speeding towards the side of my head, as in a split second I realised I was under attack.

I felt the blow as soon as I realised it was coming, my head was thrown hard in a whiplash reaction from the force of the blow. My head in that moment felt like it’d become twice its size as the pressure on my eyes seemed to grow stupidly beyond what I could take. I was instantly aware of a sharp, piercing ring sounding off incessantly in my ears, and my body spiralling outwards from the door as I fell helplessly to the floor. I landed in a heap, my breath being forcefully expelled from my lungs as I felt the kick of a boot impact with my falling body. A grunt more than a moan escaped my lips as the boot made contact with my stomach, my head once again feeling a blow as it impacted with the dust and dirt on the ground below me. In a far distant place I could hear my brother cry out in protest, and the shouts of several people as mayhem broke out around me, myself unable to do much to help either them or myself as I slowly plunged into a cloud of blackness. As I was fading I became aware of a boot stepping right on my head, grinding my lips into the dust. Then darkness. Darkness and this incessant damn ringing.

I guess when you pass out you lose all senses entirely. I know that while the blackness enveloped me, I felt no pain, heard no pain, nor was aware of anything going on around me. I therefore could not have known whether I was alive or dead, but as you begin to come too, your mind begins to try to piece things together, and I recall that first conclusive, complete thought being, “Am I alive or dead?”

Sitting thinking about it now, it seems a strange thing to think, but I guess your body is trying to work out the sudden over load of information it suddenly becomes aware too. I remember recalling the smell of rubber burning, a pungent smell. But at that time I was still far off in unconsciousness. Then came the senses of pain. My head throbbed, my neck hurt, my ribs hurt, my lips were thick. I knew at some point that I was parched and desperate for a drink. As I came around, lots of things flooded through my mind. I knew I was in a busy place, for lots of noise was transpiring around me. I knew something heavy lay across my feet. I moved my hand and gingerly felt the side of my head. It was swollen and hot with pain. My eye effectively swollen shut thus why I couldn’t seem to see. I suddenly wondered why my other eye was not working, and raised my other arm to check. There was no immediate pain, and I gently probed around my eye. I discovered that a thick substance was caked over my eye sealing it shut. I tried to rub my hand across that side of my face to clear the offending obstruction, but realised that it’d dried into place and needed to be more slowly picked at to remove it. I lay picking and peeling away the cover from my eye for what seemed an age, until eventually I began to be able to open my eye a crack. I put my hand down for a break as pain wretched through my body. I heard voices muttering not so far away, and felt an impact thud through whatever it was covering my feet. I realised that I couldn’t really feel my feet, in much the same way as I’d lost feeling in them the night before or whenever it was that I’d been squatting in my father’s room.

Then it all hit me, and I had to find my family. I struggled to sit up, my hand anxiously picking and scratching away the remainder of the cover over my eye. I could see, and firstly realised that it was dried blood that’d trapped my eye lids from opening. I felt revolted and sick to my core, but this was nothing beyond what I was about to discover. My feet suddenly shouted out to me reminding me I needed to move, and I looked down to see what exactly it was that was trapping me. I focused and looked, not really sure I was seeing what my brain told me I was seeing. I turned to my left in an instant, my stomach retching, heaving over and over again, as I drew from every reserve of strength that I could to pull myself free from the body that lay over my feet. In my efforts to scramble free, I became aware that it was not only one body that just so happened to have fallen across me feet, but a pile of bodies that I lay on top of and that had lain partly on top of me. In my disgust and efforts to get away from the sight I’d beheld of half a man’s face staring at me from a body trapping my legs in this throng of bodies the officers who’d been piling the bodies became aware of my writhing.

“We’ve got a live one,” one officer said.
“Hey you, stop playing with the dead and come here,” said another.
I struggled towards their voices, trying not to look at the bodies below me, but having to as I stumbled and pitched here and there over the mass. I eventually reached firm ground after what seemed an eternity and stood trembling, bent over as my stomach heaved to get rid of what was there no more, yet my body could not stop retching. Tears flowed freely from my eyes as I realised that I’d awoken into my worst nightmare. Retribution was being met out on us, for things that many if not most of us were not even guilty of.

I was grabbed by one of the officers who pulled me up and looked at my battered and bruised face.
“So you’re not dead are you scum? That is a pity!”
He pushed me over towards his partner who had been slowly making his way towards us. He caught me just as I was about to fall, and pulled me to my feet again.
“Another shit who escaped the death penalty Moyo!”
“Seems he is unlucky,” grunted the officer who’d been referred to as Moyo.
Irony struck me in the gut. Here was man who shared the same name as me, yet was hidden by a uniform, and behind which he perpetrated crimes that in any normal country would be punishable by law even to a man dressed in such a uniform.
“What’s your name?” the grisly faced monster of a man holding me asked.
“Ruben Moyo!” I managed through my thick lips.
“Haha!” The man loudly laughed at the irony that a moment before had kicked me in the stomach.
“He’s one of yours Moyo!” he laughed pushing me off my feet to where I fell at the feet of the officer called Moyo.
I felt a boot smash into the rear of my head as I lay there at his feet. My mouth filled with a metallic, warmness as blood began to flow freshly from the wound I’d inflicted on myself, biting down on my tongue as the kick had met my head.
“I do not associate with MDC Scum you shit head!” Moyo growled at his companion.
They moved towards a ZRP Santana that had pulled up, three officers alighting and pulling two more bodies for the pile from the jeep.
I pulled myself to a sitting position and hung my head between my legs. What had I done to deserve this? Why had I been brought to a shanty town called Mbare and raised here? Why had my nation fallen into such disarray? Why were these people so hell bent on making our lives such a misery? What had gone wrong?


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