By Fungai Chigumbura, Zimbabwe:
Sixty years. That is how long it has been since I saw her. Sixty long, hard, unforgiving years. I toiled in the pits of the Dancer Mines for sixty long years, and in all that time, the only thing that kept me from taking that pick to my head or just flying down a mineshaft, was the thought of looking into those brown eyes again and seeing them light up for me. All I want now is her touch and embrace, the warmth of her bosom, and the welcome of her love. I want her soul to hold mine, and for our dreams to walk and die together. I want her body to call to me in all the ways that it has missed me, and for her mind to lose itself in the meld of our yearning. No man has ever wanted more from fewer.
The train cannot move fast enough along the jagged tracks. It bellows along with all the force of a trumpeting army, and with the pace of that same multitude. The landscape flies past me, and though I have not laid eyes upon this vista since I went in the opposite direction all that time ago, I care nothing and less for the trees, buildings, and hills that move past. What has changed and what has remained the same, I could not tell you. It all blurs as the iron giant ambles along the rails. The clanging of this behemoth is deafening and forceful, a far cry from the thousands of days I spent where only the echoes of my tools against the grey rock sounded to me. That monotonous clang, singing a million times over in my mind, was my music and my torture both. With each blow I struck, my sanity faded, and with night being day and day being a dream, I became one with that pick and entwined with that echo. With each passing day, all that remained of the man I had been was the man who loved her.
The station seems bigger than I remember it, though it is hard to tell one way or another when all I have seen for so long have been the narrow spaces of rock and earth. What I do know for sure, is that the dull beige that had stuck to the walls when I left has been replaced by a glossy magenta, one that speaks to the general opulence that entire port gives off. The artwork on the ceiling is some multi-layered bizarreness of colour and shapes. The longer you stare into it, the more it pulls you into its folds, folds that seem to stretch to infinity itself. The spaces down there seemed to close in every day, and no matter how wide I dug or how deep I went, it always felt like I was strangling myself even more. Heaven only knows how far into the ground I went. Where the gold called, my pick and I followed. The more of it the ground gave me, the more of it I wanted the ground to give me. If there were an end to what that mine could give, I would find it. But I never did.
I walk from the station to our dingy little enclave of the city. The sites change as I move past. Fewer of the cars on the road seem bought, and the roads themselves tell of the difference in attention paid to their state. The loud and boisterous glass buildings give way to smaller, less ostentatious architectural efforts. The raucousness of the city center and the business districts is replaced by the mute practicality of the manufacturing and industrial sectors. These parts are the noisiest, with the steel and concrete grinding away to steady the props of the embellished, slick parts of town. This feels more like home. A home that speaks in the language of lack that I understand. It will give a quarter, and take the half.
Middletown, the mini-version of hell that I have not seen in decades, has changed its face, but its mood is much the same. Where the corporate brands have moved in to suck the pennies from the people here, the spirit of this beauty has defiantly defaced any attempt at upliftment. The international brands, ambitious as always, have had their sensibilities thoroughly rejected by this stubborn maiden and her set ways. She takes what she needs from the hand that would feed her, but slaps it away the moment it tries to hold her. Even here, in Middletown, some parts are more scarred than others are. Where I am going, the pockmarks overwhelm the skin, and the beauty is to be found only after the most self-deceptive of quests.
I round the last corner before my street and steady myself. Our house is at the very end of the close, staring directly as you make your way to it. I smile when I see that only the bedroom and porch lights are on—I told her to keep them alight every night until I returned. I promised her that one day, some day, I would come home and turn off the lights myself. I pick up the pace, my legs moving my body to its shelter, and my heart to its home. A hundred paces away, the light to the hall comes on. The front door opens, and she steps out onto the porch. I stop under the shadow of a dead streetlamp and take in the vision before me. The shadow of her figure is cast against the light coming from the hall, and it stirs something in me even deeper than the swell of emotions already threatening to take me over. I make to walk towards her, but something stops me—a second shadow emerges from the door and cups its hand on her backside. She turns to this other shadow and lifts up her head to it. The two shadows become one for what seems like the longest minute, before the second shadow disengages itself and leads her shadow back where they both came. The door creaks on its hinges as she swings it shut with her foot. My heart pounds in my chest as I struggle for air and try to still my feet. As I look at the house, the bedroom light goes out, and all that remains is the porch light, its beacon glaring at me.
I stand there in the shadows, not moving, not wanting to move, not able to move. Finally, even the porch light goes out, and I am left in the darkness, my mind torturing me. I make to move towards the house…but the darkness seems to gently take hold of me and turn me around. My one true companion after all these years, the pitch-black night tenderly guides me back up the road I came down. I spent sixty years down in that mine…what’s sixty more?
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