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Jacana

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‘Ndohupenyu hwacho’ – Read our final excerpt from Sweet Medicine by Panashe Chigumadzi (Part 3 of 3)

Sweet Medicine

 

We are very excited to present to you the final instalment in our series of excerpts from Panashe Chigumadzi’s debut novel, Sweet Medicine.

This gripping story shows a side of Zimbabwe not often seen and grapples with the daily experience of living in postcolonial society. Sweet Medicine takes place in Harare at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic woes in 2008. Tsitsi, a young woman, raised by her strict, devout Catholic mother, believes that hard work, prayer and an education will ensure a prosperous and happy future.

Out of university, Tsitsi finds herself in a position much lower than she had set her sights on, working as a clerk in the office of the local politician, Zvobgo. With a salary that barely provides her with a means to survive, she finds herself increasingly compromising her Christian values to negotiate ways to get ahead.

The first excerpt in our series saw Tsitsi sit down with her friend Chiedza, engaging in a robust conversation about the men in their lives. The second part took the conversation further, revealing an underlying tension between the two, with Chiedza saying that certain things had to be done in order for them to be where they are. “Ndohupenyu hwacho,” she says, which means ‘that’s life’ in Shona.

Read the final excerpt to see how the conversation between Tsitsi and Chiedza plays out:

 

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Sweet MedicineWords Mama had repeated so often throughout Tsitsi’s childhood. Ndohupenyu hwacho.
 
Chiedza’s eyes shone. She had long since lost her cheerfulness. Tsitsi wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol that had made her so sensitive, so emotional, but she was embarrassed and felt selfish for trying to unburden her own anxieties. She sat down again, pretending not to notice that Chiedza was upset, trying to make light of their current situation.
 
“Remember what we used to say in residence?” Chiedza didn’t answer, but Tsitsi persevered. “When things got tough, we would always say: ‘That is that. Sadza repa bhodha.’”
 
She laughed nervously, hoping that her invocation of their varsity days would cheer Chiedza up. Eventually she broke into a small laugh.
 
“Eii sha, but we suffered, didn’t we? Sadza ne beans. Sadza ne cabbage. Sadza ne ma potatoes.”
 
Chiedza eventually gave in and added, “Vakomana, sadza, sadza, sadza. When we were lucky, sadza ne mazai.”
 
They giggled together as if they were in their Swinton room. Feeling a little more sober and that the situation had been diffused, even just marginally, Tsitsi stood up again.
 
“ChiChi, it’s late. Zvobgo will be waiting for me. I’m sure James Bond is waiting for you too.’’
 
Chiedza rose to peck Tsitsi goodbye, “Well, you know, I like pushing my men to their limits. The longer he waits the better.’’
 
She saw the leaks of tears under Tsitsi eyes and wiped them away tenderly with her thumbs, kissing her on her cheek, reminding Tsitsi of the many times Chiedza had consoled her in their dorm room.
 
“See, Tsitsi? It’s easier when he’s an attached superior and stays that way. It’s when he starts suffocating me and makes too many demands that I leave. Simple. There isn’t a shortage of horny old men. For that matter, even young ones.’’
 
Before Tsitsi could respond, their waiter jogged clumsily over to their table. Fearing they were attempting to dodge the bill, he couldn’t afford the dignity of a graceful walk.
 
“Don’t worry, Sekuru, tichiri tese. I’m not going anywhere for a while. I’m sure you’ll have fun keeping me company,” said Chiedza with a wink.
 
He didn’t respond with the polite laughter of a grateful servant. He was not the cheerful and obedient servant their money had promised them. Instead he obliged with no more than a tight smile, which soon returned to a sour look of resentment, characteristic of a quick, intelligent mind trapped in the routine of menial tasks. He did what he was asked to do with a cold efficiency, nothing more.
 
“I’ll see you, Chiedza,” Tsitsi said.
 
As she drove home, she tried to shrug off Chiedza’s words, but they managed to linger and set themselves deep in her conscience. If Zvobgo could do it to Mrs Zvobgo, surely he could do it to her? It would be history repeating itself.
 
But this was different, she thought. His wife could well afford to respond to the rejection and the humiliation of infidelity by fleeing to Malaysia to live with their thirty-something-year-old daughters. If Zvobgo left Tsitsi, she would be destitute.
 
She toyed with the idea of his other colleagues, but she quickly dismissed the notion. They were all too busy with their current Small Houses and, even if they did take her in, she was sure they would not look after Sekuru and Mama in the way that Zvobgo did.
 
She had everything but that elusive certificate. Only important, because with titles come obligations, and more importantly, with rights. Rights and claims to property. Without that, what would she do about Mama and Sekuru? At best, she would be referred to Zvobgo’s relatives or to the traditional courts.
 
She snuck into the darkened bedroom without switching on the lights for fear of waking Zvobgo. The last thing she wanted to do was trigger a torrent of questions. She slipped off her dress and, without bothering to get her nightslip, sunk slowly into bed. Not hearing even a grunt from Zvobgo’s side of the bed, she reached out but felt only cold sheets. She remembered now that he had told her he was to be spending a few nights away with the rest of the executive members. She had forgotten. She felt disappointed, foolish, for having said all she had to Chiedza.

 

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