OUR neighbour Jemba, the one who is always hunting, is looking for a wife. He is tired of living alone. He left the village many years ago to work at a Safari lodge in Hwange as a waiter. While over there he married a very nice woman and they had three children. Jemba’s parents and two of his brothers have since passed away and his village home was becoming a ruin due to the absence of life.
Then Jemba said, I have had enough of city life and must now return home.
Besides, the economic problems and the dwindling number of tourists coming to Zimbabwe to look at elephants and lions forced hotel business to go down.
Over the past three years, Jemba has lived alone. Finally, as we all predicted, he wants to find a wife. He worked out that everyone in life needs a companion or just a friend to sleep with, to talk to, to fight with, to argue with, to laugh with and simply to be with. Like all of us, Jemba is a normal human being.
When he started looking, Jemba quickly learnt that the only woman he can get in the village is a widow. Unlike the days when we were growing up here, there are hardly any young single girls in the villages. In our days, before independence, there were no high schools in these areas formally know as the Native Reserves or the Tribal Trust Lands.
You had to travel as far as Mt St Mary’s in Hwedza or Kwenda Methodist Mission to get high school education. My sisters and I were the only lucky ones who made it to the mission schools. The rest stayed here and got married.
These days, the girls walk many miles to the nearest high school for four years. When the river is in flood, they do not go to school at all. After Form Four, most of them either go to the big city to look for work as maids or they stay in the village for a short while before they get pregnant to someone. Recently, a couple of girls got pregnant to the self-appointed village prophet and he married them both because his church says it is okay to marry young girls.
Sometimes that same church allows marriage between an older man and girls as young as 12. We all see the girls grow up with the older man and his other wives. We talk about it all the time among ourselves but nobody dares go and say to the man or the church leaders please leave these girls alone and let them go to school. The man will tell you that marriage is the best protection for them.
He will say, the girls’ mothers were married the same way. Who are you to challenge an age old custom? Did Abraham in the Bible not take Hagar, a young girl to be second wife to Sarah? So we stay back and do nothing except buy nice tomatoes from the young girl children and young mothers.
Jemba’s pool of selection will be among mature widows. He will not be looking for love among the young girls because we will say to him that is not proper, hausi hunhu.
We sat around the fire in my mother’s old kitchen hut last Saturday night discussing who Jemba was going to talk to regarding love and romance. Outside the moon was shining very bright but we could not sit out there as we normally do. It is very cold this time of the year to do so.
Then Jemba told us that he had his eyes on a recently widowed woman, Lameck’s wife. Our neighbour Lameck who walked on crutches all his life died two weeks ago, leaving his beautiful wife and three children behind. She has now joined a whole group of young widows.
This village and many others beyond are full of these young women and there are hardly any men to give them company.
Lameck and his wife’s story was a sad end to a very romantic love affair. Everyone says his wife killed him of stress. People said Lameck died of stress caused by his wife. Everyone has their own version of how Lameck’s wife ‘killed’ him.
“She was lonely. She needed love,” said Jemba. “But she should not have chosen a married man because they are often pressed for time. As a result, they get caught”
Jemba said Lameck’s wife was very pretty when she first arrived from Mwenezi, somewhere very far. She was dark in completion, with a round face and smooth skin. Her legs were solid and every man admired her bottom because it danced as she walked.
How can a man on crutches marry such a beautiful woman? People asked Lameck, joking with him. Lameck told them it was God’s will, moyo muti unomera paunoda, meaning love is like a tree, it grows wherever it so wishes.
So Lameck married his wife and they built their house next to his mother’s house. Because Lameck was a good carpenter, he spent most his time in Bulawayo, working for a company that made good solid furniture for wealthy houses and big offices. But when the economy turned, Lameck’s bosses left the country and he came back to the village and joined his wife in the fields.
A couple of months ago, this man called Panichi who has always been a troublemaker ever since we were young, got drunk and proposed love to Lameck’s wife. She rudely turned him down. Offended, Panichi did what is not done in the village: he told Lameck that his wife was having an affair with Tichaona, the fisherman and potato grower who lives along the Save river.
“Your wife is sleeping with Tichaona and you pretend not to see. Then you call yourself a man?” said Panichi.
That really hurt Lameck. He went home and confronted his wife. She said yes, it was true.
She had been in love with Tichaona for five years.
“What a fool Lameck’s wife is!” said Piri, who had been busy drinking and looking sleepy all along. “In life, an affair should never be confessed. What good is that to anyone?”
“Then what happened?” I asked.
Lameck reported the matter to the chief. This was a serious matter because Tichaona had belittled and brought shame to Lameck by fornicating with the wife he had married and paid many cows for.
Tichaona had to be punished. Jemba was there at the chief’s court when Tichaona was ordered to pay Lameck two big beasts fit enough to pull a plough when the rain season starts.
Before Tichaona could trade his heifers for the two oxen, Lameck went to Bulawayo for a visit. Over there, he told people that he was very stressed with the shame that his wife had brought upon him.
But he still loved her.
On Tuesday afternoon, he sat on a chair outside and died. Stress had got the better of him, people said. That is how Lameck died of stress.
“I have my eyes on Lameck’s widow,” said Jemba lighting his newspaper rolled cigarette as usual. We had finished dinner of village road runner chicken with home grown vegetable for the garden. On the fire, Jemba was smoking five fat mice slowly. This is the season for mice. Mice roasting on a fire is not a good sight to look because their teeth stick out and the tails are long. But, they are very tasty to eat.
Jemba said I could take all five of them with me to Harare the next day. This is was his special present to me in gratitude for all the beer that I had provided him when I came to the village.
“There is a shortage of men in the villages,” said Jemba. “Very soon Lameck’s wife will be coming to look for firewood around my village. If she does that, do not tell anyone.
“All it means is that she is no longer interested in Tichaona but in me.”
Shamiso and I went outside to get away from the kitchen smoke and to enjoy looking at the moon and the bright stars. Looking from the villages in the east of our homesteads, to the west and then from north to south, we tried to count the number of potential wives for Jemba. We counted the number of single women in our village and the other villages nearby. There were 58 widows in total.
Their husbands died over the past 10 years or more. Except for times when they are at the church, the village ceremonies or in the fields, the women are mostly alone with the children.
Before the end of the dry season, Jemba would have found himself a beautiful wife. It could well be Lameck’s widow. Let us wait and see.
- Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.