‘The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round…’ Tendai screeched her nursery rhyme out through her throat and out of a wide open mouth with a tongue green as the colour of the cream soda juice that she gulped from a bottle every now and then. But it was her mother’s mind going round and round at that moment, round and round everyday these days.
‘I’m giving this country a year. If things don’t change after that, I’m out,’ her friend Tino had declared.
Things had pretended to be fine a few years back. Not fine in the normal meaning of the word but fine in the Zimbabwean dictionary meaning, the country was at least liveable, prizes were not going up twice a day and one could get groceries they wanted from a shop not the black market. So things had pretended to be fine but the pretence didn’t last long. The thin façade of normalcy finally gave in and peeled off the bubbling hot porridge of a mess beneath it.
Where could she go? Rumbi’s mind tortured her by not letting go of that question. South Africa was out of the question. It was saturated with Zimbabweans like the US was with Mexicans. And when they felt like it, your South African neighbour could beat you, take your flat screen, smart phone and microwave. Where could she go? To Botswana? To be a maid? There were not many options in Botswana unless you were a professional, she had heard. To Swaziland? Perhaps she could go there and get herself married to the King. Except only virgins could line up for that reed dance; they poured water on the half naked girls and if you were a virgin, the water was supposed to run down in a certain way. They would look at her tired, dangly breasts that lay flat against her chest and know that she had suckled a child. They would see the zigzag pattern where the nurse had ruggedly sewn up after a C-Section. A look in her eyes and they would see worry written there in large handwriting; the worry that comes with giving birth; with thinking about the next meal. She would be out of that reed dance in a wink. Could she go to Mozambique? To hoard bales of second hand clothes, or shoes or underwear and smuggle them through the border, for resell? To Malawi? A friend of hers had moved to Malawi with her family. After a year they came back saying nothing more than, ‘It was a wrong move’ with a desultory shake of the head.
‘Twingu twingu litusta…’
‘Shhh, noise Tendi,’ she admonished as people in the kombi turned yet again to glare. Rumbi blamed it on the kindergarten teachers who taught them these English songs. It didn’t matter that Tendai sang the English songs in the heavy Karanga accent of her kindergarten teacher Gogo Mapurisa. Gogo Mapurisa was a retired Grade One teacher who when things got hard in the country, had started a kindergarten. It was one of the cheapest and close to OK Supermarket where Rumbi worked at the till. Gogo Mapurisa, with her silvery grey hair and wide sort of unsure smile would start singing the English rhymes like a 1960s AVM bus going uphill; very slowly, a little timidly, almost scared of not making it to the chorus.
The two girls in front of them continued their conversation after throwing meaningful glances at Rumbi. The girl who had a nicely coiffed pixie cut hairstyle and talking with her head and her arms, was announcing, ‘So I will be going this September sha. Finally after a long, and tiresome journey of sending academic certificates, recommendation letters and all!
‘Lucky you sha,’ said the other girl, who had braids so old they looked like they were yearning to leave the country like their owner. ‘ Germany! I have heard good things from people who have been there,’ she said timidly. Rumbi wondered if she actually knew anyone who had been there.
Her friend nodded, ‘Yes sha, getting a scholarship in Europe is not easy these days. So many people are applying so they try to select the crème de la crème, chaiyo.’
The kombi stopped and Rumbi and her daughter Tendi dropped off. The girl who was not going to Germany any time soon got off and waved her German going friend goodbye. ‘Where in Germany is your friend going?’ Rumbi asked rather jealously.
‘She said Munich,’ said the girl whose name was Fiona. ‘But what she doesn’t know is I am going to Kuwait!,’ said Fiona with a light in her eyes.
‘Kuwait? Did you find a job there?’ asked Rumbi
‘I got a job as a flight attendant through an employment agency. I will be going this month end. You can apply if you want it was easy, all I did was…’
Fiona chattered on and on, but Rumbi already knew what she was going to do. She was going to Kuwait.
Fiona had been right. Applying for a job through the Rapid Jobs in Kuwait Employment Agency wasn’t difficult. The dingy downtown office had fazed her a bit but encouragement from the super cheerful agent lifted her spirits and gave her so much hope for a new life. She started envisioning herself making testimonies in church, wearing expensive heels and a two piece suit going to the front of the church singing, ‘You are a miracle working Gooood.’
Before, she had only used the internet for Facebook but the nice guy at the internet cafe helped her send scanned copies of passports, certificates and photos; she even gave him her number afterwards when he’d shyly asked for it. Everything was moving smoothly except her mother who kept asking her questions; where would she live? In a hotel, mhamha, which is paid for for two weeks till I get my own accommodation. And work? Flight attendant at Kuwait Airlines.How come they have money to do all that for strangers? The companies pay them for providing qualified employees. That’s how recruitment agencies work, repeating what the agent in the dingy office had said.
The plane ride was filled with much excitement and butterflies in her stomach kept making her head spin rather than the turbulence in the air. There were six other girls going to Kuwait and also meeting the employment agency lady, Fatima. She had left Tendai with her mother in Mhondoro, and every time she thought about her something painful started rising up her throat. The tiny wheels of the airbus finally touched ground and after surviving the long immigration queues they finally got to see the beautiful Kuwait. The buildings were tall and modern; roads, wide, tarred and well marked; streets clean and well lit and the shops fancy and sleek. Ms Fatima herself was stunningly beautiful, well groomed and classy. She looked like a mixture of Arab and Asian, with dark eye makeup, black wavy hair, red lipstick, black lacy dress and a million dollar scent. ‘Welcome to Kuwait,’she said in heavily accented English and led them to where a white Quantum omnibus was waiting.
‘Passports please girls. I don’t want you to lose them before you start your jobs’ With mouths full of the unknown spicy snacks, they fished their passports out of bags, back pockets and bras. Soon after, they all fell asleep. But it was not the sultry voice of Ms Fatima that woke them up, but a harsh and impatient man’s voice, shouting commands, in Arabic. Still sleepy and in shock the girls were shepherded off the bus, with their luggage and led into a dimly lit building that looked like it belonged in Mbare, were it back home. After climbing some stairs, a door was opened into a large room that had single bed mattresses placed against a wall that was in much need of paint. The room had no windows and the cement floor gnawed. Hidden behind the door was a bunch of girls crowded on some mattresses that had been shoved together. The girls were in the skimpiest of attires with lots of cheap looking makeup and cheaper looking jewelry. The men started searching their bags and took all phones and any form of electrical gadgets. By now some girls were crying as reality dawned on them. Where’s Ms Fatima, some girls asked, no one answered. The skimpy girls in the just sat and stared until one of them asked, ‘Rumbi?
Goodness! It was the girl from the kombi! The one who had told her about Kuwait!
‘Fiona! How are you? Please, what’s going on? Where’s Miss Fatima? Where are our passports?’
Fiona shook her head resignedly, ‘If you are unlucky to be considered pretty you will live here and become a prostitute. If they don’t think you are pretty they will enslave you in domestic work. You have been trafficked Rumbi. We all have.’
Main image taken from www.inquisitr.com
This is a fiction story written by Godess Bvukutwa. Godess enjoys creating powerful female characters in her work of fiction. And is forever in fear of boring readers of her non fiction pieces. She gardens, reads and plays with her daughter aside from writing.