A Guest for Lunch: by Tariro Ndoro

Photo credit: Didriks via Flickr

Her house had remained exactly the same as it was seven years ago, when her husband had left to find a job in “Jubheg” but had disappeared from the face of the earth – her sofas were still of the stuffed variety that required covers, she still had a cathode ray TV and her squat Imperial refrigerator still had fruit shaped magnets on it. Mrs Moyo herself hadn’t changed much – still adhering to that old fashion of wearing unattractive brown weaves that aged her ten years and puritanical colours that made her look severe. She still wore her wedding ring and never touched makeup.

After dishing supper for her family, she would wait thirty minutes after saying grace before starting to eat. She told her children that their father would be angry if they ate without him. The boy, Takudzwa, didn’t seem to miss his father, as everyone but his mother gathered, and this was probably because he’d always been afraid of him anyway. He had felt a wave of guilt in the first week his father hadn’t returned because when he’d blown the candles on his fourth birthday and Aunty Gloria from creche had told him to make a wish, he had wished that his father would never hit him or his mother again. He’d blown out his candles and his father had left for Joburg a week later.

The daughter, Nyari, was only a few weeks old when the father had left and so she’d grown up thinking every father came home very late from work every night and all the mothers in the world would wait thirty minutes before eating. That was before she’d gone to creche and discovered that everyone else’s father arrived from work and ate supper at the same time as their kids. Sometimes when scolding her children, Mrs Moyo would say things like “Your father will be cross if he catches you” and sometimes, “Taku, polish your father’s brown shoes, he might want to wear them tomorrow.”

One day, a new salesman was hired at the shop where Mrs Moyo worked as one of the in house tailors. She worked for a certain Mr Patel, whose family had sold school uniforms for Rusape’s children since 1953 and whilst most of the workers dealt with customers, Mrs Moyo sewed all those uniforms for all those selfish schools that were “too good to want common designs but bless them otherwise I’d have no job.”

Mrs Moyo was ashamed to find herself thinking how well the new guy looked in his blue overalls and how polite he was with the difficult customers and how he always waited for the ladies to enter the tea room before he did. She found herself wondering if it would be such a bad thing for her to be friendly with a man… it had been seven years since she’d last seen that husband of hers. And hadn’t Mai Ruzvidzo said something about her niece in Yeoville hearing that one of her her old classmates in Joburg had seen Moyo in the company of “one of those light skinned Sotho girls that wear mini skirts.”

The ruwadzano ladies only suspected what was happening when Otilia, her hairdresser, told them over vetkoeks and tea that this time Mrs Moyo had finally dumped that old mushroom weave and had her hair relaxed. Mrs Kaitano, teller at Patel’s, agreed that she’d seen Mrs Moyo wearing new dresses all week which was true because once Gerald (the new guy) had said ‘hello’ to Mrs Moyo, she’d gone home and looked at herself in the mirror for the first time since Mr Moyo had gone to Joburg. That night, she decided that the colour teal didn’t really suit her complexion.

Otilia, however, didn’t know this and neither did Mrs Kaitano or Florence Rinomhoto or Mai Tanaka from down the road, but that didn’t stop them all from shaking their heads in pity when there’d been a lull in their conversation and suddenly Florence had said, “it is sad about Mr Moyo and and all those light skinned girls…” The ruwadzano ladies had all shaken their heads and cursed men and light skinned girls in short skirts to high heaven, thankful that Otilia’s half statement allowed them to take the focus off Chenai Moyo and give them a chance to talk about their own useless husbands.

It happened that one day in the tea room, Gerald sat next to Mrs Moyo and by way of conversation she found out that not only had he just moved to the town but he also lived alone. Over dollar for five plain buns from TM and black tea (Patel didn’t give them milk) he sat with her for the rest of the week, telling her about his life in Mutare and his childhood in Chipinge and his move to Rusape to be closer to his sister who was dying of cancer. Through cajoling and nervous asking, it happened that she did the unthinkable – she asked Gerald to lunch and quite predictably he acquiesced.

The reader will remember that Mr Moyo left Mrs Moyo with almost nothing and as such, her habitations revealed this bluntly – her house had no fence or Durawall, her yard had neither lawn nor gravel, her kitchen smelled perpetually of boiling tripe and was full of house flies in summer. The day she made a lunch appointment with Gerald was the first time she realised that her house was in disrepair and for the first time since her husband had gone to look for a job in Joburg, she felt self conscious about her situation.

She had never felt self conscious before because people didn’t visit her anymore. Of course no one had the desire to eat the tripe she constantly served because it was “cheaper than steak you see” or listen to her apologies about this or that being amiss and “Ba’Takudzwa will fix it as soon as he comes home.” After a few months of telling her “maybe he’s still settling down” and “be patient” always with the sort of gravity required in such a situation, they all got tired and stopped visiting. So although Gerald had agreed to come on a Saturday, Mrs Moyo’s preparations began on a Tuesday.

Her preparations involved using her rainy day fund to buy her children new clothes for the event. Next, she found someone to erect a low fence around her yard. For the first time since she was married, she opened her china sets and laid them on the table on top of doilies her grandmother had given her when she’d gotten married. She even bought real steak for the occasion.

When the day approached, Mrs Moyo allowed her children to wear the new clothes she’d bought them and even applied a considerable amount of deodorant on her personage. When she heard a knock at the door, all her emotions were a flutter and it was a great effort to marshal herself and open the door, where she found Gerald waiting in a “smart” grey suit and tie and on his arm there was a woman… of the light skinned variety… in tight fitting jeans and a trendy top. She made to hug Mrs Moyo but the sturdy woman shook her hand. Being a polite woman, Mrs Moyo then invited them both in with all the reluctant hospitality of a well bred woman.

As she set an extra place for the intruder, it struck her that she was wasting her hard earned money on people she didn’t like all that much. And whilst Clotilda, Gerald’s girlfriend, was flaunting her perfumed self and asking the kids, her kids, how school was, Mrs Moyo sat stoically, only eating because it kept her from bursting out. She was being tormented, ripped apart by the miser in her, who thought it was utterly acceptable to disinvite Gerald because he hadn’t stated that he was bringing his girlfriend and hadn’t mentioned that he had a girlfriend at all and had made her waste her time and hard earned money buying new clothes and getting a new hairstyle whilst the well bred half of her conscious made her endure the meal with grace.

Nyari, the daughter, enjoyed lunch the most – she had the privilege of eating rice and chicken at a time when it was decidedly not Christmas. More importantly, she liked this guest because for the first time since forever, Mrs Moyo had served lunch and then proceeded to eat it – no waiting thirty minutes for Baba to return. Next, she loved the meal because they’d finally gotten new clothes, again, at a time that was decidedly not Christmas. Since the mother had (paradoxically) removed all pictures of the father from the house after the first rumours of a South African stepmother, she thought that maybe Gerald was her father and that he’d finally come to eat and that maybe Clotilda was that “horrible Jezebel” that her mother was constantly asking God to destroy whenever she prayed out loud. But Nyari decided that the Jezebel wasn’t so bad because she smelled expensive and spoke nice English and, above all, gave her sweets.

Mrs Moyo was proud of herself for having kept it together but also very angry that she hadn’t seen it coming. Of course he’d have a twenty year old girlfriend, he was handsome… and clever… and she hated him. After watching her guest and his lover go, Mrs Moyo sighed to herself, thinking of all the china she’d have to wash and hoping nothing would break and just as she began calculating the amount of time she’d have to spend working to pay back this misadventure, Nyari pulled her dress and said in a totally unexpected and disarming way, “Mama, Mama, when are the visitors coming back?”

 ***

Glossary

Ruwadzano – women’s fellowship

Vetkoek – fried dough bread

 


Tariro Ndoro is a Zimbabwean poet. Her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies including New Contrast and 2015 Best New African Poets.

Related country: Zimbabwe

All rights to this story remain with the author. Please do not repost or reproduce this material without permission.

#Jan2017