Isabella Matambanadzo’s “Black Granite”

Black Granite

That year, her grades dropped. It wasn’t a gentle decline. She went
from always being one of the three top performers across all her
subjects to hedging with failure. Because she didn’t loose her
unbending cheer, or fall off her sports teams, the teachers misread
her. Report cards would go home with the words “bad set of friends”
scrawled all over them, or “teenage tantrums” in the case of teachers
who thought they should have had a prestigious career in the world of
Psychology, rather than rub chalk off their fingers with damp cloths
at the end of a 45 minute class period.

Not wanting to worsen her situation or call attention to the real
reasons for her disruption, she kept quiet. Her mother would badger
her about the;

“49 % in mathematics”

“50% in physics”

“48% in biology”,

finger running over the rows and columns filled with
teacher’s script.  Later, when she learnt how to use a computer, she
wondered at why there was no font called “Teacher”. Some geek had made
a big mistake there: Cartoon, Times New Roman, but no Teacher….
Strange for sure.

“I am doing my very best Ma”, was her thoughtful, respectful reply.
“O’ Levels are so much tougher than the junior certificate”. She
didn’t want to further fray any already torn nerves. Her mother had
that distracted way about her today. A storm was already gathering in
the corners of her eyes. If pressed, there would be an unbearable gush
of salty blobs of sadness and rage.

Her parents were fighting. Not the verbal assaults she heard Sue-Ellen
and J.R. hurl at each over the radio versions of Dallas and Dynasty.
Their television set had long been sold off to pay debts that had been
raised by a truant uncle. Ever the faithful head of the family, they
had been underwritten with the surety of her father’s name.  Her
mother was fury itself. She had bought their first colour TV with her
own pay cheque. Money saved in the cup of her bra, with the elastic on
the left strap drawn tight to ensure the special loot didn’t slither.
How could that lout of a mean ass brother-in-law do this to her and
the kids? But the laws of the land did not allow women to own property
so it had been purchased in her father’s name. And now the Collector
of Debts had stood in the family home as if presiding over an auction.
Clipboard in hand and hip thrust out in a posture of false efficiency,
he had taken her TV set.

It was an outright brawl. Blows and blood. Her school friends talked
openly about their parents’ fights. They spoke of well-educated
fathers having affairs with old flames that had returned home from
England in the aftermath of independence deft on reclaiming their
rightful place as his original love, his true soul mate.  Men who had
been sent to school by wives who took any job, every job that would
pay, and in the process sacrificed their own career dreams. She never
said a word.

That was what freedom meant. Smokey voices coming over the telephone
line at home asking “is your father in?” “ In you maybe”, was the
answer she wanted to give. But she had been raised polite, so she said
with diplomacy. “I am very sorry, no. May I take your name and number
and ask him to ring you back please?”.
“Umm-haa,” the voice exhaled, suppressing a mist of tobacco soot. The
telephone would click dead but she’d stay on the line, reached for the
message pad and pen nodding into nothingness. “ You are welcome”, she
said to the dumb drone in her ear. Anything less would have flared her
watchful mother to respond. It was pointless really, to add fuel to an
already blazing fire.

Her world had become a private war zone, punctuated by the gruff
staccato of a dress ripping as roughness grabbed the sleeve in combat.
From the battlefield, she would retrieve and stitch back together
amputated clothes.  No matter how hard she scrubbed, she could never
quite get the spotting out of the chipped butter cup yellow tiles in
the kitchen walls. When they had bought the family home in the suburbs
newly opened to blacks at independence in the multiracial
neighbourhoods the granite topped counters were a major selling point
for the agent. “Quick sale this, owners are packed and want to leave
the country. It has gone to the dogs, hey. They are off to Australia,”
the sales agent rattled on in a raspy English that reminded her of the
sound of a knife slicing lemons for the gin and tonics.

Over the years, the granite had cracked. The smack of the butt of the
axe had left a birthmark. She had ducked its wood cutting blow but the
bottle of cooking oil she held in her hand, between left thumb and
forefinger, had shattered her sure footedness. Her head hit the razor
sharp corner of the counter, and twisted her into a fall. The coroner,
a spindly specimen of a man, who wore tortoise shelled glasses that
were flanked by thick, grey eyebrows, said, in a dry, unemotional
tone, “it wasn’t the head injury that killed her, or the glass that
had pierced clean through her lung, to the top tip of her heart. The
most important muscle in her body had somehow calcified into a mass of
stone”. Only then did his brows move, perplexed by this impossible
puzzle of biology. He was itching to write a case-study. But the
family needed the body for the funeral.

Looking at the weather beaten tombstone over her mother’s grave. She
wanted, today, as she did everyday, to edit the ridiculous poetry of
the epitaph etched in curly, even letters.

R.I.P, Beloved

Mother, friend,

To “you should have left him and lived”.

(c) Isabella Matambanadzo 2010



Filed under fiction, short stories

3 responses to “Isabella Matambanadzo’s “Black Granite”

  1. Rudo Chigudu

    for my sister who tried to leave and didn’t live only the name on the tombstone is different.

  2. For Black Granite – I left and I lived

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