Hitting Budapest Reloaded.
We are on our way back from Budapest. Back from posing for photos and saying cheese a million times although we didn’t eat a pinch of it, back from insulting the photographer woman because she even threw away the thing we wanted to eat, back from stealing and eating guavas and having a shit or rather, shits. Back from stumbling upon a dead woman dangling from a rope. And we stole her new pair of shoes. No, we took her shoes instead because it’s not ‘stealing’ stealing; she’s dead! It’s different from stealing guavas. We sold them and bought bread which we are eating on our way back to Paradise. I’m thinking about how her ghost will haunt us at night and kill all of us. God please forgive us, don’t let her ghost haunt us, it was Bastard’s idea not mine. “You, Big head what are you thinking about?” Bastard asks as if reading my thoughts. He is chewing the bread with such gusto and opening his mouth annoyingly wide like a dinosaur with every bite and chew like he’d never eaten delicious bread before. “Nothing,” I say, biting my own piece with relish, it tastes good, crispy and crunchy. One day, I will punch this bastard called Bastard to death. Why is he calling me big head?
We walk pass Mother of Bones who smiles at us. She’s always smiling at us, in fact she smiles at anything. Her teeth are brownish yellow and scanty like trees in the Savannah of northern Cameroon. Needless to say, they are very ugly, probably due to her obsessive, excessive tobacco chewing. Godknows waves at her and asks, “Caring Mother, how are you?” like she wants to flatter her so she’ll not talk about our absence. She grins harder exposing the horrible dental formula and I look away as we walk pass silently sneaking into Paradise. And then for a split second, we hear a commanding hoarse voice, “Hey, all of you come here!” We freeze dead in our tracks. We can tell by the man’s dangerous voice that we are all going to run. All of a sudden, Stina squints and screams, “Run!” When Stina speaks, we listen because she never speaks at all; only when it is necessary. And my friends take off in diverse directions like houseflies take off from excrement when someone throws a small stone at it. But I cannot run because I recognize the voice instantly –my father’s. Even if I run, I would still come back home. He’s standing upright and holding a cane in his right hand with that look on his face like a slave master who is about to whip a stubborn slave. His eyes are fiery red like someone who has just smoked a million kilos of cannabis and marijuana put together; a human dragon! Things are about to get pretty ugly. “ELISABETH! Where were you?” he screams. “I, I,I,..” I’m stuttering and my body is already shivering like the tail of a rattle snake. I cannot explain anything, I’m too, too scared. I give him that look of guilt; that look of a disgraced wife who’d just been caught after betraying her faithful husband by committing adultery. I give him that look a teenage girl gives her mother when she’s just lost her virginity in that first sweet sex. I give him that look Eve gave God when she was asked why she’d eaten the forbidden fruit. And then like Eve, I take the blame off me, “It, it, was, was, Bastard’s idea. He’s the one who told us to go to Budapest and steal guavas and steal, no, take a dead woman’s shoes and sell it to, to, to buy bread and….” “WHAT! You stole a dead woman’s shoes!!!!!!” “No, we took, not, not steal and…” “Are you…” twash, the first one falls on my back with a swishing noise penetrating the flesh and sends me straight to the ground with a “doop” sound. I fall onto bare earth and I’m rolling in the dust like a maniac and scratching my back from all angles like the discrete directions my friends had taken to evaporate. The piece of bread falls from my fingers and three fowls are furiously pecking at it. One grips it with its beak and scurries away. The others also take off after her. Twash, Ouch! Ouch! The second one unearths a scream; a tortured scream from my vocal cord that passes through my larynx to my pharynx to my boucal cavity and even my nasal cavity into the atmosphere in a vociferous reverberation that almost deafens every Paradise resident and blows off the rooftops of the shanty shacks. I am thinking how the punishment is going to exceed my crime by any logical logic. Twash, the third one is whistling piercingly on my stomach like flails of fire from my dragon father. The flails are falling on my flesh and my father is cursing and insulting and whipping and I’m weeping and he’s whipping and I’m weeping and the cane is whistling and I’m rolling and tossing and turning and wincing and wailing like it’s the end of the world and I would kill my father dead if I ever survive this kind of military drone attack because madness has infected and crisscrossed two wires in his brain and those two oppositely charged wires weren’t supposed to come into contact and………(Wait, hold up, let’s fast forward.)
2011: I’m all grown now, sitting at a dinner table in Oxford. I’ve been in London for week, meeting publishers, editors, doing readings, press interviews and tonight is a big night when the Caine prize winner will be announced. But I’m nervous and restless. I’m quite contented with the nomination but also want to win this thing! Who doesn’t? The announcer takes the cue. My heart is beating like a jackhammer. “And the winning short story is…“Hitting Budapest” by Noviolet Bulawayo from Zimbabwe. It is a story with moral weight and power about stealing guavas.” Everybody at the table is clapping and clapping as I receive my prize and pose next to the sculpture of Sir Michael Caine for photos like I’d done in Budapest in front of the photographer woman who had eaten the thing. Many miles away in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in a place called Paradise, my guava stealing friends who are all married with children now are also clapping and celebrating together in Bastard’s house. Their kids are also clapping although they don’t know what they are clapping for, or even what their parents are celebrating about. Bastard skips with a bottle in his hands. “You’ve done it Elisabeth! We are all very proud of you, you brought our story to the worldwide stage, yes. Here’s your champagne, I’m popping it, poof.” And they are drinking and drinking and all of a sudden, Stina asks, speaking for the first time, “Where are our children?” They look around and their kids have all disappeared. Mother of Bones, who is still alive; an amazing 200-year-old creeps in on all fours like a baby. Her great great grand children have names like Collar bone, Rib cage, Cranium, Tibia and the most stubborn one is vertebral Column. She says, “they have all gone to Budapest to steal guavas with my progeny of bones. Chipo, your daughter Hippo-potamus Calculus, whom you were pregnant with when you used to steal guavas walloped Bastard’s son, Drunkard, the head of Horror on his head but he went with them anyway. Godknows, your daughter, Devil Ignorant asked me -Caring mother how are you? And I said fine and smiled at them more than I did with you people. But I don’t know why they were all looking away from my face as they disappeared.” Sbho squints sideways at Chipo and asks her in laughter, “dear, ring any bells?” “Sure.” “So what do we do with them? Whip them?” Sbho asks again. “No,” Chipo and Stina unanimously respond. “Yes,” Bastard says. “No.” “I say yes.” “Okay, wait a minute, everybody listen to me,” Bastard orders. He stills acts like he’s the boss, like he’s the president of Paradise. “We will wallop them on the head and whip them hard because it is the cane that inspired Elisabeth’s winning of the Caine, period.”