By Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda
It so happened that now I had grown a bit older and was trusted to go on a bus journey. It was just fantastic to be able to wake up early in the morning, look for my yellow best dress with big black buttons and wait for the bus paMupfuti, near Mai Tarisai’s house. As is tradition, I would shout my good mornings, and unsolicited, volunteer the information about my journey. “Ndatumwa namai kunotenga sugar, since kumba kune vari kuuya kumaricho ndatumwa kunotsvaga shuga, or ndanzi ndimhanyirewo kwaRota kwaMai Gandanhamo vari kudiwa kuno, hameno zvemombe yeMadiro iri kutaurwa”. All details were volunteered without any real solicitation.
Mai Tairisai would run and give me her $5 with her own shopping list, which always included sugar and yeast. She was known for brewing the best kachasu in the village. It was her livelihihood and source of income, since Mukoma Rinzenzi (I never got to know what the English name was or what that name actually means), was in prison, a political prisoner arrested, tried and thrown in under Rhodesian martial law.
I had respect for Mai Tari and indeed she a very smart woman who spoke in deep Budya, one of Shona’s many dialects. A wonderful Samutoko who did not really bother about the goings on the village, she had many children and relatives who came to visit or stay.Anyway, I had to stop my mind from wandering, otherwise I would miss the bus.
When the bus stopped paMupfuti, the real pleasure for me was when it was empty and I would choose where to sit. I had many options and in my mind, there was a reason for choosing any one of these seats, and the reason had to do with the window. I marveled at the bus many mysteries. Like every child and young person that age, when I looked out the window, the trees, the grass, the houses were all racing in the opposite direction! I had no explanation for this miracle, but it was such a miracle and a wonder. I wanted to one day ask my teacher, maybe the Geography or Science teacher. I knew if I ask my sisters, they would simply shrug and say they are also looking for answers, and we would all be stuck. I therefore knew that windows are important, they show us what is outside but at times it’s very confusing.
At times I would try to look through the window pane, and I would see the full bus on my side. I would even see myself! The window of the bus was a mirror. I did not have to turn my head to see what was going on around me, I just had to look through that window. I had my natural mufushwa hair, and this one day I looked through of the window, and saw that I had totally forgotten to comb my hair before running for the bus. On arrival at Murewa centre I had to run to the market and borrow an Afro comb, so that at least I have a little decency on my hair. If I had not looked through that window, I could have spent the whole day with people staring at me as I went from Mapereke to ZvevaTsunga stores. Maybe not, I could simply have been dismissed as one of these girls from maruzevha, an unsophisticated rural girl. I was becoming an adolescent and was becoming more self conscious of my looks, although i could not tell at that time that this is what it was all about. Anyway, the mirror in the bus did not come often, but with the early morning bus or the evening bus. I figured it had to do with some light and darkness. Again, I produced my little note book and knew I had another question to ask Mr Chingoma, my teacher. How can a bus be a mirror?
Yes, I like to sit next to that big window in the bus, which was written “In Case of Emergency, Kick Out Panel”. Especially if I took Mazarura bus which was known for overspeeding. It negotiated corners with no regard at all to the safety of its passengers. I somehow felt very safe sitting next to this window. It was the widest window though it could not open. I understood that in case of emergency, you had to hit it hard at the glass panel and then jump out. I was tiny so I figured out that in case of an accident, I would definitely be one of the survivors. I also liked the idea of kicking out the panel, and helping all these other people who would follow after me. Therefore, when I entered the bus, I always asked to sit next to this window if there was someone already seated. I smiled inwardly if my wish was so granted.
Other moments, when the bus was full, or I was to get onto Shirikuyekutanga, Chiendambuya or Macheke, I preferred the window seat where you are in control of opening or closing the window. It is one of the busiest seats in any rural bus. The full bus was really full with luggage, children sitting on bags and boxes, and the roof laden with all kinds of goods. This was the story whether it was zhizha, our summer, chirimo, our dry season, Christmas or no holidays. The Macheke bus always came full. Well, that window seat is strategically painful. When it is very hot in these rural busses, someone would shout, “open the window!”, “tivhurireiwo window takufa nekutsva!”Some people would become nauseous on the bus and you just had to open that window. A baby would poo and the mother would either courageously try to change the nappy (no diapers!), or would ignore the poo altogether. The whole bus would be stink and as window manager, this seat was golden because you would face the open window for some air, though with bars, you could stick your head out. Traveling such long distances, one had to always eat, especially if it was the Harare-Nyanga with kumukira through the farms. So this window seat, where you can shut and open was good as also the whole bus had to contend with the smell of fresh or otherwise or boiled maize, boiled eggs and any other boiled stuff. There was often no trash can or litter bagpeople just through litre through the window. Again another another duty for the person sitting on this kind of window, littering the earth with no shame.
Then the back seat of the bus was good when the buss is fresh and had just been bathed in the Garage. This was my initial favorite if we took the Shiriyekutanga bus service, from its Garage at Ardbennie in Harare. The busses belonged to Zhanda. That seat as a youngster, I did not have to seat facing the front, looking just looking through the window at the back on all things that we passed. Other passengers would ignore and simply go about their business until the buss was full. They would ask me to sit proper. When the bus was at Coca-cola and 13 miles on the way to Murewa, my heart sank because my big window was no longer the same. The fumes from the broken exhaust pipe was darkening my my big window. By the time we reached Juru growth point, popularly known as paBhora, my window was now a big black blanket os sorts, mixture of dust and fumes. I could barely see anything. The only option was to change seats, which often evoked the wrath of the conductor who at this point is busy with new passengers. With a little apology, he accepted for me to change seats. No guarantee that I was to be next to w window, whether my emergency kick out panel or the shut and open my window seat. I had to contend with something, or anything, as long as I had an opportunity to look through some window. In these unfortunate circumstances, I missed the opportunity to wave to other children or shout to my friends as we passed them by while I was in the bus. The point had to be made.
On this very rare occasions I found myself seating in front, next to the driver’s seat. I had this whole big big window all just next to my forehead. I had the whole world in front of me ready for me to take in. The road itself, a long stretch, a bed, a bridge, a pith all, dust, tarred, travelled. I could see all around in front of me, the gum tree by the roadside, the grass waving in the winds, the maize field crying out for attention, the people selling their mangos, tomatoes, nzimbe by the roadside, those desperately waving to stop our bus which was already full and just sped by. I saw the road block ahead, and knew we would be stopped, searched and asked to all get out of the bus with our belongings. Women queued on one side, men on the other. Often men were asked to produce an ID. I did not know then during the war the difference if any between routine traffic cops and soldiers manning the road. I was in school uniform, so not many question about this one!
Anyway, this big window, or windscreen offered me my first driving lesson in life. As I saw other cars and busses pass us, I wondered why the driver was really going so slow. When I decided that we should overtake a tractor or a slower moving vehicle, and the driver kind of agreed with my thought and took this action I was all smiles. It was yes, later that I learnt about the rear view mirrors. I thought my driver, was only looking in front using this big glass window that made him see the whole heaven and earth.
When it started to rain, I was happy for the wipers. I would follow their rhythm in mind. In heavy showers the wipers would go fast and at time would totally fail to keep my window free of this rain and I could barely see. Inside, the window will be all misty, and driver had a rug he would clean with and tuck to his side. His hope was to at least cross Muhume river before the small bridge was filled with water and we would be stuck on the other side of the river. I held tight to my bag, and to my seat. I checked again whether the window in front of me was written, “In case of Emergency, Kick Out Panel”. All other cars and buses now had their lights on, and I was happy to see and scared to know that anything can happen. At least this seat and this window made it possible for me to be in control.
I just knew growing up, that one day, I wanted to own a bus, drive the bus and choose the seat I want at any one time. So it came to pass, that one day I was running a fleet combis, plying Harare- mt Darwin route. Sometimes I would drive. I always made sure that all the windows were working and were clean, because I knew that in this Kombi is a child who has the same many questions I had, but may simply not be asking. This is why I still wave at children, when in a bus or a car, because I know each wave carries a dream, and through a window, I urge the, on to pursue their dreams. It’s all a journey of discovery.
(c) Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, 2016