Why Do They Call Me Zodwa?
By Fred Owens
But Precious and my daughter Eva did not look alike. Except for the matching green shorts. There was just the two of them -- two very important women in my life, playing dice with my heart. I feel like I could have described Eva better.. I'm reading short stories by Somerset Maugham and every story starts with a description of the main character -- full lips, sallow skin, perfect teeth, a stiff back, stern icy eyes. I wish I could do that. But all I can do is write Eva, you know, Eva, my daughter, can't you tell what she looks like? Can't you imagine what she looks like? Can't you fill in the details yourself?
Precious never hinted at wanting to go to America. It was after we got married and I began to feel very homesick that I asked her. Do you want to go to America, and she said yes. That was the whole conversation. But I warned her it can get very cold and there are way too many white people there. But then we went through the visa process, which took a few months but was not terribly complicated. It turned out to be much simpler that we had married in Zimbabwe. The US recognized that as a legal marriage and Precious was eligible for a green card. So then it was just a matter of assembling documents -- which is not that easy in Zimbabwe. Then a criminal background check. It seems Precious had once gotten arrested for assault. Gosh dear, how did that happen? I asked her. Other complications too. Basically once we decided to go back to the states it became inevitable and she never bugged me about it. I figured if she could take the rafting trip she could handle a trip to America. And I wanted to go home.
The truth is that Precious, when I met her, was simply not fitting into life at home. She was at loose ends. No husband, no home of her own. Like she really didn't belong there, like she had some future but she didn't know what it was. Then she met me. She was my trophy wife, sure, but looking at it from her side, I was the horse she rode in on. It seemed like a good match. She lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania now. I have not heard from her in several years.
She had a daughter age ten, named Bathabile, who lived with Precious's uncle, in a very nice but modest house. It was a good home for that child who nevertheless felt somewhat abandoned by Precious and not on my account. More than once I told Precious to bring Bathabile around thinking that she would become my step daughter. Bathabile would visit us for a few days, but then Precious would send her back to the uncle. The maternal connection was not strong, but in such an extended family not necessary. Precious herself was raised by her grandparents.
I'm forgetting, her name, Zodwa, or Zotwa. You can spell it either way. This was not her legal name, but her family name. I never used it. I tried calling her Zodwa a few times, but then she would give me this look, like a laugh with half a quiet snort. That's the you wouldn't understand look. I explained this a little bit with the skin and the hair. I could understand black skin, but I could never understand black hair -- unknowable. Not in this lifetime.
Same with her family name, Zodwa, which means Too Many Girls. The name was Mr. Mataka's idea. He named her Zodwa. Let him explain this in his own words:
"You see, I had five daughters, all good children, Molly, Margi, Jennifer, Janet and Winny. And four sons, Peter Lovemore, Smiley, Milton and Ronnie. That was my family and my wife was Grace from down by Plumtree. She was a fat woman and very strong. People see my first daughter Molly and ask how she got so big. They didn't know Grace. Grace was too big even until she died. When Grace died her people in Plumtree came to Luveve to claim her body to be buried. You see, I never paid all the lobolo for her. This is how we do it in Africa. You pay for your wife. But I never finished all the paying so they came and took her back to Plumtree. She is buried there.
"Then my children grew up. Peter Lovemore was the oldest. His wife had a baby, which is Zodwa. Too Many Girls. Because I wanted a boy. I had five daughters. But I wanted my first grandson to be a boy. So I named her Too Many Girls. And she is my first grandson, like a man in strength. Like a strong boy growing up. This is how we do things in Africa. You understand?"
No, I did not quite understand, but it wasn't like I was going around taking notes. I just saw what I saw and heard what I heard. I hardly believed anything. Mr. Mataka had a strong grip on reality, and we were sitting together in the shade of the mango tree in his front yard in Luveve. But his reality -- sometimes it didn't make sense.
They all called her Zodwa. That's who she is. And no secret, just not easy to understand.
Note. Roger Barcant grew up in Trinidad, went to college in Toronto, where I met him years ago. He made a career and a family in London and he has become a devoted follower of this African story. He asked me the biggest question that I have heard from any readers about where this story is going. He said, "Can you tell us how you got from Precious to Laurie Moon?" That's a big one. Laurie Moon is my life partner of nine years. She is the beach bunny I've been searching for all my life. And she is now outside watering the flowers at her home in Santa Barbara. Precious was my second wife. I have been writing her story because I want to redeem my emotional investment. For years, after the divorce in 2004, I thought to myself that marrying Precious was the biggest and most expensive mistake of my post-50 life. But I did not like looking at this so bleakly. It seemed I got nothing out of it, which is why the working title of this story is "I wish I had never gone to Africa."
I figured that if I could at least get a good story out of my year in Africa, then we could say I redeemed my investment. Yet I paused. There is nothing new or unique in the story of my African venture -- white man goes to Africa and gets involved with a native woman. And I have to admit, while I have enjoyed very much the writing of this story and many readers have encouraged me to keep going, that there is nothing new here. It's an old story, told once again. But I like old stories, don't you?
So, how did I get from Precious to Laurie Moon? Stay tuned and you will find out.
The Pandemic Blues. It's getting to me these past few days. I'm slowing down in the writing. I'm about two thirds finished with this African story. Maybe fifteen more episodes. The wedding, the trip to Malawi and then we get her visa and head for the states. Good bye Mr. Mataka. Good bye Mr. and Mrs. Elephant. Good bye Mr. Dhlwahyu -- I has happy to be your neighbor and give you fresh strawberries. I can see that day coming, the last day in Bulawayo, heading out to the airport, and now Precious started to get excited because we got to the airport two hours early. Taking off for Jo-burg on her first plane ride. Cool as a cat. Then waiting in the international lounge in Jo-burg. We took the escalator, which terrified her...... The airplane she could handle, but not the escalator. It goes on .....