By Fred Owens
After the wedding ceremony before the Justice of the Peace, we drove back to 21 Shottery Crescent in the same order, Mr. Jones driving, me in the front seat, Mataka, Precious and Tanti in the back seat. It was a pretty car, but small. Precious's bridal finery took up all the room. It was a somber group driving back, as if we had done something important, something good, and something that could not be so easily undone, as if the continents themselves were bound together by magical strands, so we were part of that larger binding.
Or maybe we were just getting thirsty and it was time for a cold beer back at the house. Precious looked calm and victorious. Mr. Mataka was unusually quiet and somber. Tanti was smiling, like she always did. "These dress pumps I am wearing are starting to hurt my feet," she said and laughed. Precious said, but in Ndbele so I wouldn't understand, "I have to pee so bad I think I will scream." I heard her say that in Ndebele which I scarcely understood and made a mental note to find somebody, maybe one of her younger cousins, who might teach me that language. Frankly, Precious enjoyed speaking Ndebele in my presence as if I might not go there, wherever she was going. Her English was poor, along the order of "I want to watch TV," and "Are you hungry?" We had a mutual working vocabulary of less than 100 words, which kept us out of subtle verbal traps.
We got to the house and the fifty cousins gave out a cheer and Precious smiled broadly, such good teeth in her smile I had noticed many times. That was the life span of our marriage, those seven years, when she finally got tired of me looking at her. But she was so beautiful, what could I do? She married a mouth breather. I was always that way, still am.
We ate the cake, amid much cheering and shouting and the music got louder. Precious retired to our bedroom to get out of her bridal veils and into her new red dress, bought for the occasion and quite comfortable. Now it was done and we could get ready to eat the roast goat, which Joseph had been tending with slow-roasting affection in the back yard, under the guava tree.
The roasted goat was placed on the kitchen table and was quickly sliced and served. The beer flowed. Beer was invented in Africa some thousands of years ago. It is the home beverage. First the grain crops were developed, then, by divine miracle, the grain transubstantiated into beer. They should build a statue to the first African man who got drunk. We had a bottle of champagne but no takers. Wine, whiskey were offered but no, just beer and lots of it. And sadza, or pap, the heavy cornmeal porridge cooked to the stiffness of mashed potatoes. For flavor, add salt. People say that Zimbabwe once had an elaborate cuisine, but a century of British rule ruined it. The British built highways, railroads, and bridges, but British cooking destroyed the local palate. Still the many cousins were happy.
Mr. T and Smiley sat together on the upholstered love seat, not by choice. But they were brothers and Mr. T was the oldest and it was his daughter that was married. Smiley's daughter Grace was only eight and not yet ready.
But Smiley and Mr. T were in conference over the bride-price. Mr. T was short of breath and sweating, over-excited, it seems the money was not forthcoming. Smiley soothed him saying, "But he's white and we can't make him pay." Mr. T threatened to capture Precious and take her home because the deal was off. "I will keep her. She can find another man. This white man is nothing. I have seen this before." The cousins, rejoicing, established a cone of silence in Mr. T's perimeter. They could feel his volcanic eruption about to burst and end the party.
The newly weds huddled in the kitchen. "I'm getting bored," Precious said. "We are married now, so they should all leave."
"But you know they will leave when the last bottle is empty and the sadza is all eaten. Then Mr. T. can pile them all into the bed of his old green truck and take them back to Luveve. After they leave, we shall retire to the bedroom and drink the champagne. We are Mr. and Mrs. Owens now and forever," I said.
The next morning we got up and the house was a mess. Nobody cleaned up, but at least they all left. We were happy together. We began a period of domestic tranquility over the next six weeks. Nobody bothered us. We talked about going to Milawi for our honeymoon. To Chembe village, which was the ancestral home of the Matakas. It was Precious's true home and we must go there and talk with Amina.
"Who is Amina?" I asked her many times, because each time I asked she gave another answer. "Amina is the sister of Mataka. She has lived in Chembe village her whole life. She has never worn shoes. She has never sat in a chair."
The story makes a natural break right here. Precious and Frederick settle down for a few weeks of domestic tranquility. Meanwhile the folks at Frog Hospital headquarters -- Eugene and me -- are working on some changes to the format and content. Nothing too radical and we will be making mistakes as we experiment. So stick around and as we make changes be sure to send us an email saying if you like it or not,