Our rations of overnight snacks packed, our cold-water bottles stashed away, perchance some juice or can of Miranda, warm clothing and a blanket each, here Bible, there a novel in hand and DJ Mjoks on Esabantu radio station… my wife and I are set for the night of long queues.
MATHABELAZITHA/THE ANVIL BY ZIFISO MASIYE
Condemned to separate bedrooms tonight, each to their long-winding fuel queue, in the opposite ends of the City of Kings, we have sought comfort in the chill-pill, treating this as we do some of those dreary funeral wakes (which it is hardly different from) where, from either gender-camp of the house, man and wife mourn a dead body as they chat the night away on WhatsApp. Professions and careers are decidedly parked. We too partake and share in the grim humour and gross banter that the rest of Zimbabweans “queue-cumbers” have reduced their living misery to, an impoverished nation of glorified motley clowns.
The sheer banality of perverted jokes and crass double-entendre exchanging on social media points to a debased society in deep denial. Yet it does nothing to conceal the deep deposits of raw pain, resigned despair and muted anger that simmers in the heart and flows in the blood-veins of every citizen, in every queue, in every nook and corner of the country, pfee, pfar and pfoo alike!
You can hardly miss the unsaid story and personal jeopardy of each of the bemused citizens when, in sincere search for answers, they look deep in your eyes and ask “What really is happening to us and just when shall this end?” Although everyone offers some sort of answer, clearly, just as in those “uzimu” funerals none has one. My answer to my train of “queue–leagues” is captured on the evening bulletin, for its 10pm, and as surely as we wallow in only one of hundreds of fuel queues across the city, the super- corky ZBC reports, with unabashed pride that Zimbabwe has enough fuel reserves in stock for now and the next 90 days. Citizens, government reckons, have connived to imagine commodity shortages into actual reality!
Beneath the light-hearted exchange and social tete-a-tete, behind the creative invective and sly comedy, lies a discernible twisted psychology of real social trauma. My own story in the fuel queue tonight is only a tiny, if conservative mirror of the reality of Zimbabwe.
For, having queued all day to achieve the feat of clearing the truck, my wife and I need the diesel badly to get us across the border to spend, at least one normal afternoon in Francistown, feeling nearly like humans, buying some bread, some oil, some sugar, mineral water, a Coca-cola and the most ridiculous of basic groceries. Yet, should I be lucky to get to the tank by dawn and to secure the said allocation of 20 litres, I shall still need a benevolent Commissioner’s precious affidavit to scrutinise my CV and assess my need before registering my jerry can for another 20 litres and for the generator for home-lighting.
From her own slow petrol queue, after sending me a couple of hilarious WhatsApp gibberish about a husband, fuel queues and small houses, and about the new found safety of errant husbands from cooking oil burn attacks, I should have known and laughed my last because the very next set of “love bites” of messages are furious memos of “final demand” from city council and our daughter’s foreign university! As we cross over midnight and inched closer to the tank, she further punctuates the sleaze and social media hilarity with another couple of not-so-funny “love bites”. She is going to need time and God’s grace to raise a reasonable amount of Pulas for our shopping at the just emerging “mid-night” currency rate, while she has learnt that my old queen requires urgent medication for some ailment.
You see I had just spent a depressing day in a queue with mom’s 80-year-old frail sister, Juliet. She was very frail, ill-disposed and in grave pain. Having lost memory of stuff and the whereabouts of her I.D, the abusive dim-wits at Mpilo Hospital would not allow the obviously aged, ailing queen both her entitlement to free treatment and the obvious courtesy to skip the queue, even as she literally gasped for breath. By mid-day, seven patients before her turn to see the physician, having shoved and shifted on those hard benches since day-break, boom! came the bombshell. The discourteous nurse managing the queue announces curtly: “The doctor, like all other doctors in the hospital, is off to his private rooms for the rest of the day, he shall only see another two patients!” And off she vanishes.
Not just about my mom’s sickly, emaciated sister, but that huge waiting hall, packed with the most miserable picture of aged invalids, needy, groaning, helpless citizens in pain! The kind of television picture you associate with the worst pockets of human misery— Afghanistan or Bangladesh. It was that moment that grips and never leaves your mind.. and only two thoughts scream out: God, but why? And no, such is not a government!
Even in her frail 80s Juliet is the strongest most indefatigable woman-power I know. She confronted the white doctor and demanded to be seen in her eloquent, exotic English. And she had her way. One long list of medical prescriptions later, we bumped into decidedly slammed doors in just about every pharmacy. We joined the long queue at the only available pharmacies. Understandably none accepts the “bond paper”. The one that did rated at 12 times higher. Soon inevitably, we were at Zimbabwe’s permanent queue, the Western Union…the greatest indicator of our sick country. There to join a hundred more miserable faces that joke about their misery!
Back to my queue tonight. My brain spinning mad, with strings of depressing news from her phone — by 2:30am on the great advise of an experienced husband, the guy behind me… I decided I would report a dying battery to dear wife.
Sending my final message that I expected to be home by around 5am, I duly blocked her number and caught a nap. I woke up to chat to whoever made small talk and didn’t share any potentially depressing responsibility with me. Then came her retort, on unblocking… “Make sure to take Zothile to school, I will only get petrol around 8am! Love you!” In a week, a professional’s life can be consumed by four days of queue-time.
Apparently we have another four years of government in our bedrooms and Q-country!
Zii Masiye (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes elsewhere on social media as Balancing Rocks.