Masima Musodza

Herbert Wants to Return Home

‘It’s my boy; it’s Herbert!’ she cried, struggling mechanically. ‘I forgot it was two miles away. What are you holding me for? Let go. I must open the door.’
‘For God’s sake, don’t let it in,’ cried the old man trembling.
‘You’re afraid of your own son,’ she cried, struggling.

– W.W. Jacobs, The Monkey’s Paw

From Tobias Mutsepeshi’s Diary

18 October 2011
The last time I kept a diary, I was still at school, inspired by the story I had read of a man named Samuel Pepys who had lived in Britain. In my youthful fancy, I imagined generations in the centuries to come relying on my diary as a wealth of information about life in this one. However, I abandoned this enterprise after my English teacher found my diary and read out the portions about the girl I had a crush on to the rest of the class.
          Today, some twenty-eight years since I burnt that diary, I sit down to write another one. Today, there are new ways of recording events as they occur; Facebook, WhatsApp etc. But, I have turned the clock back to those days at boarding school, when we used paper. My hand aches, but it shall grow stronger; I have a feeling I shall have a lot to write about.
          Today, two men came to see me here in my office at my nightclub, Top Shottaz. One of them is a Zimbabwean, a police detective dealing with missing persons, James Muramba. His companion, Fr Alexandru Antonescu, is a Romanian, a priest of that country’s Orthodox Church. These two men impressed on me the urgent need to revive my career as a diarist, and to keep newspaper cuttings etc.
          Let me start with the two visitors.
          For two hours of every Tuesday afternoon, I am to be found here at Top Shottaz, outside Chitungwiza along the road to Kandava. It takes barely half an hour to have a look at the place and give staff instructions. The other two and a half hours are studying time for my master’s.
          This afternoon, Nonku, one of my staff, knocked the door and admitted two men, courtsyied and left without a word. I was left in awkward silence, as they seemed to struggle with an opening line. I was struck by a feeling that I had seen both men before.
          “Please, take seats,” I said. “Have you been seen to by Nonku?”
          “Well, we have only just arrived, Mr Mutsepeshi,” one of the men, the Black one, said. “We asked to see you and were taken straight up.”
          As if she had prescience, Nonku knocked again and entered, bearing drinks on a tray.
          “See how hospitable the varoora1 are here to visitors,” I said. “When you get paid at the end of the month, it would be good to revisit this place, now that you know where it is. This is where you can get a really cold one. But, don’t take my word, open these bottles and find out for yourselves.”
          Fr Antonescu set to, but Muramba’s hands remained on the edge of the desk. “Oh, are you the religious sort?” I asked.
          “Not at all. He’s the religious sort, he is a Romanian priest. I shall certainly be coming back at the end of the month, but I am on duty right now. I am a police officer, my name is Muramba. James Muramba. This is Father Alexandru Antonescu.”
          Father Antonescu nodded and smiled. He put his glass down, and obtained a mobile phone from his inner jacket pocket and placed it on my desk. I realised he had turned on the Voice Recorder app.
          “Mr Mutsepeshi, we shan’t take up too much of your time. I cannot ask you to not be afraid, but don’t think you’ve committed a crime. We came here to seek your help.”
          I forgot about my drink, and became more attentive. “Well, if there is any way you think I can be of assistance, I await your word. However, before you state your busiess, I have this feeling that this is not our first meeting.”
          “Yes, we have met,” said Muramba. “Your family homestead in Murehwa, at the funeral of-.”
          “-Hebert!” I interjected. And it was as if a cave of buried memories opened and the light burst through.
          It was not yet a year from the day word came that Herbert Mutsepeshi, my brother2, my uncle’s son, had passed away in the UK.
          All my uncle’s children lived abroad. Yemurai was the first to migrate in2002. Her two brothers, Herbert and Tofara followed in 2004 and 2007. The younger siblings did not manage to go overseas; Ngoni got a job in Botswana and Siphathisiwe in South Africa.
          Herbert, according to the doctor, died of anaemia. This shocked us all; it was the first anyone ever heard of Herbert having anaemia. The UK police were intrigued, and conducted a thorough investigation, and even though they concluded that it was all rather mysterious, there was no other possible cause of death.
          According to Yemurai and Tofara, when Herbert returned from Romania with his girlfriend, Delia, he felt unwell. He did not want to be in the summer sun, and covered even his face when he stepped off the plane. Delia was as perplexed as everyone else. This happened the day there were disturbances in London, which spread to other parts of the country, following the shooting of a Black by police, so Herbert, Delia, Tofara and his girlfriend, Ayisha, opted to spend the night at Yemurai’s flat. Herbert declined lunch, saying he just wanted to sleep. Later, when Delia went to check on him, the bed was empty. They found him in the ceiling, presumably the darkest place he could find. He was dead.
          As the eldest son of the Mutsepeshi clan, and a well-to-do one at that, I was expected to meet the cost of repatriating Herbert’s body so he could be buried at home. However, I kept my foreign currency in an offshore account, which wasn’t easy to access.
          Yemu was embarrassed by how she did not have at least her planefare, but she wanted to pay me back in full. I was touched; my other relatives feel entitled to my money whenever they want it. Tofara was unable to come over, even if there was plane fare, for he was a ghost.3
          Delia, Herbert’s girlfriend, surprised us with a gift of £5000. which she sent Yemurai. Delia had recruited Herbert to write the screenplay for a film she was producing, so that might have been his fee. The film was never made, and Delia vanished, but she is believed to have left the UK. Yemu used Delia’s gift to repatriate Herbert’s body. The rest of us had to meet the other funeral costs.
          But, an issue regarding Herbert remained. He left no woman; Delia, never having been formally introduced, did not count. She wouldn’t have ever been introduced anway, for Delia was older than Herbert. So, Herbert was buried with a rat, as is the custom, and we mourned that he died without issue.
          They did not know of Rangarirai, who lives with his parents not far from this nightclub. Constance, his mother had been in Form 2 at the school where Herbert had taught for one term. When she saw she was up the spout, Constance chose to move in with her steady boyfriend, Josphat, a conductor with a long distance bus company. Bus conductor knew Ranga wasn’t his, and he told noone.
          Dexter was the son of another student, Modesta, who was at a college near the offices of the newspaper where Herbert had worked briefly before its closure. Modesta opted to pin her pregnancy on Teererai, who came from a wealthy family, instead of embarking on the very difficult life of a writer’s wife, a man whose most prized possession was a computer. Modesta already knew about such a life from having two brothers who were writers. The fundamental rule of the dating game was; never stand on one leg. Unfortunately, Teererai’s mother was all too aware of the fact that the pregnancy’s term did not quite square up with even a rough guess of the time her son returned from Canada where he attended university.
          Modesta was not disheartened. The rule was do not stand on one leg, which did not mean stand on just two legs either. If you can get even as many as a millipede, then go for it. Boyfriend Number Three,Chiko, ran a small photocopying and typing business.
          As it turned out, Modesta found marital bliss with Chiko. Soon after moving into his room at the back of a house in Sunningdale, Chiko began to make a lot of money in illegal satellite dish connections.
          I chanced upon knowledge of Dexter when Modesta’s sister married a cousin of my ex-wife, Lindi. She called me to report that at Sekuru4 Nkosi’s wedding, there had been a young boy who bore a striking resemblance to our children.
          I was the only member of the family who knew of these boys. I had kept it to myself, hoping that the owner of the stories would tell them to the rest of the Mutsepeshi family. But now, Herbert was dead. Indeed, I should have never let my brother be buried with a rat when I knew he was the father of two sons. Yet, that is what had happened.
          Last month, it emerged that Herbert had also impregnated another girl from his neighbourhood, one Natalia Kadoro. This made lurid reading in all the papers, as Natalia had lied to the man who had married her that he was the father. Jackson Gwitima is a prominent businessman, I am friends with his older brothers. He was really hurt that 10 year-old Rhianna was not his.
          According to many sources, Herbert and Natalia had gone steady for some time, and talked of marriage. She too had dreams of becoming a writer. But, it was considered unacceptable that a girl like Natalia could be seen with a guy like Herbert. He soon got tired of being her dirty little secret and dumped her, unaware that she was with child. A few weeks later, Herbert was in the UK. Natalia married Jackson Gwitima.
          Last week, Natalia brought Rihanna to our home5. They were accompanied by her brother, Victor. Mr Kadoro is a doctor in the UK, he came back to his native land under a project by British-based medical professionals to offer people in some of Zimbabwe’s poorest areas free medical care. My uncle, Baba vaYemurai6,wept to see his granddaughter, and said all Herbert ever wanted was a place to call home, same as anyone else on earth. Truly, we had all frustrated him. To blame Natalia for keeping her daughter’s paternity a secret, we would have to forget that society would have never allowed her to form a family with Herbert.
          We spent the rest of the day looking at Herbert’s things; newspaper cuttings covering his budding career, magazines with his short stories. Rihanna perused these, eager to learn as much as she could about her father.

          Today, I have broken my silence about Herbert’s children because they have everything to do with the visit by the two men earlier.
          “You came to Herbert’s funeral,” I said. “But I did not see you leave.”
          “Yes, we did not bid anyone goodbye,” Muramba said. “Our purpose in attending the funeral is the reason we left so soon, and now it has brought us here. However, in order to best tell it, we have to talk around it a bit longer before finally striking its head!”
          I could only stare back, trying to imagine where this cop was going with his story.
          “I will start with the priest beside me,” Muramba said. “Fr Antonescu is part of an organ of the Romanian Church that conducts secret investigations.”
          “Secret investigations? Meaning what, exactly?”
          “There are things that happen, that need a thorough probing, and the facts established, before the Church can communicate its official position. There are also events which, even when the facts have been established, it is deemed best they remain shrouded in secrecy.”
          I can’t say I grasped at once what this detective was trying to put across. “So, what does this have to do with Herbert? It was from Romania, wasn’t it, that he returned ill?”
          “Yes, sir,” Muramba said. “However, what is unknown to both UK and Romanian authorities is that Herbert fell with a terrible misfortune in a forest near the small village of Onisie. Their car got off the road, and the couple saw a man try to force his way in. The man fled when he saw the crucifix hanging from the rearview mirror…”
          “Fled when he saw the crucifix…?”
          Muramba did not seem to have heard me. “Herbert came out of the car and followed the strange man into the forest. It was dark, but there were lights flashing between the trees. Delia waited for Herbert for some time, then returned to the small village they had left behind to seek help. When she returned with two men, they found Herbert prostrate beside a path in the forest. He looked unhurt, but there were two puncture wounds on his neck as if he had been pricked twice by thorns or bitten by insects. From this evening, Herbert’s health waned. He found food nauseous. He found sunlight unbearable, that it literally burned him. And he felt weak.”
          “Symptoms of anaemia, right?” I said. In my heart, I wanted so much that the catalogue of Herbert’s symptoms were indicative of anaemia. I wanted so much because, although I hadn’t heard the crux of the matter, I already felt my skin crawl.
          “The forest in which Herbert was found lies in the feudal domain of an ancient family called Hollókő, ever hear of them, Mr Mutsepeshe?”
          I shook my head. My unease abated, but did not go away altogether. It waited, arms outstretched, ready to grab me and drag me into an abyss.
          “The Hollókő family distinguished itself in war, particularly in Romania’s long struggle against the Ottoman Empire. But, they were eventually blotted from national memory, amidst rumours that certain scions dabbled in the occult.”
          That unease cast a shadow again.
          “Although the House of Hollókő fell from national memory,” Muramba went on, “The Church kept an eye on its surviving members So, when Herbert had his incident, Fr Antonescu was notified immediately. But, when he got to Onisie, Herbert and Delia had already gone to the UK. When he followed to the UK, he found out that Herbert had died and his body flown home. And that is how I come into the story.”
          Muramba paused, then said, “ There came to my office a certain woman, Mrs Baloyi, to report that her husband, Brighton, did not return home from work the previous night. Brighton worked for International Bereavement Services….”
          “The firm that repatriated Herbert’s body!” I said.
          “Yes,” said Muramba. “Brighton received Herbert’s body. None has seen him since. Then, a man called Givecase Dzinoenda vanished from the squatter camp near the offices of International Bereavement Services. Dzinoenda is decribed as having dreadlocks…”
          “Detective, what are you trying to say?!” I interjected. “Are you saying we buried Givecase by mistake instead of Herbert?”
          Muramba paused and looked at the priest. Fr Antonescu remained silent. Muramba said, ”Yes. You did.”
          “Do you mean Brighton Baloyi placed Givecase’s body in Herber’s coffin? Why?”
          “He was acting on Herbert’s orders.”
          Now I could not even speculate as to what the detective was talking about. It occurred to me that I could be talking to someone with a mental illness.
          “Mr Mutsepeshi, your brother Herbert is not dead, but he is not alive. He is now a predator that walks the night, and hides from the day. He has inherited the ancient curse pronounced on a certain Romanian prince; May the earth never receive your body. Herbert was bitten by a vampire in a forest near Onisie. Today, Herbert walks this land as a vampire,and drinks the blood of humans, turning them into accursed creatures like himself.

19 Gumiguru 2011

I did not sleep at all. I went through the papers Muramba and Antonescu left me. Each wad, when taken on its own, meant very little in connection to the shocking story the detective and the priest told me last night. Herbert’s death in the UK. The disappearance of Brighton Baloyi paInternational Bereavement Services the night Herbert’s body was brought in. The reluctance to return to work of the gatehouse attendant, claiming that a strange man with gleaming eyes had stared at him through the window and pleaded to be let in. The disappearance of more people, beginning with Givecase Dzinoenda. Those who were found displayed symptoms associated with anaemia. If you put together the stories in these papers, even if you regarded yourself a modern person, above common superstition, you would see straight away that there was a frightening myster. Even the scandal about Natalia’s child occurred at the same time that many residents of an illegal mining settlement where her brother had come to provide free health care were beginning to exhibit the onset of anaemia.
          Muramba and Fr Antonescu suspect that Herbert sent Victor Kadoro, Natalia’s brother, to Romania to summon the senior vampire from the Hollókő family. So, they are both keeping a close eye on all entreports, missing persons’ reports, and the onset of anaemia. It is impossible for them to enlist other people to help them. The people of this land must never know that in their midst walks a vampire, looking for a place to call home. According to the papers given to me by Muramba and Antonescu, the vampire Hollókő met his end on the 4th of October 2011.
          But, Herbert really? Is this really your end, to become a vile creature, wandering the land in search of people to suck their blood like a mosquito. When I think of how he grew up, it is painful.
          Herbert was a clever young man. But, he wanted to be a writer. Such ambitions were unconventional in the Zimbabwe of the ‘90s. Very few parents understood how writing short stories, plays etc could possibly become a respectable career like becoming a manager, secretary or a lawyer, requiring some sort of training. Perhaps this mentality came from the fact that no one in our family, or any of the other families we knew, had ever pursued such a career. Remember that when our parents grew up, the highest a Black person could ever be was a headmaster or a nurse. So when any of our generation wanted to be a writer, singer or actor, that was seen as a sign of an inclination towards dissolution. As if this, wanting to be a writer wasn’t enough, Herbert embraced the Rastafarian faith, also associated by an uninformed society with juvenile deliquency.
          When I consider this, his relocation to the UK was better than holding on, getting knocked back everywhere he turned, in the land of his birth, which had no place for him. But this is not how one returns home, a monster, a vampire! Is this what the elders meant when they said that the young people who had gone abroad returned home no longer human?

27 October 2011
Today, I got a call from Sekuru7 Tirivashe. A family meeting had been held, and it had been agreed that a kurova guva8 be held for Herbert next August. I am surprised by this; we last held a kurova guva when I was a pre-schooler. Who had come up with the idea? Uncle Tirivashe said it was Natalia who had requested that the kurova guva be held, for the sake of her daughter. But Mainini9 Mai Yemurai is said to have declared that she wanted her child to rise up and look after his child. Babamunini10 Baba vaYemurai seems against it, but is powerless before his wife.
          I have discussed this with both Yemurai and Tofara. They too are surprised that we would think to revive a custom that has not been seen in our family for a generation. But they see it as something a grieving family might resort to. Perhaps this is how the custom of kurova guva began- a family hurting over the loss of a loved one might imagine a ritual to bring them back. Yemurai wanted to attend her brother’s kurova guva. This meant she had to start saving now for the ticket.

30 October 2011
Today, I passed by Natalia’s house in Avondale. There was no one, the place was locked. I asked several neighbours. It has been at least two weeks since anyone saw Natalia and Rhianna. I checked at school. Rhianna has not been attending classes, and the headmistress was most concerned. I rang Muramba. The detective and priest were in the countryside, hot on Herbert’s trail.
After Rhianna’s school, I passed by Natalia’s house again. I stared at the gate and tried to imagine who could tell me where mother and daughter were.

3 November 2011
Today, Detective Muramba and Fr Antonescu came to my office at Top Shottaz. I told them about the proposed kurova guva ceremony. raHerbert.
          “Is it possible, when you have the wrong person in the grave?” Muramba asked.
          “Why not?” I replied. “We will be evoking our Herbert, from wherever he is. He will tell us what he wants, what he is unhappy about with regards to…”
          For purposes of the Fr Antonescu’s recorder, Muramba translated. I saw the blood drain from the priest’s face, till it was grey. Muramba nodded his head as if he suddenly realised what had agitated his companion. “Mr Mutsepeshi, who is pushing for the kurova guva to be held?”
          “Natalia, the mother of the daughter he left.”
          “Natalia, the sister of Dr Kadoro, who fled this country afour months ago and was arrested when he reached the UK?” Muramba asked. “So, Herbert left a child?”
          “Herbert left three children,” I said.
          Muramba thought for a moment. “Yes, he has the right to become a mudzimu. But tell me, Mr Mutsepeshi, have you ever heard of the idiom; to evoke a ngozi11 thinking it is a mudzimu ?”
          “Yes, detective,” I said. “But I don’t see how Herbert’s kurova guva has anything to with his vampirism.”
          “Did you not read the write-up on what we know about vampires? Did you not see where it says that the deceased who becomes a vampire cannot enter a home unless he has been invited first. Then, he can come and go as he pleases.”
          “You mean to say….” It was my turn to feel the blood drain from my face.
          Fr Antonescu replied in English. “You must abandon this kurova guva. Herbert seeks ways to return home! If you call him into your homestead, you will have summoned a monster from the spirit world! Your home will be the seat of an evil yet unknown in this land.”

1. Literally “daughters-in-law.”
2. ChiShona does not have a word for “cousin,” the sons one’s father’s brothers and one’s mother’s sisters are also “brothers.”
3. Illegal immigrant (slang).
4. Can also mean “grandfather.” In this case, the son of one’s mother’s brother.
5. “Home”, or kumusha in ChiShona and ekhaya in SiNdebele refers to the family seat.
6. “Father-of-Yemurai.” In Zimbabwe, adults are usually addressed by the names of their eldest children.
7. “Maternal uncle.”
8. A ceremony to evoke the spirit of a deceased to become a mudzimu, a guiding ancestral spirit mediating between the living, and the chain of preceding ancestors up to God.
9. Literally “Junior Mother.”
10. “Junior Father.”
11. A vengeful spirit.

Comments are closed.