Literary Zone

Short Story by NoViolet Bulawayo

24 October 2019 at 21:03 | 1422 views

The Return

By NoViolet Bulawayo

Credit: The Telegraph, UK.

I am a proper jumble of emotions as I make my way from the Ethiopian Airlines plane into the arrivals lounge of Harare International Airport. It is only a brief distance, it being a small building, but the 13 years I’ve been away from home makes it feel like the longest and most difficult walk I can remember. Part of what weighs on me is that the way I had imagined this day, the way I had played it over and over in my head, the way I had fantasised it years and years ago, was different. Like, over there, on the second floor where family and friends wait to greet their loved ones, would be my father, my Pops, chest swelling with enough pride to make him explode, waiting to welcome his daughter. And with him of course the whole mkhamandolo – all his surviving nine children and their children, the extended family, some of the sons and daughters of my grandfather and his four wives, all my people, drunken on pride and joy – weeping like they’d wept that December 31 1999, when I left, but this time tears of happiness, of course, shrieks of laughter all over, handshakes and hugs, songs and stories.

But then the reality is nothing like I had imagined. In reality I walk alone like a true prodigal. I am coming like some disaster: unexpected, unawaited. Not a single soul at the airport could tell you my name if you paid them. Besides Knockout Thabs, my best friend from high school who is picking me up from the airport, nobody knows of my return. My homecoming will be a surprise – the whole surprise thing being something I never knew before I left Zimbabwe and have picked up during my stay in the US, like so many foreign tendencies that now make up my identity. Oh how it ticked me off, the surprise thing, when I first moved to the US: surprise birthday parties, surprise present, surprise trip, surprise this and that. So unnecessary, so pointless, trying to catch me off guard when you could just come right out and tell me upfront so I am prepared.

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And yet, here I am. Tired of the broken promises I suppose, after promising to come home and failing for years now because of one thing or another – finances nixing plans, my papers not secure enough to get me in and out of the country, or the unstable situation at home making it a bad time to visit – I have decided, out of guilt, to simply show up. It doesn’t feel like a bad decision, and having left home when I was a teenager, I feel so grown up doing things on my own terms like this.

I have never been to Harare airport before and so I do not recognise anything. Still, I am terribly aware of the wave of humanity around me; airport workers at various tasks, eager-eyed people looking out for their loved ones, travellers like myself and outside, a congregation dressed in white, perhaps waiting for an important church person. ‘My people, these are all my people,’ I want to scream, perhaps from the shock of being back home, perhaps from the joy of seeing the familiar rhythm of doing things; the poetry of the body, expressive faces, the thing without a name that speaks of home but I would never be able to explain. When I see a sign in Chinese, testament of course to the growing Chinese presence in Zimbabwe, I am a bit surprised, but still, I cannot help but laugh. This is a subject I treat briefly in my novel We Need New Names, and because my child characters – Darling, Chipo, Bastard, Godknows, Stina and Sbho – have been such an intimate part of my life for the past four years, to the point of almost becoming real, I find myself wondering what they would say if they were here with me.