“Chakafukidza dzimba matenga,” (Families are families by concealing the bad and the ugly), Diko’s uncle muttered grimly. He had finally decided to lift the lid on the matter of his nephew’s identity – something that had been kept confidential for more than two decades. The nurse walked in with a sphygmomanometer in her hands, but Diko kept his eyes fixed on his uncle’s pallid face, waiting to hear more of the interesting topic his sick uncle was airing.
“Excuse me, time’s up. The next visit is at 6pm,” the nurse declared as she placed her utensil on the bedside cabinet next to Reuben’s bed. Diko’s uncle, Reuben, had been diagnosed with cancer, and was undergoing chemotherapy treatment and a series of check-ups. His face was pale and he had lost not only his appetite, but weight and energy as well. Sadly, tests revealed that the cancer cells had spread throughout his body and the chances of remission were slim.
Diko gazed at his wristwatch which read 4.03pm – already three minutes past the end of visiting hours. With a poker face, Diko sighed and obediently stood up from the steel and synthetic leather visitor’s chair. He grabbed his uncle’s hand, kissed it and whispered a brief prayer before he left. So much ran through his head. Three years earlier he had turned 21 and no one had been there to bless him with the key. His mother had passed on in a road accident in 2004, barely five months before his 21st birthday. After her funeral, Diko had immediately moved out of the two-roomed house they’d rented and gone to stay with his Uncle Reuben.
His uncle had two children, Kabelo and Lizwelethu. Kabelo was 18 years old and Lizwe had recently turned 16. Both Diko’s cousins were excellent learners, and were always first in line to receive awards at school. Their mother had developed a mental illness in November 2002 and had been admitted to the Ingutsheni Hospital for Mental Health. Reuben – in his early 50s – had been relieved of his duties at the shoe manufacturing company in 2006 due to illness. The benefits he was offered were quickly depleted due to medical bills.
Diko had travelled about 70km from Somerset, a farming area where he stayed with his Uncle Reuben during the holidays. He could not afford to come back to the hospital any time soon from their home due to financial constraints. He knew no one in Gweru city who he could sleep over at if he opted to return for the 6pm visit. It had also become very scary and risky travelling after dusk as the Mabhemba killers were rampant, butchering innocent people in cold blood. With these factors facing him, he had no option but to return home while it was still light.
Diko walked to the nearest bus stop, confused and concerned. Immediately he jumped on to the bus and left. But, at the back of his mind a question kept knocking: When will I visit my uncle again? A loquacious drunk guy seated at the back cracked jokes all the way. Passengers laughed and giggled, but Diko sat in his seat quiet as a mouse, staring through the window into the world that was full of unanswered questions.
“Ngatiburukei vabereki, ndirori dhorobha reGweru kune vasingarizive,” (Let us get off the bus, we have arrived in the city centre of Gweru, for those who may be new or who may not know) yelled the conductor as he collected fares from the passengers. Diko immediately pulled back his wandering mind, dug into his pocket and handed over a few coins to the conductor as he jumped out of the bus which was already moving into the loading bay. He pushed through the crowd, and as he did so, a certain pickpocketer snatched his Nokia 3310 phone from the pocket of his flight jacket. As luck may have it, Diko’s phone rang summoning his attention to it. Fearing mob justice and realising Diko had seen him, the pickpocketer dropped the phone and fled from the scene. Diko restrained himself from screaming for help and simply picked up his phone which was buzzing on the pavement.
It was an unknown number calling, and he hesitated before answering. The female voice instructed him to return to Gweru General Hospital immediately. He wasted no time, and within minutes was in the next bus heading to Senga. About three kilometres from the bus rank, the bus ran out of fuel. This had become a norm with the buses – the operators would load the bus with passengers, even when the fuel gauge indicated very little fuel. They would then collect the fares from passengers and fill up with fuel. The conductor informed the passengers that he was going to quickly get fuel, then they would be on their way.
As there was only one kilometre to go, Diko decided to walk back to the hospital, but when he got there, the visitor’s registration process was extremely slow. After half an hour of waiting, he was allowed in but needed to wait in the foyer for the nurse who had phoned him. The wait was longer than Diko expected. Eventually, he recognised the nurse whom had attended to his uncle walking towards him. Diko started imagining his uncle in a coffin, going through the funeral process, and a life without a guardian to take care of him and his cousins.
“Welcome back Diko.” The nurse greeted him as she extended her hand. “Here you are,” she said handing over his identity card. “It was on the floor in the ward. It must have fallen out of your pocket,” she added.
A grin lit up Diko’s face. He clasped his identity card and placed it in the inner pocket of his brown jacket. He checked the wall clock and it read 6.45pm – only 15 minutes left of visiting time. Diko curiously requested to head straight to the ward to see his uncle.
“Yes sure, hurry up. It’s almost time.” He found his uncle in a deep sleep, and wondered if he should wake him up or let him rest. Even if he did wake up, there was little time to talk. He moved carefully away from the bed, turned and walked away.