When I started writing this, it was going to be about something else. Sometimes I do that. I just get on my laptop and start writing anything that comes to mind. And then after a few lines, all the rambling makes sense and moves in a coherent direction. I guess that’s what’s happened here.
I think a lot about the impermanence of life (I think a lot about a lot of things – in that regard, Fungai wasn’t such a bad name to be given!) and sometimes it saddens me no end. But in other moments, it allows me to reflect; yes, life is not forever, but in many ways, it is about forever. Our physical bodies may not live forever (depending on what you believe in spiritually, or otherwise) but I do believe that what we do, our deeds, do live on. Just as I am alive, so too are the deeds of many who are dead who impacted my life.
Life is not wasted.
The great William Shakespeare once said of life;
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
From reading this, it would appear that Shakespeare was a pessimist. But I beg to differ. He seems to have understood it perfectly; life is a shadow of the spirit and the self. It is vapid, formless, signifying nothing. And yet it is a reflection of what is substantive and eternal, which is living. Once more, I invite you to use whatever spiritual or aspiritual lens you choose to understand this.
Besides thinking, I am also blessed with a fairly good memory. And this is where the thoughts expressed above meet with the article you will read below – the memory of a man who every so often visits my thoughts. Today, I just thought about him and couldn’t shake off the desire to remember him. You see, in this world where the heroes of the day are men and women who do something mighty and momentous, I just want to remember a simple soul who did something that still warms my heart almost 20 years later.
Through his deeds, he lives beyond his death. And through my words, he can live for you too. So here goes the story;
I am not sure I ever knew his real name. Even when I speak of him with my sister, we refer to him ‘Mr Cheapway’, which is a bit funny. He was a taxi driver when I was a little girl many years ago. He had a battered old Datsun with the words ‘Cheapway Taxis’ printed across its sides, hence his nickname. That Datsun chortled and coughed along its way almost as much as Mr Cheapway, a man in his 60s or 70s; a heavy drinker and smoker, but always somehow dependable to pick you up on time should you need his services.
In my child’s mind, I thought of him as a granddad. An animated, cynical yet funny sort of granddad who complained about anything he could, from traffic to prices of food to life. I always enjoyed my rides around town with him and he became our family’s favoured cabby in times of emergency.
Once, when I was 10, I left my school bag at the bus stop. I had fallen asleep while waiting for the bus and when the juddering of its engine roused me from my dreams, I managed to get excited enough to board the bus and forget my bag; yes, my most precious lime green and pink backpack containing all of my exercise books, text books and stationery. I was mortified when I made the discovery and even more mortified when the bus driver refused to make a U-turn to return to the bus stop.
Drenched in tears, I got off the bus upon its arrival in town. My mind wasn’t quite functioning right but rather than run to my mummy with this (I reckoned she would either be in a work meeting or fall into a fit of rage, or both), I chose to run to Mr Cheapway.
“Hesi mwana,” he croaked when I materialised at his car door. He always parked his car in the same spot so it was easy to find him. As usual, he was sucking on a cigarette with a newspaper spread across the dashboard.
I heaved out my story and cried some more as I told it, imagining what my mother would have to say about me losing so many things in one go.
In no time, it was resolved.
I was in the back of Mr Cheapway’s car and we were driving off to the bus stop just outside Townsend High School. He didn’t reprimand me or ask how it had all happened, or even how I could have been so careless. I suppose being who he was, he’d had many similar incidents in his own life. He simply drove, his eyes focusing on the road from behind his thickly rimmed glasses, his foot pressing insistently on the accelerator.
But his heroic efforts were in all in vain; by the time we arrived, the bag was gone. And there was only more misery to be had.
Mr Cheapway wasn’t the emotional type but from my wailing, he knew I was hurting. And that’s when he called one of the sweets vendors sitting at the bus stop and paid for a few lollipops for me. He must have accompanied the sweet treats with some words of consolation, but I forget the details now. I just remember the tear-blurred memory of red rectangular lollipop heads, wrapped in clear cellophane, drowning with his tobacco browned palm.
He then drove me back into town, all the way to my mum’s office, telling me to clean up my face and forget about crying. The walk upstairs to my mum’s office was long and lonely but she didn’t scold me when I told her the story. While this was a relief, it still wasn’t comfort for my little aching heart.
But later that evening, a girl called our home to inform us that she and her mum had found my bag with all my books and pens and pencils intact! My mother called Mr Cheapway to inform him of the good news.
We travelled with him the next morning to get the bag.
It only occurred to me after everything had been resolved that he hadn’t gotten paid for running around the previous day. He’d simply acted. My mother insisted on reimbursing him for his efforts, but he declined, reassuring her that I was as good as any of his other grandchildren.
Mr Cheapway died a few years later. But I always remember that Thursday afternoon, especially when I am in Bulawayo and pass the taxi rank where a battered Datsun – filled with the smell of alcohol and tobacco – used to always be parked.
Thank you Mr Cheapway for setting the challenge to a young girl to do the same for another person in need one day.
We shall always live, if we choose to live within our deeds.