The Madding Soldier

He picked up stones and tins and added them to the assortment of things in his dirty sack. He spoke to himself. Stories from another world far far away. He took no notice of the people that stopped and watched him. They were all mad. He smiled as he rummaged through the bin at the corner of Chancellor and Herbert Chitepo street. He picked a piece of rotting chicken and munched happily as he walked towards the State House.

He was a soldier. A soldier of Zimbabwe. A man who had sacrificed everything for the fatherland because once he believed in the cause. The leaders had told him of the honour of fighting for the freedom of his own people. Freedom that would ensure that we would all be equal and we would all enjoy the milk and honey that flowed in the motherland. Edgar smiled as glimpses of the past flicked past in his mind. They were all that was left. He had lost his life, his sanity and all that he believed. He was a madman now. He smiled. Mad! The voices began speaking to him again. Interrogating him about the things he did not remember. Who had killed Tongai? When did the old man change? Was it after Tongai died? How did he get here? There were no answers but the voices kept screaming the questions. The more he tried to find the answers the worse the screaming got. What did these mad people want with him? He started running; he wanted to escape from them. He was running, running, running away from his mind. The voices grew louder and louder as he increased his pace. Now they were just screams and no words. He started screaming. When he came to where the soldiers stood on guard the voices stopped.

He looked at the soldiers holding their automatic weapons ready to fire and felt warmth inside him. Something was familiar about these young people. They looked about the same age as when he returned from the war. How proud he had been to salute the old man in his new ZNA uniform. For the first time he was not a terrorist but a soldier. A soldier of Zimbabwe. There had been another war against the enemies of Zimbabwe who had started a war in the south of the country. They had ruthlessly silenced the rebellion. Then five years into independence he started to lose it. The voices started and they would not leave him alone. They took him to hospital but things got worse until they told him that it was no longer possible to allow him to carry a weapon, so he was ‘demobilised’. How he wanted to be a soldier! He went to his village in Nyanyadzi, where for years things did not improve, and then he came back to Harare, having lost it completely, and started living on the street. He had lost count of the days, months and years as they flew past. For a moment his mind cleared as he watched the soldiers. Instantly he knew that this was where the old man lived. He stood at attention and saluted the soldiers. His rags flew in the wind but he stood resolutely at attention waiting. He started singing one of the songs that they used to sing in the war, ‘Pane nzira dzemasoja dzekuzvibata nadzo

… (There are ways in which soldiers are supposed to behave).

He sang it with much vigour and feeling believing every word that he sang. As he came to the end of the song he saluted and said, ‘Sir!’

‘Stand down soldier’ One of the soldiers said laughing.

He relaxed, picked up his sack and crossed Chancellor Avenue towards the officer dressed in the green army suit and white gloves who stood in the guard house outside the State House.

‘Stop there or I will shoot!’

Edgar stopped. He was confused. Why would a soldier want to shoot another soldier? Maybe it was him who had killed Tongai? He hesitated and then took another step forward.

‘I said stop there! I am not kidding. I will shoot you.’

‘I just wanted to ask whether this is where the old man lives.’

‘No old man lives here. This is the State House. Go and mad somewhere else.’

‘The State House? So this is where the leader lives.’

‘Go away old man. I do not want to hear your madness.’

‘He was there. I held his hand in Mozambique. He came to see the soldiers and to tell us that we should be prepared to die for our country because the revolution needed us. He was a humble man. Does he really live here?’

‘What are you on about old man? Now get on your way before I get the rags off your stinking body.’

‘I bet the food they eat in that house is better than what they serve at Enda Wadya restaurant. On which side are the bins?’

In spite of himself the soldier smiled. This one was really a mad one. His radio crackled and a voice said, ‘His Excellency will be leaving the house in ten minutes. All officers are to be in their positions.’ The radio crackled again and died.

‘Time to go, old man,’ the soldier said as he rudely pushed Edgar across the street and then walked back to his post and stood at attention.

Edgar walked away feeling rejected. He could not understand why these soldiers could not allow another soldier to see the leader. The leader was never like that when he came to see the soldiers in the camps. Maybe he had changed. He was still standing across the street when the convoy of cars left the house and drove towards KGVI. Somewhere in those cars sat his leader. Edgar was mesmerised by the number of cars that went with the leader. So, he had really changed! Then pictures from the camps scrolled past in his mind and he smiled as the Supreme Commander of the forces shook his hand. The sound of the songs and drums as the soldiers danced, before the commander gave his speech, echoed in his mind and he started singing again. He was transported. He was still in another world when he felt a hand grab what was left of the collar of his clothes. He was pushed to the ground and his skull hit the hard pavement with a thud. He saw what appeared to be a smile cross the face of one of his attackers before a heavy boot covered his face and knocked him senseless. He could feel his mad head swimming as the soldiers took turns to kick him. Their voices and laughter turned into the voices in his head. Screaming and interrogating. The kicking did not stop. He felt something hard hit his shoulder. It was like the butt of an AK rifle. Another blow from the hard thing broke his arm. He screamed and the voices screamed louder.

‘What do you want here?’

‘Who has sent you? Are you Morgan’s messenger? You look just as mad as he is!’

‘Another kick hit his ribs and made him cry out. His voice cracked as he moaned from the pain.

‘We are going to kick sense into you. When we have finished with you there will be no madness left in your dirty head.’

He stopped screaming and just took the blows stoically. He could not understand how soldiers of Zimbabwe could do this to a black man. Smith’s soldiers kicked people for the fun of it but his mad head could not fathom how soldiers of Zimbabwe could kick a man for wanting to see the leader. A leader for whom many had died. The pain sedated him and he slowly faded into unconsciousness.

The soldiers continued to kick and scream at Edgar’s body. In the cover of darkness they drove him to Hatcliffe where they dumped him at the bus station. His dirty clothes were covered in blood and his broken hand hung awkwardly. He was found hours later by some people who heard his grunts from the ditch and took him to the local church. The reverend there was known for helping people in distress. Father Pio took Edgar to the police. After a thorough interrogation the police informed him that they had no fuel and that the phone at the station was not working so they could not call an ambulance. They gave him a letter to take Edgar to hospital. At the hospital, he was only attended to after Father Pio had paid the deposit and filled in forms committing to pay the full medical bill. Edgar had lost so much blood that he was having hallucinations. The nurses and the doctors fought hard to keep him alive.

The voices kept screaming at him and interrogating him as he swung between semi-consciousness and unconsciousness. The funny thing was that the questions had changed. He kept hearing the voices screaming that he was a traitor, a terrorist. They accused him of wanting to kill the leader because he had been sent by Morgan. Then he was back at Tembe shaking hands with the leader. He felt proud to be shaking the hand of one of the great leaders of the revolution. When the leader spoke, all of them were impressed by his eloquence and knowledge of the people’s history. He was urging them to go and fight because the fatherland needed them. Punching the air with his fist, he declared that he would never ever rest until the land had been returned to the people and a people’s government had been established. Then the scene changed again. He was back again in front of the State House. Someone grabbed his throat and threw him to the ground and the kicking started. The kicks continued amidst shouting and screaming.

The thud of the soldiers’ boots on his head turned into a throbbing headache as he finally regained consciousness. He was surprised that he was in a bed. He could not remember the last time he had slept in a bed. He turned and felt the cast on his arm. Then the reality hit him. The soldiers at State House had kicked the life out of him. He could not believe that he had been so stupid to go near the leader’s house. Everyone knew that the leader no longer spoke to ordinary people. He was His Excellency now. His Excellency did not see soldiers, even the men and women whom he had once called soldiers of Zimbabwe. He could have been killed. It was a miracle that he had survived. As this realisation dawned on him the voices in his head disappeared. It was as if they had been lifted from his mind, leaving it clear. He struggled to sit up and then started singing. His dry, parched throat hurt but he kept singing,

‘Pane nzira dzemasoja dzekuzvibata nadzo


© Gabriel Gidi


One Comment on "The Madding Soldier"

  1. Charlotte Harris on Mon, 29th Jun 2009 5:41 pm 

    It’s really good!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>