My Name is Mutambo
Edited by Prof. Mbulelo Mzamane.
My name is Mutambo Owere’u’Chere and I come from streets allergic to sleep, where men slave to impress cashiers at liquor stores and married women are forgotten tools left to rot.
Mafriend, I come from a place where children are drug lords and alcoholics, and where to be hip, mabrada, is to sign a contract of cancer, even though you are squared. Forget the Coca-Cola pop star, welcome to the local-street fashion pop-idol, where Diesel and Levi’s battle until eyes are blinded and original copies are no more evident, FONG KONG mabrada! You don’t know what’s FONG KONG? It’s fake man, common!
Mafriend, I come from a place where ladies our age speak only when they see a cellphone and car keys. Figure this out. The other time I met this beautiful young, not-so-dark complexioned, tallish female, with the body of a model and hips to cause interminable traffic jams, just to look at that cat-work. With the eyes of a vicious wolf about to launch on its prey, I stared at the African princess as the phly sister approached, in broad daylight as if picking the perfect time to get me hot, women! Out of all these employed not-so-slim pricks, standing at the bus stop, she decides to approach me. As the most beautiful thing in this world approaches, walking ever so gently, I start to sweat, temperatures reaching improbable levels. When she urges out the words, ‘Sorry bhuti, ngicela isikhathi,’ my tongue feels missing and all I can murmur is, ‘My name is Mutambo.’
Then I quickly recollect pieces of my shattered pride and tell her the time. Just as when she is about to give up her name, some black stinking brotha rocking a Polina yomtchwatlho, driving an ‘inside story‘, steps out, and calls Miss Face of Africa over to him like he knew her. And wena mabrada, let me tell you, the chick even confesses that she doesn’t know le tsotsi, as the beamer slowly approaches. Next thing you know, she’s all over the man, just because she has seen a Nokia 8850 and a gusheshe, mabrada! Sies!
Mafriend I come from a world where public boozing and smoking are the only ingredients in a wonderful recipe of life, where a man is not judged by his actions but by counting the words he speaks, because you might earn yourself an ass-whipping if you miscount your words, wena mabrada! Like this other time not so long ago wena de outi, when I got caught in a ruff situation with some other danda-head at some urine stinking corner, blazing fire. Brotha is a good man, decent fellow with one problem, blackman claims a lot. Well you know me mabrada, I love challenging a man’s mind, so we argued ‘n argued. The argument was hot enough to melt cheese. Then disrespect for one-self gave birth to vulgar and offensive words. For a minute everything went dead quiet, until your friend Mr. Maclaimer spoke crab about me. Thought I heard nothing! Well, in less than two minutes the brotha had turned into a pillar of embarrassment, after he earned himself a flying brick over the face. He threw a punch across my face in return, but its impact felt softer than a baby’s heel, god-dem! Then a couple of guys stopped us before we got ruff ‘n tumble.
We are living in high and rough times mabrada, where smoking ‘marijuana’, ‘chronic’, ‘blunt’, ‘weed‘, ‘ganja‘, ‘intsango‘, ‘matekwane‘, ‘grass‘, ‘the green stuff‘, whatever you may call it, is so hip even doctors think it’s cool mabrada, everybody smokes it to oblivion. But don’t think that’s the universal view, wena mabrada. You see, in these streets that never sleep, mabrada, the Tsipa Operation keeps people like you and me, mafriend, constantly under surveillance, you know. Ha! Ha! These Tsipa people are ordinary people from the streets like you and me. Some of them are neighbours and others rejects that have become volunteers because they have nothing better to do at home, so they chant the streets looking for someone to legally harass, mabrada, and embarrass over a spotja. Give me a break!
One time the Tsipa people nearly took us. Night time in the blistering cold at a corner, mabrada, so dark the eye could only admit a human’s simple shaped body. How they saw us, mafriend, till this day I still don’t know. They came from all directions, hidden by a corner shop, camouflaged by the night and soon they were all over us. All I heard, mabrada, was a deep voice with a very harsh tone, ‘Letha lentsango, seniboshiwe.’ They went with their procedure of assuming-the-position, you know, as we face the outside wall of an empty school we were leaning against, our hands in the air and our legs spread out open for a firm search. But the merchandise had already been escorted out the scene by Mr wind, but they still wanted our names. ‘My name is Mutambo,’ in a co-operative tone, no mistakes, because these volunteers have an ego problem.
Mafriend I come from a world where every township street has a history that’s buried at every corner. Around here there’s only one corner that keeps unforgotten files of heartless criminals that have walked the same streets you get black-outs on, every Friday night. But don’t worry ne, khululeka, these are my streets, even strangers at night know, you don’t cross lekasi without something bad happening to you. Forget the jacking or stealing, I am talking witchcraft, mabrada, one of the most valuable gifts to Africans from the almighty, given to us to heal ourselves but which revenge and jealousy have turned into an evil and destructive force. I tell you, mabrada, a black man is capable of anything, like you see the face of a dead man and bury the corpse, after 10 to15 years, out of the blue, a man you saw being buried shows up at the door, asking for a glass of water, because memories can never die, facial expressions of this stranger convince the eye that this is the man you last saw in a coffin, years ago, and he’s alive, has been alive for years working for the man that stole his mind, soul and body from his family, now the question is how? I don’t know mabrada, dintho tsalefatse that no scientist can explain.
You sit there in your luxurious home with a flat-screened top of the range TV and a fridge packed with food, and read newspapers about our fight for survival out here in this concrete jungle where monkeys only come out at night but wolves hunt for their prey in broad daylight and hungry lions fight each other over a bone. Please, mabrada, watch yourself when you are drunk and walking like a mayor, because labo tsosti abathandazelwanga.
One Friday, I was looted and planning to go crash the dollar in a pool of booze, mainly Gin, LEVI’S 501, makgona tsotlhe. I stepped in and scoped the steeze around with a binocular’s view, same-old faces, same old chickens I see in the morning before they act like models. In less than 5 minutes, already the gin was talking, and it was not even half way. We kicked the funk all night at this shebeen where young people, and sometimes, s-o-m-e-times! old-timers appear to steal the juice from the young not-so-full-of-silicone and fat thighs, fresh blood, mabrada!
My goal for the night done, all seemed to be fine for all of us, except this one brother who was so drunk, he was puking and walking, at the same time, disgusting ne? So we marched the streets at midnight, when walls have ears, street-lamps are eyes, and only then, the streets are alive, watching every move you make. We went to the sneymaan, mabrada! Got there at about 2am, when everybody was asleep, including the dealer, but when more than three men are drunk, forget order, corruption and havoc is reality, then we got hooked-up and proceeded with our mission to the corner. One of mapeople gets me informed about these local monkeys who followed us to the corner, hoping they can shut our phones down, dem! So we give our phones and bling-bling to maboy, and stash them in his crib, because he lives close to the corner where we were nearly victims of crime, so, like veterans of the block, we stand and show these local monkeys who followed us to the corner that we are not afraid of them, mabrada. A man you know, chilled with, smoked with and hooked up chicks with, turns into a stranger and asks a funny question like, ‘What’s your name, bra?’ Crazy people only show their true colours after dark. What’s my name? Kiss my ass, black man! Anyway, I say, ‘Mafriend you know me, everybody knows me, my name is Mutambo.’
Have you ever been to a hospital, mabrada? You’re asking, mabrada, what happened to land me in one of the biggest hospitals on the continent, near where I grew up? Well, one Monday afternoon of October, I got into a very fierce fight that took me to hospital for a whole term, my face was badly bruised and my ribs were injured to the point I was allowed to eat liquid. My friends and I were playing soccer, yes don’t be shocked, I played when I was a bambino, they used to call me Jomo. I was fat and chubby but made wonders on the pitch and was heading in many winning goals. My opponents began to take a trip down jealousy lane and started using my Nigerian accent, because back then it was thick, as a catalyst to start a reaction. Then one of them started to push me around, calling me names, calling me this and that, as I recall, after I had stamped my authority with a hard rock on his head. ‘Izonya lentwana, bafowethu, asiyilandeni, bheki ikhanda lami linjani!‘ It’s better to be safe than sorry, I ran, I ran so hard the sun was behind me, but my feet were not long enough. As I was about to take the exit and make it home free, one of them caught me by the shirt. ‘Bhi, uyaphi, sani!’ My home was still some distance away and so it was pointless to scream for mommy. They all came running, dem, they got me, they beat me up, bruised my face, drove their feet into my ribs and scarred my pride. That’s what got me to hospital mabrada.
Have you ever been shot, mabrada? You’re asking, mabrada, how I was shot? Doing nothing out in these streets might get you killed, so first year after I dropped out of concentration camp, you see, school was just never meant for me, I got mixed up in a heist. There were eight of us and we took a cab to get to the crime scene, hoping to leave in a car, Fidelity Guard, government’s cash retriever from banks, schools, businesses, hospitals etc. We were in the cab as individuals, people who are strangers to each other. Everything was going according to plan.
8:45am we were all near the crime scene. 9am sharp the cash retriever from the government, a bottle-green van written in big, bold letters FIDELITY GUARD, takes cash out of the bank every Friday. It was there on time with money that can get me a jet specially designed by me. There was this white not-so-tall guy, wearing the normal brown uniform, with a face that shows he is not happy where he’s working, holding the bag that’s supposed to retrieve cash from the bank, and also packing a 357 black magnum close to his left hip, while two other men were guarding the root of all evil. Two of us mabrada went around the corner of the bank to attend the guard, after he came out with cash. We waited anxiously to shut him down, and while we wait, the others have already taken the cash out of the van into the other car and finished with the guards.
I have one of those faces that people recognise easily or mistake for someone they know. Some mad cow across the street from the bank calls me, thinking he knows me but actually doesn’t. Shit-head calls me just as we’re about to cripple the guard at 9:15am sharp, as he is coming back from retrieving the cash we dearly want. Maman with me is so shocked by this shit-head man who called me that he opens fire randomly. As I took the bag off his hand after he shot me in the leg, maman just got more mad, his fuse overheating. Seemed like one of the bullets had the guard’s name and that day’s date engraved on it, when it went for the guard’s head and you don’t want to know what happened to the cerebrum cortex, bra. Blood everywhere, so much, mabrada, the scene looked like a Tarrantino movie. Then maman helped me to walk the painful journey through town so we can reach the others in the getaway car, blood spilling in the street as we were walking, battling to try and keep up with the burning bullet in my leg. People we met were so terrified by the sight of blood that not even one approached to lend a hand and carry me across the street. Anyway, who in their right mind comes to the assistance of a killer and a thief?
The time was now 10:45am as we approached the car that had been anxiously waiting for us. Mapeople were shocked to see my shot leg, so they quickly took me to the hood and the nearest hospital. It took me eight long months to walk again, mabrada.
Eight months after, two men swing through my crib and start questioning my where about on this particular day, so I give them the answer they want to hear: ‘I was in town.’ ‘Doing what in town at that time of the day, and aren’t you supposed to be at school?’ Just told them politely that I had an appointment with the family doctor because I had hurt myself in school playing rugby. I had all the proofs, doctor’s note, x-ray, the receipt from the pharmacy for pain killers and anti-biotic pills, enough evidence to set me free from these detectives who only had one intention, to leave with me. But they didn’t, idlozi lami lingidele. ‘What’s your name, my son?’ they asked politely. ‘My name is Mutambo,’ I replied, outwardly cool calm and collected but boiling inside. ‘Sorry to bother you, young man, and we hope to see you as president of the country one day,’ talking with smiles on their faces and on their way out of my kingdom. President, me? Please! But what was annoying most was the nerve these guys had to budge in my dome and treat me like a suspect before they even asked for my name.
Sho! Mafriend, look at the time, I have to catch a jet back to planet Blunteck and cruise with trees, mabrada, see you around, budda, and watch yourself man, you might never know who is going to jack that platinum shiny wrist-watch of yours, laced with stuff that looks like diamonds. Are they diamonds for real? Let me see, mabrada, d-e-m they are, Africa’s treasure. How much did it cost? What! R10 000. Shit, give me everything you have, nja, NOW! Ang’sana ntliziyo tsotsi, quickly man! Mr. revolver has no patience and give me those shoes, its time you walked the earth bare foot, black man.