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Emmanuel Sigauke



Emmanuel Sigauke

Sigauke is a Zimbabwean writer based in Sacramento , California where he teaches English at Cosumnes River College, and Creative Writing (on a part-time basis) at the UC Davis Extension. He has published poetry and fiction in magazines like Tsotso and Horizon, The Pedestal, NR Review, The Rattlesnake Review, African Writing Online, StoryTime, artsinitiates, and others.. He is one the editors of these print and online journals: Cosumnes River Journal, Tule Review, Poetry Now, and Munyori Literary Journal.


 Cross Country

If you have been stuck at Birchenough Bridge for three days and a trucker offers you a ride to Chipinge, you will listen to whatever story or joke he tells you. The four days you have spent on the road trying to travel to work, but each time getting stuck in the middle of nowhere as bus after bus broke down, will make you consider yourself fortunate to be listening to the driver of a vehicle that’s finally taking you to a town near your destination. You don’t want to think anymore about how much time you spent on the road, and the many times a car stopped and you ran with others only to find out that that it was bound for Masvingo, not Chipinge. But when the truck stopped, the driver said he could only take one passenger, a man, and since you were the only man in front of the scrambling crowd, he signaled you in with a nod and a smile.

'A man for a change!' he said soon after he merged back on the highway and you were settled on the wide passenger seat which could have fit two more people.

You nodded, not knowing what to say at first, but managing to give a vigorous 'Yes!' which made you feel like you had become part of a special club.

He explained that he was tired of picking up women, adding, 'They are all whores!'

You said nothing in response but tried to show that you were listening with interest. You even managed to smile, to show him that you found his hatred of women interesting. That’s when his stories began to pour out and you listened, even though you would have appreciated some sleep.

You have been traveling for thirty minutes and he is still talking. The truck now rumbles, and belches as it goes up steep inclines, but when it sighs, you know it will fly again before it comes to another slope. With your eyes on the speedometer, you let your ears catch snippets of what the driver is saying and you don’t even react when sprays of spittle accompany his unguarded words and spatter your right cheek. You nod instead; nod, nod, nod, remembering to keep your smile. You are not interested in knowing who this man is — neither do you want him to know who you are, because everyone laughs at your kind these days.

Let him just talk.

'Don't listen to what they say about condoms,' he says, surprising you. But you want to hear what he is going to say regarding what they say about condoms.

'Don't listen? How come?' You pinch your eyelids to squeeze out some sleep.

'What do you think is killing all these young men?' he says, licking his lips.

'What?' You are fully alert now. As someone who recently buried two brothers, you want to know what’s killing young men nowadays.

'Condoms, of course!' he says, evincing an air of pride, of expertise.

'Ah!' you say, leaving your mouth open because you can’t think of what to say next and your tongue doesn’t seem decided, it lies limp in your mouth.

'You should know that by now,' he says. 'We were okay for centuries in this country, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have sex, you see? Now they tell us we have to continue using this rubber.'

You want to tell him that there is nothing new about using condoms. In fact, you want to remind him that this is 2009, to tell him that people have known about condoms for over thirty years in this country, but you remember that he is probably one of the people you have always known, two out of every four men, who say that you can’t enjoy a sweet while it is still in its wrapper. Some of them died a long time ago, so for this man to say that condoms are killing people is ridiculous, but you are just going to play along, agree with some of the logic, or all of it.

That is because you need this ride badly; if all goes well, you could have a bath and a long nap within the next twenty-four hours. If you get to Chipinge by 6 p.m., you can hitchhike to Rusitu, walk part of the way, and maybe arrive at the school by midnight. You are certain that after you miss a fifth day, they may start thinking you have quit your job. You can’t afford to have people think that way. So let this man spew his ignorance as long as he is helping you. But there is something you want him to tell you: 'So what's your take on condoms? I mean, seriously speaking?'

'They are a waste of my time; yours too,' he says, and he steps on the accelerator as if to prompt the vehicle's agreement. Which it provides, by lurching forward. Good. On any other day you would be against speeding, but this one is necessary.

'So you don't use them at all?' you ask.

'Never have, never will.' He accompanies each word with a shake of his head. 'Why do you think I am still alive?' He slows down the vehicle to look at you, then he turns back to the road again, and picks up speed.

'I am alive too. What point does that prove?' you say, sensing a tremor in your voice which you don’t want, so you lower your voice. 'I mean, I have used condoms and I am still here.'

'But the question is, are you really alive?' He lets out a laugh. 'How many chicks do you pick up on every trip?' He falls silent, scratches his bald head, then lights up and says, 'Oh, I forgot that you have nothing to pick them up with.'

And he is right. So you let that one go. The obvious cannot be debated. You try to think of the last time you actually had reason to think about using condoms, let alone sex. The thought of sex makes your neck stiffen and you feel a stab in your heart, then that persistent feeling of hollowness that has pervaded you for a long time.

You look at him for signs of the disease.

He notices. 'You see? Healthy like I was from the day I was born.'

You don't want to agree, nor do you want to argue with him. Not today anyway. Sit tight, let him be excited and speed. Perhaps if you get to Chipinge in one hour, you may even shop for some fruits at the market, something to show your housemates when you arrive at the school.

'You look healthy too; which means you see things my way, right?' he says, slowing down to let a bus overtake. How could he allow a bus, of all things, to pass him?

'I haven't had reason to use them in a while,' you say, and that's just the truth, naked as it stands.

'That's what I mean! Because, come to think of it, all my friends who used to distribute them are all history. Who knows what the Americans, the British, the Germans, these imperialists, who knows what they put in the condoms?'

He waits for you to react, but you really have no time to talk about anything that mentions Britain. You can’t afford to have the conversation veer into the Diaspora. No, baba, thank you. Let this stay on condoms only, please.

'It’s like the cholera thing. One day we were drinking our water and it was safe, the next day they say don’t drink your water; buy bottles made by some capitalists.' He pauses to maneuver the vehicle into the middle lane, to try and overtake the bus. Now, that's what you call driving. He flies past the sickly bus. You even try to gain eye contact with the driver of the bus, but even that attempt is too late. Your driver here is working, so you want to urge him on, to reward him with the assurance of an audience on his new topic.

'A bunch of capitalists controlling our lives, I know,' you say. 'You are right, it all traces back to the imperialists.' But he does not respond, so you decide to take the conversation back to where it began: 'I didn't mean that I don't use condoms per se.'

'Pese? What's that?' he asks, slowing down, but you will do anything for him to speed up again.

'Oh? I mean, I use them if there is reason to,' you say, and looking at his cheek you can see that the smile on his face has dimmed.

'So you mean you don't fuck at all?' He coughs out a laugh. You want to laugh too because you were not prepared for the word.

'Not at this time, I don’t ef,' you say, and yes, you know, it’s hard for a man to admit.

'It's not like you can choose not to,' he says, shaking his head, baring his teeth, but speeding up again, like the vehicle should agree with him on this point too. It just groans as it goes up another steep incline.

'I know,' you say. 'It’s hard for men.'

'So then what’s the matter? Are the goods out of order? They have pills for those things you know?' he says, and you start thinking that he is unhappy with condoms but he mentions the pills. You will let this one go, but he must know that the goods are still intact.

'I would of course, daily, but madam is not here,' you say.

'Sorry,' he says, voice lowering, which slows down the vehicle.


'Oh, I thought you meant she’s dead.'

'No, not that,' you say, and now you realize that somehow you have tricked yourself into talking about her. You feel a stab of pain in your chest again, a tightening of your throat, and you start chewing your lips.

'Then what?' he asks, with a sense of urgency.

'She’s away,' you say.

'Don’t tell me you gave her a divorce token,' he says, laughing.

He is really funny, this one. 'She’s in the Diaspora. UK,' you say. 'So about cholera, you were saying—.'

'No, not that fast!'


'Tell us a bit more about this madam in the UK.' He goes silent, but brings his hand to his ear as if to extend it so it can hear everything. You know you are not going to say much. As a rule, you don’t talk about that.

'She’s there; that’s all I can say.' Your dismissive tone surprises you, and you realize that you might have piqued his interest. And you have.

'Oh! Oh! Oh!' he says. 'I gave a ride to a chief! You have tons of hard currency, right?' He is getting the wrong idea now, you think.

'Not really; she works there, I work here. That's all,' you say, blinking to distract the wave of pain within. You can feel his eyes crawling on you. This man is judging you.

'But seriously, why would she matter anymore if you really want to see other women? Why put yourself in drought? It's not like she would care, especially since she already is there alone.' He bursts out laughing. 'You exported the goods, man!'

'And you mean what exactly?' Your voice is shaking; you never want talks about your wife to take this route.

'I know I laugh too much, but man, how long has the bitch been living there alone?'

'Well, first, she’s not a bitch, but to answer your question, roughly two years. I will follow as soon as the visa works out. It's harder for English teachers to go overseas.'

'You are a teacher too? Finish!' he says. 'How come she doesn’t visit home often?'

'You know they don’t let refugees travel back. Otherwise, what would be the purpose?' You pause as it occurs to you that he may not know this. 'Besides, I would rather go there first.'

'It’s good that you understand that you may never get to go. If I were you, I would move on with my life.'

He talks with a sense of finality and focuses on driving. Constant speed, but slower than you want. You know what to do, and you do it: 'Guess what though, I was at the Commission last week and things were not too bad.' And indeed, he accelerates as he gets ready to oppose that.

'Oh, I wouldn't spend any energy on it,' he says. 'Just get a whore and do your thing, and remember not to waste your time using condoms. Take it from a veteran.'

You have to make him understand one thing now. Ignorance might be bliss, but this one cannot continue to flap its wings. 'Guys, you have to be careful,' you say, and the banality of your words surprises you, but you go on. 'If you know you are not going to use them then why chase dresses?'

'I don’t chase; they chase me,' he says, laughing.

'Whatever, man.' You pause to catch your breath. 'It's not like you will die if you don't do it. Look at me — two years and I’m still okay!'

'I don't get it: so you actually meant that you don't attack at all?' His laughter this time is meant to hurt — it’s louder, and he leaves his mouth open to laugh again at the next thing you are going to say. You are shaking and sweating, and the sense of dizziness that usually signals that you are about to lose your temper creeps in. In fact, everything around you is getting smaller. So to protect your interests, you don’t say anything, but just chew your lower lip.

'If you need help to awaken the goods, I know someone. Get fixed, and get going. You have to have sex man.'

'That doesn’t mean that I just go around dipping without protection like a nincompoop. You get what I am saying?' You can feel your cheeks dancing.

'You are stupid!' he says, making the vehicle swerve to the left.

'You are the idiot, man!' you say, restraining your left hand from balling into a fist. 'What kind of man are you to be so dumb? Don’t you have a family? Grow up!'

'What?' he says, turning sharply to look at you. Judging by his tone, you are beginning to fear what he might do, which you hope he is man enough not to do. This is just a conversation.

'Repeat what you just said!' he shouts, and his voice is shaking.

You open you mouth, but close it promptly, as he suddenly tears across the lanes to the edge of the road. The vehicle had barely stopped when he reaches over you, opens the cab door and motions you out with a shaking finger.

'Really?' you ask, one of your legs already working its way out.

'Really, and I mean now! Chopu chopu, man!' He has now leaned towards you, while his right hand reaches in the overhead mini storage compartment.

'Fine then!' You grab your satchel and jump out, and before you can look up to shout an obscenity, something to hurt, the truck thunders away.

You stand there shaking and sighing. You are tired of these stupid truck drivers. Always taking advantage of innocent village girls. Spreading the disease and acting like they are made out of metal. Stupid people.

You sigh again, remembering that you need to control your temper. As the truck rumbles away, you see a wide, red poster that covers its back, which displays a familiar advertisement of a man and a woman leaning towards each other seductively. The woman’s right hand reveals a condom. Although you can’t see them clearly now, you know the accompanying words: 'No Protection, No Action'. You shake your head and let this incident fade with the disappearance of the truck; then you start walking up the road, looking for a bus stop.

This journey may take another day, if luck is on your side.

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