I slide my back down an old Msasa tree, coarse tanned bark against soft worn cotton; sinking until I rest with my legs bent in front of me. Silt sand slithers like honey between my toes, warm still from the noon heat. Behind me the pecan nut orchid stands sentry – it’s trees a contingent of still figures dressed in a leafy grandiosity of emerald; a patchwork of soldiers sown like stitches along sloping fields. As the glowing sun sheds its final spectrums of light nimble beams tiptoe through the grass, their silent footprints igniting droplets of water that are splayed out across the freshly irrigated pastures. The evening breeze twists its warm hands past barbed wire fences and across hectare after hectare of land, brushing through fields and alerting indolent brown eyes. Bloated after a day of leisurely indulgence, cattle suddenly become vigilant in the fading radiance of the day. Awakened calves gambol unsteadily on feeble legs moving daringly through the grass, growing in confidence before snapping into a state of elation and becoming oblivious to the rest of the world, aware of nothing other than the uninterrupted motion of their feet drumming the ground and lifting up again- lighter than air. They dance a dance that is unreservedly enveloped in the entirety of childish immortality and in this moment I find myself caught up in their elation, the simplicity of happiness, the knowledge that right here, right now, everything is as it should be and my world is suspended in perfect equilibrium. The mumbling of a distant tractor and the chatter of Guinea fowls, sharp and distinct, are seized by the wind and threaded through the pecan nut orchid, the pastures, the tops of the Msasas; gyrating, fading and swelling in waves of authentic harmony. Soon the marabou stalks join in ceremoniously, lifting their hefty wings and taking awkwardly to the sky, majestic despite their unusual bulk. Like a flock of old men magnificent in their gawkiness, my eyes follow the handsome array of clumsiness shuffling across the sky, smaller and smaller and smaller… and I look away as the brilliance of the setting sun becomes too much for my inadequate eyes to handle.
Along the circumference of the pastures, between the verdant fields, past the closing farm stores and around the sturdily built brick offices surges a nutty-coloured road; a big conduit of dust, alive beneath the sinking ball of auburn. Fresh marks of tractors and trucks are embedded in the road, overlapping snake-like trajectories streaked across the plush russet surface; evidence of a long days work.
There is something inexplicable about being comfortable in the company of just your surroundings. A moment of intense and profound respect for nature that you are never taught, nor told about; stimulated by nothing other than a personal encounter of God-given awe. An overwhelming immersion of gratitude. And as I sit there beneath that Msasa tree, comfortable in my own company, my soul is on fire with a fearful respect for nature. . . every fragment of my surroundings suddenly ablaze with indescribable beauty.
I strain my eyes to the horizon and watch dust suspended in the sky like spray off a wave, hovering particles poised in the air, balancing on the sound of the ebullient hum of nesting doves and rustling grass, their waltz illuminated by the soft glow of dappled light cast out by the waning sun. I am transfixed by pirouetting tiers; shimmering, unstable, stirring. Drawn into a world of minuscule specs and mighty serenity; I am left with a full soul and a blissful, blissful vacuum of thought.
I hear the sound of rich laughter; figures of resilient men appear down the road, drawn as if by a magnet back home where rich odours of stew and relish escape large, heavy pots that simmer on outdoor flames. A man rides ahead on his bicycle, emerald overalls folded and tied loosely around his waist. The sound of whirring wheels as he cycles past is almost tangible, and lifting my hand to greet him, I am repaid with a white beaming smile on a friendly brown face. Others break off where small footpaths act as hidden tributaries, they lead to an oasis of small houses with clay walls and thatched roofs, patiently awaiting the their Baba’s return. Some men stay back, submerged in conversation. Their voices grow more audible as playful debates heighten, the authoritative pulsate of their national language, Shona, sounding like a throbbing drum between spouts of deep laughter.
Standing and dusting off my shorts, I begin to saunter home along the road that I know will only see rest once the buttery moon has displaced the buttery sun. I pass the workshops and catch a glimpse of uniformed trucks being put to bed just before the security guard slides the high metal gate closed; A brash resounding knock followed by sharp quietness. I close my eyes as I stroll further, soaking up the faint aroma of the gum trees that line the left side of the road like spindly towers ahead of me. Above the blanket of tranquility, laughter and playful shouts are audible. Children’s small bodies cast long shadows across the ground, a crowd is gathered at the a makeshift soccer pitch. Some youngsters are still clothed in their red and khaki uniforms while women stand blathering nearby, wrapped in Jade with Cobalt blue embroidery, wispy cotton with tones of yellow and sapphire, and one exotic auburn dress that mirrors the ginger tinge of the African soil. As I pass a group on their way to join the gathering, we all beam and lift our hands in the uniform greeting:
Three fingers raised.
I smile at the mutual understanding.
‘You, me and the farm’.
I look to the spot where the majestic Msasa once stood. This time there is nothing to rest my back against; instead, I sit beside a splintered stump and stretch my legs across the cracked ground. The surface is parched and as hard as granite beneath my feet, destitute without it’s old protector. The final rays of the rubicund sun spill across the land like thin blood. The fields once succulent are a dull brown shade, barely distinguishable amid the wild Zimbabwean grasslands. The only indication of the once thriving agriculture is owed to the disheveled remainder of a barbed wire fence, the firm contours now distorted in a drooping imitation of an abandoned clothesline. The pivot that used to boastfully bring fields to life stands a redundant monster, powerless and rusting in a meadow of weeds and sharp dry sward.
Where vehicles pressed tire tracks like fingerprints, all identity has been lost. Handed to the palms of time, who has fervently laced its hands across the land and left it disheveled and impoverished. Where edges of the road were sharp and defined, grass has asserted it’s spindly irksome power, and declared its pathetic rule. The quiet that surrounds me is disturbing; the drone of a generator draining the last of the water in a far away dam is all that remains perceptible. Laughter has evaporated, dried up with the rest of the land. Lost when jobs were lost. One or two cattle tread soullessly across the parched land, hip bones prominent beneath their stretched skin. Even the birds are discreet; mourning the ceremonious sunset that they know has been forgotten.
The old workshop lies abandoned and pitiful; a half-open metal gate with peeling black paint stands uncaring, exposing its insides to the callous world. I see neglected fragments of vehicles disseminated haphazardly across the ground. Their shapes transform into harsh silhouettes before my eyes as the sun begins to vanish. The smell of neglected machinery seeps punitively through my nose and settles on my tongue like a dirty ten-cent coin. Cold, bitter, metallic.
I look back at the burning sphere in the sky suppressing itself into the depths of the Earth as if trying to escape. Staring across the neglected land I recall the deep sensation of fulfilment that once enveloped my heart and now it aggressively changes it’s grip, no longer an embrace of bliss, rather a new uncontrolled strength pressing down with an unresolvable, nauseating sadness. One lone shiny Mercedes speeds past, flicking stones in its path, leaving fumes of dust in its wake. Then it is gone. I take one last look around at the flat landscape; it’s rude exposure; an ugly, dull vacuum that used to be filled with vivid shapes and colours.
Because there is no one around to recognise my greeting, I lift my face to the sun, the only entity that is unchanged.
And I hold up three fingers.