David Mungoshi Shelling the Nuts
The ripe yellow mangoes slightly camouflaged by the green leaves of the ancient mango tree were too tantalising to ignore. I closed my eyes and imagined the sweet trickle of natural mango juice on my eager tongue — warm, sweet and tropical. Such sweet healthy joy on my palate! But there was a problem.
We all get old somehow, if we are lucky. It is a natural process of physical and even mental degeneration, sometimes aided and abetted by riotous living over the years. Regardless of how deeply I craved for the mangoes, there was no possibility of my ever getting my fingers on any of them without a little help from someone.
The juicy mangoes hung loose from overhanging branches and their yellow hue made me so hungry and nostalgic I began to sing “Yellow Bird”, a Mills Brothers ballad: a song about being alone and forgotten, marooned as it were, in a sea of uncaring humanity. Nobody wants to know you when you are down and almost out, many a blues singer has wailed. All those years ago The Mills Brothers sang:
Up high in banana tree
You sit all alone like me
Did your lady friend leave your nest again?
That is very sad, makes me feel so bad
You can fly away, in the sky away
You’re more lucky than me
But my lament was to the yellow mangoes up my tree. My neck was stiff and my chest was congested. Not to mention my aching legs and stiff back — a hereditary nuisance from the ages.
As I stood there wondering what to do, rescue came. Clearly, others in the close had also seen the tempting mangoes. In true Ubuntu fashion, the young men from next door came over to talk, and after the round of polite greetings they asked if they could have a few mangoes.
“By all means,” I said cheerfully. They came in through the gate and one of them scampered up the tree with the ease of a monkey. He began to pick the mangoes and throw them to his friends below. His friends put the mangoes on the turf until there was a veritable little heap of goodness on the grass.
The young man in the tree came down and we shared the mangoes. I washed a couple of mine at the tap under the perennial shrub near the wall that separates us from the people next door.
I have sometimes heard people decry the manners of townsfolk and those of the “born-locations”, ill-mannered urchins with no sense of decorum, they call them. But as always, generalisation is fraught with dangers. You begin to assume that if one person is mean everyone else is.
The young men had rescued me and guaranteed that I had mango for lunch, like some tropical principal spoilt for choice.
The people in the close where I live are rather special. They care what happens to others. This is the close where the young men sometimes gather around near my gate just to talk. That includes the tall young man who played the alto sax in one of the songs that Oliver Mtukudzi did towards the end of his life.
He is a gifted boy with lots of determination and he has done lots of jamming with jazz artistes from around the world in exotic places like Maputo in Mozambique — the land of Eusebio that great footballer who dazzled the 1966 World Cup in England and scored nine goals for Portugal. And we sometimes talk music. I am curious about his choice of genre at a time when everyone wants to be a chanter and unless you’ve lived in the ghetto you don’t know where it’s at, they tell you.
The young people in my close make me think that we are all victims of hallucinations. The world is not overwhelmingly full of ogres. There are lots of good law-abiding citizens everywhere.
They smile, greet you and wish you well. And these youngsters never scowl at you ever. They smile and defer to you.
It is quite reassuring to walk around the block on your morning walk and have people ask after your health. I am beginning to feel that with time I should soon know whose child everyone is; like in the good old days when you met an adult who was a stranger to you and he gave you peanuts from one of his pockets. These days if anyone did that the inevitable question would be, “Why?” Too many people have too many ulterior motives.
With the kind of youths in my close, life can be a dream. Easy like a walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon. Here I know I’m never alone.