Title: Short Time
Author: Ralph Kadurira
Publisher: Mind Blower Publishers (2019)
THE expression, “short time”, is a catch phrase that quickly conjures up images of couples cavorting in the red-light districts of the world as moments of pleasure are traded with cash. Little time, if any, is committed to exploring the dark, underworld of sex work and its attendant pitfalls, particularly for those driven into the trade by life’s hardships.
Ralph Kadurira, who has carved a name for himself as a training and development expert as well as motivational (albeit he prefers the term inspirational) author, has gone creative in his latest offering, a novella. Stubborn flashes of the motivational writer, however, are still visible in Short Time, which seems to straddle both the motivational and fiction genres.
In fact, Kadurira could be breaking new ground here in that one even comes across referencing, which is traditionally a preserve of academic and, sometimes, motivational writing. This is hardly found in fiction.
But simply classifying this novella as purely fictional also poses interpretive challenges as it is based on a real life story. Those who attended the oversubscribed book launch last week were privileged to see the young woman whose experiences have been distilled into the book. Literature cannot get any more real than that. It ceases to be fiction and becomes realism.
The story’s protagonist, Thoko, born into a broken family headed by an irresponsible drunkard father before he divorces his wife, speaks to many a young woman who is forced by circumstances beyond her control to turn to prostitution as there is no chance whatsoever of succour.
This is after life under the harsh parental oversight of an uncaring stepmother has proved too difficult while her maternal grandmother, in whom her brother and she had found some loving care and comfort, dies after battling an illness that stalks old age.
To his credit, Kadurira’s book has expansive geography, with some scenes in the story playing out in South Africa. Through the characters of Priscilla and Sharon, who risk life and limb to cross the crocodile-infested Limpopo River seeking a chance at life in South Africa, we get to relive the distressing experiences that thousands of Zimbabweans had to go through at the height of Zimbabwe’s political and socio-economic turmoil of 2008. After being sexually abused by the amagumaguma, young men that help undocumented Zimbabwean desperados “jump” the border into South Africa, the newcomer (Sharon) is introduced to sex work in the notorious Hilbrow’s red light district that is dominated by “debauchery, prostitutes, drugs, strippers, alcohol, guns and loud music” (pp55).
Sharon learns that corruption is rife in the police force as police officers have their palms greased to pay a blind eye to the prostitution and other criminal dealings happening right under their noses.
Many young Zimbabwean women cross the border illegally on the promise of lucrative, well-paying jobs, only to find themselves trapped in sex slavery from which there is often no escape. The desperation is aptly captured by the bartender who tells Sharon: “Women charge 30 to 50 rand for a ‘quickie’ or what they call ‘short time’ depending, of course, on the days of the week, with weekends being more expensive. Most of the Zimbabweans I know here keep the work they do in South Africa a closely guarded secret back home” (pp56).
Meanwhile, Thoko, who has fled from life under her stepmother’s iron fist, casts her gaze on South Africa, which promises a better life than what she has experienced at home. After hooking up with a colleague, Sharleen, they devise a plan to travel without bus fare. Sharleen prostitutes herself at the border to raise money for food. The friendship, however, ends as soon as the girls cross the border and Thoko finds herself stranded.
Immediately, her vulnerability is taken advantage of by a young man who approaches her and promises her a job in eastern Johannesburg. Little does she realise that the young man is a kind of pimp, and all the money Thoko earns from the tuckshop job she gets ends up in the man’s pocket. Through conversations between the sex workers, the reader is drawn into their world and gets an insight into what goes on behind the closed doors.
The book, however, had a few wrinkles and creases that need to be smoothed out. These are minor deficiencies that can be easily cured through a cleaned up second edition after undergoing another thorough edit. Professional typesetting is also required to give the book’s interior an aesthetic facelift it desperately needs. But the jacket is on point as it succinctly captures the essence of the story.
To his credit as a first-time novelist, Kadurira writes in a colourful style using imagery and metaphor, which makes the book a quick, enjoyable read that one can zap through in a “short time”.