A tribute to Julius Chingono from John Eppel (published in Sonata for Matabeleland (Snailpress and Baobab Books, 1995) and in John Eppel, Selected Poems 1965-1995 (Childline, 2001))
WAITING FOR THE BUS
All along the road from Bulawayo
to Gwanda or Matopos or Vic Falls;
at bus-stops, lay-bys, under shadeless trees,
the people wait beside their bundled things.
All day long they wait, and sometimes all night
too, and the next day – anxiously waiting.
Waiting for the public transport to stop
and let them in and take them home. Waiting
with babies to nurse, children to comfort
and feed, chickens, the occasional goat.
They have learned to come prepared, with blankets,
izinduku, pots for cooking sadza.
Waiting for ZUPCO or SHU-SHINE, AJAY,
to get them to their Uncle's funeral,
their cousin's wedding, their baby brother's
baptism. Waiting with the new Camper Vans
cruising by. Anxious to be at work on
time. Anxious not to lose their jobs. Waiting.
They take their time now not by wrist-watches
but by the sun and the stars and the moon;
by the appearance of the mopani worms;
by the ripening of marula fruit;
by the coming of the rains. Not by bus
timetables but by birth, marriage and death.
And while they wait they count the jets that fly
to Harare and Johannesburg.
Liverish businessmen sucking whiskies
are in these jets. And Chefs with mistresses
wearing the latest digital watches,
Digital dolly-birds. All carry brief-
cases with combination locks, and next
to nothing inside: dark glasses perhaps;
and a newspaper to study the Stock
Exchange; something digital, perhaps, for
calculating profit . . . and more profit.
It's something for people to do while
they wait – counting the jets high overhead.
Often the vapour trails are the only
clouds in the sky. No Forex for buses,
They tell us, but the five-star hotels go
up, and another Boeing is purchased.
All day they wait; all night; long suffering.
And when, at last, a bus does stop, its tyres
are likely to be bald, its brakes likely
to be held together with wire, its body
battered, belching clouds of brain-tightening,
lung-collapsing smoke. Who's responsible?
"Not me," says the Chef dipping his fingers
in his girl-friend's cocktail, shifting his vast
belly, vast enough to accommodate
at least seven baby goats. "Don't look at
me," says the Managing Director, "my
bottom line is profit. I owe it to
the shareholders. Another whisky please."
And I don't think it is going to be any
different tomorrow or the next day
or the next. The time of sweet-becoming
is over. For those millions who depend
on buses, nothing has changed; only their
expectations have once again been dashed.
The time of bitter arrival is here:
not safe new buses, but the amassing
of personal wealth, the cultivation
of another crop of heroes. Street
names change, statues change; hotels go up, jets
go up, and the people go on waiting.