The Tale of the Last Coin

No man in Zimbabwe is as careful as the man who has a single coin for his return fare home. If you ever had a ‘get into town’ fare and a return fare only between you and nothing; you most probably know what I am talking about!
When you have a single coin or the equivalent of your return fare home only in your pocket; your mind is not at rest. You are obsessed about the coin. What if the coin gets lost? How then can I get back home? What if the conductor chucks me out or he decides to humiliate me? These are some of the endless questions that pass through the mind of a person who only has return fare home between them and poverty.
The further away your home is from town; the greater the anxiety hahahah! When you think about the distance to Mufakose; Glen View; Glen Norah; Westgate; you mutter a silent ‘yea though i walk in the valley and shadow of death i shall fear no evil…’ Your anxiety becomes unbearable and you become protective of your ‘coin’ like a hen mother broods over her little chicks. Stay in Hillside; Eastlea; Belvedere or Avenues and lose your precious coin for the return fare; no problem! You can gracefully walk home under the guise of ‘keeping fit’ and ‘burning a little fat.’
The anxiety kicks in the very moment on your journey to town when you tender the 1.00 bond coin to the conductor and you are waiting for your change whilst sitting in the backseat of the kombi. You become agitated when the conductor delays giving you the .50 bond coin change. It appears as if the conductor owes you some USD100.00 but alas; it is just 0.50 bond coin that he owes you but to you its everything. Before the money even reaches the conductor you shout; ‘ko change yangu conductor (how about my change Mr. Conductor).’ You cannot afford to trust anyone with your coin. If he says, ‘ndichakupai ndawana change,’ the wait becomes torture; you feel like you want to tear him apart; the only problem is that you are hidden in the back seat and he is ensconced in the front of the overloaded kombi with his behind protruding out of the window.
Finally after what seems like an eternity the coin is passed back to you. You look at it adoringly like its a pass mark after a very tough examination. Why not? Of course it is the only thing that guarantees that you get back home! It is indeed your last coin! You grip the coin with two hands afraid that it may slip away and fall into a dark corner and out of sight in the kombi. Just that thought of losing your precious coin fills you with horror. You grip the coin tighter until your hands are wet with sweat!
There is temporary relief when you disembark from the kombi. You gently put the ‘survivor’ into your pockets to relieve your sweaty hands but not without checking doubly that your pockets are not torn; lest the ‘survivor’ slips away through the torn pocket. You move around town doing your business but your mind is always alert checking your pocket now and then with military instinct just to see if the ‘jolly survivor’ is still in place. You avoid crowded areas and constantly pat your pocket for reassurance each time you feel or perceive a sinister shove or bump from a suspicious person. You walk with your hands in your pocket; not because you are a proud guy but just that you are protecting something important.
You meet friends and flash them a ‘colgate award winning smile;’ pretending all is well yet you are down to the last coin. Keeping up appearances! Self respect! Business concluded; it is time to go home. This time the anxiety cycle is worse. You go home early not because you got a life and death situation but because you are keen to avoid the rush hour. Yes the dreaded rush hour! Its time in Zimbabwe when kombis to Mabvuku; Dzivarasekwa and other suburbs charge double for the return fare. If you you leave around 3pm your 0.50 bond coin can get you home safely but if it gets to 4pm you will have to wait until peak hour is over around 8pm because during peak hour the kombis will be charging double the normal fee. You have no choice but to leave town early.
When you get into the kombi hustle free and wait for that; ‘batanidzai four-four sekugara kwamakaita vabereki’ but it looks like the conductor is taking forever to collect; you nudge him and say, ‘shamwari mari yako iyi. Yangu waionaka,’ in a loud voice making sure that the person seated next to you hears the conversation so that they can be a witness later on.
Once you have handed over the money; you can afford a sigh of relief until you hear the conductor say, ‘one asati andipa mari. Vabereki asati aunza mari yezvipo ndiani?’ The more times he calls out for the outstanding fare the more anxious you become and you begin sweating profusely with beads of perspiration covering your your brow and droplets falling to your collar. You will yourself to calm down knowing that it is only an old man who becomes jittery when dry bones are mentioned in a proverb! When the conductor like a drill sergeant; begins to scan faces for the defaulter and his piercing hawk gaze rests on you momentarily; moves on and settles on you again, you cross yourself like a Catholic and mutter a silent prayer in preparation for the impending humiliation. You feel like calling your seatmate to the witness stand to give a testimony that will exonerate you. You grow faint when when the conductor threatens to return fares so that he can collect individually from each person. By then you are now a nervous wreak, ‘what if somebody claims my coin and i be found to be the one who has not paid yet? What will that beautiful lady or handsome guy from my hood whom i have a crush on; who is seated two seats behind me say when I am identified as the defaulter?’ If you are a lady it is better; if the crush happens to crush on you too he will play ‘knight in shining armour,’ and settle the account for you; saving you from humiliation. If you are a guy and there is no one to rescue you (in most cases there isn’t) you brace yourself for vitriol and choice words from the conductor’s extensive bag of vocabulary and boy oh boy; the conductors have choice words; it is as if they went to the same school!
You relax finally when the outstanding coin makes its way slowly to the conductor but not without you handling the coin last just to make sure it gets to the conductor and you make a spectacle of it as if you are presenting a trophy; just that you want everyone to witness the official handover of the ‘last coin’ to the conductor. Afterwards, only then can you sit back and relax and nod your head in sync with lyrics of the ‘kanjiva song’ playing loudly on the kombi stereo and even mutter under your breath some of the lyrics; ‘aka ikaka…kozoti apa, ipapa.’
All in day’s adventure for the unemployed commuter!
Source: Benson Mupfurutsa

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