Zimbabweans it seems, are becoming more conniving and dishonest by the day. Gone are the days when the only people you couldn't trust were bus drivers and their conductors. Never mind that you pushed bucked and squirmed to get into their buses.
its been said that we no longer know how to get into a bus in a neat single file and that we wait till we are crowded around the door to begin shoving and heaving. I now have a 'pressure bag.' a sturdy grey Hoola handbag my best friend got for me some two years ago, it is deep enough to demotivate any pick pocket no matter how determined, and in a country flooded with Chinese products (from Dode and Kabana to Gogo Armani), my bag is very original.
many a time have I pushed my way through a wall of stale armpits, thighs crossed in front of me, loose clothing wrapped around my face with my handbag in tow (jammed between a very fleshy woman, mind you, here the word fat is used loosely and sparingly), jammed, as I was saying, between a fleshy woman and a determined pickpocket/thief/or sometimes even, an early human (an obscure American term for child).
On this morning however, there was no need for pressure. Fares had been doubled, and empty pockets and angry landlords decreed that Hararians wait patiently for the 7 o'clock chicken bus.
My sister and I however, got into the over priced bus, too late for work to care and mixed with that was that ever present aspirational need of mine again, to have people think that I could afford the fair, which I couldn't.
my salary was 10 days overdue and I had moved from using my own money to sitting-yes sitting- on my mother’s lap and reminding her that when I was a kid she had shipped me off to live with my grandmother in a far off communal land, only to come for me 1 and a half years later. at which point I had already started calling my Granma Mhai (mother) and my grandpa Baba (father), in imitation of her little brother my uncle. Mix that guilt with love and I managed to get $10 for the week.
So there we were P and I sitting in the front row, filled with a self importance that only a dollar fare gives you, when the conductor asked if we had all paid. Now usually what follows from the conductor in these situations, is a cold stare directed at the people in the back row. Lord only knows where they got this notoriety from. I have sat there many a time and never once did I feel inspired not to pay my fare.
On this day however, the conductor looked between me and my sister at the bespectacled woman behind us and asked her if she had paid. She, it seemed to me barked, "Yes!" in reply.
A statement that meant nothing, but managed to shut the conductor up.
I thought the matter had ended when a police officer who had been sitting quietly in a little groove at the back of the driver’s seat, leaned forward and said, "lady I have seen you before and this is not the first time you have done this."
What followed went something like this:
"I shall insult you"
"I will arrest you"
"What a lying officer you are, a disgrace to your badge"
"Someone with spectacles should be able to pay the fair"
"What a disgustingly horrid little man you are"
Face screwed in that impossible expression. Hat off in a bid to move his head closer in that cramped space. Heavy breathing, hot panting. Blustering and fumbling for words. On and on they went. I laughed. P laughed. The whole bus was in stitches. Five minutes later, the bespectacled lady was near tears... and so was the whole bus, mortification and mirth mixed together in that rare moment of national unity.
The officer finally disembarked, leaving that poor woman (pun intended) to deal with the sniggers and blatant stares of her fellow passengers, P and I included.
A comical start to a long day, thank you bespectacled, pockmarked and as it so happens, short little woman.