When growing up, well when I started my first grade class, I used to struggle to count from 1 to 10, but by the time I reached grade 7, I knew how to count up to 1000 000. 1000 000 seemed to be such a colossal number, and beyond that, it was a world of speculation. All the countries had populations that counted in the millions, then. 1000 000 000-00 came about in my secondary school years in the form of those western multinational corporations, which had net-worth in excess of billions of dollars. 1000 000 000 000-00 came about with the US budget, in the late nineties. All these billions and trillions of things were not appearing in my world of things.
In my world of things though there were the stories that dealt with figures, monetary figures, and this is the particular one that I remember. There was this man. He was a hard worker, and for years he had failed to break through in life. He had given up hope of succeeding in the country. He had stopped trying to change his situation. He left for South Africa with the intention of finding a better job or prospects there. He had to walk for three months to reach South Africa, which is how people travelled then. It was in the late fifties- early sixties- the days of the so-called Wenera era in South Africa, when the gold mining explosion attracted hordes of people from other African countries. So, when this man arrived in South Africa he tried to get a job, but failed. He failed to break through, again, and in a foreign land. He became desperate.
He consulted a Sangoma (a traditional faith-healer) and asked this Sangoma why things were not always working for him. He was told he was forsaken, cursed in life, was never meant to succeed in anything, and that he had to get help from other worlds to succeed. Upon which he was given this doll of a thing which he was told was going to help him in accruing wealth. He was told he had to feed this thing whatever it wants. But, first of all, that he had to take it with him to Zimbabwe, and do some appeasement ceremony to activate it into life so that it would start helping him accrue wealth.
Without realising what he was getting himself involved in, this man took this doll thing with him to Zimbabwe, and did the appeasement ceremony. It came alive as a Tokoloshi, and grew to about knee level. He named it "Matipedza". Matipedza (literal meaning--you-have-finished-killing-us) called this man "Father", and told Father to feed him on blood, any blood. Father went to his cattle kraal and killed a cow and gave Matipedza the blood, which he drunk. When Matipedza was satisfied, he started throwing up money, not blood. He puked lots and lots of dollars, all over the spare bedroom where father had done this ceremony, and where he was keeping Matipedza hidden from his wife and family. He had told everyone not to visit the room. He would also take the keys to this room with him, everywhere he would go, afraid that someone might try to access this room. Father didn't waste time counting the money. He simply collected it and locked it in a big black trunk he kept in that room.
There was this time, by the end of 2004, when my payslip reached the 1 000 000-00 mark. I had to withdraw, from the bank, lots and lots of bills to get by, just to procure some basic necessities. It reminded me of this story of the Tokoloshi that puked money. I could throw the money from my salary around my room and it would cover every surface in my bedroom like the money that Matipedza would throw up in that spare bedroom. But, like some elfin child of some sort, the Reserve Bank Governor of the country, decided to make me feel poor again, by slashing three zeroes from the currency, and hence from my payslip as well. All of a sudden, in August 2006, instead of getting 30 000 000-00, I only got 30 000-00. That couldn't cover every surface in my room, no. But, I never had an intention of getting a Tokoloshi to deal with this insult. I knew how dangerous those things were. I knew of the story of Matipedza.
Every day Matipedza demanded blood from the Father and the Father killed his cows. At first he kept as much of the meat as he could, but when the carcasses mounted he didn't know where to put all that meat. He lied to his family that some cow hustler was killing his livestock. Unfortunately, he hadn't foreseen the situation. Since he hadn't created a butchery shop he got overwhelmed by the situation. It also meant that he had to procure more cows to satiate the thirst of Matipedza. That created catastrophic problems. One day, when he had failed to procure a cow to behead, this Tokoloshi killed his first son and drunk the blood. Afterwards, he puked lots and lots of money. There was nothing the Father could do about it.
There was also nothing I could do about my zeroes as well. I used to console myself, that some day, if I become the governor of the Reserve Bank, I could correct this anomaly by claiming back my three zeroes. Father couldn't claim back his son from the dead. That elfin child, the Reserve Bank Governor, like the Tokoloshi, started twitching inflation figures. He would say it was 20 000% when it actually was 200 000 %. And Matipedza, when he had tasted human's blood started demanding more human blood every day. He killed the children of this man one after another. The Father didn't know what to do with this Matipedza. He couldn't buy back his kids with the money Matipedza was puking. So, he decided to visit another Sangoma, this time a Zimbabwean Sangoma.
He was told he had to take another Tokoloshi that would eat Matipedza. He would take both these Tokoloshis across the river and dump them there. The Sangoma told him they would kill each other, and that, after all, no Tokoloshis can be able to cross the river. This Sangoma knew they would, but he lied to Father for other reasons. This Sangoma had his own Tokoloshis he didn't know what to do with, so he figured it was an opportunity to do away with these. Father asked for three of these, so that they would be able to accomplish the job of killing Matipedza without fail. Father accepted three more Tokoloshis, which he took with him back home. The morrow morning he took these four Tokoloshis across the river, did an appeasement ceremony, and dumped these four Tokoloshis and crossed back over the river, leaving the four monsters to kill each other. When he arrived home he found the four Tokoloshis--waiting for him at the door. Matipedza was so angry with father. He slapped the Father very hard, bellowing in a huge voice, accusing Father of abandoning them.
"Father, why did you leave us across the river? Did you want to abandon us? Don't ever do that to us again, Father. Do you hear me?" Matipedza warned Father as he slapped him harder. Father had never been slapped that hard in all his life. He fell down on his knees and started begging Matipedza not to beat him again, shouting at the highest of his voices.
"I won't do that again, son... I am so sorry, son.... Please don't beat me again, please, please…"
"I forgive you, Father," Matipedza said and giggled sniggerly, and the other three Tokoloshis joined in, giggling in amusement and mirth.
"I want food, Father; I want blood, and I want Mother's blood, Father," Matipedza demanded.
"I can buy you a cow tomorrow, son. Won't you sleep without eating today, Matipedza my son, please?"
"No, Father. I am so hungry. We had to walk all the way from the river. I need your wife's blood, Father. Mother's blood will satisfy the hunger," Matipedza said as he licked his lips, salivating, moistening his dry mouth.
"Please don't ask for that, son," Father tried to plead with Matipedza.
"That's what I want Father, or else we will…"
"Ok, Matipedza, you can have my wife."
So, those Tokoloshis killed the wife of Father and drunk her blood throughout that night. Father didn't sleep that night, afraid that those Tokoloshis might come for him. He didn't know what to do with these monsters, as well. In the morning he put those Tokoloshis in the bag and told them he was going to his native rural home where the rest of his relatives were so that he could provide blood to them. When he arrived at the bus stop and was boarding the bus, he left the bag with those Tokoloshis outside. He was trying to abandon them, again. When the bus was leaving with Father, those Tokoloshis got out of the bag and saw the bus leaving, with their father. They started chasing the bus, calling the driver to wait for them. But, nobody could hear them. Father was happy he had done away with those Tokoloshis. But, they chased it for nearly five kilometres to the next bus stop. When the driver stopped the bus to collect some more fares those Tokoloshis caught up with the bus and, secretly--as invisible beings--they entered the bus. They came to where Father sat and took a heavy breath, and Matipedza whispered in the ears of Father.
"Topotcha tachara bapa (we were almost left behind, father)."
Father was surprised to hear Matipedza's voice speaking besides him. He knew he was in hot soup so he apologised quietly to Matipedza, begging him not to beat him, saying that he had forgotten to bring the bag inside when boarding the bus.
Matipedza said, "Don't worry, Father. We are now together, and that's all that matters. At least we are going to have a lot of food where we are going, Father."
Father whispered, "Yes, you are going to have all the food you want, son."
Those monsters giggled quietly to themselves.
As the Reserve Bank governor giggled with mirth at me, and as he would pile up insults on me in his speeches, in his operation sunrise programmes, his monetary talks--how much I had pined with revenge when those insults were being imposed on me, wily-nilly!
Every month, I would watch the zeroes returning back on my payslip. I couldn't help gushing with silent mirth when I hit back on 1000 000-00 again. It was a comfort knowing that there was someone out there who was working flat out to beat the elfin child at his game of zeroes, as well; but I still pined for my three zeroes that I felt were an inseparable part of my life. This coming back of the zeroes on my payslip reminded me of how Father was failing to dump those Tokoloshis for good. How Matipedza and his crew would find their way back to Father, after every attempt by Father to do away with them. Now, Father was on a journey, a wrong journey. In actual fact, Father was on his way out of the country. He was on his way to Zambia, though he had lied to the monsters and said that he was on his way to his rural home. Even though he had tried to abandon them at the bus stop, they were now with him again, on the bus to Zambia.
The zeroes kept accumulating, yet the Reserve Bank governor continued twitching inflation figures. When he felt he couldn't keep up with the inflation figures anymore he stopped pegging it, in July 2008, at 231 000 000 %. Like the elfin child that he was, all of a sudden he swiped off ten zeroes from the highest currency denominator. 100 000 000 000-00 dollars became 10 dollars. How spiteful he was! He was beating me on two fronts, and it eventually became so apparent to me that I would never be the Reserve Bank governor, I decided to take my revenge back through this story. Whilst I was writing it, I at first didn't know what punishment I would mete out to that troublesome child. But, like an inspiration, I realized I could return each and every zero he has tampered with on the currency! Once this was suggested I bent to it like a jack pine in the wind. I would search around for an independent institute that would measure the inflation figures for me.
For his 50 000 000-00 note, I am adding back the 13 zeroes so that it would read: Z$ 500 000 000 000 000 000 000-00. That means the highest note is 500 sextillion dollars. In my wildest dreams I never thought I would have this kind of revenge! It feels so beautiful beating him at his game of zeroes. Some institution, CATO Institute, thinking along those designs of mine measured the inflation figures. Here are the zeroes, no, no, no, not 231 000 000 %, after all this is not July, but December 2008.
How about 98 700 sextillion percent for the inflation! No. no. No, not in words, and here are the zeroes: 98 700 000 000 000 000 000 000%. Mind boggling stats! Eventually I will have had my revenge in full. I am sorry, it would seem as though I am crowing but this is the only revenge I could think of, since I would never be, in my entire life, the Reserve Bank governor, or to even hire a Tokoloshi to accrue wealth for me. I am only able to un-write all those lies he has made us swallow, all these years, by returning back all the zeroes.
Matipedza had had enough of Father's lying, as well. So, he confronted Father when he realised, as they approached Chirundu border post, that the journey home was becoming a journey out of the country. He and the other Tokoloshis became visible to the people in this bus journey, and Matipedza asked Father in a high voice, so that everyone in that bus heard him clearly.
"Father, I am now hungry, you have been lying to us that we are going home when, in actual fact, you are taking us far away from our food."
And the other Tokoloshi said, "Please Father, tells us who in this bus we could eat, we are so hungry. We haven't eaten for the whole of the day, and now it's nightfall."
And yet another said, "We are so hungry, Father"
Father tried to talk silently to Matipedza, but the people on the bus heard him well. "Please son, don't ask that of me. We will find food where we are going, please be patient with me, son."
The people in the bus knew what was happening, so they asked the driver to stop the bus. Then, they asked Father to leave the bus with his Tokoloshis. But the Tokoloshis refused to leave the bus. They knew that if they left the bus they would be defrauded of their food. They started strangling, and then gorging upon a young girl nearby, guzzling her blood in the sight of everyone. The people tried to beat those monsters off the girl but they were slapped hard by those monsters. The people on the bus, including the father of the girl, left the bus in a stampede, afraid they would be the next to be eaten; they left the girl behind being eaten by those monsters.
When they were out of the bus someone asked the people to help him in pushing Father, who had run out of the bus with these people, back into the bus so that he could face the consequences of his deeds; they were also thinking that if Matipedza and his crew got more blood they wouldn't come out of the bus to kill the others. The people pushed Father back into the bus, where they locked him with his Tokoloshis. Then another person said they should burn the bus with these monsters inside so that they would kill them. Before he had finished his statement, a matchstick was already proffered by another man. Even though the driver and conductor of this bus tried to dissuade these people from burning the bus, they couldn't stop them. The people lit a matchstick and the bus was on fire. They moved to a safe distance and enjoyed listening to Father and his Tokoloshis crying; bellowing in painful voices, as they got roasted in the fire.
Ps: But, before I finished typing this story, and whilst I was still wallowing in my revenge, that elfin child struck again, and all of a sudden, he removed 12 zeroes from the currency!
Tendai Mwanaka was born and grew up in the remote eastern highlands district of Nyanga, in Mapfurira village, Zimbabwe. He started writing in 1994 when he was barely twenty, work has been translated into French and Spanish, nominated for the Pushcart twice, 2008, 2010, commended for the Dalro prize 2008, and he was nominated for and attended The Caine prize African writing workshop, 2012. He has published extensively in magazines, journals, and anthologies in among others, the USA, UK, Canada, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Mexico, Kenya, Cameroon, Italy, Ghana, Uganda, France, Zambia, Nigeria, Spain, Romania, Cyprus, Australia and New Zealand. He has published both Voices from Exile, a collection of poetry on Zimbabwe's political situation and exile in South Africa, (Lapwing publications, Ireland, 2010) and KEYS IN THE RIVER: Notes from a Modern Chimurenga, a novel of interlinked stories that deals with life in modern day Zimbabwe (Savant books, USA 2012).