Of Tikoloshi and the Translator | Ndaba Sibanda


It is a dream come true for Sipho Mbongolo. His prayers have been answered.

“Sipho, as a matter of interest, with whom are you staying in Old Magwegwe?”

Madam Mumba is relaxing on a gold-coated garden chair; her back is fidgeting as if itchy, or as if resting on something pricky. So short are her lacey shorts that Sipho’s eyes are magnetically riveted to where her huge legs are joined together in a union of fat and flesh. The sight drives Sipho’s poor heart into a series of emotional jerks. However, playfully, mischievously and slowly, she launches light but lively kicks on the lap of Sipho, whose chest in turn vibrates breathlessly as the hormones run riot.

“Ah…ahh…. Madam Mumba, I sit with my small father, my small mother and their children: Makhi, Mzwakhe and Sethekeli.”

“Sipho, please call me Mona or Monalisa. Are your cousins friendly to you, do you get along well?”

Sipho’s bloodshot eyes roll in their sockets as if at that point in time all they seek in this tempting world is to flee.

“They have the stubbornness of a black millipede, largely Sethekeli who has no shame to say she cannot be under a man. She has a mouth and I always protect her when her brothers want to beat her. But she thanks me by counting for me, hey I eat too much, hey I finish everything she gives, hey this, hey that. She has a tongue too, that’s why I don’t tell her my secrets, because her chest was kicked by a zebra. She sees me quiet and thinks I have no liver to tell her not talk bad about me.”

Madam Mumba cannot help laughing hysterically. “She has a mouth! A big mouth! A tongue…? Well, she abases you baselessly. But what does a person who has a liver do? We all have a liver, don’t we?”

“No, some people don’t have a liver. Those who don’t have the encouragement to tell you you have a mistake. I have a liver even if I see a lion, I don’t urinate with fear. I face it like uShaka!”.

“You mean courage! I see, but what do you mean your cousin counts for you? You cannot count money?”

“No. I can. She counts for me. Uyangibalela ukudla. She says to people I eat too much of her father’s food. She forgets tomorrow is yesterday.”

Madam Mumba’s ribs are itching from a burst of laughter. She steadies herself, before tapping Sipho in a hooking manner between his legs. The rustically inclined man draws away, batting his eye. He gasps, looks askance – much to the amusement of the teaser.

She picks up a glass of wine and ungracefully some wine splashes out, dropping on her fatty neck.

“Sipho, you talk of your uncle, aunt and cousins; where is your biological father? Ehmmm. But before you respond to that question please towel the spilt wine on my neck with your tongue”.

Sipho’s yellow-tainted teeth are bared. In fact, if he were swimming one would be forgiven for thinking that he is on the verge of drowning. He is practically gasping for breath.

“My bio-o-ological father, he died five years old while the maize was kicking and the pumpkins were vomiting in the fields.” His face is a little gloomy. He adds: “It was the disappearance of luck as elders say. He, my father, didn’t like a person who doesn’t hear. His stomach was running him, running him…”

“Sipho, my goodness, you’re such a fascinating literal translator. Your parlance is what is sometimes referred to as Ndenglish. I guess that even if you cannot give me a blow-by-blow account of how your father died five years ago, you’re basically saying he died while the maize plants and pumpkins were blooming or tasselling”.

“Is that so?”

The reply is phrased like a question.

“Yes… Madam. No… Mona. Yes is that so, shuwa. Maa… Mona, I mean he was going outside fast-fast. He was carrying heavy.”

“Ooh, gosh! My Lord! I think I’m getting more confused now.” Madam Mumba whimpers.

“No, Madam… Mona… what confused do you have? It’s simple: Wayesiya ngaphandle. Out into the bush. Ethwele nzima, just carrying heavy.”

“Okay, he had a running tummy! My goodness! What do those who don’t hear do, generally?”

“General, they do bad. They don’t work what they are told to work. They have hard heads. You don’t need to see a moon or isangoma to tell you that they do bad. Same like Sethekeli; she thinks she has black because no young man will point her. We cry not for the self-doer but for the done-to.”

“Oh, I see, Sethekeli must be stubborn and disobedient but whatever your opinion –men are funny creatures .They will make passes at anything, ghosts and corpses included. You’re just being hard on Sethekeli, I think. What does a moon or sangoma do?”

“Madam, sorry, Mona, a moon I am referring to is not the banana-shaped light that appears at night, but an inyanga. I mean a herbal man – one who cures. A sangoma can foresee, can tell you your tomorrow.”

Time tears on.

Wednesday Night

The bladder threatens to open apart with sudden violence if he does not respond to the call of nature right away. Sipho slips out of the bed, rushes towards the door, hits against the door frame and curses, “Demedi!” Common sense orders him to put on the lights.The lights uncover one thing: he is wearing a tattered undergarment. He does not care a dot because he is alone. He slips into a pair of purple trousers – and races into the toilet. Inside the beautifully painted small room, he feels for the zip.

“Demedi! Where is the damn zip!” The zip-it is the other way round, at the back! He struggles with the waistline, hitches the trousers down but, no, the urine is irrepressible. Tremulously, he navigates his human hosepipe to face the toilet pan – but it is already too little too fast… There is a desperate whirlwind inside him. It is spurting out, making the floor messy and cloudy. The short bursts of the coloured watery waste have made an emergency landing on an exclusive imported tapestry of the quilting products. Like an efficient scrub-man, he fetches the scrubbing cloth, sorts out his mess, sighs a sigh of a fireman who has stumbled and fumbled before putting out a raging fire. He walks along the passage.

At Madam Mumba’s door, he hears some noise. Mumba dreaming aloud! Dreaming? Soliquising? He places an ear on the lockset.

“I care for you.”

(An inaudible sound).

“Yes, I confess I was going out with that Minister but…

(An inaudible sound).

“Please… Let’s not dwell on that issue.

You killed him out of jealousy, now you suspect I am going out with that …”

(An inaudible sound)

“I won’t shut up! I don’t have a crush on him. He is just my… eh…”

(An inaudible sound).

Sipho says to himself: I am convinced that Madam Mumba is arguing with a boyfriend. Hmmn… so she has a boyfriend after all. Anyway, she is only human.

Once on his bed, he recalls everything. How last Saturday he met Madam Mumba in a salt queue, his speechless admiration for her high-class car. How a naked man burst into the queue and started fondling the backside of a plump woman who, on discovering the presence of the mentally challenged man, took to her heels like her body was a mere feather. How they talked about the incident and the endless queues, ending up discussing the sad state of the economy, and how Madam Mumba was prepared to dig him out of his financial mess by offering him a job as her bodyguard. How they later weaved their way through the bustling crowd into her gleaming car.

Then on Monday, at what appeared like a billionaire’s evening party – at the Mumba residence, men and women who drove the latest and most expensive cars, spoke on the trendiest of cell phones and wore immaculate designer suits converged, wined and dined. They spoke English, danced in an English way and even sneezed in English – or so it seems to Sipho. He remembers one silly man with an elephantine neck who gave him a glass of wine, and when he told him that he was a teetotaler and a member of the Zionist Bakhonzi Beqiniso Church, he called him a stupid, rustic pumpkin who did not know that Heaven is on earth.

He also has a vivid picture of a lady who told him squarely: “I love you boy. I’ve gold and silver. Gold is my first name. Fun my second. Bodyilicious my surname. What more can a soul want? Those who have had the privilege and pleasure of rubbing shoulders with me have confessed that I uniquely nurture a soul’s heart and body like the earth’s axis is on my palm. Run away from this portly pig, Mumba. I would pay you more; give you my everything, boy. My body oozes love and more love for you. Your body, oh boy, I feel like licking you up like a chocolate bar.”

He remembers his response:

“I appeared for my wife sometimes ago. The go-between asked for a fire. I paid the open-the-mouth money. I will pay the suitor be-known money. Sorry, besides in my culture, a woman does not smoke or point a man.”

The smoking, swaying and over-embellished woman unleashed f-prefixed obscenities at him. She called him the most unintelligent, rural, backward cat she had ever seen before reeling away and kissing a man who could easily be her oldest grandson.

He is now half-asleep. He hears some patting sounds from a distance, but finally he drifts into sleep. He has a grandparent of a nightmare.

Thursday morning

“Madam, me thinks there is a witch here?”


“Me thinks there’s a witch who’s doing rounds and sounds here.”

“Sipho, get this clear, I hired a bodyguard, not a witch-hunter, okay?”

“Sorry, madam, but I’m made to see in my dreams as a Zionist…”

“Antiquated nonsense! Whether you’re a Zionist or Satanist I don’t bloody care a whit. Stick to your job description or else…”

That is it. Madam Mumba is bad-tempered today. She is a flooded river. Maybe her boyfriend rubbed her the wrong way. He too probably drives a stunning car. He must be one of the billionaires who were at the party. Madam Mumba is now dazzling in her dress. She drives away.

Thursday afternoon

Sipho is trimming the hedge. He wonders: when will I start body-guarding her? He tries to hack off a green leaf but the floppy folio dodges the cutter! He is shell-shocked. A shrieking laugh is heard. The source cannot be seen! Then he is pelted with small stones! He runs for cover in his room. Shiver holds his legs captive. He puts on the lights. His heart is full of pounding boulders now. A sub-human creature enters…

”Nkosi! My God!” He is screaming with a fear without ignominy and confines.

“Mfowethu, don’t panic. I won’t hurt you. I’m Mkhulumanothisa. I live here.”

The child-like voice is peppered with a swishing streak. Mumba’s bladder betrays and belittles him. He wets his tattered pants. The hobgoblin sneezes, sending out a yellowish, smallish and circular fluid across the room. It patters on the ceiling. Sipho’s world is now a tremulous den of the unknown. Small wonder he releases some squishing sound that gets the back of his trousers vibrating.

“Don’t worry. I won’t harm you. In fact, I’m disappointed with lady Mumba. She won’t get away with it. I brought her all the fortune she flaunts. Now she wants to get rid of me. Shat day she served me with salty relish, yet she knows in our clan, salt is an allergy. I read the mind. She forgets shat. Now she has left for Chiredzi, to seek a muthi man who will wipe me off the face of the earth. Yeppee! No! Nowayzshee. How narrow-minded!! Kill me? Never! I killed her meddling minister boyfriend. I will kill her too if she continues running madly like a nervous fool trying to castrate a burly bull with their bare teeth!”

Sipho almost melts into fear itself. Finally he summons enough courage to ask: “So you has a wife like us people?”

The awe-inspiring 40 cm-long creature with a lengthy beard, rolling eyes and a hairy, whitish rugged skin replies in a low but child-like voice:

“I had a girlfriend who also worked for Mumba. Coz I’m a blast furnace in bed, the maid left in a huff. But me thinks she was already pregnant! Coz I`m a sharp-shooter! Shen…hhh…How can I put it? Shen, Mumba had no choice but to hook up with me. Needless to say Mumba and I are an item. And I’m a jealous man. So velly jealous shat you don’t mess with our relationship by hook or crook, day or night and live to see another day. Forget.”

Sipho finds himself posing another question.

“How did you make Mumba reach?”

“Rich, you mean? I loot. Yes banks, factories, stores, mining concerns, you name shehem – I raid. I can sheeleep with a man’s wife in his presence, on the shame bed. Shat me.”

Though a watery coldness slithers down his legs, he manages to ask another question.

“So Madam Mumba will point the house where there is beer?”

“Yes, that woman will taste my wrath. They don’t call me Ntokoloshi for nothing. Now take this and disappear. You did not talk with me. You did not see me, is that right? You disclose, you’re dead.”

Sipho cannot believe it. A suitcase filled to the brim with crisp notes! He walks past the computerised colourful gate. With a trembling joy, he hurries on, his horizon characterised by the diminishing grandeur of the house and the snowballing mysteries therein.

If this is not a dream… if these are real notes… If… he wanders.

Small father: uncle
Small mother: aunt
To have a mouth: to provoke people to fight you
To have a liver: to be courageous
To count for: to accuse one of eating too much (especially of the given food)
To have a tongue: to talk about someone else (usually) in a damaging way in that person’s absence
A chest kicked by a zebra: this refers to a person who cannot keep secrets or whose chest `leaks` confidential information easily
To point: a direct literal translation which refers to propose love
Tomorrow is yesterday: Bear in mind that whatever bad thing you do or say today will haunt you in the future (e.g You can laugh at someone else’s abject poverty today but when you are in need in future you may turn to the same person for help).
The maize is kicking and the pumpkins vomiting: this a literal translation used to refer to the stage at which the maize plant is tasselling and the pumpkins are blooming
Carrying heavy: Toiling or suffering
Inyanga: (In SiNdebele, this term refers to a moon or a herbalist/traditional healer
Has a black: a literal translation for bad luck
Ask for fire: When a suitor’s delegation goes to the girl’s parents/relatives in order to tell them that a man is interested in marrying their daughter
(It used to be a fiery affair, with the mediators being sometimes (initially) beaten/tossed about or chased away
Open the mouth money: the money that kick-starts the above negotiations
Point the house where there is beer: to be in hot soup

Ndaba Sibanda grew up in Bulawayo. He has contributed to poetry anthologies such as It`s TimePoems For Haiti Snippets and Voices For Peace.  In 2013, his hard-hitting poetry collection, The Dead Must Be Sobbing was published.  His debut novel, Timebomb is set to be published in the UK.

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