Sweet Seed

by NoViolet Bulawayo

For Nene.

He could have been wearing an expensive dress of bones, my brother Ronald, that’s how I remember him, lying there on that narrow bed by the broken window, skeletal thin like a man fed on pins all his life. There were the screaming curves of skull, a spine like the edge of a table, the most perfect jut of hip, knee, rib, bone and bone and bones, Jesus, nothing but bones. And then the skin, tautest cloth draping over the bones, over dried furrows, rivers of blood once, then the weary eyes, drowning in the depths of edged sockets.

This is how I remember him; I was fifteen and I woke up everyday to search the country of that strange new body for my brother. What I saw was war. And it raged and we watched it drag out, bombs falling above my sisters’ prayers, above my grandmother’s prayers, and at fifteen I crossed my fingers and thought, Like, isn’t this where God is s’possed to do something, like, can’t he hear them praying? The bombs fell above pills and medicines, above herbs and mutis and talismans, above every hopeful hope, every plea, every single thing that could have been; it was a terrible war and couldn’t nobody stop it but at fifteen it never occurred to me that my brother was dying, didn’t occur to me that this was the AIDS they were talking about on the news, the AIDS of foreign countries and whores and everything that was not who we were, and if it occurred to anybody then they kept it inside like blood and we walked around in silent silence, adults slow-dancing with grief already because yes, war was war —

 But in that war though, we never cried. Never sent distress signals, there were no flags, no shouts to the neighbors. We kept it all under the tongue like a zhanje seed made too precious to spit out by the memory of its sweetness. We pursued our mouths and smiled on the street, and at fifteen I went to school and kicked it with my homegirls and homeboys with names like Thabs, Leslie, Sna, Thuts, Stha – Ronald my sweet seed under the tongue like a forbidden lover. And after school I ran home to pick up my guns and be a child soldier standing at the edge of my brother’s bed, around me feet and feet marching into silence and more silence.
And when one afternoon Ronald’s war ended, not because we won, we flung the gates open and the village came and there was wailing and wailing and wailing but nobody said AIDS. We said Rest in Peace, Go well, He fought Hard, Ronald, Ronald, “Thabath’ is’phambano, ulandele. Tshiya lumhlaba, lentozawo, ngcono ngiz’hambele, ngalindlela. Thabath’ is’phambano, ulandele. Tshiya lumhlaba, lentozawo, ngcono ngiz’hambele, ngalindlela.”
And when after the funeral I stood alone in my father’s bedroom, Ronald’s crisp death certificate in my trembling tresspassing hands and I saw the words “Cause of death—HIV-AIDS”. I read them with barely-moving lips, softly, softly, so the wind would never know.

Republished on HIV/AIDS|Zimbabwe Charity, INC. (HAZ) with prior written authorization from NoViolet Bulawayo.
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