By Nyaradzai Emelda Gwitima
“Jump on my head!”
I almost fell over laughing when Dad said that. He pointed to the dark shadow on the tarred road in front of him and encouraged, “Go on!”
In a fit of giggles, I leapt onto the outline of his head. He darted out of the way, shadow in tow. My mother clapped. I remember it echoed, that clap. We were the only people on Angus Road. Usually they’d take their evening walks alone – together, hand in hand. That day, I’d been invited, and my five-year-old heart had almost burst.
They’d laid out the rules: I was not to run into the road and was to keep up. It had been easy when we walked up the first two streets, as my little hand was clamped firmly in my father’s chubby palm and very few cars had roared down the street. Unlike the usual trips with them on foot, I’d been able to match their long leisurely strides. When we reached the third Jacaranda-lined Avenue, all the streetlights magically lit up.
“Oh! Right on time,” my mother said, looking down at her brown leather watch. She wore it on her left hand, with the face on the inner curve of her wrist. My father, wore his black watch on his right hand, face turned up. I always thought it funny.
“Do you know that they turn the lights on every day at six o’clock?” Dad asked. I shook my head, fascinated how they’d all come on at once.
“What does six o’clock look like on a clock face?” Mum asked. She’d shown me the week before. I released my hand from my father’s grip, lifted one arm straight above my head, and the other shot straight down in a line.
I beamed as my mum let out her hand, took mine in hers and squeezed it.
My father walked a little way ahead stopped right under a streetlight, where the lamp had tiny insects buzzing around it.
“Now” he said, “Here’s something new for you to learn. You see this light? It can make you disappear, and it can make you taller or shorter.”
As we stopped, I looked at my mother just to see if I’d heard right. She smiled. My dad continued, “Look down. Can you see the dark shape at your feet?”
I nodded. He motioned me to come forward, but instructed, “Keep looking at the shadow by your feet.”
I did, partly admiring the shiny silver nail varnish on my toes my sister had so generously painted on. When I saw my shadow, which had been stretched behind me move to my left,
then draw closer to me, I gasped. When I reached my father under the streetlight, my shadow was safely tucked under me.
My dad chuckled, and said, “Now watch Mum’s.”
I turned fully as my mother stepped backwards for a short distance, then begin to briskly pace in our direction. All the while, I watched the shadow at her feet, as it stretched, then wound around her getting shorter. My dad joined her, and they moved and dashed playfully under the streetlight, shadows darting and disappearing as they did. I was fascinated.
Breathlessly, my dad came towards me and said, “Shadows obey light. They change size if you move. Try it tomorrow after creche in the yard at home with the sun.”
Again, I nodded, certain that they’d just imparted magical wisdom to me. I would definitely share it on the playground. My parents latched arms and decided we should turn back. This time, I’d won my independence. My mother said, “You’re a big girl. You can walk alone.” With the knowledge I now had, I agreed. Indeed, I was – I knew how to tell time, and I knew about shadows.
As we walked, I kept watching the tar as we passed each streetlight. I was in front of my parent, chuckling at each opportunity I got to step on their heads. This exercise involved me at times running ahead a little to catch the shadows. I hadn’t noticed that I’d moved a way off, because I could still hear their voices. A rustle in the bushes on the side of the road stopped me short. A shadow melted into the street; behind it a ragged figure appeared.
There he was, staring hard, as if to sear through me with his burning red eyes. Sibanda. The mad man.
I’d seen him a few times coming from preschool or going to the grocer’s with our maid. He’d be talking to himself under a tree, often with arms flailing about. We’d usually cross the street, or run into another lane, opting for an alternative route to get home.
He ate children. At least, that’s what everyone said.
And now he was right there – ready to eat me in the dark.
He groaned and made as if to come towards me. I lost my footing trying to move back, one foot slipping out of the blue Pata Pata sandal.
I was done for.
As my now stiff little body was tipping over, expecting to crash into the tar, I instead landed in soft ruffles of fabric. I yelled, but looking up, I saw my mother’s smiling face. She caught my fall, and I was nestled in her skirt, albeit with my heart pounding still.
To my surprise, my dad cheerfully greeted him. Sibanda simply shook his head and mumbled incoherently, swiftly turned and trampled back into the scrub. My mother bent over and straightened me up, adjusting the strap of my sandal and placed it back on my foot.
“His family need to come and get him,” dad remarked, looking into the bush.
“He’ll just run away again,” mum replied, wrapping her warm hand around my clammy palm.
He shrugged and looked down at me. I quietly fought back tears. He ran his index finger under my chin and smiled as he took my other hand. We walked back in silence. I didn’t dare turn back, but looked ahead as our shadows melted into the lights, three figures, hand in hand.
Nyaradzai won a dinner voucher for two from Alo Alo!