Title: Behind the Wall Everywhere
Author: Farayi Mungoshi
Publisher: Mungoshi Press
ISBN: 978 0 7974 6010 2
One of the mistakes that people make when reading something by a Mungoshi is to read that piece against Charles Mungoshi, the renowned author of Waiting for the Rain. That is a gross mistake. It’s a gross mistake because each of the Mungoshis has his own voice. David Mungoshi, Charles’ brother, is a very successful and award-winning author in his own right. Charles Mungoshi’s wife, Jessie, is an actress and a producer. Charles’ namesake and son, Charles Mungoshi (Jr), is a motivational writer. Jonah Mungoshi, Charles’ cousin, is a success coach, speaker and motivational author. Then enters Farayi Mungoshi, a script writer, film director and, recently, a short story writer. As you can see, the Mungoshis are a kaleidoscopic bunch brought together by their love for writing (and of course by blood).
Behind the Wall Everywhere is a collection of short stories which confirms the fact that we do not know what happens behind the wall everywhere. Who knew that behind the wall of the Mungoshi family was such a fine writer as Farayi Mungoshi? The collection reads like the footprints of a man who knows where he is going. And the man really knows where he is going. He knows what lies behind the wall everywhere. He knows what lies behind the façade of a smile, a made-up face, crimson lips… and even in the inner scape of the pentecostal guy who lives next door. He knows that behind being in UK is a troubled existence of committing daily miracles to survive. Because he knows that behind such facades are tumultuous existences, Farayi Mungoshi gives us a collection of five short stories that narrate the intense lives of different men and women in a tender voice. It is as if he is saying, you do not know what people go through; I know.
‘Scones, Bridges nezvitorobho’ is a short story that unveils the troubles of a deportee from the UK. His story is unveiled to the reader through the precocious observation of three children. Observant children are not new in the Zimbabwean short story tradition but what makes these children different is that they are not moving out of spaces manned by elders as Muponde’s 2015 publication, Some Kinds of Childhood, demonstrates concerning childhood in Zimbabwean literature. These are children who are aware of the troubles that afflict the world of grown-ups. They may not know the exact details of the problems; but they know that the world of grown-ups is a troubled one. But they also know that maybe a glass of orange juice, or throwing those troubles (not yourself) into the stagnant waters of Manyame River, or just smiling, may work after all. When we stand before these children with our beards and heads full of things, we are suddenly assailed by the feeling of how vain we are! That is how Farayi Mungoshi creates his stories.
‘The Tower light, weed & becoming’ is a story with a familiar setting, familiar motions of life and familiar characters. Take a ghetto; add one tower light that burns throughout the day and night, and where ghetto boys gather to talk about soccer, girls, or ghetto news (the said tower light also acts as the ZESA report on whether there is electricity or not); add load shedding; add the capricious nature of ZINWA (the country’s water authority); add prophets and pastors; add tuckshops and vegetable stalls; add burst sewage pipes; add the most popular prostitutes in the hood; add the inevitable Saturday soccer money-game; add Ras (Rasta) Vans; don’t forget to add weed after adding Ras Vans; add a lot of other things that usually collocate with the inventory above. What you will have is Zengeza (in the case of this short story), or Mbare, or Mufombi, or Epworth, or Mucheke, or Chipadze. However, Mungoshi’s short story, with all these familiar ingredients, takes a trajectory of its own into the soul of ghetto people, into the troubled inner geographies of his characters. Even Ras Vans is not just a weed-smoking parrot of Rastafarian sensibilities. He is deeper than that. Even Muda is not a frothing religious fanatic ready to lay down his life for his Prophet or Papa. He is deeper than that. Even Nugget is not just a weed-smoking disciple of Ras Vans (although I have to confess, he really reminds me of Memory Chirere’s Roja RaBaba Biggie, Jackson). He is deeper than that.
My favourite story is ‘dot com’. I was really captivated by the style of narration. I still remember having an argument with a friend concerning the first person narrator in this short story. My friend thought that the narrator was a very reliable and likeable one. I thought (and still think) that the narrator was a very unreliable but likeable one. For me, the narrator is unreliable not because he tells lies, but because he knows too much but pretends not to while at the same time revealing the truth slowly, piece by piece, layer by layer. Such narrators are very likeable. The passage below justifies my opinion:
“She (Mai Ndodi) preferred gossiping with men than with women and somehow the women or rather the wives did not understand that it was possible for a mature man to have a decent conversation with a mature woman in the garden at Chikwanha Drinking spot under the cover of the midnight sky, with the stars staring back at them, and a soft love song playing in the background. Whether she ever took any of the men she talked to back home, I don’t know. I don’t know because I don’t want to know. It was something about Mai Ndodi that made me think that the less I knew about her the better. One thing I knew was that at thirty-five, she was two years my senior. And even if I had been tempted to even think she would consider having a…..um …an affair with me, she would not actually go through with it knowing I was younger, broker, and a Christian” (p. 32).
That is the kind of craft that characterises Farayi Mungoshi’s collection.
Other short stories include, ‘Winds in the blood’ and ‘Behind the wall’, both of which are as interesting as the three I have looked at in this review. My honest opinion is that for a debut literary project, Farayi Mungoshi has set the bar very high for himself. This is a well-written collection that I am sure will contribute immensely to the canon of what we call Zimbabwean Literature.