Victoria Falls would have been the perfect spot for our honeymoon, except l saw this Baywatch scene on television that had me pondering on golden stretches of beach and the culminating waves of the Indian Ocean. I finally reserved the magnificent and surreal Victoria Falls as the official Christmas destination for the Pasipamires. It was incomprehensible the cubic feet of water that passed by daily and l believed that God wonderful works had me at hallo.
I was brought back to reality by my husband rustling in his sleep. I looked at his sleeping figure and l knew that love had been on my side. His bristly beard had covered his dimples, l smiled in satisfaction as l always wanted to marry a tall man and Prince was just that. I reckoned he was a demi-god, his brown eyes were like chocolate dipped in milky pools. When he walked he was the god Titan commanding the attention of us mortals, his androgynous physique was spellbinding not forgetting his bronzed skin had that glow of youthfulness. My eyes shifted painfully from looking at my freshly minted husband who was still asleep and was very oblivious to his worshipper. I flipped through our itinerary in excitement; Durban had plenty of things to keep us preoccupied for the next two weeks. There was the Voyage to the bottom of the Ushaka Sea World, Botanical Gardens with the main attraction being the golden mile of beach stretching four miles from Blue Lagoon to Addington Beach.
I imagined it difficult to contemplate of anyone in the bus who was as excited as l was. Prince was adamant of us using the bus as mode of transport from Harare to Joburg, but l insisted that l felt unsafe after seeing Flight UM331 from the Air Zimbabwe fleet suffer engine failure in midair. l could not fathom risking my life especially now that the airline was currently in shambles. We would later connect to Durban at Oliver Tambo with the cheap and over advertised Mango Airlines. The Greyhound luxury coach was suffice and kept us comfortable.
Earlier on we had passed through the boarder and surprisingly the staff from the South African side seemed competent and energetic which l resolved that it was still morning and the buses after us would not experience the same treatment. I managed to cast quick glances around the bus and a Somali couple behind us seemed pensive and lost in their gadgets, amazing how cogitative they were on their phones. On the other side of the bus a group of teenage boys were lost in chatter and excitedly discussing their trip to Joburg for a Chris Brown’s concert. I chuckled at their euphoric state and at their age who could blame them, they possessed the future at their fingertips, that is if they did not go berserk at that concert. A seat next to us sat a little girl who was looking at me with fresh curiosity as she sat on her mother’s lap, l let a smile play on my lips at the cherubic innocence.
I realised how much how l needed to freshen up, but getting up from the seat was a struggle as my feet had become numb and had grown accustomed to the stationary position l had held up for so long. Armed with my toiletry bag, l marched to the ladies room, which was a more dignified name than what it really was. Luckily there was no one harbouring in it and l squeezed my healthy frame into the tiny compartment carefully not to touch the door and the walls. The mirror was the only decent thing as it had perfect lighting.
The soft baby wipes were gentle on my spotless, dewy skin. I had an oval face that was beautifully proportioned, l was really dark but l did not care to think of ever using skin lighteners. My glasses started to fog up, l realised that l had left the tap with hot water running. I had the same shade of brown eyes as Prince only mine were smaller and l would squint when l was deep in thought. The bun that l had tied came undone and as l was looking for a bobby pin to fasten it a, violent explosion erupted causing the bus to skid and veer off the road, resulting in me being hurled into the mirror like a torpedo.
The bus leaped into the clearing with impossible speed for the driver to even control it and he made the uncalculated decision to jam unto the brakes, the bus spun three hundred and sixty degrees and overturning. What seemed like a lifetime, l finally regained consciousness, faintly l opened my eyes which were blurry and my glasses were smashed from the impact. The force was so intense that my entire body felt as though it had liquefied. The mirror was shattered and l was covered with slivers of glass which had taken refuge by plunging into my soft flesh. I was mortified but there was no pain and l was basking in pure shock. A sizeable chunk of the mirror was embedded in my right thigh, l bravely decided not to pull it out as l was very much aware that l would bleed to death if it had lacerated an artery.
The screams started to get louder as more people were regaining consciousness, the bus had compacted into a mangled mess and all l could think of was if Prince was alive in all of this. A shrill escaped my lips before my brain could coordinate it. The roof of the bus had been savagely torn off and the pungent smell of burning oil was consuming the air and my eyes were swelling with fresh tears as l was now choking on fear of the worst. The fear became paralysing as l saw mangled bodies and some of them dismembered and had an overwhelming urge to throw up. I felt nauseous and fell into a fit of uncontrollable sobs as l staggered and clung unto the seat in front of me. Where was he, was he dead? The build up of these thoughts began to foreshadow my fears; l got up and started pushing away the dead bodies that were strewn across the aisle. Some of the seats had lodged and merged with the floor of the bus. As l got closer to where we were seated l heard a low groan and my name, l froze and heard it again. I forgot that l had a glass in my thigh as l hurriedly fumbled my way through. Hot tears streamed down my cheeks as l saw my husband was still on his seat, bloodied and bruised and a huge gash wound had been inflicted by the broken seat next to ours. He started coughing and spluttering as he was losing breath. The engine had caught fire and flickers of flames started licking the engine oil and l knew we had to get out quickly.
The side of the bus where our seats were had sustained minimal damage, but fumes black as top class coal started to fill the bus. The Somali couple had suffered a few injuries l could see that is and quickly came to our assistance. The man hauled Prince over his shoulders as he kicked the window which was our only exit. His wife climbed out first, which l was followed of which l was assisted as l came out. He started to let my husband out slowly so not to cause extensive damage to his gaping wound and lastly the good hearted Somali man came out last. Some of the people who managed to escape were screaming and crying and one man had lost his arm and was writhing in agony as he lay on a pool of blood. I saw the little girl who was staring earlier on shaking her mother who lay motionless on the ground.
The Somali couple assisted the man who lost his hand and l had to get pressure on my husbands head wound. I tore up my shirt and tied it around his head. I was so relieved that he was alive that l forgot the creeping pain in my thigh and he stopped me from fussing over me and looked at my wounds with so much pain in his eyes. Prince realised the bus was going to explode and starting yelling for people to move away from the radius of the blast, and we had not staggered less than a few meters the bus exploded and a ball of flames erupted sending shreds of flying metal and a wave of intense heat. I looked back and realised that some of the people who survived the crash in the bus were burnt to death.
In a distance we saw a group of civilians approaching and we were relieved as we knew that help was surely on its way. As they drew nearer their steps grew more purposeful and upon closer look they were swinging what looked like knives which l caught glints of in the sun. Prince stood up quickly and looked at me , these were not friendly faces in fact this was hostile. We had to run and everyone got up with their battered and bruised bodies, and clumsily started to flee with the little they had of their lives. When they saw us running they started chasing after us and yelling in what l understood as Zulu. I fell flat on my face as l tripped on thick undergrowth causing the glass to further plunge deeper into my thigh and broke the protruding piece. Prince lifted me up but we were outrun and outnumbered. They surrounded all of us and two large men grabbed me and Prince with such force my arm was nearly ripped out of its socket and shoved my husband with such viciousness that he fell on the ground. I screamed at them that had to leave him alone.
We were taken back to the scene of the crash, where they assembled everyone into a group except me and my husband were excluded from the group and instead were made to stand away just the two of us like children in class who had not done their homework. Our captors stood towering over us as we were made to kneel on the stony ground. They were eight men in total and armed with machetes and one had a shotgun and looked as he was in charge as he exuded authority and and air of pompousness. His voice was deep but he spoke softly with an intensity a hundred lions. “Zimbabweans you will never learn will you.? We tell you to stay in your country but you are stubborn and you come here to take away our jobs, our source of livelihoods, our women and dilute our culture with your cultureless filth.” The other men nodded and agreed in unison.
Prince held me close as we soon realised that this was not just a band of murderous robbers but an act of hatred and spite. The animosity that flared in the eyes of these men sickened me. The their leader turned and looked at us and pointed the large shaved barrel of his shotgun at my husband, l gasped and instinctively put my arms and body around him. The barbarians started laughing and the leader scowled venomously “lovebirds.” They sounded like a pack of hyenas with that cruel echoing laugh.
“We don’t have time, torch them!” ordered the leader. “Waste this foreign scum who think this is a land of milk and honey for them. This is hell and rivers of their blood will flow!,” the leader turned at us and gave a cruel lopsided smile and walked away saying “Mandla leave these two to watch , they will go back to Zimbabwe and tell their countrymen of the carnage that awaits all of them if they ever cross borders, but kill the rest.”
My body shook with terror and my heart skidded into hyper speed. I clung with all my might to my husband who also held me tight. The Somali man and woman were rounded in the group and the little girl was left hugging her dead mother. The boys who were going to the concert were howling and trembling with fear. The beast Mandla took gallons of petrol and doused the group and as some tried to run away they were stabbed with machetes or shot. We screamed in horror as the horrific scenes unfolded. They cried and begged for their lives but these heartless and cruel animals seemed to be at sport. A single match stick lit engulfed the group into flames and their screams churned my heart and the pain l felt, l collapsed.
I woke up smelling the familiar stench of medication in the hospital and instantly started screaming as loudly as my lungs could allow. My husband quickly came to my aid as he was seated by my side and calmed me down. I looked at him, he looked so grave in his hospital clothes heavily bandaged around his head, arm and leg. He had aged, his skin ruddy and weathered. Our hands were the only intimacy we could afford as l was bandaged heavily like a mummy. I was cut badly l remembered, the doctor came in said how lucky we were and told me my injuries were nothing that good needle work and painkillers could not fix and that l would be on my feet soon.
As he left l felt a wave of pain hit me again as l recalled the horror and bowled my eyes out. My husband told me we had been in hospital for 3 days and that l was slipping in and out of consciousness as my would was infected and l had been in shock. He sustained minor damage to his skull it was the flesh wound that had to be stitched together to my relief. He turned on the television and the news about the massacre was widespread on international channels such as CNN and BBC.
On that fateful day a bus carrying 85 passengers was involved in a horrific accident caused by a spike strip, thrown in front of the moving vehicle severely shredding all the tyres. That led to a roadside bloodbath that claimed on spot 60 people plus 22 who were slaughtered and burnt alive because of the deepened hatred for foreigners. Three people survived the catastrophe, Prince Pasipamire, Gina Pasipamire and a little girl Nomsa Makoni. The little girl was Nomsa l thought to myself. The troll said we were not survivors because of our choosing but that we were mouthpieces to tell the everyone that hate was there and xenophobia came with faces and a nationality. Tears, a new sensation of hate, heartache and sorrow were our honeymoon. I closed my eyes and gave way to the sweet comfort of morphine, l saw my husband as he blurred away, he was that one thing that confirmed l had love to look forward to through it all
In loving memory of those who lost their lives in the Xenophobic attacks in South Africa in the years 2010 and 2015 as well as those whose lives were not accounted for or documented on all platforms of the media.May you rest in peace.
By J.C Kawara
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