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The Bottom Line | Thabi Moeketsi

The Bottom Line | Thabi Moeketsi

The Bottom Line Thabi Moeketsi Agbowo | Best African Fiction by women

ISSUE 8 | JANUARY 2024 | WOMAN ISSUE


Booze, music and women had been his game until a fortnight ago round about this time when his name was hand-picked from an empty beer can and the judge hollered,

Macbeth Sigauke! Macbeth! Macbeth! ” 

Ha! The most notorious drunkard in the South has taken the hundred dollars from America and will drink himself to madness,” I concluded right away after the lottery results were announced.

While I pondered, loud clapping and jeers from the crowd filled  what used to be Cheers Nite Spot but was now a low-class pub, illegal gambling club or just The Small Common Room; a place many love to hate. 

Years ago, after a vote, The Small Common Room won. Cheers had lost its meaning. One could not celebrate about unemployment and hunger, could they? Nothing was cheerful about the fact that our once vibrant watering hole had overnight ceased to be the most talked about hideout in Harare. After the Zim dollar nosedived and everything took a worse turn in 2008, Cheers was not spared. Word on the street said the owner flew to some rough part of London to teach junior school, leaving behind Cheers with no electricity and no ice cold beer,  no dancing girls and no music.  Cheers died, was buried and we opted for a new name, The Small Common Room.

Nowadays, except for tototo, the notorious home made brew The Small Common Room has nothing  thirst-quenching on offer like the Queen Victoria up Harare Drive.

I’m the relic at The Small Common Room. I retired and became flat broke after 2008 vanished with all my investments. Have been a patron for over three decades. They call me the People’s Poet, a name I got years ago when I hosted the poetry night at Cheers. Nowadays,  I tell the young ones about the good old days when all things were  bright and beautiful. When  the Go Go girls wriggled their curvy behinds to rhythmic tunes and we sipped down authentic booze and not poison cooked in rusty pots by desperate American dollar seeking Mamas who care nothing about health and hygiene. Decades ago, all beer loving creatures great and small congregated at Cheers to chill.

These days it’s all trash, trash and more trash! Yet, the Small Common is still home sweet home to many.

Before the lottery, Macbeth usually drank tototo, one arm holding his favourite girl. I suppose he imagined  himself filthy rich. But at the rate at which he sped through life, he could only dream on. Chances were, the kid would die poorer than a village parish rat. The road he travelled from Rags Avenue to Worserags Town didn’t bother him though. Each day Macbeth brought someone special to indulge with in the infamous Lustville Corner of the Small Common Room at Spendtillyoudropdead Estate. Thank God for the lottery!

“Why does a young man with such a promising future love this dump so much?” I often asked Macbeth.

“Yes, I love this dump. Is that a problem?” He answered me bluntly.

Tall, fair, blue eyes. The boy was better off learning a trade and making something of himself.

“Why drink and urinate your life away?”

Blessed with a sense of humour, Macbeth had the exact words to throw back at me. “Spendtillyoudropdead? Lustville Corner? How do you come up with such names? You also adore this place, don’t you?” 

Lottery day, shouts and cigarette smoke filled every corner of The Small Common Room after Macbeth took the coveted prize. Alcohol scented saliva obviously hit his face now and then as he stood up to receive the said fortune, worth a month’s wages, the only prize in our annual lottery.

“What will you do with the fortune?”

“What will you buy?”

“Buy us some strong stuff, man!”

Despite pleas to spoil the house rotten, Macbeth took the money, sat down and behaved as if nothing supernatural had happened.

Day two – no action.

Day three – still no drinks for everyone.

By the end of the week the prize had been forgotten. I was left wondering what that Sigauke boy was up to.

“You can’t have the car yet. Drink the money!” I teased Macbeth.

During our talks Macbeth had over the years mentioned his dream car.

 Macbeth’s cash could not buy him his Peugeot 404, with rust, tattered tyres, and all things ugly. The Peugeot, despite its looks would make him a few more American Dollars ferrying passengers to Mbare and City Centre. Highfields -Town. Four up front, five in the middle and many at the back. Four, five and even seven ply – humans neatly packed like toilet paper. For that; the reward, fifteen dollars per load – a lot more if he dropped en route and picked up a few more. With a Peugeot station wagon one trip would earn him even more than fifteen green ones. In a year, the kid is loaded and moving to leafy Greendale, his rags to riches story, talk of the ghetto. 

Two years down the line, Macbeth would be in Highlands or Avondale, watering his garden with borehole water when the whole nation’s running dry. 

Give him another couple of years and his place of residence would be Borrowdale. His house plugged with all of Zimbabwe’s electricity! Lights in and out including his five dogs’ kennels! Our Macbeth eating cake while others yearn for a slice of stale bread!

“None of that Old Man!” Macbeth said after I reminded him of the dream he always shared with me whenever tototo invaded his brain cells.

“Then what are you waiting for? Buy tototo kid!” I said.

One mention of beer, all eyes turned to me! Everyone shouted,

“Buy us some hot stuff! It’s getting too cold in here!” 

The Small Common Room went dead when Macbeth spoke.

“I’m heading Down South…”

“WHAT?” 

 My saliva nearly choked me.

“I said I am going  to Johannesburg South Africa….”

Multiple questions interrupted Macbeth’s answer.

“What about the xenophobia?”

They’ll pluck out those blue eyes or burn you alive until your fair skin turns black like charcoal. Aren’t you scared?”

“The winner always buys everyone booze! What is it with young people today?”

While the drunkards yelled and swore, I took the kid aside for an emergency one on one. 

” Kid you are making one big mistake…”

 With no passport, Macbeth’s options were few. His One-hundred- dollar bill wasn’t  enough to bribe a corrupt border official. His  way out – swim in the Limpopo and become a crocodile’s meal, or cross via the Kruger and let the lions feast on him. 

“Death and jail are your only options,” I warned Macbeth.

The kid’s mind was made up.

Said his destination was somewhere in Soweto.

“To do what in Soweto? To drink and sign your own death certificate in shebeens?”

“Nix!”

“Then what kid?”

I nearly fainted after Macbeth responded. Maybe I had not heard him right so I asked again.

 “TO SEE WHO?”

The kid spoke softly.

“Andreas Radebe. He lives there, or does he still?”

“WHO?”

“Radebe.”

“You mean Andreas Radebe the jazz saxophonist?”

“That is correct sir….”

I advised the kid to quit drinking tototo ASAP. That lethal one hundred percent alcohol brew might have caused multiple damage up his head. I pulled Macbeth’s face towards mine and told him to get a life and, live that life as far away from the South African border as possible!

“Kid, the man is probably dead by now and no one gives a damn about that idiot!”

The idiot, Andreas Radebe had come to Rhodesia in the Seventies. Played his saxophone at Cheers for a living and in the process painted the township red. His charm and smooth talk drove the women mad. In the end he had to leave like a startled rat. The township thugs were after him. He had banged someone’s wife, the grapevine said.

Over the years, I had told Macbeth about Radebe and his unique musical talent. There was nothing much to do at The Small Common room except drink and tell history. 

 “It was as if he was born with the sax in his mouth. Could have made it overseas alongside the likes of Kenny G.” 

“Wow!”

All I remember is that the conversations switched sides.  While ninety nine percent of the occupants in The Small Common Room paid not much attention to my story telling, Macbeth Sigauke seemed thrilled.

“He had so much air; stood for hours with the sax in his hands, like a weapon, like an AK rifle, except this weapon brought healing and joy at a time when the regime was brutal and everything black was cursed.” 

“And what else?” Macbeth would ask his countenance alight.

“Had dozens of kids! To be exact, that love rat had a child in every street. Most fair skinned chubby little ones were his. But no one ever came out!”

 Normal talk between drinking buddies is healthy and so I talked, no boundaries! 

“He could not keep his zip up and his fingers from married women and that cost him future earnings and a good life.”

“Sad indeed.”

Perhaps the kid is an aspiring journalist or historian, I thought. 

Little did I know that Macbeth’s mind took another route to Knownoevil Drive.

That after years and years of questions and secretly drowning himself in tototo to answer his life’s questions, he had been on a secret search for any one of Andries Radebe’s descendants. That because no one had come out, this worried him sick.

 “It’s a South African name. No district in Zimbabwe has such a surname,” the Registry officer said.

Not even one Radebe was on the database. Yet, every day Macbeth said he bumped into fair skinned women and men, all the South African features conspicuous. Said now and then he stopped, asked and to his dismay got asked in return.

“Are you from there?”

“Today my Mama’s been gone three years,” Macbeth said.

“Sorry kid.” 

Our conversation was supposed to end there but the kid just poured out hard stuff. Turns out, so much had been going on in between the binge drinking and womanising. Poor Macbeth!

“It’s been three years since I got everything my Mama and Father owned. The two=bedroom house together with its out of fashion pots and pans now belong to me.”

“Then kid, you should be grateful.” 

Macbeth said he was grateful. “Too grateful.” 

 One minute, we were talking fine. The next minute, I am all over the place on a mad hunt for tissue paper.

“Pour it all out. I won’t tell a soul,” I whispered.

He sobbed and talked. I listened.

“Old Man…. it’s too much! It’s been three years since my Mama’s last words.”

“I understand. Words like I love you are hard to forget.” 

“No Old Man. She said something else.”

“Something like what?”

“Something about Radebe.”

“What about Radebe?” 

“She said a lot. Look at me and guess.”

The kid sobbed and sobbed some more, all the tissue ran out. When he moved closer for a farewell hug, one good look at him was all I needed.

Yes, one very long good look and ha! What I saw was too much!

Jeeeesus!


Thabi Moeketsi | Agbowo

Thabi Moeketsi

Thabi Moeketsi is a businesswoman residing in Zimbabwe with her husband and two daughters.

Her fiction has appeared in Eclectica, Ibua Journal, SN Review, Potato Soup Best of 2022 Anthology, among others.

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash

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