THE WET SEASON starts to creep up around us as the jeep rumbles over an ancient cattle grid. We’re in the old Tribal Trust Lands now, where the hyparrhenia grass grows taller than the car and years of splashing rain have left tidemarks of red earth on the walls of lonesome bottle stores.
Pa is watching it all slip by. My old pediatrician is behind the wheel and without warning she swings the car off the tarmac and onto a dirt road. Our family friend Lyle reaches for the grab handle to steady himself.
“Usually we hunt down the local chief to ask for permission before going on a walk like this,” says Dorothy.
I like the idea. I like the connectedness it implies.
“That’s because kopjes are usually important spiritual spots, right?”
I must sound a little too reverent, because Lyle chimes in with a flippant comment about how all the hocus pocus is a pain in the ass.
“Besides,” he says, “No one asks permission to walk up Ngomakurira anymore.”
We park the truck at the end of the heavily rutted road and set off at a gentle pace.
This is it. This is me. This thin path sliding through the tall grasses, winding around sparse granite boulders. These naked loops of tree roots. These red, eroded scars. My breathing grows deeper and all I need to think about are footholds.
Up and up we go until we step out from under the hush of leaves and onto a gentle curve of granite. Before us lies a shallow valley caught between the rolling rise of giant kopjes. Grey kopjes like elephant backs. Grey kopjes like the weathered knuckles of gods.
We zigzag up the smooth swathes of rock. This is a slow place. Lichen is king and the pull of time curves everything downward.
I’m climbing up a rise when I hear voices on the breeze. Male voices singing together in bone shuddering harmony. I keep climbing and search for the singers on the lip of the crest. Their voices grow nearer and then thin on the wind and just for a moment I’m all alone with the throatless song of Apostolic holy men.
We press through a thicket and on the other side there are five women swinging plastic bags from loose wrists and clutching plastic bottles of seawater. We nod and smile and say, “Hello.” They talk amongst themselves and say, “Matourist.”
I feel the word weigh on my shoulders, but I’m powerless and silent, because I have no tongue. Then I hear my father saying, “Taswera maswerawo,” and the women whoop and cackle. They fall onto each other’s shoulders laughing and clap their hands in delight. A woman answers, “Taswera hedu,” and Pa’s face stretches into a silly grin.
From up here I can see all the way to my old house. I can see my hill. It’s a thicket of mfuti trees far off in the distance. My hill isn’t a kopje. It isn’t teeming with the ghosts of prayer and the spirits of eland painted on its rocks. But this granite is the same as the granite on my hill. The men that painted on these rocks thousands of years ago would have seen the same blue hills of Nyanga that I looked out on every day as a child — and that I can see now.
I want to collapse into the view. I want to merge with it, but I can’t stop thinking about the women and their plastic bags of cowrie shells and coconuts and how my tongue went dead.
I can’t stop thinking about the word matourist and I feel tears well up for the first time since coming home.