“This Girl,” Tonderai says, voice raised above the retreat of the wind, “she is like my Precious. She is a brave one.” He waits a few seconds for the flailing door to still, then clears his throat. “So, beneath Grandpa’s Table there are schools. Some are shiny new for the children of the Favourites, but many, many other schools – the faraway schools in the faraway rural lands, where they are not seen by many – they are falling down. So is the school that Girl must attend. But some days, many days, she does not attend for she is serving others. Or the school is closed. Or the teachers have no money to come to the school to teach. And anyway, in the classrooms there are no books and no desks.”
A cough from the bench interrupts. It is Bernard. “She is right. This gogo is right,” he says. “The schools where my people are from, those schools are nothing now.”
Rudd looks across the room, and sees the droop in the old man’s shoulders. The resignation in the shake of his head.
“Aha,” Tonderai replies, addressing Bernard, “I am sorry for that. There is too much that is broken.” He shakes his head, waits a few sombre seconds, then continues. “But this Girl, this very clever Girl, she will not be forgotten in these tired schools. Girl knows what she must do. Every day she is reading, reading – learning, learning, so that she may know more of how the world may be. And, she is lucky, for she has books. An old teacher, another gogo, sends these books to her, to her place beneath the Table. Girl does not know this gogo, does not know even who sends the books, but Girl does not mind, for at least she may read. And every day her reading gets stronger and stronger. She knows that this is good, so this is what she does. She reads many things, different things, when she is not serving others.”
Tonderai walks with slow, wet steps around to the far side of the billiard table. As he disappears into the shadows the wind pushes in through the door again, but it does not stop the reach of his voice, which rises louder with every beat.
“As the days pass, Girl’s learning grows like a river. It grows wide and strong, powerful as manzi when the rains come. And the more Girl learns, the more she sees that what Grandpa does is wrong. She knows that good leaders should not have Favourites. Favourites who carry guns. Favourites who grow fat like pigs. Favourites with golden pockets. Favourites who do not care that others starve while they feast. Sometimes, on brave days, Girl shouts and stamps her feet, but Grandpa only laughs. And when Grandpa laughs the Favourites laugh too. They shout down to her that one day they will squash her like a cockroach. Then they bang their guns on the table, and laugh again.”
Rudd feels the words flick over the hairs on his arms, and run down the back of his neck, like the rain that scatters across the roof. Then he hears the clump of Tonderai’s boots coming closer, bringing the story with them.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023