Silent Border Crossing

A short story on women, poverty and migration

“Where is my baby? Mwanawangu aripi? Where is my baby? Where is my baby” Chipo asked frantically.

Tiny little Mudiwa gone and she didn’t know what to do. What would her husband say?

“Ndiani wamapa mwana wangu? Who did you give my child?” her eyes were full of tears as she yelled

The driver looked away and told her “Sister ma1. Everyone get back on the bus we have to go in 10 mins”

“But my baby where is my baby?” she yelled again but the bus drove away.

“But my baby where is my baby?” she yelled again but the bus drove away

Chipo grew up in Budiriro 3 in Harare. She didn’t know that she was poor, because everyone around her was poor. Of course there were “those neighbours” that had relativesb with big big cars that would bring their relatives groceries all the time. She wondered why they didn’t take their family members to wherever it is that they got these big cars and endless bags of groceries. She asked her mother once and her mother told her “Chipo unotaurisa.” She was often told that she talked too much but if she had a question she had to ask. This is what made her the top student at Budiriri 3 Primary School and later on at Budiriro High school.

Chipo was not only a good student but she was what the elderly aunties called a nice girl. They would often tell her mother “endemunemwana akanaka.” This comment wasn’t about her beauty but her character as she was agreeable, helpful and she attended church enough to make her mother proud.

Chipo met Tawanda when she was 17. She had passed all her 0-levels but her parents could not afford to pay for her to finish her A levels. She was informed by her mother that she would have to find something to do or get married soon. Her mother laughed as she said it but Chipo felt as though it was not a joke.

She continued on studying with her friends that were still in school and helped them with their homework. One day while helping her friend Melody, her elder brother Tawanda who had just come back from South Africa greeted her. “Ndeipi Chipo ende wakuru.” She laughed, it was a silly comment he was only 3 years older than her but always joked that she was growing very fast.

Needless to say many homework sessions later Chipo realizes she had missed a period. Her first thoughts were not what the church members would say, nor what the aunties would say but it went right to her mother and the questions she would ask. How will you feed a baby? How will you buy diapers? What will you do for money? That Tawanda anevasika vakawanda muBudiriro muno – Tawanada has many girlfriends in this neighbourhood.

Her mother was wrong. Tawanda accepted his responsibility, they got married and everything was fine for a while but nothing is fine for long in Zimbabwe. When Chipo lived under her parent’s roof she never thought about money until she could no longer go to school. Nor did she think about it when she moved to her husband’s house and shortly realized that when he went to South Africa he was a border jumper.

Chipo had never been out of Harare except to go kumusha kwaRusape. She was not sure what he meant when he spoke of the difficulty of “crossing the border.” Chipo often wondered if her husband was not being dramatic and overly playful as he often was. But at the back of her mind she could not pretend that when her husband was leaving or had just returned he always seems different. But Chipo was happy and put these worries to the back of her mind.

A year into the marriage her husband told her they would save more money if they both lived in South Africa. He would try to find her a job which had proved impossible in Harare. They could save money on the trips that he had to make every couple of months. Chipo was delighted it wasn’t often husbands wanted their wives to come to South Africa to join them. She had heard from the other aunties that “some” husbands had other families there. Now 19 she was delighted at her luck in finding a resourceful and loving husband. Who needed A levels when you could marry well and live a wonderful life she wondered.

To get a passport for Mudiwa would have cost more than Tawanda had saved. Instead he told her that he had seen other women on the bus have their children taken across the border by other people. Chipo never having crossed the border had a many questions to ask but she trusted her husband and listened to his instructions carefully. You speak to the conductor and he will tell you what to do ok? The plan seemed simply enough. Tawanada would get her and Mudiwa at Park Station in Joburg and their new life would begin.

On the day she got Mudiwa ready and took a combi with her bag to Roadport bus station.When she arrived she informed the conductor silently

”I have a passport, but she does not” he nodded and told her it was fine.

She wondered why Tawanda had been so worried this seemed very simple. She may not have written her A levels but surely she had enough sense from her O levels to manage getting on a bus with her baby.

The bus ride was long, they stoped, they ate and they used the toilet. She can’t really remember. Mudiwa as always was the perfect little girl. She barely cried and the women on the bus commented “endemunemwana akanaka” she smiled.

When they they got to the border everything happened so fast, the conductor made a speech about what was happening but she was starting to get worried and all of a sudden he came and said

“Ndipe mwana wacho – give me the baby”

“What? Why?”

“Madam itai faster faster vamwe vatokumiriria – hurry up the others are waiting ” he replied

“But where are you taking her? Will she not stay with us?”

The conductor was losing patience “Kasi ifirst time ku crosa border?”

“Yes this is my first time coming to South Africa” she said softly with the shame of not knowing what was happening

Remembering what Tawanda had said she hesitantly handed him Mudiwa who went without a fuss.

When the bus started to move she started crying she didn’t know why. Why did Tawanda not tell me that I would have to leave my baby. None of this made sense. Had she been tricked? She was all alone, the man next to her was fast asleep. One of the older ladies must have seen her distress and told her

“Don’t worry vanomupa kunevamwe vasina mapepa – they give her to others that don’t have papers to cross”

They made it seem so normal, so ordinary that I should give my child to a stranger. I wondered and wanted to ask, as I usually did but I remembered Tawanda and my mothers words ”unotaurisa – you talk too much” but now they were telling me they didn’t know where my baby was.

Everyone else was back on the bus but my baby was not.

The bus drove away.

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