“Maserumo” is told like an audiotape recording—renditioned in this way even, would create the kind of intimacy of storytelling the writer wishes for the reader. And the sentences are as clear as daylight.
When you start the audiotape the narrator’s voice comes on with the opening glee: “I don’t know what Davie told you, but I know that he was very wrong on some things.” As you go further you learn the story revolves around the death of a minutes-old baby, Little Samantha, and how people who propagate or insist on talking about her death die, one after the other. Mostly having to do with whether a cry—the cry, of a baby or child or cat was heard at night by her grave or not. Hereby your narrator is trying to tell you she has tried to avoid any conversation about the death of the baby, Davie’s loose mouth posing a danger to her abstinence. As you go further still, you learn also that the narrator, Maserumo, has been all the while narrating this recorded story to someone she needs help from.
But plot is not the attention in Manenzhe’s “Maserumo”—that is quite handled—but novelty. A novelty that is appreciated a few paragraphs into the short story. This she wins with language and narrative style. For language, it is an all-round domestication of English language so that the prose reads like it was first written in her language, then translated to English: “If you wanted reliable gossip, it was there you had to perch yourself with the hope that someone would stumble their tongue into a recent scandal.”
On her narrative style, the approach is not of an actual storyteller but someone who simply sits and tells her story to a listener, so that there are digressions and comebacks, or reminders (“And as I have said”), that is the case in a natural setting is experienced. But in a seductive way. This leads to long sentences in some places, broken deftly with commas:
First, not believing that Rough Spanner had “simply died,” then, not believing that the death, if it had, in fact, occurred, was natural, he withered even further into his drunkenness.
But something lurks, this death thing in the story. Now that the narrator has told this story to this listener, how would she get help from not dying like the others? She asks for help from her listener; has she done so because she thinks she now knows the cause of the baby’s death, which she believes is the reason why others died? We need to be certain but we cannot be. Else, why is she asking for help when she has now told everybody the story of Little Samantha and the mystery deaths that followed? Such is the atmosphere hanging over the story.
This is the kind of story you have heard, too—or overhear—told in the evening when there’s no NEPA and it is dark and the time inspires the re-enactment of mysterious stories. You want to believe it is not true, Logic you have been taught in school persuading you. It is the kind of story Western thought will not allow us to have, because of all its superstitious undercurrents, so some reality of Africa is lost. “But, of course, the deaths in the story are natural,” your rational mind thinks; Manenzhe’s story doesn’t say it that way. The audiotape hums static as you muse over these things.
What Resoketswe M. Manenzhe has done in “Maserumo” ensures its durability■
Praxis Magazine is in partnership with Writivism this year (2019) and brings you reviews of the Writivism shortlisted works of fiction and the Koffi Addo Prize for Creative Nonfiction. Watch this space.