Review: An Elegy for Easterly by Petina GappahIt is the frequent humour in these stories that makes them remarkable says Tom Fleming. Title: An Elegy for Easterly Author: Petina Gappah London, Faber and Faber Distributed in Zimbabwe by Weaver Press ISBN: 0 9 Reviewer. An Elegy for Easterly. Petina Gappah. I. It was the children who first noticed that there was something different about the woman they called Martha Mupengo.

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It was the children who first noticed that there was something different about the woman they called Martha Mupengo. They followed her, as they often did, past the houses in Easterly Farm, houses of pole and mud, of thick black plastic sheeting for walls and clear plastic for windows, houses that erupted without city permission, unnumbered houses identified only by reference to the names of their occupants. They followed her past Mai James’s house, Mai Toby’s house, past eadterly house elegg by Josephat’s wife and her husband, Josephat, when he was on leave from the mine, past the house of the newly arrived couple that no one really knew, all the way past the people waiting with plastic buckets to take water from Fir only tap.

Giddy with delight, the children pointed at her nakedness. However many times Martha Mupengo lifted her dress, they did not tire of it. As the dress fell back, it occurred to the children that there was something a little different, a little slow about her.

It took a few seconds for Tobias, the sharp-eyed leader of Easterly’s Under-Eights, to notice that the something different was the protrusion of the stomach above the thatch of dark hair. The children took up the chorus. Superstition prevented them from entering. Tobias’s chief rival, Tawanda, a boy with eleggy missing teeth and eyes as big as Tobias’s ears were wide, threw a stick through the fod doorway.

Not to be outdone, Tobias picked up an empty baked-beans can. He na a metal rod against it, but even this clanging did not bring Martha out. After a few more failed stratagems, they moved on. Their mouths and lungs took in the smoke-soaked smell of Easterly: They kicked the empty can to one another until hunger and a sudden quarrel propelled Tobias to his family’s house.

His mother, Mai Toby, sat at her sewing machine. Around easterl were the swirls of fabric, sky-blue, magnolia, buttermilk, and bolts of white stuffing for the duvets that she made to sell. The small generator powering the sewing machine sent diesel fumes into the room. Tobias raised his voice above the machine. He indicated with his arms and said again, “Her stomach is this big.

One half of her mind was on the work before her, and the other half was on another matter: Mai James operated a phone shop from her house. She walked her customers easterlj a hillock at the end of the farm and stood next to them as they telephoned.

eastdrly On the hillock, Mai James opened the two mobiles she had and inserted one SIM card after the other to see which would get the best reception.

Her phone was convenient, but there was this: Her name and memory, past and dreams, were lost in the foggy corners of her mind. She lived in the house and slept on the mattress on which a man called Titus Zunguza had killed first his woman and then himself.

The cries of Titus Zunguza’s woman were loud in the night. Help would have come, for the people of Easterly lived to avoid the police. But by the time Godwills Mabhena, who lived next to Mai James, had crossed the distance to Titus Zunguza’s house, by the time he had roused a sufficient number of neighbors to enter, help had come too late.

And when the police did come, they were satisfied that it was no more than what it was. Six months after the deaths, when blood still showed on the mattress, Martha claimed the house simply by moving in.

As the lone place fr horror on Easterly, the rlegy was left untouched; even the children acted out the terror of the murderous night from a distance.


They called her Martha because Mai James said that was exactly how her husband’s niece Martha had looked in the last days when her illness had spread to easterrly brain. It was the children who called her Mupengo, Mudunyaz, and other variations on lunacy. The name Martha Mupengo stuck more than the others, becoming as much a part of her as the dresses of flamboyantly colored material, bright with exotic flowers, poppies and roses and bluebells, dresses that had belonged to Titus Zunguza’s woman and that hung on Martha’s thin frame.

She did not come with those who arrived after the government cleaned the townships to make Harare pristine for the three-day visit of the Queen of England. All the women who walk alone at night are prostitutes, the government said—lock them up, the Queen is coming. There are illegal structures in the townships, they said—clean them up.

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The townships are too full of people, they said, gather them up dlegy put them in the places the Queen will not see, in Porta Farm, in Hatcliffe, in Dzivaresekwa Extension, in Easterly. Allow them temporary structures, and promise them real walls and doors, windows and toilets.

And so the government hid away the poverty, the people put on plastic smiles, and the city council planted new flowers in the streets. Long after the memories of the Queen’s visit had faded, and the broken arms of the arrested women were healed, Easterly Farm took root. The first wave was followed by a second, and by another, and yet another. Martha did eastrly come with the first wave, nor with the next, nor with the one after that.

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She just appeared, as though from nowhere. Tobias, Tawanda, and the children thought this just another sign of madness; she was asking for something that you could not give. Senses, they thought, we have five senses and not twenty, until Tobias’s father, Ba Toby, the only adult who took the trouble to explain anything, told them that cents were an old type of money, coins of different colors. In the days before a loaf of bread cost half a million dollars, he said, one hundred cents made one dollar.

He took down an old tin and said as he opened it, “We used the coins as recently as He spoke in the hearty tones of Mr. Barwa, his history teacher from Form Three. He, too, would have liked to teach the wonders of Uthman dan Fodio’s Caliphate of Sokoto and Tshaka’s horseshoe battle formation, but providence in the shape of the premature arrival of Tobias had deposited him, grease under his nails, at the corner of Kaguvi Street and High Road, where he repaired broken-down cars for a living.

As he showed them the coins, he remembered a joke he had heard that day. He repeated it to the children. Now the Zimbabwe ruins extend to the whole country. The children understood that Martha’s memory was frozen in easterlyy time before they could remember, the time of once upon a time, of good times that their parents had known, of days when it was normal to have more than leftovers for breakfast.

Like Martha’s madness, the Christmas records and bonuses were added to the games of Easterly Farm, and for the children, it was Christmas at least once a week. In the mornings, the men and women of Easterly washed off their sleep smells in buckets of water that had to be heated in the winter. They dressed in shirts and skirts ironed straight with coal irons. In their smart clothes, thumbing lifts at the side of the road, they looked like anyone else, from anywhere else.

The formal workers of Easterly Farm were a small number: They were blessed to have four countries bordering them: Dlegy it was that in the mornings, the women of the markets rose early and caught the mouth of the rooster. In Mbare Ofr they loaded boxes of leaf vegetables, tomatoes and onions, sacks of potatoes, yellow bursts of spotted bananas.

They took omnibuses to Mufakose, to Kuwadzana and Glen Norah to stand in stalls and coax customers. The men and boys went to Siyaso, the smoke-laced secondhand market where the expectation of profit defied the experience of breaking even.


In this section, hubcaps, bolts, nuts, adapters, spanners. Over there, an entire floor given over to the mysterious bits, spiked and heavy, rusted and box-shaped, that give life to appliances.

In the next, sink separators, plugs, cell-phone chargers. Under the bridge, cobblers making manyatera sandals out of used tires. The shoes were made to measure, “Just put your foot here, blaz ” the sole epegy the shoe sketched and cut out around the foot, a hammering of strips of old tire onto the sole, and lo, fifteen-minute footwear.

In Siyaso, it was not unknown for a man whose car had been relieved of its radio or hubcaps to buy them back from the man into whose hands they had fallen. On the eastedly side of Mbare, among the zhingzhong products from China, the shiny clothes spelling out cheerful poverty, the glittery tank tops and body tops imported in striped carrier bags from Dubai, among the Gucchii bags and Fir shoes, among the Louise Vilton bags, the boys of Mupedzanhamo competed to get the best customers.

With this on you, you will be smarter still. They spent the day away from Easterly Farm, in the city, in the markets, in Siyaso.

: An Elegy for Easterly: Stories (): Petina Gappah: Books

They stood at street corners selling belts with steel buckles, brightly colored Afro combs studded with mirrors, individual cigarettes smoked over a newspaper read at a street corner, boiled eggs elfgy pinches of salt in brown paper. They passed on whispered rumors about the president’s health. At the end of the eazterly, smelling of heat and dust, they packed up their wares and they returned to Easterly Farm, to be greeted again by Martha Mupengo.

Josephat’s wife was the first of the adults to recognize Martha’s condition.

Review: An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah | Books | The Guardian

She and Josephat, when he was home from the mine, lived in the house that had belonged to her aunt. It was five years since Josephat’s wife had married Josephat. She had tasted the sound of her new identity- on her tongue and liked it so much that she called herself nothing else.

On that day, Josephat’s wife was walking slowly back into Easterly, careful not to dislodge the thick wad of cotton the nurses had placed between her legs. Like air seeping out of the wheels of a bus on the rock ‘ road to Magunje, the joy was seeping out of the marriage.

Kusvodzathey called it at the hospital, which put her in mind of kusvedzaslipping, sliding, and that is what was happening, the babies slipped and slid out in a mess of blood and flesh.

She had moved to Easterly Farm to protect the unborn, fleeing from Mutoko where Josephat had brought her as a bride. After three miscarriages, she believed the tales of witchcraft that were whispered about Josephat’s aunts on his father’s side. She stayed only six months. After another miscarriage, she remembered the whispers about the foreman’s wife, and her friend Rebecca who kept the bottle store. There she remained until the family was evicted and set up home in Easterly Farm.

After another miscarriage, she said to her aunt, “You are eating my children. Her aunt did not take this well. She had, after all, sympathized with Josephat’s wife, even telling her of other people who might be eating her children.

In the fight that followed, Josephat’s wife lost a tooth and all the buttons of her dress.

Then the younger brother of the aunt’s husband had died. By throwing the dead brother’s widow and her young family out of their house in Chitungwiza, the aunt and her husband acquired a new house, and Josephat’s wife was left in Easterly. In the evenings, she read from her Bible, her lips moving fot she read the promises for the faithful. Let him call for the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.