Published by Legend Press
Available in ebook and paperback (17 May 2018)
My thanks to Imogen at Legend Press for the invitation to take part in and end the blog tour. I have an extract to share with you also a giveaway for a paperback copy, courtesy of the publisher. Entry details are at the end of this post.
| About the Book |
Three days after arriving in Zimbabwe, Natalie discovers an abandoned newborn baby on a hill near her uncle’s farm. 115 years earlier, the hill was home to the Mazowe village where Chief Tafara governed at a time of great unrest. Faced with taxation, abductions and loss of their land at the hands of the white settlers, Tafara joined forces with the neighbouring villages in what becomes the first of many uprisings.
A Child Called Happiness is a story of hope, resilience and reclamation, proving that the choices made by our ancestors echo for many generations to come.
Kare kare. Long, long ago. I can still remember the day my father died; I was four years old. But this story does not start then. No. We shall get to his story by and by. This story begins in the days of my grandfather, in the days of the first Chimurenga – the first uprising.
These fields were ours then; these hills, this earth. Our village nestled in between the boulders on the side of the valley. There were many huts. The large central hut belonged to my grandfather. His cattle roamed the whole region from the ridge to the other side of the valley. He had three wives, of which my grandmother was the youngest. He was already an old man when he took her as wife. It was a fertile land, rich and fruitful. The village was close to that of the spirit guide, Nehanda, and like many, he revered her.
His name was Tafara. We are happy, it means, in the Shona language.
It was the year 1896, though Tafara would not have known it as that.
Tafara had settled himself at the top of a high ridge as darkness fell across the valley. In his hands he held the stick that had belonged to his father. It had been a year since his death and the next day they would be visiting his grave to perform the ceremony. Back in the village the women were brewing beer and preparing the sadza; it was just possible to hear the sound of voices and music drifting up over the dry grassland.
Tafara lay back against the stone, which was warm still from the sun. The night was heavy, the darkness, like a hot stifling blanket, blocked out any gleam of light. The moon had not yet risen, but as he lay there the stars began to appear, a glittering sweep of lights, pinpricks of brilliance. Billowing clouds were massed along the horizon, apparent only from the thick black absence of starlight. The rains had held off. Normally they would have come by now. Dark clouds gathered and drifted restlessly across the sky, but no rain had fallen. It had been a poor season; ever since his father had died, the earth seemed to have shrivelled up. The ground was bone hard.
Tafara hugged the stick to his chest and tried to picture his father’s face, but found he could not. He closed his eyes and delineated the details, the beard, the prominent forehead, the noble bearing; but the parts would not stitch together. His voice, though, remained and Tafara could hear it now, laying there, as if it had been only minutes before that it had breathed in his ear.
‘Sango rinopa waneta.’
The forest rewards you when you are weary.
They had been his father’s last words, his voice soft and flutelike as he lay upon his deathbed. Tafara felt now the soft weight of his father’s hand on his head. Heard the exhaustion in his voice. Saw still, piercingly clearly, the slow rise and fall of his emaciated chest beneath the thin blanket.
‘Yes, father,’ he had whispered.
But he did not know what his father had meant. Was it a criticism? Was it encouragement? This was Tafara’s sixteenth season of rains and he felt ill-prepared for the responsibilities about to fall upon him as the eldest son.
A sudden noise disturbed his thoughts. Alert, he sat up, his ears straining. The darkness was impenetrable; it was barely possible for him to see his hand in front of his face. Slowly and silently he slipped the long knife from his belt. His hand was trembling, but he breathed deeply, slowed the race of his heart and raised himself onto the balls of his bare feet. Somewhere a little below him he could hear movement in the undergrowth. A low rustle. He listened intently trying to gauge the size of the creature making the noise, listening for its breathing, for the sounds that might identify it, but little carried.
He eased himself down from the rock, placing its smooth surface against his back, taking care to detect the direction of the soft breeze. He flared his nostrils, inhaled deeply, analysing the scents in the air. Wood smoke. He dropped to a squat. The village was behind him on the other side of the ridge and the breeze was blowing away from it. It was thin, a small fire. He eased forwards silently. As he crept over the ridge he saw the soft glow of the flames, half way down the incline.
He moved to within thirty feet of the fire, keeping low. His view was partly obscured by high brush and he had to work around them, dipping below some large boulders and through a small copse of Msasa. He had crept closer than he anticipated. Two men were seated by the small fire. The first was of middling height dressed in a khaki green jacket. His hat had been discarded next to him. The second sat on the opposite side of the fire and little was visible of him beyond his gaunt face and beard.
It was not the first time Tafara had seen white men; they had been making incursions through the region more and more regularly. A small group of men had visited his father more than a year before, wanting to purchase land at the head of the valley where they had found deposits of gold. His father had turned them away. One of the white men had taken a large box from the back of their cart and erected it in front of the village. He had assembled the villagers in front of one of the huts and then disappeared beneath a black sheet in front of them. Tafara recalled the incident now and smiled, remembering their incomprehension at the behaviour of this white man hidden beneath his sheet before them.
Sometime later he came out from under it, grinned at them and laughed, and they laughed too at his madness. But, before he left, the white man presented them with a little miracle. On a card, no larger than the width and length of his hand, he presented them with the image of themselves as they had been at that moment, stood before the hut. Tafara did not understand what he had done, but he cherished that small miracle the white man gave him and kept it safely among his possessions.
For a while he watched the two men passing a small canteen between themselves, talking in low voices. When he was assured that they posed no danger he crept away, circling the kopje, moving silently, his ears alert for more of the white men; but the night was quiet.
The village glowed in the deep night and voices and music were audible as soon as he crossed the ridge. A cow had been slaughtered earlier in the day and the rich smell of the meat hung heavily in the air, making his mouth water as he made his way back. There was singing and the sound of the mbira. Many of the men were drunk when he passed through the village towards the central hut. Kamba, his uncle, was sprawled out in the shadows snoring loudly.
Tafara slept fitfully and was woken by a deep grumble shortly before dawn. For some moments he lay listening, but the village was silent and he drifted back to sleep.
They woke very early the following day, and taking the sadza that had been prepared and the beer, they made their way to the burial site of Chimukoko. The weather was heavy and uncomfortable, the air tense as though it might snap. Spreading out the food upon the grave, the women gathered around, a low chant rising rhythmically in the gathering dawn light. They poured the libations of beer across the ground.
At the appointed time, Tafara was motioned forward. He stood nervously and glanced across at his uncle. Kamba was the younger brother of his father and many of the tribe looked to him for authority. Kamba’s head was lowered and his hand rested on his large belly. He had dragged his feet all the way to the burial ground, hung over from the previous evening’s excesses. Raising his head slightly, he glanced at Tafara and nodded slowly, barely perceptibly, before letting his chin settle back against the rolls of fat on his chest.
‘Mudzimu!’ Tafara called out, kneeling before the grave. ‘Spirits hear! We welcome you back home. Come guide your family. If there is anything you need, please let us know. Have patience with us. Treat us with mercy.’
The earth shook. The heavens clapped with rage and the burial ground was illuminated by a brilliant, jagged flash of light. A sudden silence descended upon the mourners, and Tafara felt his heart rise into his mouth. He jumped to his feet.
‘Mudzimu!’ he called.
Following the brilliant light, the day seemed plunged into darkness. The clouds had been gathering since dawn and hung heavily now over the tops of the baobabs and Msasa. As he lifted his face to the sky he felt the first drop of water. He grinned. And suddenly it was raining; hard, large pellets of water that slapped against the skin and sizzled against the hot earth and rock. A torrential outpouring, which, as they made their way back to the village obscured their view, ran down their bodies, formed a liquid curtain across their path. The red earth stained their feet and ankles, and rode up their legs; it squelched between their toes as they walked.
The huts were warm and dry. Tafara sat in the centre of the largest, the sound of the mbira and drums drowning out the rain. His head swam with the beer and his senses were stimulated by the scent of the roasted calf and the duiker. He felt taller, more assured; he noted the respect in the voices of the women who brought him food.
Across the fire sat Kamba, his lips glossy with the juices of the meat they had eaten. Kamba smiled. His face jumped in the heat that rose from the fire.
‘You have your father’s blessing,’ Kamba said. Tafara nodded. ‘Sometimes I am frightened,’ he said.
Kamba waved his hand dismissively. ‘There is no reason to be afraid. Your father’s spirit will guide you. You are a young, strong man. For generations our family has lived on these lands and your children’s children will remember you in these same caves. What greater blessing could you want?’
‘My father was a wise man.’
‘And in time so shall you be. Listen to the spirits. Listen to the elders. Love the land. That is all that is asked of you.’ That night, Tafara returned to his young bride. It was dark when he went in to her and she was sleeping already. When he lay down beside her, she stirred and awoke, her eyes opening, blinking in the darkness, the faint light of the moon falling through the open door reflecting weakly in her large eyes. She murmured something, but he covered her mouth with his hand. He ran his hand across the smooth expanse of her naked back, down to the rise of her buttocks. He brushed his fingertips against her hardened nipples. He pressed his face into her neck and inhaled the sharp, animal scent of her. She moaned softly and turned onto her back.
His fingers traced down across her flat stomach, into the warm, wet crease between her legs.
‘Tafara,’ she said.
Carefully he got on top of her and her hands took him and guided him. He buried his face in against her flesh and she held onto him.
After, when she was sleeping again, he stood at the door of the hut and gazed out across the village. The sky had begun to clear and the moonlight reflected off the wet thatch. Nothing stirred. Behind the village rose the bulk of the hill, while to the south and east the valley dropped away. His land. The land of his fathers. The land of his children.
Tafara leaned back against the doorpost and smiled.
He had almost forgotten the previous evening.
| Author Bio |
Stephan Collishaw was brought up on a Nottingham council estate and failed all of his O-levels. His first novel The Last Girl (2003) was chosen by the Independent on Sunday as one of its Novels of the Year.
His brother is the renowned artist, Mat Collishaw. Stephan now works as a teacher in Nottingham, having also lived and worked abroad in Lithuania and Mallorca.
Follow Stephan on Twitter at @scollishaw
Other books by the author:
The Song of the Stork (2017)
** GIVEAWAY **
*Terms and Conditions – On behalf of the publisher, this giveaway is for one paperback copy of A Child Called Happiness (sorry, open to UK only). Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winner’s information. This will passed to the publisher (Legend Press) for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data I hold. My Reading Corner is not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize.