The Race

Excepts from a fiction novel, For All Have Sinned

by Temba Magorimbo

It was mild in the afternoon and cool to cold in the evening of May 1977.

The inter-district athletics competitions had been held at Dadaya Mission School.

 It was soon time for him to compete again. He had competed in the 4 x 400m Boys Open relay. He was now looking forward to the 4 800m Boys Open long distance race. Here was where the boys were weaned from the men. It needed staying power and stamina to survive. He had come second and third in two races he had competed in making his school very proud of him. Here he wanted to be in among the first three.

Isaac Masembura was seventeen years of age. He was built like a railway sleeper. He was short and thickset with bulging muscles that befitted his age. He was dark brown in complexion. Their group had started off on their 4 800 metres Boys open long distance race.

Isaac started the race with moderate speed, maintaining the speed as he had been taught. Groups of boys went past him faster than his trot. He kept running raising his hands and dropping them.

2 000 metres to go.

He increased his pace slightly until he had reached the half way mark. Most of the pacesetters were tiring now. This was a man's game, which needed patient and training. His training had been achieved at Mambo secondary school every afternoon. In the evening, Isaac had run the gauntlet in Senga Township. He had run along the perimeter of the township including the police camp and as far as Gwelo Teachers College daily for the past six weeks. The track in the beginning had been hard. He had had aching muscles. But like football training, the more he trained, the less his muscles ached. He remembered being in Senga when young boys would join him tiring and making a U turn as he continued on his sojourn. His ultimate price had been this race.

1 200 metres to go.

He increased his pace moving his hands up and down, his rhythm and ways of concentrating. This was his mental preparation for the game as his short sturdy legs carried him on. On both sides the way was clear as earlier pacesetters were feeling the pitch. He was now going past them without anyone overtaking him. This was the race guy, he thought. He snapped at pockets of water being held. Some village boys and girls were clapping hands to encourage the racers. Even a few cows had turned up mooing the racers on their way or standing right in the way and racing off at the very last minute.

1 000 metres to go.

The going was getting tough.  He could feel his muscles arching. He remembered doing the Senga perimeter at a trot and coming home to find his father waiting by the stoep to reward him with an orange. After a shower Isaac always lay down tired and weary. He would fall asleep so fast and so deep that he hated it when he was shaken awake to go and bath.

800 metres to go.

Five of them were the first back into the school grounds. He was the last. They had not yet entered the school's 400 metres track, which meant he had to do something, fast and do so with staying power. The few Mambo secondary students came to meet him cheering him onwards.

"Stimela, chu-chu-train, chitima chu-chu-train," they chorused. Stimela in Ndebele and chitima in Shona which all meant a passenger train. The stimela/chitima name was synonymous with migrant labour coming from Malawi and Zambia going to Rhodesia's mines and industry or coming from Malawi, Zambia and Rhodesia going to the gold, diamond, coal and other mines and factories of South Africa. This had been called Wenela. In those days, most Africans had not been very well versed to working and living as pioneers in black townships.

600 metres to go.

He was now fourth going strong. His arms were now going up and down like the spokes of a steam locomotive going chu-chu-chu in the Rhodesian railway system hence his nickname in Ndebele of stimela and in Shona of chitima. His veins were taught. Droplets of sweat were coming from his body. His vest and cotton shorts were wet with sweat. His whole body was burning.

400 metres to go.

Into the school track he went now the fourth with the third a few metres away and going like a spreading bush fire. He could hear the roar of the crowd as all schools edged the racers to the finish line irrespective of which school they represented. Mambo secondary students were waving their flags urging him on, still calling after him.

"Chu-chu-train, stimela, come on chitima, come on chu-chu-train, you can do it damn it!"

"Masembura, come one, do it!" shouted one of his female teachers wearing a tracksuit and track bottom running along the edges of the tracks were stewards were pushing students away. He came like a road train. He was closing on the third. Then they were at par. They were running neck to neck. He willed his short sturdy legs on. His cheeks rose and fell as he ran. Then he was through.  He couldn't see his adversary. He was still going.

250 metres to go.

A Dadaya secondary school famous long distance runner was ahead of them both going for a song. There he is, the ultimate prize, he thought as he increased yet more speed. He was into the top three but he was unsatisfied, he wasn't happy. Isaac had run the gauntlet in Senga perimeter not to be the third. He couldn't go back to Parish hall near the Roman Catholic Church and Ingwe hall to chat with loafers there and tell them he had been third. Oh no, not on his life. Isaac was sweating.  Sweat was coming down his body like rivulets of water. His fists were clenched going from his waist to near his face as he moved them up and down, like the spokes of a steam locomotive.

200 metres to go.

The next runner was seventeen metres from him and he was going. He was not stationary at all. Isaac ran on urging his legs forward promising them a respite.

"Stimela," he heard.

"Dididi! Dididi!" came the call for one of the two ahead.

100 metres.

He had slackened speed. The other student was now twenty-two metres away and putting up his last burst of speed. Isaac counted the metres to the finish.

50 metres to go.

"Stimela, chu-chu-train keep going," was the call. You think I will settle for second, he thought. No ways, he said to himself. Isaac pushed his body for the last reserves of strength left. He could feel the jarring impact of his feet stepping on the ground. He could feel the fire burning throughout his muscles. He could feel the tiredness coming at him like a wet blanket in the middle of a cold winter night. He didn't know if he was running or standing still but he continued on. It was funny, the more he ran forwards, the more his body carried him backwards. He was not going to finish the race. He would end up at the school gates at this rate, he thought.

“Come on Ruwizhi,” someone shouted the name Lewis as pronounced by Africans of Mozambican descent who were in Rhodesia feeling from their won country‘s political woes.

30 metres to go.

The distance before him was now ten metres and he was going, nodding his head forwards and backwards. His fists were going up and down chopping at an invisible enemy. He asked his body to go faster than he was going. He felt the thump-thump of his legs going and the sweat was now going to the ground in droplets.

15 metres to go.

The first Dadaya runner was raising his hands in the air. Not yet chum, not yet chomi, not yet small bull terrier, the blood hound is coming and he is baying for your piece of meat on his palate, he thought as he ran on urged by the roar of the crowd. He did not care whether they supported him or the boy before him. What happened in competitions were crowds started supporting their own. When their own failed them, they broke loyalties and supported whosoever each member of the crowd liked or thought was doing well to the noble sport. Mambo secondary students were still yelling his name from the edged. They were gathering before, at parallels to him and after him like curio shoppers.

10 metres to go.

The distance was now three metres. His teachers were now running alongside the track edging urging him on, calling him by his nickname, his first name, his surname and even his totem. They even invented and cast away nicknames as they ran. He had to make it. This was it, this was for Mambo secondary, and this was for the people of Senga. The talent scouts were now standing on their chairs with notebooks in hand writing down what they were seeing against the race numbers of each entrant. This was lastly for the Masembura family in Senga, which had a strong sporting line. He stumbled on running, willing his body onwards, no longer with the strength to increase speed. He just wanted to maintain the speed and show the two up front that he was not a pushover they thought he was.

5 metres to the finish line.

One metre ahead was the distance now to the second student. Isaac pushed one leg ahead of him at a time now. Isaac did a hop skip and jump, he stumbled and continued carrying the line as he fell past him then he was rolling. One of the track judges caught him before he touched the ground. Another track judge caught the other and Isaac before they fell. His momentum sent the three backwards a few metres. There was a roar as the first person across the line was confirmed.

There was a loud hailer message.

"First across the line, Isaac Masembura of Mambo secondary school followed less than fifty centimetres behind in a clear leap and photo finish to the end, Dadaya secondary school Daniel Kawara and third Cornwell Marungu of Fletcher High school, fourth Dadaya secondary school James Mbeve __________"

The Race by Temba Magorimbo

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