Shattered dreams through Benjamin’s perspective
Harvest of Thorns Classic: A play by Shimmer
THERE is no doubt that as you read this play you get supporting evidence on what the play entails. The arrival of Benjamin back home from the gruelling war shows clearly lost traditions and fractured lives. Benjamin and his mother Shamiso are at loggerheads because they view traditional expectations differently. Benjamin is coming from the wild bush where the law of the jungle ruled. It was survival of the fittest. Tradition or no tradition one had to take precautions and make sure she or he survived.
Many young men and women never returned. They perished in the thickness of war. Benjamin could have lost that tenderness of heart in the war. Remember we have already seen that he takes a militant stance when he does not agree with what his mother would be saying. After fixing the stove Shamiso is all smiles and tells Benjamin that his father always said he was cut out to be an engineer or a mechanic and he would certainly have become one had he not —.
Benjamin reacts angrily to the insinuation that he could have become one if he had not decided to leave school and go to war. He interrupts his mother before she finishes her statement accusingly asking her: “Had I not what?” Shamiso reading that the situation might become nasty defuses it saying, “Never mind.” Shamiso’s talk zeroes in on what Benjamin was planning to do with Nkazana, a girl from another tribe. She asks if her people knew she was there.
Benjamin is immune to such facts as he asks his mother what difference that would make. Shamiso is concerned about tradition and custom. She tells Benjamin that as a matter of African custom, her people would need to know she was there. Besides anything could happen to a pregnant woman, especially when it is her first time. Benjamin takes his mother’s concern likely. To him all this is immaterial. He is war hardened and cares less about custom or traditional expectations.
He says: “In the bush we had dozens of babies without anybody batting an eyelid.” War has no order. Lives are broken during the war. Benjamin reveals some evils of the war where people go about making babies willy-nilly with many different women. Nobody bothered to say this or that about that reckless behaviour. All this supports that Benjamin was from a wild bush where there was no law putting lids to weird and uncouth behaviours.
Shamiso tries hard to hammer some reasonableness on Benjamin telling him that the situation at home is different from the war, stating that if something should happen to her —. Benjamin again interrupts Shamiso saying, “If something happens, it happens.” She silences him and in a hushed tone exclaims asking Benjamin whatever he did out there. Shamiso now fears her son could have done the worst out there.
What could he have done? Obviously, at war there is bloodshed. She is afraid that Benjamin could have killed a lot of people out there. Any reference to the war makes Benjamin emotionally charged as he angrily asks his mother Shamiso: “What do you think I did ‘out there’? Shoot birds with a catapult?” Shamiso is shocked by that kind of reaction from Benjamin. Reality dawns on Shamiso that her son is really steeped in blood from the war.
Benjamin, driven by emotion, gives us a summation of what exactly he did in the war though he appears to deny it. “All right, all right. I just walked around with a gun on my back. I didn’t shoot anybody. I didn’t see corpses and I didn’t touch any. I’m clean. There are no vengeful spirits after me or my family. I don’t have to be cleansed. You don’t have to take me to a n’anga or priest or that blasted overseer of your Holy Church who preached honesty every Sunday morning but stole all your pious little pennies. Is that what you want to hear? Does that make you happy?”
Benjamin has gone to extremes and reveals what terrifies his mother more as we are told that she quivers with horror. He has given us a graphic scene of what he did in the war. Briefly he carried a gun on his back. He shot people, saw corpses and touched them. He is unclean. He knows there are vengeful spirits after him and his family though he appears not to believe in tradition and custom. He desperately needs to be cleansed.
He needs to be taken to a n’anga or priest of the church though he speaks ill of him. Benjamin knows what he is supposed to do to lead a normal life now that he is back from the war. Together with his comrades they went through a lot of things. They killed a lot of people and lost a lot of their colleagues as well. Benjamin is disturbed by such talk and asks his mother if they could just not talk about it. Talking about the war brings about sad memories to Benjamin.
Shamiso is overwhelmed by the events such that she expresses a wish that if only Benjamin’s father was there and she did not have to face that alone. She wishes Nkazana does not have complications. Things have not gone as expected. People had high hopes of getting all things easily after independence. When Shamiso expresses her fears of Nkazana having complications with her pregnancy Benjamin asks what hospitals are for.
Sarcastically he asks, “Aren’t all institutions open to all races now, since April 18, 1980? Aren’t schools and hospitals free?” Benjamin is an ex-combatant and is saddened to find that all that they fought to achieve has not materialised. Shamiso is concerned about Nkazana’s welfare and asks her son to be good to her and promise not to hurt her stating that she is just a stranger there until they sent word to her people.
Shamiso was shocked to hear that all her “people” died in the war. Was it true that all of Nkazana’s people were dead or Benjamin took advantage of the situation and eloped with her? From this piece we get pieces of the play being prophetic, for its times and challenges of a new Zimbabwe which teachers and learners can pursue in class. Next time we shall read a portion on ex-combatants and how they were treated in the early days of independence.
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