There was a loud bang, and the bus veered off the Harare-Bulawayo highway. It swerved into the roadside ditch and crashed on its side, plunging the interior into darkness as the windows disappeared and the only light was suddenly at roof level.
There was a moment of silence – I remember that. The inside of the bus was at peace for a single, eery moment. The passengers were strewn around like so many sardines in a shaken can, and I think we were in shock for just that one second.
Then the screaming began.
Even as a smaller-than-average fifteen-year-old, my passion for sport was unmatched. I loved, and played, rugby, cricket and tennis. I ran, I jumped both high and long, and gave the best of my effort all of the time.
When it came time for the annual schools’ rugby festival at Prince Edward School in Harare, I hatched a cunning plan. There was no need to catch the school bus on each festival day, waking up early in Chegutu to hop the Harare-bound school bus from Jameson High in Kadoma.
I had family in Harare, so I would spend the entire week there. Hang with my cousins. Play in town after playing rugby. That way I’d have a few more interesting stories to tell in hostel when schools opened the following week, hey? Why the fuck not?
I remember that Sunday morning very well. We left my uncle’s Cranborne house pretty early for church, me in a crisp white number-twos shirt (multi-purpose) and jeans, black-and-red travel bag hitched over my shoulder.
New Life was not today’s behemoth with services at Sheraton and all the hullabaloo and prosperity and overseas trips and Mercedes Benzes and blahblah.
It was a tiny community affair, based on that Eastlea intersection where two churches squat across the road from each other, one almost daring the other to flinch in the contest of who was Holier, the Cross or the Trinity?
After the (completely forgettable) service, we drove down Samora with my brother and his mate, where I hopped onto the first available Chegutu-bound bus at the Showgrounds bus-stop. I suppose it was an ordinary chicken-bus, nothing special or frightening about it.
I sat in the right-hand aisle, about four seats from the back. I shoved my bag under my seat, settled in for the hour-long trip home and went to work on my freezit.
The bus burst a front tyre at the 66-kilometer peg outside Harare.
When the wailing began, I still could not understand what had happened. All I know was that I was in a position I shouldn’t have been, sitting in the broken remnants of a window.
I looked up and wondered why I could see the sky, I looked around and wondered why I could see no-one else, I listened and wondered why everyone seemed to be screaming all at once.
When the bus crashed, I had been thrown against the roof, which now formed an outer wall. I rested there with my back against it, docile as fuck, more confounded by the noise than the situation.
My young eyes, adjusting to the darkness, came to rest on my bag, tossed within arm’s reach. I grabbed the handle and looked towards the back of the bus, where a door had suddenly appeared and I could see light and grass and people.
Hitching by bag over my shoulder, I stumbled through what used to be the rear window and was helped across the road, where many small vehicles had gathered.
The rest is a blur, as panicked, screaming human beings fought to escape the crash, which was now catching fire. Some climbed up and out the side windows on to the roof, like rats out of a sewer. Some stumbled out of the back window.
They all scrambled and screamed and fled, but not all made it out.
Many of my fellow survivors and I were hustled aboard another Chegutu-bound bus and dropped off at the hospital, where one of the nurses recognised me and took me for an exam.
Only then did I look down and realise the front of my shirt, my beautiful white shirt, my number-two uniform shirt, was covered in human blood.
And none of it was mine.
My only injury was a tiny scar on my left knee, but it could have been so much worse. Three people died in that bus crash, many more were injured. They bear the physical scars, but can the psychological ones ever be healed?
I recall going home with my very dazed mom, where one of my brothers hugged me for the first time ever. But to this day, I have issues with highway travel.
I turn my headphones to the highest volume and grip the seat (or the mouse’s hand) so tight I leave a mark. I feel every bump, every hump, every single dip in the road and I’m back at that 66-km peg, in the dark, screaming with the rest of them.
Everyone I have ridden a car with will testify that I have asked them to slow down, to be careful, we’re not in a hurry, there is no rush.
This is Zimbabwe – we don’t do therapy. Wo don’t talk about our problems, we drink them. We do not analyze our issues, we drown them in alcohol.
Me, I have a keyboard and a basic notion of how to use it. I can type my thoughts and feelings out, and I use writing as my therapy.
What do others do? How many people are struggling to hold down a job, hold on to a life, be a good wife or husband, take care of their kids, stay in school or church? How many of my fellow survivors of that bus accident twenty-one years ago quietly bear the scars of their ordeal?
Simply because we don’t “do” therapy here, and even if we sit down with our friends we’d rather discuss English soccer than things which actually matter?
I do not have any answers. Hell, I have many problems of my own. But at some point, we have to start examining ourselves and releasing what’s inside, because so many times the simple solution is letting it out.
Back to the story at hand, I survived the bus crash with nary a scratch, and I lived to tell the tale (only when I’m drunk). I just hadn’t told the whole story, until now.
I have so many more.