The helicopters swooped down out of the warm night, descending on the quiet little town like eagles after prey. At first they were nothing but a low rumble in the distance, like distant thunder, the menacing portent of a storm on the way.
As the sound drew closer, I began to pick out the unique auditory signatures of each chopper; each machine made a slightly different sound, and at a certain distance you can tell when there’s more than one.
This isn’t some VIP shuttling around the countryside, I thought; this could get interesting. I called out for Lucy, my pregnant girlfriend, who was pottering about my mother’s kitchen, playing the dutiful daughter-in-law while I tended the fire with the other lads.
Parties at my parents’ were always like this. We’d drive the 100km westwards out of Harare, happy to be out of the bustle, away from the daily bullshit that comes with life in a capital city. We’d always arrive late with proceedings in full swing, either a by-product of my legendary rebellious streak, or some juvenile need for attention.
And with a pregnant muroora in tow, things were always bound to get interesting. Gossipy aunts and nosy neighbours, all in one place, fussing over Lucy, slapping me on the back, demanding to know when the wedding will be. Yes, parties in Chegutu could be taxing, and this one would be the most uncomfortable yet.
The party had gone as expected; Lucy bore the attention like a sweet little trooper, and I hovered the periphery, drinking whisky with my uncles and talking football. I made myself useful, manning the seemingly overloaded braai-stand, churning out well-done beef at an impressive rate.
The day wore on; the speeches fizzled out, the dancing became more laborious and the drink stocks dwindled. I found myself having conspiratorial little side chats with people from my past. Old neighbours congratulated me on the coming baby. My primary school headmaster thought I’d picked myself a pretty one.
Old friends made lewd jokes involving condoms and needles, and my drunken uncles kept winking like giggly little schoolkids. As darkness fell on our now-tiny gathering, I found myself a part of the natural separation at such affairs. The younger women retreated to the kitchen, some cleaning, others cooking, all talking. I joined the circle of men around the fire, chatting in sometimes hushed tones about finances, school fees, politics and the cost of living.
That was when the soldiers came.