Emmanuel Sigauke - A Return to the Moonlight
Emmanuel Sigauke's A Return to the Moonlight tackles the difficult problem of the African Diaspora. On its surface, escaping from one war-torn, poverty-stricken country or another seems like an immediate success for the person escaping, and perhaps it is; but what about those left behind? And what happens to the person who has emigrated? Do they retain their “Africanness” (if such a thing even exists)? Do they possess the right to make decisions for their families back home, and do they retain filial obligations?
These are difficult questions – even posing them requires tact and sensitivity. For many emigrants working in the wealthy countries of the world, part of their wage or salary is sent home to their parents, or siblings, or wife. Some African countries count up to twenty per cent of their total GDP from remittances, with the attendant catastrophic consequences should these suddenly dry up. When Ranga returns from America after being away from ten years, he brings along with him a wife, a Jeep, some groceries, money, and bags and bags of clothing. His sister and mother, who have stayed behind in Zimbabwe in a house partly-complete, and wholly built from Ranga's money, are happy to see their relation, but happier still for what he brings with him.
The narrator of A Return to the Moonlight, Tete, justifies this thinking:
We were not greedy or anything, but it was high time people saw that my brother had spent many years overseas for a good reason. They didn't have to know about all of the letters he had sent us, about how he had said life America was difficult, how in those letters he had asked repeatedly why the building of the house was taking long to complete. What mattered now, what made sense to me, what made me proud, was that he was back, finally, with a wife. With the car parked under the Muzeze tree, not just any car, but my brother's own expensive-looking Jeep, who in the village would be stupid enough to believe that he was poor?
Mother and daughter are ashamed to accept these remittances and gifts, but at the same they desire, crave, and expect them. They are offended when Ranga's gifts, though generous, aren't as much as they expected. Ranga, for his part, seems to know this, but he also, we sense, has made less of himself in America than he had expected. His family believes him to be rich and famous and successful – isn't everyone over there? - and believe he must be deliberately rejecting them when the largess they assume he has fails to reveal itself. And, truthfully, Ranga is rich, but only when compared to the Zimbabweans. He has a mobile phone, sure, and a laptop, and a car, but Sigauke hints that, back in America, Ranga is merely getting by.
Ranga's mother is angry, and so is Ranga. She expected more, much more, and believes it is his duty as a son to provide those left behind with more, much more, than he has already. She has left the house deliberately dirty, refusing to clean pots and pans to ensure that flies settle everywhere, and the general maintenance of her home has been neglected. It's a deliberate provocation, and they all know it, though Tete does her best to diffuse the situation. But Ranga isn't having a bar of it, he knows he gives his family plenty. It could be more, certainly, but he has a life of his own to live.
And therein lies the rub. He does have a life of his own. He has a wife, a home of his own, friends. He life is thousands of kilometres away, and wholly different to what he finds back in Zimbabwe. Ranga mentions he wishes to see some of the sights of the village, including the graves of his friends, which leads to:
”Will you go to Mudhomori too, to see the others – Jairos, Thandi, Tawanda?” I said, thinking that if he was on a mission to see graves, he might as well see all of them at once, and if he really wanted to see all the graves there were to see, he might as well set aside a whole day.
As the story progresses, the resentment grows. Everyone is angry, and much of it comes from the sense of shame directed inward. But it's hard to be upset with one's self, and much easier to reflect the emotion on to others.
The house sat like a ghost, roofless and door-less. But that's the house Ranga had been building for five years, sending us money that was not even enough to buy a doorframe and telling us to stretch it, to make it work. Now he was refusing to call it his house.
I was waiting to hear what mother would say. This was her chance to speak up, and she did: “We can sleep outside and you use the good room.”
“Good room?” Ranga asked. “I don't see any good room here.”
What we called the good room was the one with the highest walls, covered by plastic sheets on top. Yes, the good room with the clear plastic roof. At least they would be able to see the moon while they slept. “We will give up our bedroom for you, brother,” I said.
A Return to the Moonlight is a story of disappointment. It shows both sides of the consequences of the African Diaspora, and indicates that neither are wholly satisfied with the arrangement. Would Ranga's family have been happier if he had showered them with a million dollars (that he didn't have)? Yes, and no. It wouldn't bring back their son, who has no intention, really, of ever truly returning to Zimbabwe. Would he have been happy had they completely rejected him and demanded he never see them again? No, but it would have made certain aspects of his life easier, and perhaps his life in America could be lived guilt-free. Or perhaps not. Ultimately, Sigauke refuses to put forth an answer because there isn't one. But the question has been asked, and that's important too.
A Return to the Moonlight by Emmanuel Sigauke is a short story from StoryTime's publication, African Roar (edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and Ivor W. Hartmann). This review is part of a series intending to examine each story from the collection, in an effort to broaden awareness of both the project itself, and the excellent array of authors contained within.
Reviews of other short stories from the African Roar Series