Novuyo Rosa Tshuma - Big Pieces, Little Pieces
Domestic violence is a sanitised term for a horrible event - and usually a sequence of events. In most cases the violence is toward the woman in the relationship, and by and large she will do her best to keep quiet, in order to protect her children first, and then herself. In families such as these, secrets take on a dark, numbing weight, and much remains unspoken. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's short story, Big Pieces, Little Pieces, is a fragment taken from the lives of such a family.
Tshuma's story is told from the perspective of, we assume, a slightly older sister telling the story to her younger brother. It is a story they both know, and the way it is told has the simple rhythm of a bed-time story worn and tattered in the countless retelling. The children's father is an angry man, and drinks, and whatever bad happens in the house, no matters its source, the consequence is that their mother is beaten, sometimes quite badly. At one stage their mother talks to her husband's sister,
Auntie Tshitshi looked away and chided Mama for being such a cry baby. "Baba used to beat Mama up and she took it like a woman. It's a good sign, sis' wakhe, it shows that he loves you.
And we begin to realise this is a story without hope. Domestic violence - those two calm words again - tends to stop when others know about it and do something about it. Abuse thrives in the shadowy corners of ignorance and complicity. People don't know because they never want to know. And of course, after a beating,
And Father was nice after that, the way he always was after he did his tantrums. He brought Mama presents wrapped in nice paper, shiny glittery material with balloon decorations that you would take afterwards to make wedding dresses for your Barbie dolls.
You can bet the external family members and friends of the family know more about the presents than they do the black eyes.
Tshuma's technique of having a child explain to another, younger, child, means that we, the adult reader, can grasp the horror that they, as children, begin to assume is a kind of norm. Children, no matter how they are raised, expect what they know, and that means that the two can watch birds together, and
You wondered if it had been a Daddy Waneka Bird or a Mummy Waneka Bird, and if the Daddy would beat the Mummy up for the broken eggs.
Later, much later, when the inevitable occurs and the children must rely on each other to reclaim their shattered lives, they stand together at the cemetery with an older man:
He smiled and told Jabu to be strong because he had to be a man now, the one who should look after you. You looked at Jabu and wondered if that meant he had to beat you up too.
Which provides a devastating, and excellent, climax.
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's handling of such difficult material is effective and horrifying in the manner in which the children, though frightened, feel their lives are normal. They understand the consequences of their actions, and though they don't enjoy seeing their mother beaten, or themselves hurt, they know it is just "how things are". They even have a word for it - tantrums - which says much about their thought process. A tantrum is a small, childish word, something you'd say about a baby pummeling its fists against the ground. To use it in a situation where:
Mama's scream made your head spin faster than the whirring blades. It screeched in your ears long after it was gone, diluted the angry whrr-whrr of the blades so that you thought your head was bursting, and haunted you for many months after that. The kitchen was falling. The walls were coming at you. Her cheeks were peeling off, exposing the white inner flesh, the skin peeling of the way skin peels off from potatoes just after you boil them.
Adds immensely to the tragedy of the circumstances. Tshuma's language is generally quite simple, and the short sentences do much to portray the children's thoughts. The paragraph immediately quoted above is exceptional, and in its entirety is probably the best part of the story. Comparing peeling skin to peeling potatoes is a near perfect comparison in that it keeps the domestic, family feel of the story, while managing to make the humble potato into a rather graphic and horrible image. Tshuma never falters in the tightness and focus of her writing, and the story, though obvious in its plot, is excellent in the telling.
Big Pieces, Little Pieces by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma 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.
||Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
||Big Pieces, Little Pieces
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma's website
Reviews of other short stories from the African Roar Series