Hitting Budapest

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                                                                                                         NoViolet Bulawayo

                                                                      e are on our way to Budapest:
                                                                      Bastard and Chipo and God-
                                                                      knows and Sbho and Stina and
                                                                      me. We are going even though
                                                   we are not allowed to cross Mzilikazi Road, even
                                                   though Bastard is supposed to be watching his
                                                   little sister Fraction, even though mother would
                                                   kill me dead if she found out; we are going.
                                                   There are guavas to steal in Budapest, and right
                                                   now I’d die for guavas, or anything for that mat-
                                                   ter. My stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and          “Can’t you see her stomach is still small? The baby has to
                                                   dug everything out.                                              grow.”
                                                       Getting out of Paradise is not so hard since the mothers        “A baby grows outside. That’s the reason they are born.
                                                   are busy with hair and talk. They just glance at us when we      So they grow.”
                                                   file past and then look away. We don’t have to worry about          “Well, it’s not time yet. That’s why it’s still a stomach.”
                                                   the men under the jacaranda either since their eyes never           “Is it a boy or girl?”
                                                   lift from the draughts. Only the little kids see us and want        “It’s a boy. The first baby is supposed to be a boy.”
                                                   to follow, but Bastard just wallops the naked one at the front      “But you’re a girl and you’re a first-born.”
                                                   with a fist on his big head and they all turn back.                 “I said supposed.”
                                                       We are running when we hit the bush; Bastard at the             “You. Shut your mouth, it’s not even your stomach.”
                                                   front because he won country-game today and he thinks               “I think it’s a girl. I don’t feel it kicking.”
photogRaph: saRa Mcdonald /

                                                   he rules, and then me and Godknows, Stina, and finally              “Boys kick and punch and butt their heads.”
                                                   Chipo, who used to outrun everybody in Paradise but not             “Do you want a boy?”
                                                   anymore because her grandfather made her pregnant. After            “No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.”
                                                   crossing Mzilikazi we slither through another bush, gallop          “Where exactly does a baby come out of?”
                                                   along Hope Street past the big stadium with the glimmering          “From the same way it gets into the stomach.”
                                                   benches we’ll never sit on. Finally we hit Budapest. We have        “How exactly does it get into the stomach?”
                                                   to stop once for Chipo to rest.                                     “First, God has to put it in there.”
                                                       “When are you going to have the baby anyway?” Bastard           “No, not God. A man has to put it in there, my cousin
                                                   says. Bastard doesn’t like it when we have to stop for her. He   Musa told me. Didn’t your grandfather put it in there
                                                   even tried to get us not to play with her altogether.            Chipo?”
                                                       “I’ll have it one day.”                                         She nods.
                                                       “What’s one day? Tomorrow? Thursday? Next week?”                “Then if a man put it in there, why doesn’t he take it out?”

                                                                                                                                   nov / dec 2010   BR      43

         “Because it’s women who give birth,     boy with wings. We stand and stare,          soccer ball, not too big. We all look at
     big-head. That’s why they have breasts      looking to see what the face will do,        the woman’s mouth and wait to hear
     to suckle the baby.”                        when the window opens and a small            what she will say.
         “But Chipo’s breasts are small. Like    voice shouts for us to stop. We re-              “Oh, this? It’s a camera,” the woman
     stones.”                                    main standing, not because the voice         says, which we know. She wipes her
         “They will grow when the baby           told us to stop, but because none of         hand on her skirt and pats the camera.
     comes. Isn’t it Chipo?”                     us has started to run, and because the       She then aims what is left of the thing
         “I don’t want my breasts to grow.       voice does not sound dangerous. Mu-          at the bin by the door, misses, and
     I don’t want a baby. I don’t want any-      sic pours out of the window onto the         laughs, but I don’t see anything funny.
     thing, just guavas,” Chipo says, and        street; it’s not kwaito, it’s not dance      The woman looks at us, like maybe she
     takes off. We run after her, and when       hall, it’s not anything we know.             wants us to laugh since she is laugh-
     we get right in the middle of Budapest,         A tall, thin woman opens the door        ing, but we are busy looking at the
     we stop. Budapest is like a different       and comes out of the house. She is eat-      thing, flying in the air like a dead bird
     country. A country where people who         ing something, and she waves as she          before hitting the ground. We have
     are not like us live.                       walks toward us. Already we can tell         never seen anyone throw food away. I
         But not an ordinary country—it          from the woman’s thinness that we are        look sideways at Chipo.
     looks like everybody woke up one day        not even going to run. We wait for her,          “How old are you?” the woman says
     and closed their gates, doors, and win-     so we can see what she is smiling for,       to Chipo, looking at her stomach like
     dows, picked up their passports, and        or at; nobody really ever smiles at us       she has never seen anybody pregnant.
     left for better countries. Even the air     in Paradise. Except Mother of Bones,         But Chipo is not even listening, she is
     is empty; no burning things, no smell       who smiles at anything. The woman            busy looking at the thing lying there
     of cooking food or something rotting;       stops at the gate; it’s locked, and she      on the ground.
     just plain air with nothing in its hands.   didn’t bring the keys to open it.                “She is ten,” Godknows replies for
         Budapest is big, big houses with            “Jeez, I can’t stand the heat, and the   Chipo. “We are nine, me and her, like
     the graveled yards and tall fences and      hard earth, how do you guys ever do          twinses,” Godknows says, meaning
     durawalls and flowers and green trees,      it?” the woman asks in her not-danger-       him and me. “And Bastard is eleven
     heavy with fruit that’s waiting for us      ous voice. She takes a bite of the thing     and Sbho is eight, and Stina we don’t
     since nobody around here seems to           in her hand, and smiles. A nice, pink        know.”
     know what fruit is for. It’s the fruit      camera dangles from her neck. We all             “Wow,” the woman says, playing
     that gives us courage, otherwise we         look at the woman’s feet peeking out         with her camera.
     wouldn’t dare be here. I keep expect-       from underneath her long skirt. They             “And how old are you?” Godknows
     ing the streets to spit and tell us to go   are clean and pretty feet, like a baby’s.    asks her. “And where are you from?”
     back to the shanty.                         She is wiggling her toes. I don’t re-        I’m thinking about how Godknows
         We used to steal from Chipo’s           member my own feet ever looking like         talks too much.
     uncle’s tree, but that was not stealing     that, maybe when I was born.                     “Me? Well, I’m 33, and I’m from
     stealing. Now we have finished all the          Then I look up at the woman’s red,       London. This is my first time visiting
     guavas in his tree so we have moved         chewing mouth. I can tell from the           my dad’s country.”
     to strangers’ houses. We have stolen        vein at the side of her neck, and the            “I ate some sweets from London
     from so many, I cannot even count. It’s     way she smacks her big lips, that what       once. Uncle Polite sent them when
     Godknows who decided that we pick           she is eating tastes good. I look closely    he first got there but that was a long
     a street and stay on it until we have       at her long hand, at the thing she is        time ago. Now he doesn’t even write,”
     gone through all the houses. Then we        eating. It is flat, and the outer part is    Godknows says. The woman’s twisted
     go to the next street. This is so we do     crusty. The top looks creamy and soft,       mouth finishes chewing. I swallow
     not confuse where we have been with         and there are coin-like things on it, a      with her.
     where we are going. It’s like a pattern,    deep pink, the color of burn wounds. I           “You look fifteen, like a child,” God-
     and Godknows says this way we can           also see sprinkles of red and green and      knows says. I am expecting the woman
     be better thieves.                          yellow, and finally the brown bumps,         to slap Godknows’s big mouth for say-
         Today we start a new street and so      like pimples.                                ing that, but then she only laughs like
     we carefully scout around. We pass              “What’s that?” Chipo asks, point-        she has been told something to be
     SADC Street, where we already har-          ing at the thing with one hand and           proud of.
     vested every guava tree two weeks           rubbing her stomach with the other.              “Thank you,” she says. I look at her
     ago. We see white curtains part and a       Now that she is pregnant, Chipo likes        like what is there to thank? and then
     face peer from a window of the cream        to play with her stomach every time          at the others, and I know they think
     home with the statue of a urinating         she talks. The stomach is the size of a      the woman is strange too. She runs

44    BR    nov / dec 2010

a hand in her hair, which looks mat-         else joins in. We shout and we shout          GoinG back to Paradise, we do not
ted and dirty; if I lived in Budapest I      and we shout; we want to eat the thing        run. We walk nicely like Budapest is
would wash my whole body every day           she was eating, we want to make noise         now our country, eating guavas along
and comb my hair nicely to show I was        in Budapest, we want our hunger to            the way and spitting the peels all over
a real person living in a real place.        go away. The woman just looks at us,          to make the place dirty. We stop at the
    “Do you guys mind if I take a pic-       puzzled, and hurries back into the            corner of AU Street for Chipo to vomit.
ture?”                                       house and we shout after her still. We        Today her vomit looks like urine, but
    We do not answer because we are          get hoarse shouting. Our throats itch.        thicker. We leave it there, uncovered.
not used to adults asking us anything;       When the woman closes her door and                “One day I will live here, in a house
we just look at the woman take a few         disappears, we stop and slowly walk           just like that,” Sbho says, biting a thick
steps back, at her fierce hair, at her       away to find guavas.                          guava. She looks to the left and points
skirt that sweeps the ground when she             Bastard says when we grow up we          to a big blue house with the long row
walks, at her pretty peeking feet, at her    will stop stealing guavas and move to         of steps, flowers all around it. Her
big jewelry, at her large eyes, at her       bigger things inside the houses. When         voice sounds like she knows what she
smooth brown skin that doesn’t even          that time comes, I’ll not even be here;       is talking about.
have a scar to show she is a living per-     I’ll be living in America with Aunt Fos-          “How are you going to do that?” I ask.
son, at the earring on her nose, at her      talina, doing better things. But for now,         Sbho spits peels on the street and
T-shirt that says “Save Darfur.”             the guavas. We decide on IMF Street,          says, with her big eyes, “I just know it.”
    “Come on, say cheese, say cheese,        on a white house so big it looms like             “She is going to do it in her dreams,”
cheese, cheeeeeeeese,” the woman en-         a mountain. In front is a large swim-         Bastard says to the sun, and throws a
thuses, and everyone says “cheese.” My-      ming pool, empty chairs all around it.        guava at the durawall of Sbho’s house.
self I don’t really say, because I am busy        The good thing with this pretty          The guava explodes and stains the wall
trying to remember what cheese means         house is that the mountain is set far         pink. I bite into a sweet guava. I don’t
exactly, and I cannot remember. Yester-      back in the yard, and our guavas are          like grinding the bull guava seeds es-
day Mother of Bones told us the story        right within reach, as if they heard we       pecially because they are tough and it
of Dudu the bird, who learned and sang       were coming and ran out to meet us. It        takes a long time to do, so I just grind
a new song whose words she did not           doesn’t take long to climb over the du-       them gently, sometimes swallow them
really know the meaning of, and was          rawall, onto the tree, and fill our plastic   whole even though I know what will
caught, killed, and cooked for dinner        bags with bull guavas. These ones are         happen.
because in the song she was actually         big, like a man’s fist, and do not ripen          “Why did you do that?” Sbho looks
begging people to kill and cook her.         to yellow like the regular guavas; they       at the now-dirty durawall of her house,
    The woman points at me, nods, and        stay green on the outside, pink and           and then at Bastard. Bastard giggles,
tells me to say “cheeeeeese” and I say it    fluffy on the inside. They taste so good      throws another guava. It misses the
because she is smiling like she knows        I cannot even explain it.                     wall but hits the gate. The gate does
me really well. I say it slowly at first,
and then I say, “cheese” and “cheese,”
and I’m saying “cheese cheeeeese”               The Four QuesTions
and everyone is saying “cheese cheese           Seth Landman
cheese” and we are all singing the word
and the camera is clicking and clicking
                                                In a great abundance of weaponry, I dreamt my great aunt Lillian
and clicking. Then Stina, who never re-
                                                smoothed my spine and erased my affliction. I became lost and did not
ally speaks, just starts and walks away.
The woman stops taking pictures and             want a direction. Her quilt was straight on my bed and seemed to be
says, “Are you ok?” but Stina does not          an ellipsis in which I could not rest. She spoke to me in Yiddish. There
stop. Then Chipo walks away after               was a dim light in the room and my eyes felt swollen. I knew my life
Stina, rubbing her stomach, then the            would continue. All of my concerns were needless. I carried the quilt
rest of us all walk away after them.            outside. An airplane blinked across the sky and I thought about all of
    We leave the woman standing
                                                the commandments. How could I dream of them? How could I have
there, taking pictures. Bastard stops at
                                                invented this? I closed my eyes and began to know the stitches were
the corner of SADC and starts shout-
ing insults at her, and I remember the          a sign. A trapezoid would mean trouble ahead. Any shape. There is a
thing, and that she threw it away with-         legacy of nothing to understand, said the quilt in letters. You will build
out even asking us if we wanted it, and         an aqueduct, and you will not be destroyed.
I begin shouting too, and everyone                                                                                              nov / dec 2010    BR      45

     not make noise like a real gate is sup-      house in this very Budapest or Los An-       and Stina because I know where the
     posed to.                                    geles, even Paris,” Bastard says.            talk will end if Chipo and Bastard gang
         “Because I can. Because I can do what        “When we were going to school, my        up on me.
     I want. Besides, what does it matter?”       teacher Mr. Gono said you need an ed-            “Well, go, go to that America and
         “Because you just heard me say I         ucation to make money, that’s what he        work in nursing homes and clean
     like the house, so you are not supposed      said, my own teacher.” Chipo rubs her        poop. You think we have never heard
     to do anything to it. Why don’t you          stomach, and says Mr. Gono’s name so         the stories!” Bastard screams to my
     pick another house that I don’t care         proudly like he is her own father, like      back but I just keep walking.
     about?”                                      he is something special, like maybe it’s         I think about turning right around
         “Well, that doesn’t make it your         him inside her stomach.                      and beating Bastard up for saying
     house does it?” Bastard wears a black            “And how will you do that when we        that about my America. I would slap
     tracksuit bottom that he never takes         are not going to school?” Chipo adds.        him, butt him on his big forehead,
     off, and a faded orange T-shirt that             “I don’t need school to make money.      and then slam my fist into his mouth
     says “Cornell.” He takes off the Cor-        What Bible did you read that from huh?”      and make him spit his teeth. I would
     nell T-shirt, ties it over his head, and I       Bastard screams at Chipo, bringing       pound his stomach until he vomited
     don’t know if it makes him look ugly         his face close to hers like he will bite     all the guavas he has eaten, pin him
     or pretty, if he really looks like a man     her nose off. Chipo caresses her stom-       to the ground. I would jab my knee
     or woman. He turns and starts walk-          ach and eats the rest of her guava qui-      into his back, fold his hands behind
     ing backwards so he can walk facing          etly. She walks faster, away from us.        him and then pull his head back till he
     Sbho. He always likes that whomever              “I’m going to America to live with       begged for his life. But I shut up and
     he is quarreling with look right at him.     my Aunt Fostalina; it won’t be long,         walk away. I know he is just jealous.
     He has beaten us all, except Stina.          you’ll see,” I say, raising my voice so      Because he has nobody in America.
         “And besides, Budapest is not a toi-     they can all hear. I start on a brand        Because Aunt Fostalina is not his aunt.
     let where anyone can just walk in. You       new guava; it is so sweet I finish it in     Because he is Bastard and I am Darling.
     can never live here.”                        just three bites. I don’t even bother
         “I’m going to marry a man from           chewing the seeds.                           by the time we get back to Paradise
     Budapest. He’ll take me away from                “America is too far,” Bastard says,      the guavas are finished and our stom-
     Paradise, away from the shacks and           bored. “I don’t want to go anywhere          achs are so full we are almost crawl-
     Heavenway and Fambeki and every-             where I have to go by air. What if you       ing. We will just drink water for the
     thing else,” Sbho says.                      get stuck there and you can’t come           night, listen to Mother of Bones tell
         “Ha ha. You think a man will             back? Me I’m going to South Africa or        us a story, and go to sleep. We stop to
     marry you with your missing teeth? I         Botswana, that way, when things get          defecate in the bush. It is best to do
     wouldn’t even marry you myself,” says        bad, I can just get on the road without      so before it gets too dark otherwise no
     Godknows, shouting over his shoulder.        talking to anybody; you have to be able      one will accompany you; you have to
     He and Chipo and Stina walk ahead of         to easily return from wherever you go.”      pass the cemetery to get to the bush
     us. I look at Godknows’s shorts, torn            I look at Bastard and think what         and you might meet a ghost.
     at the back, at his pitch-black buttocks     to say to him. A guava seed is stuck             We all find places, and me, I squat
     peeping like strange eyes through the        between my gum and my last side              behind a rock. This is the worst part
     dirty white fabric.                          teeth and I try to reach for it with my      about guavas; all those seeds get you
         “I’m not talking to you big-head!”       tongue. I finally use my finger. It tastes   constipated when you eat too much.
     Sbho shouts at Godknows. “Besides,           like earwax.                                 When it comes to defecating, we get in
     my teeth will grow back. Mother says I           “America is far,” Chipo says, agree-     so much pain, like trying to give birth
     will even be more beautiful too!”            ing with Bastard. She stops briefly, her     to a country. Minutes and minutes and
         Godknows flings his hand and             hand under her stomach, so we can            minutes pass and nobody shouts, “I’m
     makes a “whatever” sign because he           catch up with her. “What if something        done, hurry up.”
     has nothing to say to that. Everybody        happens to your plane when you are               We are all squatting like that, in
     knows that Sbho is pretty, prettier          in it? What about the terrorists?”           our different places, and I’m beating
     than all of us here, prettier than all the       I think flat-face, soccer-ball-stomach   my thighs with fists to make a cramp
     children in Paradise. Sometimes we re-       Chipo is only saying it to please ugly-      go away when somebody screams. Not
     fuse to play with her if she won’t stop      face Bastard since he just screamed at       the kind of scream that comes from
     talking like we don’t already know it.       her. I give her a talking eye, but my        when you push too hard and a guava
         “Well, I don’t care, I’m going out of    mouth just keeps chewing.                    seed cuts your anus; it says “come and
     the country myself. I will make a lot            “I don’t care, I’m going,” I say, and    see,” so I stop pushing, pull up my un-
     of money and come back and buy a             walk fast to catch up with Godknows          derwear and abandon my rock. And

46    BR     nov / dec 2010

there, squatting and screaming, is                            “Coward, can’t you see she’s hanged          Godknows and I follow him. Bastard
Godknows. He is also pointing ahead                        herself and now she’s dead?” Bastard            stays behind for a little while, but
in the thick trees, and we see it, a tall                  picks a stone and throws; it hits the           when I look over my shoulder, I see
thing dangling in a tree.                                  woman on the thigh. I expect some-              him right there behind us. I know he
    “What’s that?” somebody, I don’t                       thing will happen but then nothing              can’t stay in the bush by himself, with
know who, whispers. Nobody answers                         does, the woman just does not move.             a dead woman, even though he wants
because now we can all see what it is. A                      “See, I told you she is dead.” Bastard       to make like he is the president of Par-
woman dangles from a green rope. The                       says, in that voice he uses when he is          adise. We start walking together again,
sun squeezes through the leaves, and                       reminding us who is the boss.                   but then Bastard jumps in front of us.
gives everything a strange color that                         “God will punish you for that,” God-            “Wait, who wants bread?” he says,
makes the woman’s light skin glow                          knows says.                                     tightening the Cornell T-Shirt on his
like there are red-hot coals inside her.                      Bastard throws another stone. It             head. I look at the wound on Bastard’s
    The woman’s thin arms hang limp at                     hits the woman on the leg with a khu            chest, just below his left breast. It’s al-
the sides, and her hands and feet point                    sound. The woman still does not move.           most pink like the inside of a guava.
to the ground, like somebody drew her                      I am terrified; it is like she is looking          “Where is it?” I say.
there, a straight line hanging in the air.                 at me from the corner of her white,                “Listen, did you notice how that
Her eyes are the scariest part, they look                  popped eye. Looking and waiting for             woman’s shoes look almost new? If
too white, and her mouth is open wide.                     me to do something I don’t know what.           we can get them then we can sell them
The woman is wearing a yellow dress,                          “God does not live here, idiot,” Bas-        and buy a loaf, or maybe even one-and-
and the grass licks the tip of her shoes.                  tard says. He throws another stone              a-half. What do you say?”
    “Let’s run,” Stina says. They are                      that only grazes the woman’s yellow                We all turn around and follow Bas-
the first words Stina has spoken since                     dress, and I am glad he missed.                 tard back into the bush, and we are
country-game. When Stina speaks you                           “I will go and tell my mother,” Sbho         rushing, then we are running, then we
know it’s something important, and I                       says, sounding like she wants to cry.           are running and laughing and laugh-
get ready to run.                                          Stina starts to leave, and Sbho and             ing and laughing. BR

   Our program, one of the oldest, most prestigious, and selective               Norton awards; in poetry, the Whiting Award, the Norma Farber First
   in the country, was recently placed among the top ten by The Atlantic         Book Award, along with three winners of the Discovery/The Nation
   Monthly, which went on to rank our faculty and our alumni among               Award and two winners of the National Poetry Series; in fiction our
   the top five. The magazine might have been impressed by our two               graduates have won the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Faulkner, the PEN/
   most celebrated workshops—one, in poetry, was led by Robert                   Hemingway, and the National Book Award. Every month one of
   Lowell, who had scattered around him Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and           our graduates brings out a book of poetry or fiction with a major
   George Starbuck; the other, much more recent, was led by Leslie               publisher; and some, like Sue Miller and Arthur Golden, have spent
   Epstein, whose students included Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Peter             a good deal of time on bestseller lists. Over the last decade we have
   Ho Davies. Our classes still meet in the same small room, which               placed more than a score of our graduates in tenure-track positions
   allows through its dusty windows a glimpse of the Charles. These              at important universities (Peter Ho Davies and Carl Phillips direct the
   days, the poetry workshops are led by our regular faculty, Robert             creative writing programs at Michigan and Washington University in
   Pinsky, Louise Glück, and Rosanna Warren; those in fiction are led            St. Louis).
   by Leslie Epstein, Ha Jin himself, and Allegra Goodman. Our famed                  We make, of course, no such assurances. Our only promise
   playwriting classes are taught by Kate Snodgrass, Ronan Noone,                to those who join us is of a fair amount of time in that river-view
   and Melinda Lopez. We are also pleased to add that, thanks to a               room, time shared with other writers in a common, most difficult
   generous donor, we are launching a new fellowships program that               pursuit: the perfection of one’s craft. For more information about
   aims to send a good number of our students abroad for a typical stay          the program, our visiting writers, financial aid, or our new Robert
   of three months, after completing their intensive workshops here.             Pinsky Global Fellowships, please write to Director, Creative Writing
        It is difficult to know how best to measure a student’s success          Program, Boston University, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215
   or the worth of a program to a writer. Our graduates have won every           or visit our website at
   major award in each of their genres, including, in playwriting, the
                                                                                 Application deadline is March 1, 2011.
   Charles MacArthur Award, the Heideman Award, and four Elliot

  Boston University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution.

  CAS_CWP_BostonReview_043092.indd 1                                                                                                     10/13/10 3:20 PM                                                                                                                 nov / dec 2010       BR    47

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