In the Midst of Violence, Hope
CW: In this piece, Ropa writes about her experience of childhood in Zimbabwe where she witnessed police brutality and violence against women in her neighborhood.
My sister and I were walking home from an all-night service at church. It must have been sometime in the very early morning—the latest either of us had ever been out of the house. We lived in a relatively safe place. But in an effort to 'keep the avenues safe' the police would patrol around at night.
As we were drawing nearer to our flat we started hearing female screams. We paused and looked at each other. My heart began crashing against my ribs rapidly and a clenching pain stung in my stomach. As we slowly approached, the screams were getting clearer, closer. They rang crisp and shrill, vibrating on the still night air. Our feet stalled when we saw several women being beaten by the police.
Blue and green feathers floated in the air and hot pink sequins, now bloodied, shone in the moonlight. We stood there, unblinking, as the scene played in front of us. My sister grabbed onto my hand and dragged me into our flat. When we got inside she went to bed without another word. I went to the balcony and watched. Most of the beaten women had now been loaded into police vans. Only one was left. She was resisting. I knew her, she often worked this corner. When I sat on the balcony in the evenings, I would hear her talk to friends and pick up clients.
The officer had given up using his hands and instead he relentlessly stomped his heavy boots on her body. She struggled for a while longer but then went limp. He dragged her into the van and drove off. I knew her name. Cynthia. She was a smoker. She always brought homemade food for the homeless man, Tafadzwa. Her laugh was loud and boisterous and sometimes I could hear it from my living room. I stared at the spot where her limp body once was. She had a daughter named Tanya. I stayed on the balcony until the sun was shyly peeking through again. I didn’t know what I was waiting for.
I had never witnessed the brutality of the police or military where I lived. It was a sheltered and calm place to grow up. That night was the first time I realised that it wasn’t sheltered for everyone.
Our nanny’s boyfriend was a policeman. He seemed to be a nice man with a good heart. He was always friendly and kind, yet, I couldn’t help but regard him with some suspicion. He had once said that police officers got high before they had to do particular things because it made it easier. I hadn’t thought much of it at the time. But now it was all I could think about when I saw him. More than anything I remember the pleasantness of his smile. The way his cheeks would spread widening his narrow face till it seemed gentler. But what if I wasn’t the child that his girlfriend took care of? And what if I had been like Cynthia, standing on the streets on a cold night? Would he smile so pleasantly at me then?
As I watched the avenues below from the balcony that morning, I felt there was something in the air amongst people, something that was sparking excitement and inciting rage. There was unrest. There was violence. And yet, there was hope.
You can read more of Ropa's work in Boshemia Magazine. Her essay, "Astral," appears in Issue 03. Order your copy here.