When I first received the email notification that Thursday afternoon, I almost fell from my chair with excitement and disbelief. Then I quickly straightened up and wiped the big grin off my face trying not to give myself away or attract attention from my roommate who was sitting at her desk next to me typing away. I knew it was a legit platform since Star, my friend who introduced me to it, was my living testimony, but I was definitely not expecting it to be this quick and transparent; either way, I was happy.
On normal days, I would dread the 35-minute walk to town from campus. Walking all the way from the very last dormitory, up to the actual university entrance, then continuing upslope a distance that took my short legs and small steps forever to traverse. But today that wasn’t enough to dim my shine. I strolled out the dormitory and joined the long path between tall rows of trees on either side, catching any warm sun I could on the cold winter day. The sweet smell of the pine trees and the sun breaking through their branches made me long for spring warmth.
I left campus and started walking along the dusty road that led to town. I opened my little handbag to double check that I had my cellphone and my ID card with me. Satisfied, I continued down the road finally reaching the main town. I took a small cloth from the sling bag on my hip and stopped to dust off my feet before I continued. I passed by several food places and street vendors selling delicious smelling delicacies. Some were frying potato chips and sausages in the open air, One man was happily grilling maize and doing a very good job of advertising by sticking the maize on to metal sticks where they’d look like ice-pops. Then he’d do a little dance on the sidewalk with the ‘maize sticks’ in his hands asking every one who passed by if they would like a taste some “Mboooona” as he called them. Mbona is actually a Ndebele name for cooked maize. I smiled as I wondered if he understood the difference. Some people sold ice-cold drinks while others grilled burger patties. My stomach made a complaining sound, reminding me that I had skipped breakfast. I sighed as I walked by, making a mental note to grab something to eat as soon as I was done with Western Union. I finally reached my destination and was delighted that I could finally rest from the long walk, or so I thought.
I made my way through the entrance’s security doors and was disappointed at the number of people inside, most of them with gloomy looks on their faces. “Great, Just great!” I thought as I strolled inside and took my place at the end of a long queue. I had no idea if this was usual. I saw someone who worked at the shop and asked if I was in the right line for money withdraws. He hardly gave me a glance, but said “Photocopa ID yako, obva omira mu queue.” He spoke in an annoyed tone while scribbling something on a piece of paper. In my head, I thought, ”Well, maybe you could have been a bit nicer?” But I decided not to let anyone or anything ruin my good mood. I smiled and said “thank you,” and made my way back outside to photocopy my identity card.
The shop’s entrance and exit had a cool security system where first you opened a glass door into a very narrow passageway that led to a second glass door, which opened to the outside. After you were inside the passageway, the second door would only open when the door behind you was fully closed. Then a green light goes on, and the second door opens to let you out. It was not a big deal, but my bubbly mood found every detail to be super cool.
As soon as I was outside, I went to a boutique that also had photocopying services, just across the street. I took out my ID card and made sure the two dollars I carried were still there. The copy cost me about 25 cents. I put my ID card back in my bag, along with my change, took my copy, and hurried back to the queue. When I got back inside the queue looked like it had not moved at all! “Is it always this slow?” I wondered, as I thought back to the time when my friend Star first told me about The GOAT PoL.
That night, the entire city was experiencing load shedding again. Typical Harare life. So after having our supper under a dim solar light, we went back to my bedroom and started to catch up. Star had come for a sleepover and as I was scrambling through my bags trying to find her something comfy she could use as a pajama for the night she started telling me about this incredible writing platform where you’re not only taught how to improve your writing skills, but you also get to interact with actual writers and even get paid for publishing a story. Most people wouldn’t understand our excitement, but Star and I were both “born with novels in our hands,” as the saying goes. That’s how we always described our love for literature, creative writing, and borrowing ten novels from the library at a time. She handed me her cellphone so I could read the story she had just published, and wow! I was impressed by how much she’d improved, and how much her writing reminded me of my own. Her story was thrilling and cut off at a point of great anticipation. “This is all?” I asked as the story came to an end. She laughed at me and said that it was meant to leave me in suspense, wanting more. From there on, we continued to talk about different story ideas and past writing experiences, as we got ready for bed.
A tap on my shoulder raised me up from my daze of thoughts and that same shop assistant mouthed instructions to me to move forward. “Oh, I’m sorry, thanks,” I mumbled. I moved forward closing the big gap that had formed in front of me. I leaned to the side to see how long the queue still was. To my satisfaction, the number of people was reduced and I counted them: just eight more to go. I tried to ignore the light cramp in my leg from standing still too long. I took out my little notebook from my sling bag and started making a list of emergency items I needed to purchase as soon as I collected the “fruits of my labor.” I giggled quietly, feeling all proud of myself. I scribbled the names of a few toiletries I had run out of, took note of paying my tithe to the church, a few food items I needed for my dorm, and made a note to pay off the $10 debt I owed to a friend and buy some airtime for my little sister, who was in boarding school…top up my own airtime too, and… My grin faded as I realized that sixty dollars wasn’t going to cover everything. So, I started again, putting the top priorities first. I was so distracted that the next tap on my shoulder startled me. It was the annoyed assistant again. This time he didn’t have to say anything, the frown on his face was enough to make me smile shyly and say ”Oh, sorry, thank you,” as I scooted forward.
I put my notebook and pen away, took out my ID card, along with a screenshot of the email I had received with the tracking number, and just as soon as I had organized it all the lady who was being served at the till left and it was my turn. Finally! The lady at the till was surprisingly nice. She asked for my details and started punching the buttons on her computer. In a few minutes, after all of the details had been confirmed, she counted out three twenty-dollar notes and handed them to me, together with a receipt that I had to sign. I thanked her, put the cash and receipt in my bag, and left the Western Union feeling happy and grateful.
27 June, 2023