We sit in the dappled shade of a Jacaranda in the beergarden of The New Royal Hotel, Bulawayo. The jazz band that's been playing is on a break. A waiter returns with our order, ice cold Lion lagers and a packet of Madison cigarettes. I toy impatiently with the metal object sliding in its silk handkerchief wrapping until the waiter has moved on to the next table.
|Tichaona Mkuku RIP|
He grins now at my reaction to his gift: A semi-automatic pistol in very good nick in spite of its age - this is a pre-World War II Tokarev, the TT-30 to be precise, still in use to this day in the Soviet, Chinese and Korean armies.
"For my protection," I murmur.
"Bene!" he claps his hands. "You improve, fratello mio."
Apart from his latest role as arms supplier, Tichaona is also my friend, colleague and Italian tutor. The irony of the last role is not lost on either of us; my father was Sicilian and my mother half Irish, half Italian. Tich has pure African pedigree. His linguistic arsenal comes from the fact that he's worked for Ziana, the Zimbabwe Inter Africa News Agency. He is well travelled, "an international man of mystery," he laughs. He has lived and worked in China, attached to Xinua; and in Italy, with Reuters' Rome desk.
|The unforgettable Tich|
"It's loaded," he says. "Make sure the safety is on."
Another good lesson, temporarily forgotten. "If bastards imagine you are weak, they will go for the jugular. Better you let them know from the start to cover their own throats. But do it with a smile - and have your finger on the trigger under the table."
I never needed the gun. I did need the friendship, it made a difference when it was most needed.
Photographs and press cutting provided by Thandeka Mkuku, one of Tichaona's three children. I'm very grateful to you, Thandeka. Although I hadn't seen your father since the year before he died - and didn't possess a photo until now - I was able at any moment to recall every detail of his face. These photos are facsimiles of the vivid memories I have of that Mkuku swagger, charisma, charm, humour and razor-sharp intellect. With or without a photograph, he remains the unforgettable Tichaona Mkuku.