Monday, 22 August 2011

Walter Mapango

The big man shuffles down the narrow corridor in front of me. He’s a heavyweight, Walter, but slowed by the fast-creeping effects of diabetes. He reminds me of my hero, Muhammad Ali, only at his most hostile. I’ll bet he could pack a punch in his day but now, like the Greatest, Walter is weakened by the ravages of his condition.
   Not so weakened that I don’t have the utmost respect. The dead malevolence in his measured, deliberate glance is chilling. It has quieted me mid-sentence on more than one occasion already, and I’ve only had a desk beside Walter’s at The Sunday News about two weeks now.
   He senses me slow-marching behind him, stops and turns – gradually – until he faces me. He fixes me with that glare.
   “Are you in a hurry?”
   It’s the longest string of words he’s directed at me to date. His voice is rich as black loam.
   “Uhm… No Mr Mapango. Well, yes, actually, I have a-”
   He swivels languidly away and continues his long shuffle toward the newsroom at the end of the corridor.
   I have a notebook full of scribbles. I sit myself down behind my vintage Remington Rand typwriter. Make a mental note to change the ragged ribbon. I flick open an A4 pad and, holding my notebook open in my left hand, commence writing.
   “What are you doing?”
   I don’t answer Walter at first. Then, in my peripheral vision, I see he’s turned in his chair to face me.
   “Oh, sorry… I’m… writing my piece.”
   “Writing it.”
   “Uhm, yes.”
   “Why do you always write by hand first?”
   “So I can rewrite it before I type it.”
   “You want to write it, then rewrite it, then type it?”
   I’m unnerved by this unexpected attention. I have come to see Walter as a solid constant, an immovable mountain. I never anticipated having to converse with the mountain.
   “Why can’t you just type it?” he glowers at me. “From your notes, or from your head.”
   He gets up in slowmo, approaches at his convenience to stand behind me. I’m intimidated. I pray he’s not going to ask me what my story is about.
   “What is your story about?”
   I give him the muddled version, it tumbles out – the way I’d write my first draft before numbering blocks of longhand text in order of priority.
   “No.” He raises a hand, not his voice. “Just tell me your intro.”
   “It’s about-”
   “One line. We are at the bus stop.”
   “This guy, he’s-”
   “I’m getting on the bus,” Walter shuffles toward the editor’s office.
   “Well, when he-”
   “The bus is leaving,” he knocks on the door, opens it. “Just tell me in one line.”
   So I do. He pauses at the door, fires a question each time I falter, driving the story on.
   “Okay,” he says when I’m done, before closing the door behind him. “It’s written. Now type it.”
   Thanks for all the lessons, Sekuru. I remember you well. RIP.

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