Registers of Loss

Tendai Rinos Mwanaka

Sometime in the mid-1990s this area the sand has taken over was our favourite pool to swim in, to bask in the sands, or on top of the rock you see disappearing to the left of the photo. he boys of our village would hang there, especially in the dry winter season when the were tasks to do at home. This place was our entertainment centre, where we would spend the whole day talking boys’ stuff about girls. In about 1996 a tragedy struck two kids of the Terera family drowned, and were found in the pool. It was a fairly deep pool but anyone who knew how to swim would find their way out of it. The kids knew how to swim, they drowned and it was difficult to comprehend why at first. For the next two weeks that pool had a dense cover of frothing suds of water on top. It was the only pool in the whole of the Nyajezi River with these frothing suds, and it became scary visit. We watched the froth from afar. By then everyone knew it was mermaids that had taken these kids. This pool was not suspected to have these mermaids, another pool a bit down the river was known to have (the photo Climate Apocalyptic), and the Medicine Woman of our village would dip into it for days to find strengthening from these mermaids. She had received her call from the mermaid. We were afraid of playing around this pool, and for years it was a monster around us. In western myth mermaids are taken to be strange beautiful creatures, in my world they are dangerous in that when they take you into their bodings in the water, there is a likelihood that it would be your last breath. In our tradition if your relatives so much as weep a single tear whilst you are in these mythical creatures’ bodings then these creatures would definitely kill you and abandon you. But if your relatives do not shed tears at your disappearance, then you are initiated into these mythical creatures’ world. w hen you leave the pool after several months of initiation, your family has brewed beer and a ceremony to call you back to life, you will return a super healer. There is no powerful medicine woman than that of the mermaid’s calling. We were scared of the possibility of this happening to us. Maybe what inspired me to take the photo of it is how pathetic it looks as it dries in the winter’s dry season, as the devastation to the river takes its toll on its pool. Maybe I am trying to tell it that it doesn’t scare me anymore, maybe I am trying to landscape and reimagine what it was like in those two weeks. Maybe I am exorcising the pain we had to contain to deal with this loss so many years ago. I am also deeply pained by how we have destroyed this river. This is evidence of it. It used to be a beautiful river, deep white sands on its banks and lots of fish, and now it is a pale shadow of what it was. So, as I have noted, this photo also works as the important registers of loss that humanity goes through and deal with.

Tendai Rinos Mwanaka is a Zimbabwean publisher, editor, mentor, thinker, literary artist, visual artist and musical artist with 23 individual books and 25 curated anthologies, one chapbook published, a music album, several songs, and tens of paintings, poems, stories and artworks curated, published, produced, exhibited and published in at least 400 magazines in 35 countries worldwide. His work has been translated into at least 11 languages.

Sign up for our newsletter

Sign up to get our latest stories, poems and essays!