Remembering a great friend
Those of us who knew him often speak of him with much fondness, reminiscing about the good times we had.
In the face of infinite absence, it is to those great memories that we cling and hold on. The gift of memory is not always faithful, you see. It suffers the erosion of time. And so we hang on to whatever we can, against the relentless tide of time's corrosive effects.
This is why I write each year on this day. The gift of the pen lies in its ability to preserve what the mind cannot guarantee to retain. In this way, a piece of writing is the mind's memory bank.
When I write about him, it is to be reminded of the finest qualities of humankind. And to share it with the world. And possibly, as part of a long process of healing. At least that is what those trained in these matters of the mind advise.
Edmore or Bla Eddie, as we called him, embodied the finest attributes that you would expect in humankind. I have been blessed to have loyal and protective friends; good men and women of honour. He was in that close circle. Had I been called to war, I knew he would be there with me to the very end, even when everyone else had withdrawn.
I often think about his friendship, his loyalty and his protective disposition towards me. Each time, I am humbled by the generosity he showed and wonder if I have the same courage. I cannot remember a single day when he complained, although there might have been sufficient cause.
Those who got to know us both during our time working together can testify to his dedication. If he was there, I was somewhere nearby. Always with a watchful eye. I was safe.
The roots of our partnership were deep. We had grown up together from childhood. We had done so many things together as toddlers, then as boys and later, as men. We had had great times and got into so much trouble together as adventurous teenagers. We had each other’s back.
The youngsters who grew up with him are now adults. One of my nieces, Isabel was telling me last night as we reminisced how Eddie would take them to the village path that had long grass on either side. He would tie two tufts of grass on either side. They would watch from a distance as an unsuspecting adult walked straight into the trap.
They would laugh, of course, that was the whole point. But the laughter gave them away and this type of prank often ended with a good spanking for those who got caught. Of course, Eddie almost always got away. But that was Eddie, always the soul of the party; always up for a bit of mischief.
But the caring side was always there. Isabel told me when they walked to Warikandwa School on cold winter mornings, Eddie would put stones in a fire and wrap them in a newspaper and give each of them to hold. It kept us warm, she said. He was barely 10 years old. He was their leader and protector.
As for us, whatever we had, we shared. I was two years older so whenever I returned from college, I would leave him a pair of shoes, a fancy T-shirt, a jumper, etc. He would stand out at the local school, Warikandwa where he did all his education and was a popular chap who rode on effortless charm.
One thing about Eddie, he had chutzpah. Aiva nechivindi! There was nothing he couldn’t do. Nothing fazed him. Once when we were young and discovered a new pool near Chikunzvi River and while everyone was pondering who would go in first, Eddie, who was probably the smallest of the party jumped in without notice. But he couldn’t swim! One of the big lads had to jump in to rescue him. He had already taken in a few "cups'. We always teased him about this incident.
But his chutzpah did come in handy in the department of soft arts. As we were growing up and began to take an interest in girls, while some of us were hesitant, Eddie’s chutzpah was a useful tool which was used in the common interest. He did not hesitate to approach any girl, whatever the circumstances. “The worst thing she can say is no”, he would say. It’s fair to say Eddie was the finest wingman.
So when I returned to Zimbabwe in 2011, first to help with the national constitution-making process and later, as an adviser to the then Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, it was to Eddie that I turned. In fact, it was the other way round. Eddie was there, waiting for me as he had always done on previous visits. He was now driving a taxi in Harare. Always affable, reliable and honest, he had built a decent clientele.
But he dropped all that. “Doc,” he said, for that was how he addressed me, “whatever you want and whatever you do, I am with you. You just have to tell me”. It’s fair to say it was not a negotiation. His declaration had been made and that was it.
And that was how we picked up from where we had left years before when I went to study abroad. I had welcomed Eddie into my home, a flat in Harare, before that departure. Now I was back and Eddie was reciprocating. For him, it was only natural. It was not a job. We were two mates doing what we had done 30 years back. While we were herding cattle in the village back in the day, now we were herding a different kind of livestock. But a few things had remained constant: loyalty, trust and dependability.
On 27 April 2013, I woke up in Cape Town preparing to fly back to Harare. I had been sent on a diplomatic mission by the Prime Minister. Eddie would pick me up at the airport in Harare as usual. I still have pictures of myself reading a book I had bought at the airport, Things That Could Not Be Said, by Reverend Frank Chikane, a former top aide to President Mbeki. I was waiting for my trip to the airport.
Two days earlier, Eddie and I had driven to Bulawayo for the ZITF. Little did I know that this beautiful road trip would have such significance as it holds now - it was our last cross-country trip and we had quite a few. With us on this trip was my PA, Rumbidzai. She probably remembers every detail of that trip. We relived our life stories as we narrated our adventures to her. It was as if we were reviewing our lives together for the last time and she was our audience.
Eddie drove all the way to Gweru. After that pitstop I said, let me help you, wangu and I got on the wheel. That is how we always did it. Eddie was not working for me. We were working together. And we shared the duties, just like we did back in the day herding the village cattle. I enjoyed the drive. Rumbi probably got tired of all our crazy stories. But I suspect she also saw two great buddies who were just happy in each other's company. None of us knew this would be the last time. But I am thankful that it was so beautiful.
In Cape Town, I got a call instructing me not to proceed after Johannesburg. I was to join the PM on a whirlwind diplomatic tour of the continent. So I changed my plans and put up at a hotel near the airport. I told Eddie that plans had changed.
Later that evening, the call arrived. Eddie was no more. It was an accident. It was the darkest night; the longest night. My friend Tererai who knew Eddie quite well drove from his home in Johannesburg to be with me as I waited for the long flight home. I would not see my great friend again. Eddie and I were related, but that was less important than our friendship. It all happened in a flash. It’s fair to say I was never the same again. There is no normal after something like that.
Each year I write this story of friendship and loss, as a tribute to my friend. A great friendship is priceless. It humbles you and reminds you of the small things that you might otherwise take for granted. Your friend is a reflection of you. Eddie left too soon, but he left many profound lessons. This is why I place great value on loyalty, honesty and respect in a friendship. I will stand ready to defend you, but I will also be honest with you. But still, there is much that I ought to do to match Eddie.
One thing though, he loved to read the things I wrote. He would often proudly introduce me to his friends at the taxi rank at Julius Nyerere Way near Karigamombe Centre. If I could send him a postcard, it would be to tell him that we now have the Big Saturday Read and it’s got quite a few who like it.
Eddie left a wife and three beautiful kids, Tadiwa and twins Tashi and Tunga - mainini nevafana. Watching them grow as we walked together over the years and the generous smiles, whenever we talk, is a beautiful thing. “Doc’, they all say, addressing me in the manner of their great father. I adore them.
I made myself a vow, as long as I am able, I am there for them, just as their father, my friend, was there for me. He would do the same for me. He would be very proud of them and even prouder of mainini who is doing a sterling job with the kids. The twins were very young and I want them to know that their father was a man of honour.
Today marks 7 years since that fateful evening in 2013. April itself is a heavy month. Just a few days ago, we were remembering our father whom we lost on the 17th in 2018 and my uncle who followed on the 24th just a year later in 2019. Bla Eddie on the 27th completes a difficult 10 days of the month. All three men were very important to me and had a profound effect on my life.
But if Bla Eddie were here, he would probably be saying “It’s bho, Doc” in his most reassuring way. Had I known that he would leave in the abrupt way he did, without notice, I would have asked for a quarter of his chutzpah, a bit of his charm and some of his loyalty and honesty. It’s not often that so much that is admirable in humankind is located in one man.
And knowing Bla Eddie, he would probably have smiled and said: “Torai henyu zvese, Doc, ndinowana zvimwe kumberi” (Take everything, Doc, I will get some more).
Such was his big-heartedness and generosity.