Book title: Highway Queen
Author: Virginia Phiri
Published by: Corals Services
Publication year: 2010
When the bakery from where a family enjoys a wholesome consumption of fresh bake gets burnt to rubbles, then the means of sustenance might probably be a thing of the past.
Virginia Phiri opens the pages of this mind blowing piece with the story of a family whose means of survival rest solely on a husband (Steven) who all of a sudden was retrenched due to some financial upheaval at his workplace. And without thinking, all in the name of making ends meet for her family, Sophie Mumba the wife of the retrenched worker and the lead character in this story seek for a greener pasture doing the incredible. Just as anyone probably would have guessed, it never came cool. Having not enough with her was a good privilege for some ill-hearted men who helped but took advantage of this helpless woman from a squatter camp.
Steven seems not to be responsible. Even though some life threatening situation had tortured him ruthlessly, it still shouldn’t have translated into drinking to stupor or seeing a way out of a mess and ignoring it. Being the head of the family demands lot of work and leadership role, this thus will make a hardworking wife like Sophie go gaga when her husband who ought to be complementing her industrious effort, fails at performing his own part and even had the effrontery to complain about inadequacies of finance and food, (what happened to meat? We’re tired of vegetables!) See pg 81. The author carefully establishes that fact when she tells of Sophie’s grievance towards her hubby’s excessive drinking habit and his lackadaisical attitudes to get any job.
Getting always in the way of having sexual intercourse with several men has now become the way out for Sophie (after her first experience with the truck drivers at the border) who previously had promised not to engage herself in such an illicit act on Pg 73. Even while the story of several people dying of AIDS went viral in the squatter camp, it won’t in any way teach her any lesson. She went further to expand her sex merchandising business by having another unprotected sex on Pg 86, making another stupid pledge of hers. I convinced myself that would be the last time I exchanged my body for… Of course, you all read about the result of her sex escapade.
As there were many deaths at the camp, we had our own graveyard… This statement sets a tone of ill-predictions, obscure future and poverty. For people to think about death even before it willingly arrives is one crazy thing anyone can ever imagine. Well in a situation where sexually transmitted disease flies all around like a kite, two things should be put in place. You’d either use protection or prepare your final place of rest, six feet beneath the earth.
All I saw were sad faces, people who moved up and down like zombie…
Restless children cry on their mother’s back…
Pieces of furniture suitcases, bicycles, scotch carts and other household effects were all over the place.
These phrases tell of the emotional torture once hut owners at the camp felt. The anguish dwellers suffered was well expressed for a vivid view here. Virginia did well buttressing her point here with vivid imagery into what seems unpleasant for these city camp dwellers. She made us feel the suffering of the people, their pain and the effect of the displacement suffered at the camp through adjectives and some necessary figures of speech which ensured the conformation of the sentences to suit the author’s intended purpose. Even though Sophie’s family had left the camp for residency in the village, she still connects to the camp, advocates for HIV and AIDS, that’s why she can’t help but attend to the needs of the dying people.
Carefully setting in the Republic of Zimbabwe, the author did her best bringing what could be means of livelihood for women whose effort to cater for their families were been thwarted by incoherency of economic strategies coupled with what seems to be a bleak future. Virginia’s connection to the suffering of the African women-folk here is quite clear enough to be understood here after several deployments of literary ‘tools’.
This is yet another good piece which educates the populace well on the subject of HIV and AIDS after the order of Albert Nyathi’s ‘Ten Conversations to end AIDS’. I think Zimbabweans are really making headway, combating this sniper virus which has claimed thousands of lives in recent time. The Highway Queen is a story which digs deep into the mind and sufferings of an average African woman who finds herself in a dilemma she wouldn’t initially have thought of. A good read it is for everyone who cares to know.