“Ask me what I’m doing!”
“I said, ask me what I’m doing.”
“Ok, Jerry. What you doing?”
“Me? Just minding my business.”
“Now, ask me what my business is.”
“Come on, man. I’ve got better things to do.”
“No. Ask me what my business is.”
“Alright. Alright! What’s your business, Jerry?”
“Beesness,” pause. “Gwejing!”
“Beesness,” pause. “Gwejing! Just minding my beesness,” pause. “Gwejing!”
“Silly. Get outta my face, crazy fool!”
“That’s not what she said to me! Bwa ha, ki, ki, ki!” cackled Jerry as he tap-danced his way back into the house completely thrilled with himself.
As a teenager, Jeremiah Makawa had a flare for the comedic. Just as sadza (a stiffer form of grits) is good with relish, there was no story Jerry did not see fit to embellish. Especially when it came to nyaya dzemabhebhi (stories about his romances with girls). You could usually count on Jerry to give you at least 60 percent of the truth. The rest, well, that was up for grabs. Your choice to believe what you might. His tall tales, while often exaggerated were hilarious and generally left us wheezing and crying by the end.
Jerry was perhaps the most inventive member of our crew. There were seven of us. We went by the group name “Homies R. Bad.d.” And no, we were neither boy band nor lip sync troupe. Just a bunch of neighborhood teens with too much time on their hands and a clamoring for a collective identity. Kind of like the gang in the New Fat Albert Show (1979 to 1984). Except we did not hang out in a junk yard, and we regularly changed our clothes. We were certainly eclectic though, and we did have intriguing personalities among us.
Beginning with the twins, Tawanda and Takura Dhliwayo were virtually identical. Pretty much peas in a pod. Until I got to know them well, I chose never to address them directly for fear calling the wrong guy the wrong name. I found the greeting, “Hey man,” to be of perfect utility. A useful smokescreen to hide my inability to tell them apart. It was not all my fault, however. The twins never stayed still long enough for anyone to identify the features and characteristics that distinguished them. Tawanda and Takura were forces of nature and continually on the move. They were same-heighted, same-faced, fast-talking, quick-stepping junior George Jeffersons. They put the “real” in entrepreneurial and were known for having a great nose for anything that smelled like a good deal. If it had the aroma of profit, the two of them would definitely be after it.
“Let’s do business, guys,” they would regularly declare. “Let’s make bank. If we are not bringing home the bacon, then we’re doing something wrong. And if making mullah is wrong, then we don’t want to be right, handiti?”
Their dad was a banker and the two of them had complex calculators for brains cells. They referred to almost everything in financial terms.
“How was the weekend, guys?”
“Ah, you know. It was cool. We broke even.”
“It’s been a while since we’ve seen you two with the girls you’ve been dating. What happened to them?”
“Ah, you know. No net present value, man. It is what it is.”
I got to know the twins through Kura Chihota. He was the poster boy of our group. No, I mean literally the poster boy. As in his face was on posters all about town. Kura and I knew each other because our parents were longtime friends, from well before their mutual days in Zambia. Kura’s mom, Mrs. Chihota, was in advertising during the 1980s. Her work helped companies reach audiences through print, radio, and television media. That connected her to the film industry and to the full network of agencies which coordinated modelling, voicework, and acting gigs for local actors, actresses, and artists.
Kura was naturally charming and had a sort of youthful star quality. He was photogenic and comfortable in front of the cameras. His mom quite organically drew him into her world. Whenever she could, Mrs. Chihota would put Kura forward for photo shoots and acting gigs that were appropriate for his look, talent, and age. Her diligence resulted in Kura being frequently featured in television and magazine ads, and having his face plastered on the sides of buses and billboards. He loved it all, of course – the acting, the attention, and the fact that he was continually growing in popularity among Harare’s school girls. As his close friends, our jealousy was thinly-veiled, but we did our best to keep him humble by taking snide potshots at his “fame” when given the opportunity.
If we had a Fat Albert in our group, it was Kura. Not in relation to his weight as Kura, like the rest of us, was slimly built in those days. But in terms of him consistently being the one to share some moralistic witticism or the other with the group. In this regard, he took after his father who was frequently both delighted and exasperated to see us.
“Eh, you boys. Welcome, hmm. Back again to eat my food? Hinindawa mhani, machinda imi? (what’s the deal with you youngsters?). When are you going to get proper jobs, hmm?”
“Um, Baba (Mr.) Chihota, sir, we’re still in school.”
“You think that stopped us from working when we were your age, hmm? No ambition. No forethought. You are all far too spoilt. Just like bad milk. How can you win, eh, in life, eh, unless you put on your running shoes?”
Our other Tawanda, Tawanda Chihota, was Kura’s little brother. He was arguably the most sober-minded of all among us. Yet, like his brother, he had a flashing intellect and wry humor. He also had a laugh like Eddie Murphy’s, but from even before any of us knew that Eddie Murphy himself had a laugh like Eddie Murphy’s. Tawanda was the reason our group took on the name “Homies R. Bad.d.” For every time something crazy, strange, or wonderful happened in the world, Tawanda would invariably call out, “Eish, homies are bad, ek se! Homies are bad!”
Dudzai Saburi was the genius in our gang. He was knowledgeable about everything. He understood history, art, architecture, languages, and music. Not just the popcorn pop our parents often criticized us for listening to. But also classical music, and country, and folk rock, and reggae. He was an aficionado of old school RnB, from back when it was still called Rhythm and Blues. Dudzai also knew how to cut hair and was amenable to offer a snip in time if ever one of the guys needed sprucing up before going out into the world.
When new music came out, Dudzai made sure to get it into our hands. That is partially how Jerry became somewhat of a living, breathing jukebox. A special talent of Jerry’s was the ability to rattle off the lyrics of almost any song, sometimes singing it top to bottom, and more often than not in tune too. I cannot think how many times I either heard him play or sing his favorite song. It was My Business, from the album, Guy (1988), by Guy, that Teddy Riley, Aaron Hall, and Timmy Gatling trio. This was the song Jerry had in the back of his mind the day he told us that his business was gwejing.
Now, gwejing was a term we teens used as a synonym for “making out.” If you must know, Zimbabweans have a hard time saying the word “sandwich.” We tend to call the snack with a filling between two slices of bread a “sangwej.” The word gwej therefore, was initially just a contraction of sangwej. Youth culture then converted it into a verb, so that gwejing came to mean eating a sandwich. I am sure you see where this is going . . . Since making out is sort of similar, you know, to taking delightful, scrumptious mouthfuls of food and . . . I mean, you get the point.
Anyway, Jerry really loved girls. Which is why we often called him “Ladies Love Cool Jerry.”
“Fellas, God made women for a reason. It’s a sin for a man to be alone. It says so in Genesis. That’s why Adam got Eve.”
“Not quite, Jerry. I think the Bible says, ‘it is not good for a man to be alone.’ I don’t think it says it’s sin.”
“Okay. Have it your way. Then all I’m doing is looking out for my own good, partner. You get me?”
“Yes. But Adam was presented with only one Eve, not a whole bunch of them.”
“And your point is? Mingle while you’re single, champ. That’s what I say. Try the slices before you buy the cake.”
Jerry’s bedroom was like the men’s section at a department store. He had trayfuls of bottles of cologne – Old Spice, Guy Laroche, Drakkar Noir, Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin, Ralph Lauren Polo, Yves Saint Lauren Kouros, Aramis and more. He had fancy wrist watches, gold and silver chains, leather jackets, silk shirts, as well as what amounted to hundreds of fashionable pairs of trousers.
“Jerry, you’ve got too many clothes for a teenager, bruh.”
“Nah, my guy. No such thing as too many clothes. Lawyers and bankers dress to the nines when they go to work. I do the same when I go to get my beesness done. You gotta be professional. Hanging with honies is grown folk work. It’s not for kids.”
Jerry was serious. This was work to him, and he was not about to let his clothes let him down. Jerry is the only guy I know who would watch a movie and take notes on the clothes actors were wearing. Sometimes as early as the next day, he would have a mockup of an outfit similar to what he had seen onscreen. Everyone noticed Jerry’s eye for fashion. Both school boys and older men. Some even offered to buy clothes right off his very back. Not one to shy away from an opportunity when demand grew, Jerry made the decision to start his own men’s clothing line. He had a community of tailors he relied upon to make exclusive shirts, pants, and suits to order. As business started to bubble, Jerry began thinking deeply about how to launch his brand formally and publicly.
“Maguys, it’s time. We’re gonna to do a fashion show and share my lovely threads with the world. And you sorry fellas are gonna be my models. You know how we do, boys. It’s on, like a scone.”
“Eish, homies are bad, ek se. homies are bad!”
The idea of being in a fashion show was both scintillating and scary to me. We are talking about me here. The guy who had no knack for fashion or personal presentation, period. I dressed for comfort. If the outfits I wore ever happened to be stylish, it was only due to happenstance and never the result of judgment or creativity. I was a creature of habit. My schtick was to stay in a good groove once I found it. Stick to the same friends. Eat the same food. Wear the same clothes. At least until they became too tight, too torn, or too tired.
It was not that I lacked a sufficient number of pieces of clothing. I had plenty. Only, my closet resembled the “everything-must-go” discount rack at a thrift-shop. Perfectly fine individual pieces, but nothing that ever fully coordinated.
I was a kid with pocket money. Not an adult with a salary. So my mother bought my clothes. As the oldest boy, there were no hand-me-downs to accommodate my growth-spurts. Every additional inch meant a new trip to the mall for mommy. Which was okay. Except that, with five kids to cater to, pragmatism made mommy a mercenary-type shopper. Whenever she went to the store, she would focus on fastness, not fashion. In and out. Get the job done quickly. Retrieve something to cover her children’s bodies and protect them from the elements. If it fit, that was it. Mission accomplished. As far as she was concerned, style was for people with paychecks, not for unemployed children.
The only thing less trendy than my attire was my hairstyle. For much of my early life, haircuts were daddy’s domain, and I do declare, I truly loved our sessions. They made for excellent father-son bonding time as daddy clipped clumps of course hair from my skull.
“You know you’re allowed to moisturize, right?”
“I know, daddy.”
“I’m just letting you know.”
We did not have electric clippers then. So daddy’s tools were a pick-comb and a pair of scissors. He used them quite effectively, but it did mean that the range of different hairstyles he could produce were limited to, well, basically one. Short front, short back, and short sides. Full stop. For fourteen years, I looked like the young Wesley Snipes in Wildcats (1986). Only with slightly shorter hair. I had no fades, fros, box cuts, partings, lines, or perms in my hair as a schoolboy.
The blend of my nondescript hairstyle, non-trendy clothes, and non-rhythmic dance abilities did not bother me personally. But they did contribute to ensuring that girls would largely have no business with me. To be clear, I had girls who were my friends, but I did not have a real girlfriend through much of secondary school. My parents were perfectly happy with my status quo.
“You don’t need the distraction. Studies come first. There will be plenty of time for relationships in the future.”
I was cool. My parents were cool. But my friends were distraught.
“Dude. You’re gonna spend your entire life in the friend-zone.”
At the time, I could not tell whether my friends’ assessment was right or wrong. But it was true that I enjoyed to platonic company of girls. What can I say? I grew up with sisters. The trouble was since I was overly nice, I often left myself vulnerable to manipulation. Let us just say that I was “friend” to more than one Josiah, and “chauffeur” to more than one Regina during my secondary school years.
“Don’t worry, bru. I got you. No friend of Jerry’s will be labelled a klanbet oen forever.”
Jerry had arranged for his fashion show to take place at Girls High School. He also made sure there would be ladies to accompany the gents as we showcased his fashion.
“Look, I’ve hooked you guys up. You will be on stage with some fine sistas by your sides. In front of a crowd of fine sistas. Ladies who will be watching your every move and will tell all their fine girlfriends about you. If they don’t know you now, they’ll know you after we’re done.”
“Eish, homies are bad, ek se. homies are bad!”
The day before the fashion show, Jerry had the boys who would be his male models congregate at his parent’s house. He laid out all the clothes and made assignments for who would wear what. I had my eye on a cream suit. It was the smoothest two-piece I had ever seen. The cut was futuristic yet simple and elegant. It was sure to be a heartstopper at the show. I was ready to claim it, but Jerry had other ideas.
“I think Joseph should wear that suit. He’s got the build for it.”
I kept silent and nobody else argued. Joseph Hundah was a boy in a man’s body. He did not have the arrogance of a fly guy. But he did have that je ne se quoi. He also made everything he wore fit as if designed haute couture by Calvin Klein.
Jerry chose a pair of tan dress pants, a lime shirt, and a brown tweed jacket for me. He completed my outfit with the colorful splash of a matching multifloral necktie and kerchief set.
The other models looked magnificent too.
The fashion show did not last long. It was one fifteen-second walk up and down the runway for me. But it radically changed my perspectives on fun, fashion, and the flow of conversation that is possible between a girl and a guy. A guy who was waking up to the idea that he may have more to offer than otherwise might meet the eye. Perhaps I lacked the moves, the threads, the strap, the rap, the polish, the ride, and the mullah. Maybe I had no idea at all how to roll and all and all. But cruising the catwalk with Jerry and the crew made me believe that somewhere deep within me, I might actually be capable of having some sort of game.