Childhood Shorts – Chapter 15: The Bees Knees
Childhood Shorts – Chapter 15: The Bees Knees
August 06, 2019

No matter where we lived, whether in Zambia before independence or in Zimbabwe afterwards, our lives were invariably filled with music. Daddy was always listening to something or other from his collection of long-play vinyl records. And mommy, our songbird, could often be heard singing the lyrics of  the various hymns and other pieces she loved the most. Our parents also loved to party, especially in their thirties. I am talking get-down-build-a-sweat-boogie-until-you-drop kind of late-night jam sessions. Kool and the Gang, James Brown, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes. That kind of partying.

Their get-downs were always wholesome affairs, mind you, and we children were regularly invited to participate. I remember standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the front room when I was about three or four years old. Mommy and some of our aunties were cutting the rug.

“Dance, Mubuso!”

“Yes! Come dance with us!”

The ladies’ invitation made me grin. My shoulders jerked forward, but my feet would not follow, and my torso was gyrating unconsciously as the various bass and treble ensembles pulsated and reverberated throughout the house. My brain, for its part, was clueless. Were was the instruction manual for making one’s limbs move together in some coordinated rhythmic function? When in doubt, my mind would typically freeze.

“They want us to join in!” cried my body.

“I know, I know.”

“Well, should we go?”

“Of course, it would be rude not to oblige.”

“Quite. So what do you want us to do when we get to the dance floor?

“I rather I think we should dance.”

“Yes, dance, of course, but how?”

“How? I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure?”

“No.”

“But isn’t that your job, to figure things out?”

“Yes, smart aleck, it is.”

“Then, would you mind doing your job?”

“Yes, I’m trying, but those movements the adults are doing don’t seem logical.”

“It’s not about logic. Perhaps you should sit this one out and let the rest of us improvise.”

“No, things never go well when you lot improvise.”

“Well, nothing is going well right now. We’re stuck in limbo.”

“I’m thinking of something.”

My brain could not think of anything.

“You coming, Mubuso?”

The aunties were getting concerned about my hesitation.

They were not alone. My body, anxious for action, was also done with waiting. My gut, feeling opportunistic, was canvassing the rest of me to join it in overriding my brain for its failure to come up with a plan.

“Just go with me,” it rallied.

Empowered by the idea of insurrection, my limbs tried to make a defiant dash for the dance floor. But at the last minute my brain intervened. It was desperate to leverage all the power of its executive function to quash this uncouth coup de corps. The resultant go/no go battle in my consciousness produced a series of herkie-jerky, imbalanced leg movements and spasmodic arm thrusts that mildly puzzled my onlookers.

“Are those new moves?”

“Dunno, kids these days. They pick up all sorts of things from each other.”

“Looks strange.”

“Yah, but let’s just continue smiling. Don’t want to make him more self-conscious than he is already.”

This was a heated struggle.

“I said wait! I’m still thinking,” objected my brain.

“There’s no time. We’ve got to move. We’ve got to do something!” My body was now earnestly pleading.

My feet somehow made it to the dance floor, but my internal conflict had been so furious that it effectively short-circuited my nervous system. Everything except my head and neck shut down so that all I could do was nod in a flourished but futile attempt to sync up with the down beat.

“Is that the only move you’ve got, mwana (child)?”

I kept nodding.

“Shame. That’s the only move he has.”

“Come, let me teach you something else, son.” Daddy laughed as he came to my rescue. “Try this.”

His feet flashed before me in the blur of a toes-in, toes-out twisting sequence of steps. His knees bent repeatedly in pace with the music. At the same time, his arms circled about everywhere in the full flow of a smooth funky motion. It sure looked cool, but I had trouble keeping up.

“What was that?”

“Too, much? Don’t worry, I’m just teasing. We’ll make it easier.”

He squared me up so that I was facing him. He put his drink down and placed a little pressure on my shoulders to make me squat some.

“Rest your hands on your knees.”

He did the same.

“It’s an oldy but goody. I’m going to teach you the Bees Knees from the Charleston. I’ll show it to you first. Then you try.”

With his feet shoulder-width apart, his legs bent, and his hands still on his knees, daddy suddenly rushed his knees together so that his right and left hands touched momentarily at the center of his thrust. Then something incredible happened. I could not believe my eyes. Daddy’s right knee became his left knee, and his left became his right! What? His right hand and his right knee were now on the left side of his body. Clearly, my dad was a magician.

“Daddy, your legs! They are crisscrossed! How? Does it hurt?”

Daddy roared and my aunties started to giggle.

“How daddy, how? Show me, I want to do dance magic too.”

He did the trick again. This time in very slow motion.

“Did you see?”

“You swapped your hands! Not your knees!”

“Exactly! Now you try.”

I did. It made me fall over.

Daddy’s laughter thundered over me again. “Ha! You went too fast. Take it slow at first. Learn and then do. Practice then perfect.”

I gave it another shot and managed to stay on my feet, but my hands got locked up together.

“Try again.”

I did. Again and again. In fact, I reckon practicing this maneuver held my attention for the remainder of the night. I was determined to make my knees and my hands move as seamlessly as daddy’s did.

“I think he’s going to get it.”

“You bet he will.”

Related Posts

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 38: Greater Glory

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 38: Greater Glory

Aside from the title, any writing assignment we did at St. George’s College required inclusion of the date and the initialism A.M.D.G. (abbreviation for Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam). The latter was a reminder for us boys. A prompt to help us put into practice a foundational principle of our school community.

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 37: Man in the Window

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 37: Man in the Window

Mommy was nowhere to be seen. But a group of orderlies rushed out to the parking lot. They took hold of the man and ushered him into the building, back to the solitary confinement of his ward. Our chests were still heaving when mommy finally returned.

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 36: Latchcar Kids

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 36: Latchcar Kids

I spent a good portion of my early childhood in the car. Babysitting options were rather limited back then and we were too young to stay home alone. Mommy therefore took us everywhere. On visits to see friends, to appointments, and on her various tours of chores.

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 35: The Beast

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 35: The Beast

I continued to prioritize basketball even after I completed high school. Zimbabwe had a budding men’s league that boasted competitive teams. I first joined Hellenics Basketball Club where Sludge and a few other St. George’s College graduates were playing.

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 34: Gone to the Dogs

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 34: Gone to the Dogs

Ross once told me it was possible to die from breathing in a single strand of a dog’s fur. I believed him. Not because it was necessarily true, but because Ross was the one who had said it. When he wanted to, the kid could be awfully convincing.

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 33: Puppy Love

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 33: Puppy Love

How could I not fall for her? She was gorgeous. I loved her from the first moment I set eyes on her. She was shy and a little timid in her surroundings. But I think she noticed I was smiling and that helped her settle.

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 32: School Police

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 32: School Police

Jets was not alone in the execution of discipline. He had help from prefects. Prefects were deputized agents of the school’s system of control. They were a small body of boys from the sixth-form (twelfth-grade) called out to preside as watchmen over the broader student body.

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 31: Hartmann Hill Sheriff

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 31: Hartmann Hill Sheriff

Among the films daddy brought home during the 1980s, Cahill: U.S. Marshall (1973) was probably the first in the cowboy genre we ever watched on VCR. Just for that reason, we played it repeatedly. John Wayne’s character, J.D. Cahill, is a lawman of incorruptible integrity and saddlebags of style.

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 30: The Real Fall Guys

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 30: The Real Fall Guys

(Photo by Noom Peerapong on Unsplash) There is a chorus of crickets and frogs, and other creatures as well. Its sounds pierce the silence of night just as the light of the new day begins to perforate the darkness. The calls are joined by the noises of birds, and of...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 29: The Good Old Days

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 29: The Good Old Days

Our starting point guard was Clive Rugara, a wizard with the ball in his hands. For a guy who shuffled his feet, Clive was super-fast on the dribble. He had a Magic Johnson type of game. It came with full-court vision that spanned 365 degrees. Clive could see...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 28: Ting, Ting. Round One

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 28: Ting, Ting. Round One

Two separate walls of cheering students flanked the basketball court where the final game would be played. On one side, an army of red blazers. On the other, a battalion of purple blazers. Between them, air that was thick with tension, excitement, and anticipation....

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 27: Rise of the Wolf Pack

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 27: Rise of the Wolf Pack

The shift from “Saints Basketball” to “Saints Wolves” was subtle. But for us schoolboys, it was a micro-reflection of the sentiment that had captured the nation in 1980 when the country's name changed from “Rhodesia” to “Zimbabwe.” In 1991, we broke the seal on our...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 26: A Bullish Makeover

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 26: A Bullish Makeover

If you were a basketball fan from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, you either loved or you hated Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The NBA third draft pick behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie, Jordan joined the league from North Carolina in 1984. His entry into...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 25: One Basket, All Eggs

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 25: One Basket, All Eggs

(Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver on Unsplash) At St. John’s Prep., I was a relatively big fish in a small pond. When I arrived at St. George’s College, I realized that I was a rather minute tadpole in a significantly larger body of water. The pool of talent was...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 24: Hustle and Grow

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 24: Hustle and Grow

(Photo by TJ Dragotta on Unsplash) “Again.” Salty streams of sticky sweat slipped and swept along my brow. Dripped and dropped their drenching dew, down my eyelids and through my lashes. They irritated with their splashes the saline surface of my corneas. “Again.”...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 23: Unfinished Business

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 23: Unfinished Business

Although only sixteen years old in 1986, Sludge emerged as the top scorer on the first team. He amassed a total of 214 points by the last whistle of the final game. He brought a different level of skill, flair, confidence, and style to the play of Saints basketball....

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 22: Finding Nemesis

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 22: Finding Nemesis

(Photo by Stefan Cosma on Unsplash) Vernon Williams pulled up at the three point line, to the right of the top of the key. He pump-faked. But the defender was too experienced to take the bait. The guy stayed planted, doing exactly what his coach had instructed....

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 21: Homies R Bad.d

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 21: Homies R Bad.d

(Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash) “Ask me what I’m doing!” “What?” “I said, ask me what I’m doing.” “Ok, Jerry. What you doing?” “Me? Just minding my business.” “Great.” “Now, ask me what my business is.” “Come on, man. I’ve got better things to do.” “No. Ask me...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 20: Fly Guys, Fly Girls

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 20: Fly Guys, Fly Girls

(Photo by Melody Jacob on Unsplash) Post-colonial colorism also made dating complicated. At the top of the girlfriend wishlist of every teenage schoolboy was a musikana mutsvuku (light-skinned girl). Even among us bantu-black sub-Saharan Africans, melanin, or too much...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 19: Wannabees and MaNose

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 19: Wannabees and MaNose

(Photo by Calvin Lupiya on Unsplash) The 1980s were difficult if you had no rhythm, but brutal if you had no style. If you fell into the unfortunate category where both were true, then staying asleep would probably have been the safest way to get through the decade...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 18: How Many Left Feet?

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 18: How Many Left Feet?

(Photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash) Before the end of my first year at St. George’s College, I was grafted into a small, gritty, and eclectic posse of boys. Tavona Chihambakwe, Garikai Maphosa, Nelesh Gulab, and Vusimusi Nondo. We were bonded together by our compatible...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 17: Chop and Hop

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 17: Chop and Hop

(Photo by Ben Wiens on Unsplash)If it was at all within your power, you would do well not to miss late night television on Fridays. Particularly those final two hours of programming before the midnight shutdown. The timeslot drew a large, faithful, and near-cultish...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 16: Boogie with a Disco Queen

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 16: Boogie with a Disco Queen

Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash The Bees Knees became my go-to move. Much so for the next ten years. I pulled it out every opportunity I had to dance. I went from novice, to expert, to one-trick pony with this singular aspect of the Charleston. It worked for...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 14: Red Blazer Nation

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 14: Red Blazer Nation

I believe I cried on the first day of school at St. George’s. Possibly the second day too. I was overwhelmed and rather intimidated. The college is a sprawling empire of a campus, with fields that stretch out like interlocking plantations. It has courts, and pools,...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 13: More than Blazer Thin

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 13: More than Blazer Thin

St. John’s Prep. was not just a school. It was and still is an admired institution across Harare and Zimbabwe. The school first opened in 1956 with 13 students. Its initial mission was to provide a “sound system of education in an atmosphere conducive to the growth...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 12: A Race for Relevance

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 12: A Race for Relevance

Let go of Superman? Not a Cadbury bar’s chance at a chocoholic’s convention. Giving him up would essentially be abandoning comics. Losing Superman meant forsaking Clark Kent. Which I was not at all prepared to do. In my mind, it was Clark who made Superman super....

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 11: It’s Not About the Cape

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 11: It’s Not About the Cape

(Photo by Zbysiu Rodak on Unsplash)If we were not reading Asterix or The Adventures of Tintin, we were huddled by the television watching a variety of new shows and reruns courtesy of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation’s TV1 channel. The station brought joy to...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 10: Ice Cream and Skin

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 10: Ice Cream and Skin

(Photo by Mark Cruz on Unsplash)Asterix was by far my favorite hero. A shrewd, crafty, defiant, and plucky little warrior, living in about 50BC. In the stories, Gaul, his homeland, is occupied by the Romans, except for one small village where he lives. Asterix’ best...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 9: Blame the British

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 9: Blame the British

Our first twenty-four months in Zimbabwe were like one prolonged episode of the reality documentary This is Your Life (1952 to 1961). Except a better title for our experience would have been something like “This is Your Parent’s Country.” Almost every day was a...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 8: The Grasshopper Instinct

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 8: The Grasshopper Instinct

(Photo by Bradley Feller on Unsplash)During those early years in Zambia, I generally paid attention only to those things that directly affected my little life. After all, there was plenty to keep me busy in our dynamic, unpredictable, and oftentimes perplexing...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 7: The Life of Bugs

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 7: The Life of Bugs

(Photo by Manlake Gabriel on Unsplash) Nothing unnerves me quite like snakes but bugs I do not like. If I am being honest, I have never really appreciated them. I find them to be totally creepy, crawly, and vexatious. Having said that, I do not abhor them all equally....

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 6: Snakes and Robbers

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 6: Snakes and Robbers

(Photo by David Clode on Unsplash) “Mubuso. Wake up. Go to our room. Be quick and hurry up.” Our household, like many others in Olympia Park, had a burglary-preparedness protocol. If a home was ever invaded, children were to scurry into the safest room in the house...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 5: Fried Chicken Fridays

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 5: Fried Chicken Fridays

(Photo by Léo Roza on Unsplash) Daytime in Zambia was carefree and charming. It was filled with games and gladness and all the wonderful things that make childhood delightful. Nighttime, however, was the exact opposite. In many respects, the dark was disturbing. On...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 4: All Things Nice

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 4: All Things Nice

Despite them taking advantage of me in vexing ways, I could never stay angry at my two sisters. My blood should have boiled, watching them roll over each other on the floor laughing, tickled by the success of their mischief. But their cheeky chuckling was deeply...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 3: Super Nudge

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 3: Super Nudge

Quarreling is certainly one way to demonstrate to the world the depth of your foolishness. Another quite effective method is to show yourself to be impressionable. Granted, I had the excuse of childish naivety in my early years, but I must admit that I was as gullible...

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 2: Hot Ross Summer

Childhood Shorts – Chapter 2: Hot Ross Summer

We were a sorry pair, but by golly, what good times. My brother and I were regularly rendered into two convulsing, spluttering, blubbering, blue-faced, and half-conscious heaps of wide-eyed crazy. We experienced many such episodes during our childhood. They were...