We met them in We Need New Names: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and Darling (except this time we can’t quite tell if Darling is still part of the group, if she is the one telling the story. This is left to the reader to decide). Now Noviolet Bulawayo brings them back in a story about the birthday of their country’s president, and in this story, we also meet the interesting Brother Nkululeko, known to the children as Brother Nkust. “Happy Birthday Africa President” delivers the lyrical skill and captivating prose that delivered We Need New Names to us, and more…
NoViolet Bulawayo’s stories have won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing and shortlisted for the J.M. Coetzee – judged 2009 SA PEN Studzinsi Award. NoViolet earned her MFA at Cornell University where she was a recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship and a lecturer of English. She is now a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She is the first Zimbabwean writer to be shortlisted on the Man Booker Prize. The following are other honors she has received:
- 2013 National Book Award‘s “5 Under 35″ chosen by a panel of past finalists and winners. Bulawayo was selected by Junot Díaz.
- 2013 Guardian First Book Award shortlist for We Need New Names
- 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature shortlist for We Need New Names
- 2013 Barnes & Noble Discover Award finalist for We Need New Names
We see Brother Nkululeko at the top of the road and we know him from his cheap China yellow shirt that he never takes off and his gait and the battery-operated radio that he always cradles in the nook of the elbow. We watch him cross at the traffic light that hasn’t worked in a while and start to come our way, stop by the squad of girls in Townsend uniforms. We see him start talking to them with his body. The girls just stand and clutch their book bags and watch him. When Brother Nkust reaches a hand toward the tall one she takes a step back as if he reeks. He reaches for the next and she too does the same, and it goes on and on we start giggling, but we’re careful Brother Nkust doesn’t see us because we know what he can do to us. We see him finally throw his free hand in the air to tell the girls fokolo, make that turn of his, and proceed our way, his gait like he owns the road, all of it, even with the potholes, with the tar that’s chipping away at the edges. When he gets within earshot he turns back to the girls, who will not hear him now, and yells, Keep making like your vaginas are made of diamonds and see who’s taking you to school, dunders!
When Brother Nkust sees the president he thrusts his radio into Bastard’s arms and walks up to the wall. We hear him mutter, My father, and then he bows his head respectfully.
Is he praying? Should we all bow our heads too? Sbho says.
He means the president, Stina says.
What, the president is Brother Nkust’s father for real? Godknows says, and Stina shakes his head. I have to keep moving my feet even though I’m standing in one place because the earth is just so hot under my feet, it is burning.