Broken Toys

Blessing Musariri

This is what I heard them say:

“You can have the others, but Tinashe comes with me.”

“Why would you separate the kids? Especially Tinashe, who needs his brothers and sisters around him after all he’s been through.”

“Because, Patrick, Tinashe is not your son.”

From the bedroom I heard Simba crashing his new fighter plane onto a battlefield of plastic soldiers. In the TV room, Bugs Bunny was telling Kuda and Farai, “That’s all folks.”  In the kitchen, the fridge hummed its low tune with the occasional rattling hiccup before it too went silent.

“Lucia! Why would you say such a thing?”

“Because it’s true.”


“It doesn’t matter who.”

“Actually, you’re right. It doesn’t matter who, because Tinashe is my son and I’m keeping him, too.”

“Tinashe goes with me.”

They told me there was a problem with my heart and they cut me open to fix it.  I have a smooth line down my chest with little marks along the sides, like steps on a ladder that has nowhere to hold on the sides.  It took them a long time to get it right, but Dad says that it takes time to get the best things just right.  Some things you just can’t fix though, like my Ben 10 watch that I got for Christmas.  It didn’t light up when I pressed the button for Swampfire to speak; it didn’t do anything.  When I told Dad, he said he would see what he could do, but he got too busy at work.  I was angry about getting a toy that didn’t work and I threw it into the cupboard and left it there.  What’s the point of a toy that’s already broken when you get it?

Daddy said to me:

“Just remember, I will always be here for you. You are my child, just like Simba, Kuda and Farai, and I love you. Things haven’t worked out between Mummy and Daddy so Mummy is taking a time out and you’re going with her so that she won’t be too lonely.”

“What about Simba and the others?”

“You’re the youngest and also because you haven’t been well, mummy wants to keep an eye on you.  When we’ve agreed on things, then you will come back to live with your brothers and sister.”

I guess parents are not allowed to keep quiet when there’s nothing they can say, and so they tell you things that they know in their hearts aren’t going to be true.  Maybe they believe in their hearts that things will be all right, but when Daddy spoke to me I could see in his eyes that even he didn’t believe what he was saying. But I wanted to believe him, and so I did.

Ambuya said to Mummy:

“Why did you do it?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I asked you a question and I want an answer.”

“What do you want me to tell you?  That I failed?  That I couldn’t do what you did and your mother before you?  It just happened.  I needed someone, something else, something better, happier and it was there.”

“You should have left Tinashe with the others.”

“Ha!  You of all people, of all the traditionalists, you can say that?  Leave him to claim a totem that is not his.  Leave Tinashe to live a lie, believing he is one of them when maybe his life would be completely different in his true identity.  You of all people!”

“You can lie to yourself all you want, but you cannot lie to me.  Tell yourself what you want to believe.”

The silence here has a different kind of life; it lives as sounds from the gospel programme quietly interrupting the night; crickets at the door asking if they may come in and Ambuya’s old dog Murandu on the gleaming veranda, groaning in his sleep. The neighbours are hidden by the space filled with tall, green maize and rows and rows of potatoes surrounding us, but sometimes the trees whisper to each other in the middle of the night.  I don’t recognize the voices of the children when I hear them even though I really pay attention.  I keep thinking that soon, I will hear Farai telling Kuda that if he takes the heads off her dolls one more time, she is going to box his ears.  I’m much better now. Mummy doesn’t need to keep an eye on me. I can go back to Dad and the others now, back to my real school.  They’ll all be wondering where I am.

Mummy said:

“Someone is going to come and see you today.  Your real dad.”

“But I have a dad already.”

“He’s not your real dad.  He’s just the dad you’ve always known. But things are different now.”

“I want to go back to our house, to Dad and the others.”

“Things are different now, Tinashe. I’m not going back there and neither are you.  The sooner you accept that, the better.”

“But what about Farai, Kuda and Simba?  Are they not my real brothers and sister?”

“Yes they are.”

“So why can’t I go back to them?  It doesn’t matter about Dad; he said he loved me and that I could come back if I wanted to.”

I am beginning to understand silences more than I understand words.  If you don’t want to hear what a silence has to tell you, you can put your hands over your ears and it won’t keep talking to you and be satisfied with itself even though you have not answered. It won’t make things true that are not.  It won’t make you go to a school that’s not yours, it won’t take you away from where you want to be; it won’t make you sit in a car with a man you have never seen in your life. 

Silence tells you that there are boys in the field hitting cricket balls and the games teacher is shouting at Kevin to pay attention and run; that there are boys on all the swings, going higher than they should, making the chains squeak and clang; that the crows in the Jacarandas are waiting impatiently for the sandwich crusts thrown out of plastic lunch boxes and parents are telling each other about their children as they wait outside their cars.

“How fast does it go?”

“Did you hear what I just said, Tinashe?”

“Does it have a turbo engine?”

“Tinashe, I asked you if your mother told you about me.”

“My brother will be so jealous when I tell him about this car.”

“Would you like to come and live with me and your other brother and sister?”

“Does it have a ten-track CD changer?”


Maybe I shouldn’t have let the silence speak for me that day.


* * *

“If I have two dads, why can’t I choose which one I want to be with?”

“It’s not up to you to make that choice.”

“Why?  I am the one who has to go and live with them, so why I can’t I choose where I want to go?”

“It doesn’t work that way.  You have to go to your relatives.”

“But they don’t know me and I don’t know them.  I only know Dad and Kuda and Simba and Farai.”

“That’s just the way it is.”

But I have only gone from one kind of silence to another, and never the one with voices I want to hear.  This time the silences are filled with the sounds of cars on the streets outside, below; the mumbled voices of neighbours through the wall; the music and news from their loud TVs; the crying of their angry babies; the footsteps outside our front door and the clinking of Mummy’s bottles as she puts them away in the cupboard and takes them out again and later, her soft snoring as she falls asleep on the sofa without her pyjamas on.

“When will he come?”

“Will he take me to live with him and my new brother and sister?”

“Will I have a new mummy too?”

“Why do I have to get new parents when I already have you and Dad?  It’s not fair, Mama, I don’t want to go.”

“Will he come and fetch me in the red car?”

“Will I be allowed to go back to school?”

“Is it because my heart was broken when I was born?”

“Is it because they didn’t get it just right when they tried to fix it and now there’s no point ‘cuz no one wants a broken boy?”

Is it because I don’t listen to silences anymore?

* * *

You sit so close to me these days, as if you’re seeking warmth from a fire somewhere inside of me.  There is no fire left here, little man; your mother is an abandoned house, embers lifeless in the grate.  I’m trying to do the right thing but I’m floundering in a dark river of wrongs.  It didn’t seem that way when it began.  The nine months I carried you, Tinashe, my heart was so full I feared there wouldn’t be room enough in my body for both.  You should have been bursting with the vitality that ran through my veins that year, you should have been perfect, but you were the truth waiting beyond my idyll. I should have been happy with him, a good man by many accounts, a good enough life. Sometimes, baby, we walk our whole lives in a tunnel of convention, and it is so endless that the light becomes invisible. For a time it seemed I’d found a chink in the wall and I spent many months reveling in the glimpses of a different life; the novelty of being Lucia without a trail of half-empty souls waiting for me to fill them up with my mothering, wanting me to be their everything.  I don’t even remember making all those choices, but this one, this one was unforgettable.  It may not have been the best thing I have ever done, but at least I remember choosing to do it.  I wonder if you’ll ever understand.  It was never meant to come to this. 

You follow me around these cramped rooms all day long, your eyes screaming fear at me, and I know your little heart is breaking.  You should be with your brothers and sisters and the father you have known all your life.  I should have left you with them, never said anything.  It would have been the right thing for you, but you are the only one who truly belongs to me.  I have never been alone, Tinashe, and even when it feels like I have no one, at least I have you.

* * *

“Have you read this story in the paper?  It’s truly shocking. People are doing such wicked things to children.”

I have come to my older brother David, as I have always done since we were children. He will help me make sense of this terrible knowledge Lucia has thrown in my path.  It’s bad enough our marriage has failed, but to be told that Tinashe is not my son, after everything we have been through with him!

 Awkwardly folded into the embrace of a wrought-iron garden chair, David is a beacon in the melee that lately exists in my life.  This lush corner of his garden is a sanctuary from walls with ears and forked tongues.  David is possessed of a reality that exists peacefully in the acceptance of itself; you take it or leave it, but you remain friends.

In the newspaper I have folded in front of me, I have just read about three men who took turns raping a six-year-old. If I was sad on my own account before, I am now despondent on behalf of the world at large.

“We are no better than those animals that eat their offspring.  Why do we fail to protect our young?”

Something rustles in the undergrowth of the large Flamboyant tree under which we sit. The sun sings a high tune in the bright sky, and somewhere close to us David’s ridgeback lies panting in the coolness of shadows.  David knows what is on my mind.

“It’s right that he should go to his people.  Every man needs to know where he comes from.”

“But he is just a boy.  We could have told him when he was older, stronger.”

“There are things in every family that are handed down; people’s ancestors become angry at that kind of confusion.”

“David!  Surely!  Surely, you do not believe in all that hocus-pocus.  It’s not relevant anymore, we are living in different times.”

“Time doesn’t change some things.  A man needs to know that his children are really his.  He needs to know the truth of the things that will affect his future and the future of his children.”

“Can a man ever really know about his children?  Unless he is told.”

“But did you never suspect?”

“Why would I?  Things were sometimes difficult, but it happens in marriages.”

“This too happens.”

“I would have kept him.  He was my son.”

“Once you knew, it was no longer your decision to make, only to accept.”

“She could have just kept quiet and let him be, poor soul; taking him away from his brothers and sisters, his family, just when he was finally beginning to feel all right again.  Three years, in and out of hospital; the recovery, learning to be an active child again and just when he felt like himself again.”

Sometimes Truth is simply a presence breathing softly beside you on a hot day in November, understanding your pain and bewilderment, while next door, children scream with joy as they jump into clear blue water that cools their feverish skin.  He is thinking, as he often does, of his own children, one lost in an accident, the other trapped in a reluctant mind.  We are in this family, a series of dramatic events.  I cannot bear to think what next.

* * *

As long as I live I will never understand this child that I brought forward into the world.  Children these days know so little about common goals and sacrifice, and with all their newfound freedoms they know almost nothing about real love.  They have new ideas about everything and forget that a body needs sustenance, but if you put too much salt in your food, do not steal from another’s plate. 

Lucia simply came back one day and said:

“Amai, please take care of Tinashe for a while.  I will come back for him. I need some time to think.”

There is no such luxury on this earth as time to think when you have a child who needs you.

“Please Mama!  I am your child.  I need you right now.  I need your help.”

Lucia!  I brought up my children. I fed and clothed them, sent them to school.  I have done my duty.  Do not believe for one minute that I never needed or wanted time to think.  That I never wanted something more, something other than what I signed up for.  Do you think I stayed with your father because it was all good times and good love?  That I didn’t sometimes wish for a man who would appreciate me more, love me better?  That is real life child. There are no promises, only those that we make before we know what they really mean. When you had this child, you made a promise to him, whether you like it or not, and so far you have failed to keep it.  What could you possibly be thinking?  What will happen to the others?  How have you just walked away from them?  Where are you planning to go without your children?

“Mama please!  It’s all too confusing, I can’t think right now.”

Will he leave his wife for you?  His children?  No. I didn’t think so.  He’s not even going to take the boy is he?  No of course not, his wife won’t agree to it.  Would you?  And now?  You leave him with me so you have time to think. What will he do for school? For friends?  Stuck here with an old woman like me for company when he could be with his brothers and sisters–poor child, what did he ever do to deserve such a life?  Lucia!  You have been very foolish indeed. Sometimes, sometimes a woman keeps her secrets to herself because they will do nobody any good.  Where could you possibly have seen a “happily ever after” in this?  Did you even stop to think of what would happen to your children while you were off looking for diamonds in the sand?  There was a time when you could leave your children under beds and rosebushes in the rain and I would pick them up and dust them off and patch them up for you, putting them neatly back on your shelf or in your cupboard. You cannot do this now, Lucia. I can no longer come after you to make corrections where you have so heedlessly sown your seeds amongst the thorns. But, I cannot say no, I am conditioned to put others’ needs before my own; the product of an age of acquiescence.  I cannot understand this new choice you young people have today of simply walking away because the way you have made your bed is not to your liking.  Once you are married, with children, you are last on the list.  Did I not tell you this?  You must find a way to fix this thing.

* * *

This is what I heard them say:

“There were complications.  She didn’t make it but the baby is all right.”

“That’s just crazy.  Who dies in childbirth these days?”

“You’d be surprised.”

“And the father of the child?”


“What about the boy?  It’s been about three years now.  Is the father ever going to take him?”


“Ag! Shame man.  Breaks my heart.  People shouldn’t do this to kids.”

Silence. The quiet kind. Not even the baby crying from Ambuya’s room.  The silence of heads shaking slowly as if they are gently shaking loose all of their sad thoughts.  The silence of green things growing in the dark brown earth.  The silence of the place where I go when I have covered my ears and closed my eyes in the cool corner of the waxed veranda.  In this silence, I see my dad telling me that I am a superhero who can make himself strong because of special powers in his mind. I see Simba falling from his bicycle into the mud, laughing as he chases Farai down the path. I see Kuda reading a comic book about Spiderman; I bet you by now he has played with my Ben 10 watch and broken it even more. I should have just been happy when I got it even though it was broken.  I shouldn’t have thrown it to the bottom of the cupboard.  I shouldn’t have left it there.

About the Author 

Blessing Musariri is a published and award-winning children's book author who writes many other things besides. Her publications to date are Rufaro's Day (Longman Zimbabwe, 2000) and Going Home: A Tree's Story (Weaver Press Zimbabwe, 2005) and The Mystery of Rokodzi Mountain (Hodder Education UK). Her short stories and poems have been published in various international anthologies and online magazines. She holds a master's degree in diplomatic studies (with distinction) from the University of Westminster, and lives in Harare, Zimbabwe.


Illustration by Andrea Arroyo