An Africa-centred critique of Walking Still: Part Eight


THE short story ‘Did you have to go that far?’ is undoubtedly the longest of all in the anthology.
It spans from page 43 to 83, thus almost bordering on a novella.
Indeed it shares a number of characteristics with a novella.
One of such attributes is conveying more than one message.
The other is that it has several active characters.
This story is a story and a half in that it poses serious questions about several contemporary issues in society.
To begin with the title itself is a question addressed to a particular audience.
It is a question that can be asked to any of the several characters, notably; Pamba, Pamba’s father, Damba, Damba’s father, Dura and Mrs Gwaze.
Each one of these characters’ behaviour invites such interrogative inquiry for it contributes in part to the tragedy in the story.
Equally so each one of these can ask the same question about events and people that surround their lives.
And likewise society can also ask: “did you have to go that far?” to anyone of the characters, whose degrees of deviation from the social norms and values, surpasses expected thresholds.
This is how complicated this highly philosophical story is.
It invites the reader to meditation and self-introspection.
It is as if we are all being indicted for abandoning the African way in a fundamental way.
Central to the story is a demonstration of what happens when society loses its fabric, when norms and values of society give way to the laws of the jungle and in particular when the falconer has lost control of the falcon.
The latter refers to a scenario when parents have lost control over their children so that children create their own world where they are controlled by their own instincts.
In other words Mungoshi is saying: ‘look and see what happens when children live outside the frames of society’s norms and mores’.
The situation that obtains in this story amounts to saying everyone is guilty of either the wrong action or wrong inaction resulting in chaos that leads to death and misery.
Parental loss or parental absence is the major sin of omission which looses the chaos into the children’s world.
The way parents interact with their children has a direct effect on their development – their level of confidence and self-esteem, their sense of security, their emotional well-being, the way they relate to others, how they deal with authority, and their performance in school.
Positive parents nurture, discipline, and respect their children in equal measure. 
They set high standards and expectations, consistently enforce rules, and encourage independence. 
Open communication and the ability to listen are key. 
That is why their parenting is said to be ‘positive’.
Unengaged parents don’t discipline, nurture, or respect their children. 
They are generally uninvolved and disinterested in parenting, interacting only minimally with their child. 
Consequently their children lose direction as they try to parent themselves.
The situation in ‘Why did you have to go that far’ is in fact worse than parental loss.
In fact there is negative parenting manifesting itself in various ways.
The case of Pamba typifies one of the manifestations of negative parenting.
Pamba has both parents alive, but who have abdicated their parenting roles in different ways.
On one hand his mother is overprotective, defending her child against accusation without ever seeking to establish facts or righting his wrongs; on the other his father is extremely abusive.
Pamba’s father beats Pamba and his mother routinely without abetment even for crimes never committed.
This combination of laissez-faire attitude on the part of the mother and physical and emotional torture from the father creates a monster in Pamba.
He internalises both the anarchy and violence which he subsequently looses upon his taboo-free world.
Pamba takes this violence to his neighbours.
He takes Damba, an equally spoiled child (though more redeemable) to one of their neighbours’ house, sneak into their house and “plant little mounts of excrement throughout all the rooms”, write, “Pamba and Damba were here” and sign their names on the walls with their own excrement.
This misdirected adventurism is ‘too far’ beyond what society can consider as childhood pranks.
It underlines a certain level of moral debasement bordering on dementia.
But what would one expect from children whose fathers would “leave for work well before (they) were up, and came back long after (they) were in bed . . . (They) hardly saw (their) fathers during the week . . . They were like DJs: only heard, not seen.”
Pamba also takes his internalised violence to his peers.
Dura is the biggest victim.
As a newcomer to the location, Dura is brutalised left, right and centre.
Pamba smashes his glasses without remorse.
He beats him up.
He is stigmatised as HIV-infected and is accused of having eaten his own father.
All this is done against a well-brought out boy who would otherwise be willing to be a friend.
Is it surprising therefore that later when Pamba steals poisoned chicken from his mother’s chicken, Dura develops a cynicism similar to that of his tormentor which he confesses to Damba: “I could let him die if I want to.”
Indeed it turns out that Dura’s final resolution is to leave Pamba to his death as evidenced by his final denial of knowledge about the whole saga when Pamba finally drowns trying to recover the remainder of the chicken from the dam in a desperate effort to save his life.
Dura proves the ‘wiser’ when he says to Damba who is charging him of conspiracy in the death of Pamba: “I don’t know of any chicken.
“You are making it up. You are lying. You just want to get me into trouble with my mother.”
It is clear Dura has the last laugh which perhaps invites the question, “did you have to go this far?”; which question can be answered as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ depending on what circumstantial evidence is abound.
A literal analysis of this story would indict Dura and her mother, Mrs Gwaze, but a broader analysis shows that several forces are at play here, chief among them parental negligence.
No person is born with the skills of protecting and nurturing himself.
People inherit parenting skills through knowledge from past experiences and current situations.
However, adversity faced by many parents fostered by colonialism and the unrelenting demands of the new urban settlements can disrupt these parenting skills from being transferred to their kids as is the case here.
In the final analysis the story teaches above all responsibility.
Right from learning to pick up toys to driving their own cars, children are taught to be responsible and accept any incoming responsibilities.
Mungoshi is literally warning the younger generation that you can only live your own world against the grain of established social rules at your own peril.


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