Cion by Zakes Mda

The following is an excerpt from the novel Cion (Picador, 2007) by Zakes Mda.

The story is told that the wizened old woman taught mothers never to love their children. She walked from cabin to cabin dispensing her wisdom. Because her message must be infused through the veins of the earth, the sciolist even makes her walk from plantation to plantation, silent as the air we breathe, without attracting the attention of the owners. Mothers eagerly lapped up her words, for they knew the dire consequences of loving. Those who were weak enough to love in spite of themselves received spe- cial lessons on how to cease confusing love with ownership. Invari- ably they failed to appreciate the fine distinction and ended up regretting that they loved at all. Some women imbibed the lessons so well that they went beyond just not loving their children; they developed a deep hatred for them. They hated them for being the children who could not be loved. If they had had the power they would have strangled them in the womb.

Sometimes lessons failed and the wizened one resorted to con- coctions that she brewed in her cabin. Concoctions that she had learned from those who learned them from the shamans of the old continent, generations before. She gave them to pregnant mothers to harden their hearts so that they would be immune from loving what was growing in their bodies.

Men could be loved, but with caution. It was that kind of an age. They too could not be possessed by those who were weak enough to love them. Once more, don’t mix things up: love and ownership are two separate notions.They would be here today and gone tomorrow. But there would be others. The auction block would provide. Or a woman may be fortunate enough to find one from the domestic stock. From those who had been bred to procreate and feed the in- satiable markets. Men and women did not abjure what came natu- rally even though they knew that the unions they formed would be fragile. They continued to manufacture babies despite the ever- threatening dangers of loving them.

David Fairfield was The Owner. He had a better remedy for love...much more effective than the wizened one’s. He was a com- passionate man, so he devised a strategy of saving the women from the pain of loving their children. The midwives were given strict in- structions that the birthing mothers should never be allowed to see their newborns, let alone touch them. As soon as the babies came out of the passage of life they were whisked away to a communal nursery. At feeding time mothers were not given their own babies to breastfeed. Mothers therefore never got to know which babies were theirs, in the same way that they never got to know who the fathers were. The Owner made certain that there was a rotation of studs— the well-bred young men whose most important function was to im- pregnate the women to populate the plantation with the future generations that would meet the demands of the auction block.

Nicodemus and Abednego were children who could not be loved.

First came Abednego. They called his mother the Abyssinian Queen, even though none of her forebears ever set foot in Abyssinia. The first of them in the new world had been captured from the mouth of the Kongo more than a century before. She did not know that. The Kongo man’s family tree was chopped down successfully after a generation or two and no one knew anything anymore.

She was the Abyssinian Queen—black like a moonless night with dark clouds hiding the stars. Yet her big white teeth beamed sunrays into people’s hearts, leaving them melting.

Her face was round and smooth. So was her belly. It radiated life: there is nothing as beautiful as a pregnant stomach. The fullness of the moon. Gleaming stretch marks like moonscape rivers. In the folk tales that were told when work was done and fires were roaring the sun was king and the moon was queen. Perhaps that is why they called the woman a queen, for the sobriquet started only when she was sashaying in voluminous dresses, with Abednego kicking in her body.

From Cion by Zakes Mda. Copyright © 2007 by Zakes Mda. Published by Picador.