What is Eccentric?
By Dumisani Kufaruwenga
He had more than one name.
Bernie The Barber was one of them.
It was derived from the reality of his profession. He was, in truth and in fact, a barber.
He carried his barber’s equipment which included scissors, oils, sanitizing spirit, combs, razor blades and other such paraphernalia in a wretched jute carrier bag, which he always carried around with him, come hell or high water.
The wretched jute carrier bag was his trademark.
He had customers ranging from the sordid drunks of Tongogara, to the little children of Mazibisa Village, down to the aged of Muguzumbi Village, to his own kinsmen in Chivi Village itself, up to Munyimani, over to Mazioni Village and across the treeless plains of Poshayi, right across Chinho and beyond, not to mention Kombora, Mhaka, Mapfumo, Mawere and the villages yonder, everyone knew about Bernie The Barber’s mobile barber shop.
He didn’t wait for customers to come to him, he sought after them, and went wherever they could be found, on foot, by stolen car rides, by scotch cart, by hook or crook.
In order to lure the little children, who were the bulk of his customers, he was extremely friendly with them.
Each time he came across little children, he’d greet them with obvious delight;
“How are you little
calf, the one who
munches home made
Chimhulu chinodhla makeve.
He was thus nicknamed Chimhulu, for he endeared himself to little children.
“Let the little children
come to me, don’t say
no to them, for the
heavenly kingdom is
And he was also called Chipani, but l don’t know why.
Chipani is a Shona word which describes an enspanned team of oxen. Bernie The Barber never owned a cow in his lifetime, let alone a span of oxen.
But he was still known as Chipani, the team of strong oxen that pulls plough and cart..
He lived alone and never got married.
He was famous at beer parties for his self deprecating sense of humour;
“We, who are
commoners of the
village, don’t dare go
where the officials are
fed, being the lowest in
the scheme of things.
We are the lowlives
of the village.
Us the general
labourers who don’t
Let them officials
decide our fate, while
us renegades drink.”
After having had his fill of the village brew, he’d walk all the way to Tongogara Growth point to sit and doze at Mudhara Svoba’s counter where watery Chibuku beer was sold, just to fart loudly for the heck of it. Patrons would laugh and scatter and flee from the pungent smell.
Much to the amusement of the patrons, Bernie The Barber would smile with pride and say;
“It’s me Bernie The
Barber, l’m the one who
released stench from
my stinking rear.”
This other day Bernie The Barber had a misunderstanding with onether man at a gambling school. Bernie The Barber drew his okapi knife and plunged it into his adversary’s abdomen, exposing his intestines. The man received treatment and survived, and Bernie The Barber appeared before a Magistrate in the small mining town of Shurugwi facing one count of Attempted Murder. Bernie The Barber spoke with eloquent candour, and succeeded in convincing the Magistrate that he acted the way he did because of extreme and persistent provocation. The Magistrate found this to be highly mitigatory, warned Bernie The Barber against violent conduct, and ordered him to pay a fine. Bernie The Barber paid the fine and went back to his life of being a mobile barber shop, with the accountrements of his trade dangling in a wretched jute carrier bag, wherever he went.
Once he walked into a household in Mhaka village where he found the owner of the homestead enjoying a meal of sadza and dried rabbit in peanut butter stew.
As is the tradition, the owner of the homestead invited Bernie The Barber to join him in the meal. Bernie The Barber didn’t waste time. He washed his hands and drew close to the meal in which he ravenously partook.
It is an unwritten rule of village ethics that during a meal, the owner or father of the household picks the meat first, before the guest does so. Everyone obeyed this custom religiously, unwaveringly.
As he enjoyed the hospitality of his host and feasted on the delicious peanut butter soup, Bernie The Barber observed that there were two pieces of rabbit meat in the relish plate. One was big, the other tiny. The big one looked like the rabbit’s head, which looked appetizing smothered as it was in peanut butter soup.
There was no indication that his host was about to pick up his chosen piece of meat, as he continued to discuss mundane things like the weather, the harvest and the state of the animals.
Bernie The Barber participated politely in the conversation, but his mind was elsewhere.
What would be the fate of the two pieces of dried rabbit meat which were soaked in succulent peanut butter soup?
Was it possible the host would pick the tiny piece and leave the big one for his guest?
But the host ignored the two pieces of meat and continued to chat amiably, munching morsels of sadza dipped in delicious peanut butter soup as if they were the only things that existed in the world.
He certainly didn’t know that he was dealing with Bernie The Barber, the last son of Mbuya Mai Mota who was married to VaMasama The Great himself. He didn’t know that he was dealing with Chimhulu who was adored by little children who feasted greedily on home made crusty cake in the entire land ruled Chief Nhema himself. Little did he know that he was dealing with Chipani, who was himself named after the span of four strong oxen.
Bernie The Barber leaned forward and grabbed the rabbit’s head from the plate of relish, carefully shook off the smooth peanut butter soup in which it was smothered, and lifted his trophy towards his mouth, leaving the tiny piece of rabbit meat for his host in the plate of relish.
Before the rabbit’s head got to the Barber’s salivating mouth, the host cried out in panic, grabbed Bernie The Barber’s wrist which held the rabbit head, and shook it vigorously;
“Put back the rabbit
head Bernie, put it back
Bernie The Barber’s host roared and wrestled like what a hungry lion does in the heat of a feeding frenzy as he shook his guest’s wrist, the wrist which held the precious prize of the palatable rabbit head.
Bernie The Barber let go of the rabbit head, giggled like a naughty school boy who’d been caught cheating in an exam, and picked up the tiny piece of rabbit meat and continued with the meal in silence, as if nothing had happened.
And the story of Bernie The Barber and the snatching of the rabbit head from his host, or by his host, which ever way you look at it, spread like a wild fire throughout the homelands of Manjobo, up to the homesteads of Gonye and down to the great Tugwi River itself.
And everyone who heard it laughed uproariously and shook their heads in amazement, and exclaimed;
“What a nerve!”
Such was the life of Bernie The Barber, full of antics, laughter, humour, drama and downright pranks.
Still, others thought him eccentric.