The knees of the soldier from the Presidential Guard are pressing against my spine through the driver’s seat. When he shifts his position they roll across my back like the mechanism of an airport massage chair. It’s ten years since I first came to Zimbabwe. Back then I was on the trail of my great, great uncle, a maverick missionary called Arthur Cripps. For the last week on this return trip I’ve been staying in the Eastern Highlands with Arthur’s granddaughter, Mazzy Shine, a retired British paediatric nurse who’s come to Zimbabwe to set up a children’s home. We’re making the three-hour drive back to Harare in Mazzy’s car, a white four-door Toyota Starlet. Mazzy sits in the passenger seat next to me wearing a baseball cap, white T-shirt, combat trousers and bright red lipstick. Smoking a Winston cigarette out of the open window, she talks excitedly between draws about her plans for being back in the city – chasing down a hairdresser who owes her a haircut, being able to Skype and email again, having drinks with friends at the Book Cafe. The road ahead of us, straight and undulating, hazes into the distance between a scrubland veld scattered with msasa and acacia trees. Occasionally we pass an ancient bus offloading its passengers or an expensive-looking Mercedes or BMW will overtake us to speed away between the bottle stores and kraals of mud and brick rondavels.
more from Owen Sheers at Granta here.