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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Biographical · #2306494
A brave man in the face of crushed dreams.
Ted Wright

Ted was my father's friend, not mine. I was a young teenager when I first met him and he seemed old to me, although younger than my father. He and his wife and two young children lived on a smallholding in Helensvale, a mixed residential and farming area on the outskirts of Harare. They had a small dairy herd but the land was not extensive enough to provide more than a secondary income and Ted worked during the day for some government department in town. His heart was in farming, however.

The strange thing is that, although my sisters and I played with his children, it is Ted's face that I remember. He was a kind, soft spoken and gentle man, always smiling, and it was not until I had grown up and had a job myself that I realized how hard he must have been working, at the office in the daytime and on the smallholding at night, in pursuit of his dream. I was vaguely aware that the family were not well off, the furniture threadbare and worn, their clothes faded from constant washing, the farm vehicles ancient and rusting, but it was only years later that the reason dawned on me; they were saving to buy a farm.

After many years they reached their goal and were able to purchase a farm out near Rusape, many miles east of Harare. It was about halfway to the Eastern Highlands where we would go for a few days off occasionally and was a good place to take a break from driving and see them again. I can remember my disappointment at seeing the farm for the first time - it was dry, rocky and desolate, so different from the fertile greenery that was Helensvale.

But Ted was happy, making light of the problems in making the land profitable and speaking endlessly to my father about his plans for it. It was only when we were driving away and I saw the worried look on my father's face that I understood that he, too, had been horrified by the difficulties confronting his friend.

By Zimbabwean standards, the farm was still too small to be viable. The ground was hard and stony, there was no reliable source of water and Ted could not afford to pay a large enough workforce to overcome such problems. Over the years we watched Ted struggling to make it pay and saw only too clearly in the desperate faces of the family the fact that they were losing the battle. Yet Ted still smiled bravely and spoke quietly of how next year would be better.

Eventually my father stopped breaking our eastern journeys at the farm, preferring to drive on through, rather than suffer the agony of watching such a good family face so inevitable a future. I know that my father offered to help financially but was turned down by his friend, too proud to accept what he regarded as charity.

In time we lost touch with them completely; I left home to get married and start my own career and family, and Ted rarely entered my mind in those years. In the mid-seventies, we moved to Bulawayo in the south of the country, little knowing that we would have but two years there before leaving Zimbabwe for good.

And it was there that we heard that Ted had given up the struggle, let the bank have the farm and taken a job with the government again, this time in Mutare, near the eastern border with Mozambique. It was sad to know that Ted's dream had finally come to nothing but at least he had not been forced back into an office - his job entailed spending much time outside, driving the dirt roads of the highlands from one department to another.

We moved to England and tried to forget Africa. Then we heard that Ted had been killed in the last few days of the war that ravaged Zimbabwe for so long. His car had been ambushed in some remote spot and his life ended as he had lived it - out there in the dry, open spaces of Zimbabwe, in that good red dirt that is so fertile yet will bleed you dry without water.

There was something about Ted that made him memorable, even though no doubt he would be dismissed today as a loser, a useless dreamer who was always destined to fail in his limited ambition. Yet it is his face I remember, while others have drifted off into the haze of the distant past. That hope in the eyes through all his troubles, the smile that broke through the strain on his face, the uncomplaining, soft voice, the leathery skin tanned by years of African sun, the hands thickened and coarsened by endless thankless toil, the hospitality that gave even when there was so little to give, the love for the land that had paid him in nothing but empty dreams, these are what I remember.

My father always said that Ted was too soft to have succeeded in his dream - too soft to make hard decisions, too easy on his workers, too gentle to brave the harsh truths of farming in Africa. But that was the essence of the man; without them, he would not have been the gentleman that he was and would not have stayed in my memory as he has. In a strange way, he is the epitome of what was good in Africa, dreaming the dream, wanting to see the land give of its bounty, but beaten in the end, not by his honesty and hard work, but by the dreams of others. Unrealistic he may have been but at least he tried.

He was a good man as few are good.

Word count: 965
For Honoring the Dead, October 2023
Prompt: Celebration of the life of a friend who has passed on.

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