“There are keys in the river.  Life is one long river, a pretty voice sings.”

Sometime during mid-1994, I started writing essays, poems, and short stories to help me pass the O-level English exams which I had failed a couple of times in the past. I never thought I was writing pieces that would be read; rather, I began writing simply as practice for this important exam, a rite of passage to higher education in Zimbabwe.

The works, however, continued to develop and evolve, as if they were struggling for a life of their own. The earliest iteration of this collection came together as Undying Echoes sometime near the end of 1997. It was then that I developed a conviction to become a professional writer. That collection, which I finished around 1999, dealt with the unfolding of relationships against the backdrop of a continent, Africa, deeply conflicted by social and cultural differences.

Cypriot poet, Nora Nadjarian, brought the expression "keys in the river," to my attention through her potent poem entitled Obdachloser Off the Coast, Spring 2009. In meditating on it, my appreciation for her graceful turn of the phrase grew. Water is a classic symbol of life; therefore, the river is a symbol for our own flow through life. Keys are an almost mystical symbol. They are meaningless in and of themselves, unless they match a lock and, being used, reveal that which has been hidden. I remember the questions floating through my mind: What keys are in the river? What might be revealed with these keys? Why were they left behind?

The expression continued to undulate through my mind as an iconic and deeply appropriate title which hinted at the figurative and symbolic connections reverberating through the stories I had collected. It was this impetus that caused me, during August 2009, to rework the manuscript into Keys in the River, using advice I had accumulated from other African writers over the years. I wanted this collection to touch the experience of modern Zimbabwe in a visceral, yet symbolic manner. It is so important for us, as Zimbabweans, to enter into the planetary conversation with our own stories about humanity. We need something that we can recognize as our own, even if the story is sometimes tragic and often deeply conflicted.

Svosve Road is a small road in Chitungwiza, a populous city in Zimbabwe that has been my home for seventeen years. I sometimes watch people walking up and down the road, moving along the moments of their lives. Even now, after all these troubles we have been through as a people, I am continually fascinated by the deeply tenacious, mythically-enduring quality life in this place. Despite what has happened in Zimbabwe, people still walk along the road laughing, flirting, and fighting just as people do everywhere. These days, I see this road as a symbol - a river - and we who walk and live along it keys in waiting, left here by the currents of social, political and economic forces so much larger than us.

I remember those who walk on this road who are now in other worlds. Picked up in the current, they have been dispersed. I wonder where - even whether - they are, and if their lives have been fulfilled. Someday, they may return. Most probably, they will not. There are many who, lost in the turbulence of our world, are already dead. Washed away, they are the shiny keys to the past, present and future, covered, hidden under layers of silt. Thus, I meditate on the world in which I, too, participate, though with little deftness and with frequent reminders of my own inconsequence.

This symbol of lost keys cast into a river, of meanings and lives displaced, flows through the stories in this volume. The themes describe the lives of Zimbabweans, both here and abroad. And, though KEYS IN THE RIVER is certainly a poetic and resonant name, I still felt it, on its own, was not enough. So, with the help of my editors, Zach and Jennie Oliver, we created the subtitle, Notes from a Modern Chimurenga.

The Shona word, "chimurenga," translates as "struggle" in English. As with all translations, simply putting the word into English doesn't mean that the whole of the idea contained in the Shona word is comfortable in its new clothes. Regardless, the more I thought about the stories, the more appropriate the idea of "struggle" became as the human theme connecting these stories, at least as a point of entré. Perhaps, and more appropriately, given the use of the term, chimurenga, the important theme coursing through this work is this: Even when people are faced with a chaotic and turbulent world due to the machinations of despotic leaders, the terror of deathly pandemics, the chronic poverty, the human heart continues to pump with courage and conviction.

Chimurenga, then, is not just a struggle, but also a noble stance in the face of struggle. The two titles work hand in hand: The river is a path through life, and the keys symbolize the peak moments in this river of life. The moments may be good or of bad, things that make us roar with outrage or laugh like a child, even sing and dance. Each, I hope, will opening a life for someone, unlock another mystery of simply being.

When the subtitle, Notes from a Modern Chimurenga was added, we built up the manuscript with an additional fourteen stories. This made KEYS IN THE RIVER a "greatest hits" collection. Most, if not all these stories are real-life stories that I sometimes added to or embellished within the broader confines of fiction, but I have kept the facts correct, or almost correct, so that someone reading this collection would know they are reading about real life in modern Zimbabwe.

There are stories set in the Zimbabwean country side of Nyanga where I was born and grew up, stories of Zimbabwean cities, especially Chitungwiza-Harare, where I lived for so many years, stories which touch on Mozambique and Botswana where I have been, and stories from South Africa where I lived as an expatriate for two and half years. The stories touch on the futility of dreams in a world of complex economic realities in which AIDS has affected almost every household. It spans from the pre-liberation years up to 2009. It also sprawls across different cultural systems, beliefs, and lives, but it still is fundamentally about the human struggle, the chimurenga.

Through all these pieces, I've tried to share my thoughts and opinions on politics, both in civics and in relationships. In all these pieces, I am trying to pull the reader along some path of thought with me to a named or implied conclusion. I found genuine inspiration in making the effort to open up a whole new world to readers, one which they can, I hope, populate with their own thoughts and feelings, one in which they might be able to experience the modern Zimbabwean chimurenga.

The biggest import of this novel, then, is how each of us, as human beings, go through all these potentially life-changing situations, regardless of our point of origin, on our journey to finding love, freedom, democracy, social justice, completeness, human and civil justice, happiness, economic emancipation, and satisfaction.

Tendai Mwanaka
Author of KEYS IN THE RIVER (Savant 2012)