In our series of letters from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo reflects on the night he was caught in a tornado in his home country of Eritrea

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There is still a chance of avoiding the storm. I drive for a while without
turning on the headlights, and then, at the next road junction, I make an
unsettling discovery.

There are no houses. All around, the buildings are jagged, like pieces of
broken eggshell. There are no lights. Not even street lamps. No cars, either.
They should have been driving down the street all night.

My heart aches because I know what is happening here. The city’s dark sky
is growing darker. The wind has picked up. The rain is coming down in swashes,
the drops falling like torn paper. There is an ugly, frightening feeling. I
can’t tell where the storm is yet, but in a few hours, it will be here.

Evening is falling, and I drive more slowly. The city is now a huge,
unappealing place. Dark buildings and wide, empty streets. The lights are
shining and no cars are on the road.

I slow down to less than thirty for fear that the storm will catch up,
and then I realize that I have to accelerate soon. A large part of this city
will be destroyed by the storm before it reaches me, and I am caught in the
middle. The city’s wide streets and tall buildings seem to be slowly sinking
into the ground. When I reach a traffic light, I brake sharply: the speed is
too much for the road. This is not the best time for a breakdown, which is why
I did not turn on any headlights.

A few minutes later, I see the first light up ahead. The lights are coming
from a series of houses. Most of them have large front doors, so I expect to
find them all closed, except for the ones that are open. I check the map before
going through. The lights are not far from the next town, and the car should be
able to make it there. The idea of trying to find an alternate route to get
out of the city and back to the highway makes me shudder.

I try to picture what the roads between these houses look like. The roads
are narrow, with a few tall trees standing in between the black-bricked
houses. But they are not the same shape. The streets are small and jagged, and
the houses are different colors and sizes. The cars that pass me drive slowly
because they have nowhere to go, and the headlights of the city-bound cars
fall on their hoods and headlights. The cars are also not following the same
route. In order to get to the other side of the city, some of them turn down
small roads that are nothing more than dirt paths.

I look closely at these smaller roads. These are not the streets I was
expecting. The roads are more like canyons, with one of them leading straight
down to a canyon bottom. These roads are made of small, flat stones, and I
know that many people use them for walking. No cars are waiting to pass at this
time of night, and I get out of the car to walk a few hundred feet away to see
if I can find the roads.

I walk to the street and try to avoid stepping on the cracks in the road.
There are no lights, and the roads are wet and soft. I wonder if there was
any road maintenance in this city in the morning. If anyone had bothered to
clean up the roads at night, the roads must be in terrible shape now. The
streets are muddy, with wet stones and grass growing out from under them, and
I do not know if anyone walked them at night.

When I reach the street I expected to find, a crowd of people is walking
on the road. Some of them are staggering, and all of them have stopped in
exactly the right place, at the same point where I am standing. When I get
closer, I can see that they are all men. One of them is the most sickly-looking
I have ever seen. His belly is full of blood and his head is covered. He is
breathing heavily, and his eyes are open, giving him the appearance of being
conscious. He is wearing a striped shirt, with ripped sleeves and faded
towels. I walk to him and touch his forehead. “Can you hear me?” I ask him.

He grunts.

“Do you want to tell me what happened?” I ask him.

He shakes his head.

“I think it really happened to you,” I say.

He looks down at his stomach. “I don’t know,” he says.

I can see that his skin is covered in scratches. “What about the other
people on the road? Do you think they are all like you?” I ask.

He looks up at me. “I don’t know,” he says.

“Do you think you could help me?” I ask.

He looks down at his belly, and I can see that the man is lying. I know
this is not the first time I have found out people lie. And I know this man is
lying about the same things I have seen. I do not know why I am doing this,
but I believe it is good for my skin. My skin needs to burn to be rejuvenated,
and I believe that finding someone who lies might help me achieve a healthier
skin.

He looks up at me now. There is a part of him that is trying to hide, and I
am thankful for that. The man was sick, but I do not think he is dead yet. “I
can help you,” he says. “You can ask me questions or I can help you find
help. I don’t know about what happened to you. I don’t know if you need a
doctor.”

“That will be enough,” I say.

I look around and see that the man has helped everyone I have looked at so
far. A woman in a torn-up T-shirt stands next to him. She has a bandage on
her head, but she is smiling. She looks like she has seen a lot. I feel so
helpless.

I look at the woman holding the bandage. She has the same face as the
stranger. I think about what I am doing, and I feel guilty that I am asking
the man to do anything. I remember the way he looked at me before. I remember
how much I hated him. I remember the way he smiled at me, and I think about
the other man in my life, and I know that I still love him.

The woman is not the stranger anymore. She is smiling as she sees me looking
at her. I stand there looking at her, a little scared, but she does not seem
to see me. She moves her head back and forth, like she did when she was
wrestling with me at the train station. I go behind her and hug her. She
stays silent in my arms for a little while, and then she kisses me on my cheek
and says, “Thanks.”

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