The House on Ilanda Street

by Yvette Ndlovu

BWR 48.2 Fiction Contest Winner

The house disappears on a Sunday morning in April. Mama, the neighborhood gossip, is the first to notice. She wakes up with the sunrise to pin her laundry up on the clothesline. Our backyard is a prime vantage point for her to peer into our neighbors’ houses, taking note of whose husband was crawling back from a bar or from a lover’s bed. While craning her neck over the wet clothes, she notices that something is odd, different, misplaced yet she can’t quite put her finger on it. She moves closer to the fence to get a better look when she finally notices that our neighbor’s house is…gone.


 The asbestos roof, the incessant coughing that announced that the family of five was awake, the reeking outdoor blair toilet, the off-white walls, the dirty windows (which my mother always frowned upon) have all vanished. Only the fence, which had once surrounded the modest two-roomed matchbox house, and the rusty house number address plaque 1980 Ilanda Street remain as markers that a house once stood there. 

“Loveness!” mama screams for me.

I ignore her at first, thinking she is excited over seeing something she shouldn’t have again. I concentrate on my math textbook and hit the back of my old calculator so it can blink back to life. I hope this calculator can hang on until the A Level Exams at the end of the year. If I pass my A Levels, maybe I can get a scholarship for university and get the hell out of this shit town.

Mama rushes to shake baba awake from his drunken stupor on a mat on the floor in their bedroom. She snatches my little brother, Lovemore, whose is wrapped in a bundle next to baba and straps him on her back. I am on the floor in the kitchen which serves as my bedroom at night.

“Loveness, wake up,” mama says charging into the kitchen, almost tripping over our paraffin stove near the door. “The Moyo’s house has disappeared!”

My family sprints out of our one-bedroom house, mama screaming louder than the cockerels for everyone on the street to wake up and come see. A crowd gathers outside the Moyo’s house which is no longer there. Children point, people stare mouths agape as if stretching their mouths any further will explain the gap, and Mai Petunia who lives down the street clutches her rosary to ward off evil. S’bu, a boy from my high school, jumps the fence in his fake jordans to investigate.

“How does a house just disappear?” S’bu says, as he walks around the empty spot where a house should be. “Where did the Moyos go?”

S’bu jumps the fence again and uses this large gathering of people to sell bronco and mbanje to the onlookers. He catches my eye in the crowd and smiles that lopsided grin that I hate to admit is irresistible. He adjusts his bucket hat as if he is self-conscious, puts a matchstick in his mouth and approaches me.

“Boffin,” he says. I roll my eyes at his nickname for me. S’bu started calling me that the first time I came first in all the subjects in our stream.

“I still don’t understand why you walk around with a matchstick in your mouth,” I say to him. “You look ridiculous.”

“This world is cold, boffin,” he says. “Best to walk around with matches.”

Mama grabs my arm, drags me away from him and hisses in my ear, “I told you not to speak to that drug dealer, Loveness!”

I stare at the eerie gap. Mr. Moyo had always been proud of his house because it was house number 1980 Ilanda Street like the year our country gained independence from the British, he would say proudly. Everyone on the street nicknamed the house Independence House because Mr. Moyo never failed to mention that he bought this house in 1980 so his children could be born free in it. The house was too small for his ever-growing family. All the houses on Ilanda Street are like this. I’d learned in a Social Studies class that poor people were most likely to have lots of children that they couldn’t take care of in the hopes that one child would become wealthy and take care of the family. In a Business Studies class, I learned about an invisible tax called Black tax. My future was spelled out for me in the textbook like a prophecy. A successful child from a poor family would eventually fail at building generational wealth because of the burden to share the majority of their income with struggling family members. Poverty was an ocean that I was trying to traverse on a canoe with a hole on its side. 

Mama uses the last of her airtime to call the police but the police officer laughs when he hears which neighborhood she is calling from. The police officer says he will only come to that side of town if my mother will buy fuel for the police van to drive that far.

“This is the work of the devil, Mai Loveness” Mai Petunia says to mama. “We must pray for the Moyos safe return.”

Mai Petunia organizes a prayer session at her house that night. Mama and I fry some vetkoeks for the event and we all gather inside Mai Petunia’s tiny house, some guest spilling over to the veranda which Mai Petunia polished religiously every morning. Mai Petunia offers us black tea with a splash of lemon. Mama bites into an oily vetkoek, washing it down with the tea and makes a face. “Mai Petunia can’t afford milk and sugar,” she whispers to me and the woman seated next to us. Our family can’t afford milk either, I think but don’t say lest I embarrass mama in front of our neighbors.

In-between prayers, mama offers tidbits of gossip about the Moyos.

“That family has always been odd. One can never trust people who never clean their windows. And that husband, I never trusted him one bit, he had those shifty eyes and never greeted me.”

“Perhaps Mr Moyo vakachekeresa,” Mai Petunia says, “People sacrifice their own children these days to make money fast. Eventually the demons come to collect at night.”

“That would explain how he got promoted all of a sudden,” mama says nodding.

Mr. Moyo had been promoted to supervisor at the security company that provides guards for the rich neighborhoods. I wanted to say something, want to tell them that maybe he worked hard for that promotion but I just sip on the lemon tea in silence.


I’m making biology study notes by candlelight when mama wakes up two hours earlier than usual to check if the prayers worked. To her delight, the house and the Moyo family are still gone. When day breaks, she makes her way to Mai Petunia’s house ready to imply that perhaps Mai Petunia isn’t the great prayer warrior she thinks she is. She doesn’t give me the reason why she wants me to come along with her on one of her shit-stirring missions. I guess when you have nothing else to give your children, you give them gossip and spite.

“That woman thinks she is Mary mother of Jesus herself,” mama says. “If her prayers are so powerful, why hasn’t the house returned?”

Mama is salivating at the thought of the look on Mai Petunia’s face when she will say, “hamusi kunamata askana. Pfugamai,” loud enough for everyone on Ilanda street to hear that she doesn’t notice the anomaly at the corner of the street at first. It is only when mama walks up to knock on Mai Petunia’s door that she realizes that there is no door to knock on for house number 1981 Ilanda Street is gone too.

It is when house number 1982, 1983, 1984 disappear that I notice a pattern in the vanishings. I turn to the page in my math textbook on sequences.







Every day in April a house disappears on Ilanda Street. When house number 1995 disappears, it marks the midpoint since the vanishings started. At school, I try to ignore the empty desks where some of our disappeared classmates once sat. My teachers go on strike again so my classmates and I sit in math class listening to Holy Ten and Winky D, hoping that our teachers will pity us and return to work for peanuts. Once in a while, everyone’s gaze falls uneasily on the empty desks. S’bu lights a joint and tries to lighten the mood by saying we should start referring to ourselves as the remainders. All the girls in the class are crowded around him and I can’t shake the pang of jealousy I feel that I’m not by his side. Everyone throws around their theories about the vanishings. Many think that it is magic, someone is magicking the houses away.

“Loveness, you’re the boffin,” S’bu says. “What do you think is happening?”

I take out a piece of paper from my notebook and write down all the house numbers of the disappeared houses.






“It’s an infinite sequence,” I say. “I think it’s math not magic.”

Everyone in class groans. “Are you really going to make us do math when the teachers aren’t even here?” one of my classmates complains.

“Hear me out,” I say. “Whether it’s magic or math, both have rules right? Every sequence has a rule and the rule helps you to come up with a formula.”

“So you think the next house is 1996 Ilanda Street?” S’bu says.

“Exactly,” I say, snapping my finger.

‘Whether it’s magic or math or the fucking rapture,” S’bu says. “I think its fucked up that nobody cares that there are fifteen missing households right now.”

“Maybe if we lived in Borrowdale Brooke or Beverly Hills someone would care,” I say. “But this is Ilanda Street.”


When house number 1996 disappears, mama pours salt at our front door. She starts frequenting Prophet Madzibaba’s services. Prophet Madzibaba is the go-to prophet to find out who has placed a curse on your house and who is bewitching you. Last year, he’d apparently pulled out a fish from a woman’s womb and said that her enemies had bloated her with evil and sickness. One afternoon, Prophet Madzibaba visits our house in his immaculate white robes which never seem to stain on our street’s dusty roads. He gives mama a two litre Mazoe bottle filled with water and with two curious rocks floating near the bottom.

“Holy water to protect your family,” Prophet Madzibaba says. “Make sure that you pour a cap into everyone’s bath water every day. When it’s finished, come for more.”

Mama pays the Prophet with the money that was meant for my exam registration fees.

I heat the water up for my bath on the paraffin stove until bubbles boil on the surface. I pour the water into a bucket and inhale the steam, hoping that the burn will evaporate me, that when I open my eyes, I will be reborn to another family in another place better than here. When mama tries to pour the holy water into my bucket, I slam the bottle out of her hands, knocking her backwards. The holy water pours onto the floor. Mama desperately tries to scoop the water up in her hands but it just slips through her hands. With a sneer, I grab a chikorobo from under the kitchen sink and wipe the water away as fast as I can, pushing her back on the floor when she tries to stop me.  On her knees she begs me to stop but I do not stop until the floor is completely dry again. She wails and wails, screams at me for dooming our family. I scream at her for ruining my only ticket out of this place.

We don’t speak again for a couple of days as house number 1998 and 1999 disappear.


Baba doesn’t seem to care about the vanishings. He hasn’t cared about much since losing his job at ZISCO Steel. After the defunct blast furnaces, the countless of worker injuries, and bankruptcy, ZISCO Steel let go of their workforce with no pension. All baba does these days is drink and sleep. Sometimes he sits out in the sun in front of our house.

“What do you think is happening to the houses?” I ask him.

He turns his head in my direction, eyes unfocused.

“When your beard appears,” he slurs. “Childhood disappears.”

I suck air between my teeth angry at myself that I would think baba would say something coherent. S’bu and his crew walk by my house, he flashes me a smile and says, “Boffin!”

I walk to the street to meet them.

“1999 disappeared today so you know whose next according to your infinite sequence?” S’bu says. He does a little bow.

My heart sinks. I’ve been trying not to think about what this miserable place will be like without S’bu’s antics to make me smile.

“Don’t look so sad, boffin,” S’bu says. “People might start to think you care about me.”

I cross my arms and S’bu nudges me.

“Since I will be a goner come tomorrow,” S’bu says. “I’m throwing a party today. You should come.”

“A party? Is that you know… appropriate?” I ask.

“Forever the rule follower,” S’bu says. “If I’m going to go out, might as well do it with a bang.” He twirls the matchstick dangling at the corner of his mouth. “Lets go, boffin.”

Mama’s warnings about S’bu being a no-good drug dealer fly out the window. Why take advice from a woman who’d used money that was supposed to go for my exam registration for holy water?

“Remember how Mr. Moyo always said to us maBorn free munonetsa,” I ask as we walk down to the shops to get the alcohol for the party. 

S’bu sucks in his teeth. Mr. Moyo thought we complained too much, that those born before independence had it harder and that we should be grateful that we are born free.

“Delusional old man, that one. No wonder he was first to disappear,” S’bu said. “What is there to be grateful about? We don’t even have a neighborhood anymore, look at this place.”

S’bu gestures to the nineteen disappeared houses on either side of the long street. All that remains is fences and dust.

S’bu hosts his outdoor party at the empty space of 1980. He sets up large speakers that keep the entire neighborhood up. I have a feeling he wants to be remembered and this is the only way he knows how. S’bu blasts Muchadzoka by Holy Ten as if wishing the rap were a spell that will bring him back after tomorrow.


Ahh ahh ah, amaihwee

Imboendai muchadzoka zvenyu

Aah ahh ahh amaihwee

muri nyoka mhenyu

Aah ahh ahh amaihwee

Mune tsoka refu

Aah ahh ahh amaihwee

Haa muchadzoka zvenyu


My classmates drink hard liquor and gulp down bronco from brown cough syrup bottles until the pain goes away. S’bu smokes mbanje and offers me the joint. I’ve always stayed away from alcohol, bronco, and mbanje. My studies have always been the only fuel that I need to keep going. But my mother has taken that away from me. I accept the joint from S’bu and let the smoke fill my lungs. I cough from the burn and S’bu chuckles.

“Slow down, boffin,” he says. “I don’t want your mother to kill me.”

“To hell with her,” I say.

“I heard what she did with your exam money,” S’bu says. “I’m sorry, boffin.”


I tried to tell vamwe takabva kuJecha,

Don’t be fooled kwatiri kubva kune labour,

Kune ngozi, ropa neDanger

Zvatakaona tiri musango zviri major iwe!

Kune moto, kune denga

Kune moto, kune denga


With enough drink and smoke inside me, I’m lighter, the world is a brighter place with vivid colors and music. I count my fingers one by one and laugh like its the funniest thing in the world. I name each of my fingers after a disappeared housed.

“Do you know what I thought the other day, boffin,” S’bu says, his eyes red. “Since you figured out the pattern of the disappearances, I thought why doesn’t someone stake out the houses at night to see how the houses are disappearing? Me and the boys staked out 1996, 1997, 1998 and even 1999. Do you know what happened?”


Kune ngozi, ropa neDanger

Zvatakaona tiri musango zviri major iwe!

Kune moto, kune denga

Kune moto, kune denga


“Poof!” I say, making an explosion gesture with my fingers and laughing.

“Each time it got to midnight during the stakeout,” S’bu said. “We all passed out asleep and woke up with the house gone.”


Imboendai muchadzoka zvenyu

muri nyoka mhenyu

Mune tsoka refu

muchadzoka zvenyu


“Uchadzoka here?” I ask him. S’bu doesn’t answer the question, instead he reaches into his pocket, takes out an envelope and hands it to me. I open the envelope and inside is a stake of crisp bills.

“What is this—”

“Your exam registration fees,” S’bu says. “Before you refuse it, just think of it as a businessman investing in a boffin. Bezos does it all the time.”

S’bu shrugs and blows out smoke rings. I can’t get my racing thoughts to form anything coherent. I want to cry and laugh all at once. I want to toss the money at S’bu and tell him he is not going anywhere, he can give me the money tomorrow because he isn’t going anywhere.

“If anyone can figure out what’s happening and stop it, it’s you, boffin,” S’bu says.

“What about your own fees?” I ask.

S’bu chuckles. “You know I’m not about the books. It would be a waste on me. If you can’t think of it as an investment, then think of it as hope. This means I believe you will survive this and write your exams at the end of the year.”

The music changes to Kusina Ani by Narga. Couples draw closer, beautiful girls twirling and winding on their boyfriends, their dark skin glistening in the moonlight.

“May I have this dance, boffin?” S’bu says, holding out his hand. I take it and he leads me to the dusty yard we are using as a dance floor. S’bu puts his arms on my waist and I wrap my hands around his neck. We dance in time with the music. He pulls me closer and softly sings the lyrics in my ears.


Chandoda kuona kumeso kwako smairi

Handei tinofara kusina ani

Kusina ani

Kusina ani

Kusani ani

Kusani ani

Kusani ani

Kusani ani

Kusani ani

Kusani ani

Tinozodzoka mangwana


I pull back and look into his eyes. The regret in his eyes clears the fog of the high and my anger rises to the surface. Why would he choose tonight of all nights to tell me how he feels about me? Why did he wait until the night before I never see him again?

“Usazondikanganuwewo, boffin” he whispers.

I grieve him as he dances in front me. The last I see of S’bu is him twirling his matchstick searching for warmth in this cold world.


When house number 2000 Ilanda Street disappears, an awful silence falls upon the neighborhood. I go to my high school’s bursar office to pay for my exam registration.

“You are one of the few people that have registered for exams,” the bursar says. “Guess everyone else thinks they will have disappeared by the time exams come.”

My head is still heavy from all the drinking and mbanje at S’bu’s party. My heart is heavy too. I’d hoped to see S’bu lopsided grin in the morning, and his infuriating matchstick. I longed to hear him call me boffin one more time.

When I walk past 2000 Ilanda Street, it is not an empty yard that greets me. Instead, a hotel sits where S’bu’s house used to be, sprawling all the way down to 1980. A tourist with blonde hair sits by a pristine pool and takes a photograph of me as I walk past.

Baba’s words come hurtling at me. When your beard appears. Childhood disappears.

His words had made no sense at the time but perhaps baba might have been on to something about appearances and disappearances.  So far, twenty houses have disappeared and nothing has appeared in their place until today.

When house number 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 vanish, government officials visit the neighborhood. They are accompanied by surveyors in white helmets and investors from China. They map out the area and take photographs. It’s as if they can’t even see us.

Mama rans out of our house and screams at them, “Our houses are disappearing! Our houses are disappearing!”

She is beaten by riot police with baton sticks and comes back home broken.

On the day of house number 2007 Ilanda Street’s disappearance, mama holds up a bible and turns to Thessalonians.

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first,” mama reads out the verse. “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be carried up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

Mama won’t shut up about the rapture. Her evangelism increased when 2000 disappeared. Our address is 2008 Ilanda Street.

I grab one of baba’s whiskey bottles and go out to lay down in the dirt as the sun goes down. S’bu had the right idea about drinking and partying before the end. I put my headphones on to block out mama. I think about where it all started. 1980. Perhaps everything is tied to 1980. Perhaps I was wrong about the infinite sequence. Perhaps there is an end to the vanishings. Perhaps there is an equation I hadn’t considered before, a rule I could not deduce. I play an old video clip in black and white of the first president giving a speech at independence. The union jack is taken down and our flag is hoisted up, waving in the breeze for the first time. I can see so much hope for the future on the faces of the people in the video. I wonder if Mr. Moyo was in that crowd on that day in 1980. I try to imagine how Mr. Moyo felt seeing freedom for the first time and buying a house in a free nation raising born frees. Now houses are vanishing.

I draw the words April 2021 in the dust with my finger, feeling the whiskey burn down my throat. I subtract 1980 from 2021 and get forty-one.

“Forty-one houses in total are going to disappear,” I say to myself because no one else is listening. “Or maybe the vanishings will stop at the end of April.”

I don’t know what tomorrow will hold. When our house vanishes, I wonder where we will wake up. Will it be a better place than Ilanda Street? I put on a Holy Ten playlist. S’bu always played Ghetto Redu on repeat. Holy Ten’s sultry voice lulls me into tomorrow


                        Ghetto rine nharo, ghetto rine long story

                        Ghetto rine ngano, ghetto redu rina mambo vakatsika tambo

                        Ghetto rine nharo, ghetto rine long story

                        Ghetto rine ngano


Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean sarungano (storyteller). She is pursuing her MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst where she teaches in the Writing Program. She has taught at Clarion West Writers Workshop online and earned her BA at Cornell University. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the Tin House Workshop, Bread Loaf Writers Workshop, and the New York State Summer Writers Institute. She received the 2017 Cornell University George Harmon Coxe Award for Poetry selected by Sally Wen Mao and was the 2020 fiction winner of Columbia Journal’s Womxn History Month Special Issue. She is the co-founder of the Voodoonauts Summer Workshop for Black SFF writers. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in F&SF,, Columbia Journal, Fiyah Literary Magazine, and Kweli Journal. She is currently at work on a novel and a short story collection.