I have failed my sixty-seventh interview in three weeks.
No one believes. No one listens. Everyone thinks my tale is fiction. Like you, they wonder why someone with my excellent qualifications can be jobless six years after university education.
The considerate say I am just some unfortunate bastard, while the heartless call me a fool. A useless lizard!
They do not know that I am a dying patient. A patient of this cancer called joblessness. They do not know that, while in this same city of Mzuzu, the illiterate and ignorant are getting richer and richer each passing day, the educated and knowledgeable like me are getting poorer and poorer, rotting in paucity.
I walk through the Rose Chibambo Crescent; through the many shops owned by our friends from China and India, then past Nation Publications Limited and Immigration offices.
I am supposed to attend another interview this afternoon. My sixty-eighth interview in three weeks!
The streets are swamped with children. Children supposed to be in school at this early hour of the morning, scamper all over the place. On their heads are basins full of all sorts of foodstuffs. Bananas, oranges, cooked fresh groundnuts and maize cobs.
“Akulu, nthochi K10!” one of these children confronts me.
I am quiet. Dead quiet.
“Akulu, nthochi zitatu K10!” the boy raises his voice, now telling me that I can get three good bananas at the price of one.
I shake my head. Not that I don’t need them. No. I don’t have enough money. There is only K100 in my pocket, to cater for my bicycle taxi fare back home, lunch and supper.
The little boy limps away.
He looks pale, haggard and distraught. He looks sickly. Probably suffering from one of these malnutrition diseases; either Kwashiorkor or Marasmus or both.
His head is big. Too big for his neck. His stomach is ballooned, as if to burst the next second. He looks like a zombie.
I pity him. Is he going to sell bananas for the rest of his life? Won’t he eventually become one of these rough minibus touts or ruthless armed robbers one day?
It is a fact that he does not go to school. This is just nine o’clock in the morning.
No one seems to care. I am the only one who can feel his pain, his broken heartedness. I see a brother who like me is helpless. Who like me is hopeless. Who like me is nothing. Nothing.
“Odi! Tijumpheko akulu! Kagonaninge kunyumba!”-Hey! Let me pass! Go and sleep at your house. A stocky young man, pushing a wheelbarrow shouts into my ears.
I jump, people laugh.
It has begun raining.
I cannot proceed. We congregate at the porch of Wang Chwung Hwa, a shop owned by Bwana Ling, a Chinese national, for cover.
Annoyed by our being there, since none of us is buying, Bwana Ling comes out.
“Chokanipo apa! Simukugula katu!”-get out of here! You are not buying anything! He barks. Instead of dispersing, we all laugh at his broken Chichewa.
“This is our country!” a fat woman protests.
We clap hands in agreement.
Bwana Ling gives up. He knows he is fighting a losing battle. He mumbles something before entering his shop.
“Dziko wanu, ndalama watu!” agreeing that the country is really ours but the money is all theirs.
No one comments. Graveyard silence engulfs the scene. For what Bwana Ling has said is not a lie. It is the truth. The country belongs to us and all the riches to them, foreigners.
It pains me the most as I see Bwana Ling slam the door shut. He looks uneducated. He surely does not have a degree like me. Yet he is rich.
The heavy downpour continues.
Again, I consider myself cursed. My former college mates, even the dullest, are driving aristocratic cars, working for the best institutions in town.
Yet I, the best student in that class am still without a job. I am nothing.
None of my dreams have come true. I am not the human resource manager or financial controller I dreamed of. I am nothing.
“I can’t work for the government; I would rather stay home and do nothing.” I had immodestly challenged my colleagues that vivid afternoon.
“Who can make that silly mistake?” a friend had intoned, backing me up.
“Should I not get a white collar job, I will join teaching.” Bianca my fiancée had chipped in. We had laughed heartily.
“What? So you can have your salary on the 35th?” I had joked.
We had laughed again.
That was six years ago. Six years later now, I don’t have a job, even the small government job I fervently spoke against. Six years later now, I am nothing.
I lost all my friends. They bragged that I was no longer of their class as soon as they got jobs. I lost Bianca my fiancée to a man about five times her age.
She was until her death last week, deputy director at Lomba & Bianca Associates, a renowned legal firm in this city.
I still belonged to her after she got her job. We talked. We laughed.
Things changed two weeks later. It seemed her love for me began fading. She no longer talked. I talked. She no longer laughed. I laughed. She started avoiding me. She started shouting at me for no apparent reason.
I persevered. How could I shout back? She fed me. She clothed me. She sheltered me. How could I just challenge her?
I obeyed. I did everything, anything to please her. I became her houseboy. I became her slave.
I did all that with hope that she would change. With faith that she would realise how much I loved her.
It did not happen. Bianca had no heart. She was a dead stone, with no feelings.
Then something happened one evening. I remember to have prepared her best food. Nsima paired with fried Chambo. She was unusually late that evening. She came in smelling of alcohol.
She was not alone. She came in with an old man. Five times her age!
“Meet my chocolate, Lomba.” She had announced to me, looking at the old man.
I looked at the old man, her chocolate. Something turned in my stomach. I felt like vomiting.
“Darling, you never told me that you live with some stinking pig around here.”
“Oh! I am sorry honey. This is my slave, Mayeso!”
“She is lying. I am her fiancé.” I protested.
Two successive slaps landed on my face.
“Shut up your stinking mouth you beggar boy!”
“But...Bianca. Have you forgotten our wedding plans?”
She gave me a-you-stink-like-faeces look and turned to her chocolate.
She gave him a bewitching smile, the smile she had given me some four years ago when she had confessed that she too could not sleep because of me.
And before my eyes the caressing and kissing began, then the unbuttoning. Then the love making, right in front of me!
It hurt me seeing my future wife being laid by another man, a ‘great-grandfather’ for that matter, right in my sight.
I stomached the pain. I thought she was doing all that under the influence of alcohol. I was wrong.
The following day, I received a call from her. She asked me to go to her office.
When I opened the door, my eyes saw the same weird things they had seen the previous night; Bianca and her chocolate riding and rocking, making love in the office.
I realised then that the man was not just an ordinary old man but the CEO of the company which, two weeks later, was going to become Lomba & Bianca Associates.
“Can’t you see we are busy?” Bianca had asked me with a tired look.
“Come back later, you fool!” her chocolate had fumed.
I left. Exasperated. I vowed never to go back to her office, even her house. Enough was enough.
That day I felt like becoming a girl. I cursed the Creator for making me a man.
That day I imagined myself in a tight fitting pair of jean trousers and a blouse that covered a quarter of what it was supposed to cover walk into one of the big offices in Mzuzu city. I imagined the CEO of the big office fondling my breasts and then asking me to sleep with him at Mzuzu hotel. I imagined myself losing my virginity just like that. Then I imagined myself getting a well paying job the following day.
Anyway, that is history now. Bianca is dead. She died last week after a long illness. They say the cause of her timely death is this deadly disease, HIV/AIDS.
And like you, I know where Bianca tapped the disease from.
It is still raining. Some more people flock to Wang Chwung Hwa, Bwana Ling’s shop for shelter. I sense something tampering with my pair of trousers. I look back.
“Akulu, nthochi folo K10!” It is that same banana boy, now telling me that I can get four good bananas at the price of one. It is an offer I have not heard of in years.
Again, I shake my head.
The boy limps away.
The rains stop. The sun sprouts, and in no time it is beginning to get warm again. Pregnant clouds can still be seen, scattered all over the sky.
Another heavy downpour tonight, I tell myself.
I am worried about my hut. I wonder if it has survived the just ended rains, and I wonder if it will tonight. There is nothing in the house except a pair of trousers, an old mat and two dirty shirts.
Nevertheless, I am worried. It is my home all the same.
My stomach aches. I am hungry. I must eat.
I ran to the Matabwa market where fried cassava is sold. I cannot afford the expensive meals at Mzuzu hotel, Chenda or Obrigado. They are places for those who breathe.
“Ayise fika! Gado wa moto! K5!” I am warmly welcomed, by a young man popularly known as Gado man.
I am salivating. He hands me a wire so I can have my pick. I pick ten pieces. That makes fifty kwacha, enough for my lunch and supper.
The Gado man then gives me two dirty bottles. In one there is salt and in the other pepper. I admire his charisma. I adore his customer care.
I swallow the tenth piece, the last piece. I was mistaken. I have not spared any for supper.
The Gado man comes and stands before me. I know what he is looking for.
I search my pocket. There is nothing.
“Ayise, Ndalama.” The Gado man demands calmly.
I search my other pocket, then pockets. There is nothing.
“Ndalama!” He howls, now with an emphasis on the money. I am no longer his friend.
“I... had...K100...but...I...” I stammer.
“Ndalama!” the Gado man does not only demand for his money this time. He gives me two simultaneous blows. I see stars!
The fury and the two blows cause a hullabaloo. People, mainly rough looking street children and minibus touts, trek to the scene. I have a problem, a big one.
Slaps! Curses! Shouts!
I am silent. I cannot do anything to save myself. I am nothing.
A pot-bellied man approaches the crowd. He stops. He gives me a sympathetic look.
“How much does he owe you?” he asks the angry crowd.
“K50! K100! K200! K500!” they shout. Actually, some don’t even know why they are beating me up.
“Let him go!” he commands, surrendering a K500 note to them.
They disperse, leaving me with my liberator. I remember him. He is Lomba, Bianca’s chocolate. I kneel down and thank him, surmounting a temptation to slap him. I control my temper. How can I slap him? What if he asks the angry mob to give me another beating?
He does not recognise me.
“Take this.” He hands me a K500 note and walks away.
I am happy. I am sad. I am bitter for accepting money from my enemy. But I have no choice.
When he disappears I do not only remember that I have an interview to attend not very long from now, but also someone who tampered with my pair of trousers at Bwana Ling’s shop. I remember someone who must have stolen my K100.
I remember that small banana boy.
I am now at Kalikene Imports & Exports, where I am to attend my sixty-eighth interview.
I am panting like a dog in the noon sun. My shirt is wet. I look around. Nobody is willing to share a seat with me. I see one.
I sit next to a beautiful girl. I steal a glance at her papers and know she is Miss Maggie Kaunda. She has a round face, thick lips, even teeth and eyebrows as bushy as a caterpillar.
Not long after I sit, Maggie moves. She is disgusted.
I smell my shirt. There is really an awful odour, but it is not that bad.
“Mayeso Banda!” a voice calls from the next room.
“Akungotichedwetsa enawa!”- He is just delaying us. Maggie says with a disgusted tone. I am hurt.
I walk on. I knock gently.
“Yes, come in.”
As I enter, I pray silently. I have no knowledge of what I am praying for. I just pray.
“You may have a seat, Mr. Mayeso....”
“Banda,” I finish quickly.
My eyes scan the panel of interviewers.
There are four of them; a woman with pawpaw-like breasts, a man with a big scar on his forehead and then another with oversized spectacles. The fourth man looks familiar. He is Mr. Lomba Phiri, Bianca’s chocolate now introduced to me as the board chairman of Kalikene Imports & Exports.
He has recognised me. I read his smile.
“Mr. Mayeso Banda, why do you think Kalikene Imports & Exports should make you the manager?” the pawpaw-like breasted woman asks.
“Madam, I feel I have the much needed enthusiasm and qualifications for the position. I am a self starter, a diligent young man who works towards achieving positive results.”
“What are your qualifications, Mr. Banda?” the man with a scarred forehead queries.
“I have a J.C.E and M.S.C.E obtained from Mtima Woyera Seminary with six points. I am also a social science graduate of the University of Mzuzu with a distinction.”
The interviewers exchange satisfactory glances. I smile inwardly.
“Mr. Banda, have you held any leadership roles before?” Mr. Lomba Phiri queries, my saviour at the Matabwa market, the enemy who took away the love of my life.
“Yes sir. I was head boy at Mtima Woyera Seminary and when I joined the University of Mzuzu, I was elected students’ union president. In both places I showcased outstanding leadership skills.”
“Should we then call you a genius?” the man with oversized spectacles asks with a smile.
“I have no problem sir if you think I have qualities of a genius.”
They all laugh heartily.
“Well, Mr. Banda let me confess that we’ve been impressed with the way you have conducted yourself throughout this interview,” the rest shake their heads in unison, “please wait outside for our final decision.” Mr. Lomba Phiri finally announces.
I wait, as my friends take their turns, one after another. I am confident I have won the job. I am smiling.
The door creaks open and we are all invited to hear what we have been waiting for.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. Lomba Phiri begins. I am not listening. I admire the beauty of the boardroom, which is to become my boardroom. I am confident I have won the job. “I would like to sincerely thank you for your very impressive participation. We have been very impressed by all of you. But as you all know, we only need a person. This board has, therefore, decided to make...”
I stand. Everyone looks at me. Am I too fast?
“I am sorry ladies and gentleman,” Mr. Lomba Phiri continues. I look down. My heart palpitates. “This board has decided to make Miss Maggie Kaunda the new Manageress of Kalikene Imports & Exports. Congratulations Miss Maggie Kaunda.”
As they congratulate her, shaking hands, I cry. I cry for failing the sixty-eighth interview in three weeks.
I walk out of Mzuzu market. Using the K500 note Mr. Lomba Phiri gave me, I have bought Ufa, Usipa and two Kazinga sachets.
I cross the Karonga-Mzuzu road, just before the traffic robots next to Mzuzu Health centre. I am approaching Katoto Filling Station and Katoto Secondary School when I notice a car familiar to me, shaking. I walk closer and closer until I can clearly see them.
Mr. Lomba Phiri and Miss Maggie Kaunda are touching each other carelessly, only heavens know what will happen next.
For the hundredth time today, I cry. I cry for the so-called Maggie. For I know that like my dead former fiancée Bianca, she too has not used her intelligence to get the job at Kalikene Imports & Exports but her dazzling brown complexion and gorgeous pointed breasts.
I cry. For like you, I know that Maggie too will die. She too will die of HIV/AIDS.
I am finally home.
“Uncle Mayeso! Uncle Mayeso!” small boys shout my name as they ran towards me.
I smile back and give them sweets. I walk closer to my hut. There is something wrong.
My two dirty shirts, pair of trousers and old mat are outside.
Before I figure out what is actually happening, the landlord approaches.
“I am tired of you!” he snarls. “You have not paid rent for three months now. Go and get yourself another house. I have a new tenant!” he leaves me in suspense.
I drop the plastic bag containing Ufa, Usipa and Kazinga sachets. I remember Bianca. I remember Mr. Lomba Phiri. I remember the little banana boy.
I remember the Gado man. I remember that I have failed sixty eight interviews in three weeks.
Akulu: An equivalent of ‘big brother’.
Ufa: Maize flour.
Kazinga: A type of a popular brand of cooking oil.
Usipa: Small fish.
Ayise: A way of addressing each other among peers.
Nsima: Hard porridge also known as Fufu in West Africa.
Chambo: A type of fish found in Lake Malawi only.