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Seeking Solace

By Gracious Changaya (Malawi)

 

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Author Notes:  Date of Birth: 06 June 1975, Married with two children. Qualifications: Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE), Advanced Diploma in Banking(CIB-RSA), Technician Diploma in Accounting(ACCA), Diploma in Accounting(LCCI), Diploma in Financial Services(CIB-RSA)  Publications: Over fifty short stories and poems published locally. Current Job: Operations Manager - NBS Bank Limited (Blantyre Branch)

 

Nothing seems to matter at all, not at all. It is all water under a bridge now. And, with a rejuvenated conscience, I feel free once more.

"Bartender!" I am in Seventh Heaven, like an overexcited soldier on a passing-out parade.

I did well to lie to my employers that my grandfather was ill so they could transfer me from Blantyre City to this remote district, Karonga, that I take care of him. Had I still been in the city, my life would have ended prematurely. But here, with my good friend, Peter, I am home and dry once more.

Surely it was na´ve of me to think, after that soul-cracking incident I experienced, that I could seek solace from that Pastor Stoic in Blantyre. It was good that the pastor was caught red-handed breaking the Seventh Commandment with a neighbour’s wife a day after I had just booked my confession appointment. Otherwise I would have been believing in a hypocrite by now.

"Bartender!" With my low-pitched voice and amidst this deafening sound of the nightclub’s music system, it is all a joke. Maybe I am drunk. No. I am not drunk. Not yet. I can still remember the arrangement I made with this teenaged, bewitching queen sitting with me in the corner. We are to spend the night together at my house - privileges of being a bachelor- no need to book a room at a rest house or hotel. Cost effective indeed.

I am also aware of my mentor’s absence, Peter. He has just left a few minutes ago with a night queen I picked last week -an exceptional doctrine of our religion, no jealousy at all. Real love. Love for everyone. So we exchange partners so freely. As for contracting an incurable disease, Peter addresses it time and time again.

"Whether you are a saint or a sinner, it does not make any difference in this world. In the long run we are all dead, buried and forgotten." He would always say.

"As for life after death, well, who can prove it tangibly and not with faith? And what is faith? A strong belief without proof! Belief without reasoning?" Oh my mentor Peter, very talkative, argumentative yet at the same time charming. I mean, with my small faith, having lost both parents in a car accident when I was only ten and their only child, what can I say? Who knows? Maybe he is right - maybe wrong. But really who knows?

Whichever, I wish he was here with us now, around this table, instead of leaving early with that night queen. Had he remained, he would have been attacking politicians, his usual subject, in his endless sermons.

"All politicians are liars! Cheap crooks! Idiots!" he would have been yelling. "They only love us in times of elections! Oh yes! During election campaigns they can buy you a coffin! A whole cow for your wedding or funeral! Provide transport to your pregnant housemaid to hospital for delivery! Pay you a visit when they hear you have the flue! I mean, promising to bring paradise to you down here on earth! Right here! Just by voting for them!" Imbibers within earshot would be sieving away everything, including the music, and let Peter’s boastful voice sink in.

"But let elections go, oh friend!" He would say every night, as he did tonight before leaving with the night queen, "They are angels! Untouchable! With impunity, they sleep with our spouses, snatch our land, terminate our employment, seal our mouths!" Laughter would follow.

"They are so untouchable! Above the law! Angels! I mean, if you happen to meet one of them and talk, even just greet you, if that politician is not your spouse, son or parent, call yourself lucky."

Then, before one could absorb the whole story, he would switch to religion. "They are all hypocrites! Hypocrites! False prophets! Money-hungry preachers! Healing ministry-healing ministry what? Why can they not go to hospitals and heal the helpless lot dying everyday there?" I don’t know where Peter learnt all this.

Anyway, if it does not rain tomorrow as it did today, we will meet in the morning, and he will tell me whether he has enjoyed the night queen as I enjoyed her myself.

"Bartender!" I yell once more, this time louder than before. I am fooling myself- like the cry of a baby amidst mourners, my voice dies in a great sea of the music. I think Peter has one more technique to teach me: how to make sure that beer never dries up on our table.

"Shit!" I hit the table. A bottle falls and shatters on the floor.

"What is it darling?" My catch asks. Our eyes meet. I will feast on you tonight, I think.

"I did it," I mutter, looking at her while simultaneously instructing the bartender who has come quickly to collect the broken bottle to bring us more beer.

She smiles, moving her red glossy lips wide apart, exposing her snow-white teeth. What is it? An extension of her smile! "You could have just done this," she raises her two fingers towards the night club counter, "if all you wanted was the bartender’s attention." She smiles again, mockingly this time.

Just as she said, two bottles of beer arrive at our table even before the bartender whom I have sent for the same task disappears through the door with the broken bottle. I am green with envy.

"How long have you been in this business?" An out of place question. Can I take back my words?

"Excuse me?" Hypocritical response, as always. They are all the same.

"E.e..e..h," I stammer, "never mind. It was just one of these things. You know, a slip of the tongue." I lie.

Peter told me three months ago, "Never ask a prostitute about her private life, they don’t like it." That time I lost a night of fun by asking just one, simple question to another whore I had taken home on my maiden trip in this religion.

"Why did you join this profession, my sweet queen?" No any ill will intended- on the contrary, I asked out of deep affection. An obsession. Too much love. Such a lascivious stature- I mean, her light in complexion, coca-cola-bottle figure, medium height, immaculate face with matching dimples on her cheeks- suitors, myself included, would kill each other for her hand in marriage.

Even now, should chance eventuates on my lap, I could grab her for life firmly with both hands. Even to the jeers of the world. But had I known, I would have kept my rotten mouth shut. It was not a sign of love to her. Such a question! No love in it at all: mere words from a mere man - an amateur – void of any monetary value, what a waste!

Without a word she left me with a bang. My body trembled together with the whole house. I wish I had asked that question after quenching my thirsty on her first. I could have lost nothing then. But expensive beers I had bought her! Being my maiden boozing night! Gosh! My friend Peter could not help laughing when I told him the whole story the following morning before advising me never to ask a prostitute any inquisitive question.

No, I cannot go through the same experience again. Not when I am now a professional in handling these professional prostitutes. No! I need to regard it all as nothing but a romantic ride, like a minibus ride. Board one now, pay for it and forget everything. Next it’s another one. What a solace! No feelings attached whatsoever and life goes on.

What a life! Is that life? No. It is existence. "Do you apply such attitudes to your wife as well?" I could not help asking Peter this question that day. Though my age, he is already married for three years now and with two kids. What poor child spacing?

"My friend, Mike," he laughed contemptuously. "Were you really living in Blantyre City or …"

"Or what?"

"Anyway, that reminds me of something." Curiosity aroused. "If I may ask, that is."

Silence.

"Why were you so extremely reserved during your first week here before I suggested to you that beer could cheer you up?" He asked.

"It’s …" No, no, no, no! I scratched my head. Trust nobody. I could not confide in him. Not to anyone. Not even now. It was only that Pastor Stoic in Blantyre who would have heard my confession. Who could have had that chance of hearing my sacred secret? Him alone. Not anyone else. Not now when I know that we are all serious cases in this world, like patients, suffering from multiple incurable sins and that is why we congest the many so called holy buildings to seek salvation. Seeking solace.

"You haven’t answered my question yet." I could not answer his question either. Never.

"Well," a sigh of relief, "marriage is for real. I mean," he had paused, "marriage has something to do with an everlasting affection, true marriage that is, while a short-time affair is all about sex and merriment."

"Merriment you cannot find inside wedlock, I suppose." I joked.

"Not exactly," he was quick to respond, "because that is a different subject altogether. You know," he shifted his body and sat upright on my sofa, "all that glitters is not gold." He eyed me without blinking then, "There are many problems in these marriages. That is why you see us spending most of our times in entertainment places."

"Why?" I teased deliberately.

"Seeking solace."

Seeking solace. That is why I am here, here in Karonga District. Here in this nightclub. Here at this corner. Here with this tender teenager girl. Seeking solace.

So really I cannot repeat that same stupid mistake of being too inquisitive about her life. Of course these ladies are easy to find but right now she is my most beautiful queen I have ever met in my life, surpassing all my previous catches. Maybe I am drunk, but no, I am still fresh.

And I think it is time to take her home, isn’t it? By the way, what is the time now? I consult my wristwatch. Come on! Is it already twelve midnight? No, something is wrong with my watch. Who can I contact for confirmation? Ah, my cell-phone’s clock. Is it still in its pouch hanging on my pair of trousers’ belt? Yes, I can feel it.

Never mind, I think it is always like this with Friday and Saturday nights; very short hours always. I think God needs to consider extending time for these two days, to twenty or even thirty hours each per night, so as to accommodate all the fun that goes unfinished during these nights.

Now I touch her arm. She eyes me, accusingly I suppose. Hasn’t she forgiven me for that inquisitive question of mine? "Worry not babie, I say it was just a slip of the tongue, right? Let us go now."

Holding her hand, I am standing up. Ah? Am I failing to stand? No, I am not yet drunk. I need to mobilize more energy, "Yes, that’s it." I will walk home without swaggering or staggering. "Let’s, sweet.’ She is pulling down her hand from mine.

I stoop. "I will pay you double the normal fee." I whisper into her ears. It is month-end so money is not a problem - so too with men - we are many tonight such that I have to stick to my catch at all cost. Otherwise, the law of demand and supply will throw me into its quagmire.

 

Instantly she stands up and already I can feel her arm around my waist. I am having a big party tonight, I am thinking.

Here we go. A step, another, …oh no! Abruptly I stop and fall back to my chair.

I think I am dreaming.

Who is this familiar giant man entering this Soul-Solacing nightclub main door? I rub my eyes. No change. I shake my head. No change. I am not dreaming, hallucinating perhaps. No, I can see my catch gazing at me with shock. I am ok.

The man has now reached the counter. He is sitting on a stool. I am still sitting here, petrified. Something is wrong with my head. No, I am ok. I can see everything quite well; my catch, drunkards dancing, the nightclub’s twinkling light, hear the music and, above all, I can see the man clearly. Same skin complexion- very dark and with beard covering half his face like bushes invading an abandoned house.

I must think fast, like the hunted – for indeed I have become a haunted, hunted man once more. I must leave this place at once.

The man is telling the bartender something, buying beer I assume. He is turning to the crowd now. Our eyes meet, my goodness!

I rest my face on the table and cover it with my hands.

"What’s the matter with you, darling?" I am no longer her darling. It is too late now for that - too late and too hot.

She taps my neck but I am no longer interested. I am dead, without any feelings.

She taps me again, harder this time, but I cannot feel the tenderness of her fingers any more, they feel hard now.

"Hey?" A masculine, baritone voice echoes in my ears.

Startled, I raise my head.

"Eh!" So it was not my catch that has been tapping my neck. It is the giant man. My life is finished.

I try to steal a look at him but fear takes the better part of me. I cast my face downwards.

"So we have met again." He is whispering into my left ear, "or have you forgotten me?" How can I? How can I?

He pats my back, but I am sweating profusely and shivering at the same time. My goodness! Is this liquid trickling down my pair of trousers my own urine?

Unbelievable! Is he leaving me? No, he is leaving not only me but the entire nightclub. He is moving towards the door. What is he up to? I must act fast, very fast, I tell myself.

"Are you okay, darling?" My catch asks but I am not listening, just hearing. I rise again. I am going. Following the man. Quickly. Alone. Running.

Now I am outside and I can see that he has stopped with two guys whom I cannot recognize. I can see them - but they cannot see me.

He is in a hurry. He is fishing out something from the back pocket of his pair of trousers. Quickly he hands it to the two men. Money. I am still moving, about fifteen meters away from them now. They all turn. Does he see me?

"That one!" I cannot believe it. He must be a wizard.

Cat-rat chase begins.

Can they beat me at my own game? I doubt it. Me! A champion athlete during my school and college days! Never. He better take his money back from those stupid money-hungry idiots. On this wet ground all I need to do is confine myself to this tarmac road. Soon I will be home. And the giant man will have hypertension-sickness as his trophy knowing how easily I will expose him of his murder secret now.

I am running. I am not drunk so I can really run like a cheetah. An idea comes into my small head. Yes. I think I don’t have to run home. I must go straight to the police and report everything. No. Another thought comes up. The police will never believe my story. I don’t know what logic they use. They will only arrest me for telling them the whole truth. Better I hide the whole secret from anybody as I have done for these four months now.

A car is coming from my back. From its sound I am sure it is moving at its maximum speed, just like I am. But I should not look back. It will blind my vision. What if it is my chasers driving it?

Spontaneously I jump over a drain leaving the main road and land like a toad on the other side. What a terrific thought!

Creeeeee!!! Screeching of tires, a grinding halt. It would have been on me. Quickly, car doors open and three guys come out. My pursuers. They mean business surely.

But am I familiar with this shabby location I am in, so I can pass through it with ease as a short cut to my home? No, that does not matter. I just have to keep on running and running. Somewhere I am going to find my soul’s solace, maybe at my own home.

I am passing ghetto houses with outside kitchens, toilets and bathrooms almost all of them. Can I hide in one of them?

Phwaaaa!!! I slide on slippery ground. I must rise again quickly. But my ankle is aching. I must persevere if I have to survive this chase game.

Come on, I fall again. Can I rise again? Why not? But my heart is pounding harder now. I think I will faint anytime.

Oh! They are drawing nearer and nearer. I can hear their footsteps. But they are just running, like myself, without yelling for help. Help? What help? Is it not me who needs help? Brilliant idea.

I gather my remaining energy and increase my speed. I dodge them through two houses and I am at the rear door of the third house.

"Help! Help! He-e-elp!! Thieves!" I am beating the door.

"He-e-elp please!" My lungs are about to burst open. "Somebody help me please!" I am yelling hysterically.

Something hits my head, "Mayooo!" My right leg feels very cold. "Mayo ineee!" My ribs are broken. They are stretching my legs wide apart, what do they want to do?

"Ndikufa ineeee!" They are killing me. I am now a punch-bag - a darts-board. I am bathing in a pool of blood and my body is aching everywhere.

Oh! Are they leaving me? They might be through with me then. Oh no! They are running away. I can hear voices shouting, chasing them? But I think I need to rest.

 

* * * * * *

My late mother and father have come back to life. They have defeated the main product of these endless road carnages, wars, diseases, terrorist attacks and natural disasters rampaging this poor earth. Indeed they have triumphed over death.

I am sitting in between them now on our sofa set and they are talking to me in their usual voices.

"Why do you lead this life of a beast, son? Committing adultery, fornication, getting drunk, lying, is it because of lack of parental guidance, perhaps?" I am not worried at all at their angry voices. I am smiling. I missed them. Twenty years! Let them whip me if they want, but surely I will not cry. Never. This is the time for rejoicing. Rejoicing for our miraculous reunion, the most sought for soul’s solacing moment for us all.

"Can you answer us please?" I am still smiling and they are still not smiling but shortly they will, surely.

"Who fed you with these lies?" In their presence, I am a ten year old mischievous kid once again, not serious with life.

"We know everything."

"How?"

They laugh and I laugh too.

"Do you want us to narrate the genesis of that sinful episode of yours that forced you out of Blantyre on exodus to this Karonga district before finally reaching here where you are?" How can they know everything? Do they want to play God? Omnipotent? Let them play it and bear its fruits.

"Yes." With confidence, I answer.

My mother starts narrating it, confidently so, and I am listening to her. And I cannot believe my ears. She is excavating my buried history. Touching the very skeletons of my sacred secret, bit by bit. I am tongue-tied. Dumbfounded. Was she there? Everywhere I went? Was she in my mind? Come on, look at her, smiling at me, triumphantly. She has summed up my case in less than five minutes. I cannot deny it, no I cannot. There is really nothing to deny. She is quite right.

With my poor primitive background compounded with my orphan status since ten, there was nothing worthwhile I could do apart from concentrating wholeheartedly on my studies from my primary school days up to college. But not until I found work in Blantyre with Life Project, a non-governmental organization, as project officer, that I changed. Initially I fell in love with one Thoko Kachenje, a secondary school girl who wanted us to get married. But with my gold-mine just discovered then, marriage was a non-existent word in my imagination’s vocabulary. So we parted ways and I started chasing skirts like a sex maniac.

Then one Saturday night, I realized I had been going out with a married woman. But then, it was too late. Her husband, who had gone to Johannesburg on a business errand, as I later discovered, found me committing the very forbidden act with his wife in their bedroom in Bangwe Township.

In an attempt to stab me, the husband ended up sinking the eye-less knife into his wife’s left chest after I had dodged it. I run for safety then, all the way from Bangwe to my house in Kanjedza, at the very moment of the wrong stabbing.

But then, the following Monday morning I was shocked to read of my secret lover’s death in the newspaper with the following heading "WIFE STABBED TO DEATH BY RUTHLESS THIEVES." I could not believe it. The whole story that followed was a cooked up thing by the husband. What a cunning-heartless-shrewd-man for a husband? My life was in danger, I had to move to a quiet place where I could lead a low profile life. Surely Blantyre city was not safe for me any longer. I could not just imagine the consequences of meeting such a man.

So I tried to find help from Pastor Stoic, unfortunately, his being found with the neighbour’s wife put it all in vain. Hence, the transfer request. But still no solace. And then, well, alcohol-taking, on Peter’s advice of course, and really life started normalizing once more until re-encountering the feared husband, the giant man, at the nightclub, that my life became susceptible to danger once again.

But how does she know every piece and detail of my life?

"No, Mum." I am bewildered. I look at her but neither her nor dad is here. Where have they gone? No, they are here. I was just imagining things. I look at her. No. It is not Mum I am seeing. It is my stabbed lover. Come on. What is wrong with me? No, nothing is wrong with me. I think I am in the wrong place, a place of no conventional rules. On my left is my stabbed lover’s husband, the giant man now. I am sitting in between them and they are glaring at me, furiously. Inside, I am being killed by their piercing looks.

"Retreat, son!" A distant familiar voice echoes. Is it Mum’s? But where is she? I must yell for help.

"Mummmm!!"

* * * * *

"Aah! He has regained consciousness now. How are you feeling now Mike?" I recognise the voice at once, it’s Peter’s.

"Where am I?" I want to look around, however something is holding me. I force myself, but my head throbs, my ribs ache excruciatingly.

"You are in Karonga District Hospital, friend. And you have been unconscious for three days now." Oh Peter, tell me you are lying.

But I am groaning indeed. There is no solace here. I must get out of here. I abhor hospital odour.

"Sorry? My right hand tied to a blood intravenous drip! My left arm in a plaster of Paris!" I cannot believe it.

"And a bandage around your head." I wish Peter knew that this is not a good time for jokes. "You are lucky friend. Had the neighbourhood-watch people not come in time and burn all your three assailants, your body would have been on the ants’ table for a great feast. No more beers for you."

"You mean…" I cannot find the right words to finish my sentence with. Immediately, a door opens and a nurse enters. I close my eyes.

"Mike?" Whose familiar sweet voice is this now? Am I unconscious again? Let me open my eyes lest I fail to recover this time around.

For Heaven’s sake, how many surprises, coincidences, am I going to experience?.

"Get well soon, Mike."

"Oh Thoko Kachenje! Are you a nurse now?" Oh my past! The buried past, the broken promise, slaps of time, cruelty of time, painful lesson and, what, a glimpse of glory?

"What are you doing here?" I hear my own voice as if trailing from a distance asking Thoko.

"Seeking solace from this nursing profession," calmly, she responds and I feel like crying.

I would have been in marriage with this Thoko nurse had I maintained our affair that began when I had just started work. She was doing her Form Four at Stella Maris Girls Secondary School in Blantyre then, but really one never knows with this life.

"Do you still love me, Thoko?’ I am crying. Crying. Seeking solace. We can turn the hand of time back to that sweet past. But she just sheds a tear and sits by me on the bed.

"Don’t be selfish, Mike." Peter is whispering into my ear, but it is Thoko’s voice I want to hear so that we can amend our five-year gap of broken love. "Please leave this queen for me." Oh Peter the chatterbox, what are you saying?

She stands up from the bed as Peter continues making noise. "You know what?’ He is saying. "Those thieves severed your manhood."

"What?"

Dead silence.

This is the pinnacle of my playboy journey. I must return now. Yes, I am returning. Climbing down the steep slopes of Mulanje Mountain. I tried to reach its peak, Sapitwa, but now I do agree that it is really an unreachable peak.

Now I must tally here, in this valley of vanity, with all my sanity, but without any movement. Not even a slight movement. Maybe here, here where I am lying; not crying, not smiling, not seeing, not hearing, not smelling, not feeling, not touching but seeking peace, sleep, love – real peace, real sleep, real love- salvation - solace, maybe here I will find peace of my mind and sleep peacefully.

Maybe then, thereafter, I shall psychologically, socially, spiritually and physically suffer no more. Maybe.

 

The end



 

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