Welcome to Luwinga
By Pius Nyondo (Malawi)
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Welcome to Luwinga
By Pius Nyondo
After a nightlong task of staying awake in the name of protecting a China shop from thugs and armed robbers, I had to compensate myself. And for me, compensation meant stopping over at Paris Club International, Cool Running or Chipwirikiti for 'one or two'.
Often times, I had solemnly sworn not to stop over at these places. But each time I did so, I surprisingly found myself at these ‘synagogues’, downing bottles of cold ones like there is no tomorrow.
Actually, the sordid behaviour had almost cost me my job one day. I had branched at Paris Club International for ‘one or two’, ahead of a miserable night of waiting for thieves and engaging myself in battles with mosquitoes. I had ordered for one, thinking I had some money but there was none. I had walked out fuming.
I was an hour or two late, and I would surely be some three or four hours late by the time of my arrival at Shi Chwang General Dealers; my work place. As I walked closer towards the building, my heart raced. Standing, just beside the main entrance was the boss himself, Ti Ling.
I panicked. He never really bothered to check on me. I was his good boy. I had impressed him so much during my early days as watchman at the shop so much so that he really never bothered to mark my ‘register’. Some jealous fool must surely have told my boss that I had not reported for work, I told myself, trying to figure out who it could be.
"Bwana...," I wanted to cook up a lie.
"Nava kuti ukugwira chito bwino kwambiri. Ona, unali keseli kuona ngati zitu zili bwino. Nikukwezera malipiro ako,” (I’m told you are very diligent. See, you were behind the shop checking if everything is okay. I’ll raise your pay this month-end.) Bwana Ling said. I sighed. He struggled to communicate to me, and I struggled to get what he always tried to say to me; I being a Standard 4 drop out.
“Nikudikila mkazi wanga ali paselipa,” he continued. “Timapanga stock-taking.” (We were stock-taking.)
"Ok Bwana," I gave him a fake salute, knowing my delinquency wouldn't be laid bare.
Just then, his wife; a good looking young girl, whom resources allowing, I wouldn't hesitate to grab from my boss, appeared. She was dressed in a very tempting miniskirt, a beauty revealing blouse, and lipstick that was so inviting. Seeing her, I must confess, always made me curse myself for being poor. Good looking women like her need men who breathe. Men who can donate. Men who have. And not a mere church rat like me.
That aside, I mean the fact that I was jealous with my boss over his beautiful wife, I liked Bwana Ling. He was a good man. As I saw them leave, I thanked my stars for being his employee. I was better paid compared to my other colleagues who worked for other China shops. Once in a while, Bwana Ling gave me a China T-shirt or a pair of shoes for the ‘dedication’ I had towards my job.
Bwana Ti Ling, a short man with a very ugly face, had come to the Republic of Mwatitha from China as a foreman for a construction company that had been assigned to do one of the roads in the rural parts of the country. When the road construction was over, Ling did not want to go.
Actually, a few months before they had completed the construction of the road, Ling had fallen head-over-heels for one native girl in the area; my mistress now. A story is told that she used to sell bananas at the Chinese camp where Ling was a regular customer. But Ling went deeper. He loved Esitele. Got her pregnant and then married her. When his colleagues were leaving for China, Ling decided to remain behind a re-married man, for rumour had it that he was a father of thirteen children back in China.
So, that's how I survived that day. Ling had been waiting for his wife. He said I was a hard worker. Yes. That day they had been ‘stock-taking’. Up to date, I don't even know what kind of animal 'stock-taking' is. You see, the thing is, every time Bwana Ling spoke to me, it was either he was commending me on some job well done, or he was sending me to buy some meat for him, nothing else.
He asked me to fetch frogs, monitor lizards, snakes and all those kinds of weird animals for him. In short; reptiles, mammals, amphibians and all other living things you can think of. I carried his orders to the letter. The beauty of it all is that he already had his customers. My simple task was to collect from them, and deliver to him.
That's why, when he had mentioned 'stock-taking’ that afternoon, I expected him to dip into his pockets and give to me some bank notes for 'stock-taking.' He did not. His wife appeared, and they left, leaving me in suspense. Up to date, I tell you, I am still trying to figure out what kind of animal 'stock-taking' can be. But, of course, I have a clue. The ‘S’ sound. It must have something to do with snakes. Bwana Ling loved snakes.
This evening, seating comfortably at a corner in Paris Club International; I had nothing to worry about. I didn’t have to carry my knobkerrie and machete to follow thugs and armed robbers. I had lied to Bwana Ling that my wife was seriously sick and thus I had to take care of our three children. Being the good man that he was and me the ‘good boy’ that I was, Bwana Ling gave me a four-day holiday plus an allowance to see myself through during my 'trying times.'
But I had cooked up the whole thing. I just wanted to have some fun. It was Christmas time. I was neither married nor had three children. I was only a poor bachelor housed in one of the shacks in the slams of Luwinga; a city that only looked beautiful when one was drunk.
I was only about three weeks old in the city, and I felt home and welcome every time I emptied an extra bottle of Kuchekuche beer-that brand of alcohol that never wants one to leave it and go to sleep. Before, I had been a tenant in one of the tobacco growing areas in the countryside. I went unpaid for five and half years and decided enough was enough. I left for ‘greener pastures’ and settled in this city of Luwinga.
Reason why I was not yet married at 32? Simple. I had no trust in women, except my mother and Mary the Mother of Jesus. I loved my first girl at 13, the next at 18 and the last at 22. The worst one was that girl I loved when I was eighteen - Brenda. I loved her. She never loved me in return. I smiled. She never smiled. I tried to make her laugh. She couldn’t just succumb. At one point she nearly killed my mother with hypertension when she had lied against my father that he was responsible for her...
I don’t like talking about that shit. She was not only a liar, but also the Devil’s incarnate capable of plotting any kind of evil. Since then, I declared to myself: No women for the rest of your life, Mavuto-they are all traitors, murderers. Like poisonous snakes, they can kill, just for the sake of killing, without eating you. Drink beer, more beer and the Most High will be happy with your spirit for saving his precious water.
I was downing my fifth bottle, when I saw Goodson, my workmate at Shi Chwang General Dealers approaching. He was a shop attendant, and earned a more meager pay than I did. I wanted to hide, but then I realized that he was too drunk to distinguish between good and evil. Walking beside him was a sick-looking girl, so nauseating. Actually, everyone in Paris Club International had his gaze on the ‘couple’, which had now sat just beside me.
"Mavuto!" He joyously extended his hand. I hesitated, but offered it all the same. What could I have done after all?
"Can't he realize that this girl is very sick?" An elderly gentleman standing next to my workmate said in a tone that was low to him but one which was heard by everybody. And just then, everybody turned towards our direction.
“These are the things we men don’t see when drunk,” some loud mouth in the bar shouted.
Goodson did not move an inch. I have already mentioned, he couldn't distinguish between good and evil, lovely and ugly. He turned to me instead.
“...hey! You told Bwana that your wife is sick.” I was wrong. He was not as recklessly drunk as I thought. Everyone turned to me. I looked down.
"Mavuto,” he went on. “Taste a beautiful girl like this one and see that girls are good!"
The 'beautiful girl' who was standing beside him, whom Goodson would 'taste and see that she is good' sooner than later smiled. Everyone laughed.
"For how long," my workmate, it seemed, wanted to injure me more. "Are you going to remain unmarried? Don't you know that all bachelors are fools?"
Much as I didn't like women personally, I felt bad when someone laid bare my attitude towards women in public. That’s why I wanted Goodson, my workmate, to leave.
The whole bar was sent into stitches of laughter once again.
Enough was enough. I rose to my feet, aimed a blow at Goodson which sent him sprawling to the ground. Then a dead silence enveloped the bar. Dead silence. The 'beautiful girl' who had come with him was trying to shake Goodson up but to no avail.
Something told me to run, and I started doing so. And I was not looking back. Behind me, I could hear drunkards shouting, shouting so loud and hard.
My direction was home. I was considerably drunk, so I thought going home was the safest thing I could do.
I had run and run, and I was heavily panting now. But I had now reached a bridge which I had to cross before reaching my house, my shack I should rightly put it. This bridge frightened me and yet, I had to cross it before I could get home. I was here now, and very afraid.
I had not even reached the middle of the bridge when I saw three men with a torch flashing their light directly at me.
"Hey, can't you see that you are injuring my eyes?" I said under the influence.
They didn't respond. I got nervous.
One of them fished a knife from his jacket and threw it at me. It came straight to my chest. I fell down in pain. I looked back and saw what looked like a police van move towards our direction.
"Shit!" I faintly heard one of them say. "Somebody tipped the police about our presence here. Finish this bastard and let's vacate this place."
I felt very great pain in my stomach, pain that was really ‘finishing’ me. And then there was darkness...
Bwana: An equivalent of boss.
Kuchekuche: A brand of beer brewed locally in Malawi.