By William Khalipwina Mpina (Malawi)
It was exactly 4.30 a.m. when an alarm buzzed. I woke up and peeped out of the window. Darkness had not completely left. The day like a crawling baby was approaching slowly with patches of fog. The fog which had covered the factories in the industrial area was ridiculously rolling up in Ndilanda hills and systematically disappearing into the sky. In this tropical country, it was announcing the arrival of a clear sunny day. That morning Dora was calm. Her silence was quite funny. As she prepared breakfast, she did not sing her most favourite song ‘sewere, umlange mwana’ as she used to. The house was enveloped by an air of quietness. She did not switch on the radio as she did on many other mornings. I sat on the bed and corked up my ears, but it was as if Dora was sick. All I heard was a series of coughs, not persistent though. I moved to where she was.
“Dora, are you ready for the journey?” She did not reply.
“I am saying are you taking me to see Namgabi, your mother?”
She chose to remain silent. Silence is golden, but in this context, silence is silvery. What it meant for me to be silent was a dislike of the journey. What else? Surely she was not willing to go; rather she was not interested to give me an opportunity of seeing her parent. How could she do that after I had already promised her mother on the phone? I returned to the bedroom. No sooner had I sat on the bed than Dora sneaked in as tears snaked down her cheeks. Why these tears? I took a glance at her dress. It was wet. Something immediately came to my mind. Either I was not safe to travel with her or she was not safe to walk out of the compound. This was in connection with what we watched on the TV the previous night. It was broadcast that some minorities were being killed, their body parts sold to the neighbouring countries. The TV showed the dead bodies of the victims. That might have been a source of stress for Dora. I moved closer to her and embraced her. She was seemingly in trouble but for the fact that she did not want me to help in decision making I waited, perhaps she would come round. Some moment’s later, normal senses brightened her face but she did not reveal the watershed of her distress. Towards half past six, we strolled towards the main bus depot in the city. Gestures were all we relied upon to be in touch so our communication was limited to a yes or no answer. Whatever it was I was still happy to fulfill my promise. At least this action would be proof that I had no time to joke with her. I had already confided in her that once I made a decision I stuck to it. She would marry me. That was what I wanted her to witness that day.
We were heading south; her home village was in the southern region. When the bus started off, she instantaneously turned to me. That was the time when my eyes were glued on a certain couple who were quarrelling in the bus.
“Look at me, Denis. Do you really love me?” I said yes.
“Denis, are you sure?”
I said yes. “You know I declared it already, Dora.
“Look at me, Denis. Are you serious?”
I suggestively looked at her face long enough. She also did the same before she shyly looked away. “Do your questions relate to our skin differences perhaps?” I asked.
The bus jerked. We were travelling to Mangunda, one of the remotest parts of that region. For me it was an adventure that would make me believe whether my fiancée was not cheating on me or not. She was taking me to that place for whatever reasons but I thought she wanted me to show a commitment to the relationship. I never saw anything that could give me a clue that I did not break her virginity. Her breasts were firm. In fact, I knew that there were some Chinese herbs that acted as breast firmer but I was not an expert in those fields. Dear reader, in this tropical country, a virgin is proved through the breasts. If a lady has big breasts that look like pawpaws, most young unmarried men like me tend to question the virginity of the lady.
It was around noon when a bus halted at a place where we would find a path that would take us to see who happened to be Dora’s relatives; the only surviving relatives, her mother. I expected also to see two children, a boy and girl, who would welcome us hilariously. In fact she told me that her sister passed away some two years before and had left a number of children who were staying with her mother at Mangunda. There was no shop at the place, only bicycle taxis that were taking their passengers to the opposite direction only. I wanted to drink water but the nearest borehole according to Dora was five kilometers away which she doubted whether it was functioning or not. Half way the distance, Dora branched off to see a lady who was harvesting sweet potatoes. I did not hear what they were discussing but the lady pointed at a small hill that was behind another hill that looked like a tall tree among shorter ones as if she was giving directions. Of course, I am old enough to tell through gestures what probably would have been the matter. Dora had overstayed in the city. Did that mean she had forgotten her home, a place that had taught her the very essential things of life? That thought died in its infancy. I panicked but when love has mounted its camp, jealous cannot destroy. Even true stories told to warn you about the dirtiest things that your fiancée had done before, even as close to time as yesterday, ignorance cures it all. I remained silent though I had a burning desire to ask. I wobbled down the road, up and down the hills until I saw a village when the sun was about to set. I pretended not to be tired but honestly I was worn- out. The place was more like a deserted place than a dwelling place. The hut we were approaching was newly built. It was as if it was set up to welcome us. Dora did not indicate to me that we had reached our destination but insight knowledge guided me to the realization that the journey had ended. That was not without a clue. Dora offloaded the bag from the head and opted to carry it as if it was not heavy at all. Big question:Will my would-be apongozi be a sing’anga? This question directed at me confused the one who flung it. The hut looked like one of a witch doctor. A traditional song shrouded my mind and touched my heart ‘kapilire unka iweko/kapilire unka iweko/kumeneko kuli ana/kumeneko kuli ana/ osasamba, amamina,amanthongo/ kapilire iwe.’ I was removed from the jungle of thoughts by two shabbily dressed kids who saw us from a mango tree. They were there like guards to watch over enemies for their eyes were glued to the path. Like cats, they climbed down to welcome us.
“Aunt! Aunt!” They ran towards us. I was surprised for Dora did not tell me the gospel truth about her place.
“Aunt, welcome.” The girl said in a local language that I did not speak. After exchanging a few words, immediately, the two children disappeared. I got relaxed when her mother came. “You are welcome, daughter and son. Feel free.” I asked for a cup of water. Dora went behind the house and after thirty minutes returned with a cup of thobwa. “She says water will not do you good. Take this.” (Dora, please know your man. This is your man, not your mother’s man. I need water). She got a clue that I disliked that decision. She went back and came with what I had asked for. After a while, I gulped down the thobwa. As if by design the mother popped in and sat a few metres away. In fact she had a lot of sugarcoated stories about her daughter. “She has been refusing men. I don’t know what has happened this time. Dude, you are lucky.” Namgabi giggled and disappeared to the kitchen.
We spent two nights, nights of misery in which we provided a delicious meal to mosquitoes. I learnt the mother sought warmth in empty maize sacks that were artistically sewn so it could cover a wide radius for the benefit of the children. We were offered one. They slept outside while we were allowed to sleep in the hut. As visitors, they had to ensure our safety not theirs. Throughout the night, I panicked. I could not believe it was happening in a country where some politicians were spending public money on useless things. Why not bring the money to the villagers? Will that not help, help the poor? Surely, the words sleep and dream did not exist in this region as compared to the comfort I used to enjoy in the city. The place was dark, dreadfully dark at night. Owls and hyenas were terrorizing my peace though I was told not to fear. Alerted, we could have brought certain things from the city that would have made my life comfortable but Dora was quiet. She did not mention about the real life in this village. At least candles, bottled water, duvet, mosquito nets or doom, and a mattress would have solved the puzzle. Whether it was a strategy for me to experience poverty in this way or not, I happened to promise lots of things as soon as possible, that I could provide in less than a week upon reaching the city. I also thought about erecting a better hut than the one I saw.
When we were about to leave around five in the morning of the third day, Dora looked at her mother and hesitantly said.
“She says you will need something. Take these.” A packet of flour made from leaves and roots of wild trees.
“You will need nthubulo and gondolosi, my son.” Apongozi said. As a professional medical doctor I had always thought of ways and means of dealing away with myths that some raw roots and rotten leaves had power of improving fertility. Even tradition medicine did not exist fully in my world. Nevertheless I quickly resolved how I would sort out these roots of fertility.
“Thanks mum.” I said reluctantly. The two kids disturbed my thoughts again. “Aunt, bye. Uncle, bye.” Standing at the door, they whispered in unison. “Escort them half way. You fools!” Namgabi shouted.
Both Dora and I turned to wave at the mother as we followed a path that went to Miseufolo where we would take kabaza and connect to the main road. That was a short cut to Mangunda I was told.
Out of the blue, a figure of a short brown haired girl in a black skirt and white blouse enters my mind. In a Coca-Cola shape the girl is pushing a wheeled bag commonly known as “an expand” into Wenela bus depot. Late as she seems to be, my heart skips a beat. Through the emergency window of an express bus that is heading north, my eyes follow her as her bottom vibrates shockingly. The bottom together with the owner trots towards the tickets office window. Oh, my…! Since when did angels start trotting visibly on earth? As soon as she faces the door of the bus I am in, I quickly stand up. Angel, please sit next to me. There is a warm seat here. My lips move. She does not hear me. Next her forehead peeps in the bus. Come, come baby. Sit next to me. My lips move again. Thank heavens. She comes straight to where I am. Hallelujah…!
In a twinkle of an eye, I jump and create a space for her. I help her put the bag in its rightful place and at once engage her in a conversation.
“Excuse me, may I know you?” I extend my hand towards hers. She looks at me. She does and says nothing.
“Excuse me, do you speak my language?”
“I am Dora.” She says as she welcomes my hand. “How far do you go?”
“Muhasuwa and you…?” “Chimulumunde.”
In no time, Wenela is out of sight. Afraid of other eagles to catch my fish, I express my wholesale willingness to love her, to protect her and to ensure her that all is well in case she had engaged other men who were promiscuous. That is not without an influencing factor, tots of brandy. I am courageous.
“My name is Denis, yes Denis.”
“Denis, when did you start thinking about me?” “Just now; love at first sight you know.”
“I am afraid. It’s too…” She fails to complete the statement as I force her to accept my proposal.
“I don’t see any problem. Love birds meet anywhere. At a funeral or in a bank…What’s a problem meeting in a bus?” She is quiet. Fast as I am, I try to get hold of her hand and pull her close to me. She stares away.
“Denis, do not be crazy.”
“Dora, tell me what makes you think I am unsuitable. It appears your heart is laden with uncertainties.” I pull her again, but she shrugs her shoulders.
“You are drunk.”
“You can also drink and behave equally. I have got plenty here.”
“I don’t drink and I do not like people who drink.” I look at her in the face. “Believe in change. Everything is possible.” She laughs.
The bus inspector arrives to check our tickets. Mine is in the trousers pockets. I show him and he cancels it with green ink. Dora is panicking. She can’t trace her ticket. It is neither in her purse nor in her bra. After a long search she remembers that she forgot to collect it from the tickets office. She explains that she came in as the bus was about to leave so she just gave money to the person on the window and rushed in. I remember to have seen her on the tickets office window but she is never understood. For life to continue I reached for my pocket and settle the matter. When the inspector passes, I resume the conversation.
“I am suitable, Dora. Try me.” “But you are not responsible.”
Suddenly the bus comes to a halt. Muhasuwa Trading Centre waves entertainingly at us. I wave at Dora. She waves back. Before I start forgetting about her, she returns and slaps me hard. I do not believe it.
After an hour of walking to the main road, we sought shelter near a church to rest. I was bidding good bye to the children while Dora was quiet. I was promising the two children that they would learn in the city if everything was sorted out according to plan. In fact, they were miserable children whom I thought I would rescue. I learnt this from experience. I grew up in a house that neither the man nor the woman was related to my mother. They also rescued me because my parents could not support me. To say the truth, I would not be where I was. To hit the nail on the head, they supported me till I left College of Medicine. They encouraged me not to pay back but support my mother. Unfortunately, my mother died as soon as I left the college. I had nobody to trust as my relative since I never saw one in my life except my mother. Therefore, assisting these two orphans would be one of the various ways of paying back. Their mother did not want to leave them as young as 4 and 5 respectively. They also did not commit any sin for them to be staying with an old woman miserably. During my stay there, I asked where the nearest primary school was located but neither Dora nor her mother was reluctant to say exactly where the school was. I was told the hospital was in Mangunda; that was almost seven kilometers away. They had no access to clean water for the water that I was drinking smelt of dung. I had to drink anyway because I instructed that the best way was to have them boiled. In the city, I could not taste it. These children were at risk, high risk.
“Don’t worry I will take care of you. I will send you to Mathambi. It’s a good school. Private school, have you heard about this?” The two children shrugged their shoulders. An indication that they were not even interested to go to school. This reminded me about my early primary school days. I did not like going to school so I was cheating my mum. Taking advantage of the distance, I was preparing as if I was going to school when in fact my friends and I were proceeding to Gerena Estate not to work but play. I liked this place because towards lunch hour, we were being treated to mgaiwa and nyemba with the workers. So
until it was revealed that I never registered in standard one, I was being followed closely. Through their eyes I saw a clue that school was something they had given up. I comforted and encouraged them before they left. Believe it or not, few minutes later, the girl tip-toed behind my back, and stroke me with a sharp object. The boy laughed sarcastically. I looked at Dora. She was as usual. Quiet.
Meanwhile, four police officers escorted by the chief stormed Namgabi’s house. Word had been sent to Mangunda police that a lady who alighted at Mafisi one kilometer before Mangunda with a baldheaded short stout man whom they suspected was a foreigner from the neighboring country were hiding at the hut. The report indicated that the lady was the type of those that were being victimized. She did not belong to the village. It was also said that the lady was refusing to leave the spot but the man had pushed her to the forest just to add salt to the injury.
This was thirty minutes after Dora and I had left and when the two children had not returned yet. The police were following instructions from above that once they find a foreigner travelling in a car or walking with an albino without any apparent reason in an unprotected place, they must shoot to kill.
“Woman, tell us where have they gone?” One police officer pointed a gun at Namgabi.
“This way, Miseufolo” Shivering, Namgabi said.
“Who are they?” Using his gun like a rod, the officer asked while pointing at her.
“I know the woman. She is a prostitute in the city. The man is one of her customers.” “Who is she to you?”
“I am just a care taker. I am employed to take care of her children. She told me to come here so we can cheat the man better.”
The chief heard at once that the children whom Namgabi claimed were her grandchildren at the time she was looking for a place to permanently stay were not hers. The woman known as Namgabi had just relocated to this village a week before from where she claimed she was being ill treated and the chief had been kind to allocate her that piece of land near the hill. Out of the blue, the chief sneezed. Wrinkles deformed his face. He walked round the hut before he pointed his finger at her. “ you, liar! Witch!”
Namgabi looked down and said. “I am not at fault. I needed money. I was enticed to stop begging in the city and look for a place where I would stay with her children. She gives me money from her trade.”
“Fast, guys! Take the greedy woman to the station. She has a case to answer.”The officer in-charge of the group said. He then instructed two police officers to run after the foreigner before he killed the woman.
Like famished lions, the two officers faithfully run the direction of their enemy. They nibbled at the distance not only to keep time but to make sure that they got hold of their suspect.
News about my wedding does not boil down well in my colleagues pots of thoughts. Tamara walks into my office without a knock.
“When will you stop picking up girls from the streets for a wife?” “You do not know? Educated ladies like you are difficult to handle.” “So it means what I hear is true?”
“What have you heard?”
“About your wedding with that girl, tell me, walimbadi mtima.”
“Umadziwa nsikidzi ya chikondi ikaluma.” I tell her just to understand when a man loves a woman.” “What was wrong with Martha?”
“Two issues. One. She was not impressive. Two. She was very talkative. It was as if I will add another home theater in my house.”
“So, this town monger is impressive?” “I think so”
“Denis, you will regret.”
“For heaven’s sake I will not.”
The wedding ceremony is colorful. Woyerandife church is packed. “Now I declare the D-square, Denis and Dora, man and wife. The moment welcomes cameras, ululations and beating of drums that nearly shake the foundation of the church. At the hall, my mother, apongozi and several friends dish out K1000 notes. I join her happiness. Surprisingly, Dora is quiet. I do not care. I mind my business.
The car that takes us to the honeymoon speeds incredibly fast. I am excited about everything especially when the car stereo plays a hymn,‘yehova mbusa wanga.’ Truly, the lord is my shepherd. Upon arrival, Dora’s lips creeps over mine. She sighs. My girl sighs I am happy. She looks cute. A man and his wife must enjoy now. How time flies! It is said life is a mountain of mystery. Some people born with a silver spoon in their mouths die poor while others born in the tobacco fields die in executive homes. Denis, you must enjoy. You have passed through thickets of thorns. Forget about the past. Life is a jigsaw puzzle. What you expect to happen in a day does not exactly happen in your line of thinking. You expect rains, there comes no rain, it is said, but today everything is trailing in its intended path. Life!
Life is an avocado pear in a tree. It looks good on one side while the other side is rotten. Dear mum and dad. Glad you made a decision to have me exist. I started nibbling at the rotten side of the cake of life. Take this message to the world. Tell the world that Denis is enjoying. He is not poor. Tell the world a professional medical doctor is feeling good with Dora. I look at Dora. She is quiet. Before I begin to snore, Dora says; “To show that you love me, give me all the money that has been donated to us or else
you will see.” I point at the small bag near the drawer. I want to say I am not poor but I just swallow it like a pill.
“Your mother is very creative.” I decided to break the silence when I heard the sounds of moving cars near Mangunda. “What do you think?” I further sought her opinion.
“She was drunk. She had taken tots of kachasu, didn’t you observe?”
“No, but I observed this morning when she was giving us the gondolosi. The woman is a joker.” I laughed. Dora was quiet.
I was glad when I reached the main road especially when I saw an ambulance that was heading to the city. I would say I was fortunate because what I thought was a passenger actually he was a colleague. No sooner had I waved it to stop, than two police officers emerged from the direction we came from. They seemed to have an interest in us.
“Let’s go, Denis.” My colleague told the driver to start off. The driver obliged.
“These drunkards will delay us.” He went on. Dora was quiet. We exchanged a few words with my colleague because while I was the most famous college drunkard, he was the most known college prophet.
We arrived back safely. The escape
Today is Sunday. Dora is in the kitchen. I see a tall, light in complexion and not very handsome man
pushing the gate in order to let his bicycle in. He has ridges in his hair, giving a hint of wavy hair when it is long. He dons gumboots, a pair of khaki shorts and an oversized shirt. I watch him as his bicycle peeps, shoves forward and perches against the wall. I sit still but patiently peruse the Sunday paper with one eye while the other is on his intentions in my yard. In the shade where I sit, I am carrying a tall glass of old rare brandy mixed with coke. There is a plastic chair reserved for Dora and a coffee table. On the coffee table, a half empty bottle of coca cola leans against a three quarter full of brandy. On a quiet afternoon like this, I choose to cool off at home and more artistically impress my newly wedded wife than cheer friends whom I had entertained over the years. Confidently, the strange man strolls into the shade and majestically sits on the empty chair without my invitation.
“So you drink like a boss?” He opens his mouth as he pours some brandy into the cocacola bottle to make it full. Holding my chin, I look suggestively at him. Until he pulls two sips, I am just quiet.
“Are you a friend or enemy?” I fling the question at once.
“A friend? Ha.” He pulls another sip and immediately softens his lips with his tongue. Then he breaks into laughter. Can this be a mad person? Like a security guard, I give him another evocative look with an aim to scare him, but when he realizes this, he takes my glass and swallows the contents.
“Have we ever met before?” I want to know.
“Why do you ask?”
Before I explain Dora saunters towards us. I get some courage. At least if he tries to behave more wildly than this the two of us will punch him and drive him out of the gate easily. I will show him all the acrobatics that I was taught by a Chinese who happened to be a college mate. This is total nonsense that I do not like. Walk into peoples compounds without any invitation and eat their food. Without paying much attention to the stranger, Dora serves me with a plate of fried chicken pieces. As soon as their eyes met, Dora hugs the visitor in a long time no see fashion. While lifting Dora up, the stranger dances around. Damn it!
“See, how beautiful you are.” “Who told you I stay here?” “There is no secret under the sun.”
“But tell me when did you step on the Malawian soil from the land of gold?” “Last week.”
I rub my eyes to verify whether it is happening live or not. It is timely to see that Dora has planted a kiss on the stranger. Please God, save me from evil. What the hell is going on? I gulp down my drink in time to see that the distance between the two lips has widened but nobody seems to be rooted to the spot. They whisper to each other. My world seems to have crumbled. Dora! Doora! Doooooooora!
At once, I do not see the two. I follow them into the house. There is some noise in the bedroom. Through the back door, I rush into the room. Nobody but a small note in a standard five drop-out pupil handwriting waves on the bed, my bed. “Denis, I married you because you wanted but I think you have seen the man I love.” Next the front door bangs. I remove the slippers and put on a flat shoe ready for a race. Upon reaching the front door, I hear the screeching of the gate. I try to open it but both the he-fool and the she- fool have locked it. I stomp to the backdoor. Quickly, I reach the gate. When I get out of the gate, what I see paralyzes my limbs. While Dora is seated on the carrier, stylishly, the man rides his bicycle at the Cheetahs speed towards the factories in the industrial area.
I woke up from this nightmare at the time when Dora had planted a kiss on me. Her lips were dancing on my nose as if she was licking it.
“Your lips have been moving for two hours now without anything coming out, are you sick?” She said when she saw that I had opened my eyes. I immediately wanted to ask what she was doing at that time for her to notice that my lips had been in motion. I simply avoided her.
“No.” I said.
“What time shall we start off to visit Namgabi at Mangunda?” “Let me think about it.”
Gondolosi: roots of a wild tree that are eaten raw in order to enlarge the penis. Nthubulo: flour made from leaves of wild trees in order to improve fertility. Kachasu: locally produced liquor.
Yehova mbusa wanga: the lord is my shepherd. Apongozi: mother in law
Mgaiwa: maize flour/hard porridge made from maize flour. Nyemba: beans
Kabaza: bicycle taxi
Thobwa: sweet brew
sewere, umlange mwana: mother in law, advise your man
“Umadziwa nsikidzi ya chikondi ikaluma: when a bedbug of love bites. sing’anga: traditional medicine man
kapilire unka iweko/kapilire unka iweko/kumeneko kuli ana/kumeneko kuli ana/ osasamba, amamina,amanthongo/ kapilire iwe: persevere where you go/ you will find children/of shameful looks, bad manners/ persevere.