by Kumbu’ Kuntiya, April 2010
based on a true story
The sun was almost settling in, in readiness for the next day’s scorching. A day which would mark exactly a month of reunion with my family. It had been a month of mixed fortunes as I flipped through chapter after the other of the past decade I had been away from my family and the events that led to my isolation. I had been seated on the veranda since mid afternoon after taking our mid day meals with my mother. I was in deep thoughts as my mind crisscrossed the valleys of the past world.
I had been standing there, my usual place for almost half an hour together with Lucy. Our other friends had opted to cast their net from the water holes across the road. A few of us opted straight for the roadside. In no time, my feet started complaining from the excess weight they were supporting. A few steps up, some down was a perfect therapy coupled with some flips of my very short skirt much to the delight for each set of headlamps that chose not to dim at us.
“Riiiiing, Riiiiing”, the usual Nokia tone rang once, then twice. I flipped through my handbag hanging loosely but purposely from my left shoulder. Fished it out and a familiar number appeared on my “brick” as they were called by then. In no time, I pressed the once green button as it had witnessed too many pressings.
“Hallow”, I said as I pressed the gadget closer to my ear while the other hand cushioned the other from unwanted sounds of the cruising traffic as I moved aimlessly towards the gas station.
“Are you available tonight?” A familiar voice came from the other end. “Yaah …” And before I could finish, “Will pick you from same place”, the caller said and immediately cut off without the formal byes. That was my Uncle Ken, my Finance Minister and very typical of him and unlike most of my customers.
My face flooded with excitement and failed to control a smile as I glided towards the deserted and dark veranda of a nearby liquor store to await his coming. My night would be short-lived with a handsome takeaway of course. In the absence of marathons with police, such was the modis operandi on a good part of the month.
“Aunt, are you there?” A voice seemingly from nowhere echoed through my ears. I opened my eyes, and in a flash, came out of my dreamland. I lifted my almost flail 30 year old mass of which was now simply a collection of bare bones, from the mat I had unconsciously slept on. I pulled some remains of my chitenje over my shoulders and headed for the open door without being conscious on how I lifted my once beautiful frame unlike the yesteryears.
Standing there was Hannah, the beautician from next door. Before I could even greet her, she started to showcase her beautiful set of whites. “The Chief’s wedding is on TV”, she said. “Come and join us”, she went on. “We are at Aunt Matilda’s house watching it since morning and I forgot to tell you”.
“Kheliwe is also there”, she went on referring to my daughter of 15 who seemed to still have problems accepting me as her mother. I suppose after the years I had been away.
“Am sorry, I will have to join you later. I need to prepare food”, I feigned an excuse just to be away from the numerous inquisitive questions and comments I had gone through the month I had been back to the village. I had retold my story too many numerous times and today I was in no mood for a repeat but a good sleep.
“Ok, will come later to pick you. Or you can join us when you are through”, Hannah said as she headed back running towards Aunt Matilda’s house and almost bumping into an advancing goat. Not wanting to miss any action supposedly from the live coverage on TV.
I decided to stand there much to my displeasure and pleasure, all fused into one for being woken up from an afternoon siesta. The sun was now in and total darkness would soon be in.
Ten years earlier, I could have been having an early dinner in readiness for the night’s work. To start off from Chigwara for the road, to catch Zobanduka. To the lit offal of Lilengwe, Bwandala and all such other hot spots in the city. To have a share from the green gold as it were. To have a ride in Uncle Ken’s latest 16 valve to unknown destinations. To stand endlessly on roadsides, expose for all to see and admire and hopefully catch one or two for the night. This together with my newly found sisters from Likuna, Mchasa, Area 81, 94 and other far away districts like Kabalu and Zambo.
A single night’s net cast would cart home anything between K500.00 and a K1,000.00 enough to take me and my 5 dependents throughout the week. A week’s collection at such a rate could even make my kachasu brewing mother back home at Chikende in Zambo all smiles from ear to ear. By month end, my landlord would be a dear friend after parting away with K300.00 for the room I rented. I led somehow a comfortable life and was the envy of my fellow “sisters” around our compound especially the 14 year old Maria who had recently joined us from Kwamkanda. She looked upon me as a model. I had almost everything any middle class woman would have ranging from a black and white TV to a 2 CD changer. I had my own “brick” cellophone as well just after 5 years.
Finally, Uncle Ken came. “Am rushing to watch a game”, he said from his steering wheel. He had said on numerous occasions that he was a fun of Whitehead or was it Bengam, whatever it was. I never followed football matters as it worked against my battle over poverty emancipation.
“Came to drop you this for your drinks”, he said whilst shoving some fresh and crispy K100.00 bank notes in between my chest. One time he jokingly said when I die, he will make sure they will be preserved for him to be seeing every day.
In no minute, he sped off. That was typical of Uncle Ken, full of surprises.
Before I could decide what to do next, I was seated in the passenger’s seat of a supposedly new client whom I tried to recall from my vast database of 5 years of practice but to no avail. I decided to be that usual nice girl, ask no questions but simply take instructions. All we cared, especially amongst us professionals as we fondly called ourselves was simply getting our payment.The hows, wheres was another issue altogether which never existed in our reference manuals.
At 6am the following day, a Saturday to be precise, I gently woke up my client whom I figured was 10 years my senior, but fun loving and quite a nice man. Besides being to the USA for a considerable number of years, he was still a pure African man behind the sheets. He would pass for a gondolosi user of course as he really made me sweat for the comfort he had availed!
“What time is it?”, he said whilst wiping his eyes and still looking somehow fresh from the night’s marathon.
“Did you sleep well darling?”, I said whilst scouring his almost bare cheek with one hand whilst the other attempted a massage on his hairy chest. “It is after 6 and I need to go now”, I said babyishly.
He didn’t attempt to respond immediately but allowed to absorb the pleasure, God’s creation was offering.
He then asked me for my expectation. I settled for K1,500.00, which he had no problems with as I had a sleep-over. I regretted not to have mentioned K2,000.00 instead which I believe he could have paid without a qualm. “There will be next time”, I convinced myself.
After flipping through his clothes which by then were by the bed side, he paused and looked like he had seen the devil himself.
“Can I pay you in dollars”, he startled me. “Yes, I mean American dollars”, he emphasized after noticing the surprised face in me.
“I have just returned from the USA within the week and haven’t changed much of my money... ”
“Yes, I know. You told me”, I interjected him whilst attempting to fully wake up. “I want Malawi Kwacha now and then”, I nearly lost my temper and immediately recalled rule # 17 in our trade’s manual. “Never lose your temper when with your client.”
Despite recalling that, I was in no way going away without my payment. My family was expecting food that morning.
After a few minutes, he suggested to go to some bureau to exchange his so called dollars into Kwacha.
For fear of being duped, I suggested to wait for him in his house of which he accepted. At exactly 8.20, he left with one or 2 green bills, the dollars I believe. Thirty minutes passed by, then an hour, an hour and a half without him coming back. I became impatient and went out of the bed and decided to have a look at the house. A few minutes later, I returned to the bedroom and flipped through some drawers by the bed and a chest of drawers by the window.
I decided to leave. I scribbled a note in almost some legible writing not typical of a Standard 8 drop out, for him to call or find me at the same place that night when he was ready with my payment. I then pulled out a chitenje from my handbag which I moved with every night am on duty and wrapped it around my assets and dashed for the exit door which was not locked fortunately.
A day passed by, then a week without seeing or hearing anything from him. I didn’t worry a thing as I knew one day he was going to call me anyway.
That week, business was almost slim despite Parliamentarians being in town. Lucky enough tobacco sales were doing fine and the rest was as usual. As usual, we also engaged in some cat and mouse chases with the constables almost twice that week. On a single occasion, I paid for my freedom in kind with one of the constables.
That week’s Saturday, I spent a good part of the morning in town buying some groceries for my family. It was around 11am when I finally returned home and was greeted with a sight of a police van and a sizeable crowd by our compound.
I was taken to the Police station for questioning as regards possessing a firearm without a license.
It transpired that whilst I was in town shopping, Kheliwe and her friends had come across the pistol I had taken from Patrick’s house for the unpaid bill. After 3 months on police remand alongside Patrick, pending investigations, I finally appeared in court for hearing.
“My lord, my client here in his submission has indicated he has never owned this firearm which according to evidence tendered under this court, was manufactured in China”, Patrick’s lawyer said in one of his submissions.
During interrogation, as I was initially told, Patrick had accepted to have owned the pistol and I was to be charged with theft as communicated to me by my legal counsel from the government’s legal aid department.
“My client Patrick, as you are aware”, the hired lawyer went on, “was deported from the USA some 4 months ago and there was no way, he might have carried this firearm with him through all the security checks the mighty Americans have.”
After a series of arguments and counter arguments, it was now judgment day.
It was delivered in under 10 minutes which seemed to be a split second and in no minute, I was whisked away by 2 female prison warders to a waiting police van and still faintly recall what was said before. I remember to have heard some disjointed words as they kept on reverberating on the entire bumpy road to Maola Prison: “acquitted . . . guilty … 10 years with hard labour, ……”.
And later the judge picking up a mallet and knocking it down heavily on his table and it echoed over and over.
Startled, I woke up again and there was Hannah again standing by the open door now.END