Children of Brokenness

The days when Tambu and I did not speak were the longest. The walk to the river seemed further. The waves, more violent. Not calm and glistening like the scales on the fish we aimed to catch. The water seemed dark and angry at something. It fought within its course to the ocean where it threw itself and I pondered on going along with it, but I thought about the children. How they’d suffer if I were absent. Tambu would remarry, he’s a man. And the children would rebel against his new wife because of their loyalty to me.

I pushed all my thoughts for later and swallowed hard. It was not easy praying for someone when you were angry with them. I looked to sky for Ngai’s signal. A fallen leaf or something. Maybe a black feather from a coack. Or even a whisper from the wind. Just something to assure me of Tambu ‘s safety. Even if our marriage was on the brink, I worried for him. Somehow that made me happy. At least I still cared. He had gone with the other men in our village to fight the Ngwena’ s to reclaim our land.

Many moons ago, their people occupied our spaces and displaced us, killing many men, women and children. For 200 years our people had no land to call their own, but after Ngesho’s rise to the throne, an army was built and sent to fight and Tambu stood in the front line. That was what our disagreement was about.

I begged him not to go but he said he had his manhood to prove. That was the last I saw of him. Before leaving he turned his head one more time as if asking for my blessing, but my anger stood before me and I said it was Ngai, the creator, who was in charge of blessings. I could see from his expression that the wound had been cut deep. He couldn’t mask it, yet he expelled a sigh which left me feeling conflicted. He didn’t have to go, I thought. There were more capable men in our village. I watched him through the cracks on the door, walking majestically with a shield in hand. My face was flooded with tears and my chest was heavy with pain. He was not going to come back. He was not the fastest runner or the strongest wrestler. He was to me, a simple man.

I drew in the soil with my finger. A spear and a man encircled in a ring of fire for protection. I asked Ngai to consider my prayer, but I lacked conviction because I knew the outcome. There was no point to all this. I rubbed it off. Tambu would not come back.

And ours would be children of brokenness.


Flame Tree

She watched her navel sink into the flab of her belly through the mirror. Today was the fifth day this week. Sally’s obsession with herself was rather alarming, Chanda thought. He tucked his shirt into his pants and splashed the last of his cologne. The air between them was tangy. His hot headed-ness had disallowed his tongue from rolling out a single word.

Silence. It was killing her. Soft and steady.

Sally inhaled a weak breath and sat herself on the edge of the bed facing the window. The Flame Tree was in full bloom, its pettles glazed fiercely in front of the rising sun. A halo had formed reminding her of the wedding band on her ring finger. At a certain point in their marriage, they were all that mattered.

How did we get here, she wondered as she aimed for the middle of the pregnancy test. By now she was squatting with her hands on the bed for balance. By now Chanda was on his 2nd cup of coffee. Jacob’s, actually. He loved the smell. He said it was strong. He was a strong man. She remembered how on their wedding night, he staggered into the bed of the hotel room while carrying her with one hand and the other sifting the door. She chuckled. There was a time when they laughed at things. There was a time when they talked about things.

Nostalgia. It carried a heavy load of pain on its way back.

It cut deep, rippling through every part of her. The test was ready and even though she knew they were having a baby, she did it to show Chanda. She knew he would need some kind of confirmation. Something official, like he put it. They weren’t trying after all. She didn’t want a baby. Not in such circumstances anyway.

Up she stood and walked to the mirror with nothing to cover her dignity. The towel had been thrown on the floor at dawn. She did it for Chanda. It was routine.

The tree danced in full color showing off its majesty and reminding Sally that beautiful things took time grow. Beautiful things didn’t last forever either. Some pettles begun to fall when the wind blew the flame tree too hard. Like a fire being quenched, life was cut off. Like her marriage. No one really knew how, why or when but the fire that ignited their desire for each other had been put out.

It was 9 AM by now and the Flame Tree had a red carpet on the ground around it.

Fiction · Mythology

The Dead Don’t Speak

I saw many things. When a pig from Tepwa’s liter went missing and Daliso denied having a hand in the matter, I said nothing, but I saw him do it. At about dusk, when all the animals in the compound were led to the stables, he tip toed across the yard, opened the pig sty and sifted through to pick out the fattest one and handed it to Pwatu.

When Atate Zulu had traveled to the big city last Friday, I saw Amai Zulu meet with Atate Zondiwe at the river. The sun had just set and the sky was dimly lit in the color orange. All the children had left the banks of the river because it was dangerous to play at that time. I saw them walk far apart from each other, the way people who don’t want to be seen together pretend not to be together. Amai Zulu was way ahead and Atate Zondiwe was pacing behind her and turning his back several times to make sure no one was looking. I didn’t see their bodies, but I saw the shrubs shake and the leaves fall from where they had disappeared and I heard Amai Zulu moan. Something told me to pry, but at the same time, something within the confines of my soul begged me not to. But I pried anyway and for a second I saw the movement of buttocks and the digging of fingers into skin. I ran as far and as fast as my legs could carry me because I had seen too much. I should have listened when my inner voice told me not to, but I was stupid and curious.

Curiosity begs to be fed and so, again I saw what I shouldn’t have. The old man with no wife and children muttered something under his breath when Wenye and her friends walked by his hut from the river. He sat outside with another one of his old friends and they played a game of who could interpret the most difficult of riddles. He was the most feared person in our village because he was believed to have been as old as the earth. He was toothless and skinny and his clothes were worn out but he was not poor. In fact, he was the wealthiest man in all of Mawanda, owning herds of cattle and vast land. I never heard what he muttered, but Wenye never gave her husband any children and they became unhappy with each other. Wenye’s husband’s eye for Mukonde grew the same way a spark bursts into a wild uncontrollable fire and he soon packed his belongings. He settled into her home but they bared no children. Still he loved her deeply, but her urge to make him feel like a man deprived her of her happiness. The villagers talked and her urgency to bare children for the sake of her husband worsened. The attention of other men from the bar excited her. It made her feel wanted even though her husband satisfied her every night. Soon, it wasn’t enough to keep her at home and on one night after they finished, he drifted to his side of the bed and she met with Ngoma the blacksmith. He planted his seed in her belly but she did not realize it until much later when her clothes became ill fitting. I saw her when she sat herself on his lap. Beer in one hand and nsuko in another. She said it made her feel some type of way. Hot, she said. Ngoma laughed and they staggered their way out of the bar to his home. They pushed me out of their way and hurled insults at me. They thought they would never see me again but I was there at the river with the rest of the women filling our calabashes with water. Mukondo seemed uneasy wrapping her belly in a chitenge so as to shield it from my sight. I said nothing, but I knew something.

The old man, I think he tied Wenye’s stomach. The old man, I think he bet his own children for wealth because they died in their infancy, all ten of them. His wife died labouring for the tenth one. Nobody told me, but I know because I saw it happen fifteen years ago. I know because I heard screams from as far as our hut. Mama told me to mind my my own business, but curiosity begs to be fed and so I tip toed out of Mama’s site, walked to the old man’s hut and peered my eyes through the the crack in the wall. The old man’s wife was in anguish. There was an eerie feeling about prying into their lives, as should be, yet I enjoyed it. She pushed one last time and the baby came out screaming like all newly-borns do but the old man took the baby, swaddled him and left the hut. I stood still when he saw me peeking into the hut. What seemed like a private affair, a secret affair, had been shared with me and he muttered something. He didn’t threaten to tell Mama. He didn’t come after me. He muttered something. And from then on, I begun to see things. I had been seeing things for fifteen years now. There was nothing supernatural about my seeing things, but I just appeared when they happened. I owed it to the old man. Not in the sense of gratitude, but in the sense of regret. People were after me now. They were after my head. I saw too much. I heard too much. I knew too much. Daliso and Pwatu, Amai Zulu and Atate Zondiwe, Mukondo and Ngoma. And now, The Old Man. They knew that I knew their secrets and they wanted me be dead because the dead don’t speak.