I remember the day I received the news of Yamikani and I’s betrothal.
It was a warm Sunday evening. I was 10 years old. From the distance I could hear voices singing sorrowfully from the church. It slouched calmly on a small hill, casting a curious gaze on the village. It was constructed 20 years ago. It was gated by hedges that had finger-like projections that produced a milky fluid when squished. We called them Lunsonga. The church itself was a stone building camouflaged by creepers that stemmed from the nearby Moyo River. If you listened close enough, you could hear the church gasping for air behind the suffocating plants. It had tough twin redwood doors that swung open on opposite sides, inviting visitors into the holy dominion. The hall was petite but spacious enough to host a worship meeting as well as a funeral. There were stained glass windows on either side of the hall illustrating Jesus’ transgressions. If you were empathetic enough, you could just be convicted by the drawings and surrender your life to Christ. Benches sat from end to end, giving way to congregants in a narrow isle that led to the alter. Bread and wine were always kept in supply in a dish and a grail. During every service, we reenacted the Last Supper in remembrance of the Lord and since Easter was a fortnight away, Mai had especially become fond of the church.
The bell echoed from the church, an indication that the evening service had lapsed and Mai was on her way home. I sat beneath Adada on the mat outside our hat, impatiently waiting for Mai’s return. My stomach growled with hunger but I could not dare to touch my mother’s pots without her permission, lest I attracted a good beating. As per tradition, husbands could not plate their own food and since Mai had not permitted me to do it in her absence, my father’s stomach had to wait.
In the nick of time, my mother emerged from the distance. She first offered Adada pleasantries, then me, but no embraces were exchanged between them. In my village men and women could do no such thing in public or in the presence of their children. Public embraces were deemed taboo.
Mai immediately got to plating food for her husband. In one wooden bow, she served nshima and in another there was Guinea fowl cooked in a delicious stew. My personal favorite. My elder brother Kondwani magically emerged from the hat upon hearing our chattering and was hence served his food. Then Mai took her share and lastly me. In my culture, gender and age was a matter of great importance which had no compromise. Men ate first, then women and children. Everyone seemed satisfied with that order, except me.
I begun to device many ways of how I could defy this rule.
The cock crawled. The frogs croaked in a perfect a Capella harmony. Night had come. I licked the remnants of the Guinea fowl stew off my fingers. After clearing the pots, we went into the hut and blew out the lamp and retired to sleep. I took up my spot on the floor with Takondwa. Within a few minutes, his heavy snores begun to disturb the silence of night. Mai and Adada crawled into their bed, a bit of a distance from us on the floor and remained silent and still.
I tossed and turned a few more times until sleep begun to creep up on me. Before it could finally hold me captive, Mai and Adada begun to whisper.
“Mai Takondwa” whispered Adada.
“We don’t want to wake the children,” Mai whispered back.
“They’re fast asleep. Listen to them grumble,” Adada assured Mai. They remained quiet for a brief moment, paying attention to the snores in the hut. Convinced we were asleep, they continued.
Blankets unwrapping quietly and carefully, I heard Mai scolding Adada to behave himself.
“Mai Takondwa the children are asleep,” Adada said once more convincingly.
“Maybe we wait for tomorrow and send them to the fields for kandolo. I will prepare it for your breakfast,” said Mai.
“You have reasoned well,” Adada replied and heaved a sigh of frustration.
“How is the struggle for our freedom looking?” Mai asked, changing the course of the conversation. She was very clever.
“It looks promising. I have a good feeling we will not enter the new year as a colony,” Adada replied. “Walker tells me the peace negotiations with Britain are in full swing.”
“Tell me more,” Mai said excitedly. My ears were glued to the conversation, I too became excited.
” There has been an Act created to grant us our freedom.”
“What’s an Act Adada, you know I have no modern education.”
“It’s a law enforced by the courts. That law will see to it that our independence is given back to us. We will have a new name.”
“What name will that be?”
“Zambia. What does it mean?”
“It is derived from the Zambezi River which means River of God,” Adada explained, “a few months ago UNIP emerged the victor against ANC in an election which has paved way for Kaunda to become the first native prime minister. When we attain our independence he will become the president of Zambia.”
We all became silent to savour the news.
“Mai Takondwa you called for my immediate attention after our supper. What is the urgency?” Adada asked.
Mai hesitated for a while, “It’s Tika, she is nearly a woman.”
“Nearly! ” Adada emphasized. He knew where this was going. Sadly, I did not.
“Adada it worries me that she is more like a boy. She’s still climbing trees and pays no mind to the home.”
“She’s 12 years old. Why are you concerned about that?” Adada asked. I didn’t understand their conversation.
“Mai Yamikani and her husband have pledged their interest in our girl,” Mai begun, “they are the only hope I have for her. If Tikambenji does not attract a suitable young man now I’m afraid she will lose her chances to the more..”
“More what?” Adada asked curiously.
“To the more serious girls,” Ma finished.
Adada chuckled. So did Mai, but I didn’t.
Now I understood. Yamikani was 6 years my junior. A man. Too old for me. I wanted to run to the city. I had heard that the girls there were independent. They had a will to make their own choices.
“Are we going to accept Yamikani as our daughter’s suiter?” Asked Mai.
“He seems like a fine young man,” Adada said. ” And speaking of our freedom, when need be, I might have to assist in the struggle. Our own are outnumbered by the white folk.”
“Assure me of your safety,” Mai pleaded.
“I promise!” Said Adada.
They became silent. Adada moved his heavy body and the springs of the bed screeched. He invaded Mai’s space. I could hear the sound of blankets wrapping. More screeching but rhythmically this time. I pictured the unimaginable. I shut my eyes harder and blocked out their noise. I paid attention to the snoring from my brother until finally, sleep took captive of me.
To be continued