Fiction · Series

Vile Winds

Chapter 1

The hole in the window gave way to a sharp breeze that brushed against my skin and tiny goose pimples formed. My efforts at masking it with tape couldn’t be seen at all. The wind’s persistence was as stubborn as gravity. The kitchen was suddenly sorrowful.

Sneering at one another, Mother and I rushed for the warmth of the brazier.

+ + +

On a Sunday afternoon, back in March, when the sun blazed through the sky and scorched the maize fields, my father peered through our kitchen and demanded I leave with me. With clothes drenched in beer and breath that smelt like a tavern, he balanced his posture with all his might while he and Biggie exchanged speeches. When my father said he was dutifully bound to care for me, Biggie replied saying he was culturally more entitled to me. The two swapped blows until one of Biggie ‘s fists landed on the window and involuntarily opened a hole. My father turned back on his attempts for a reconciliation and like a wounded Buffalo, he dragged his bruised leg across our compound to his. It was a village away and my heart sometimes thudded at the thought of his unsafety. Biggie, being Mother’s older brother had made a ruling over me that I couldn’t protest because he assumed fatherhood over me upon my birth.

I would not see my father again until many moons later. His refusal to take my mother as his bride even after seeing my resemblance to his pained Biggie tremendously. More than anything, it was Mother’s sorrow that cemented his commitment to caring for us.

Every night, as I lay my head against the pillow, my father consumed my feelings. Deep within me, and Mother too, there were open scars than needed reckoning. We all knew it, but no one dared challenge Biggie.

+ + +

The wind continued to cut through the hole in the window, making the brazier somewhat pointless.

“Can someone cover that thing up,” Biggie barked.

Away from his attention, Mother and I gazed at each other and smiled. We spoke no words, yet our minds met to discuss Biggie’s sudden irritation of the cold. “Has he forgotten who is responsible for its damage?” I asked Mother in mind.

“It seems so,” Mother replied, in mind too, and we giggled in mind.

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Fiction · Series

Ovation

Chapter 4

 

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”.

 
“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

 

 

 

Fiction · Series

Ovation

Chapter 2

A few weeks had passed since my confrontation with Mai. Morning crept in steadily. The sun smiled behind a thin cloud, clearing the mist. It was time for us to begin the day.

“Tikambenji,” Mai whispered. I kept still pretending I was asleep.

“Tika, mwana wanga. Uka!” She said sternly. Her tone hardened.

“Mai,” I whispered. “I’m up.” I crawled out of my sack and staggered out of the hat with Mai behind me, leaving Adada and Kondwani; my elder brother, taking turns in snoring.

How great it  must have been to be a man, I thought.

We set a fire outside our hat and kept it ablaze all day, as was the custom at every home in my village. If your fire was not lit, the women from the other homes would ridicule you and say you had no training.

Next, we prepared kandolo and tute which we boiled in two separate pots. While Mai was busy with the food, I was busy with tiding up our compound .

When Mai felt the kandolo and tute were soft enough, she pounded groundnuts until a pulp was formed, then she awoke Adada and Kondwani. They were to eat first as per custom.

Adada was a heavy man. He had big hands and feet and his belly bulged like a pregnant woman ready to deliver her baby. Mai said you could see his stomach before his entire body and it was true. But Adada did not know that joke. If he did, he would be furious with us.

He didn’t seem particularly happy as he scrapped the groundnut pulp from his plate. He locked a particular gaze on the ground yet his mind seemed like it had wandered into an unpleasant territory.

Above the chattering between Kondwani and Mai, Adada finally spoke.

“I must go to the city,” his voice stern like always.

“Then I must prepare a meal for your journey. Some clothes too.” Said Mai.

I paid particular attention to Adada and his face looked bothered by something. I  crawled to him and knelt by his side and asked what was the matter. This look was not usual to me and Mai too, took notice.

“Is something the matter Awisi Kondwa?” Mai asked with keen interest.

“I must go and aid in the struggle for our freedom. When I go, I don’t know how long I shall be. Pray for my safe return,” he said and went about his way to Mr. Walker’s residence.

I hated him for his selfishness. I hated him for not consulting Mai when formulating this decision. I hated him for removing himself from the safety of our home into the cruelty of the colonisers. I hated him for his mere existence; a man, the head of my family, our protector, our provider and everything he was to us. At the same time I loved him for his bravery. How I would boast to my friends that my father had gone to fight for my freedom.

Mai remained seated on the mpasa, it was a mat she had weaved from reeds. She kept silent as always. She always appeared strong, yet that day she wept desperately for my father to change his mind. I dried my eyes and sat beside her, pulling her into my arms like she did me when I was a youngster. I wanted to carry her into our hat but I couldn’t .She was much stronger than me. Kondwani lifted her to her feet and walked her to our hat. That was the beginning of his responsibilities as the head of our family.

Adada would not see me through to Form 1. He would not participate in the lobola negotiations for Kondwani’s  bride. He would not be present for the birth of my little brother.

The year was 1963.

Fiction · Series

OVATION

Chapter 1

Beneath the treacherous forest and rolling hills sprung the Moyo River. An economic hub for my village. It birthed many a species of fish which we bartered for clothes and guns with the white folk several decades ago. Then they engineered what they called money; pieces of paper whose worth varied. We called money Pounds. The white folk sold what they took from our land back to my people in the city at a hefty price. A  trade, among others, that pained me. I was only 12 yet I understood that I was neither first, second nor third class in my own land. I and my people were at the bottom of the food chain squabbling the remnants of what the white folk had sifted with their deft hands. Their innovative, canning minds taught us how to farm using our own land, our own grain and water from our own river and paid us peanuts, literary. They paid us in kind. Of course not the women, it seemed to me like our societies shared the same views on womanhood. I was barely a youngster, in 1962, yet I understood my role and my value, or the lack of it. Adada, my father, was in charge of our finances, as was the custom in all the homes in my village. It came to my attention that even the white women folk were not of much value to their  husbands except in house hold matters.

 

The soil of my village, Mawanda, had been kind to us that year. We had bagged 300 sacks of maize grains. Our master Mr. Walker was particularly fond of Adada and made him curator of the field. They called the entire piece of land a farm. Even though my whole family participated in the tilling of the land, Adada was the recipient of the payment. Customarily.

On a particular instance Amama, my mother, suggested on preserving our payment for the future, in case food became a scarce commodity. Adada became furious with her and told her never to speak on matters that did not concern her.

It pained me to know that Amama’s importance was not in decision making for our family.  On that day I loved Adada only as my father, not as my mother’s husband.

I curled up besides Amama on the ground while she stirred rape in a pot on the mbaula. The aroma made my stomach churn even harder.

“Mai”, as I liked to call her.

” What is it now?” she snapped. I then confirmed that she had been hurt by Adada’s refusal to acknowledge her opinion. I knew that I was treading thin waters with this topic, but I had to satisfy my curiosity. I studied her face behind the fire and it told me she was deep in though.

“What’s wrong with us women?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” Mai asked with little concern. She tasted the vegetable with a lick on her palm and decided it was ready, then removed the pot from the fire and placed it on the ground.

“Mai, even the woman folk at the big house has no opinion on any matters. Why is that?”

“How do you know? Whats all this nonsense?”

“Mai, today you were right. We should preserve our food for the future, but Adada spoke unkindly to you.”

“Quiet, he’ll hear you.”

“You see. Why, Mai?”

“Those are the laws of the land, Tikambenji.”

The silence between us was thick. Frogs in the distance echoed. The moon shined particularly brighter that evening. The air was cool. The fire blazed calmly. Mai’s eyes glistened with sorrow.

We shared the same opinion on the matter but it could not be spoken of further. I wanted to comfort my mother, to tell her she meant more to our family than what our society stipulated. I wished I could tell her that one afternoon when she was tending to the pots  in preparation of Adad’s meal, I wandered into Mr. Walker’s premises which was nearly half a kilometer away from our compound. I had seen his wagon parked besides the enormous Mukula tree and made my way as carefully as could be. I stood in front of the windows and took note of my reflection. I studied my face critically, it resembled my mother’s so that meant I was beautiful. I passed a finger from my forehead down to my lips, I licked them and they tasted like goat soup. Everything that I did, my reflection imitated. I had never seen a clearer image of myself other than in the river.

Just then, as I savoured the beauty before my eyes, I heard a piercing sound of glass shattered against the floor. I flinched in fear and ducked below the windows of the wagon while holding onto one of the side mirrors for support. The noise came from the Walkers’ house; it was only a few meters away. I quickly orchestrated an escape plan without anyone seeing me for I knew I was going to be in serious trouble .The Walkers valued their privacy.

“What the devil is going on in there?” Shouted Mr. Walker. I nearly replied forgetting it was not me he was asking .

“It’s just a broken mug, Dear. It slipped from my hand. I could use your hand cleaning it up lest I cut myself.” Said Mrs. Walker. She spoke eloquently.

“A man in the kitchen? I shall not disgrace myself in that manner.” Shouted Mr. Walker.

Mrs. Walker kept silent. My heart continued racing. I held the mirror with a firm grip and peeped through the windows to make sure that I was finely hidden behind the wagon. I counted up to 3 and decided it was now or never.

I rolled my chitenge up safely below my hips to give my legs way for bigger strides and ran for my life. I prayed the Walkers had not seen me. In a matter of minutes I was back in our compound battling for dear life. I ran behind our hat panting for air. Mai was nowhere to be seen. I sighed for relief. I through myself on the heap of sugar cane only to realize the mirror from Mr. Walker’s wagon was in my hand.