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“O wretched and unhappy was that day”_ Cicero

In all my life I have had to duck and fight.

Like the Swedish footballer himself, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, I had to grow believing in myself when no one else did. Some people wanted to break me but they only made me strong. Others wanted to exploit me but they only made me smarter. I had to use my head and natural instinct in order to survive in a brutal world. Hence, I grew up running and hiding, picking myself back up instantly when I fell down on the way.

Sometimes, I could run away from my own shadow. Its sight sent chills down my spine, mistaking it for some vampire of a man on a trail. The world taught me that some humans do not have a soul- they are cold-hearted and compassion has little place in them.

I developed thick skin from a tender age. The laughter and direct mockery from my own peers did not distract me that much. Rather that spurred me to beat them at their own stupid game, running as fast as I could. How I liked and loathed it at the same time!

Astonishingly, even my own father hated me. He hardly recognized me as his own blood. I could readily read and see the rage in his big eyes and the rant and rap on his large lips. Everything on him seemed large and menacing to me; the ears, the forehead, the nose, the chin, the abdomen, and the arms- you name it all. He was such a bully of a man, a giant ape, and he walked with huge authority and self-assured swagger as if he carried the world in his hands. Believe you me, John Cena would not stand the sight of my incredibly muscular dad.

For more than once, I thought my father would excel and make a name for himself in wrestling. There was utterly no ounce of love left in him. I could see that from the way he also treated my mother. He could talk to her undiplomatically in my presence as if she were just a mere house cleaner shipped from Limbuli, or more like a pawn in a game of chess, she was not that worth to him. I remember him addressing my mother as “You whore” on more than one occasion.

When my mother tried to pump sense into him, he could beat her ruthlessly, breaking her jaws as if she were a punch bag. Nonetheless, my mother’s love for him did not wane a second. Her affection for him was unbounded, as she loved him with all her heart and mind as the Holy Scripture demands. I could tell that from the way she used to talk about him to friends and relations that came visiting from Mkando and Minimini. I once told her, through lips thick with anger that the man she loved most, my father, was but going to punch and kick life out of her one day. She did not buy it, saying things would get better between them in the end. She reasoned that her relations would consider as total madness leaving such a sturdy man. How I hated my mother’s resilience and stoicism!

I for one thought the community did not like me a bit. Why would heads turn and tiny whispers be heard everywhere I went? What was special or odd with me that a whole village would be murmuring about? That scared the hell out of me.

I thus trusted no one and learnt to do things my own way without support of my reluctant peers. I realized it was not easy to pick a friend among them. If anything, my loving and caring mother was there for me. At least I had the comfort of a companion to share my journey. Naliyela, my mother, had a way of holding me together even when she too was falling apart.

Then we saw it on television for the first time. All hell broke loose that chilly evening. My mother cried her heart out the whole night, praying and beckoning heavenly angels to come down and protect us entirely from the harsh realities of the world. The following words ran repeatedly on the 14-inch Ecco screen with a warning that the report carried sensitive images:

Three men arrested at Liwonde Police Roadblock carrying a sack containing suspicious items…

Then it was one news report after another, revealing how terrible the world was becoming; more killings, exhumation and dismemberment.

Verily they say that secrets stay buried for so long but they have a way of rising very unexpectedly, opening like seeds breaking free from the earth. That explained the many cold glances and whispers everywhere I went. It clarified why my very own father seemed to hate me that much. It made clear why some seeming drunk fellows I passed by at the market every Friday afternoon used to shout “dollars, dollars” whenever I was within hearing range. That bored me stiff because I took it as a horrible kind of torture. Humor at the expense of other people is savage.

And it happened one day.

Two stranded middle-aged men knocked at our door close to midnight, seeking a place to spend the night since it was pitch-dark and dangerous outside. To make matters worse, it had begun to rain heavily. The men, I noticed, were the exact opposite of each other. One was fair in complexion and as lank as a palm tree and the other was very dark and as short and plump as a Kafula that I had read about in my history books.

There was something sinister about them which I did not like. They spoke numerous things at once, laughed croakily and had a piercing look that made me shudder in my own home. The way they feasted their red eyes on my mother’s dancing bottom left me with nothing but burning rage. Two devil’s advocates, as ugly and boring as hell.

However, my mother, being the kind woman and a prototype of mother Theresa that she is, allowed them in and made them feel at home. Like most of the time, my father was not home yet and it was very certain that he would not avail himself again that night.

Three hours later, our bedroom door flung open forcefully and mother held me tight to her, murmuring that it was perhaps a heavy storm or an earthquake. But there they were, two stranded men, wielding shiny pangas in their hands. They demanded hastily that my mother lets me follow them or in default, they would rape and kill us both there and then.

My mother’s mind ached at this apparent confusion. She trembled and sobbed awfully. As things were, she had no choice but to give in to the two men’s demand. She let me follow them silently into the terrifying stillness of the night.

Within a jiffy, I heard a strange sound from behind and something heavy fell noisily on the wet ground. Not realizing what was happening, the other man stopped in his tracks and looked back to see what it was. It was at that instant that I saw and heard my mother’s voice shouting out for help, a hoe handle in her hand. The tall gangly fellow was lying flat on the ground, drenched in blood and groaning with pain. He looked like a deer trapped in the headlights of a Juggernaut.

Neighbors woke up swiftly and the other man’s short legs could not take him any further. They trapped and caught him within a blink of an eye.

“We were sent to slaughter the young girl,” confessed the stranded diminutive man.

“Who sent you man? Why” queried the village chief, confusion roaming in the old corners of his soul.

“The far …er… er… father…”

“Which father? You mean the Reverend Father at St. Charles Lwanga Parish?” the village chief fumed.

“No. Chivwati…” The other man managed to whisper under his filthy breath.

“What-t-t-t?” The village chief could not believe his ears as he threw his suspicious eye here and there, his mouth open and unsure of what to say next following my mother’s instant collapse.

“Which Chivwati?” Chief Chimpeni had lost his cool, and had now grabbed the man by his neck.

“Chivwati, the girl’s own father” professed the pint-sized man.

I could not believe my ears either. All I wanted to do that moment was to leap forward and punch the man in the face with all the strength I could muster. For once, I felt a twinge and died within.

My only sin in the world was having a different skin colour, white hair, and pink eyes. Hence, even my own father believed that my bones could be used for rituals capable of bailing him out of poverty. What stupidity!

“Chivwati, the girl’s own father…,” the words kept reverberating in my distant soul.

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Author: Steve Kumalonje

A writer whose main ‘orgasm’ is poetry and fiction. Has contributed a number of his short stories to Malawi’s weekly papers (Weekend Nation and Malawi News) and has won the Malawi Writers Union/First Merchant Bank Short Story Writing Competition and the World Bank Poetry Competition. Also was a finalist in the Dede Kamkondo Short Story Competition. Holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication and Cultural studies majoring in Public Relations obtained from Chancellor College and a Diploma in Journalism obtained from the Polytechnic, constituent colleges of the University of Malawi. Currently working with the Malawi Police Service.

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