The Journey of Restoration – Muthi Nhlema

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It happened suddenly during the drought of 2001, in the seventh year of our perpetually fledgling democracy. It hadn’t rained in ages.

 Sometime, someplace in 2001, Malawi

“It rooks rike it goin to lain”, the conductor said, oblivious to the strong tribal accent that betrayed his origins. The accent drew giggles from two juveniles – school girls – seated at the back seat of his decrepit minibus named Restoration Express. “what ara you raffin at!” he thundered, giving them a cold hard look that terrorised the girls into silence, though the silence in the minibus was only for a moment.

Then the conductor’s reaction began to shift from unreasonable to disproportionate as he began to curse the girls . He went further to curse their parents’ insides and outsides to the palpable dismay of a conspicuously plump woman, clad in a yellow political party regalia for a chitenje wrapper around her waist with a mismatched turquoise blouse. She was sitting directly in front of the annoyed conductor. She craned her neck at an angle to peer over her shoulders, giving him a disapproving look.

The conductor turned his head away to stare unconcernedly outside the window away from the self-righteous bastards seated in his universe – his Restoration. He could see the plump woman out of the corner of his eye, shaking her head.

“Conductors are all the same,” said the plump woman, ”I haven’t met one any dif – “

The conductor turned away from his ephemeral fantasy of his speeding universe and cut her mid-sentence. “Hey auntie, it izi not your bizinisi that – understand! Indeed you haven’t paid for fare. You pay double fare since you ala two pipo big,” he said while rubbing the cracked tips of his thumb and index finger barely an inch from her homely face, eliciting from the offended woman fury that probably may never have been known to exist since creation.

This drew more muffled giggles from the juveniles as the conductor and the woman escalated their verbal assault on each other to the disinterest of the only other passenger on board– a thin set man seated in the first row next to the plump woman on the window-side side of Restoration Express, facing the driver’s seat.

The driver, at this time, was more focused on his next potential passenger waving her hand desperately, the look on her face pleading with him to stop Restoration.

The thin set man was quietly looking outside the open window, lost in his thoughts, admiring the birds flying free above the green trees that lined either side of the road. The wind entering through the open window was blowing hard against his face, offering the only relief from the maddening heat. I won’t shut the window, he thought, as the wind dried off the beads of sweat.

The man was simply dressed in worn-out khaki trousers and white short sleeved shirt. He was holding a tattered copy of a Gideon’s Bible on his lap. He raised his thumbless right hand and swiped away the remains of sweat from his brow. Some sweat had coursed down his neck to the small of his back creating a tingling sensation that was interrupted by the flapping of his cheap shirt as the wind stole its way down the short sleeves.

Cheap and tattered – he and Restoration were a perfect fit.

Restoration came to a sudden but gradual stop, to the surprise of the conductor who was still at it with the plump woman. The conductor stuck his head outside the window, staring down the road to a woman running towards them. Meanwhile, the plump woman’s persistent bellow inside the bus was met with a dismissive wave by the conductor, who rudely gesticulated to her fat majesty to shut up. The offended plump woman mouthed an obscenity that drew gasps from the entire mini-bus, to the palpable pleasure of the bus conductor. Like women of Babylon, the thin man thought, with a short-lived smirk as he observed this cartoonish interplay. He observed the plump “woman of Babylon” further and was repulsed to note how she resembled most of the affiliates at the Women’s Guild at his place of worship. Glorious bosoms! Mammoth buttocks! And hypocritical tongues that could both praise an un-hypocritical God and obliterate classic church hymns of God’s old-time religion.

As the lanky man allowed himself to get carried away with these semi-misogynistic thoughts, he stole a glimpse of the Gideon’s Bible in his own hands. Call it superstition, but he could have sworn the holiness of his tattered Gideon’s was staring accusingly right back at him, condemning his thoughts, judging him. He sighed slowly and shelved his thoughts for another day.

The conductor forced the sliding door open and leapt out onto the road to welcome the new passenger.

*

The day was sweltering hot. The sky was becoming more and more overcast, cumulating an unbearable mass of humidity that terrorized the new client of Restoration. There was no doubt it was going to rain. And on this day of all days – she had forgotten her damn umbrella. A cloud of red dust was stirred by her shoes as she sprinted. She was in a plain white dress with floral patterns – probably her Sunday best. She pulled up her skirt up to her knees to avoid the dust, but unwittingly provided a peep show of her long calves leading up to her thighs. The conductor tilted his head slightly to the side – perhaps hoping for a more generous revelation. She must have noticed the filthy look in his eyes since she quickly dropped her skirt; the conductor bobbed his head up sharply.

“Is there space?” she asked.

“Just sit there!” he thundered, pointing to an empty seat inside Restoration.

She ignored this unnerving ejaculation of rudeness. It was a Sunday after all and she at least wanted to last the day without committing a sin. There was always Monday for that. She looked inside and saw an animated plump woman with a face that looked like she had just swallowed very bitter quinine, and an unattractive lanky man at the window side, away from the door-side, both seated in the front row. Seemingly unimpressed with the look of the crowd whose company she was joining, she walked past them towards the passenger seat door up front. Upon opening the door she was met with a ghastly sight of a terribly shabby seat. The leather-covering had worn out, revealing the dirty urine-coloured flexi-foam. She climbed in and sat right on top of what appeared to be a metallic object in the seat.

“What’s wrong with this seat?” she asked.

“Everything is wrong with this minibus, my dear,” the plump woman replied.

The driver’s mind must have been wandering elsewhere, thus he was spared the pain of hearing the scathing judgment, but the conductor wasn’t going to take this one lying down, without a salvo of the choicest insults in his arsenal of profanities.

The thin man looked on as the woman in white sat in the front passenger seat. Probably mid-twenties, he thought. She had well-combed short hair and a smooth, unblemished brown skin. Her lips were full and natural. Her seemingly vein-less neck led down smoothly to perfect shoulders. She was slender but not gawky. If she used make-up, it didn’t show. The only thing cosmetic about her was the whiff of her sweet-smelling perfume which seemed misplaced in this cesspool. She had the smell of beauty on her. He could not see her face completely as she was leaning towards the passenger side window, but her outline, the line of her neck and profile of what he could see, spoke well of the rarity of her beauty.

He stared, for the umpteenth time, at the skin of his thumbless hand, dry, cracked and dismembered. His stench was that of poverty and nothing else. Poverty had hardened his face and cracked his lips. Poverty had battered his soul like a violent wind. It reflected even in the cello-taped banknotes he had on him. Poverty was his essence; he knew it and he hated it. He looked up from his hand – away from these thoughts – and looked at her – focused on her.

There was something about her he could not put his finger on; a familiarity of her features he could not conjure from the deepest recesses of his memory. She grimaced again and seemed to try and focus on something else to take her mind off her buttocks and the pain thereon.

Almost by reflex, she, too, looked up at the rear view mirror above her head which was reflecting the body of the minibus. She looked straight at the unattractive thin man who was visibly ogling her. Her facial expression seemed to say there was something about his eyes. He was distracted from his trance by a moving reflection in the rear view mirror upfront of Restoration. He looked up and saw her face.

The conductor and the plump woman had resumed their war of expletives. The juveniles continued broadcasting their muffled cacophony of giggles.

The tears of the pregnant overcast sky were about to fall upon the face of the earth.

*

Late February 1992

Internal Malawi Congress Party Communiqué Category: urgent and confidential Confirmed threat expected to emanate from catholic establishment within unspecified period. Threat is believed to be a samizdat to be made public. Contents of samizdat considered treasonous and potential for popular incitement is likely. Take all necessary precautions to ensure the samizdat is not made public, at all costs, to protect the party and preserve our way of life.

*

Sometime in March, 1992

Mordecai woke up with a jolt. It had been the same nightmare for the past few months, if not closer to a year. The darnedest thing was that he could hardly remember the dream. All he remembered was the sense of melancholy when waking up every morning. He always felt a deep sense of depression and emptiness in the bottom of his gut. He hated it. He threw the sheets off the bed and swung himself to the bed’s edge and cupped his face in his hands. He sighed. He knew, as always, he couldn’t go back to sleep, no matter how much he tried. There was a shuffle in the bed. He turned and saw a silhouette of a naked woman’s body. She was sleeping. The previous night’s excursion slowly came flooding back into his mind as he recalled who she was. Mordecai lifted himself off the bed. The room was dark, but he walked over to the window to open the curtain, hoping for the sunrise to melt away his insatiable melancholy and the previous night’s sin. He pulled the curtain back a little as a slit of light broke through the room’s darkness. It was dawn. He gave a sigh of relief and turned his attention to the female in his bed. Mordecai preferred to resolve money matters quickly. He picked up his wallet from the floor and pulled out some money and threw it on the bed. He walked over to the bathroom to take a shower. As he was taking his shower, he heard ruffling of clothes followed by the opening of his bedroom door. Then silence. He got out of the bathroom and found the woman, and the money, was gone. They all seemed to leave in a similar fashion, without goodbye, perhaps to lessen the pangs of their own guilt, if any, when leaving him an empty bed that was full of incredible memories. This was nothing new. Most days started this way. Nothing was expected to change that.

Mordecai brushed away his sadness, got dressed, left his room and locked the door – leaving the melancholy behind him, but knowing he would find it patiently waiting for him in the evening like a god awaiting his day of wrath.

*

Mordecai was a school teacher taking selected chapters of history and mathematics for the seniors. That was all he focused on in his life, for he was an uneventful man living an uneventful life. Soft spoken and an introvert, he had few friends and his presence in the teachers’ staff room would go with little notice.

Whenever he did feel twinges of loneliness, he sought the company of cheap prostitutes. The sex, thrilling as it often was, was consumed without emotional attachment, and he would recoil into the realm of his silence moments after savouring the afterglow.

At times, he would wish for something to happen to him – a tragedy, an accident, anything for him to have something to gloat about in the staff room, as a prop for eradicating his anonymity. But nothing happened. So he would wade through the day like a knife cutting through concrete, sitting in the teachers’ staff room for hours and hours – waiting for something – anything – to happen to him.

Like every place infested with human beings, the teachers’ staff room was a haven of blasé conversations, clichéd gossip and ungraded test papers overflowing in in-trays. And like many places where humans inhabit, certain social norms, whose origins are ambiguous, are created to bring an essence of balance.

In the teachers’ staff room, one of those norms was the clustering of the sexes – men with men – women with women. Rarely was there fraternizing with the enemy, but, once in a while, rumors of fraternization in the confines of the school library or laboratory would emerge and add a little a color to the black and white banality of a teacher’s life. But the lines would never be crossed openly. Men, in their worn out three-piece suits, with men – women, with their eclectic buttocks and bygone beauty, with women. It had always been that way.

And it was in this place, of all places, that Mordecai would sit and wait for something – anything to happen to him. In a word, Mordecai was bored. That was until the day he first saw Nolli, which was the day, on top of the deep sense of boredom he felt, the melancholy kicked in. It’s probably a passing thing, he initially thought.

Nolli’s mother, Maria had been transferred from a neighboring school district to teach English and Ethics to seniors. The latter was her initiative, a pre-requisite of life she called it. She was a single mother of one. Proudly Catholic.

Maria was introduced, alongside her 17 year old daughter, Nolli, to the teaching body. Mordecai was instantly swept off his feet by Nollis looks. He immediately checked to see if she was in any of his classes, but to his dismay she was not. So he settled for just watching her from his staff room window when she arrived in the morning and when she left for lunch midday.

Maria, Nolli’s mother, on the other hand, was a different story. Maria wasn’t bad looking, neither was she good looking. Plain would best describe her. She wore plain clothes that lacked life or character. She had plain, natural and unkempt afro-hair that had visibly never mingled with the expert hands of a hairdresser neither meshed with the teeth of a comb. Yes, Plain would definitely describe her.

Looking at Maria, one couldn’t help but ask: how could such a plain-looking short woman bear a girl so beautiful? During the first few weeks of her tenure, she kept mostly to herself. The Women had tried to initiate her into their sorority with very little success to the bemusement of the Men  looking on.

Interesting new meat – the agriculture teacher, a married man, once gossiped with his clique of fellow undersexed married men. And, funny enough, she didn’t seem interested in the Men either – until one day…..

Maybe it was because he taught history or that he showed very little interest in her, whatever the motivation, it was a day like any other when Maria walked up to him at his desk. “Why do you avoid me?” she said.

Taken aback by the frankness of the question, Mordecai was blank. He sheepishly looked down at his Greek history, hoping that one of the razor-sharp nuggets of wisdom by Socrates, of whom he had planned to teach his students that day, would come to his rescue.

“You do not talk much!” said Maria.

“Maybe because I have little to say. I like to listen,” he lied.

“A man that listens? That’s a first.”

“I think you’re supposed to be with them,” he said, pointing in the direction of the women clique seated around the tea kettle.

“You mean that bevy of chickens? They bore me,” she said.

“And besides, aren’t you yourself supposed to be with your kind? I think I see a log in your eye!” she smirked.

Mordecai tried to think of a clever comeback but none came – so much for Socrates’ razor sharp nuggets of wisdom! Damn you Socrates! He cursed.

Maria smiled and sat down across from him and that was how what would turn out to be their most peculiar friendship began. It was never romantic, only conversational – she spoke, he listened.

They became a regular item on the endless agenda of staff room gossip and envy.

Mordecai found Maria to be an unusual creature. Though plain in appearance, for a woman, she was extremely opinionated. She detested control of any kind whether by the head teacher or the school system. She was not a political party diehard like most of the teachers, including Mordecai, but a political animal, nonetheless. She despised politics for turning women into dancers and entertainers of the political masters, besides forcing them to sleep with the high and mighty in the silence of darkness.

When she got close enough to him during their conversations on Algebra or Machiavelli, Mordecai would usually catch a whiff of marijuana on her.

Mordecai, hesitant, confronted her once about it.

“I maybe Catholic, but that doesn’t make me live like I’m Mother Theresa or something,” she responded sternly.

He never brought it up again.

What ethics could a ganja-smoking Catholic single mother possibly teach young minds?Mordecai often thought.

It was not before long that Mordecai established that Maria’s attitude of defiance had occasionally gotten her into trouble with the Pioneers – the paramilitary arm of the ruling political party – maintainers of law and order not unlike Hitler’s brown shirts. She deliberately never carried her party membership card, a requirement for all citizens at mobile checkpoints, despite Mordecai pleading with her. Mordecai had to vouch for her on a number of occasions using his own party card, which was strange to Maria since they would pass the checkpoints without incident or scandal whenever Mordecai intervened, as though he had some mysterious power hidden him.

Others were not as fortunate.

*

Every Tuesdays and Thursdays, Maria and Mordecai’s classes finished late morning. It soon became tradition, to Mordecai’s delight, that he would escort Maria home to her small, but quaint bungalow which had a sugar cane field at the back. He, more often than not, would be invited for lunch. He accepted Maria’s banter as a necessary evil until Nolli came home for lunch, for his eyes to feast on the gorgeous teen.

Mordecai had initially been satisfied with just seeing Nolli for the few minutes at lunch before she left for her room. But with the passing of time, he wanted to see more of her, merely catching glimpses of her for minutes at lunchtime minutes were not enough. And, on more occasions than not, when he felt the urge surging within him, or when his home felt like a million miles away, Mordecai would rush to the teachers’ latrines and quietly masturbate amidst the stale stench of human excreta. It was the closest he would ever get to Nolli – in his mind – in his fantasies. There was no other way, though he craved for her – yearned for her.

This all went on for about a year. Lunch twice a week. See her arrive from school. Exchange a brisk hello then retreat to her room as he returned to the loneliness of his home where he either resigned himself to the sin of onanism or the company of prostitutes.

And then, suddenly, an opportunity presented itself. “She’s a dumb idiot,” said Maria. “Like her dead zombie of a father.”

It turned out that Maria had been trying to tutor Nolli in some complex form of Arithmetic with very little success. “I could tutor her,” Mordecai suggested, trying hard not to sound as though he was salivating at the prospect.

“If you succeed, please cut off my right thumb, because my daughter is un-teach-able!”

*

Maria did not report for duty that day, which had now become her habit. Mordecai left school his usual time, before noon, for Maria’s.

He found Maria on the lunch table in the kitchen surrounded by carbon paper and small stacks of paper to her right and left. She seemed edgy when Mordecai arrived. The ganja finally getting to her, Mordecai thought. The air in kitchen hung with the stench of marijuana. “You okay?” he asked.

“Me? Yes, oh yes!” said Maria. “Preparing for a meeting tomorrow. Big meeting!”

Mordecai noticed two unopened reams of paper on the floor.

Nolli arrived precisely at that moment. Mordecai suggested she eat first which she declined and wanted to get started right away. Mordecai asked for her books to skim through while she went to see her mother, who had now relocated, with her carbon paper galore, to the bedroom to let them work in the kitchen. But Mordecai didn’t skim through the books. He knew the entire syllabus – every punctuation and mathematical equation – by heart. This was the only chance he would have to calm his heart.

When Nolli returned, she pulled up her chair and sat at table to the left of Mordecai, a distance that was dangerously close. As a start to the tutorial, he asked her to go through the equations in her textbook and once finished they would discuss.

She scribbled in complete silence as a small short-wave radio blared on at the kitchen counter. She didn’t seem to mind. An hour had passed and she was still scribbling. She was a lefthander with her right hand placed palm down on the table.

Mordecai hungrily stared at her beautiful hand and his eyes followed the length of her slender arm up to the swell of her breasts. He could see the bulge of her nipple through the light fabric of her blouse. It was only then he realized that she wasn’t wearing a bra. Mordecai felt a hardness in his trousers. Without thinking, his hand lifted off the table and rested on top of her right hand. Mordecai’s mind began to race, imbued with ecstasy, lust and fear. He felt strangely lighter like a dry leaf in the breeze of autumn. For a brief moment, he didn’t care what would happen – he didn’t care what the consequences would be. He just didn’t care! Finally, he thought, something was happening to him – something finally. He wanted to stay in this moment without any fear of consequences. He just wanted to be. But this feeling was only for a minute moment as his euphoria became flooded by the persistence of the fear in his heart.  Would she cry out to alert her mother? Would she run? Would she scream?

Yet, instead, she suddenly stopped scribbling. Her pen fell on the page. God, what am I doing? thought Modercai. I could get arrested for this!

She moved her other hand over his and held it in both of hers. She rubbed his palm gently. She then placed his hand on her cheek to feel its warmth. Her eyes were closed. Mordecai was breathless. “Finally,” she whispered. He wanted to reply, but words would be clumsy. Only the radio kept playing, punctuating the silence.

She opened her eyes and stared at Mordecai. He smiled at the stars in her eyes. Her hands directed Mordecai’s down the length of her neck, over her neckline and under her blouse. She stared at him staring at the bulge of her breasts under the blouse. Heaven! thought he.

Suddenly, footsteps.  “How’s she doing so far?” Maria shouted the question in the corridor. They dropped each other’s hands like hot bricks.

‘Fine,’ said Modercai.

The rest of the tutorial went on without incident.

*

Mordecai arrived home towards late afternoon, elated beyond measure by what had happened. He walked up to his front door and noticed that the door was ajar. He walked in cautiously. “Who is there?”

“Come in Comrade,” was the response from inside.

Mordecai recognized the voice at once, then his stomach turned a little, sensing trouble. He pushed the door forward and stepped into his sitting room. Standing at attention next to the sofa was a uniformed pioneer garbed in trademark khaki trouser and blood-red shirt. Seated in the sofa was a cross-eyed man with grotesque pot belly that seemed to spew over the strained belt. Mordecai knew this man only as bwana. He was clad in a dark suit with the party badge on his lapel. It was the political big dog in the Party, one with whom Mordecai shared a history – a dark history. “If you don’t mind, I took the liberty of showing myself in,” he said as he stood up to shake Mordecai’s hand. “Please sit,” he instructed.

Mordecai waited until bwana sat down before he himself hesitantly sat on the edge of the chair directly opposite. “It has been a while Mordecai. How is teaching? Good?”

Mordecai nodded.

The man slouched back into the sofa and placed his hands on his belly. “I see my cheques have kept you really well-polished.”

Mordecai nodded again.

“You and I are lucky, Mordecai. Other members of the party will never enjoy the pleasures of extra income. I know what you teachers get and it amazes me how you survive. Comrades do not understand that people like you and me, me and you, we earn these things.” His tone was casual and laid back.

“Of course, bwana.”

“Of course.” He paused. “Do you feel you have earned it, Mordecai?”

“Is there something wrong, bwana?”

“Should there be, Mordecai? Huh?” His tone was heavier – and more serious.

“There has been no subversion here. I submitted the names of potential dissenters to you. Cover stories were circulated. Everything is under control, bwana.”

“Well! My sources inform me otherwise, Mordecai.”

“What sources?”

“Come, come now! Did you really think you were the only informant I had?” Mordecai chose not to say a thing. It was safer. “I like you, Mordecai. You are simple. People think you are stupid because you are simple, which is why you have proven to be a loyal Judas in the past. I presume you are still loyal? Yes?”

“Whatever you say bwana.”

“Can I trust you to execute my orders?”

“Yes. What must I do?”

“I need a name, Mordecai.”

“But there are none bwana. I swear to you!”

“Really?” Bwana paused as he stared sternly at Mordecai. “Instructions are to apprehend Catholics, Mordecai. Catholics who may have potential to incite some unrest.”

“Catholics?”

“A samizdat has been in circulation believed to have come from Catholics. So most likely, those Catholics with some subversive views or behaviors are the most likely distribution points. But you understand that logic.”

“If you already know who to apprehend, why do you need me?”

Bwana chuckled, as he pulled a revolver from his jacket pocket. He pulled on the hammer. “I need to know if you are still loyal to me.”

Mordecai knew what this was really about and he knew what to say. “I have only one thing to ask, bwana,” he said, trembling.

“I knew you would be loyal, Mordecai,” said the bwana with a sarcastic chuckle.

*

In Restoration, 2001

The woman in white stared into the rear view mirror into the widened eyes of the lanky man. She realized she was looking into the eyes of the past. Her own past. Her knees started trembling.

*

Maria’s compound, March 1992

Maria had finished making copies of the samizdat. Some fellow dissenters came to collect them for immediate circulation at the trading centre – it was market day.

Nolli was in her room, sleeping. It had been some two hours since Mordecai had left.

Maria heard the idling sound of a vehicle outside. She wiped off the ink on her chitenje and looked out through the window at the brown Peugeot outside. She walked out expectantly. She noticed three figures in the car – Mordecai was driving.

Mordecai turned the key in the ignition and silenced the engine. He gripped the steering wheel with his moist palms. He looked at Maria as she came out closer and closer to the Peugeot. “Make it quick,” he instructed the pioneers in the back seat.

The backseat doors opened. Maria froze as pioneers stepped out of the car and walked towards her. She noticed Mordecai, unmoved, looking away. She now understood how Mordecai always got past checkpoints without hassle, like one with a mysterious power about him.

Maria felt a powerful force push her to the ground as the pioneers catapulted themselves into her stomach to the floor. She screamed, but did not resist. “Take her into the car quickly before we are seen,” Mordecai commanded from inside the car.

Mordecai’s attention was then distracted by a familiar feminine figure standing in the door way, watching. He leapt out of the car and made towards Nolli as she watched the two men throw her mother head first into the back seat of the Peugeot. Mordecai could see Nolli could not decipher what she was seeing. Maria tried to pull herself out through the open car door, but was blocked by the pioneer who had quickly gone round the other end, got in next to her and slammed both doors.

Mordecai pulled Nolli back into the house. “Go! I will find you,” he instructed. The other pioneer got into the driver’s seat and drove off as dust engulfed them out of sight.

*

In Restoration, 2001

Mordecai felt a sharp pulsing pain on his thumb-less right hand. He turned away from the rear view mirror – trying inanely not to remember.

*

Maria’s Kitchen, March 1992, as remembered by Mordecai and the Woman in White 

Mordecai pulls Nolli into the kitchen. She struggles to break free from him. He lets her go. She leaps away from him like a disease and rushes for the counter. Mordecai raises his hands in surrender. “Listen to me,’ he says. ‘I won’t hurt you!”

“What have you done to mother? Where are they taking her?”

“These things are beyond your years, child. What matters is that you are safe,” he moves closer until he rests his right hand on her cheek.

“Where have they taken her?” she starts sniveling. “You are safe now with me.”

Her whimpering eases a little and she stares earnestly up at Mordecai. She is sobbing. She is old enough to know what this means. She has seen parents of her friends disappear without return. She knows, and will not wait to be told. “Why didn’t you save her?”

“Because I wanted to save you,” he is rubbing her cheek, smearing her tears.

“That’s a lie! You just stood there and let it happen.”

“I had to save you.” She continues sniveling rocking her head from side to side. “I will take care of you more than she ever could.”

Her sniveling stops almost instantly. Her stare is grave and serious. “Did you have anything to do with this?”

Mordecai stares back into her eyes. “I had to save you, you understand? You are important to me.”

Her eyes widen in disbelief and confusion. She weeps again, more intensely.

Mordecai raises his other hand to touch her other cheek. “Don’t I mean anything to you?” Mordecai asks.

A wave of anger, unlike anything she has ever felt before, washes over her . Her confusion quickly turns to loathe. “I hate you!” she yells. “I hate you!!” She grabs a kitchen knife off the kitchen counter. In single split second, she pushes Mordecai back, swings the knife up towards him, slices the root of his thumb with what seems like the force of a Goliath. The pain takes seconds to register, seconds too late for him to react and prevent the deformation, seconds in which he sees, unbelieving, his own thumb lying lifeless on the cold hard cement floor. Mordecai falls to his knees and howls like a fox viciously stabbed by a mighty hunter.

Nolli drops the knife, runs out and round the back of the house into a field of sugarcane.

Mordecai presses his other hand against his wound to stop the gushing blood, but fails. He grabs the knife and, with it, tears his shirt to use as a bandage, all done with the greatest haste. He pulls himself up off the floor and runs outside the house. He casts his eyes this way and that, before he hears heavy rustling at the back of the house. He follows the rustling,  not unlike a snake stalking its prey.

*

Meanwhile, and unbeknown to both Nolli and Moredcai, the samizdat seemed to have circulated fast, inciting crowds of people in the trading centre to demonstration. The people mobilized themselves, closing their groceries and forming cohorts of chanters shouting for change. Real change!

*

Nolli runs like a chick from a vulture. When she stops to briefly catch a breath, her mind is spinning in complete disbelief at what has just happened, but she knows she can’t stop now. She casts her eyes about, to establish her geographical position, to figure out the direction she needs to take. She knows there is a dirt road ahead beyond the sugarcane fields to the west of here. She hears a sound. She turns around and sees Mordecai burst from the bush like a wounded buffalo gone insane. She freezes in awe of the rage that she has caused. “I loved you. I saved you!” he roars through inaudible groans of pain and dripping saliva. Then —– They both hear it. It is a faint, but audible chant that seems surreal. Chants! People! Nolli runs towards the chants screaming for help. Mordecai runs after her.

The crowd, carrying branches of trees and stones, chant and dance in the dirt road. The putrid smell of revolution is in the air! We want change! We want change!

He runs after her with intent of vengeance. His rage gives him speed. His rage fuels his primal side. He is closing the gap.

We want change! We want change!

They are near now. She looks up as she runs and sees branches of trees bobbing up and down through the leaves of the sugarcanes. She turns around to see the animal that has become of a man she once had a secret affection for, now running behind her – closing the gap. He catches up, leaps at her and pummels her to the ground. He starts beating her uncontrollably – raining blow after blow vengefully – relentlessly – savagely.

We want change! We want change!

He spreads her legs with violence. “I loved you! I saved you!” he snarls as saliva gashes out involuntarily from between his teeth. The man-beast forces himself into her. She tries to scream but she can’t as he has her mouth covered with his damaged hand, as a cake of blood coats over her eyes – almost blinding her.

We want change! We want change!

When he is done with her, she lies ravished on the ground. She starts whimpering. Her face is bloody and bruised. She hasn’t the energy to scream. He stares down at his conquest, breathing deeply. What have I done? He turns away out of the sugarcane fields into the dirt road and into the chanting crowd.

We want change! We want change!

He doesn’t look back. She continues whimpering while her legs tremble ceaselessly.

*

Restoration, 2001

The thunder rowed in the distance – there was the familiar aroma of rain on dust in the air. You could see mountains and valleys disappear in a curtain of grey – lost in the tears of God. It was breezy.

Restoration stopped, Nolli dismounted and walked away from the bus – away from him, from the man that became a beast. Mordecai was face down with his eyes tightly shut; muttering a prayer in tongues. Then he sensed something – a presence just outside his window. He lifted his head slowly and looked into her face.

Nolli stared back with bloodshot eyes of rage. Her stare was piercing. Mordecai just stared back. “I ……I …..” he stammered. All the butterflies and maggots began writhing in his soul as he fumbled to find something to say that could fill the awkwardness of the silence. But none came. For some bizarre reason, the words “Damn you Socrates!” came to mind. An echo from a past he had long forgotten – a past that was now standing defiantly before him.

Nolli, on her part, felt a sense of nausea build up inside her – as though she wanted to vomit. She had played this scene a thousand times, in her mind – thinking what she would do if ever she met him again. And all she could do was look at him in anger.

The awkward silence was broken by the unmistakable rhythmic excitement of a small child’s voice approaching. “Mummy! Mummy!” a boy, probably nine or ten years old, ran to her from a house across the road. She forced a smile and scooped the boy as he leapt into her arms. She walked away from Restoration as Mordecai looked on. She turned, one last time, and faced Mordecai and stared for what seemed an eternity as the minibus jerked back to life to crawl and stow him away from the vault of her memory.

The boy, weary for his mother’s attention, curiously looked in Restoration’s direction.   “Who were you looking at, mummy?”

“These things are beyond your years, Mordecai,” she replied, receiving a baffled look from her son.

*

The dark cloudy skies were relieved and it rained. It hadn’t rained in ages.

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Author: Muthi Nhlema

Muthi Nhlema, a civil engineer by training, is a short story writer living in Blantyre. He has 4 short stories and 1 novella to his repertoire including the First Merchant Bank/MAWU prize winning short story “Free Seating” and the African Speculative Fiction Society’s Nommo Awards nominated novella “Ta O’reva”. Muthi is also one of the writers featured in Geoff Ryman’s award-winning series “100 African Writers of Science Fiction and Fantasy”. Muthi is married and has a son.