Short story by Kondwani Kamiyala
First Published in The Weekend Nation on May 19, 2007
First Published in The Weekend Nation on May 19, 2007
This earth is like a giant ant eater. We, petty men, are like ants. One by one, we are swallowed by the earth.
It is no matter how we are swallowed by this aardvark: we may be rich or poor, great or not but at some point, an accident may lead us into the gut of the earth, if not, a lengthy ailment. Some are born dead, others go ripe with old age. Yet, we all meet that same unavoidable end—a yawning grave.
To some, death comes like some form of healing to long incurable diseases, to others it is God’s most awaited call that beckons us to some higher realms to account for our lives.
No matter how imminent death may be, no matter how prepared we may be for it, we all fear and tremble at the thought that some day, we will be gone. To look into the eyes of a dying man, no matter how young they may be, causes cold shivers ran down the spine.
Such cogitations come to my mind as I hold Ndaziona, my only sister Napilira’s second born daughter. Her skin is rather pale and her eyes are just blank and you can see through them. Her body is so cold, you would think blood has stopped running through her veins. Her rhythmic heart beat seems distant, like women pounding maize at the horizon. You can hardly feel it.
Her head is propped to one side. It would appear her neck bones were broken or something.
The room is dark and gloomy. My sister Napilira is seated cross-legged on a mat on the far side of the room. Her hands are crossed over her chest, and her right hand is supporting her head. Even in that gloom, the tears are shining and glistening as they roll down her smooth, milky cheeks. Her beautiful round face is being washed by the tears, and her sobs are audible above the cold silence in the room.
My mother is sitting close to her. Comforting her. She looks pensive. Whatever she is thinking cannot be deciphered from the wrinkles on her ageing forehead. All I could tell is she loved, or rather loves, Ndaziona.
Who could not love Ndaziona? She is in standard two and all her teachers say she has potential. At church, she is a darling in her Sabbath school.
I love and adore her. She is so full of promise, and to think that we are at the brink of losing her….
“Achimwene, ndilandireniko mwanayu ndikapitidwe mphepo,” I tell one of the villagers, who had been allowed into the house.
I walk out of the mud and thatch hut that is my sister’s abode. I just have to be elsewhere. I just have to go far away, maybe the sommersaults in my head will seize.
Some little girls are playing in the compound that is separated from the rest of the village by a grass fence. Maybe they will never see Ndaziona again, I think.
“Timapanga masanje. Ndaziona anangoti inu amalume mundithyola khosi, basi pompo anagwa,” one girl was telling her friends.
Did she want me to hear her report? I must go far from this looming death.
I was arriving at the bwalo where a game of bao was at its height. Everyone was busy with the game they never noticed my arrival. Ngala wa Pakamwa, a man some referred to as the village radio station, was talking.
“I tell you I saw him coming from Nyanga Tayani. He consulted the witchdoctor. I know he wants to get rich,” he was broadcasting the day’s bulletin.
I coughed, to let them know I was there. Ten pairs of angry eyes rained on me. I could feel them on my back, as I walked away. I had to go away, far away.
I headed towards Nyanga Tayani’s hut. He had to know what was wrong with my niece Ndaziona. A question the coal-black witchdoctor had asked me that morning gave him away.
“If you want to get rich, someone you love may have to die. Are you prepared?”
I had said yes. The urge to get rich quick was my drive. Little did I know that Ndaziona could come into the picture.
Deep hums could be heard from within the solitary hut. I knocked at the door, shaking.
I recalled the instructions Nyanga Tayani had given me earlier that morning. I had followed the instruction to the letter.
“Go and hunt for rats. Go past the first hole you come across. Dig the second hole. When a rat comes out, don’t kill it. Kill the one that comes out next,” he had said, waving a black flywhisk into my face.
I knocked at the door again. This time even louder. The witchdoctor was humming a monotone tune. Time was not on my hands, so I just opened the door, and entered that dark hole. I was greeted by damp, still air. A cold voice from within I heard.
“You are too late. Ndaziona is dead. Your niece has died because the rat whose neck you broke has also died. Did you not see that the first rat hole was you, The second was your sister. The first rat was her first son, and the second rat was Ndaziona? Get out of my house or I turn you into an anthill. You thought it was easy to get rich,” he said.
How I wish I was rich. I could have bought Ndaziona a coffin. A beautiful coffin. I could have slaughtered a cow, so that people could not starve at her funeral.
Napilira’s wail tore through the air. Her cry seemed to search for nothing but that which was in my blank heart. If I were rich, I would buy her another pretty, intelligent little Ndaziona. But, to be rich is a pain.
I wish I were an ant, the earth could have swallowed me.
Achimwene, ndilandireniko mwanayu ndikapitidwe mphepo: Chichewa for Brother hold the baby for me a bit, I have to go out and get some fresh air
Timapanga masanje. Ndaziona anangoti inu amalume mundithyola khosi, basi pompo anagwa: We were playing. Ndaziona just said uncle you will break my neck. There and then, she collapsed.
Bwalo: An open space in the Malawian village where men do all sorts of handiwork, like making wooden spoons and other wares. It is also here that men gather to play bao, a game that is made out of hewn wood, or bore ground.
Bao: See bwalo.