30 January 2011

Our Father by Rodger Munthali

It is not that Chisomo wasn’t enthusiastic. Nor is it that she was afraid to inquire as she had told herself countless times, that to hit the head of a nail depends on the size of the nail’s head. Moreover, who could she ask? Her brother, Thumbi, wasn’t the boy one would dare to engage in such a gruelling narration. Thumbi was confidently assertive and very observant. His intuition wasn’t something she dared to play with. For sure he was very aware of the emptiness in Chisomo. He knew she was in great trepidation; a thing he always referred to as ‘a greatest weakness man possesses’.

Chisomo had finished peeling the bananas but the idea of letting her body crawl in that darkness to the kitchen located some yards from the veranda of the house, grated on her nerves. She took solace from the life’s plights in the smoke that formed such a rare curve, as it rose from the top of the kitchen roof – clearly visible due to the fire from the kitchen lighting the insects basking in the night, though she now and again contemplated her predicament. She felt completely dead from all life’s digressions. Thumbi however, was probably enjoying the whistling of the birds and the protracted tranquillity. To Chisomo though, tranquillity wasn’t even in the vicinity, her worries formed a veranda on the surface of her heart. She knew something had to be done. But where could she start from? There was one thing she had learnt. She learnt that desperate situations call for drastic measures and that even self-confident hearts need to let out some of their worst encounters. I have to formulate something that can startle him she thought, and was driven to make that rigorous exercise into the kitchen and then into the house where Thumbi was.

“I need an answer Thumbi, and I need it now! What killed my father?” Chisomo asked while moving about in the sitting room.

Thumbi was surprised! How on earth can such a forlorn soul question with such vigour? Thumbi was shot of words. Where would he start from? Was it the appropriate time to do it? Could she wait till morning? The flickering candle flame blurred his vision as he desperately fought to get a glimpse of her face.

“Can you not wait till morning?” Thumbi yelled out after deliberation.

“No! I will have gone through a lot of torture by then!”

“You have to cook, at least cook first.” Thumbi said trying to delay, he has hardly ever talked about his father’s death, if hardly may mean ‘in few sentences’.

“I will cook. There is enough time. Just tell me then I will go and finish the cooking!”

Being the assertive man that he was, he nearly just said ‘I don’t want to tell you’, but his insight told him not to, so instead he tried another tack and said “It is of no use, it is past... he won’t come back! You will just evoke lost memories!”

“At least I need to know. It isn’t right to live in total ignorance of what exactly happened to our father, is it now?”

“I agree. But one has to be strong; courageous... it takes much more than just enthusiasm to stand such temptations.”

So there are even temptations? Thought Chisomo, while still holding that altered tortuous face. The look amazed and touched Thumbi. He went outside to rethink his decision, but Chisomo followed and he relented.

“Okay, okay. Have a sit Chisomo. I will tell you.”

The look on Chisomo’s face was so frightening that there was no possibility of her leaving the question unanswered. She sat down while gradually loosening the constricted muscles of her face.

“My sister, this is how it could have come to nothing. Those privileged enough, capable of tilling mother earth, were secure. I wasn’t an authentic friend to anyone because no one was worthy of trust. Our souls were crippled with darkness and chopped with stinking loneliness.”

This wasn’t what Chisomo was expecting. She wasn’t expecting something so meandering.

“How, why?” She questioned.

“They were dark hours of ordered hypocrisy. Our very relatives offered to sacrifice us. Our grandmother, I heard, became a victim of the gallows the day I was born. They had no mercy dragging her on the rocky road to the gallows, where blood was viewed with contempt. I was alone then, with nobody to hold on to. My relatives had either been recruited to conspire against us or been hanged in the gallows for showing antagonism.”

With this Chisomo began to acknowledge why her brother may have been silent on the issue all these years.

“Take a deep breath sister” he continued. “And then imagine, imagine the act of cutting a life short when it is at its apex, the act of sending a soul home or plucking a soul when it is not ripe, sacrificing your own kind, and most hated, despising your kind.”

“Do you need to ask me all, all these?” Chisomo asked, being very anxious to know what exactly happened to her father. All these digressions the narration was taking brought such discomfort she wished to bark at Thumbi angrily to get on with it.

“That’s exactly what was happening! Oh God! I saw it. I saw it with my own eyes. A pregnant mother, my uncle’s wife, her belly was cut open while she was alive! Operated on, I should say.” The memories were deeply moving and tears sparkled in the corners of his eyes.

“Don’t tell me,” exclaimed Chisomo.

“Don’t tell me? I saw them. My other uncle was there. He brought knives of vengeance, of horror and hatred just because my uncle who was the husband was very rich. He had already left Malawi by then. My uncle’s wife was striped naked and sexually harassed, the baby ripped prematurely, before she was slaughtered.”

“Can people be so bad?”

“It was horrible sister. The next day I was in class, learning. It was knocking-off time when my older nephews came. They stood on the door and looked for those who possessed any lightness of skin.”

Why would they be so troubled to hunt for these people? Thought Chisomo.

“It was a crime to be so! It was well known that black people, especially women, lightened their skins with Ambi to resemble our white bosses. And some women lightened their skins to attract men. Everyone found became a victim of the gallows. My dark skin was my refuge, where I would hide my sorrows. We were victims of our own soul, our own colour. We had nowhere to run to. I was surprised with what I read from a history book that no one really knew the horror that was taking place then”

“Wasn’t there anything to show that such things were happening?” Asked Chisomo.

“Of course there was this area, where the convicted were burnt alive! They were burnt in the vicinity of thousand dark souls. Souls so drowned that they had no idea what they were watching. It was like a relay race; your friend’s tribulation today became yours tomorrow – no question about it. Now no vegetation grows on this cursed land, the land where living souls were further crippled.”

“Is it that place where we have a football ground beside it?”

“Yes, the very place you know… a seven-meter height brick pillar, a bicycle chain and five litres of petrol were enough to burn a living man asunder.”

“But you aren’t telling me what happened to my father,” said Chisomo, beginning to worry the whole narration would never lead to what happened to her father.

“Oh my sister! Never cross the bridge before you reach it. I was about to tell you that. Be quiet then, for they might be eavesdropping from somewhere. Real men, I tell you this. Real men came shouting at the top of their voices that they were tired of this act. Men who were brave enough to put their lives on the line for us. I wonder now why we forgot these brave men. Moreover, our worthy king was behind these dark deeds.

One of these great men said ‘God forbid! People... you drink and eat out of your own sweat yet they drink and eat out of our sweat. They whip with no mercy yet we entertain them. We are butchered by our own kind. May God have mercy on us! Should servility become a sporadic disease? For why should a King conspire against his own people? Our skin, this colour of mine has no mandate at all. It is time my people, it is time we get our blunt panga knives and face this… let us show them that no prison can hold all it’s prisoners forever…’ It was a cry of hope, a shadow of freedom emancipating from one mouth. Know this my sister. That man was our father.”

“Are sure it was our father?”

“Yes my sister, our father. After he had worked for the regime for years, he realised it served only the rich, to augment their degree of opulence while the poor enhanced their degree of indigence. It was murder, not euthanasia, because souls were subjected to harsh conditions that left them to die. People worked to get nothing except their life for a few days more.”

They sat for awhile in silence before Thumbi continued in a sorrowful voice. “Our father was murdered sister” Tears ran down Chisomo’s cheeks and she wailed uncontrollably. After all, a man should not be ashamed of tears.

“Don’t cry, don’t cry. At least he died a good man.” Thumbi tried to comfort her while in total awareness of the emptiness left by the death of his father. “He spent his last days helping his people. I was there my sister, it was all betrayal. We were called to witness betrayal, my dad and I. It was gruelling believing what struck our eardrums. Memories betray much more than that betrayal was.”

Thumbi looked up at that very same curve formed by the smoke rising from the kitchen before resuming. “The king my father insulted that night sent his emissaries to call us to a meeting of which we were told he was to reveal steps which we were to follow to bring the regime down. My dad was reluctant to go, but it would be worse if he didn’t or sooner than later, we would be mourning his death. We could be told he had tried to poison the king, and such acts were worthy of hanging. So we went to witness it. Mother was pregnant then with you my sister.”

“How troubled mother was carrying a baby during such a difficult time” added Chisomo.

“The room we met the King in was very hot; our clothes were drenched in perspiration. Though there seemed no possibility of having rain that year people were still busy tilling mother earth in hope. Some speculated that the foreigners were the ones retarding the rains since they had big bags of maize, probably two hundred kilograms each, scattered on the ground. Who could have the courage to expose his bags of maize like that during the rainy season? You have the answer my sister. The King was as ruthless as the foreigners themselves.

‘You better stop your nonsense or you will become a victim too. Who told you we need freedom? The soil has to be fed to produce; will you give us food for the soil when you even fail to feed yourself? What an abomination! Are these acts of mendacity or what? Do you know what it takes to have these people?’ the King proclaimed.

We could not stay any longer for he could have sent us to the gallows. But my father was not an ordinary man you could change overnight. He was strange in appearance and manners. He seemed a hermit yet garrulous, aloof yet nimble. He criticised the people overtly and managed to recruit his own people. We started telling people how free we could be if what we produced was ours. We rescued a thousand black souls. But no matter how agonising a situation was, solitude was considered when targeting these predicaments. You cannot conceal it though I may declare. My sister they caught us!”

“Hiiiiiiiiiiiii…!” Now this is what she thought had happened.

“They dragged father on the same rocky road they dragged grandmother to the gallows. Tears formed tributaries on the faces of dark souls just redeemed. Father was no more. The rope used for the hanging was specifically made to cater for him. Every part of his body was subjected to immense torture, then cremation. Only his clothes were recovered by his supporters. Thus you never had the chance to eye our Father,” said Thumbi, but this only enraged Chisomo further.

“After this they thought they had what they wanted, unopposed coercion.” said Thumbi. “They imagined a land where no one was free to do anything, where hazardous experiments would be done on dark souls and where black and dark souls would be traded overseas. But they were wrong. Contrary to there expectations, several dark souls were redeemed in the subsequent days. Several of those recruited to amputate their own kind went on strike because my father, our father, had been killed. I was delighted my sister… but not for long. Some indifferent hearts remained adamant. They wrestled with the rescued dark souls, us. But they were defeated. Our home was the most targeted house in the area. The feeling of being alone ricocheted in my brain and gave me the conclusion that it was better to be antagonistic but noticed than to be in concurrence but unnoticed. Mother was nowhere to be seen. I was further isolated, hiding in my black hide. Morally, I was stupid, a criminal for that matter, subversive. Mother returned years later while you were still a toddler. No one saw her, the pain she had gone through in forest delivering alone without any help. She struggled with you and survived to her amazement. She was happy naming you Chisomo for you were really the dawn of life.”

“I think you weren’t supposed to tell me. No!” Chisomo sobbed.

“That is how it emerged sister. At last we are safe. We exhaled the dark hours, which sheared the white ones. The darkness is confusion, which is the colour of my skin. You may say I am insane or my thoughts are dark but that’s how others see me. They don’t see me as I go to church. Isn’t my invisibility, or my loneliness the power of my survival? You may say so my sister for even Nelson Mandela said that there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. Don’t get confused with the ‘darks’ and ‘blacks’. To me, they mean the same. Oh! It’s too late now, let’s go inside the kitchen prepare those bananas; Mother must be arriving any moment.” They escorted each other into the kitchen.

As he went inside Thumbi thought, now we are perfectly normal sister, enjoying the same tranquillity like everyone else. We are living in total awareness of the events that led to the calmness we enjoy, that blood had to be spilt.

Our Father was written by Rodger Munthali.

Copyright © Rodger Munthali 2011.

Born Millar Munthali on 5th August in 1990, later named as Rodger Millar Munthali by a Zimbabwean residing in Malawi, he has lived half of his life in the district he was born in, Rumphi, in Northern Region of Malawi. Rodger has been educated in poorly developed schools with few teachers and hardly any books until in 2004 when he moved to Blantyre mainly due to parents moving to the commercial city. He attended his final year of primary school at Blantyre Baptist Christian School, where he was selected to Chichiri Secondary School. While at Chichiri Secondary School, his interest in writing became apparent. He was very influential in a Drama club at the campus in his final years at the campus in 2007 and 2008. During these years, he was also involved in the establishment of Writing and Literature club in 2008. Rodger owes most of his improvements in writing to his Literature teacher at Chichiri Secondary School, Mr Kingsley Kapito. He was more than a teacher to Rodger then, now a very good friend of him and still helping him.

As a writer, concentrating much in prose, Rodger has participated in many national and international competitions mainly to improve his writing skills. He has participated in The African Performance, run by BBC twice and also in a Malawi Writers’ Union (MAWU)/First Merchant Bank (FMB) Short Story Competition. He is still perfecting his writing skills.

Academically, Rodger is now enrolled with the University of Malawi (UNIMA) pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering, contrary to the expectations of many in his closeness. Many expected him to pursue Language studies, but he defied the expectations mainly due to his family background.


Anonymous said...

Nice story! Really enjoyed your wordplay. The sentences flow easily into each other.

"The feeling of being alone ricocheted in my brain and gave me the conclusion that it was better to be antagonistic but noticed than to be in concurrence but unnoticed."


Rodger Millar Munthali said...


StoryTime: Weekly Fiction by African Writers.
All works published in StoryTime are
Copyrighted ©.
All rights reserved.