Mum, it was mid-morning Thursday, 22nd July 2010 when your major organs conspired to walk off their jobs. Efforts by doctors and nursing staff to persuade the striking organs to go back to work were all for naught. Therefore, after having clocked 77 years 35 days on the age meter, the hospital staff gave in and declared you deceased.

It may shock many sensitive souls to hear me say that in a way I was happy when you drew your last breath. How could I not be when your last year of life was spent being shunted from hospital bed to hospital bed in our increasingly desperate attempts to keep you alive? It was a year in which you didn’t have any life away from your sick bed; a year in which you suffered immensely but could rarely voice out the suffering. It was a year during which I cried a river for you but dared not display my sorrowful concern whenever I was in your presence; a year in which I never ceased to reminisce about the person you were before you became terminally ill.

Mum, you morphed into a poor shadow of the woman I remembered; a woman who was always full of laughter, and full of energy. You were a woman who was always up and about; one minute conducting a choir, the next coaching a youth drama group. You never shrunk from taking part in community development projects. On the contrary, often you were the fulcrum around which they revolved.
I remember you as a woman who was generous to a fault. It's true that in your later years you were of very modest means because you depended primarily on my malnourished pockets for your upkeep. Yet you never hesitated to help anyone you deemed less fortunate than yourself. Even though each one of the people you were helping was a relation of one form or another, the fact that you had lots of them meant that per capita your generosity compared with Bill Gates' and Warren Buffet’s.

By the way, mum, how many people were you related to? There were times when I wondered whether there was anybody in Malawi and eastern Zambia to whom our family wasn’t related. Many a time we would meet a person I considered a total stranger, from a different ethnic group even, but you would effortlessly proceed to narrate family trees that would connect us as cousins or some other permutation of relationship.

I wish you and I had met Bingu before he became Malawi’s First Citizen. I’m sure using your vast archive of family trees you could’ve conjured up a cousinship of some sort, once removed perhaps. And you know what that could do in Malawi where the political landscape is chiselled by nepotism.

No wonder there was only one meeting point in your community the day of your funeral. Everything else came to a halt. People walked from miles around to see you off. The church ceremony had to be moved to the school grounds because there were so many people they couldn't all be accommodate inside the church building.

With your love of music, I know you could've enjoyed the choral music sung during during the vigil. The dirges sung during the church ceremony, including your favourite hymn, were beautiful and moving. Your influence was manifest in the Women’s Guild's singing and dancing. The Women's Guild were also the pallbearers. The reverend and church elders got hold of shovels and helped bury the coffin bearing your remains, something I've never witnessed before. Many women couldn’t help wailing at the agony of their loss. Men were, not surprisingly, more in control of their emotions. Nevertheless teary eyes were testimony that even they were silently mourning your passing. All the eulogies touched on your verve, your zest for life, your generosity, your spirit of non-segregation, your never being bothered about one's tongue or one's skin colour and lamented the chasm that your death had left.

Mum, I would like to donate something to the Women’s Guild because of the memorable farewell they gave you. I would also like to contribute a little something towards the new church your community is planning to build. I know my tattered financial situation can’t really take more battering right now; I need a few months to sort out all the debts incurred during and after your long hospitalisation. But if I wait until I recover enough to be able to afford charity, it may be months before I can do something on your memory. You wouldn’t want me to wait that long, would you?

That's the least I can do for a friend. Yes, mum, you were one of my best friends. Our bond was beyond a mother-son relationship. Hence, my penchant for using your first name rather than the more normal 'mum'. You taught me most of my culinary skills. I sing passably well because of the hours and hours of coaching from you. It never bothers me where somebody comes from because it never bothered you. I never tired of watching you as you enacted one event or another. I never got bored when you narrated such stories as King Solomon’s Mines, The Merchant of Venice, The Arab and His Camel, Robin Hood and Around the World in Eighty Days. When I read the books, I was amazed that you had remembered not only the names of the main characters but also the ones for the lesser know ones.

I also enjoyed the real life snippets you enjoyed recounting. Who can ever forget your enactment of an unpopular teacher asking school girls for a dance. When all the prospects had turned him down, he looked at the last one and let forth insults that could've made an angry Arab applaud in envy.

Much as I enjoyed these stories, though, my favourites were always the folk tales that you narrated so beautifully; folk tales most of which extolled the virtues of selfless generosity. How I loved the songs that interspaced your narration. Mum, you had talent. You should’ve been in show business, you know.

Do you remember how you and me could chat and laugh late into the night? Laughing at each other’s expense was a favourite pastime of ours although a few close relations were also game. A never failing source of laughter was us watching football together. Even though you learnt to root for Liverpool because you knew I loved the team, somehow you never got used to the fact that replays of goals scored weren’t actually new goals but repeats of the same ones. At each replay you would yell, “Wow! They’ve scored again!”

My mock booing would alert you to the fact you had goofed again and we would both end up collapsing into laughter.

You always got your own back, though, didn’t you? How you enjoyed miming a stammering me trying to explain the yamminess of strawberry jam to a cousin newly arrived from our village back home in Malawi. I’ll also never forget that when I was younger you never stopped teasing me about girls. You would often deliberately invite girls home and goad me, “Look at her! Ain’t she pretty. I want her to be your wife.”

I would grow warm under the collar. Mercifully, my dark skin ensured that the embarrassment I felt didn’t project itself onto my face. By the way, mum, I never confessed that I fancied those Zambian girls. From a distance! But I was too shy to do anything about it.

Which reminds me how hard you laughed when I told you the story of my love for Jean Chilinda, a love that overpowered by habitual shyness. Mum, I'm still not sure I've ever stopped loving that girl although I've never seen her since I left Mzalangwe after my grandpa's transfer to Kafukule Health Centre all those years ago.

I was in Standard 7 and she was a class lower. I was a grandson of the man charged with running Mzalangwe Health Centre whereas she was the daughter of a well to-do retired Clinical Officer. Her mesmerising beauty and dressing had me hooked. Coincidentally, the written proposals from me and another boy reached you around the same time. My rival promptly received a reply although not one that he craved. Jean replied that there was no way she would accept a proposal from a boy who was "as black as the underside of a pot." Being similarly dark I feared a similar fate but no reply came. Apparently that was enough for everyone in the school because soon everyone was teasing us about the affair. I suppose, whoever coined the phrase 'silence means consent' knew his beans.

She knew she was my girlfriend, whether by choice or by public consensus, but we never talked to each other. Not once. I was too shy to even hazard a greeting. I expressed my love in various ways. For example, one of her teachers had so much faith in my intelligence he would give me their assignments and tests to mark. Little did he know that I would use a blue pen to make one or two subtle changes to her answer to enable me, with a clear childhood conscience, mark it correct.

Mum, you listened silently as I narrated the story. But you laughed uncontrollably when I told you that even though I used to steal surreptitious glances at her at every opportunity, each time I saw her coming in the opposite direction I would promptly make a u-turn and, when necessary, run. You laughed harder still when I told you of the day she accompanied a friend to the health centre and how I hid in the house while ensuring that I could look out of the window. How else could I make certain of feasting my eyes on her as she left?

I don’t know whether you knew that I've never outgrown my shyness. Even today, I’m not exactly at ease in the company of the female of the species. This may also explain why I've never been one to express my emotions in public. Unlike you.

You remember that after my primary school exam I gave myself an extended holiday. I didn't want to hurry back to school because I was going to repeat the same class anyway. According to convetional wisdom Standard 8 was like a broken record; no matter how intelligent you were you would never be selected to secondary school until you had repeated the class at least once. So despite my excellent performance in class at Kafukule Primary School when the selection results were announced, I never even bother to go and look at them. Without the telegram from my grandpa, I would've been blissfully unaware that I had been selected to Mzuzu Government Secondary School, then one of the most prestigious post-primary institutions in Malawi.

Yes, I didn't know anything until you, telegram in hand and cheering, came charging to give me a congratulatory hug. Hug me? In public! No way! So I ran and you chased me around the village assisted by a whole battalion of cheering relations. Passers-by must have wondered whether the whole village had gone bonkers.

I would be lying if I said there’s nothing on which we didn’t see eye to eye. Taking baths or rather the timing of them, for instance, used to be a contentious issue during my childhood. You always wanted me bathed by mid-afternoon, a time I found most inconvenient. Taking a bath meant being grounded. And being grounded mid-afternoon when my friends were still out playing wasn’t, understandably, exactly my cup of tea. There was another reason for my abhorrence of these mistimed baths. You see, when beautiful young women returned from work, we would sit in strategic junctions and watch them as they passed by. We would quarrel over which young woman belonged to whom.

But never mind the reasons, suffice it to say the ‘disagreement’ inevitably led to many chases in the streets of the Zambian copperbelt town of Kitwe, some of them with the help of my corrupted friends. Promises of bounties of toffees were too irresistible to the sweet toothed Judases. But I was never ever caught except once when you sneaked up on me from behind and dragged me home, to an orchestra of mocking laughter from my friends.

I tried to pull one over you, though.
Having been dragged to the shower, I made sure that I was out of reach of the water jets from the shower faucet. I stood on the toilet seat where I plotted my escape. I thought I had you fooled. I didn’t realise you were watching me from the window until you yelled, “Dannie, what are you doing there!”

I was catapulted off the toilet seat but not into the shower. No way! I stood in a corner as far away from the shower’s reach as possible and out of sight of the window, of course. But I hadn’t planned on you being so cunning, and so persistent. You came in, grabbed me and shoved a still clothed and still shoed me into the shower's epicentre. I had had years of practice playing in the rain so that wasn’t too uncomfortable. The uncomfortability arose from the fact that you forced me to undress and take off my shoes before scrubbing me like I’d never before scrubbed myself. That was one hell of a shower.

I should’ve latched the door.

Dad was never spared from your humour as exemplified by this exchange during one of your joint visit to my Lilongwe home.

“Dannie’s dad,” you drew his attention.

“Mmm …” dad looked up from his reading his favourite Time magazine.

“Pray that you don’t fall so seriously ill you need to be hospitalised.”

“Why? Everybody falls sick.”

“Your friends wouldn’t recognize you. They pass by your bed, move from bed to bed looking for a patient with black hair but your hair dye would’ve worn off.”

Mum, if there's a heaven out there, I know you entry is guaranteed. And I know that with angels as your guide, there's no way you would get lost. It was a different story here on earth, wasn’t it mum. Your sense of direction was even worse than Captain Slow's on Top Gear. Before I came back to Malawi, you used to rely on me as your guide around Kitwe. The irony is that most of my knowledge of the town had been honed by countless shower chases and escapes..

7/28/2010 12:09:37 am

may her soul rest in peace

Austin Madinga
7/28/2010 01:14:41 am

Pepa mbale

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7/30/2010 01:04:54 pm


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