Tea Set

It’s a wonder how colonial rule survived so long in Africa—with the fight and strength of her people, it’s a wonder it started in the first place. I guess, it fell, in Zambia, right at the time God had allowed for it to happen. She comes out of the house, and when he looks at her, it’s clear she’s just woken up; bleary eyed, with a white trail, lining her cheek, from her midnight drool, she sits next to him in the doorway.

Mwauka tyani?’ he says with a smile, but no response comes from the blank face, and a chuckle escapes his lips. He doesn’t mind that she can’t speak his—and her father’s—language, Nsenga. He greets her in Bemba, her mother’s language, before continuing his shave. Nyakawe sits quietly for a while, but he can feel her eyes fixed on him.

Shikulu?’ she calls quietly.

He turns at the familiar address, still in awe of the fact that he was an askulu, a shikulu, a grandfather. True to form, a question followed her address.

‘Why do you do that?’ she was looking at him, inquisitively, cheek resting on the pedestal that was her hand.

“Do what?”

‘That …’ she pointed at his ice cream covered face, and smiled shyly when laughter erupted around them. She watched as his slender fingers, with neatly cut nails moved the blade, in strokes, removing the shaving cream. There was something amusing about it, and she longed to try it.

Askulu remembered a time 30 years ago when the face of Zambia was so different. Tears flooded his eyes as he watched his other grandchildren playing in the dust. They were free, in a land their own. That had seemed an impossible dream 30 years ago.

Nyakawe got up and ran to join the others and he found himself making his way out of shaft 5 of the Nkana Copper mines again. The sun was drooping behind the trees in the distance, his back hurt from the long day of shifting rock, underground, for meagre pay. He longed to feel the warmth of the water, his alluring Ainala, always had waiting when he got home. Ainala; graceful and kind, she made life bearable, added joy to the hard life created by an unjust system.

Howard walked out of the mine with the other men, laughter and conversation filling the air around him, making the route home seem shorter. He was almost home when he saw little Jack, waiting by the fence, as he did every evening and in no time, the little boy was running towards his father. True to form, Howard picked the little man up and span him around.

‘How are you, my son?’ he asked, teeth showing as he broke out in fluent Nsenga, asking his son about his day. Ainala stood at the small gate as her boys came home. Jack transferred hands as his mother greeted her husband, her eyes speaking softly what her mouth didn’t say. Mining was hard, and men died trying to provide for their families. She thanked God he was home and smiled, ‘There’s water waiting.’ She said, adjusting the four year old on her hip. A thought crossed Howard’s mind, but he thought it wishful thinking and walked into the small yard. He stopped for a second look and was met by a blank look from Ainala. Shaking his head, he went in for his shower.

Food was waiting when he emerged from the house dressed in old bronze dress pants and an old stripped t-shirt that had a few holes, probably made by the crickets that sang at night. Jack was soon sitting on his father’s lap, sharing in the meal of Nsima with fresh pumpkin leaves; his mother on the reed mat close to his father’s stool. Conversation between husband and wife came easy; Ainala reciting the happenings of the day to her husband, who mainly listened, occasionally asking questions. He watched when she pushed herself up to help him wash his hands before clearing the plates. He smiled, to himself before getting up, ‘I need to go and check up on a Banda.’ he said referring to a friend of his who had recently fallen ill.

‘You can take Amake Banda the bag next to the mat,’ Ainala said, without missing a beat as she washed dishes.

‘I won’t be long.’

She nodded and Howard was off, Jack in tow.

They followed the dirt road that ran outside their house and turned onto a back road, making their way onto the street that was at the back of theirs. Taking a left, they followed the road for another ten minutes before turning onto Mr Banda’s street. The sun had gone down by now but he could still see where he was going. Almost from nowhere, headlights came on from behind, and a car sped towards them. Howard grabbed his son, pinning him between himself and the wire fence that was too close to the road, and left little room for anyone to walk on the side of the road. He felt metal graze his backside as the car went past. Laughter reverberated from the car as one of the passengers shouted, ‘kaffir!’

Letting go of the fence, Howard checked, Jack over, making sure he was okay. The boy looked shaken, but had no broken skin. Putting Jack down, Howard held his waist and sighed before erupting in laughter. He laughed at the food, that Ainala had packed for Amake Banda, now discarded on the ground. Jack watched him, not quite sure what was happening, but the fear he had felt a minute ago slowly receded.

Then his father kicked the dust in a fit of anger and the uneasy feeling started in his stomach again. What did Kaffir mean? His father picked him up and walked back the way they had come. Ainala had made a fire for them to sit around when they arrived. Depositing Jack in his mother’s lap, Howard walked back out, with only a promise to be back soon, leaving the child wondering if he had done something wrong. Anger flooded Howard’s veins, with an intensity he hadn’t felt before. There was injustice, gross injustice, but he had always assumed he could protect his family from the evils of colonial rule. But tonight, his inadequacy was clear.

He made his way to the clearing at the end of the road, where you could see the city of Kitwe; lights glistened where the white man declared his land. But this was Africa, his Africa, his home. Surely Jehovah did not intend for man to live in near bondage like this. He could see the mines, where he toiled, so those over the threshold could live like kings! Whatever the white men, were, they were not protectors as they claimed. What did the African need protecting from, if not them? He saw his grandchildren in Jack; there was no hope for them unless he declared them, equals with the “protectors”.

When Howard came home, he felt like a fool for having left without a word of explanation to Ainala. Shifting sheepishly from one foot to the other, he wondered how he would explain what had happened. Shame filled him, he knew Ainala would never see failure in him, and yet doubt lingered.

‘Are you sleeping outside tonight?’ her voice startled him and he walked towards her

‘Nothing good comes from dark treaders,’ he replied sheepishly

‘I’m glad you know it,’ he could hear the smile in her voice, and watched as the silhouetted figure got up and lifted her stool, ‘coming in?’

Howard followed his wife into their small, candle lit, one-bedroomed house. Jack slept on the living room floor, looking like nothing had happened— tranquil. Ainala watched as her husband watched him.

‘You left the candle on?’ he asked

‘I was only out a few minutes before you came.’

‘Fires have been started in less time.’

Ainala didn’t respond for a minute, crooking her head, ‘with a lot less, no doubt,’ she said taking his hand and leading him to the next room.

Lying next to his wife, Howard put an arm around her,

‘Will you tell me what you are thinking?’ she asked placing a hand over his.

‘They almost killed our son today,’ the words came out slow and without emotion, then he sighed, and she was sure he shuddered. Turning to face him, Ainala stroked his cheek.

‘I couldn’t protect him, Anyina Jack.’

‘But you did, and he’s fine.’ Ainala held his face between her palms, ‘You are a good father, A tata … a good husband!’ she spoke in his native Nsenga, her voice soothing.

He pulled her against himself as the tears he had refused to cry flowed. ‘I was scared I would lose him.’

‘But you didn’t …’ she stroked his back, waited a while and added, ‘and our numbers will be increased soon.’

‘I thought so.’ his voice smiled at her, there was no hiding the joy he felt. And in that moment, he thanked Jehovah, promising to do whatever he was called upon to do, to ensure his grandchildren would never face the injustice they experienced.

The following day—Sunday—meant the family got dressed and went to the kingdom hall. Their meeting was done by 11:40 and Howard saw this as an opportunity to go into town with his wife. They didn’t do it often, but today would be one of those days when they did a bit of shopping. Taking a bus into town, they made their way to a general dealer store.

‘Is there anything you like?’ he asked turning to Ainala

She looked around and smiled, ‘Those shoes would look nice on Jack,’ she said, biting her bottom lip, wondering if they could afford it. She knew how Howard wished he could give them more than he was currently. If only he knew just how much he had given her. Howard proceeded to ask for a price and was visibly relieved when it fit his price range.

‘Is there anything YOU like, Ainala?’ he asked again, turning to his wife again. He hadn’t gotten her anything, except necessities, in a long while; longer than he could remember and he hoped she would jump at the rare occasion. She had brought him great joy; the wife of his youth, he longed for no other. His heart sank when after a quick look around, she shook her head, ‘I don’t see anything …’

‘You haven’t really looked.’

‘There’s nothing I really like.’ She smiled,

‘Okay then,’ they headed towards the door, and then he saw it on her face! She had seen it, near the door—a tea set; white with little pink flowers and a gold ream at the top. There was a price on it and it he could afford it!

‘Could I please have that?’ he asked the shop keeper

‘Unfortunately, that one is not for sale.’ Mr Smith said with a coy smile.

‘But it has a price.’ Howard understood—there was an unofficial colour bar. Some shops only sold things to white people, but this store, allowed “his kind” to shop in them, while still reserving some things for white folk only.

‘It’s in the reserved section.’ Mr Smith stated, ‘I can sell you something similar.’

Anger came hot and fast; his heart trembled, and he felt like he was losing control. ‘I want that one, nothing else.’

‘I’m sorry …’

‘I’m not leaving without that tea set.’ He looked the man in the eyes, his voice controlled.

Ainala touched his hand in an attempt to dissuade him but he raised his hand for her to stop, his gaze fixed on the man. ‘I will not leave.’

Mr Smith motioned to one man and Howard was sure he would get beaten up, but he held the shopkeeper’s gaze.

‘K10,’ Mr Smith said.

‘Huh?’ Howard looked at him as if he had gone mad. He hadn’t actually expected the man to back down.

‘Not enough money?’

‘No, it’s not that.’ Howard handed him the money and watched as the tall black man handed his wife a box. Saying ‘thank you!’ he smiled and walked out of the store after his wife.

‘You could have gotten yourself killed.’ She said worriedly

‘Mr Smith is a reasonable man,’ Howard said thoughtfully, ‘I was in no danger.’

‘He is a white man.’

‘Not all of them are bad.’

‘Please don’t put yourself in danger like that.’

He didn’t answer her; couldn’t make a promise he couldn’t keep. All the same, he had just challenged the colour bar that officially didn’t exist. He had shown, in that small act, that he was equal to those who had set themselves as rulers over them.

Askulu,’ it was little Howard, his grandson, ‘tell us a story?’

Old Howard smiled, feeling a sense of pride at the fact that they had achieved independence. It saddened him that Kaunda’s dictatorship had replaced it, but maybe there was hope for their country in the hearts on these; his grandchildren. They asked for a story, so a story, he told them.

Honey soaked lips

His scent was better than that of honey suckle and his lips sweeter than honey. His tongue seemed covered in it and before I knew it, I was caught in a web it span. He was a sweet talker. I was young and foolish. He put his arm against the small of my back and I melted into him. We fit like two puzzle pieces, intended for each other. His lips felt warm and tender against mine and all my defences dissolved. I gave myself whole heartedly to him, my heart that is.

He seemed so gentle until he started wanting to know my every move. He seemed sure that because I would not sleep with him, I didn’t love him. Then the accusations started. Whenever I missed his call…I remember the first time his hands circled my throat. I was so sure he would kill me. He let me go and I doubled over, clutching my throat as my airway refused to open. When I finally recovered, he picked me up. “If you’re going to be my wife, learn to submit.”

He wasn’t a bad man, just had a temper like a viper. My father didn’t seem to like him but my mother and his family convinced him he was a God-fearing man who came from a lovely family. What they didn’t know was, his mother was, like I was to become, a battered woman, I remember the lessons…the ones we’re given before the wedding. I tried my best to do what he expected and yet it was never good enough.

I didn’t mean to kill him, but here I am, labelled as a murderer. I was fast asleep when I was pulled out of bed. He was too drunk to even know what he was doing. I was in bed fast asleep and before I knew it, I was fighting for my life. I was fighting for my life! Who am I kidding? I am still fighting for my life. In here, TB will probably kill me. A child died yesterday from it and her mother is wasting away. I hear people coughing all the time.

God, my children are suffering all because I stayed! I tried, but they always sent me back. Ba Tata was right all along. He saw something that I couldn’t and when I did see it, I still married him. There’s no justice in this world. I won’t even have the means to care for my children. His family has probably taken everything. OH GOD WHERE ARE YOU WHEN WE WOMEN ARE BEATEN, SOMETIMES TO DEATH? I am sure he would have killed me. I pushed him to stop him hitting me, I just never thought he would hit his head and die. God, do you see what has become of your child? Even the people in the old testament had cities of refuge, when you killed someone without intent…but here in a Christian nation, there is no justice.

Precious…the birthing of a dream

she walked out of the house, throwing the blue new tropicals to the floor, she slipped her feet in and ran towards her grandmother who was walking down the dust path that led to away from their house and onto a dusty road. It was an hour’s walk to Chinfinsa congregation of the United church of Zambia. She could make it in 30 minutes if she picked up the pace but that was not going to be the case walking with her grandmother. she pulled the worn skirt made of chitenge material, to cover her belly button and walked beside her grandmother. She couldn’t hide her excitement at going to church today.

“natwendeshe” her grandmother called picking up pace. she wanted to make it to church before the St Marks Choir arrived. She never complained about the distance from Luano to their Church, which was in Munsenga, on the other side of the Chingola-Kitwe Road; a trek from where they lived.

“But mama, “she replied, “our service never starts on time.” Her grand mother insisted they get to church early every week. she had no watch but they always made it on time. Precious had never heard the St marks Bemba Choir sing, but her grand mother had told her,  how beautiful they sounded. her grandmother had heard them sing many times and had even visited the “mother” congregation. The announcement was made a week ago and everytime she thought about it, she felt her heart skip a beat.

they soon met other people headed in their direction “mujibi yepi?” the woman called walking towards them.

“emwani,” her grandmother extended her hand, clapping the other womans hand and touching her chest and repeating the gesture again in greeting; Kaonde greeting. She had grown up speaking iki Kaonde but now mainly spoke ici Bemba despite being in Lamba country. she greeted the woman and run ahead, knowing her grandmother would be fine with her walking companion for the day.

She didn’t care for the dust that was gathering on her legs with each step she took; the faster she run the worse it got, but she would be at the church in no time. She was out of breath by the time the Kitwe-Chingola rd was in sight. On the other side was the Munsenga junction. A small dirt road that meandered from one end, forming a loop and coming out the other. It was mostly bush on one side of the dirt road and houses on the other. she slowed her pace as she came to the road. It wasn’t as busy on Sundays, but she made sure there weren’t any cars coming before running across. There were other people walking down and she walked with them, not quiet feeling at home, she talked with them, maybe if she showed her excitement at what was happening at church today, no one would see the discomfort she felt.

*                                  *                                  *

Jahdel was glad she had made it to church on time. Her 2 friends Limpo and Mwansa were coming to church with the visiting chior. She was excited. Her and Limpo had become close friends, despite her vow never to become friends with men. He had reintroduced her to Mwansa who she had previously known but had not talked to in years. She walked to her sister Karen and the woman she was talking to. She watched as the young girl walked away from them. Her clothes were worn. Her skirt, made of chitenge was not as bright as it had obviously been before. she kept pulling the skirt that kept riding below her belly button.

“You see that girl.” the woman talking to Karen said, “takonfwa.”

Jahdel wondered why the girl was said to be naughty, she seemed so full of life.

“she sleeps around with different men,” the woman shifted the baby in her arms from one side to the other, settling her on her hip and leaning in closer “Bonse bali mwishiba.”

Jahdel was too shocked to respond, did this woman just say everyone knew her? She watched as the woman clapped her hands, as if shocked at what she was relaying, “ka moneka kwati kalonfwa, kanshi….”

“You honestly think that it’s her fault?” anger rose in Jahdel, “How do you decide she’s naughty on the basis that grown men sleep with her?”

“All I know is they pay her and if they pay her, it can’t be that bad. And she’s so young, imagine what she will be like when she grows up.”

The way she said it only infuriated Jahdel more; worse still, Karen seemed almost ready to agree until Jahdel spoke up

“So all you adults know about it. Even her grandmother knows about it?”

“it’s no secret, and her grandmother has tried to talk about it with her to get her to stop but she just doesn’t listen.”

“So you even know which men sleep with her?” she waited for the woman’s self-righteous yes before continuing, “and all you do is talk behind her back?”

“Yes but what are we supposed to do if that’s what she’s chosen.” the woman didn’t look upset at the challenge rather ashamed and disappointed that Jahdel did not share her enthusiasm at the gossip she had to share,

“No! you fight for her!” Jahdel could almost feel herself shaking but kept her voice calm, “grown men, should know better. It’s not her fault that they can’t control themselves!” she looked at the little girl who was walking towards them

“Anyway, that’s that little girl you see.” she clapped her hands and walked away.

“Baunfwa nsoni.” Karen chuckled to herself.

“she SHOULD be ashamed of herself.” Jahdel felt her whole body shake

Karen chuckled again, “they love gossip.”

“Niwebo nani ishina?” Jahdel asked turning to the girl. She didn’t look older than eleven.

“Precious.” she replied with a big smile,

Jahdel smiled at her, heart breaking, knowing this girl had no one to fight for her. Precious, her name spoke of how God saw her. She was precious in His sight, Yet to men, she was “easy pleasure”. Something they could ride, no strings attached. They talked for few minutes, Precious pointing out where her grandmother stood, when asked who she lived with. She was a bubbly little girl. Some thought her insane.

Just then the small Canter made its way onto the church grounds. Precious ran towards it, Jahdel waiting for the boys to disembark. She said hi to both Limpo and Mwansa and introduced them to Karen. Karen left them as they chatted for a while before they had to go into the church and sit in their designated areas. The men sat on the left hand side and the women on the right.

Jahdel was in a haze; her mind fixed on Precious. Would she make it,or would abuse devour her like it had Jahdel. She knew all too well the horrors it brought, the guilt, the suicidal feelings, the shame and pain that just made no sense. The feeling of being in the wrong body, unwelcome in your own flesh, feeling like dirt had made it’s way under your skin. As the service went on, she found it hard to concentrate. Those men, deserved death! She looked at Mwansa and Limpo and remembered Limpo’s words, How could he expect her to trust any man, when his species could be so heartless and selfish. She had to admit though that both young men were different. They seemed sincere; different, they spoke kindly and offered respect even when she was undeserving. But she couldn’t help but wonder.

After service, Jahdel talked to precious some more, hoping that she could find hope in words that didn’t raise her apparent failings. She talked to Mwansa and Limpo more as well before they all had to go.

Every time she saw the little girl after that, she talked to her, but with exams looming, Sundays at Chimfinsa became a rare happening, St marks or not attending church becoming the options because of the extra lessons she needed to do in order to get ready. Hope reigned still, Precious, was the birthing of a dream, just maybe, Jahdel would one day fight what many refused to see as present. Zambians frowned when they heard about paedophiles in the western world, yet in their own world, this child, had no voice.

Years after meeting that precious soul, reading another story of a girl used by her step-father, Jahdel remembered, knowing there were many such stories. burying her head in her hands, Jahdel wept. She would never forget Precious, she hadn’t the means to help her, but one day, she would fulfil a dream.