A small room, for fear
By Mankhokwe Namusanya:
This one flows, like a confession. A haunt, perhaps, of things one did and want cleansing from.
It is when one walks in the streets of Limbe. We could have said Blantyre but now it seems to be resigning into some forced order. Let us stick with Limbe. Those moments when you are walking, thinking of the journey ahead, then someone stops you and says they must have known you from somewhere.
If you are young, and impressionable, you pretend to think and remember. If you are old, and experienced, you jump off that horse and tell the person is mistaken. Either way, they narrate a story: of suffering, deep pain, irreconcilable anguish and frightful terror.
“Children have not eaten for ten days, two of three will die tonight. Help me with something.”
However, this one is not asking for alms. It is not asking for sympathy. Not asking for help. If anything, it is just a story asking to be told.
It comes from a WhatsApp text:
“Can you go through this?”
And, that is discomforting in some way because there is no conversation. There is just that: a story needing to be told. Nobody to ask questions. Even the person who sends it is a third party – might even have been a fifth party.
You are just left to deal with a confession. You cannot ask it any questions, even when you have them.
For example, when it emerges that his mother did nothing to Aunt, it is a suspense. I mean, I want to know how that is possible (even if I would not tell it to the audience). But, there is no one here to ask questions.
And, I cut corners there…
Because, there are two women here. And a boy. A mother. A son. Her friend.
The boy is young. Of the age of boys. He is 11.
He appears here for two reasons: one, he has a boisterous mother or maybe just a proud mother; because, and two, the mother advertises to friends that her boy is smart.
“At 11, he can do with computers things you only hear of,” that’s her submission.
It is not really the age of computers so people think knowing a computer makes you Jesus. When you say mouse, they start thinking of an equivalent of that ‘Town rats’ cartoon. Keyboard still means that instrument in Church choirs that made sure young men still stayed in Church. Nothing, not even hard drive, is associated with computers.
But, at 11, the boy is quite adept at computers. And, I think, that means he can type with both hands without really looking at the keyboard.
When the mother tells this to the friend, I would think some sort of middle-class business executive, she gawks in wonder. Perhaps say:
“Are you really sure it’s computer he knows and not just some games there?”
“No, it’s computer. I also rely on him for some of my work,” mother says, a glint in her voice. That, I got you covered sound.
“Hmmm this intelligence must be from his father,” friend says with girlhood banter.
Mother fights back. Reminds friend how she used to show her whole class in Secondary school who was the Queen.
“You remember that Maths test, when you all had to remain behind because your heads could not process Mathematics and I was the only one who managed to score a 5 out of 5?”
Friend laughs with a let us move on kindness, then quips:
“Ah Jon” – because nobody is Jon in Malawi so I will call him that –“can you teach someone computer? I also need to learn computer. You know, my work and writing…”
It is still an infant age of computers so people call it writing on computer, not typing.
Jon, flattered by the request after being flustered by the mum’s prancing, accepts by a nod.
The friend – let us call her Aunt –tells Jon to stop being shy and repeats the question:
“Will you teach me writing on computer?”
Mother imposes for Jon. Because, this is pre-civilisation: period before mouse starts to mean a component on a computer. So, children really do not have much of a say except when to thank their parents for everything.
Jon will teach Aunt computer.
And, I think when typing this downpour of emotions, he does while facing away. To quickly forget. One, there are no punctuations. It is a story told like the cinematography of the movie ‘1917’: in a long uninterrupted sequence.
Also, the story just starts from where the actual story starts.
He writes that the end result was that there were no computer lessons.
Aunt asked Jon to join him for bathing. Most likely said lessons could not start without having a bath.
He protested, said this and that, but Aunt told him that it was not actually computer lessons that had him in her house.
“Your mother sent you here so you can become a man. I have to turn you into a man.”
In reading this sequence downpour, I want to interrupt and say:
“A man, at 11?”
But, I only have a script before me. A text most likely written by drops of tears: huge, sad tears.
He discloses the details. I have chosen to hide the details. But, there ended up a child raped and confused. Just thrown in another planet with no skills to navigate around – or in – it.
Someday, he told mother: he was a man now so she could advise the friend to halt the exercises.
“What exercises?” the mother was confused.
He told the story, with little blemish.
Mother called Aunt. Gave her a dress down. Called her names. Then, like that, moved on. Nobody was arrested. Nobody was tortured. Just a boy violated.
They moved to a new place. But, it was not as if the haunting memories were buried in the old place.
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