Charisma Pengani’s problem is that, when he is wallowing in poverty, he thinks with his mind and is hopeful that the quantity survey programme he is pursuing at the University of Malawi (UoM) would be the knife that cuts the umbilical cord between him and poverty.
But, when the tables turn and the 26-year-old is on the other side of poverty, where he begins to swim in riches, the opposite is not true. In an ideal setup, the opposite of thinking with the mind is thinking with the heart.
Pengani does the complete opposite as he starts thinking with, not his heart but, of all things, his zipper.
It is not like Pengani has, immediately after getting his bachelor’s degree after completing four years of study, lost his ability to study his own behaviour and judge every act without being too sentimental.
In this one case, the opposite is true as the protagonist seems to be at his level best, when it comes to logical thinking, for he decides against pursuing a career as a quantity surveyor, preferring, instead, to work in the non-governmental organisations (NGO) sector, which has turned into a cash cow.
It is only after chalking success after success that success seems to impair his judgement.
At this point, Pengani turns from the wise to the silly, so much so that every woman that comes into his sight has a, kind of, magnetic attraction to his malleable feelings.
This is part of the action in The Case of Fire and Ice novel, which University of Malawi – now Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences— accounting graduate Gertrude Gomani has just written, her second novel in less than one year She may, possibly, have learned a thing or two when she wrote her first novel. Gomani’s first novel is Surviving the Lean Seasons which was published in January this year She also counts Reminiscence— a collection of 24 short stories which is available only in electronic format— to her name.
The novel, clearly, captures people’s sense of urgency to make quick cash, espoused by the protagonist turning to NGO work as a get-rich-quick scheme, at the expense of his real profession.
On second thought, Gomani nails it, considering that, in modern-day Malawi, professionalism is being sacrificed at the altar of self-aggrandisement.
When it comes to money issues, people turn into cold-blooded creatures until money, corruptly or honestly accumulated, warms their hearts.
Maybe low morale, low salaries that pass for a pittance, employers’ failure to promote people on merit, nepotism and the like have turned professionals into extremely complicated monsters who have no feelings any more. In the end, they [people who were supposed to be professionals] do not think about service seekers’ feelings, not even for a minute, for fear of being turned into a fool.
Where there is money [in The Case of Fire and Ice’s case, money is mined in NGOs], professionals show neither fear nor horror towards ‘shame’.
But, more than make him insensitive to logic, money turns Pengani into an almost thoughtless creature. Women he treats as a gold mine, always hoping to find a new sensation at the bottom.
For, in his estimation, any member of the opposite sex is judged, not by how they think but by other means. That is, their value is limited to how they sway their bodies, with those who sway as voluptuously as reeds on a stormy day, or that treat their faces as a canvas to be painted, other than groomed, having his best regards.
This is what befalls 22-year-old Girl Emerald, a woman who crosses paths with Pengani. When they finally meet at his house, he does the expected: Forcing himself on her. Just that the attempt is botched. The woman has designed an escape root and, in so doing, eludes Pengani.
However, he is not so lucky with an under-age girl he hoodwinks into loving him. Fully aware that the whip for sleeping with a minor is a stint in prison, sometimes for life, the girl forces Pengani to be giving her K500,000 monthly so that the ‘act’ remains a secret.
Maybe he meets his match, for the underage girl does not attempt to insinuate that, once she gets enough K500,000 monthly payouts, it will be water under the bridge— for, it must be said, water under the bridge is always in motion and when it goes it does not come back to the spot.
Every K500,000 simply means the issue remains a ‘secret’ for another month, but in no way water under the bridge.
The exception is, of course, the white woman Melissa Moore, who is four years older than Pengani. In terms of height, she is twice as tall. Maybe Pengani is pushing above his weight, literally.
His intentions are not noble, though. It is the same desire to make money and more money that has pushed him into Moore’s arms. He is hell bent at fronting her, making her the ‘face’ of good intentions when, in truth, the objective is making a killing in the name of charity work.
There are all indications that, in The Case of Fire and Ice, running things – be it in the public and private sector— is considered one of masculine privileges; for, apart from being fronted like flowers in front of a lodge, motel or hotel, there is not much Moore will do to let the cash flow into Pengani’s pocket.
It is as if, if women like Moore were to get fully involved in the work, her life— which in patriarchal society is supposed to be limited to the chicken, bathroom, bedroom and market— would be sullied.
There are problems with this line of thinking, of course, but Gomani’s novel does not attempt to address that.
Its main focus, it seems, is to show that every dog has its day of salvation, which, in the novel, manifests when Pengani welcomes God as the new light in his life.
His previous life is water under the bridge as, at this point of his ‘child-birth’, his life is no longer full of sex.
But whether he will escape the impact of his past behaviour on his life is up to the novel reader to make up; but the most visible indicator of change is that Pengani has found his God.
Maybe Gomani deliberately leaves it at that; for, clearly, the hanging parts of the story [what happens after Pengani embraces God] give the reader a chance to toy with, elevate or even explore other ideas in relation to a work of art.