The headache that had been bothering me since ma’s death over a decade earlier had gone away. The head that felt so heavy to carry felt light on this day. The sun rays that peeped through the window of my bedroom made it clear that it was going to be a bright day. The watch that stood on the table beside my bed ticked so loud, it had been there soon after ma’s death, I never heard it. I was too busy nursing my sorrow to hear it. When my father had died, I had a slight idea of how painful loss was. Ma’s death was like an eruption of despair, craving for the end of my own life.
“Why else should I live? For whom?” I kept on asking myself.
Ma had been the only pillar for me. Raising me single handed was not an easy task for her but she gave it her best. Father passed on when I was eight years old and in junior primary school and my half-sister Tiyamike, but always called ‘Tiya’ was twelve. He died two weeks away from the onset of the Primary Leaving Certificate Exams which Tiya was supposed to sit for.
Even though I was young to comprehend everything, I remember clearly. I had come back from school earlier than usual because we were done with our exams and all we did in school was play. Father sat outside the house and welcomed me with a warm smile.
“You are back early Tadala. Is everything alright?” He inquired.
I knew in his mind he thought I had had an asthma attack which again which had been the cause of an early arrival from school often.
“There is no problem father, we have finished our exams yesterday and there is nothing to do in school except play” I said with a grin.
“Forgive my forgetfulness. I forgot you are at the end of the term. I hope you will come first again like you did in the first and second term. Not so?” he looked at me amused.
“I believe so father. What am I getting as a present if I do?” I asked excitedly.
“You will see when you bring the school report” he said.
I giggled and ran into the house to leave my schoolbag. I went out to play with the neighbour’s children who had dropped out of school the previous year. We drew hop-scotch on the dirt outside their compound just close to ours. I had a clear view of my father from where we were playing. I could see my mother from the garden picking some vegetables for lunch.
We had been so occupied with playing that we stopped noticing what was happening at home until we were disrupted by the sound of a siren. It was a hospital ambulance. It stopped in front of our compound. The children looked at me with envy that a car was at my house. They sought my approval to go nearer so they could have a closer look at the ambulance. We moved closer and I saw my mother and a man who brought the car supporting my father to the ambulance. They placed him in the ambulance and my mum told me they would be back before long. I waited for them with Tiya until we fell asleep way past our eight o’clock bedtime.
My sister woke me up early the next morning to help prepare me for school. Even though we had finished our exams we still had to attend school so our teachers could returned our marked papers to us. I had been excited about going to school just to play but this day I wanted to go see father and ma or at least stay home and wait for their arrival.
I walked to school alone because my sister had to go to the hospital to deliver breakfast to ma. She didn’t like me asking too many questions and often seemed irritated by my company so I just allowed her to go alone while I went to school. At school I found my friends playing tag in class so I just joined in. It was such fun that for a while I forgot about the absence of father and ma at home.
After a couple of hours of play, Mrs Gomani, our English teacher showed up and we all sat down as we always did whenever we saw any teacher walking towards our class. We were afraid of being punished because that was considered as a misconduct. She looked at us as if she was searching for a specific offender. We all looked downed in fear of being picked. Then finally she spoke.
“Tadala Manda, follow me to the staff room.” She said quietly.
Everyone was surprised because they thought I had done something wrong and was going to be disciplined. I was not the noisy type and had a good behaviour and academic record in school. It was difficult for anyone to accuse me of misbehaving. I was the exemplary student as i had a loved by most of the teachers including Mrs Gomani. I stood up and followed her slowly avoiding catching up with her. She waited for me and held my hand and led me into the staff room. There I found Mayi a Dalitso, our neighbour seated on the chair. They told me that ma wanted me home immediately. When I asked about my father, she dismissively told me that he was fine. I suspected something had happened to father but I tried to push aside that thought. Mayi a Dalitso and I started off for home. When we approached home the first thing I noticed was that the door of the house was widely opened, and then I heard people mourning. When the mourning reached our ears, Mayi a Dalitso began to wail, crying over me. She said I had come back home, a home without a father and what would I do now? My head swirled, I ran inside to find ma surrounded by a number of women all mourning. I stood there awkwardly looking at the scene before me when ma saw me, she opened her arms and cried even louder when I went into her arms.
“Mwana wanga Tadala abambo ako kulibe! Bambo a Tadala? Bambo a Tadala! mwana wanu wabwera uyu!
(Tadala my daughter your father is no more! Tadala’s father? Tadala’s father! Your child has arrived, she is here!)
“Bambo a Tadala ndilera bwanji anawa ndekha ine! Mwandilakwira ine!”
(Tadala’s father, how will I raise these children alone?! You have wronged me!)
I cried and cried, not because I comprehended what was happening around but because ma was crying. I had never seen ma cry like that. Tiyamike cried and I cried until I slept in her arms.
When I woke up I realized I was at some place which was not home. I was looking around to see if there was anyone around when I met Aunt Kumbu’s eyes staring at me. Aunt Kumbu was ma’s very good friend and she had always been kind to us. We called her Aunt Kumbu because she was married but she did not have children yet so that was a way of respecting her.
“Should I get you some porridge Tadala?” She asked.
“No! I am not hungry. Where is ma? I asked. Is dad okay? I asked.
“I’m sorry Tadala, your father has gone to be with God.” She replied shortly.
“So dad was dead” I thought to myself. I had read in books about people dying but I never thought any member of my family could die especially my father. I imagined him ascending to heaven and walking in beautiful cities; colourful buildings, beautiful happy people, flowers all over, rivers, and food all over. That was a picture of heaven I had from a Christian book my father had bought for me on my seventh birthday. I was sure he would come back one day and bring me some of the beautiful things from heaven and take ma, Tiya and I to heaven. Comforted, I did not cry again until they took me to the house again the following day for the burial.
On the burial day ma’s eyes looked red and swollen. One could tell she had been crying the whole day and night. At the cemetery I saw the coffin being lowered down the grave, I looked away because I didn’t want the thought of father being buried to interfere with my belief that he ascended into heaven. Ma laid the first wreath; later Tiya and I were asked to lay a wreath. To me it was planting flowers for father and I was just excited about it. I remember someone telling me that flowers planted on the grave never withered. So I was convinced that the flowers that had grown would later on sprout into a beautiful garden and father would be happy.
The day after the burial, ma’s relatives and dad’s relatives gathered in the house to discuss issues. I sat in ma’s room eavesdropping on what they were discussing. I overheard ma protesting to something and I moved closer to the door to get a glimpse of what they were talking about. I peeped through the key hole and I saw ma shedding tears.
“The girls have been brought up as sisters, I want my two girls to grow up together” She cried.
“Then be ready to submit the property to us. We are being fair enough here. We don’t want to lay our hands on our brother’s property. You can keep it. All we are asking for is to take custody of one of the children. After all Tiyamike is not of your blood” Uncle Ben said.
“Please I want to raise my girls together. They are sisters. What will I say to Tadala?” Ma sobbed uncontrollably.
I don’t remember what else was said, all I remember is that I watched Tiya leave with Uncle Ben. Ma was crying so was Tiya. I couldn’t help it but cry with them. I was heartbroken and angry. The past two days we were happy as a family and in a blink of an eye we had lost two members. Now I was a fatherless only child.
Ma worked so hard in the garden and sold the harvest to send me to school. I hard and made it to a National Secondary School and later on to the University to study medicine and surgery. All along my mother was my inspiration. I would never disappoint her but rather pay her back all the good things, I vowed.
After I finished my college education I started working as a medical doctor at the government hospital while considering my options to go into private practice. I decided to go to the village to take ma so we could live together. I planned on going there on Saturday but on Monday I received a message that my ma was ill and needed to see me. I asked the person who called to describe the illness and prescribed the medication for her. I asked her to buy from the pharmacy. I was a doctor and I knew better. The week was a busy one but I worked so hard so I could finish doing everything by Friday and travel freely to the village to see ma and of course bring her home.
Saturday came and I woke up around 4am. I cleaned up the house, washed and took my breakfast. Before I left I went through the house room by room. I was so proud of myself because I had managed to buy myself a good sofa set, a refrigerator. Most importantly I had prepared one room for ma.
“Ma will be so happy” I said to myself.
By 5:30 I was on the road. I should be home early so ma and I will have time to say goodbye to her friends I reasoned. But by the end of today or tomorrow we will be going back to the city.
When I approached the house what I saw took me back 19 years. The door was wide open.
“It can’t be” I assured myself.
When I got into the house I found women rearranging things in the house. They were whispering while they glanced at me sorrowfully.
“What has happened?” I asked her.
“Your mother has died not more than an hour ago” She said.
Her words started echoing in my head. I felt dizzy and fell down.
I had never cursed God in my life but this moment I did. Why does God let some people suffer all their lives and take them away just when their time to of suffering is over? What wrong did I do to God for Him take away my beloved mother?
The burial took place the day after. After a week, I went home. I locked the front door, the door to ma’s room and locked myself in my room. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I wished I could die too. For two weeks all did was sleep, ate little and talked to no one. People knocked on the door but I could not be bothered to get up. When I finally did, my head was aching.
And now 10 years later, after going through the motions of life, my headache is gone. Today, I smiled when I woke up to thoughts of ma.