ISSN 2371-350X

Fiction: Before the Bleat of Goats

By

Nixon Mateulah

 

 

Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one. – Marcus Aurelius

 

 

It was difficult for people to believe that Suwema and her husband Chembwerembwesu were separated as husband and wife. The whole village of Mwalija and neighbouring villages like Nkungulu, Mtera, Tabola and Chiwunda shook and quaked with sadness and delight in equal measure at the downfall of the highly regarded an endless love of all. The couple who loved each other so much and were role model to many people, were not seeing eye to eye and had vowed not to walk the same path, not to go to the same hospital, nor drink from the same well in a village that had one good well. All because of the goats they did not yet have or heard their bleating.

Not everyone was unhappy. The couple was famous for their display of love of each other; they used to walk hand in hand around the village, sometimes cycled together and Suwema spent most of her time with her husband than her women peers. And she was the first woman to wear trousers, and the first married woman to leave her hair uncovered in the village steeped in tradition. And were the first couple to kiss in public which was regarded as taboo. It was against tradition for a woman to wear trousers and follow her husband everywhere as white people do. The village tradition dictated that a woman should be frequently in company of her women folk than men folk. And Chembwerembwesu had quashed that tradition and had a tendency of taking his wife everywhere, to the market where he used to play a game of bawo with her fellow men. Suwema had watched, cheered and spurred her husband to beat his opponents. Many men found this type of behaviour so strange and foreign and advised Chembwerembwesu to stop it, and they accused him of using charms through his wife. A testimony to this was the day he lost a game for the first time when he did not bring his wife. Chembwerembwesu challenged them to bring their wives too and see if they could help them to win. Only one stubborn and self-centred, Mandutu brought his concubine who had cheered him but failed to vanquish Chemberembwesu with a support of his wife’s cheers. Sometimes he could carry his wife on his back. So, when many people had heard that the couple had their first fight in their marriage of ten years of blissful life together were very happy. It echoed their testimony that the profligate love that Chembwe had lavished on his wife was short-lived, foreign, and could not last and stand against tradition, and the wishes of their enemies. What really happened to a couple that loved each other so dearly, should fight and end their love unceremoniously?

People who were jealous and unhappy with the couple had been praying hard for their love to end. The Chembwes had tried to live within their love domain but people were not happy and spoke slightingly of their love and wanted it to end and follow the common love and traits of the common people – the majority.

Detractors had tried so many snares to put Chembwe into trouble but had failed, and like Daniel in the lions’ den had walked free and unharmed. One morning, as he was on the farm weeding, a young girl of 16 years of age: naïve, untouched by man, with only a wrapper wrapped from the breasts without underwear, her small pointed breasts standing firm and tempting on her tender bosom walked slowly like a chameleon toward Chembwe.

She dropped her wrapper down and jumped on him and firmly pulled him against her pointed breasts and fondled his manhood. Chembwe cried and convulsed like a fish out of water and broke free, and ran away. The girl ran after him picking up her wrapper and screaming: wandigwilira! wandigwlira! (has raped me! Has raped me!)

People burst out from their fences: women, men, boys and girls and pursued the alleged culprit with stones. Luckily, the agile Chembwe outran them and headed to the chief’s house and swiftly like a wheezing arrow thrown with ultimate force entered the house and out into the yard huffing and puffing. The chief who was sitting in his living room with a visitor got up and walked out to ward off the concourse of people who were screaming and threatening to enter the house and capture the alleged culprit for a mob justice treatment.

Meantime, the girl was given proper clothes to wear and she kept on chanting: wandigwilira! Wandigwilila! (Has raped me! Has raped me!). The chief’s Induna dispersed the angry crowd and promised them that the chief will deal with the matter as soon as possible. They were informed that the chief would settle the matter at his court at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The Induna took the girl in and some people returned to their homes whilst others lingered here and there waiting for the chief’s ruling. By this time, Chembwe’s wife was still in the forest with her friends where they had gone to collect firewood and knew nothing of what had transpired in her absence back home.

Suwema in a company of her three friends, trotting, balancing diligently a heavy bunch of firewood on her head slowed down upon seeing a crowd of women and men at her house. Like vultures they encompassed her and assailed her with sneering remarks about her husband’s promiscuity and labeled him a rapist, a disgrace to the community and should be banished for good. Traditionally, in accordance with customary law of the land if Chembwe would be found guilty of rape, he would be banished from the village and forced his wife to marry another man regarded highly by the chief and his Indunas.

‘Leave me alone!’ screamed Suwema as she threw down her bunch of firewood and entered her house, slumped on the mat and started crying.

‘If you think we are lying, go to the chief and ask about your husband’s whereabouts,’ said one woman who was sucking at a big yellow mango seed.

By three o’clock people had already gathered at the chief’s court and were impatient for his verdict. Most of the people had believed the girl’s allegations that Chembwe had raped her and wanted him banished from the village immediately.

As a long hand of the clock made its move to twelve and the shorter one stuck at three, people started singing traditional songs until the Induna emerged and stopped the singing, ordering silence as the chief was about to come out and deliver his verdict.

Silence reigned for a while; there were a few coughs here and there. The sun was still high in the clear sky emitting hot rays and some people especially the elderly found solace in the shed under the mango trees. Nearby, a stubborn he-goat came out of the hut running, a handle of pail dangling from its neck and its mouth powered from the maize flour it had been devouring. A woman ran after it with a stick and was hailing insults at the owner of the animal.

At three – ten pm, the chief emerged from the house standing tall, his face devoid of what his heart was about to pour out to the people. Everyone got up, and after a while the Induna ordered everyone to sit down. The chief still standing, coughed thrice and harangued: ‘Rape is a very serious offence in our land and the punishment is to banish the offender. And today we could see one of our beloved members of this community banished for good.’

He paused.

‘He must go! We don’t want rapist in this village!’ hollered the people in unison.

‘Order!’ cried the Induna.

He continued: ‘Indeed our daughter, Adijah sustained injuries during her confrontation with the accused. But she is fine, nothing serious.’

He paused.

‘Where is the rapist? Bring him out! We will teach him a lesson!’ cried the people.

‘Silence please!’ cried the Induna.

‘Every member of this community has a duty to obey our laws and to treat our women with respect as naturally as possible. Our women shouldn’t be scared to go to the forest to collect firewood; to the river to wash their clothes or even wash themselves. I shall never tolerate this nonsense in this village!’

‘Bring out the rapist!’ cried one madala who was eating matowo.

‘Hey! Madala shut up!’ cried the Induna.

‘Our elder women have examined the victim. I shall now call upon the accused and the victim. The chief motioned with his head to the Induna. The Induna ran into the house and in a jiffy brought out Chembwe and Adijah. Chembwe did not show any sign of guilt in his persona. He was as extrovert as usual and faced the crowd with smiling eyes. Adijah on the other hand kept her face down and avoided eye contact with the people. Many people had wondered at her sombre disposition instead of showing bravery after all her accused had been nabbed.

‘Now! My beloved people, time has come for the verdict to be declared. Our elder women have examined the victim thoroughly.’

He paused.

He picked up a gourd of water from a stool and drunk. When he was about to remove it from his mouth the Indunda’s hand was already stretched out to receive it. He quickly received it and put back on the stool. The chief coughed, tension was mounting amongst the people who were impatient to chase away the culprit from the village, pelting stones at him.

‘It has come to my knowledge and beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is not guilty. He did not rape Adijah!’

‘Aaaa…no…no…no…,’ cried the people.

‘There is conspiracy here and those people who conspired to put Chembwe in trouble will be punished. Adijah has given me names of those people who hired her to seduce Chembwe and accuse him of rape. Chembwe exercised self-control by running away from a young girl of such beauty which was obvious that some of us could have been tempted and snared, and fallen into sin. Adijah shall be punished together with her accomplices. I dismiss this hearing!’

 

 

That night there was gumba-gumba music at Nkungulu village about twenty minutes walk from Mwalija going to the south. The village’s own DJ, DJ Tanaposi was playing some music on his gramophone. The music could be heard miles and miles away. He charged twenty kwacha for a short song and a long song like Chitekete by Leonard Dembo which takes over 14 minutes, he charged double.

After eating their supper and putting their children to bed, Suwema and her husband left for Nkungulu village walking hand in hand under a luminous light of the moon which was out in full force, and soft crashes of tides coming from Lake Malombe crashing against the shore could be heard and occasional cries of hippos. Chembwe fingered in his pocket for money he had taken to pay for the songs he would dance with his beautiful wife to ward off the bad luck of the afternoon. He felt and pulled it out of his pocket and looked at it closely.

‘What is it?’ asked Suwema.

‘I would like to make sure I have money on me. I don’t want to look a fool in front of DJ Tanaposi when I ask him to play me my favourite song?’

‘How much do you have?’ asked Suwema, trying to look at the money.

‘I have got one hundred kwacha,’ said Chembwe.

‘That means we would dance to five songs,’ said Suwema.

‘Five songs are enough.’

‘Yeah…but you were supposed to bring one-twenty for six songs – three, three,’ said Suwema.

‘It is not necessary, we shall share one song; the song that we love most!’ cried Chimbwe.

‘We shall first dance to a song by Fred Ndiche Mwalare’s Akamwile and then Wilson Makawa,’ said Suwema.

‘Those are old songs and you are not that old.’

‘It reminds me of my granny, the late Twapochele Kumatajah, who used to sing this song whenever she was having a bath,’ said Suwema.

‘You are right, a good song must be able to remind you of something – nostalgic or teach you something or in time of stress help to cool you down,’ said Chembwe, hurrying and pulling Suwema who was now lagging behind.

They were now almost there and the music was so loud and the beat so endearing and near, and it was easy to locate the place. And you could hear the voice of DJ Tanaposi and the people floating over the music echoing far and wide. He was first playing few opening songs to the dance floor. He was playing Angelina by Caiphus Semenya. This was the time that malova danced until their heels ached before people with money paid for their favourite songs and everyone had to move out and just watch them dance with their partners. Dust swirled up into the air from the shuffling of dancing feet even though Tanaposi’s boys watered the ground all the time, the ground dried quickly.

‘Hurry up! He is playing my favourite song!’ he said, urging Suwema to run.

They had found Kamchele the famous village dancer from Mtera village and his friend D7 from Tabora village, the latter known for his muscular body and wrestling. They were thrilling the people with their dancing antics. Kamchele was dancing like his body was boneless; he somersaulted and turned backwards very fast like a martial artist and stood straight as the song ended. There was an uproarious handclapping until DJ Tanaposi ordered silence as he was about to announce the song that was coming and who had paid for it.

‘Now! The song that is coming is a very long song. It is an extended version song of Leonard Dembo, Chitekete. It is almost twenty minutes and Mr. Poizoni who had asked for it has requested me to replay it six times!’ cried Tanaposi.

‘No…that is unfair,’ cried Chembwe.

‘It will only take two hours of total entertainment!’ cried Tanaposi.

‘Please, some of us have come all the way from Likala village to entertain ourselves with our favourite songs, and now we must be held captive by one, selfish man!’ cried Katibule, Likala’s village rapper and poet.

‘First come, first serve! That is a golden rule, everywhere you go! I am a business man and my duty is to respect my clients’ wishes,’ said DJ Tanaposi, chitekete playing in the background.

Poizoni was seen pushing his bicycle into the dance floor.

‘It is all yours!’ cried DJ Tanaposi.

Poizoni kicked off the bicycle’s stand and let it stand on its own at the centre of the circle and walked out.

‘I don’t want to hear that somebody was shaking his head or legs – dancing! I am coming!’ cried the hoarse voice of Poizoni handicapped by Tom-Tom tobacco smoking as he walked away, chitekete song echoing far away and people who had heard it rushed out of their houses and raced to Tanaposi’s house, for it was a favourite song among the village folks.

People were stunned by the selfish, egocentricity of Poizoni and indeed no one danced.

Everyone watched the next person as if Poizoni had promised to pay anyone who would point out at the one who was dancing to his song. So, people watched at the bicycle in the centre circle though their legs itched to dance to the song as it hit its chorus.

‘Suwema!’ called Chembwe, ‘this is total stupidity! Let us go home, we cannot wait for two hours watching a bicycle! We are not mad!’

‘You are right my husband,’ said Suwema taking her husband’s hand. By this time, the song had played for three times that was an hour.

Out of frustration, D7 whispered something to his friend Kamchele. Kamchele nodded and followed D7. People palpitated and made their way as the duo burst into the dance floor. D7 took away the bicycle and leaned it against a tree and returned to the dance floor.

DJ Tanaposi stopped the music.

‘Guys, what are you doing?’

‘Hey! Just play the song!’ cried D7.

Then a voice was heard from far.

‘Why are you stopping the song!’ cried a voice from far.

It was the voice of Poizoni. Within a minute, he appeared and rushed into the dance floor, huffing and puffing, his shirt tied around his waist.

‘Hey! What are you guys doing?’ asked Poizon shaking with fury.

‘My friend, I am D7 ask around and found out what type of a man am I!’ cried D7.

‘I don’t care who you are! Whatever name you got!’ cried Poizoni.

D7 walked few paces to Poizoni and grabbed his head with both of his burly hands.

‘Kneel down and apologise!’ he cried, pinning him down.

Wawo andeche!’ cried Poizoni, as he tried to free himself from the heavy hands of D7.

People moved back and there was a pandemonium as everyone was trying to see who could win if the two fought. It was obvious that Poizoni with his tiny stature could not exchange brows with D7.  D7 grabbed Poizoni’s head with his burly hands again and knocked his head hard with his, Poizoni collapsed and fell to the ground in a heap. D7 triumphantly paced up and down the dance floor, everyone was afraid and frozen with awe. And immediately, D7 and Kamchele walked away leaving Poizoni lying flat on his back on the dance floor, fainted. Tanaposi’s boys tried to resuscitate him by fanning him with their shirts to no avail.

 DJ Tanaposi took out his motorbike and headed to Kaongo Police Station to report the incident.

 

***

 

The following day, news made rounds that Poizoni had died and the police were looking for D7, and could not be found.

At around ten in the morning, the sun still recharging itself in the clear sky, Chembwe stepped out of the bath hut and immediately suggested to his wife that they would eat their breakfast under the cool shade of the mango tree standing in the yard. His two children, Malume and Tupoche had already eaten their porridge and left for school.

Malume was a boy of eight years of age and was in standard 4; Tupoche was just six years old and was in standard 2, a girl.

Suwema finished laying out breakfast things on a goat hide under the mango tree. It was just tea and doughnuts. Chembwe emerged out of the house in his shiny leaf green agbada.

‘My Oga, where are you going?’ mocked Suwema laughing, whilst pouring out tea into a 600ml plastic cup.

‘It is a market day today at Likala village. I would like to buy five goats,’ he said sitting down.

‘So, why didn’t you tell me? Will you go alone?’ asked Suwema.

‘Don’t bother yourself, I will go alone,’ said Chembwe picking up a doughnut and shoved it into his mouth and chewed mechanically like a goat eating a delicious shrub, the jaws moving uniformly opposite each other in rhythm of the teeth crushing the food to a pulp.

‘Why today you are going alone and leaving me behind? Why today?’

‘And on my coming back, I will stop at my sister’s house at Mtera and pick up my niece, Kista,’ he said empting his cup.

‘Why?’

‘I would like Kista to look after the goats,’ he said getting up.

‘That will never happen! Our goats! My son Malume will look after them!’ cried Suwema.

‘Why are you screaming? Kista knows how to look after goats and he has looked for goats for a year now.’

‘Never! Chembwe! Malume will look after them, after all they are his goats as well and he will look after them very well with care. I don’t want Kista to look after our goats!’

‘Malume will only put us into trouble; he can’t look after five goats. And I don’t want these goats to wonder about eating peoples’ maize and vegetables!’

‘Never!’ cried Suwema.

Then Chembwe walked into the house quietly leaving Suwema shaking with fury. A minute later, he emerged in his usual outfit of khaki shorts and a white vest, a hoe in his hand.

‘And now?’ asked Suwema.

‘I am going to the farm!’

‘And the goats?’

‘I am not buying the goats anymore!’ he cried, descending down the steps.

‘Why?’

‘You don’t listen to me.’

He started walking.

‘So you want to rape Adijah again, eh!’’ she cried following him.

‘What!’

‘You have heard me!’

Chembwe turned back, Suwema had rubbed salt on a wound that was healing. He threw the hoe away and ran after Suwema, and slapped her hard in the face for the first time in ten years of marriage.

‘You have slapped me!’ she said, crying and feeling her face with her hand for blood and quickly grabbed her husband’s hand and sunk her sharp incisors teeth into it. Chembwe cried: ‘mayooo!’

Within a minute, like vultures after seeing the remains of what had been the lions’ banquet; a crowd of people descended upon the Chembwe’s homestead. People were singing, especially women in triumph that what they had been praying for had come to pass. Many people could not believe their ears when they had heard the news. It travelled like lightening; the whole village was sizzling with the downfall of the most celebrated couple of the village, the darling of the chief.

The next day, Suwema packed her stuff and took her children, and left by a boat for her home village, Lingamasa, the other side of Lake Malombe.

 

 

 

 

 

Glossary

 

Agbada: Yoruba traditional attire.

Bawo: an indigenous game popular in East Africa believed to have come from Arabia.

Gumba- gumba: old record player music equipment popular in the 70’s and 80’s.

Induna: chief’s aide-de-camp.

Madala: big man or old man.

Matowo: wild fruit.

Malova: unemployed people or penniless people.

Oga: boss.

Wawo andeche: you leave me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nixon Mateulah

Nixon Mateulah was born in Lilongwe, Malawi. He moved to South Africa in 1996. His short stories have appeared in Storymoja, Jungle Jim Magazine and many of his poems have appeared in Munyori, Aerodrome, Kalahari Review, Stanzas Magazine under the pen name, Chichichapatile Mangochi. His debut novel, A Test of Time will be out sometime this year. His play, The Beggars Forum was longlisted for 2013 SCrIBE Scriptwriting Competition and is currently working on his second novel, The Death of the Sun, hopefully to be completed by end of this year.

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