Fiction: Sunset At Noon

By

Nixon Mateulah

 

 

A premonitory knocking startles me from the troubled sleep I struggled to find last night. I try to turn an inch, but feels like the bedding is tightening me around. My cadaverous frame hampers me from wiggling out of the bedding. I breathe a sigh of relief when I notice that the knocker has finally stopped. I turn to my previous position. I am lying on my back, my emaciated, disheveled head popping out from the beddings like a new born chick out of a broken egg. Though the knocking has stopped now, I sense and feel like someone with an imposing figure is hovering over me. With my failing strength, I try hard to roll to the edge of the bed, the dying candle giving out a dim light but enough to see all corners of the room. I imagine someone moving about the room. I imagine hearing his soft taps on the floor.

‘Who is this troubling me at this hour?’

Then follows a distinct knocking, I am scared and bury myself into the bedding. The knocking goes on and on like a woodpecker pecking on wood. I shake my head out of the bedding and look down at my son who is sleeping peacefully like a baby at the foot of my bed. I wonder why my son is not stirring from the knocking. Am I in a world of my own? Am I not getting mad? Does a madman know that he is mad?

‘I…am coming…but I can hardly get up!’

Why I am lying now? Can I really get up and walk to the door?

I manage to cry out in my frail voice enough to disturb a sleeping baby, but my son goes on snoring away.

 

 

I have been bedridden for a month now. I am in my last days on earth! Poor me! My stomach cancer has metastasized, that is what the doctors are saying. They have beaten the death knell for me and washed their hands of English medicine, and asked me to look up to God for a miracle.

Ever since the day I received the bad news, I have wished days to hurry me to my grave, and saw nothing in clinging to this world. So many people have disappointed me in this life, as I have disappointed others as well. My father’s best friend, out of jealousy, poisoned my father at a religious feast. My wife got pregnant whilst I was toiling away in another country. This boy I call my son is the product of that pregnancy after no man came to claim the pregnancy and later the boy. I call him Sipho (Gift) from the language I learnt in that country; he is a gift to me as any other child is. Eventually, I accepted the child and took all responsibility of a true biological father. Our pastor has been caught red-handed recently making love to a married woman in his Kombi. Children now are no longer listening to their parents, but to either strangers or to their hearts. The world does not any longer preach about love, but about hatred of one another. Few people look up to God now. Manifestations of works of darkness are everywhere. Will the few that converse with God save the world Why Lot and his family failed to save Sodom and Gomorrah? I don’t believe in the God the world led me to believe in; but the God who is in conversation with me all the time, without any attachment to ostentatious, self-righteous worshipers: that is the true God I serve. I have waited for an angel of death every minute of my breath with open hands to by pass me this cup of ambiguity.

‘Who the hell is this knocker troubling me at this odd hour?’ Then after a while, the knocking resumes again, this time so loud: distinct and odd, the door frame almost shaking to crumble.

‘Don’t you know that dying is a matter of choice and intellect: choice, to wait for your destined day to die and use of intellect to avoid inhuman traps laid in our path of daily dealings with life,’ I mumble, this time my apprehension threatening my thread of life which is now snapping. I feel a constriction tightening around my neck like a noose closing in, I gasp for breath. I wheeze and pant like a marathon runner who has just arrived at a finishing line. My attendant stirs this time; he kicks off his blanket with an astonished force. The boy violently gets up; he yawns and shoots his hands sideways. He feels his mouth’s corner for traces of white marks of dried saliva; he wipes with his palm and looks strangely at me.

‘What is it dad?’ he asks in a frenzy. This time I have managed to breathe softly. I could feel a thin plume of air inhaling and exhaling through my nose.

‘Someone is knocking at the door,’ I say with a forced breath like that of an asthma invalid. The boy gallops to the door and flings it open. He pokes his head through the slightly opened door. Through the window I can see the beautiful rudimentary sun just bursting out in the east and its golden rays showering to all directions like rain over geminated plants. Birds, as if expressing their gratitude at the sun’s brilliance, chirp melodiously in the trees and others are seen flying high up in the sky in groups migrating to somewhere, as I am too about to migrate into the unknown.

‘There’s no one standing by the door,’ says my boy.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Absolutely sure!’

I try to focus myself to drift into sleep but my eyes do not succumb to it. The boy stays put, huddles himself in the corner watching fixedly at me his head glued in his hands. He cuts a very gloomy picture. I can imagine his heart now is ballooning with imminent grief, he dreads the moment I would breathe my last.

 

 

Knocking resumes again. I stir, forcing my weak, sunken frame to turn and look down at my son.

‘Go and answer the door my son!’ I say with forced words that keep gurgling from my throat.

‘I am certain dad, no one is knocking!’ says the boy.

‘Are you sure?’

‘Sure!’

‘Can’t you hear now? I can hear, it is so loud now that the ear of a deaf person could take in the sound. It is so distinct, resonant and reverberates away. Go and see who’s troubling us.’

‘I can’t hear anything dad, only some chirps of birds outside and howling wind,’ says the boy.

‘Are you deaf?’

‘If I was deaf, we could not be having this conversation,’ says the boy, there is a slight loss of temper in his intonation of a disciplined child pushed to extremity.

‘There’s a knock, so loud now like tolls of the church bell on Sunday morning. Can’t you hear now?’ The boy shrugs his shoulders.

I toss around and I am almost falling from the bed, my left hand hangs down. The boy gets up on time and rescues me from failing.

‘You will fall dad,’ he says as he gently moves me onto to the centre of the bed and wraps me around with the sheeting up to my chin. I turn frailly and eyes sorrowfully at my son; my eyes are quickly losing flicker of life and are becoming paler and paler, weak and weak by every beat of my heart.

‘There again! Go and see who’s knocking please!’

‘I will go and see.’

‘Who was knocking?’

‘No one is ever knocking the door dad,’ he says sadly.

‘I see…you cannot hear that knock nor see the knocker, only deaf people can hear and the blind see the knocker. Look he’s standing there.’

‘Who?’ The boy jumps up in fright.

‘That one standing at the door, it’s my time now to leave, but before I do so, fetch me sheaf of papers and pen.’ I pull up myself to a sitting position. My boy runs to me and helps me by propping up a stack of pillows behind me against the wall.

‘Are you alright dad?’ asks the boy tearfully.

‘It is not time to weep, my son, bring me a pen and sheaf of papers,’ I wheeze and pant with swishing nasal sound like someone with a flu whose nose are clogged with mucous. The boy rummages in his duffel bag for a pen and paper.

‘Why are you crying my boy? Dry your tears, be a man. From today on you would be a man.’

‘Is someone still standing by the door?’ asks the boy, palpitating as he turns his eyes to the door.

‘He has gone but not too far, he’s taking away those whose hour to depart this world has finally arrived. He will be back soon after I have finished writing.’ The boy at last hands me a pen and a sheaf of papers.

‘Can you write dad?’ he asks grief-stricken.

‘I will try though my life is about to end so soon,’ says I, as I receive the book and places the papers on it and ponders what to write. ‘This is my life story though it would sound far-fetched and apocryphal at first to you. I must thank you tremendously for your effort to trace me down. It is wise a child that knows its own father.’

‘What are you writing dad?’

‘Everything, from my birth to the present time. I want you to judge me according to how I have lived my life, because people are dying with covered secrets with them.’

‘Some sort of autobiographical account of your life?’ asks the boy.

‘No…no…son autobiographers conceal a lot to the world, what they jot down in their books are so teeny compared to what they take with them to their graves. I am concealing nothing. I am doing this because you and I have never been together enough in our life times because of… I hope …you know. But from today on my life will weave with your life and I shall be a constant companion and guide in your life though I would be gone soon.’

The boy is so silent and tears are uncontrollably oozing out of his eyes in drips soaking his shirt. I stop writing and take a deep breath and look down at my weeping son. The wall clock registers 11 o’clock; the boy seems to have noticed the time. He gets up and pushes off the curtains, the sun is reigning oppressively outside. Drying his puffy eyes, he looks at me questioningly.

‘Do you want to say something?’

‘It’s time we had our break-fast.’

‘Don’t worry; I am not eating anything today.’ I am opening up my life to you now for you to glean upon a legion of untold secrets. This is my side of story; every story got three sides to it: my story, your mother’s story and the true story. And I hope your mother would be generous enough to tell her story to you too as I have done. I shall call this autobiographical writing–Of Inscrutable Providence.

I take a break; I feel a gnawing pain around my wrist from writing. I feebly wave my right arm up and down to force the blood to course through my veins as they are moving at a decelerating motion. I know any time my life would snap!

‘The knocking again! Now you can hear, son, it is so loud and hollow like a tinsmith is hammering away at a sheet of metal.’

‘I cannot hear dad,’ the boy says, shaking her head sadly.

‘There…he’s standing…in his heavenly, majestic garb, so beautiful with colours of heaven. He’s now walking towards me. Now…he’s here…right beside me. Look at the time on the wall clock; it’s almost a minute before noon. Don’t cry my son…he’s here to take me, he’s only executing his job that takes him from continent to continent, town to town, country to country, village to village, door to door every day. One day you will see him, only if you live your life purely on his Father’s commands; you shall see him on your last day on this planet, and he shall not harass you nor manhandle you, he shall bear you on his wings and transport you whilst Angels singing triumphantly as he delivers you to the King of Kings. My son looks at the clock! It is eleven fifty nine and a second hand is turning up. I see a vision of my open grave, I peer into it, it is as dark as night. I quiver at the prospect of embracing it as my last home. I wonder at the huge mound of soil that would shroud me, erase me from this life, from people who has known me and immortalized later by people who would read my autobiographical writing–Of Inscrutable Providence.

 

I get up abruptly unlike the invalid I have become. I stand tall but not without some pronounced shaking. I start to walk with the renewed energy of the youth towards the open door.

 

Alarmed, my son follows me out crying, but he stops behind me brusquely when he hears a strange ecumenical choral singing from the distance; its members dressed in snow white robes with their open arms are beckoning me to join them. The atmosphere has completely gone dim like a sort of sunset at noon. Even dogs have divined that something is amiss; they bark with the incandescent fury of agitation that we sometimes see in them the moment thunder strikes.

 

 

 

 

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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