When I walk into the kitchen, I find her gently stirring something in the deep, black, metal frying
pan. She turns towards me. “Where did you leave the children?” she asks.
I’m a little confused. There have been no children in this house for a long time. But wait, she’s looking right past me. I instinctively turn back to see if someone else is standing behind me – irrational, I know, considering no one else lives here now.
“You shouldn’t have left them alone,”she says in that clipped, angry tone and returns to stirring her empty pan on the unlit stove.
I wanted an improvement in my living conditions. I figured electing an effective chairman to head our resident’s association would be a good place to start.
I studied the candidates’ profiles and made a neat little table: pros and cons on one side, a tally of points on the other. I was on my way to an objective decision.
Then that little ‘unmentionable’ Adam happened. I don’t know how he talked me into it. Before I knew it, my list was forgotten, the vote was blindly cast, and now I fear I have to endure another year of poor living.
I remember it vividly. It was December 2012, and there on a cold, grey mortuary slab, lay my mother’s eldest brother.
My uncle the herbalist, a tall, kind man with an angular face, who had had a smiling face and funny stories about his role in our independence struggle.
He knew all about medicinal roots, leaves, barks, flowers and grasses. Once, when I was ill, he brought me the ground bark of an indigenous tree whose name I don’t recall. It made me well again.
One day he couldn’t heal himself, and he had to go to hospital. He never left.
Here he sits, wasting away under the mango tree. His once white shirt has a yellow tinge, the outcome of too many washes in the village stream. His body tilts to the left when he walks. During his illustrious university career, this was known as the ‘academic angle’ (obtained by those who diligently borrowed and lugged heavy loads of books from the library on a regular basis). He cannot recall the last time he read anything other than the Good Book, and the angle is a result of a life in which everything must be got through hard manual labor.
It was not supposed to end like this, but how else could it have? He graduated with honors and joined the civil service. He did not make any deals under the table; and when everyone took afternoons off to go and run a business, he pushed files and waited for a promotion (which never came, because it had to be bought). When political alignment was required, he declared himself a servant of the people, neutral and impartial.
Much too late, he discovered that his pension was hardly enough to live on. Had he not built a small house on his father’s land, who knows what would have become of this Outlier, who chose to live an upright life?
Denial Our mayor just launched his bid for another five years in office. No matter that we peep through garbage heaps to see the sun every morning. That’s the only way we know the earth still turns on its axis, even as our city grinds to a halt.
Then we get stuck in traffic, heading to businesses that are posting negative growth. We pray we make it back home without getting robbed; there’s no guarantee doctors will be working today. No running water? Oh, that’s climate change. But our mayor is like Adam, his fast mouth will get him re-elected.