By Dominic Chawezi Zgambo
The alarm blared violently. My drowsy eyelids refused to open. I took out my phone and snoozed the alarm. My eyes changed their minds and chose to open two minutes later; it was six a.m. I dragged the 60 kilos of my flesh and bones out of bed and into the shower. The shower spat out chilly water since there was no electricity; power had gone on vacation as usual. Blackouts had become so common in our lives that seeing lights on was unusual.
The government had purchased generators to help the country’s power supply. You heard me correctly; generators. To many of us, it sounded like a regressive move and a ruse designed to aid them in further corrupt activities. To a few of them, it was progressive and a way to solve our power problems. We believed their narrative; the government is always right in democracy. I was shivering after the shower, sipped very hot tea that seemed still boiling in my mouth.
The morning was chilly, with rain showers and thunderstorms. Despite the fact that fog had engulfed the earth, I could see from my window some children rushing to school barefoot and without umbrellas. Each one had a small notebook in the hand. The school books were soaked. The handwriting of hunger and misery could clearly be read on their faces. Seeing this my mind swiftly went back to a newspaper article I read the week before that was talking about the 6 billion kwacha that went missing from the Ministry of Education. What a shame; corruption gurus have no sympathy for the poor. I looked down at my wristwatch. It was 6:35 a.m. I grabbed my shoulder bag and made my way to the bus station. ‘Come and enter this one, it’s almost full!” exclaimed one call boy in a frog-like voice. Without hesitation, I boarded the bus and proceeded to the back seat. I sat next to an elderly man who seemed so serious.
‘muliwuli?’ I greeted him. He didn’t say anything, but instead smiled and nodded his skull. I then took out my phone, plugged in the headsets, and started listening to some slow jams. My gaze was fixed outside the window, and I could see whatever was going on. I noticed a man dressed nicely in a black suit and a white shirt. His necktie was long, it looked like a Scaff. He resembled the Ghanaian funeral dancers. He was carrying a large bag on his broad shoulders, similar to how those funeral dancers carry coffins. One of the call boys rushed over and assisted him with a bag. He then demanded payment, claiming that the bag was too heavy to be carried for free.
‘I didn’t ask you to help me,’ the suit man replied, his tone relaxed.
‘Mr. Man!’ he exclaimed. ‘I’m not here to joke. I need my money now!’
‘I told you I don’t have any money!’ The call boy became more irritated, he grabbed the man by the neck, pulling his scarf-like necktie. In a fraction of a second the man was down. People had formed a circle with others cheering and clapping. I then noticed the call boy sitting on the suit man’s belly. The call boy delivered his blow with all of his mind, soul, and heart. The suit man just moved his head, and the fist landed on the tarmac road. The call boy screamed as if his head had been severed, his hand was covered in the red fluid. The man simply pushed him aside and proceeded to walk inside the bus as if nothing had happened. The bus was deafeningly quiet as everyone was trying to process what had just happened.
I looked down at my wristwatch. It was 8:00 a.m., and the bus was still static. I was getting worried because I had an interview in Mchinji at 2 p.m. I couldn’t afford to miss this opportunity. I had been unemployed for some time and was struggling to make ends meet. My previous job ended in a dramatic way. During the three years I worked for the company, my boss hired three of his unqualified siblings, not to mention of his illiterate cousins. I walked into his office one day fuming. It was summer, and the sun was roasting me as early as seven o’clock in the morning. I was heavily perspiring, but still I was in a suit and necktie. I knocked, he ordered me in. Upon entering, I didn’t waste time before throwing a verbal bomb at him. ‘I am tired of your corrupt and nepotistic tendencies!’
‘What exactly are you talking about? You haven’t even greeted me?’ He was removing his glasses as if to confirm that I was indeed the one speaking to him in such a manner.
‘Would you like me to greet you, sir? Ok, how are you, my nepotistic boss?’
‘What?? How dare you speak to me like that? Mr. Vinjeru, speak no more just leave my office and I will get back to you later.’ I immediately left his office and resigned a few days after.
The bus left the depot at 8:15 a.m. I slept and daydreamed for the first hour of the journey. I woke up when the driver turned on the radio. It was so loud that many people appeared uncomfortable with it. A political rally for the opposition party was live on radio. One chubby lady asked the driver to reduce the volume, which he reluctantly did. ‘Does the driver believe we’re all members of the same party?’ He should play music instead of those pointless political rallies,’ snorted one man at the corner who had been quiet the entire journey. He was wearing very huge eye glasses that looked like safety googles. He had been so quiet that he appeared like a Hindu monk in deep meditation.
‘You are correct,’ said the obese woman who had previously requested that the driver turn down the volume. Except for the orbs on her chest, she had all of the characteristics of a man.
‘I’m not a fan of politics. Politicians are bloody liars who care only about power and money.’ The man with huge glasses appeared to be ready to vomit everything that was going through his head. I decided to participate in the discussion. Without a second thought, I quickly chipped in.
‘Don’t generalize about politics and politicians. They are not all the same. Besides, politics is an unavoidable part of life. Politics has control over our daily lives, and the national economy is dependent on it.’
There was silence after that. I didn’t know what to think. Have I interrupted their conversation? Is he feeling defeated by my argument? I had a lot of unanswered questions. The bus stopped at one of the trading centers. Some passengers were on their way in, while others were on their way out, either to buy something or to get to their destination. It was no longer wintry, as it had been when the day began, but rather muggy with a cloudy sky. Some vendors boarded the bus, enticing us to buy their wares. I realized I had forgotten to bring toothpaste and a tooth brush. I called out to the man selling toothpaste and toothbrushes. I got the tooth brush, but the tooth paste made me nervous. My suspicions were confirmed when I squeezed the tube tightly. The tube was actually half-full; the vendor simply pumped some air into it to make it appear full. I apprehended him. The vendor quickly exited the bus without asking for money. We then drove for a long time without stopping, and half of the passengers appeared to be preoccupied with their phones.
The bus came to a halt yet again to pick up and drop off people. There was a lot of shouting and pushing going on. With the exception of the overweight woman and the eye-glasses man, I had no new passengers. A woman with a baby on her chest entered and sat next to me. Her breast was exposed for the baby’s meal while herself was chewing fresh corn. When I tried to smile at the infant, he began to scream. I felt uneasy. Many people in my village believe that a baby cries when he or she is near a witch or wizard. The mother gave me a suspicious look. I smiled and closed my eyes. The baby remained silent and continued suckling violently.
The conductor began to argue with a man who wanted to lit his embassy cigarette.
‘Get out and board a bus of smokers, not this one,’ the conductor yelled as he shoved him off the bus.
‘You did an excellent job. Some people believe they have more rights than the rest of us,’ remarked a woman sitting next to me.
The bus arrived at the Chinkhoma trading center. My destination, Kamwendo, was only a few kilometers away. I decided to return to the political topic. I inquired of the man in glasses,
‘In the upcoming presidential elections, which political party will you vote for?’ ‘As I previously stated, I will never engage in politics.’ Politicians do not provide me with a meal. I struggle to make ends meet. They are also fighting for their daily bread. Don’t let them fool you into thinking they’re there to help us. Why are they the only times when campaigns are successful? They deserted us after we won. They don’t solve our problems; instead, they contribute to them.’ He bemoaned, looking at me as if I were a politician. In his voice, I could detect rage and pain.
‘For my part, I’ll vote for the United Party,’ resurrected the fat lady.
“Why will you vote for that party?” I questioned.
‘Because the leader is from my tribe. Why should I cast my vote for someone from a different region or tribe? They will not develop my area because they will be too preoccupied with developing their own areas and uplifting their tribesmen.’
‘You can see! That is why democracy will never succeed in Africa. If we continue giving every Jim and Jack the right to vote, things will never change. They vote for bad leaders simply because they are members of their tribe. I prefer that illiterate and ignorant people should not be allowed to vote,’ raged the man with spectacles. The woman jumped out of her seat and grabbed the man around his neck. His glasses fell to the ground, and she stepped on them.
‘Why are you referring to me as an illiterate? Do you know who I am?’
The bus immediately came to a halt; we had arrived at Kamwendo. I left, despite the fact that I had wished to see more of the drama. I checked my watch; it was exactly noon; I had two hours until my interview. I went straight to a nearby pub to take one or two as I wait for interviews.