My Brother and I
by William Khalipwina Mpina (Malawi)
My brother and I met in Chichiri prison. I was prisoner number 5172/4. He was prisoner number 3056/2. We did not get in there on the same day. My brother was the first person to be escorted there with brutal blows and stupefying songs.
Prison conditions were tough. My father who once was a political prisoner had told us but we thought with time things might have changed. We found that it was more horrible than those days. We used to meet when classes were in progress. My brother had enrolled in form three while I was a mathematics teacher in the reformatory school. I knew he was there, but he did not expect me to be there. He shed tears when he saw that I had stood in front of the class. He rushed to hug me. I responded positively and embraced him for a few minutes. Bitter moment it was.
Nsambi and I were identical twins, but he was in a class a year behind me. When he joined me at secondary school, my colleagues noticed that there was a big difference between us. He was too talkative and ambitious. His failure to score good grades and too much liking of disco were among the facts surrounding the different versions of their explanations regarding our differences.
When we finished secondary school, I remember, he used to write most of the things he wished to do and keep the stuff under our mat. He used to take all his dreams down in a 172-paged hardcover, in detail and careful handwriting, the one he bragged about that he used when he was writing his national examinations. He used a pen that our headmaster, Mr. Mahere offered him as a gift when he had passed a math’s test. He did it two marks above average, but Mr. Mahere said. “He has made it.”
Nsambi used to take his hardcover almost everywhere and perpetually wished how all the things he wrote would come true.
He wrote what he would do if he were a General Manager of Smallholder Tea Authority. He also wrote what he would do if he were married to a very rich white woman, the one he saw at Conforzi. He also wrote what he would do if he lied to a daughter of a very rich man at Luchenza that he was also a son of a chief executive officer in the city of Blantyre and seriously wanted to marry the girl when she discovered that he was a son of a person who produced cooking sticks and sold them at Miseufolo market. Nasty thinking this was.
We went to Blantyre to look for employment a year after he wrote his final national examinations. My brother had a JCE certificate and a notification of results slip for attempting MSCE that he miserably failed. I had JCE and MSCE certificates with the best grades that made me a star at Gerena Secondary School.
Nsambi was resourceful. He had a list of several companies and names of the General Managers in them. He was fascinated with those names that came from our tribe. “This man comes from our area and he is of our tribe. He will employ me as a messenger and you as a clerk for sure, but those guards; they are really guards. They do not want us to meet the real bosses.” He mused one day, showing how shallow minded he was.
My brother was a dreamer. One of his dreams was to find the right woman whom he would spend the rest of his life with. At some point, he told us that it was his wish to marry Nabanda. Nabanda was the right woman for him. Nabanda needed a successful man like him. Nsambi used to define a successful man as the one who could make more money than his wife could spend. He was not a successful man yet he believed he would become one. We used to laugh whenever Nabanda’s name was mentioned. She was a queen in our village, but her lifestyle was questionable.
We had an aunt who was a successful woman in Blantyre because she could make more money than his husband could spend. Our aunt was stubborn. She did not want us to beg from her. She used to say our father had troubled her quite a lot, now that he was dead, we couldn’t give her tough time.
She used to say she once supported our father through secondary school, but our father never made it beyond form two. He loved more kachasu than education. Eventually, he impregnated our mother without any skill to support himself financially. Then he resorted to producing cooking sticks which anybody would produce. He was a silly man she used to say. A silly man was defined as the one who used to beg assistance from a sister. Those days men were supposed to help their sisters. She used to say, “Your father was silly. Now you also want to be silly if you continue begging from a woman.” She said one evening when we went there for a meal.
Our aunt had five children whom we would have happily called cousins and nephews, but we could not afford to do so. They were stubborn too. Whenever we met them, they used to say, “Hide, those beggars will trouble you.” The first, the second and the third born were unsociable. The forth one was different, but she did not stay with the parents longer than the other four.
Our aunt used to stay in Zingwangwa in a four-roomed self-contained house with a kitchen and living room, decorated with different species of flowers placed inside plastic buckets, running round the house near the white coloured wall. Inside, the living room was dust free. The floor was slippery, maroon in colour. The sofa set was also maroon. The family pictures were carefully stuck on the walls. We once dressed to kill, to see our aunt whom we were told was sick. We first knocked on the gate. Nobody noticed. Peeping through a small hole, we noticed that the first and the second born were seated close to the gate, but they chose deliberately not to attend to us. We opened the gate. When we entered, these wealthy sons fled into the house. In fact, they once said we were not their relatives. We heard them telling our aunt. “Abale anu abwera.” It pained us.
We placed our shoes by the doorstep and tip toed to the living room when suddenly a female voice told us to stay outside.
“Why?” I asked Nsambi.
“You know them. Mind your business, Nsambo.”
We went back, shoes in our hands. We sat on the khonde, waiting for our aunt. She came gradually after twenty minutes. We noticed that she was frail.
“Your feet are stinking. Let’s chat here. What do you want?” “We came...” Nsambi started.
“…to see you because we were told you were in hospital. How are you?” I said.
“Oh yes, I am well. Why didn’t you come to the hospital? You see that’s your problem. You want money from me but you do not want to support me.”
“Our cousins and nephews never came to tell us.” Nsambi said.
After forty minutes, we whispered to each other that it was time to kill aunts back to Misesa where we were putting up while looking for a job in the city.
Three days later, a message came. Our aunt was in need of me. I had to be at her house before six thirty in the morning on Monday. I did. She told me she had found a job for me. She looked at my certificates and looked at my face.
“You must be bright, Nsambo.” She said.
I nodded my head negatively. Her car passed through beautiful buildings until it stopped at one of the departments of her company.
“Walk into that office and ask for Mr Wyson.” I did. I was offered a position to work as a temporary clerk without interviews.
Soon, I found the city very pleasing. I got new friends. Some of them I knew because we used to walk together to work. Some of them were my workmates. I discovered that most men in the city used to enjoy life especially on weekends. The city had bars and clubs. Most men used to drink beer. At home, I once tasted kachasu, that horrible stuff. But in the city there was opaque beer called Chibuku. I likened it to masese at home which I once tasted with ease. Friday evening I used to visit a cheap bar in Limbe where I used to accompany most of the friends we were walking together to and from work. We use to call it Argentina. The chibuku bar had a space for over fifty people at any given time. In the room, four large speakers were blaring out music and a twenty-one inch TV was beaming English Premier League games. These served as the only entertainment. There were no shelves in the bar since chibuku used to come in crates of twenty or the packets were simply placed on the floor. We did not mind as long as the packets were not damaged.
My brother never got a job. He went to my aunt several times to beg for an opportunity like mine. He was not successful. Then he decided to go back to the village. He told me the city would not favour him. He had walked around the city more than enough. He had visited places that were new to me. He had brought home men who were soaring in poverty of diverse degrees. Little by little, my brother was becoming emaciated, depressed and humiliated.
“All the best,” he told me the day he left.
Serving the money that I used to give him, he bought a bicycle. Nansanya village welcomed him back in disbelief, for people thought we would go back rich. But none of his dreams was fulfilled in the city. He wrote to me that he was to do kabaza business in Luchenza. I wished him all the best because I could not support him for the rest of his life. In Luchenza, there was a bar which was as good as Argentina. They used to call it Payerepayere Chibuku bar. Nabanda was plying her trade there. One evening, my brother visited the place. Nabanda was there sipping a fruit juice. She welcomed my brother as somebody she knew better. He felt good when she kissed him. My brother never wasted time. She sent her to bring four packets of chibuku.
“I was in the city, ever heard about this?” Trying to beat about the bush, my brother started.
“Yes, is this where you bought this bicycle? Where is your brother, Nsambi”
“Yes, my brother Nsambo gave me money.” Nsambi looked at the beautiful woman in the face.
“What about your rich aunt? Does she know that you are doing kabaza business?” Nabanda was filled with dismay.
“I think she does. But you see she is rude. She couldn’t help. Zawo zinayera basi. Why did you ask about her?”
“Those days we used to say everybody in your family will be rich. We thought she had set the ball rolling.”
“My brother is…. Forget about that. Let’s drink.”
Just then, a man named Boss entered the room. He took Nabanda by the arm and immediately went behind the buildings. They came back after an hour. My brother was still in the bar. He regretted that he did not tell Nabanda, as soon as he saw her, the reason for his visit, but he waited until she rejoined him.
“Welcome back.” My brother said without any show of jealousy. “But tell me what happened with you to be staying here? You are beautiful you know.”
“Nobody understands. It’s my choice. I want to live the type of life I want.” “I want to marry you. That’s why I came.”
Nabanda never answered. She encouraged my brother to buy beer without showing any sign of acceptance. My brother left the bar with less satisfaction. He needed to be very close to her. Having failed to meet many of his dreams he had to satisfy just one. That was to marry Nabanda. I was not the only person who knew about this. Many people did. They talked to him, but Nsambi never listened. Everybody thought my brother would make a mistake to marry a woman who had been in a bar. Many thought Nabanda had gone astray. She was rebellious and untrustworthy.
A few weeks later, we heard that my brother was staying with Nabanda behind the chibuku bar. We were told they eloped on condition that Nabanda would still be in business. She did not want to let her customers down. I visited him once. He told me he was happy and was to be let free. I saw a problem. I knew my brother was in self-rejection, when Nabanda said, “We are staying without any problem.” I suggested that I should take Nsambi to the city. Nabanda denied. Nsambi thought it wisely.
“You want me to go to the city to make money. I still make money here.”
“Brother, you are right, but going to the city is something different.”
He did not follow me the same day. I saw him at the main gate one afternoon. I was happy. By then I had been taken on permanent employment. Before we went home, we passed by Club Argentina for one or two, the figurative language of the city; for I saw that he was filled with anxiety and his face was wrinkled. I tried to make him feel at home so that I should convince him not to go back to Nabanda. I was relieved when he commented on one of the beautiful women at the bar.
I told him, “There are many beautiful ladies in the city.”
When we finished our first packets, Nsambi told me to follow him outside. “Sorry, brother for what I want to say.”
“Feel free, bro.”
“I am with Nabanda on this journey. So I beg you we should not waste so much time here.” “Where is she?” I asked.
“We will find her at Aunt Mao Club.”
I knew there was Aunt Mao in Misesa, but I had never stepped my foot in there. I suggested that we should leave immediately so that we might attend to Nabanda. I did not want to ask immediately why they were together. We walked to where we found a minibus that took us to Misesa. I did not speak until we alighted at Misesa market. I took long strides a head of my brother for one or two at Aunt Mao. Nsambi stopped.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him.
“I suggest we should go there after some hours in case we might disturb her.” “I don’t understand. I think she is waiting for us.”
“There is nothing to worry about. Okay let’s go.”
I walked but with less vigour this time. My brother was playing a game I failed to understand. I told him that I had money to spend together with Nabanda. I knew there were three of us. We walked into the club. Many people were making noise concerning football. We ignored them and strolled straight where Nabanda was. When she saw us, she was very happy. But she did not stop what she was doing. She attended to us when we said that we were about to leave. She
obliged to be with us on condition that she would just see the house and return. Once she was through with whatever she was to do, she would knock on the door. I obliged for the fact that Nsambi had to be saved. I strongly made my mind that this would stop. All this time Nsambi was just laughing. He saw that everything was in order but I understood it was because of the Indian hemp he shared with Nabanda. I knew my brother was dying alive. It was my responsibility to save him.
We went to bed. I never slept. I constantly kept looking at my watch to check the time Nabanda would come back. The moon had just set its foot in the bare clouds. The atmosphere was very quiet that night. My heartbeat was the only thing that made a lot of sound. This was not the first time circumstances confused my mind. The death of my sister was more baffling than this. A decade before, my mother had suggested that I should go and buy salt and soya pieces for the evening meal.
“Why don’t you send, Melifa? I was at the dambo watering the vegetables.” I said. “Remember, this is only a girl. Girls are not supposed to travel when darkness has fallen.”
I did not understand. She sent her but on her way back from Mr Muwawa’s grocery, a rabid dog nearly mauled her. How I wished I went myself. The following morning, they went with her to Mangunda clinic, but there was no vaccine. When they were returning after they had been referred to Thyolo hospital where they stayed for four weeks, mother was crying. They came by the hospital ambulance at almost the same time as the time Melifa was sent to Mr Muwawa’s shop. I thought I was to blame. I did not save my sister.
This time I had to save my twin brother before this rabid girl mauled him. Nabanda did not return that evening. When morning arrived, I left for work, a very confused person. I did not say much to my brother, but I discussed the matter with my colleagues at work who failed to understand how a normal person could do that. Most of my colleagues said since Nsambi was my twin brother I was better placed to convince him. I thought so, but it was not easy. When I came back in the evening, I found them at the sitting room. She smiled at me and lifted her hands from her jeans wrapped thighs to rub her arms. She was very drunk. Nsambi moved his seat to be close to her, paving a way for me to proceed to the bedroom. He too was in high spirits. After I took off official clothes, I asked for food. There was none. They told me they were too tired to cook. They told me to cook that day. Next day would be their turn. I wanted to ask what they had been doing but I sealed my lips. I prepared the food and together we ate.
When Nabanda had filled her stomach, she said she wanted to visit a friend at Aunt Mao. I told her we would follow her. I wanted to seriously discuss issues with my brother. I set the ball rolling immediately after the door was closed.
“Are you in a position to understand what I want to say or you are drunk?”
“What do you want to talk about? I thought you said I should come here to stay with you.”
“Yes, I did but I did not invite Nabanda.” I boldly made the statement. “Look at what is happening? Can’t you see you are in a big problem?”
“So you want to send me back?”
“No. I want you to send Nabanda back. After a short stay, you can visit her at home.” I said.
He looked at me. I looked at him. He said nothing. I did not take the courage to push him out of my house. I found a job for him at Ginnery Corner as a shop assistant. Six months later, I was transferred to our branch in Lunzu. I left. I told him to be very careful with work. A year later, my brother was taken to Chichiri prison. Assisted by Nabanda, he broke into Aunt Mao’s club and went away with music equipment, two speakers and an amplifier.
In the month of July, I exchanged sacred vows with Katie, a woman five years older than my age. She was short, light-skinned and beautiful. Honestly, I no longer noticed that she existed. My aunt walked into my wish to have a woman and engineered everything. She was one of the secretaries around Lunzu. I tried so many times to convince her to tell me how old she was, but I failed. I was conscious about a woman’s age. Coincidentally, her father did on our engagement ceremony. We were chatting in the house when he suddenly said, “this girl was born in the year I was promoted. That was in 1972. I tell you I was very happy because that time I had eight children. All boys.” I was flabbergasted. When I asked her about the validity of the information, she told me it was not true. Her father was just over the moon to tell lies, but she did not reveal the year she was born.
I wished this was not revealed to me. I never thought I would challenge an old woman. As a show of dislike, I used to call my wife sugar, a shortened version of sugar mummy. She liked it because I kept the secret to myself.
Frankly, I did not love this woman for two other reasons. To begin with, she suffered from a condition known as ‘hyperphodaemia,.’ She loved powders and lipstick which she used to apply
on her face every hour. I once told my aunt that this girl was more than a model. She laughed at me. She said she understood that I was a village boy. “Soon you will cope up with city life.”
Secondly, she once told me a story about her workmate and her husband. “You see,” she started. “My workmate is tough. Her husband wanted to divorce her. Had he known he wouldn’t have even dreamed about it.” I listened with keen interest. Her colleague’s husband was claiming that the woman could not give him children. The woman could not believe this. She challenged the man that the problem was his. The man said there was no way he could be impotent when everybody in their family had children. They went to court. The woman testified that she had two children who were staying with her mother only that she did not reveal it to this man for fear of losing the opportunity to marry. The man challenged that it could not be true. The two boys escorted by their father were shown to everybody in the court. The husband was ashamed. He failed to produce evidence that he was a real man. People laughed at him.
“Are they still together?” I asked.
“Yes of course. And the man will never do it again. My workmate assures us.”
When I enquired to find out where the case was tried, I discovered that she was lying. I further discovered that at her workplace, there were two spinsters and herself.
Life went on. After I stayed with Katie for three years without a gift of a child, I started dating a girl known as Jamia. I could not divorce my wife without proof of potency. I changed my lifestyle deliberately to show Katie that my love was no longer a genuine one. I thought she didn’t see that.
It was very hot at Lunzu market and the August whirlwinds made the Sunday afternoon more boring than expected. Specks of thick dust danced in the whirlwinds. Covering their faces with pieces of cloth, some kaunjika sellers dashed into bars and rest houses while others stood there but facing the walls of brick fenced buildings. The weather was not good for a market day. A few buyers who thought would continue their business: picked a cloth, sized it up and dropped it down; picked another cloth, sized it up and dropped it down in the absence of the owners did with little success. Some pieces of clothes flew away like displaced ducks, and the owners sprinted after them.
For those that knew the market very well like me, we would wait until it was calm so that we should negotiate better and pay half the price. The dust lowered the value of otherwise expensive items. I often enjoyed buying clothes in that situation. I wished I had planned for it, but
I was on another mission. I always crave for doing one thing at a time until I get to the end of my mission. I am not the sort of man taken up so easily nor change minds with no trouble of weighing the pros and cons. I strategically do my things for my own benefit and for the benefit of others. I know the life history of some of prominent men, now gone. They died because they were silly; they would listen to their wives even though they knew their women were lying to them. They would cling to their wives even though they knew they were old. I could not do that. Old women were distasteful.
As some people hid behind buildings to allow the angry winds pass, I strolled on. From Jamia’s house, I passed through a small gate and went round a dilapidated building through which I connected with the path that took me not straight to my house; but ‘the city clinic.’ The city clinic had a fence that had also a small gate that I used quite often to get into the city clinic main building and see myself out through the main gate.
Waving at the uniformed woman at the main gate, I quickly joined hordes of men and women from shopping or work and hurried towards my house contentedly. This was not the first time I had done that. It was a routine; some kind of a ritual that I performed whenever I was meeting Jamia, a girl of my age, a woman with ‘everything’ in place.
I had a reason to believe that a man had to be ingenious. A man had to listen, and be quick to know his wife. I therefore knew the woman I married on the day of our engagement. Things were not in order. This I sensed from the many stories she shared with me. My aunt said the woman was intelligent. I disagreed with her. In fact, intelligence was not all that should be in a woman. She had to be of my age and able to choose what she said. I thought I could go to the courts and divorce her, but I allowed her to stay on condition that I would first of all find reason enough to chase her out of the house. I began checking messages in her phone when she was asleep. I often called numbers that were saved uniquely. My wife was creative when it came to saving contact numbers She saved a number with a name, oneandonly. When I called, her mother answered. I called sweetbanana. Her sister answered. Then I called Rute. Her brother answered. I stopped this faultfinding method. It wouldn’t work. I just thought of seeking a woman who could make me happy.
When I came to the door of my house, I stood there for a moment before I knocked. My sixth sense told me that Katie had captured me from the main gate to the door through the window. When my eyes met hers, her facial expression gave me a clue that something was wrong.
I did not care. Many things had been wrong. I knocked. She responded to my knock against her will. She did not beckon me in. I forced myself inside. She stared at me from toe to head as if I were an alien. I sauntered into the bedroom pretended to have noticed nothing and threw my wallet on the bed.
I took off my shirt. Before I got hold of a bathing towel, I invited her to come in. I wanted to reveal to her that I had a mistress in case people told her. I wished to see how she would react. Discussions to understand each other never ended in married life. She looked at me sternly in the face for sometime before she politely asked why I had invited her. I looked at her face.
“So you do not value that I have called you.” I said “I am tired of your defiance.”
“You always talk like this.”
“Many people are talking about you and your girl. Did you find her suitable?”
Ha, I laughed. She surely knew what I was doing. Immediately, she left. Following the tapping noise of her patapata, I thought she was going to the kitchen. I lay on the bed, with wild thoughts hovering around the room. I knew I was cutting my wife’s heart harder. That’s it. I had been out the whole day. She had been at home. After bathing, I called out. “Katie!”She was not around. I thought about not sleeping at home that night.
She came back with Jamia. I did not understand her courage. I further did not understand why Jamia had obliged. I just looked at them as they sauntered into the house and sank on the sofa.
“Nsambo, are you listening? I have brought your girl friend.” I thought I was dreaming. I answered I had seen her. Turning to Jamia, she said:
“Jamia, here is your man.”
“I do not know what you are talking about aunt.” Jamia replied. “Please do not cheat me. I will kill you.” Katie said.
Silence ruled in the room. Katie was sobbing. Jamia was shaking. I was confused.
“Now, Nsambo listen.” Katie spoke. “I have accepted. I have resolved that Jamia and I should be staying together. Its better she stays here, I will cope up quickly, than where she does. Jamia, you are welcome. Feel free. This is our husband.” She said wiping tears off her face.
It happened. I was not ready. When my aunt heard about this, she came to see me. “Nsambo, did you plan for this?” She asked.
“It just happened. But I do not think this is genuine.”
She left. But before she left, she told me to be very careful. The situation was tricky, hard-hitting and bothersome. I understood. It was good I had the woman I wanted in my house. Nevertheless, the presence of the other woman did not give me freedom. Jamia was more like a house girl than my wife for she could escort us half way to work and return to do household chores. On weekends, they used to be together almost everywhere. At night, we slept on the same bed making sure that she heard what I was telling her. Katie said she could not allow Jamia to be away from us. She watched every step she took. When I was behind the house Katie would say, “Jamia, here he is. Please come.” I figured out that her acceptance wasn’t genuine. Jamia once wrote to me she was afraid anything would happen in future. I did not consider that information very seriously.
I remembered my aunt said I had to be careful, but she did not tell me how careful I should be. One day, I went to work. Katie did not. When I returned in the evening, I wobbled into my house to see two bodies lying stiff on the floor in the living room.
The world turned against me. People did not trust what I was telling them, that the two women died in my absence. Everybody thought I had purposely killed them and left for work.
Then I met my brother in prison; languished, tortured and almost died there.
About the author
Born in 1977, Khalipwina Mpina hails from Nansanya village, T/A Nchilamwera, Thyolo district in Southern Malawi. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in social science majoring in Economics at Chancellor College, University of Malawi. He is a member of Malawi PEN, the national centre of PEN International, a worldwide association of writers and Malawi Writers Union. He serves as a District Secretary for Independent Schools Association of Malawi while holding the position of headmaster of a vibrant private secondary school in Zomba.
Published in Scotland and in local tabloids, Mpina’s works appear in on-line magazines such as expound and author-me; and in anthologies such as Modern Stories from Malawi, The Bachelor of Chikanda and other stories, The Time Traveller of Maravi, The Conductress and other stories, Call It Fate and other stories and most recently in a proposed secondary school poetry text book. Mpina is also featured in a book War Drums are beating: discourses of the anthill by Alfred Msadala. His poem, Letter to My Cousin Don won a prize in an anti-graft writing competition organized by CLAIM Mabuku in 2006 and a short story, The Psychopath of Jaenda won a prize in
a MAWU/FMB short story writing competition in 2008. His other story, The Ntcheu Girl accorded him the title of the most improved writer in 2010. His recorded poems can be accessed on sapitwapoetry.com. Apart from poems and short stories, Mpina has also written book reviews and essays on socioeconomic issues.
His other books include Shadows of Death and other poems (2016) Namayeni (2009) and Njiru (2003).