I sat under the barren mango tree and cried
By Victor Lugala
I returned to the old place and the wall refused to talk back to me. The very first eyewitness to all that happened here when we escaped with our lives in our hands is stubbornly damn mute.
In our old house there are cobwebs at the corners and ceiling and the vandalised windows. There are also wings of dead insects, and bat and lizard droppings which no longer smell, fosilised. There are pieces of old clothes as if shredded from the former wearers. Pieces of clothes in different colours. And the cold wall is a dead rock which is not speaking to me. Just staring at me with unblinking cold eyes. Can you talk to me?
My father was buried somewhere there – but that was before Gadhafi went down the gutter – now I don’t see the mound of earth any more. The grave has shifted. My father’s grave has been displaced without trace. Or it was flattened by a tanker, totally erasing my father’s ever existence on earth.
There is emptiness. A silent vacuum. I am afraid because the wall, the eyewitness of history is not talking back to me, to recollect and give an unbiased account of what happened in our absence when we left, and others died, their remains devoured by vultures, scavenger dogs, jackals.
Where is our neighbour, the shopkeeper who used to sell us milk on credit?
Who removed the gong at the church belfry? Was it stolen by iron smiths to make ploughs, hoes, or spears?
Please answer me, you wall!
Must I shout to be heard?
Must I sneeze hot pepper to be dreaded?
Or must I shit on myself to be recognised?
I demand straight answers, you damn wall!
There is tall grass in the backyard. Grass has grown on the roof of our old house, abandoned but not haunted. Or must it be haunted first before it will talk to me? Or there must be a caveat for the house to be haunted to be able to speak to me? Wall, I belong here. I am an indigene. Have you forgotten me?
The long-drawn silence connects the past to the present but without effect. There is unfathomable hollowness in the silence. I almost feel afraid. I am alone and lonely. All around me is a heap of desolation. Wasteland!
Memory of the old place ended when we left, almost for ever – for others vowed never to return. After all, history of modern migration did not start with us from the old place with mute walls. The cold wall is cracked in places. Do walls weep without tears?
Nostalgia and melancholy forced me to return to the old place, only to be shocked with new realities: the disappearance of my father’s grave: flattened by the rolling chains of invisible terror. Memory, crude memory now resides in the walls defaced to falsify memory. It is difficult to decipher the etchings of history on the wall.
The remains of living testimony are now meaningless abstracts, exposing the desecrator.
A bouncing severed human head. A rotting limb. How can I bear witness to what I didn’t see or experience except in surreal dream? As long as the rugged wall still stands it carries the tag of being the first eyewitness. The wall was there before I was born, yet still stands strong, but damn mute.
Not even echoes from the past, not even echoes from our childhood before hell broke loose in our adulthood scuttle forth. Strange. The etchings, the signatures, the testimonies of the dead are falsified. Gone with fear. There is fear in the emptiness of the corners of the desolate wall. Ice cold.
Sometimes the wall breathes hot anger too, words quickly swallowed by the bricks, stones. I stood there, staring at the ugly wall, wallowing in pain. Who will narrate this story of pain and sorrow to me? The abiding spirit of my dead father would have been an alternative voice, but alas the mound of earth was flattened by an artificial earthquake which occurred when we were away.
Now and then there will be a missing link. Must I violate public order laws and urinate against the wall for it to find words to rebuke me, and then finally open up to tell history it witnessed? I dare. I will violate the wall. I will desecrate the wall to provoke it to speak back to me to tell me what it knows.
What happened to the supermarket?
Where did the church disappear?
Who stole the loudspeaker on the minaret?
At midday the sun dimmed and the wall sunk into darkness of deep furrows, defiant, even rude. When the sun opened up again the wall radiated without saying a thing. Instead it frowned at my inquiring presence.
I’m getting angry. I touch the coarse surface of the wall. Years of torrential rains and the elements have washed the graffiti which would have told the story of our small town, though in fragments. For fragments can be pieced together to give meaning, translucent evidence.
My thoughts stonewalled!
Talking to the damn wall was like flogging a dead horse. I walked away and sat under the mango in the compound of our old house.
When we were children we used to play in the shade of the mango tree. We also used to eat its succulent fruits. Now the tree has grown old and barren. It no longer bears fruits. The tree has no leaves. The mango tree is dead.
My thoughts faded, and I cried for the future.
The dry season is beckoning, waiting to be rendered or to render. We read the stars at dawn to forecast the future. The rains will have stopped, and river beds parched like lips anticipating a wet kiss.
Then that eerie moment of introspection will set in to disrupt our present. Troubled thoughts stream and weigh over our hunched shoulders, we become physically weak.
We ran away from elephantine wrath when tall grass was flattened before our very eyes. Repeated marathons wear our feet. Our minds are tired. We want to recover our breath for a moment of reflection on truth.
We go to the marketplace not to buy or sell, but to parade our misery to the universe. We pause and ponder life, the benchmark of creation.
Our burdens are still lying unattended at the foot of the cross. How long shall we carry this cross? For days and nights, we cruise for miles and miles on end, yet our dreams repeatedly abort.
We remember and forget as soon as we remember. We sweat and continue carrying our cross. We throw our hands wildly, resignedly, saying we are a cursed lot! No more echoes of pearls of laughter. No moment of happiness ever existed or remembered. Did we ever exist or we just happened like fairies?
Time deprived and depraved us, alienating us within the family, union impaired.
We used to live here. We used to swim in that river. We lost our virginity on that rock. This main road used to take and bring people and goods from the city to our small town and back uninterrupted. Such is our wounded narrative with snatchings of receding memory.
Are we rich? Are we poor? We ask ourselves in disbelief. When we take stock of what is on the surface of the earth and what is beneath our feet do we fail to understand the source of our misery?
When birds soar in the sky, circling on one spot in space we wonder as to what species they could be, and we begin to read misfortune when they are vultures. Something could be afoot, grey-haired elders will warn!
Human frailty, human frailty, subdue us no more, but let us do no harm.
We are full of rejuvenated healthy desire but our sleepless eyes are forced to shift focus because the stage is full of quick sand.
Our hearts are dead. As we prepare for a requiem, the feet of the undertakers twitched. They awoke from a disturbing nightmare that they were part of an execution.
In the turbulent easterly winds, the waves of the lake slapped our chests into consciousness. The eyes opened, stared, but unseeing the future.
Uninhibited thoughts will not cease to fabricate, or brood. The resultant storm swept away the footbridge.
Colour grey on the horizon hard to separate facts from fiction for fear the past could haunt our present and future.
Our thinning hair no longer filter our feelings. Divine power sort us.
We will collect our burdens at the foot of the cross and migrate inwardly and weep for our hopes dashed at midnight.
Weary as ever, we will trudge on, eager to walk a path we have never travelled.
We swear to hold steadfast to our hard-earned freedom.
Why embark on a mission impossible when there are small hills easy to tackle
Who we are or what we are, is immaterial, we want to renew our social contract, to showcase and assert our lost identity.
We were there, we don’t want to return there. Mothers and their children have dreams to fulfil in their life time. Mothers want to bear children who will play like other children and go to school and grow and replace their parents’ generation. Mothers don’t want their children to be merchants of death anymore. God help us!