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Something Nice from London - Continued

He trembled with passion as he grasped the rounded end of his walking stick and thumped it on the floor in emphasis. “Is it not bad enough that Peter died mhiri kwemakungwa, over the oceans where the baleful influence of alien spirits could not be discounted? Never before,” he said, “has a son of Chikwiro been buried away from the land of his ancestors.” Jonathan has reached his limits and has to restrain himself from saying to the fathers of the clan that if they want to bury him in Shurugwi, they have to pay for the bus to ferry the mourners there.

 

“The only good thing about Father’s death,” Peter had said in his careless way, “is that we will not have to put up with his tiresome relations.” We learned soon enough that this prediction was premature. Death does not sever the ties; it binds them ever tighter, for it is in death and its attendant processes that kinship asserts its triumphant claims. He had been lent to us as husband and father, but in death the clan reclaimed him. They buried him in Shurugwi, where we had to travel for hours on uncertain roads to visit his grave. Kinship asserted itself through the funeral rites, in the ceremony to release his spirit, and in the accompanying ceremony of inheritance. His family had even attempted to speak on his behalf. They consulted a diviner who interceded between this world and the next: Father did not rest easy, was his uncompromising verdict. It appeared that the reasons for his discomfort were mainly financial.

 

“He wants the money that he left behind to be divided between his children and the brothers and sisters of his blood,” MaiLisa pronounced.

 

But my father’s spirit, however restless, could not undo the will that he had written and signed in his own hand. And when the Master of the High Court pronounced this as the final word, the aunts and uncles could only curl their mouths into their noses.

 

They are here, now, the aunts and uncles, and they are determined that we meet the costs of their cultural expectations, but that we bear the burden alone in the same way that we shared my father’s inheritance without them. Jonathan is particularly worried about the fuel. He drives at a moderate speed to conserve it. There are snaking queues at the garages, people sleep in their cars, unsure of the hour the fuel will arrive. The garage attendants are indefatigable in their optimism, the fuel will arrive if not just now, then some time this week. But the queues only grow longer as the attendants become more hopeful. Jonathan is afraid that we may not have enough to last the week. The garages allow funeral parties to get priority, but they have become wise to the tricks of conmen who pretend to be part of funeral processions and then sell on the fuel at inflated prices. One ingenious trickster had feigned death, and almost suffocated in his coffin to get that precious fluid. The attendants insist on seeing the death certificates of the deceased. We have no death certificate, and we will have none unless Lisa comes through for us.

 

Lisa is the daughter of our father’s sister, she calls me mainini, little mother, and she calls Jonathan and Peter her uncles. Her mother calls round to tell us of latest success.

 

“Lisa has bought a car.”

 

“She has sent money just today, fifty million dollars she sent, it is only two hundred pounds, just imagine. She insists that I go on a holiday, but I told her, no, my child, not on a teacher’s annual salary. I said a new stove is more important. Can you believe that she sent more money, one hundred million dollars? Just imagine. I will buy a new fridge from Radio Limited.”

 

But of Lisa herself we see very little. She has only been home once in the four years since she went away. She was here two Christmases ago, resplendent in her plastic hair and tight-fitting clothes. She brought us a tray decorated with the names and faces of the kings and queens of England from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth Windsor, and presented it as though it was the one thing needful in our unravelling lives. She chatted brightly about England in her new accent; she pronounces our city’s first letter as haitch. The sun was too hot, she complained, and she had only been back for two weeks but goodness, wasn’t she becoming dark. “But everyone is so dark,” she said.

 

My aunt and my mother have been locked in a lifelong war of attrition, the same war that is fought in households across the country between wives on one side, and the mothers and sisters of their husbands on the other. Between my aunt and my mother, it expressed itself in the up- and-down looks from my aunt as she asked, “Is that a new dress,” and then, “I would have thought with your issues you would not have time for such finery.”

 

 

 

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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006