Something Nice from London - Continued
Wafa wanaka; we are to forget that before he went to England, Peter stole from the family, and he stole the stethoscope that Father left me, the stethoscope through which I heard the sound of my heart as a child, sitting on Father’s knee as he teased me and said there was a laughing sound from my left ventricular cavity and a crying sound from my right ventricular cavity, and I should always listen to the left side for in this matter left was right; the stethoscope that was engraved “Peter Nhamo Chikwiro: Best Results University of Aberdeen Medical School, 1972,” the stethoscope that I hoped to use to listen to the heartbeats of my own patients.
Wafa wanaka; we are to forget the increasingly hysterical phone calls as Peter threatened to take his own life if Mother did not send more money, the phone calls that led her to sell all the shares that Father had left to provide her security, to take out a loan at eight hundred percent interest, a loan she struggled to repay from her modest teacher’s salary that became a trifle as inflation rose first from thirty to seventy percent, then from one hundred and seventeen to nine hundred and sixty seven point five three percent until it broke the one thousand percent barrier. We are to forget that my mother’s blood pressure rose with inflation as she sold item after item to feed the demands from England, her visits to the doctor becoming more frequent as she sought to control Peter’s excesses from seven thousand kilometres, until he said again he would kill himself if she did not send money, and my mother, broken by approaching penury, fatigue and illness said “Then do, Peter. Do, for maybe then we will all get some rest.”
And then he died.
There is laughter from the back garden as the daughters-in-law cook over an open fire. “You are not serious,” says Mukai. “That cannot be what she said.”
“Honestly!” says a voice that I recognise as my Uncle Donald’s wife. “I swear by my father who is buried at Serima Mission that that is exactly what she said.” There is more laughter. It is not out of place in this house of mourning. This is how things are; we meet only to bury our dead. And why not laugh as we do so? We part only to meet again at funerals. The statisticians whose business it is to quantify, measure and average human experience say that there are three thousand deaths every month in our country, and I imagine that in this very month, there are three thousand homes holding three thousand wakes, there are three thousand lots of chema funeral donations, three thousand homes in which will arise the sudden quarrels of those who do not like each other but must surrender to the undeniable imperative of blood, three thousands lots of daughters-in-law laughing over the funeral pots. There are three thousand homes in which people die not from any named disease, but always from a long or short illness.
As I turn away from the laughter, I am followed by Uncle Donald’s wife who pulls me into a corner and tells me that MaiLisa has been saying things. I am as used to MaiLisa’s comments as I am to the solicitous relatives who ensure that we hear every word. “I do not mean to be a gossip,” she says, in what she considers a whisper, “But MaiLisa is saying her child is being bothered, and that it is not her fault Peter drank away his father’s inheritance, and what sort of education did the two who are here receive if it means that they must rely on her child, and anyway, she has told Lisa to do what is best for herself, what is convenient and not worry about what ungrateful people might think. For, do not the elders say that if you rear a dog on milk, it will bite your hand the next morning?”
“You know I am not one to gossip,” Uncle Donald’s wife says again, “But I feel that your mother should be told these things.”
My mother would not care if MaiLisa spewed out her poison before her. She has turned her face to the wall and she does not always respond to Mukai’s entreaties to eat or to rest, or to walk in the garden. She no longer asks after the news from England. I know that she must think of the words that were spoken between her and Peter, and that she must wake in her living nightmare of having said words that cannot be taken back; words that were spoken out of defeat and exhaustion and that mean everything because of the lacerating coincidence of their apparent result. I am the only one apart from Peter who heard those words, but I cannot comfort her. I cannot say to her: “It was not you. This was a path he was on from which we could not divert him.” To say these platitudes would be to acknowledge that those words were said, to acknowledge that they were said would mean asking questions that only Peter can answer. So I find myself hoping for the only thing that can make it better, that the post-mortem will reveal that another murdered my brother.
Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006