Something Nice from London - Continued
We dance our dance of sorrow as the daughters-in-law keen for the new arrivals. I am a stranger in my own home, trapped by uncertainty, surrounded by women who wear my clothes without asking, emptying my bowels by candlelight in the middle of the night for it is only then that I can be private without someone banging on the door, asking who is there, and then saying ah, is it you Mary, how long do you think you will be?
And just when I think that I cannot take any more, the phone call comes that promises that this time, Peter really will be on the Friday morning flight. MaiLisa takes it upon herself to call back those relatives that had left. She insists that she come with us, for is it not her child who has made the arrangements? And anyway, she says, my mother is not in a fit state to go. But my mother insists on going with us and we cannot refuse her.
We make our way to the airport as we had done before, and wait with others waiting too. The scenes are the same as the last time we were here, happy relations waiting for something nice from London. Jonathan doubts that Lisa really will come. So we expect Peter to be unaccompanied, and Jonathan identifies himself to the airline. MaiLisa adds to the tension of the wait by mistaking every young woman of Lisa’s build for her daughter. “There she is, I see her, Lisa, Lisa, Psst, here, Lisa.” only to have her waving arm fall to her side as she says, “Ahh, honestly, this is what old age does. I need glasses, surely. Ahh, there she is, Lisa, psst.” But there is no Lisa among the passengers. Jonathan checks again with the airline, but there is nothing for us. He cannot find the words to tell us, and he only shakes his head. My mother begins to laugh, a sound that is worse than any crying. We watch her become unhinged, powerless to prevent it. MaiLisa has found a curio shop and studies its contents through the glass windows. All the while, I can see her stealing glances at my mother. As I watch her pretending interest in a zebra-skin rug, I feel rage so bitter that it is like bile in my mouth. I watch my mother become a spectacle for the amusement of strangers. I am unaware of the first hot tears that course down my cheeks. They are the first tears that I have shed, but I do not cry for him, they are tears of hatred for him and his miserable little life and what he has done to our family. I let the corrosive bitterness enter me.
My mother’s moment of hysteria does not last and it gives way to her usual catatonia. She lets Jonathan and Mukai lead her away. MaiLisa pants after us. “Not to worry,” she says, “She will be on the next flight.” She mumbles theories that no one wants to hear. I try to shut out her voice, and concentrate so hard that I do not hear my name being called. A hand on my shoulder brings me back from myself. It is a woman in the faded green and beige livery of the national airline.
“You are surely Mary Chikwiro,” she says. “I have a picture of you here.” Through my tears I see a picture of me with Lisa and Peter sitting beneath the mango tree outside our house, weeks before Lisa left for England. The woman smiles again and says, “I have something from your cousin Lisa. She said it was a special delivery, and didn’t want to have to go through customs.” I blink away my tears but she is oblivious to my distress.
“People send me with things, nice things from London. I charge only fifty pounds per package. It is a living, isn’t?” She now seems to notice my mood and says quickly, “Here is the package. Enjoy.” She smiles uncertainly as she thrusts the package into my arms. I am too dazed to say much beyond the automatic thank you.
I take the box and walk towards Jonathan who stands some metres apart from the women. We both look at the package wrapped in gaudy purple and silver wrapping and tied with purple ribbon. I open the box to reveal an urn of polished wood. As I read Peter’s name on a brass plate on the lid, Jonathan and I look at each other in gradually comprehending horror. My stomach knots, my hand is on my mouth as Jonathan opens the urn to reveal a pile of grainy ash. Out of the corner of my eye, I see MaiLisa. I feel myself run towards her, her face seems distorted, her nose distended. I see with no surprise that my arm has struck out at her; that my hand connects with her jaw before she turns away and covers her mouth. I hear myself scream in a voice that is not mine. I see my mother move towards the car, shaking off Mukai and Jonathan as she goes. I see her pick out the urn from the gaudy package and read the label on the lid. And as my mother drops to the ground in faint, the urn falls to the ground with her and the ashes that had been my brother scatter over the car park and float up into the sky.
Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006