By Beaton Galafa
Desmond, Bridget and I always duck the discussion every time our family meets. We don’t want to see mum and dad sob again years after Arthur’s demise. Each time that woman who owes Arthur money passes by, mother frowns. She will never live with it.
At first, it used to be dad only. Whenever drunk, he mentioned it. That would be the only moment we remained quiet to hear him talk. No one was willing to shut him up or interrupt each time he started talking about Arthur.
“If God really existed, He wouldn’t let this happen…” he would sob – his heart clearly breaking – until sleep overran him.
I always felt my heart dislodge. To some place. Closer to Arthur. It still does. I don’t know for the others. But they have fragile hearts.
The stories aunt narrated on our way from the mortuary scared me:
“His coat was never returned; they wouldn’t…”
Father had the chance to see it – the coat. It had been soaked – even washed – in blood. Its redness would resemble those on the garments of July 20 victims six years later.
I have heard mother mention Arthur each time she prays before bedtime. I, too, never forget him in my supplications.
We pretend we are used to his absence when we meet on Christmas. On new year too. Dad does not want to be party to the pretense. He brings him up, oftentimes.
2015 we went home. Dad said he was happy Bridget was doing well in China. She had sent them $80. To help reimburse the village bank treasury. Not bad for a Tianjin freshman. He praised me too. And Desmond. He went out. And returned.
“I was thinking.” Pause. He heaved, hardly: “Just the three of you have managed to help us this much. What if Arthur was…”
We all hummed in a chorus. In anger. In sadness. In grief. My mind shifted again. To 2005. To Arthur’s grave. And why Sekuru and aunt had to fight over burial rights.
“They cracked a bone on his neck…” I remember dad explaining to mum, though they had usually discussed it before bringing it to the public (me and the other siblings being that public).
They cracked that bone like they would to a criminal in a lawless state. But, my brother was not a criminal. Neither was he in a lawless state. He just wanted his money back.
He had been lied to several times. He had sold some woman pote (some glue that is used for sealing up leaks on iron sheets as well as fixing glasses back to panes) on loan. A loan that was never paid back to him on time. It never was to be paid, he never knew. None of us knew.
After some village football that day, he went drinking. On his way back, Arthur paid Angela – for that is the name of the woman – a visit. They say she told him she didn’t have the money. My brother insisted she give him. Angela locked herself up. Arthur vigilled outside. Until fatigue and drunkenness dragged him into sleep.
Around 2 am, some hurls awoke him. They said he had brought them, he was among them. The sleep that had caught him off guard at Angela’s doorsteps had led him into a trap of larceny. They had broken into the house, and ran away. They accused him of being a mastermind.
They allowed Arthur to come home that dawn. They were to come for him after sunrise. They did. They had no time for him to dress up properly. The community police only allowed him to put on pants and a khaki jumper that would only run up to the knees. He was taken to Senzani Police Unit. He had to meet with Constable Longwe.
The story ends here. The rest is a tale.
They say father begged Constable Longwe to take care of his son. Our brother.
They had refused him bail, he had no money. They had demanded a K1500 for his release.
K1500. In 2005.
I had paid K500 for a bus from Senzani to Lilongwe four weeks earlier. Dad called his eldest son, Louis. He said he was busy. He, instead, asked dad to borrow one-way transport money and travel to Zomba to meet him.
Dad went and returned following morning. Louis had sent a food warmer packed with rice and meat and spices – and love.
Morning sir. Arthur fell ill last night. We took him to Ntcheu District Hospital.
Dad saw his corpse when aunt collected it from the mortuary. A broken neck bone. A bullet in the thigh. Dread in blood.
Beaton Galafa is a Malawian writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. In 2014, he participated in the Commonwealth Creative Nonfiction Writers Workshop for East African emerging writers that took place in Uganda. In 2016, he won the Free Expression Institute-Malawi Essay Writing Competition. He was one of the mentees in the 2017 Writivism Literary Initiative Mentorship program for Nonfiction writing.