Sweet Mangoes in His Ears

Sweet Mangoes in His Ears
By Wesley Macheso
In my nightmares I see the man who killed him. I usually don’t see him lying there underneath his murderer but I see the murder weapon. I see the faceless man hacking him to death. I see the silver knife painted red rising and falling like a wave on an angry sea. I have learnt that with old age, the body lets out a lot of things with ease. I often wake up on a wet mat. With time, my sphincter muscles have lost their grip and they often let me down. But with old age, the body doesn’t let out the fury of anger. It does not forget how to hate and it still mourns the pleasures of lost love. Maybe love and hate are elements of the soul.
My life, like any other, has been tainted with loss. I believe that loss is most painful the moment it melts into loneliness. Since I lost my daughter to the pleasures of the city, I have been most lonely. The city swallowed her into its vastness like a raindrop in the ocean. She followed the main road to chase her dreams in the asphalt jungles of cosmopolitanism. I don’t blame her for leaving me alone because that would be selfish. She is young and has the time to chase butterflies and waterfalls. She has the luxury of  dictating to life; choosing lovers and friends, living in one city or the other, choosing to have children or not. She has her whole life before her eyes. My only prayer is that she finds a man who loves her. I pray that my daughter falls into the arms of a man she truly loves. A man like the one I lost or rather the one who was savagely taken away from me. The man I no longer see in my dreams but who lives in my heart.
The love of my life was a modest man. I still remember his touch and the weight of his body which was tough to the eyes and yet light in my arms. His instincts were tender and gentle and the sweetness buried in the furrows of his heart unveiled itself in his smile. Unlike most men, he had no violence in his spirit. While his peers were busy ploughing vast fields of maize, my lover read books. When his fellow men were busy drinking and listening to loud music, he played hide and seek with me behind stunted shrubs that grew close to the hill. The only time he engaged with the land was when he tended to his vegetables. I got used to the taste of sweet carrots that he brought me time and again. He always brought fresh green pepper and onions for my mother that we used in making salads. When he sold his produce, we would buy dozens of freezes which we chewed lying next to each other. That was the time I could smell sweet mangoes in his ears. There was a fragrance of ripe mangoes in his ears and I would investigate with my nose when we lay down under the shade of big trees. He always slapped my nose away and said I was being mushy but I swear I could smell mangoes in his ears.   
My man was a lover of poetry. He denied being a poet but he wrote some lines that set my spirit on fire. I remember when on one of our romantic escapades he tugged me by the hand and led me towards a flat rock on the edge of the hill. We sat there amidst tall dry grass watching the sun as it sank into the lake on the other side of life. “The beauty of nature is mysterious,” he said. “No painter can paint like the hand of God. No artist can ever capture life as it is, even on a million pages of lyric poetry,” he said these words with his eyes glued to the orange horizon. I wrapped my arm around his and drew close to his neck where I could smell the sweet mangoes in his ear. He fumbled a piece of paper from his back pocket and read me a piece he had just written;
“Your sensuous body rises
above the thumping drums,
               to the
of the Afro beat
like a sluggish wave of smoke
deserting the embers of a smouldering fire.
Your face shines like a yellow moon
on the blackest African night....” he halted.
“I want more!” I said pulling his arm as he tried to fold the paper.
“It’s an unfinished project” he said while drawing away from me playfully.
“But I want to hear more!” I insisted, nagging him like a toddler.
“But there is no more!” he drew away from me and started trotting uphill. I ran after him and caught him by his shirt. He slipped his lean body out of his shirt and made a quick bend leaving me with the shirt in my hands. He laughed and made for a big tree on the edge of the hill. I giggled blissfully and run towards him trying to catch him from around the tree. He finally let me catch him and I dragged him to the ground. I wrung my arms around him and we rolled and rolled in the grass clung together like a loose rock down the hill. We came to a halt and I felt his body in my arms. I shuffled my hands in the hairs on his chest and he pulled me by my left thigh and came on top of me. We faced each other in the fading glow of light. I felt his body come to life and my own was aroused. I tasted the sweet mangoes in his saliva and felt his wet mouth on my nose, then on my neck, and then his mouth was on my navel. He played with his tongue on my umbilicus and I giggled.
“Stop .... Stop...” I  implored with a tremble in my voice.
“Do you want me to stop?” he asked.
“No ... Not yet...” and I closed my eyes. I felt his chest heaving above me. The sweet smell of mangoes intoxicated my mind and travelled into my veins. I wanted to breathe more. I wanted to breathe fast. I wanted all of him. Then I felt him sprinkle some sap into my body and felt his body coming back to this world. That was the day we agreed to be together forever.
Our three years of marriage did not produce a child but we were as happy as we could be. We had everything we needed. We had each other. The only thing that came between us was Zuze. Zuze the lion of the village. Zuze the man every man envied. Zuze the commander of the ruling party’s youth league. Zuze whose hands ploughed the land like he operated on a motor engine. Zuze who had everything women dream of; a good name, a muscular body, hands that could strangle a lion, and wealth. He was wealthy like a king and he could get anything he set his heart on. It seems like the only thing he could not have in this world was me. He felt he had conquered the whole village but for me. He wanted me before the blood of womanhood trickled from my loins. He made several advances, offered my parents money and cattle, offered to build us a house and to pay for my school fees. I turned him down. I did not want him. I did not want the masculinity of Zuze. The most painful thing for him was that he lost me to a weak man in his eyes.
So when my husband was captured by the youth league on the day that we were supposed to be celebrating our martyrs, I was not surprised. On that fateful day I was writhing in bed from abdominal pains and could not handle household chores. Against my advice, my man set out to fetch some firewood which he wanted to use in preparing a meal for me. I implored him not to go, well aware that the ruling party made it clear that nobody was to be found working on such a day. It was a day of mourning. He told me that fetching firewood was not working. “Should my wife die because some people died fighting for independence years ago? Should we stop living because others stopped living?” He made jokes and left the house. He never came back for a whole year. I knew it was Zuze. Like the ruling party, he could get away with anything.
On the night of his arrest I lay sleepless in bed. I wept in the darkness, my sorrows concealed in the shadows of the night. It was around midnight that I heard a knock on my door. My heart leapt from where it resided in my bosom and thundered vigorously. Could they have released him already? Was he here? Did he break out of prison? My God. My God. What was he thinking? My heart pumped more blood and I peeped into the night through the front window. Indeed there was a man standing in the darkness. I unhooked the lock on the door and opened it slowly. The figure outside pushed the door out of his way and stood there staggering. There was no smell of sweet mangoes in his ears. There was only a strong stench of liquor and what I concluded to be Indian hemp on his breath. It was Zuze standing there in the faint darkness; his eyes the colour of scarlet from heavy drinking and chain smoking. The fierce eyes glimmered in the darkness and I shook with fear. He was grinning from ear to ear like a devil. He closed the door behind him and put his fore finger on his lips indicating that I should not make any noise. I moved backwards and stumbled on a shoe rack. He came for me, sauntering like a hungry lion ready to pounce on its prey. I wept uncontrollably. He pushed me onto the bed and wrecked my clothes. He pinned my head to the wood of the bed and tore me apart. He broke my soul. He ravished my pride and sucked out every drop of dignity that was left in me. I mourned.
When I walked out of the slaughter house the next morning, Zuze had already conquered the world. He talked and talked of his conquest in his drunken stupor. The women hissed and giggled. The men gave nods of approval and licked their mouths with their long tongues when I passed by. I built a wall around my misery. I withdrew from society and comforted myself in my cocoon of despair. A life grew in my womb. A life that changed my life forever.  A life I did not know whether to love or to hate; an angel from the groin of the devil.
On the day he came out of prison, he found me stretched out on the floor breast feeding my daughter. My heart jumped when my eyes beheld his eyes. There was wetness in his eyes and tears run down my cheeks without intention.
“I want to see our daughter.” he said. His voice was as sweet as I could remember it. I hated myself. I hated myself because I was too ashamed of myself to visit him in prison. Zuze disgraced me and I did not want to carry this disgrace to the doors of the prison cell. I hated myself and wished I vanished into nothingness. He carried the baby and held her up.
“I will name her Freedom. We talk of freedom but we often don’t know what it feels like. She has set us free. She is Freedom.” he embraced the baby and wept. What did he mean? I wept.
That night when I slept beside him I smelled the sweet fragrance of mangoes in his ears. It was still there. It did not die with torture and wickedness. He told me the most amazing words of love I have ever heard. He said, “We have both been victims of violence. I want us to trek to a new day. I will make your heart remember how to love again. Together we will forge a future.” I melted in his arms and failed to understand love. He trod the village silently. We lived the life we had always lived. He was blind to the stares and deaf to the gossip. He paid no mind to the malice in the whispers. The more we lived, the worse Zuze got. He was losing his mind. He was always stupid drunk. He failed to comprehend the power of love. And one calm summer night, they found my husband slain in our garden. He was savagely hacked in the head and on his neck. I think that was also the day that I died.
Last week I heard the news that Zuze died or rather that nature had decided to end his life in the most savage manner. They say a mad bull kicked him in the stomach and smashed his head against the wall. They found him sitting in his urine and blood, flies all over his backside because something melted there when his life slipped through his rectum. At 70 I can barely walk. I often use my walking stick but mostly I don’t take strolls at all. But two nights ago I walked out of my house to see where Zuze was buried. I wanted to spit on his grave to show him how much I hated him even in death. I arrived at his grave around midnight and the fresh mound of soil was repulsive to my eyes. My whole life was buried there with this devil. Fury stirred in my heart and I sweated profusely. When I woke up I heard shrill noises all over. Children were chanting; “Witch! Witch! Witch!” I think I had collapsed on Zuze’s grave. I was insulted by these kids who don’t know anything about life. These children who believe the fairytales they read in books. They don’t know that everyone has their own story. They don’t know about love and hate; that hate can be many things but love is one thing. You can hate many people in different ways but you can only love one person in one way. They dragged me through the village on my shrivelled buttocks and tore my skin. They never asked me how I found myself at the graveyard. They broke some of my bones but they could not break my spirit. They could not break something that was already broken. They could not kill what was not living. I laughed all the way.

Weslesy Macheso is a postgraduate student at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College.

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