The music of nature

The music of nature
By Theophany Nammelo
The narration of my story will have a familiar routine, like the rugged and dusty footpaths of home. I will narrate it, from a comparison with the same footpaths my feet have come to memorize as one does with the behind of the palms or their first born child, thus:
During rainy season, muddy footpaths; during sunny season, dusty footpaths. These are the footpaths I walk in – day in, day out. Footpaths that accommodate the feet of all ages. In all seasons, for all reasons. Foot-paths that take us to and from gardens, rivers, households and neighbouring villages – even to hearts of loved ones. Just everywhere.  
In this my village footpaths are the very physical features that help us locate places. And one particular day, I chose to take the one less familiar footpath. The footpath that teenage and secret lovers usually use.
It was close to three weeks after my grandmother’s funeral. It had been a simple ceremony as I was the only living relative. We, that is I, the village pastor, the chief, and a handful of villagers and some church members buried her old body in one corner of our compound, beside my mother’s grave.
On that cloudy afternoon, as the pastor offered a closing prayer after a very short sermon from one Bible verse, it dawned on me that the last pillar that held my life had crumbled. I began to wonder if the same women from church who had washed grandmother’s corpse would wash mine when my time came. What kind of coffin the church would afford to bury me in? I asked within.  
For the next three weeks, I was absorbed in thoughts of death. It was a better place to tread than in the reality where loneliness was gnawing at my sense of being. Friends who visited me from time to time got weary of the sad effects of my sorrow. Others thought I would go mad and began distancing themselves from me probably in a twisted thinking that madness, if I had fallen prey to it, would be contagious. The only footpaths I took in those weeks were two: the one to the river and another to the market.
I had not taken the footpath for lovers for over a year since my first and last love relationship ended. In those days, I and my boyfriend used to take weekend and after-school walks on that path. I thought what we had was love. Then came in the pregnancy scare.
I remember disclosing to him, just as I did with every other thought that I used to have, that I had missed my menses.
“What does that mean?” he had asked, with arrogance. Discernible arrogance that even had an appearance only if one had an imagination powerful enough.
“I must be pregnant.”
He kept quiet.
Until that day, we had not talked about the one and only sexual encounter we – or rather he, for I had felt nothing really – had had in a nearby bush the previous month.
“Maybe you are just overreacting. I have heard it is normal for girls to miss their cycle once in a while,” he finally found his voice though in a way it sounded as if it was not his voice.
I never gave him the chance to play down my fears and I fed them garrulously until he said we should take a break for the day, meet the next day and see what to do about it. Like most other boys in our village, he fell sick the next day and then the day after and continuously until I was sure he would never recover from his illness. That, as well, was the way we parted and as luck would have it I had my menses full on the other month.

The footpath for lovers is unique in many ways, some of which I am yet to discover. Regardless of my straw-weaved slippers posing as a barrier, I could feel my feet passionately bond with the cloudy dust of the foot-path. The sound that my heels, on my slippers, and the earth produced was music to my ears. I walked to that rhythm a long distance before I encountered my second lover. We were strangers in each other’s eyes.
His face was not one I was familiar with. He was not from our village.
The day we first met on that footpath for lovers, he had on two plastic strings that seemed to penetrate each of his ears. Upon our eyes colliding, before I withdrew mine in haste, he took the strings with heads out of his ears. Then he asked for details of some place. It was in the same direction that I was heading.
“Then I can just join you,” he said when I told him it was where I was going.
I blushed before accepting his company and, soon than I could understand, we were talking animatedly like two fond friends who had known each other for over a decade. He said those strings were bringing music into his ears.  The music was stored in his phone. He coaxed me into listening to one of his favourite tunes. With what felt like a magnetic force, I was attracted to his ear-splitting music.
I was also made to believe that my silent music, the music of nature which I so much liked, attracted him in the same manner. I could tell by the complements he tossed towards what he said was my natural beauty. I could tell by the listening ear he gave to the silence that punctuated the voices and laughter of us – two strangers.

This day, as I trod on the over familiar footpath, heavy with a child – his child – I am with full knowledge of what my man friend, father of my yet-to-be-born child’s complements on my natural beauty fully meant. Contrary to my mother’s belief, it was not I, not my intelligence, that was beautiful. It was my body which played the music that touched his soul. Just as he would control the songs in his phone, his hands had that electric power to tune me high and low.
Like a radio that I had never owned, he would switch me on and off, at his will, to all the city news and excuses he brought: reasons for not visiting the previous week, excuses for failing to be there for me the coming week. I easily fell for his tales due to the respect I had for him. The respect that was slowly metamorphosing into fear.
At first, his hands used to caress me with what seemed like passion and tenderness which both had a touch of care attached to them. In time, just as I had discovered his obsession for his music, I began to discover his obsession for my body. He began to handle it with the ‘property kind’ of possessiveness.
I first noticed when he began posing suggestive orders of how not to plait my hair and of the hair styles that suited me, which clothes were suitable and which ones were disrespectful. He said nothing on my choice of friends since he rarely knew any of them. Only a few had had the privilege of meeting him during his visits.
“When I marry you, you know you won’t be wearing some of these clothes. It will be better for you to start practicing now. It shouldn’t be so hard when the time comes,” he said this on one of his weekly visits as we took a stroll on the scared footpath of lovers. I had carefully chosen my attire, so I wouldn’t look so much like a village girl who had never been to the city when compared to the faded blue jeans and light green golf-shirt he was wearing. I was wearing a blue armless top and my old and only skirt that moths had not had the chance of feasting on. It was short, slightly above my knees. I had worn it since my first year of secondary school. A year before my mother, the only parent I had known, was wiped off from the face of the earth. She was hit in one of the city neighbourhoods by what was described as a sports car by the police. She had gone there to sell green vegetables as she did each and every day before that.
The way he, my lover, talked of marriage in those early days was as if it was scheduled for the next hour. I was convinced I was the only woman he would ever have and hold – and had even held. I never regarded him in the same regard as my first lover. Their characters were far from similar. This man would never fear pregnancy or the responsibility that came with it, I assured myself. His openness drew me closer to his life.
He had told me of the women in his past, I never bothered to count. I forgot about them the very moment he mentioned their names. It was not arrogance, I just did not want the thought of them linger as a dark cloud above our love. Or, at least, for the love I had for him.

One day, I will not narrate, but sing this very story of mine, the way my feet sing on the footpaths of home. I will sing it as a continuation to the story I have always narrated. The story with a lucid familiarity like the footpaths of home.

I was awaken at the first crow of the cock and sat on the veranda with my bundle of clothes and a cracked plastic orange bucket attempting washing while, in real sense, I was waiting for that moment. A moment when a quite unfamiliar footpath shall beckon and take me to the god of life and death – the one who gives and takes life. This time, he shall be there to take what he gave.   
I disconnected myself from the earth I called a veranda and carefully tightened a shredded piece of cloth around my chest. I placed on my head a bunch of dirty clothes tied in my other piece of cloth which I used to cover my body during cold nights. I carried the empty bucket in my right hand and vacated my small lonely compound, once owned by my grandmother. I followed the footpath to the river.
I took a great pleasure in the ritual of listening to the music of nature before I began washing. I sat on a rock and faced the eastern horizon where the sun would soon arise from its slumber. The sight of sunrise, together with the sound of the fresh morning waters rushing down the river created a symphony of harmony to my soul. The symphony that the voice of my lover used to fill me with in the early days of our love. Days that had long recessed into the vaults of memory.
For a single fleeting moment, as I caressed my protruding belly, I forgot that my unborn child had a father somewhere on earth’s sweet face. A father that had neither seen nor felt his child grow in its mother’s womb. A father who never showed his face in my village ever since the day he became aware of the presence of a life inside me. A life he had sown in the soils of my womb. A lover who left me to grow our child without dropping a single word of encouragement. A lover whose hands held the jar of a fertile womb with love but refused to partake in the pains of a sweet harvest. A time that was soon approaching.
I was lost in thoughts when the pangs of childbirth approached. Nature’s sweet song to my soul was soon fading away. There was no way of turning back the hands of time. There was no means of knowing what the winds of the next moment would bring to or take away from my precious poor life.
I was alone, by the river. My body felt hot. I could feel my blood rush and then...loose. The carnal was open. I think I was losing blood. I cried, to call out for help. The words stuck in my throat. I closed my eyes, I saw a footpath. It was unfamiliar. It was unused, almost. I found myself taking it. Ahead, I saw no bright light but just a faint glimmer and a face of my mother. My grandmother was there too. The looks on their face said one thing: they wanted to hear my story.

Theophany Nammelo is a Bachelor of Arts (English) final year student at Chancellor College, University of Malawi.

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