I do not know why his story is coming back to me today after almost four months since I met him. I know not why his face comes to my mind, that innocent looking face.
I was in Mwanza in January and that is where I met him. He said his name is Luwaya, I’ve forgotten the surname but he told me. His age? He never knew it I presume but he told me some age which I’ve forgotten also, it shows how little I was concerned with his story.
He said he was in standard two (or three?) at some primary school in the district.
‘What about school today?’ I fired him, real firing, trying to imbue him with fear.
‘My sister,’ he mentioned the name of the sister but I’ve also forgotten, ‘didn’t bathe me’ he told me, facing away from my gaze.
‘What about your mother?’ another threatening voice.
‘She’s at the market,’ he said and that was the entry point into his life, a life I would like you to understand, a life that has – all of a sudden - started haunting me somehow…
His father, he told me, was in prison. He was (or is he still?) a thief and one day luck, if luck, acted against him and he ended up behind the bars. So, his mother started taking care of the family, she ventured into business of vegetables: tomatoes, onions, turnips, mpiru, rape, chinese, and pumpkin leaves.
They were three children in his family, he was the second born, there was an elder sister and a younger one. ‘And just some days ago, mother bought another child,’ his innocence could not be questioned. They are now four children.
‘So, with your mother it means there are five of you?’ I thought this question was too big for him.
‘No!’ vehemence could be singled out in his denial. ‘There’s also Uncle Jack, he comes each and every night.’
‘Does Uncle Jack work?’ my curiosity was not on whether he works or not but if he really was certain that there was that uncle or it was merely his creative power.
‘I don’t know, he always comes at night and leaves in the morning,’ he seemed to be in possession of the truth.
‘Okay, did Uncle Jack start coming when your father was around?’ I started softening up on him; I thought I was beginning to understand him, his situation.
‘No! He has started coming just after father has been imprisoned.’
If Luwaya was saying the truth then this Uncle Jack had to be a ‘new father’ for his family. Some sort of a spare tyre. He was the acting father in the absence of Luwaya’s real father, if he really is the real one.
Luwaya’s mother, whom I left without knowing, must be harboring some impostor in her house. And, it happens. It is traditional when men are behind the bars. Women, their wives, perhaps out of desperation if not poverty they find new partners; sometimes, they go on to get married to the new partners while in other cases, the new partners are left once the man is released so that the woman gets back to her husband. That is another side of imprisonment I have never seen many explore.
There was once a debate on Adventist Radio, I regret I never listened to it properly, they were debating on the topic: ‘should a man or woman marry again when their spouse is imprisoned especially for life?’ It was a good topic, I still believe, although it is not mostly tackled. I wished I had listened to the debate the day I met Luwaya
So, at least, I suspected that Luwaya's mother, whoever she is, is cheating on her husband. I do not know, up to now, if my suspicion was wrong or right. But, Luwaya said there is an Uncle Jack who comes at night and leaves in the morning, an Uncle Jack that never existed when his father was still around.
And, many children today have uncles that only sprout when their fathers are not around. Uncles who exist only when the father is out for some meetings. Fathers, talk to your children one day and you will be shocked. Not only are there uncles but even aunts. Aunts that exist when the mother is at the village. Talk to the children mothers properly one day and you will learn that the neighbor, whom the children fondly call aunt, is really an ‘aunt’ – an aunt of some sort!
We went back to the issue of education: ‘So, because your sister didn’t bathe you then you couldn’t go to school?’
‘No. I also didn’t eat,’ another reason, a more compelling one perhaps, he provided.
‘There was no food,’ I could see teardrops forming in his eyes.
Despite his mother being in business and a certain Uncle visiting them, the family was still in poverty. Luwaya told me that most of the times they never have proper breakfast; he and her two sisters just wake up in the morning, bathe (if they can that day), eat some last night leftovers (mkute) and go to school where they eat porridge, courtesy of Mary’s meals, without sugar and later, go home to have nsima with pumpkin leaves (nkhwani) or cassava leaves (chigwada); no meat, no eggs, no fish, nothing but just leaves – not just vegetables.
And, that is the kind of life he and his relatives lead. It is the life he was born in, is growing up in and, who knows, he might die in. And, in Malawi it is not only Luwaya who leads such a life, there are many. Many people live and wallow in poverty. But, there are organizations, many to that effect, who are masquerading as fighting against poverty. You wonder, ‘whose poverty?’
These organizations, I can say without batting an eyelid, have never met someone like Luwaya. They do not even know where to meet him. All they know are seminars at Mangochi where they harvest obscene allowances.
The bosses of these organizations can afford to buy meat for their dogs while there is someone who has never even tasted meat, believe me on this!
And, we also have religious people in this country. They cannot, and believe this, share their much – not little – with the poor. And yet, each and every Saturday or Sunday (and Friday too) they go to church. To do what? To praise God, they say, because they love Him when they cannot love His (God’s) own image, his children, the likes of Luwaya!
There are many poor people today in Malawi, not just because population has increased greatly but also because people have learnt too quickly to never share. Everyone believes that what they possess is for them and their families only – except wives, husbands and concubines; these, people are sharing these days but not money, not property! But, we can make a difference. If we can gather those old clothes we no longer wear, those little coins we have no use and go to Mwanza, search for Luwaya, and give him that little. Not only Mwanza but even in our own vicinity, there are poor people close to us, more closer than are the rich.
In the church, there are poor people and nobody will be offended if we help them. Ladies and gentlemen, there is but one thing we can do for the betterment of this world and that is to fill it with love and that start by sharing, no matter how little.
And, how did I help Luwaya? I’m no good than most of us. I’m also weak on the part of sharing with those below me. I must confess, I gave Luwaya nothing. I did what most of you could have done.
‘Do you go to church?’ I asked him. He said no, he does not and he cannot – he does not have ‘good’ clothes. I silently prayed for him, that’s what I did and most of you, who claim to be religious, could also have done the same.
Yes, instead of sharing with him the little I had then, I shared prayers – when he was hungry! I still feel guilty about that, I wish I had given him something; I sincerely believe then he could have understood the love of God and if he is to be successful in life, he could also have developed the spirit of sharing which is what we need!