And these are first year students?

We are sitting in the terraces of the Nanzikambe Arts CafĂ©. Before us is the stage. No tables, no decorations, no whatever – just a plain stage.

It is evening.

Earlier in the day it had rained and I had had my fears that the rain might continue and mar an otherwise looked-forward-to show. But now, the skies are clear. If not for their female shyness, I am certain, the stars could have been in the skies.

But now, they are not there. The sky is just plain, and clear.

We are awaiting for the staging of the South African movie, Sarafina – its stage version. Chancellor College first year students, so I gather, are the ones who will be on stage tonight.

I remember my first year days. First year days are fun, almost. They are certainly confusing, to some extent. First year days leave you with little choice than to listen to those of years ahead of you. You listen to the ways of survival. You listen to whom, amongst the lecturers you have encountered, is worse than the other: which one manufactures marks and which one does not read the essays you submit, which one judges you by your first work and which one judges you by the smile you carry in his class and which one takes the personality of you over the social weekend into class.

First year days, in brief, are years for learning – everything and not just school – but not serious acting. And, not a serious play like Sarafina, now a major motion picture.

But today we are seated here – the three of us – awaiting first years to act out Sarafina. Somehow, I feel like I am about to watch the David – Goliath fight and, in this case, I give my support to Goliath. I am getting nervous that David will lose it.

I am not the only one nervous. My neighbor, V, is nervous as well. She keeps on saying that the ‘kids better not miss it, they should perform to standards.’ Every time the crowd swells, she repeats that. Actually, she is more nervous than me.

I ask her if she has ever watched the play before, performed by the same kids.

She says she has and she acknowledges it was good. I say I have heard beautiful compliments about it as well and, what more? I add that the danger of hearing compliments about a performance before you watch it is that you have heightened expectations and when the performers wake on the wrong side then you are frustrated and you leave wondering what the hype was all about.

She assures me that no, this play will not be like those ones. This one will not frustrate. Suddenly, it seems her nerves are in control but not for long…

For the crowd keeps swelling until after the play is allowed on stage.

The first year students march on stage, in beautiful school uniforms, singing. It is rhythmical at this stage, one can easily spot beauty in it. For those who have watched Sarafina, the movie, back in the days eventually a nostalgia is aroused.

As the play rolls on, our nerves appear to have calmed. Sarafina, the high mountain, is gently being climbed by the freshmen in College. At their level, they are doing what few can expect of first year students.

They take us to the streets of South Africa, the 1976 (?) Soweto killings, the sad and chilling narrations depicted in the movie, the music and violence associated with the beautiful motion picture which I place alongside my all time favourites: A beautiful mind and Malcolm X, not forgetting Sometimes in April.

And, it is almost a flawless performance. A performance that has had the audience not utterly quiet but captivated of course with all that is happening on stage as some reminisce of the movie; one can easily guess by their comments.

We clap and laugh where we can and, when the Pastor takes up the second greatest sermon on earth according to me (after the first one by Jesus Christ, that one on the Mountain), one can only watch but in awe the special skill with which this pastor character handles his sermon.

“They fear you because you are young,” he preaches amidst wails from the friends of the dead and some two bodies lying on the ground.

His voice, his composure, says something: this one might be in first year but certainly can make my two comrades – V and V – run for their money when it comes to acting despite that these two are final products of the same drama school.

It is a meal well-served, almost…

Until when they come to sing for the last time.

It is the song leader who flops. Her voice gets entangled in her own throat and to release it properly appears to be a difficult task almost needing special prayers. Sadly, the whole team finds itself in the mess of failing to sing that beautiful song one Hugh Masekela does with a talent matching no other:

“Bring back Nelson Mandela…bring him back to Soweto…We want to see him walking down the streets…with Winnie Mandela…Tomorrow!”

At this song, they have lost the plot. Now, almost at the peak of this mountain called Sarafina we had clearly thought they had finished climbing with a dexterity reserved for them only, the fresh ladies and gentlemen of Chirunga are sliding back.

It is saddening, but not forever, for the little girl acting out that role of Sarafina comes to pick up the staggering group of her friends with the popular lines of ‘Freedom is coming tomorrow!’

It is from those lines the beginning of their closure to an appetizing performance start. It is after that that the improvised lines that urges Mandela’s soul to rest in peace are added.

The dish has been served, warm, by first University students. The audience stand to clap as the figurative curtain is closed. I join them in clapping but still wondering why that Mistress It’s a Pity (Miss Masambuka in the movie) had that fear of the Police – it was so very much exaggerated. I think watching Sarafina and seeing the courage and magic that Miss Masambuka had can do her good, a lot of good. Her fear of the Police, trembling at their sight, made us who have the movie parts stuck in our minds not enjoy the play.

But then, I caution myself, and say that these are first year students. First year students who never had to take the mammoth task of acting out such a huge thing as Sarafina, the major motion picture to have ever come out of South Africa in my opinion.


Always buy second hand things, please

You started by drowsing while in some conversations on the social networking Whatsapp. Before you knew it, you were fully asleep. Conquered by the mighty power of sleep, your journey into the valley of the shadow of death started.

Then, morning came. God had been merciful to you, he had let you see the other day of the new year. Among those in whom life had slipped out of, you were not one of them. Among those who were still relying on heresies on what is in the other life, you were there.

You reached for your phone having remembered the conversations unfinished of last night.
You expected the phone to display something like ‘3 Whatsapp messages’ or something more than that. You had been pregnant with expectation yet when you touched the phone, all expectations dissolved. They were shattered.

The screen was blank – a dry blankness.

It is the battery, you had comforted yourself.

You tried to play on the switch yet the phone refused to respond. You changed batteries but to no avail. A person attempting to square a circle could have been doing a probable effort than what you were doing here, you recognized at last.

You settled that you would take it to the cell phone repairer across the road. That man has had magic hands on this phone since the time it has been giving you troubles. You are sure he will resurrect it again. You do not know the sad news that awaits you.

The man is not there when you go to visit him. His shop is closed. He must still be basking in the celebrations of having made it into the new year, you tell yourself.

It is to town you go to, you cannot afford to live minus a phone on the second day of the New Year. Who knows, this might be your year of harvesting and you might just be harvesting on the second day of the New Year! You are yet to give up on miracles, anyway.

To town you rush and that small – in frame, weight and apparently age – technician tells you after an hour of attempting to resuscitate it that it is the board of the phone that is dead. You are not a technician and all that jazz is a bother. One thing is simple to you:

The phone has died.

You walk away with the skeleton of the phone in your hands. You feel flat – not happy, not sad – just flat. Emotionless. You liked, and even loved, the phone but it has chosen to end its stay. What do you do?

You let it go, let it fulfill its wishes.

But, you cannot live minus a phone. So, a hunt for a new one starts.

It is a difficult search. The ones you find are not of your taste – they have qwerty keypads (what are laptops for!) or have a touch screen (you are too clumsy) and some are even Blackberries (no comment!). You struggle until one fellow comes to your rescue.

He hits your inbox claiming you have been searching for a phone, he had seen in some business group. You ask what kind of phone it is. He names it. It meets your expectations. Price? He names it. You cannot believe it. It is below what you expected. Surely, this is a year of harvesting and harvesting you have started – with a phone, on the third day of the New Year.
You exchange contact details, meet in town as the sun is going down and in the quickest manner possible, a business is conducted – both parties satisfied. He tells you that if anything you can call him on the same number. You promise to do, then a handshake. Deal sealed. Each their own way.

You get fascinated with the phone. You know that the body it is clothed in is not the one that it was bought with, it is a cover up – a mere face. It is its capabilities you want to be sure of. So, you go to the menu.

You land into messages.

This phone was owned by a girl, you are made to understand by the messages in the inbox. She was in a relationship with Dave*. There are too many messages from him, Dave. He assures the girl of how much he loves her, he tells her how much he misses her, he discusses future plans with her, it appears even both sets of parents of the two know of the affair. One thing, Dave is bad in spellings.

This one should just have been talking to the lady, not messaging her, you tell yourself. The spellings are terrible. An example of how not to spell words.

You keep scrolling until you find that text:

‘DISANAME. ZIDIKIRAZI PNA ZIKUWAWA KOMA POTI DIMAKUKODA TIZIDIKIRA SIKU LA UKWATILO. ND WAT SUZABWERASO KWATU NKAKALAKO NDEKA CHIFUKWA LERO ZIJA?’ (I must confess, all this sex before marriage is a sin business is tiring me. Anyway, I will wait until the time of marriage. Did you say you won’t come and visit me again when I’m alone at home because of what happened today?)

End of text.

You imagine things. The same things I am probably imagining. You quickly want to go to the ‘Outbox’ but your urge to continue reading the ‘Inbox’ overrides anything. You keep scrolling until you find an unsaved number.

You want to scroll further down but it is the content of the message that stops you. It starts with the word ‘hun’ – quite a beautiful term it is.

You open the text. This is not Dave. Dave is terrible in spellings, his texts are in Chichewa but this one is in English – perfect English. You can even bet it is coming from a professor of English if not a poet or a plain high school graduate.

Even the contents of the text. It is not Dave. This nameless number, apparently a wrong number to the recipient, talks of sex with the recipient. It is lewd. A sextext. It is the kind of texts that were sent in Sodom and Gomorrah before God grew tired of such texts that he made fire rain over them one day.

You scroll down further and you see that the messages from the same number are appearing. The content is the same one: remembrances of past sexual encounters, promises of more time for sexual encounters in future, sex this and sex that but nothing like love.

It is Dave who writes about love. Dave, the man who has been told to wait for marriage for him to taste the fruits of marriage, which are being plundered by the owner of a wrong number in the phone.

The moment you go to the ‘Sent items’ is when it clearly dawns on you. It is at that moment you feel like throwing up. It is disgusting: the promises – read: lies – this lady makes to Dave and the waiting he keeps him in yet the same lady goes to motels and lodges with an owner of a wrong number in her phone. What a way of showing love!

Your soul feels weighed. You feel sorry for the other man you have never seen. You wish to call him, tell him everything but then you stop yourself. The world is like that. It went to the dogs a long time back and who are you to save it?

You say that let me just download the Whatsapp into this device so that once again I can be back online for those friends I reach through that channel. The phone denies. It says the version is too old to accommodate Whatsupp.

Two days back, you could have cussed – loudly! However, today, drained of all energy, you just sit back and breathe deeply. You have that flat feeling once again. You decide to call the person who had sold you the phone. His line is off. The number is not available. 

You go to Facebook, the account is either deactivated or has blocked you. You are desperate. How can you have a phone minus Whatsupp, just how? You are used to it. What’s worse?

If this phone happens to be stolen then what?

After all, on stolen phones and the police and you there is a story – a long one!

Certainly, this calls for a cussing – releasing the tension – but then you remember the thing across your neck. The rosary. It seems some sort of desecration to cuss with a rosary around your neck. It is sad. Pathetic.

You just decide to write. Writing, you do, while trying the number but still to no avail.

*Name changed