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African Writing Archives


Austin Kaluba

Austin Kaluba

Kaluba was born in 1966, in northern Zambia. He studied journalism at the prestigious Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe-Zambia. He then joined the national newspaper The Times of Zambia as a features writer. He came to Britain to study Media Communication at the University of Hertfordshire before switching to a creative writing course at the London School of Economics under the University of Birkbeck programme.

Kaluba's poetry has appeared in the black UK newspaper The Voice and his short stories have been published in magazines in Europe. He lives in Luton-Bedfordshire, UK


 Maria's Vision

Maria was in a pensive mood as she cooked the sadza) for her husband. She had already prepared the chicken stew; just the way her husband liked it. As she stirred the thickening sadza, she read a story on Zimbabwe from an open page of The Guardian.

The story was about ox-drawn ambulances that were being used in many parts of rural Zimbabwe to transport the sick to hospital.

A pathetic photograph of one such ambulance accompanied the story.

Maria pitied her country and its people and considered herself lucky to have escaped the grinding poverty by coming to the UK.

But living a relatively peaceful life in England, where she didn’t have to worry about daily increases of food prices, shortage of fuel and electricity, as was the case in Zimbabwe, was dampened by the cruel truth in her subconscious – her marital problems.

They lived in a two-bedroomed house in Hatfield. It was quite plush, apart from the junk thrown by fly tippers in a derelict ground at the back of her house. Broken baby push chairs, sofas, a half-burnt Yamaha motor bike, soiled and mouldy boots, piles of wood left from some construction sites, all found their way to that spot.

The junk had become as imbedded in her mind as her marital predicament. It was part of their beautiful home; blending ugliness and beauty. She sometimes wondered whether she should act on her friend, Grace’s advice, to request being re-housed on the grounds that it was dangerous for her five year old daughter, Chichi, to be exposed to all sorts of junk in the backyard.

Chichi, who had been sleeping peacefully on the sofa, for twenty minutes, moaned and moved about in her sleep. A book of fairy tales that had been resting on her chest when she fell asleep, fell on the floor.

Maria pulled the pot of sadza off the fire and walked over to her daughter. She lifted her up gently and took her to her bedroom upstairs.

After laying the child to sleep, she glanced at the watch and realised that it was nearly half past twelve. She rushed downstairs to finish preparing the meal.

She was gripped by a fear of offending her husband, who was very particular about finding his meals ready the moment he walked through the door.

Just as she finished preparing the sadza, she heard a car pull outside. It was him! Her heart beat quickened. She heard the back door opening, quietly, as her husband was wont to. She often wondered if he opened the door so stealthily, because he was hoping to catch her in some sort of mischief.

Moments later, he was standing at the kitchen door, watching her silently, without a word of greeting.

“How was work?” She greeted him in English. She was always the first to break the ice. “OK,” he replied sullenly in Shona, as he took off his coat.

Maria sensed that he was in one of his foul moods and thought of leaving him alone. She wanted to go upstairs but quickly realised that usually when he was in such a mood, he wanted to be with her to diffuse the tensions that his demons brewed in his chest.

He walked to the living room and sat at the dining table, waiting for Maria to bring his meal. She brought a tray with two plates on it; one for sadza and the other of chicken stew. She placed the tray on the table and stole a glance at his grumpy face. She thought he looked like a man twice his age.

“Where is Chichi ?” he asked without looking up from his meal.

“Sleeping,” she replied.

“Has she eaten?”

“Yes, she has.”

“And you?” he enquired pointing at her with a fist in which he was holding a
lump of sadza.

“I have eaten too,” she answered sensing a storm. She pulled a chair and sat

He grunted and concentrated on his food; stuffing lumps of sadza into his
mouth and swallowing with a great deal of noise.

Halfway through his meal, he raised his head and regarded Maria, as though he had just remembered that she was at the table with him. and half-sarcastically and half-jokingly commented : ' “Heh, you have become a proper English woman in a black skin, hey?” he said accusingly. “You no longer want to eat with your husband as our culture demands. You want to eat alone with your child.” “What’s wrong with me eating alone?” Maria bleated. “And remember, it is our child not my child.” She had never been so forthright in any conversation with her husband. He stopped chewing and stared at her. “You could never have spoken to me in such a manner back home. The British culture has taught you to answer your husband so cheekily!” he shouted.

“What is cheeky about reminding you that Chichi is our child?” she asked, this time lowering her voice, trying to sound contrite.

“What is wrong with answering back when your husband is talking?” he repeated the question mockingly. Maria kept quiet.

He finished his meal and switched on the TV set. He changed channel after channel till he settled on a boxing match between Daryl Harrison and Danny Williams. He moved his head at the landing of each punch from the two boxers.

She hated finding herself in such a marital trap. She had thought long and hard about how she could end her miserable marriage. But something always held her back; not least of all the fear of shaming her family back home.

Tapiwa had been like a leech in her life.

She had met him while she was teaching in Harare. Tapiwa was working as an accountant for Zimbabwe Airlines.

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight. But she had liked him instantly. Perhaps it was because he reminded her of her late father.

Like her father, Tapiwa was tall, dark and muscular. But there, the similarities ended. Her father had an easy going personality and enjoyed jokes. Tapiwa on the other hand had a reserved personality and seemed to go through life suspecting that everybody was his enemy, or somehow disapproved of him.

Maria was the opposite of the satyr she had married; a beautiful woman in her prime. She had lively clear eyes and a sparkling personality like her fathers’.

Within months of marrying Tapiwa, she realised she had made a mistake. Not only was she alarmed by how madly jealous and possessive, he was; his temper was unpredictable. At first she thought she was going to sort out her cantankerous husband’s swing moods by being attentive to his needs and showing him how much she loved him.

Then it transpired to Maria that Tapiwa had two loves in his life; his job and his wife. She realised that he wanted to cocoon himself in a world in which Maria and his job didn’t blend with anything else. He had to be the centre of that world otherwise he felt threatened.

She realised the extent of his jealous when he beat her up, just for talking to a man who was her former classmate!

The beating had left her with a black eye, two loose teeth and a very damaged ego. What annoyed her even more was the attitude of the policemen when she went to the local police station to report the assault.

One policeman had out-rightly told her that they could not intervene in a domestic affair, even though she had a swollen face!

Even the women neighbours were of little help. She remembered overhearing one woman telling her friend that modern wives lacked the stamina of their mothers who could take blows with smiling faces.

To prove their point, the women had sang a popular marriage counselling song in Shona. Maria remembered the lines:

Listen you untutored whore
The husband is your lord and protector
Someday, he can give you loving slaps
Don't cry out and wake the neighbourhood.
It is your silence we respect, not your howling
Loving slaps strengthen the marriage
loving slaps, that is the name of the game.

Strangely, Maria found herself thinking back to that first beating, as Tapiwa watched the boxing.

She smiled at the words of the songs. She quickly realised that her husband was watching her. “Why are you smiling to yourself?” he demanded. “I was only thinking loudly,” she said meekly.

“What’s thinking loudly?” he asked sarcastically. She ignored the question and withdrew into her own world.

Tapiwa continued watching the boxing match. She realised that she was slowly but surely becoming aware of her predicament and heading towards finding a lasting solution. Later, she went to bed, leaving him glued to the television.

Maria was woken by alarm which she had set at 02:00 hrs PM. She was working the afternoon shift. She rushed upstairs to prepare herself. Twenty minutes later, she came downstairs and bade farewell to Tapiwa who was still engrossed in watching TV.

She worked in Stevenage as a carer at Blue Pines Home. She usually used the bus to go to work because Tapiwa was rarely in the mood to drive her to work.

There was little to do during the early hours of the afternoon shifts because by that time the service users had been bathed and fed.

After the other carer a Jamaican handed over, she sat in the living room with service users. There was Kate Morrison, who was in her early 20's. Kate had cerebral palsy. Then there was Richard Morton who was in his early 40's but looked younger.

Richard was severely disabled and was wheelchair-bound. He had a tendency to hit out at objects; sometimes hurting himself. The other service user was Sally Brown, who was beautiful save for her deformed legs. Sally was also wheelchair-bound but her mental disability was not very severe. She kept repeating sentences.

Maria had seen flashes of normalcy in Sally's face from time to time. She looked at Maria closely and smiled. She was Maria's favourite service user. Maria returned the smile. She heard a car pull outside. It was Nancy, a fellow Zimbabwean who was also doing a late shift. Nancy had come around the same time to Britain with Maria. She walked in and took off her coat. Nancy was a big woman with an ample bottom which shook like hardening jelly or custard as walked. She was dark and plain. “Hi Maria?”

“Hi Nancy?”

“I am late. Traffic jams.”

Maria kept quiet.

Nancy had given the same excuse over and over for her late coming. It was always traffic jams or some other lame excuse.

After she settled down, the two women started chatting about the situation back home in Zimbabwe. Nancy always talked non-stop about the situation in her home country. “Did you read the story about the ox-drawn ambulances, Maria?” she asked laughing. “I did,” Maria answered suppressing laughter. “Soon, old Bob himself will be driven by oxen,” She laughed at her own joke. “How do you chase white farmers from the country just like that?” Nancy commented steadying Richard who had started hitting the side of his wheel chair vigorously. “Old Bob thinks war veterans are better than white farmers to run the farms,” Maria said. Suddenly Nancy changed the subject. “How is Tapiwa?” she asked looking at her friend in the eyes. “Grumpy as ever,” Maria replied. “That one will never change,” Nancy said Maria sighed. “I thought Britain would change him,” she said. “But Britain seems to be making him worse. Maybe it is the odd jobs he is doing and the cold weather that make him so grumpy.” “Does he still beat you?” Nancy asked half-mocking and half-light hearted as if blaming Maria for letting herself be beaten.

Maria kept quiet and started stroking Sally's hair lovingly. She looked at her watch. Time was moving fast. “Heh Maria, I have just remembered. We need to cut vegetables for supper. Let’s move the three to the kitchen,” she said and stood up. As the two women worked, they chatted. They heard the two carers upstairs moving things. They were also preparing supper for the four service users.

Later after finishing work, Nancy who lived in St Albans gave Maria a lift to Hatfield. On the way, Nancy suggested they pass through a friend's place who had thrown a party in Welwyn Garden City.

Maria found herself agreeing to spend some time at the party. They arrived at the party which was already teeming with people. Many were Zimbabweans who were with their wives or girlfriends.

Maria's heart started beating fast. She knew she would be late home and she had no plausible explanation to give her husband. A number of her old friends who had not met her for a long time were happy to see her. ‘Makadi, makadi - good evening,’ they greeted her with a hug or a kiss.

Nancy offered her a glass of wine and was amused by the way her friend held it. She held it as if it contained hemlock.

Maria took a sip. She found the wine sweet and warming.

Someone put Olive Mutukudzi's CD and the party goers started dancing. Some sang along to the words in Shona. The words were about a big-headed man who wanted to grab everything for himself. Two men who had been drinking silently in the corner started arguing about the message in the song.

One man said the lyrics had a hidden message and were lampooning Mugabe for taking Zimbabwe as his property.

Another man objected to that interpretation and the argument built up into a fearsome crescendo.

Nancy gave Maria another glass of wine under protests. She wanted to go home but Nancy insisted they stay a little bit longer. Maria had only ever drank wine during meal times when she took service users out for dinner.

By the time Maria and Nancy left the party, it was well past midnight. Maria was feeling light hearted although deep down she was uneasy about going home so late.

Nancy dropped her at her house. “Maita basa -thank you,” she said and rushed to the house.

She opened the door and found Tapiwa in the living room watching T.V. He was watching a documentary on BBC four. It was about illegal immigrants. There were four empty cans of beer on the floor.

Tapiwa had been drinking. His eyes were raw and red. His face had a distant look like he could not easily see her. He looked like he had been anxiously waiting for her for a long time. He quickly turned off the TV and straightened himself to face Maria who was about to go upstairs. “Maria, where have you been all this time?” he demanded forcing her to stop in the tracks. “I was, I was ,waaa..,' she stammered, and got annoyed at the fear that gripped her. “See, I have caught you. You whore!' “But let me..,” “Let me what?” Tapiwa mocked moving towards her unsteadily. He swung a fist and caught Maria flush on her jaw, sending her staggering backwards. She made no effort to defend herself.

The blows caught her on the chest, her face, all over the body. She groaned and began to cough violently. She then vomited the wine she had taken. When Tapiwa smelled the wine, he doubled his blows.

Maria had long stopped feeling pain. In her pain she resolved that enough was enough. This time he would not get away with it, she thought.

He went upstairs to sleep. She remained curled on the floor. Surprisingly, she drifted into deep sleep in that position.

She dreamt her husband was creeping towards her with a hammer. She quickly got up and rushed to the kitchen where she grabbed a knife. She stabbed him in the heart and twisted the knife. He fell to the ground bleeding profusely.

She woke up screaming.

It was dawn. She heard water running in the bathroom. Tapiwa was bathing, ready to go to work. Maria was off that day. Stood up. Her body was aching all over. She went upstairs to Chichi's bedroom. The child was still sleeping peacefully.

On the way to the main bedroom, she met Tapiwa coming out of the bathroom. There was an uncomfortable tension.

“What are you doing in Chichi's bedroom, you whore?” he asked shaking water from his head. “I am not a whore and you know it!” she answered sharply, staring boldly at him. He was surprised at her boldness. “You did not tell me what kept you away last night,” he said entering the bedroom. She followed him without answering.

“I wish I had not come to this bloody country. Everything here stinks,” Tapiwa raved. “Look at the whoring going on here among our women. Look at the weather, the hard work, the racism.” “Why can't you go home to your country if you are fed up with England?” Maria challenged him.

Again she was surprised like him at what was driving her to be so bold.

Tapiwa finished dressing and went out. She heard the car start and drive away. She went to the bathroom and examined her face in the mirror. She had a black eye and her hair was unkempt.

She took a hot shower before going to bed. When she woke up she heard Chichi coughing in her bedroom. She met her at the door. The child was rubbing her sleepy eyes.

Maria lifted her up. Chichi looked at her mother and smiled dreamily, oblivious of her black eye. Maria hugged Chichi close to her. “Chichi. We will be leaving this place soon dear,” she said kissing her on the cheek.' “Where are we going mummy?” she asked. Realised that Chichi probably thought the whole family would be moving out, Maria cut the conversation short.

Life became a nightmare for both Maria and Tapiwa after the beating. They became strangers.

The following Sunday Maria took Chichi to church without talking to her husband who was watching a football match between Liverpool and Northhampton on television.

The church service at the Reedemed Church was full. The Nigerian preacher was preaching about goals in life.

“Don't live a targetless life like gentiles” the priest exclaimed. “Ours is a spiritual journey brothers and sisters. It is a journey full of snares and traps. It is not for the weak-hearted. It is not by accident that we came here to England. Our God is above all obstacles in life. He is above racism. He is above the Home Office that is always out to deport us. He is above failure, job losses, marital problems, financial problems. Fear the giant-mover, not the giant. God, Jehovah Jireh is our giant-mover. The problem with us brothers and sisters is that we fear Goliath and not David who slew him with a stone from the sling. We are like Peter, who looked at the storm instead of focusing his eyes on the Lord. What is your vision my brother? What is your goal my sister?”

The priest pranced up and down the stage raising the emotions of the congregation with him. Maria was engrossed by the preaching. She remembered how God had answered her prayers by enabling her to come to England; one of her cherished dreams. Now despite her misgivings about divorcing, Maria believed her second vision was about to be realised.

Outside the church, she felt light like a new being. She felt like Saul when he turned to Paul on the road to Damascus. The scales of fear and ignorance had fallen from her eyes. She was now a free being devoid of fear that had held her captive in a loveless marriage. She felt she had wasted 10 long years loving a man who did not care for her feelings.

That night she slept lightly. She listened to Tapiwa breathing heavily beside her. She recounted the realities of her life: a grumpy husband, retrogressive traditions and attitudes that refused to die, a chauvinistic society that looked down on women, unrealised ambitions, a lifetime of living a lie, of being meek and depressed in a marital prison.

She had never confided fully to anyone about her sad existence. Even Nancy, her best friend had only known half-truths about what she was enduring with her husband.

She remembered when she was young in her home village, her grandmother who was a svikiro - spiritual medium - had read her future and sadly told her that she would only attain happiness after great suffering.

The memory frightened her.

She had dismissed it as fantasy after becoming a Christian. True Christians considered svikiros as devil's agents.

She brushed the memory aside. The more she recounted the injustices she had endured at the hands of her husband, the more the resolve to leave him grew stronger.

She made prior arrangements to stay at Nancy's place with Chichi until she found accommodation for herself. Her husband was not only a cruel man but a bulwark to her vision of being independent. She considered him old-fashioned. She cursed herself for not making the decision to leave him earlier.

The next morning, after Tapiwa had left for work as usual, Maria gathered her things and Chichi’s clothes. She felt light and elated as she packed the three huge suitcases she had bought for the job. She packed hurriedly before calling a mini cab. The Muslim taxi driver who came around helped her to pack her suitcases into the boot. Chichi was skipping about happy at the prospect of moving house.

Maria looked around the yard and at the neighbouring houses as she locked the door. “Come on mummy, lets go!” shouted Chichi who was already seated on the back seat.

Maria threw the bunch of key through the letter slot, sighed and turned towards the mini cab.

When the taxi pulled away, she didn’t look back. In the taxi, she dozed off and saw her grandmother, the svikiro, whispering to her. Her face was gnarled and haggard. She was smiling at Maria as if happy that her granddaughter had finally taken the step she had long advocated. 

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