As I look back on my life, I believe many people come into our lives and impact us significantly for a short while. Then they disappear never to be heard or be seen again leaving us with a wonderful story with glowing warm memories to last eternity. Sometimes in moments of contemplation we wonder why the person crossed our path. Sometimes we just wonder what happened to the person as we are left without conclusions. This creates the tension that is mystery in our lives. That’s why we find nostalgia to be so sweet. Our expectations of always expecting a neat ending to a story with mystery solved is a popular Hollywood myth that today overwhelms all of us. A story has to have a conclusive ending often a good one. I have come to the conclusion that whoever crosses your life, enjoy and cherish the moment with them, because once you part they may never cross your life again. This childhood story probably best makes this point.
Mgubudu stores is still located about 25 miles north of Chipata on the Lundazi road in the Eastern Province of rural Zambia in Southern Africa. The shopping center with its 6 Indian owned shops at the time was a vibrant shopping center in the 1960s. Trucks, buses, travelers, shoppers, villagers, professionals from fifty square miles mingled there. After cycling for 8 miles one late afternoon from Kasonjola School where he was a teacher, my father bought a cold coca-cola and was sipping it sitting on the stairs of the shop. He saw a man wandering past the shop.
The man was four feet nine and filthy. He had dusty bare feet, shreds of rags for clothes; he had patched lips, and looked tired. His neck less head rested on his hunchback. My father greeted the man. The man spoke Tumbuka which is our mother tongue. My father asked the man’s name and asked him why he was so far from the town of Lundazi which was nearly hundred miles away.
The man said he had not eaten for days. He had had only one lorry ride on the way but had walked most of the way for weeks in search a job. No one would give him a ride because he did not have any money. My father got out a susu (six pence) and bought the man a coca-cola and a bun. He thanked my father profusely. The man said he had been living in poverty in the village. He was looking for any work so that he could buy some clothes. But most of all he wanted to save some money so that when he returned to his village, he would be able to marry a woman from the lobola (so called bride price or bride wealth) he would save. After they had had a long conversation, my father had the man ride with him on the back carrier of his Humber bicycle. He brought the man back to our house.
My mother forbade us from staring at this short, filthy, hunchbacked man. As soon as they arrived, my mother immediately put some warm water in the bathing shelter and a bar of soap. The man scrubbed off all his dirt and my mother gave him a meal and a pair of my father’s old used clothes.
The man’s name was Sekelelani which means be happy or laugh. So it was that Mr. Sekelelani arrived one evening into our family of 9 children. We did not need the help because my father was a teacher and the little plot of land we grew crops on was to supplement our food. Mr Sekelenai was to help us work in our 2 acre field growing maize and peanuts. My father paid him One pound 5 shillings a month. He saved the one pound for him in an account and gave him the 5 shillings every month. My mother cooked and served him meals. My father gave him some used clothes. Because he had a hunch back, he never wandered away from our house into the villages because people stared and sometimes made fun of him even when he took short strolls near our house in the evening. He was very self-conscious. He had a great laugh and broad smile and we kids were very fond of him and were always listening to his many funny stories. My mother sometimes teased him in the evening as we sat in the moonlight outside after dinner. My mother would ask him why he was not married yet.
Mr. Sekelelani would always laugh and say: “Mrs. Tembo, women like me, I know how to talk to them…….”
Twelve months later, we were all sad to see Mr. Sekelelani leave one morning. My father gave him the twelve pounds cash he had faithfully saved for him and a small suitcase with a blanket and some clothes in it. We escorted him to Mgubudu Stores where he boarded the bus to his home village in Lundazi. We never saw or heard from him again.
Over the years I had always wondered and have been intrigued by my father and mother’s partnership. They were such a kind people when we were growing up. They brought so many strangers into our home and into our lives as children. They treated them all very kindly. I have always wondered what happened to Mr. Sekelelani. Did he go home to a hero’s welcome? Did he marry and live happily ever after?