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The lament of Hester Muponda
Petina Gappah, African Writing Online
November 20, 2008

After Hester Muponda lost her first child and she turned her face to the heavens to pour out her grief, her church people said to her, find your strength in God, they said to her. After the second child followed where the first had led, she bent her face into the folds of her Zambia wrapping cloth. The Lord gives and He takes away, blessed be His name today, Hester Muponda said. But when the fifth followed the fourth who had followed the third, she kept him in her second bedroom until he began to decay and smell and they forced the door open and still she refused to bury him. Her closest neighbour and best friend MaiNgwerume whispered something about Hester Muponda's midnight ways to her closest neighbour and best friend MaiMutero and MaiMutero said to MaiNgwerume, it is a mad chicken that eats its own eggs, but shush now.

He does not give us more than we can bear, Hester Muponda's church people said to her, look to your grandchildren, they need you now, they said to her. Then first, the first grandchild died and then second, the second and Hester closed her bedroom door against her husband. And when Hester Muponda opened the door again, it was to show a beard on the chin of her disappearing face.

Only women with evil tempers grow beards, her husband's paternal aunts said. Hester Muponda's husband woke up in the night and reaching across the pillows, brushed his hand across her chin. He moved to the spare bedroom, and the day after the memorial service of the first dead grandchild, he moved out of the house and Ashdown Park altogether and moved in with Gertrude Chinake his woman from Bluff Hill who had no beard or grief stench but smelt only of sweat and sex and the Takatala sauce in which she marinated all their food.

Hester Muponda took up her large pots, her black pots she took up, her funeral pots in which had been cooked the meals that fed the mourners that cried her children and grandchildren away. She took up her pots and set up three three-stone fires at the corner of Eves Crescent and Ashdown Drive next to Gift Chauke who sold individual cigarettes and sweets and belts with shiny buckles and the Financial Gazette on Thursdays, the Independent on Fridays, and the Herald on every other day but Sunday when he sold the Standard and the Sunday Mail. In her pots she made sadza, thick and white, and chicken stew and vegetables that she sold to Gift Chauke and to the drivers and to the conductors of commuter omnibuses. And even though her cooking smells reached into the neighbouring houses along with her pain, Edgar Jones the only white person left in Ashdown Park did not complain about property values as he had when his neighbours first started to grow maize in gardens meant for flowers and to park the heads of long-distance haulage trucks on the narrow strips of lawn outside their houses.

She is mad, Hester Muponda's neighbours said and crossed the street when they saw her coming. Mad, mad, echoed the drivers and conductors and Gift Chauke as their teeth tore into the chicken that Hester Muponda cooked with onions and tomatoes. And when the time came, and Hester Muponda took up the blanket that covered her in the darkness that her children had found, the only people who felt her absence were those drivers and conductors who missed the firm but soft sadza and the chicken stew that Hester Muponda cooked over three three-stone fires at the corner of Ashdown Drive.

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