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The lament of Hester Muponda
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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