It was very early in the morning when my wife received a phone call and from the way she was speaking on the phone I knew something had gone amiss somewhere.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her after the call.
“It’s Mrs K who called”, she replied. “She says her husband has lost his mother”.
The Ks were our neighbors, in fact our closest neighbors. We immediately went to their house though my eyes were still heavy with sleep. We found only the wife and kids in the house as the man was reportedly out in the field from where he would go straight to the funeral without coming home first. The wife therefore needed some transport money which we provided. Burial was on the following day, Saturday.
We started off around noon on a 65km journey. I was in the company of my wife, two other neighbours (ladies) and Mr K’s daughter. When we got there we found the “speech ceremony” had just started in readiness for the journey to the final resting place of the deceased.
I parked my car some metres away before reaching the gathering place. Though there were vacant chairs, as is our custom, I sat on the ground. When I looked to the right I noticed my neighbour also seated on the ground. Surprisingly he didn’t seem to have taken notice of my presence. After a few minutes I decided to sit close to him to offer him my condolences. Again surprisingly he paid no attention to me. I whispered some condolence message to him and he responded. I then dipped into my pocket and fished out some green bank notes. He received them and stuffed them in his pocket without a second glance and immediately took his focus off me. Confused I went back to my original seat.
When we returned from the graveyard there were a few speeches made and then we were released. As I was pondering over what to do next I caught sight of my neighbour. He was in the company of another gentleman. I rushed to him with an aim of bidding him farewell. When I got to the spot where he was standing some two other mortals had already arrived there ahead of me. I then extended my hand to my neighbour to bid him farewell but he seemed to have ignored me for he turned away from me as he was busy talking to someone else. I felt too weak to withdraw my hand so it was still hanging in the air until another good Samaritan grabbed it and smiled though the hand wasn’t meant for him.
When finally my neighbour turned to me I again extended my hand and this time he responded. We shook hands and I bade him farewell. “Thank you very much” is all he said. Feeling confused, embarrassed, discomposed, stupefied and dazed I signaled to my wife that I was heading for the car and that she should hurry up. I didn’t expect to be treated as a special guest but honestly didn’t expect this indifference either. I wobbly sauntered to my car. I sat there with all the windows closed to avoid dust coming in from the passing vehicles.
I was deep in thought when suddenly I saw an image of my neighbour through one of the rearview mirrors. He was walking towards the car. I wondered what he wanted. I didn’t want to get out of the car so I simply wound down the glass.
“Are you going back?” he asked.
“Tiyeni mukamwe kaye madzi”
After arguing for a while the Malawian way I gave in. I followed him like a sheep being led to pasture. He then led me into a small old house. There were no chairs and I had to sit on the floor. Except for my neighbour I was alone in the room. After a while he brought two plates, one for nsima and the other for relish and later brought a basin of water for washing my hands. “Oh, let me also bring drinking water”. He disappeared into what looked like a kitchen and in no time reappeared with a cup of water. I didn’t understand what was happening. Is this the same neighbour who had given me a cold shoulder a while ago? Anyway, I began doing justice to the food. The guy squatted about a metre from me and entertained me with stories. He told me about his clan. He told me about his deceased mother. At one point he excused himself and when he came back he apologised. “Sorry I went out to meet some other people who were also bidding farewell”. He was there with me until I emptied the plates clean.
Why this sudden change of attitude? I was getting more and more confused.
He then led me out of the house. On our way to the car another guy stopped us. He narrated something to my neighbour but my neighbour’s response puzzled me. “You go and sort it out”, he answered. “I’m busy with my neighbour. I’m escorting him”. He then described my house to him and talked a lot. The other guy, with a smile on his lips, shook my hand yet again. We then proceeded with our walk to the car when some boys came up to him with some stories that also needed his attention. As if not wanting me to proceed alone, my neighbour talked to them while holding my hand in his. Honestly, the confusion that engulfed me at this time was much greater than it had been when I was treated like a nincompoop.
When we finally made it to the car we were joined by my wife, the other two neighbours and Mrs K and her daughter. We bade them farewell before driving off.
All the way to Blantyre I was trying to digest what had just happened. Why the sudden change from treating me like a moron to a king? What had happened? I resisted the urge to explain to my wife all this ordeal while driving. I didn’t want the other two ladies to hear about it.
When we finally got home I explained everything to my wife and the answer she gave me solved the whole jigsaw puzzle. You see, guys, we moved into our present house exactly two years ago and since then I had never met Mr K face to face except one night when I went to him to inform him about the demise of my mother-in-law. Yes, I could recognise him thereafter but it seems he had completely forgotten my face. This time it must have been after his wife had told him about me being in the car that he remembered me and gave me the king’s treatment.
Abale tiyeni tiziyenderana mmakwalalamu kuopa kuona zomwe ndinakomana nazo ine pa 12 September 2015 dzana dzana lomweli, laliwisili!!!