I know I am going to die.
Death could not have come at a better time, some may say. Seventy years old and battling lung cancer, then having a stroke. Paralysis. Coma. Awakening. Then paralysis still. It is not the best way for an old man to spend his last days. Seeing yourself slowly waste away, too helpless to do anything about it, should be a great incentive for one to welcome death. Your skin, once smooth and soft, now wrinkled, with black spots that only symbolise your imminent demise. I am old, I know, but this is still torture. Death mocks me, letting me see what lies ahead, while not releasing me from this body. The helplessness within which my body is engulfed only serves to accentuate my inward fury.
Not much is good about being a convalescent. Nothing is good about it, in fact. You have no control over both your bladder and your bowels, not to mention being pushed around in a wheelchair everywhere and being fed like a toddler. It is quite unpleasant, believe me. And to think that I, George Banda, former amateur wrestler and reputable investment banker, was once one of the most feared and respected men in this city. How the mighty hath fallen.
When I think of it, though, it really would not be so bad if I had a great family. You see, I am a widower, with children. I always thought between my wife Madalitso and I, the reaper would come for me first. Mada was always the careful one, exercising and eating healthy, while I gorged on junk food and, in my later years, could not walk a mile to save my life. However, since she beat me to the punch a few years ago, it seems I would have lost, had I been a betting man. Still, for a man in my situation, losing a spouse would not be as bad; you would expect these offspring of mine to at least try to take care of me. Three fully-grown children, each with a family of their own, and a fourth child who has just turned twenty-three. A lovely family; or so I thought. What I have seen and heard these past few months while paralysed has made me think otherwise.
Do not misunderstand me, I really appreciate the fact that God gave me children. Growing up in the village, children were a sign of wealth. Having a small family when I was growing up was a great source of ridicule. You can therefore imagine the scorn poured upon my parents, who decided to only have two children.
‘Bwanji, what happened? Your husband ran out of strength in the bedroom?’
‘What if one of your children dies? Or, God forbid, both of them? Aiii, my friends, what are you thinking? Who will hold your hands when you are old and grey?’
My parents did not care. They took care of Musa and me to the best of their abilities, until their death. We were good, obedient children, but there were times when we wished our parents had had more of us. Imagine being constantly outnumbered in fights. It was always the two of us against several opponents from the same family. Needless to say, we almost always came out defeated, our bodies and egos battered. Musa, being the eldest, was particularly aggrieved when we lost. He seemed to think it was all his fault that we lacked reinforcements, not our parents’. I suppose that’s why, even after they died, he seemed overprotective. In retrospect, that was one of the reasons I decided to have more children than my parents. If only I had foreseen what they would become.
My first-born son, Sam, has already made his position clear. At thirty-nine, he wants to be the man I once was. Under different circumstances, I would be proud. But he is already talking to my lawyers, even in my presence. They discuss a lot of things, from power of attorney to who succeeds me as chairman of my bank when I finally stop breathing. He wants to run things after I’m gone, it seems; constantly making preparations. The only time he enquires after me is when important decisions have to be made concerning the bank. Other than that, he is rarely here. Busy with his two mistresses, I’m sure. I’ll admit, of all my sons, Sam is the least handsome. He has, however, managed to accumulate some wealth, and that’s more important than looks. It seems most women agree with the assessment. He thinks I do not know about his concubines, the fool. I have known for years. So has his wife.
Then there is thirty-six-year-old Chikondi, my second born son. I do not even know why or how he became a politician but apparently, he is very good at it. Now, to him, my death will give him a bit of an advantage politically. Not only does he intend to make a spectacle out of my funeral to make a name for himself, but he also plans to inherit the political connections I established throughout my years on this planet. The way he goes on and on about it with his brothers and sister, you would think he cannot wait for me to die. Based on the descriptions he’s proudly imparted to his siblings, sometimes in my presence, my funeral service will be the event of the year. I suppose it’s to be expected. The bastard has never really loved me since the day he was forced off his mother’s breast.
‘We shall have a private viewing in the old man’s study,’ I once heard him say. ‘We will invite everyone who matters in this town. They wouldn’t dare refuse. Our father helped launch most of these people’s political and corporate careers. I want the best casket for him, even better than mother’s. We shall spare no expense. I do not want cheap things. People shall remember how we send off our dead.’
Invite people to a funeral? I could not believe it. Perhaps that’s the way the azungu do it, but that’s certainly never been my experience in my entire existence in this country of ours. Worse still, the way his siblings just stood there, nodding in agreement, was appalling. I swear if I could move, I’d slap those silly grins off their faces.
As for Sarah, my only daughter, she truly is not her mother’s child. Mada’s exceptional traits were humility and kindness, of which her daughter has none, as I have come to learn. Her love is really for the finer things in life. Moved in with her husband to take care of me, she said. Thirty years old, with a college degree but never worked a day in her life, all Sarah does now is make changes to the house. She uses up the monthly allowance, that I instructed my lawyers to give out for house maintenance in case something happened to me, in a few days. She just loves being seen riding around town in my cars with her no-good husband. You would think that he would be the one to talk some sense into her but he is as lazy as she is. All they do is shop and host parties. I wonder what they are teaching children in college these days.
George Banda junior, my pride and joy, is the last born. We raised him well. Since he came to my wife and me later in our marriage, we spent a lot of time with him. We gave him guidance and everything we thought he needed. I even groomed him to work in my bank after graduating. But, ever since my stroke, he has changed. He still comes in to talk to me every day for an hour or so and I suppose I should be grateful for that. But that is as far as it goes. George junior inherited my wit and his mother’s compassion. Unfortunately, he also inherited his father’s charm and his mother’s strikingly good looks. Now, at twenty-three and armed with those traits, the women love him and he loves them back. So much, in fact, that he brings home a different girl almost every night. I might be paralysed, but I am neither deaf nor blind. It seems he has forgotten nearly everything my wife and I taught him. Partying and fornicating is all he does now, a fresh graduate. We live in a big house but I still hear the noises coming from his bedroom almost every night.
The fact that I no longer move around on my own means I can no longer do the things I used to take for granted. Even going to the toilet is a chore, something with which I need to be helped. My grandchildren, Sam’s spawn, used to be the highlight of my day. Now, they noticed that grandpa can’t chase after them anymore. He can’t even speak. They ask their father why grandpa is constantly in a chair that has wheels on it.
‘Grandpa is sick,’ their father replies. ‘He cannot walk until he gets better.’
Until he gets better. We both know that is highly unlikely. Neither doctor nor god has made assurances. Religion has never really been the focus of my attention, but I have prayed to my deity for nearly a year now, with no sign that the situation will change. For once, I cannot reproach my son for lying. His children do not need to know that, until such a time as the good lord decides otherwise, grandpa is stuck in this chair with wheels.
Speaking of the lord, the priest has stopped his regular visits. I don’t know whether the young cleric has decided that I’m not dying anytime soon, or my offspring now deem him unentertaining. I admit, the man was persistent, throwing in a hint of how much the parish could use some money with every Hail Mary. The only daughter and the spoilt last born thought it was hilarious; the politician and the corporate offspring did not.
‘Look at him,’ George said to his siblings, when the priest visited one day. ‘I am sure the old man would throw the priest out if he could. His face has that expression it used to have whenever Sarah brought a boyfriend home.’
‘I don’t know why you keep indulging him, Sarah,’ Sam spoke directly to his sister. ‘You run the household affairs now, and you also know that dad hadn’t set foot in a church in over a year, even before his stroke. That so-called man of god is only here for the money. Or, if there is any ounce of nobility in him, he’s here because mom was one of his most devout parishioners.’
‘Nanu, will you relax? I think it’s what mom would have wanted,’ Sarah replied. ‘Besides, do you remember how dad would insist that we attend Sunday service when we were little, even though he didn’t go himself? It’s nice to have the tables turn for once.’
That, I’ll admit, shamed me to the core. I had not exactly shown a good example when it came to church activities. I worked, even on Sundays, because I felt that wealth was important, a legacy to leave my children. What a laugh. I always left church activities to Mada, who always seemed to make time, despite her own demanding career. A criminal defence attorney isn’t exactly someone who keeps normal hours. She still managed to attend a lot of church events. How that woman managed it, I still do not know.
It was not always pleasant between Mada and me. There were drunken fights in college, and days without speaking to each other. Hell, we even cheated on each other a couple of times. That’s a story I do not envision going down well with the children. Besides, they wouldn’t believe me to begin with. In their eyes, their mother was a saint. Mada’s life changed with one church attendance. One morning we’re both nursing hangovers and then she’s in my room at night-time, telling me her life needed saving. I never met that pastor personally, although I followed his exploits after that. He died before I could hug him. For, even though I never really ‘turned to the lord’ like my wife, when her life changed, so did mine. The party boy turned his attentions to work, in class and, later on, in the office. The drinking was minimized, and I also quit smoking. Apparently, not quickly enough.
I no longer have friends. Most of them are either dead or too busy to come visit me. After all I did for them. I jump-started their careers, I loaned them money, but all that is forgotten. That’s gratitude for you. All I have for friends now are the servants. They have been with me for a long time, which is probably the only reason Sarah has not fired them yet. They practically helped raise her and her siblings. They are the ones who really talk to me, while changing my bedsheets or removing the bedpan. Their voices are filled with warmth when they speak, but in their eyes, I see pity. I cannot blame them. Imagine having to change the soiled diaper of a man who was once your imposing master.
Musa has a family in the village. They rarely visit me now. Not because they do not want to. My children keep accusing them of trying to grab my wealth. My daughter is the most vocal when it comes to that. I recall one incident when my brother travelled over two hundred miles by bus from the village to visit me. He was turned back at the gate by the guard. Despite my brother’s insistence, the guard, who knows exactly who my brother is, stood his ground, saying he had his orders. And while all this was happening, Sarah was inside the compound with her ingrate of a husband.
“My uncle, father’s brother, does not really care about us. All he does when he comes here is feast his eyes on the cars and furniture. He thinks I do not notice. Well, he is not welcome here anymore. If he thinks he can get his hands on my father’s money, he has another think coming. He will not get a single tambala. Let him go back to his home and wallow in his family’s poverty.”
It is still hard to believe that it was my own daughter saying that about my brother, her malume, the same man who is her traditional marriage counsellor. The same man she ran to for advice when her marriage was falling apart. Sarah now wouldn’t even speak his name. I have never felt more ashamed. I feel really sorry for my brother. Musa loved me enough to drop out of school and look after the house and the family business in the village when I had to go to secondary school. He was only a teenager then. I had vowed to help him until the day I died. And there I was, inside the house, but powerless to do or say anything.
Once in a while, the little fornicator that is my youngest wheels me out into the garden. I feel at peace there, the fresh Chiperoni breeze against my wrinkled brown skin. I almost feel like death would not be so bad. I have fought a good fight, as that damn priest is fond of saying. Then I come back down to earth and all that turns into disappointment, for deep down I know that I have lost the battle which matters the most.
I still remember my life in the village. How my brother and I bonded, even when our parents were alive. We may not have told each other everything, but we were always there for each other. How I wish Musa were here with me now, to tell me what I thought were wise words when we were young.
“It does not matter whether I am right or wrong, George, but you always stand by me. The same way I will always stand by you, no matter what. Family is family, even when they are wrong.”
He stood by his word, Musa did, and so did I. We fought for each other, we covered for each other. Even when our father threatened us with his long walking stick, we never spilled the beans on each other. I wish I could say the same for my children. Everyone is looking out for themselves. George is a lost soul, as if he does not have elder brothers and a sister to counsel him.
Every day I think about where I went wrong with my children for them to live their lives this way. They place too much emphasis on the material world than family ties and love. Perhaps I should have spent more time with them while they were growing up, instead of working late at the bank. Maybe my wife should have quit her career as a lawyer and stayed home to raise the children. But whatever it is, we probably should have done better. That’s a lie; I should have done better.
Perhaps it is not too late. I am not dead yet. If I could move or at least speak one last time, I could talk some sense into the perforated disks they call their heads. Or I could change my will and leave everything to my grandchildren. The will shall have set conditions, of course, so that they do not end up like their parents. I know that if I do not do something, my family is surely headed for self-aggrandisement and discord. I am still alive and can see for myself what they are doing. No parent should ever have to go through that. Part of me is actually glad Mada is not here to witness this.
I know I am going to die. Death could not have come at a better time since I know my body is failing me with each passing day. I can feel it. Still, there is something I must do. Something I have to do. I have to try to save my family. Now, I can still feel a tingling sensation in my left index finger. That’s a start, isn’t it?
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