It hurts. I want to scream but when I open my mouth, milky water rushes into my mouth and I choke. Tears are filling my eyes and mixing with the milky water. I cannot feel my legs. I just feel a stinging stubbing below my stomach. I think they have been bitten off just now. I beat the water with my hands desperately trying to push half my body forward towards the shore. At the corner of my eyes, I can still see the crocodile shapes following me at high speed. I know it is hopeless to run away at this moment but waiting for death to find you doing nothing seems much more painful to me. The shapes are now closer than before. I can see one of the pointy creature’s mouth open as it bites and pulls my right arm away. I feel the ripping of my arm as the crocodile grabs it and stuffs it in its mouth. A warm feeling touches my chest which is quickly getting cold. I know I am dying but I cannot even cry loudly in the water.
This is a stupid way of dying. I could never have thought I would die like this; drowning, choking on my own screams and worst of all being chewed by crocodiles. I always pictured myself dying in bed painlessly due to old age. But alas, God did not want that for me. As I take my last breath, all I can think of is that I am dying a virgin. It breaks my soon to be eaten heart that I never touched a woman or even kissed anyone. I hoped I would marry a fairly beautiful girl sooner and be with her. She would take my name and become Mrs. Alick Msosa. We would have four or five children and then I would die of old age earlier than my wife.
It is dark. I push my eyes open but a blackness is covering my eyes. I wonder where I am. I still cannot reach my legs but this time I know they are there. The pain is gone. I do not feel cold anymore. A warm hand is touching my back gently. Slowly I hear myself cry loudly and then there is laughter mixed with crying. Maybe my family found my remains in the river and are crying for me which means this is my funeral, I think. This feeling of having someone cry for me after dying puts a smile on my face and I stop crying.
“Honey, the baby is smiling.” I hear a female voice say.
“She must be happy to meet us,” says a man’s voice. “What should we name her?”
“Tamara,” the woman’s voice replies. “Let’s call her Tamara. It was my mother’s name and now my daughter can have the same name in her memory.”
“Tamara it is,” the man says and laughs.
The two voices seem to be talking about a baby girl named Tamara. It does not make sense that they have to be talking about this at my funeral. Funerals are places where people have to shed tears and whisper about the deeds of the dead person. I smile at myself as I remember the reason I died. It could explain why these people are disrespecting and being rude at my funeral like this.
The man and the woman’s voices soon become familiar as I get to hear them every day. I do not know why they are still keeping me with them. They probably do not know that I am dead. From their voices, I can tell they are nice and smothering people. I plan to stay with them until I can open my eyes so that I can see where to go. My wish soon comes.
It is bright. I can finally see where I am. There is light; too bright that I have to close my eyes at first and then open them again slowly. The roof is white and has a lit bulb in the middle. I turn to my side and see a woman lying next to me. She is wearing a loose dress and a head tie. Her eyes are closed but her hands are holding me. I move my eyes to her chest and watch the heaving of her breasts as they rise and fall with her breathing. She is beautiful in my eyes. The sight of her breasts makes me smile. It reminds me that I am a virgin. Maybe she will let me sleep with her, I think.
I lift my hands to touch and feel her breasts and that is when I see that my hands have shrunk into tiny baby hands. I blink to make sure I am not dreaming but the tiny hands are still there. I try to raise my upper body but it is impossible. I know I can feel my legs now. I have felt my legs since I could hear voices of the man and woman at my funeral. I raise my legs but I cannot see them. My heart starts racing and I scream loudly.
The woman lying next to me opens her eyes and quickly sits up. She picks me in her arms and rubs her forehead against mine. She checks my pants and mumbles, “dry” with a straight face.
“Are you hungry, Tamara?” She asks as she is rocking me sideways while gently tapping my buttocks.
I want to exclaim that she is harassing me but then I remember the tiny hands I have. Wait, she also just called me Tamara. My eyes pop wide open and I begin to cry louder than before. I died. Now, I am this baby. What happened? Did I wake up as a baby? But how? This does not make any sense, I think.
A man walks in wearing black trousers and a white shirt. He comes straight at us, kisses the woman on her left cheek and looks at me with a smile.
“I see your alarm clock has rung already,” he chuckles as he touches my cheek. “Give her to me. Let daddy do his magic.”
The woman puts me into the man’s hands and sighs. The man sways me and then holds me in front of him. He sticks out his tongue and makes a sound which spits out some saliva on my face. Instead of getting angry, I find myself laughing at the stupid face and sound he is making. He starts laughing too and then holds me against his chest with one hand on my neck and his other hand holding my buttocks. I know I should be mad that a man is touching another man’s buttocks in front of a lady but I shove the idea off my mind. I realize that I am now a baby girl born to this man and woman. I seem to be their only child. I decide that I have to be a baby now and live a new life as Tamara. Hopefully, I will not die a painful death in this new life. And my new concern is the fact that I am now a woman. I do not know anything about being a girl so this will be a problem for my feelings as a former man. Despite being born as a girl, I still remember my previous life and memories of when I was Alick Msosa, the man who was murdered by the government assassins.
The man, who is now my father, then puts me back into my mother’s arms and walks to the open wardrobe. He fumbles the clothes in there and then pulls out a red jacket which he puts on. He then walks to the table filled with various colourful bottles and picks one. He holds it closer to his armpits and presses the top of the bottle emitting a funny smell in the room which tickles my nose. I sneeze.
“I told you Tamara does not like that perfume of yours,” mother says wiping the tiny mucous pouring out of my nose with her dress.
“She will get used to it,” he replies. “And besides, you love it when I wear this smell.”
Mother smiles. I am embarrassed to be in their presence right now but I cannot walk away since my legs are tiny and I cannot walk yet. Father walks to us and presses another kiss on mother.
“Go on, already. You will be late for work,” she says.
Father laughs. He grabs a brief case and keys and rushes out the room leaving me and mother staring at the door. I am surprised by my father’s actions. He seems like a weakling. He has to hold me when I cry and make stupid faces to make me quiet down. He wears that funny smelling perfume because his wife likes it. In my days, the raw smell of a man defined a man not these men smelling nice. She even tells him to leave the house and he just listens without a fight. More importantly, who wears a red jacket to work? Back in my days, when I was Alick Msosa, there were no red jackets. Red jackets were only for women. Men told women what to do and not the other way round. Men had to be brave and face the world head on and that is probably why I died. I had to stand firm for the right cause.
Mother carries me to the sitting room and lays me down on a wide sofa. That is where I spend most of my passing days as I watch her mopping the floors, cleaning the tables and windows of the house and preparing meals. She does all this while listening to loud music from what I learn later to be a flat screen television. She dances around as she cleans and it makes me laugh and clap my hands with excitement. Sometimes when she sees me like this, she carries me from the sofa and dances with me in the sitting room. We are like a beautiful couple that is intimidating everyone else from joining us on the dance floor.
The sofa is where I grasp every detail about this place I have been reborn in. The television helps in sharing its information of this world where my dad has to wear a red suit. The man wearing a black suit in the television says this is the year 2021 and the vice president is a coloured looking man with pink lips. The president himself is a reverend; rather a former reverend who decided to serve the sheep from a political stand point. From the man in the television, it seems like the coloured man and the reverend are failing miserably at their job since citizens keep taking to the streets to show their disapproval of their actions.
This is music to my ears. I do not mind of the leaders’ failures or the chaos going on in the country. I am just amazed that people can speak against the government’s actions. It was such guts that killed me in my past life so now I know I have been given a chance to jump over fifty years of history’s timeline and start over in the same country but a different time when my voice can actually be heard. I cannot wait any longer now. I want to get bigger so I can go to school, learn and become an important man. Maybe I will then understand my father’s choice of clothes and actions. But now I just have to be happy with listening to the man in the television while I wait for mother to finish her chores and for father to come home from work.
Father usually comes in the evening when the sun is setting in the horizon and the birds are flying back to their homes. He takes off his shoes and leaves them on the door entrance for mother to remove and dust the next morning. Then he puts his brief case down on a stool and drops his body on another sofa where mother and I are not sitting on. Several tired sighs arise from his mouth. He seems to be working hard for his family. At this point, mother gets up from where she has been sitting and goes to the kitchen where she soon appears holding a tumbler filled with something. She hands it to exhausted father to drink and once he is done she sends him to the bathroom to clean up because she says he smells of sweat. I like that smell on him when he carries me after arriving home from work. It is full of sunshine and manliness.
After his bath, we watch selected movie channels on the television. Sometimes, father ignores that we are watching the television and starts telling us about his day at work. He tells us of his workmates mistakes and scandals, and how the boss had walked in on them making them apologize for wasting time chatting instead of using that time for important work. Father imitates the embarrassed faces of his workmates and together with mother they laugh at all this boring news and forget that I am in the same room. Sometimes when they get carried away in their laughter, they begin tearing off each other’s clothes and kissing each other in my presence. I get to hear their groans as they attack each other and I am reminded of what I never got to do in my past life. I am only glad I don’t feel anything because I am a being with body parts that are not grown up. My parents focus on themselves and ignore my presence. It is at this moment when I cry out loudly until one of them comes rushing to me and carries me in their sweaty arms and presses me against their sweaty body. It is disgusting but I enjoy seeing the pouted face of disappointment father makes when mother leaves him to carry me. I immediately smile because I know I win. I might be an old man in mind and memories. I might not cry a lot in this new human form but I also need the attention. I crave my mother’s brown eyes staring at me as she rocks me in her hands or when she taps gently at my buttocks while she is carrying me at her back.
Today, mother and father are at it again and I am tucked in a woolen shawl on the sofa. All I hear are their noises and the voice of the man in the television talking of the president’s convoy that is expected to pass through our town so it can be at tomorrow’s political party rally at the next town. The man soon exits and a local music program begins. The songs are different yet the same. They are all full of descriptions of women’s body parts; her teeth are white like that, her legs are long like this, her buttocks bounce like that and then the songs conclude by claiming God was generous when he made the woman. So, this is how I will now be seen in this life, a person whose humanity can be taken apart piece by piece by labelling my body parts and comparing them to mere objects. It is surprising how people in this country stay the same and think of women as objects despite generations.
The songs cause my stomach to rumble and my diaper is quickly filled and wet. It begins to itch down there and I move about in my small body to make the itching go away but it does not. I begin to cry.
“Stay a while,” father says as he pulls mother to him. “She will calm down soon.”
When no one comes to me, I cry louder and louder. These people do not know how it feels to be hopeless. They do not know how it is to depend on someone to wipe your baby shit or your urine when you piss yourself. They do not know how it feels to try to reach your thighs to scratch the itching and fail because you have short arms that can barely reach your stomach.
“I am coming, Tamara.” I hear mother say. One, two, three seconds pass but she does not come. I begin to yank at the shawl until I remove one side. My tiny body rolls itself out of the shawl and keeps rolling until I stop at the edge of the sofa searching for a soft and short landing spot. There is a glass stool closer to the sofa and I decide to use it to get down from the sofa. As I try to reach it, I slip and I begin to cry and scream at the same time because I know I am falling to the floor. It has a carpet on but I cannot take any chances so I keep screaming in mid-air hoping father and mother will see me and catch me before I hit the ground.
For a moment, I feel numb. I just stay and stare upwards only to see mother looking at me with worried eyes. Tears are pouring from mother’s eyes but she is not making any sound. Then a sharp excruciating throb hits the back of my head and I let out a cry as the pain begins to spread through my whole head. I scream and wriggle. Mother is now crying loudly too as she rocks me about. I tug at her loose dress and my mind wonders when she had time to get dressed but the pain in my head quickly brings me back to my small body. Amidst my screams and mother’s loud crying, I hear father calling to mother to go. I think I am drifting away into slumber but when mother’s body shakes as it goes into the car, I open my eyes. I feel the jerking of the car as it begins to move.
“Hurry, please,” I hear mother say to father. There is desperation in her voice.
Father does not respond. Or if he does, I do not hear him. I am wheezing now and can only feel my chest rise and fall rapidly. I think I am dying again. This feels similar to when I died fifty years ago. Flashes of my past as Alick Msosa flood my mind. I see Alick Msosa as a being separate from me. It is as if I am watching him on the television at home. I see him, a handsome young man with well cut short black hair, standing together with the young men and women wearing khaki uniforms and black boots. He is standing in a neat queue and saluting an old man wearing a black suit with a hat on his head. He is carrying a cow whisk in his hand. Behind the old man are other men dressed in expensive black suits and women dressed in long chitenje dresses seated on chairs.
The next flash I see is of Alick Msosa being dragged from his mother’s house by four policemen. He is thrown onto the police vehicle and the vehicle speeds off leaving his mother crying and begging for her son to be left alone. He is taken to a river in a forest he does recognize. The four policemen throw him down near the beach and he winces. He tries to stand but one of the policemen punches him hard in the stomach and Alick Msosa bends with pain as he coughs out blood from his mouth. He falls to the ground on his knees. He wipes his bloody mouth with the backside of his right hand.
“I am one of you!” Alick Msosa yells. “I am a loyal member of the youth militia. I serve the president. This won’t go unpunished.”
The policemen laugh and almost choke on their laughter. Alick Msosa stares at them wondering if he has just made a very funny joke. He tries to stand again but stumbles and falls on his buttocks this time.
“You cannot lie to us,” one of the policemen starts. He walks towards Alick Msosa and stares him in the eyes, hitting his foul-smelling breath right in his face. “We know you have been reading unauthorized books. Banned books that talk about fighting against the current government. We also have reports you have been talking about equality and democracy for the people. If you were a loyal follower of our president, you would have known that the president is the life president of our country and he leads us well. There is no need for a democratic government that will be indecisive. You hear me, rebel?”
The policeman bends and hits Alick Msosa on his left cheek with his fists sending him down to the ground. Alick Msosa groans and can only manage to say, “proof.”
Heavy footsteps come closer to where he is lying and when Alick Msosa raises his head he sees his best friend before him. They were in the youth militia together and they spent most of their time together. At this point, Alick Msosa knows this is the end for him. He remembers telling his best friend of a novel, Animal Farm by George Orwell, which he was reading where animals rebelled against their master who was abusing them. The animals wanted freedom. They wanted equality from oppression. He had related the experiences of the animals in the novel to the experiences happening in the country and suggested to him of what this country would be like under a democratic leader. He had spoken all this to his best friend in confidentiality but now he sees that there is no privacy under this oppressive government. Friends can betray each other with ease. There is no such thing as best friends.
“Here is your proof. Your friend, here, is truly a loyal man for reporting your insurgence,” the policeman says, still bending over Alick Msosa. He stands upright and touches Alick Msosa’s best friend’s shoulder, nodding to him firmly. “Rebels are a threat to our president. Feed him to the crocodiles!”
Alick Msosa tries to stand again despite the burning pain in his stomach and face. When he manages to stand, he is grabbed on both sides of his arms by the other two policemen who had been watching him. He shakes himself from their grip but he is powerless for their hands are firm and stronger than his struggling. As they pull him to the river, he tries to get a quick look at his best friend but all he can see is his drooping back which has been turned to Alick Msosa. His best friend is walking away and gets into the car and closes the door. He does not even have the manners to see Alick Msosa die at the hands of the crocodiles because of his betrayal.
The policemen throw Alick Msosa into the river and dash out leaving him struggling to get up and out of the water. A floating rock hurries towards Alick Msosa’s figure and grabs and pulls at his leg causing him to fall into the water. Soon another crocodile pulls at his other leg.
The flashes of Alick Msosa’s past fade and the sharp pain in my head hits me. I am still wheezing and I can see that the car has stopped shaking. The light is on and father and mother are staring at me. Father has his skin folds on his foreheads and he keeps hitting the steering wheel as though he is in hurry and someone is delaying him. Mother is still shedding her tears.
“Honey, what if we lose her?” Mother whispers as she turns to look at father.
He moves to the passenger seat where mother is seated and he hugs her gently. “I won’t let her die. She is a fighter like her mother. She will hang in there.”
I can tell he is worried but he is just pretending to be calm. He is being a man right now. But he is lying to mother because I feel like I will not hang in there any longer. This head does not feel like mine at all. It feels like a big man’s head pressed on mine. It is heavy.
“We have to do something,” mother whispers again, “I don’t want to lose her. I can’t take it if she dies.”
“The police … Those … those savages refused to let us pass through even when I told them I had an injured child with me. This country … has gone to the dogs. I mean why … why should we not use the road? Is it not my money they used to build this road, heh? Why should we wait … until the president’s convoy that is hours away passes? This is an emergency but oh no let’s wait for the president to pass first. Damn it! Damn it!” Father is yelling and hitting the steering wheel simultaneously. It is my first time to see him like this. Helpless and desperate at once. And he is worried for me. A warm feeling touches my body but I cannot smile due to the pain I am feeling.
Father’s words keep ringing in my ears. I guess the world has not changed at all. When the television man said people could go to the streets to speak their minds against the government, I understood it as freedom was here. But it seems I misunderstood it all. Even though fifty years have passed and even though there is democracy, true freedom does not exist. A leader still holds so much power and the police have to obey him without question. A whole road has to be blocked to citizens because the president’s convoy is coming to pass through. It does not matter how far the convoy is. The president owns the road so everyone has to wait for him. I must have died for nothing in my previous life.
“Get out of the car,” father says, staring seriously at the windshield.
“What? What are you doing?”
“We’ll walk there. It’s better than staying here and waiting.”
He gets out of the car. He opens the back door and grabs my baby bag then closes the door. Mother gets out of the car too and follows father while holding me. Mother is in her night gown and she is putting on sandals at her feet. Father has a pair of tracksuits on and sandals on his feet too. They set off for the hospital on foot. I can see their wishes to see me live. Besides, I do not want to die immediately after I have just been reborn. I decide I will hang in there for them.
Image: Cdd20 via Pixabay (modified)