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Mali Kambandu: Sympathies or Hopes

“…where her rings usually are, there is a thin pale line. I hope the lack of rings isn’t because she keeps coming in here month after month to buy the same box.”

She walks into the store, her long robes flowing around her, as if paying tribute to her presence. She glides through the aisles, fingers carefully selecting the items she needs. She doesn’t linger deciding what she wants. The shopping list in her mind is complete: tick, tick, tick.

Her face, framed by long, dark hair, is bare save for the shimmer of gloss on her lips.
She draws closer to the counter, and then does the thing I’ve seen her do many times before. Yes, she reaches for the slender, pink box then takes her place in line. She is the second customer, behind the couple who talk a lot and have taken a long time to decide what they’re buying here.

I take my time ringing up their items, even though they’re only three. I’m grateful the point-of-sale takes a while to connect. It gives me a chance to study her. She seems calm. No, she is not calm. Her eyes are heavy, and there is a droopiness to her shoulders that isn’t usually there.

I think. I think. I think of the shoppers around the mall. There aren’t as many of her people walking around these days, and certainly not in the restaurants, where they usually have lunch and coffees. Yes, the Muslims have started fasting so perhaps that’s why her eyes are tired. They stay up late some nights after they break their fast. That must be why she has no energy to her today.

The talkative couple move aside, but still look at the perfumes as they walk out. Maybe they don’t have anywhere to go and they need to make this shopping trip last.

The lady places her items on the counter. Her brown skin still shows the faded designs of an intricate henna pattern. And where her rings usually are, there is a thin pale line. I hope the lack of rings isn’t because she keeps coming in here month after month to buy the same box. I hope the rings are at the jewellers for cleaning or repair.

She places the long, pink box on the counter first – on top puts the bar of turmeric soap, a small bottle of rose water and a tube of Lip Ice. She doesn’t seem to mind that I’m taking my time to scan the items. She opens the clasp on her purse slightly but waits until I call out the amount before presenting the cash or card.

I’ve served her here for over seven months. I remember because when I first noticed her as a regular, there was an incredible downpour pounding on the ceiling and I had to lean closer to customers so they could hear what I was saying. Since that rain, she’s been coming in every month, to buy the same pink box, surrounded by other goods, every time. My guess is that she only buys one at a time because buying more might confirm the perpetual nature of her state. Or maybe one box at a time just makes sense. You might not need another depending on the result. I shrug my shoulders, absentmindedly, then remember she’s still here with me, waiting for me to finish so she can go and learn her future.

I tell her the amount, while I pack her items in a brown paper bag. She gives me the cash and places her goods in her large handbag hanging off her skinny shoulder.

As she turns to leave, it shocks me that I’m scared for her. I want this to be the last time she buys that box. Next time she’s here, I want her to buy those fancy vitamins or other things the expectant mothers buy.

Her robes flutter around her as she leaves the pharmacy in long, steady strides.
I promise myself to say a prayer for her at night. Maybe she won’t come in next month.


Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash (cropped)

Mali Kambandu
Mali Kambanduhttps://medium.com/@malingose
Mali Kambandu lives in Lusaka with her husband and their two children. While storytelling came early for her, she only began writing for pleasure after university at Juniata College, but it is now a lifeline to her. Mali's most cherished book is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. In 2018, Mali won the Kalemba Short Story Prize for her story ‘A Hand to Hold’ and was shortlisted for the Writivism Short Story Award for her story The Photograph.


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