Fiction

The Fire That Charred Amani: A Short Story by Ronnie Uzoigwe

“Nothing would happen…”
And so it had been till last night.
…an hour after the police left,
they struck.

Harare: April 2000

Her head throbbed, her neck ached, her skin burned; the stench of burnt hair, frizzled on charred skin, hung heavy in stuffy air that was gradually smothering the life out of her. So it had finally come to this. Exhausted, she was Exhausted.

How many minutes or hours had throbbed by since Sonia last cried, “Mamaaaaa…” she could not tell and then she hears the other voice again:

“Amani, Amani, AMAAANII! Say something. Where are you?”

She tries, very hard to do what she normally did when caught in a nightmare but…she could not wake up. She tries, to say something, she is dying to say something, but…the words won’t come. She makes the titanic effort to move, but…bits of skin come off.

Her heart labours convulsively, exhausted. Her lungs swallow with the hope that each next puff of air would be pure (not poisoned) just as they repeatedly smash against the vice-like grip the ribcage now held them in. She gasps for breath. A cough fills her mouth with her burning blood and now, racked in silent tortuous spasms, she painfully prays that Simon finds her.

Blackout!

“Did you hear that?”

“Hear what Simon? Everything’s falling apart let’s get…”

“A cough. I heard it Ted, I heard it,” he stammers, moving eastwards, towards the red bedroom, bending to avoid the broken glass jutting out of the fallen Venetian window.

“Look out!” Ted shouts after him and he docks, just as the chandelier comes crashing down, shattering into a zillion pieces. Simon runs on, careless, into the thick smoke towards the now smoke-darkened bedroom.

“WAIT!” Ted reaches to pull him back, “Look Simon the house is still burning, we’ve got to leave now, before this floor caves in. You’ve done all you could have done for…”

“O shut up! SHUT UP! I’m not leaving without her. Don’t you understand? I can’t leave without her!”

He whirls back on track; towards where he thinks she is, cursing Ted, cursing himself, and cursing Africans. Yes, her people, “my people” she liked to call them. Amani had told him it would have been better to have a native care for the ranch and plantation but everything had seemed all right. “Nothing would happen,” they had been assured; the policemen were there to defend them. And so it had been, till last night. The squatters had waited, patiently; and an hour after the police left, they struck.

The horror of it all!

“Amani, Amaniii…” he now calls frantically as Ted helps him heave at the door that would not budge. They kick, heave, and kick again, then with every muscle in them, they heave once more and it gives way, both of them tumbling into the…furnace.

The suffocating stench!

“Amani, AMANI,” Simon staggers; up, to continue calling, and freezes in his stagger.

“O my God!”

He sees what was his little bundle, Sonia, reaching out; for him? For Amani? He would never tell and she never would put those tiny hands back down anymore. The heavy tears almost choke him and the pain pierces through, as Ted grasps and pulls him by the shoulder, back towards the doorway.

“Sor…sorry, Simon. Let’s…let’s get out of here, man…”

Simon violently shakes him off and as he continues, now whispering the word “Amaniii…”, he stumbles over a smoking, …log? It moves. It still is soft. He peers and then hears the cough he might not have heard.

“God NO!”

In a daze, he tears a blanket off the bed and trembling, gently picks her up.

The Black paramedics take her from him and inside the speeding ambulance, he sees the White Doctor cut her open; very deep, till he finds crimson blood. She gasps.

Through the window, on roads unknown to him, Simon sees slums and ghettoes scattered along the dirt littered road, miles long. He had never been through them before.

The Dirt!

The stench!

The horror of it all!

He curses, this time, his people.

But is it justified?

“Why is my life to burn out in a fire I never started?” he asks the paramedics who stare with pity, shaking their heads.

She gasps again, too tired to writhe in pain. The doctor quickly clasps her trembling hand in his gloved hand.

Sobbing, disconsolate, Simon asks the doctor:

“Will Peace live?”

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