Fiction

The Wretched Man Who Fled: Fiction by Wanangwa Zondani Mtawali

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Image: Pixabay.com

Vikutikana had returned from South Africa. But in Chigwiri, his slum home on the outskirts of the City of Lilongwe, many people just heard that he had come back. His relatives still waited for their kinsman after missing him for three years. Months of hearsay and waiting accumulated. He never showed up in the township.

In the hustle and bustle of Lilongwe’s dirty Old Town, Vikutikana reportedly touted buses and minibuses in the main bus depot, pushed quacking wheelbarrows laden with heavy goods and sold cheap second-hand items.

He was unkempt, a bitter and violent hooligan, and avoided people who knew him.

When Vikutikana headed to Johannesburg in January 2011, he envisioned a better life with the wealth he thought he could quickly amass from the city of gold. His friends Batala and Mgezenge had made it. Therefore, he thought he could not fail.

After only two years in Johannesburg, Batala came back with a Range Rover and built a mansion in area 43, one of Lilongwe’s most affluent neighbourhoods. Mgezenge owned a big hardware shop and often travelled to Johannesburg by plane. The two had told Vikutikana that they worked for rich companies, earned thousands of Rands and enjoyed the good life in upmarket apartments. They told him that they drove their cars on wide highways along glittering skyscrapers and breath-taking scenes. They talked about the sumptuous lunches and dinners in luxurious restaurants and the outings to the casinos where they drank and danced with big booty sex workers.

Life could not be more fulfilling. Vikutikana had happily thought to himself when he heard all that. But things turned out extremely to the opposite. The corrugated iron shacks and the potholed pathways of Diepsloot were a mockery of the elegant Johannesburg Batala and Mgezenge had told him about. Most of the shacks had no water and electricity. Music blared nonstop from the filthy taverns. Gangs of the unruly youth roamed some of the pathways. They created scenes and troubled people.

Vikutikana repaired tattered sofas, broken chairs, and tables to earn a few Rands to buy food. There were so many illegal immigrants in Diepsloot. Vikutikana met fellow Malawians who had settled there and were refusing to return home. He struggled every day, waiting for Batala and Mgezenge who promised to find him a job in central Johannesburg. They never came back to him.

***

Under the faint light of a torch hanging from the roof of his tiny shack, Vikutikana lay on a worn-out mat on the brick floor, shrouding himself with a loose blanket. His cloth bag was the pillow. There were plastic plates and cups and a pot in the northwest corner. Amid the din of music from the pubs and the noise of loud-mouthed night drunkards scurrying home, he was having difficulties sleeping. He turned and tossed, ruing his hard life in Diepsloot. In the last eight months, he had failed even to raise transport to get back to Malawi.

There was a knock. He rose and tiptoed to the door. He opened it slowly, wondering who might have been knocking. Two men in black masks and dark attire burst in. One of them pressed the muzzle of a pistol against Vikutikana’s forehead.

“Don’t shout,” he said, keeping his voice low.

Quivering, Vikutikana obliged to the demand of his domineering attackers, afraid even to move a step backward.

“I’ve no money. There is nothing here,” he managed to whisper.

“It’s neither your meagre Rands nor your little possessions we want. We need you, you’re precious,” remarked the other man.

He closed the rattling door and leaned against it.

“Fool, life isn’t easy here,” the man brandishing the pistol scolded.

The other man added, “some of your country men do the most discreet things here to own those mansions, shops, and expensive cars back home.”

Vikutikana’s fearful face degenerated to great shock at the men’s utterances. What were they up to?

The thugs seized Vikutikana by his arms and dragged him out.

“Move,” one of them muttered angrily.

He pressed the sharp edge of a knife against the ribcage of their reluctant victim. Hurtful pain tore through Vikutikana’s body. He limped on between his two assailants, grappling with suppressing his shrieks and sobs.

People still criss-crossed the dimly lit pathways, unaware of their fellow resident’s fate. The thugs drove Vikutikana out of Diepsloot.

***

The rising sun navigated up slowly underneath the whitish eastern sky. Its early morning orange glow illuminated Diepsloot and a vast farm on the far west, beyond a thick bush. An earthen road between the eastern edge of the farm and the bush reached a few houses surrounded by natural trees on the southern edge of the farm. A tall thickly built Boer farmer wearing black overalls and matching gumboots sat proudly on a wooden stool on a green lawn facing his farm. Morris looked forward to a normal day of supervising his black workers scattered across the farm. Far north, he saw a black man trekking towards the farm’s houses. The man limped past the gazing workers as he slowly inched down the road, determined to reach his destination.

Tall and thin, the khaki clothes he wore were too big for him. His left hand held the short’s waist to prevent it from sliding down. He reached the compound and hesitated as he approached the staring Boer. Morris sized up the barefoot stranger, perplexed by his wretchedness. The visitor’s face was swollen. He was in severe pain. His clothes were torn and dirty. His skin had bruises.

What had happened to him? What did he want?

The man fell on his knees at the feet of the giant Boer farmer. Morris pushed back the visitor while shaking his head in annoyance and looking aside. The stranger apologized.

“Who are you?” asked Morris. His deep voice bore an authoritative tone full of arrogance.

“I’m Vikutikana”.

Morris nodded casually, expecting further explanation.

“I’m a troubled Malawian immigrant in need of help,” sobbed Vikutikana.

The Boer shrugged his shoulders, stood up and walked away. He called one of his workers, Muwemi, gesturing at him to attend to Vikutikana. In a wide garage behind one house, Muwemi placed a plate of leftover rice with beef and a drink on Vikutikana’s lap. He began devouring the food immediately to fill his empty belly. Presently, the two conversed mostly using signs and gesturing.

Muwemi, a bulky polite young man of medium height, watched his fellow Malawian in silence as he ate. He pitied his countryman that life was treating him so unfairly. Upon wiping the plate clean of its contents, Vikutikana plunged into deep sleep. Five hours later when he awoke, he reminisced over his sad encounter with the thugs the previous night. The two thugs lit their torches over a beaten Vikutikana lying in agony on his back in the bush of a thick jungle. He cried and pleaded with them to spare his dear life. One thug hoisted up their submissive freewill punch bag and gave him one more savage blow on his mouth. Vikutikana yelled as he fell back to the ground, his voice echoing in the dark hollows of the lonely forest.

“Let’s cut off his private parts while he is still alive.” Vikutikana heard one of his attackers say that. He trembled.

A metal bar pressed hard against his aching back. He let out a hand to get hold of it. Actually, it was one of the big knives the assailants were groping about to use in removing his body parts. Another thug sat astride their helpless victim to carry out the evil deed. Then he suddenly rolled aside, whining and groaning. Apparently, Vikutikana had sunk the other knife into the thug’s abdomen.

He quickly rose, wielding the knife coated with thick blood.

The other thug was disturbed with the surprise retaliation of their victim. In the assailant’s brief state of deep confusion and indecisiveness, Vikutikana charged him and struck fast enough. The thug hit the ground instantly, clutching his blood-dripping belly in pain. Vikutikana pulled off the masks from the heads of his tormentors. It was shocking. The wriggling men in front of him were Batala and Mgezenge.

Standing there in disbelief, Vikutikana wondered why his own friends tortured and wanted to kill him. Back in Chigwiri, he had often heard of people travelling to South Africa in search for a good life. Some of the buses they boarded turned out to belong to ruthless human traffickers who killed their unsuspecting victims and sold their body parts. Vikutikana lost his two relatives like that three years before. That Batala and Mgezenge could be part of the syndicate, let alone inflict such brutality on their own friend, was something he found too horrible to have happened.

***

Vikutikana stood holding a pick-axe while staring blankly in the far distance across the large farm. He had been digging out tree stumps since early morning.

“Come on man!”

Startled, he glanced back over his shoulder to face a smiling Muwemi encouraging him to keep working. Since he arrived on the farm, Muwemi was his best acquaintance.

“Brother, we can’t go on like this,” replied Vikutikana, evidently exasperated with the abundant work.

“Stop acting like a labour rights activist, here. Master will kick you out,” Muwemi warned his dear friend.

“I don’t mind.”

“You must understand. Have you ever considered what keeps me and all these people here? We could go when we wanted.”

“I don’t know.”

“Look, we have food, shelter and some money…”

“But the money doesn’t match the work,” interrupted Vikutikana, shaking his head.

Muwemi laughed at what he thought were his friend’s abnormal wishful expectations.

“Johannesburg with its elite neighbourhoods has nothing for uneducated clueless illegal immigrants like you and me. We would wander in the streets, begging, scavenging and dying of hunger. We’re better off here.”

Vikutikana recoiled into his silence as the reality of Muwemi’s words finally seemed to make sense to him. He let go of the pick-axe and sat down in deep thought with his head wedged between his knees.

The glaring mid-morning sun, sailing underneath a blue sky, heat up the ground with reckless fervency. There were ten more tree stumps that Vikutikana was required to dig up before midday. Across the farm, hoes and pick-axes swirled up and down as his sweating colleagues worked hard against time.

Why did he let himself into such slavery?

He had been a well-known carpenter in his home township in Malawi. He had his own small workshop where people came almost every day to have their doors, windows, and household furniture expertly done. At least, he made enough money to pay his house rent and buy necessities for his wife and two little children. And they were happy. How sad that he, an upright thinking young entrepreneur with a promising future, allowed the weird longings of his unsatisfied heart, aggravated by the fake assurances of his evil friends, override his conscious. He had sold his workshop and sent his wife and children to his mother, promising them abundant support while he made more wealth for them in South Africa. Now deceived, abandoned, tortured, abused, and with no hope anywhere in sight to return home to resuscitate his business, the future was impossible.

Suddenly, Vikutikana wept on top his voice, jolting everyone. He rose, ran like a dog being pursued and disappeared into the bush. Muwemi ran after his friend, motioning to his equally baffled fellow workers to follow him. Vikutikana had the right to leave, but not like that. The workers suspected their colleague was up to something sinister in the bush which they worried would haunt each one of them if they did not do something.

The bush was thick and vast. Muwemi and his team penetrated deeper, manoeuvring steadily like soldiers hunting for rebels. They were careful, lest they too got lost. For over half an hour, they searched and groped about silently while alert enough to any slight noise or movement. They skirted thorny shrubs and deep trenches until they stumbled upon Vikutikana under a big tree about to commit what they dreaded the most; suicide.

“See what you’ve let us through,” one of then told Vikutakana, sadly.

“Stop behaving like a kid,” Muwemi added, nearly slapping him.

They reprimanded and pulled their resisting fellow back to the farm. Morris frowned down upon a sobbing Vikutikana like a strict headmaster disciplining a naughty school child.

“Never do this again for I’ll have you whipped severely,” he warned.

Vikutikana nodded while wiping his tears with the back of his palm.

***

He stepped out of an uptown pub to the sight of his posh car and other expensive cars parked across the concrete spacious parking bay. He looked about himself excitedly, contented with his fashionable dressing and good life. The gorgeous whore with a big butt and plump thighs, wearing green miniskirt and bra, winked back at him over her shoulder as she bounced seductively on high heels in front of him. In and around the cars, other men and sex workers were busy with their own affairs. The two headed south, walking along the western wall of the pub. The prostitute wiggled her hips and shook her behind. He was enjoying the spectacle. After all, this was part of what compelled him to come down to this rainbow nation.

They reached the end of the wall and turned left. The hooker ran ahead of him, the bottom of her short skirt flying up with the vigorous shaking of her buttocks and meaty thighs. She stopped running. She gyrated and twerked, still looking back over her shoulder, winking and smiling at her customer. Horny, his pulse heightened with intense lust, he advanced toward the sex worker, unzipping his jeans. And just before his fingers reached out to her, she disappeared into thin air. It was scary. He retraced his footsteps to the bar in a hurry.

He awoke with a start. The stained walls of the open garage, where the farm workers slept, loomed around him. Light had filtered in. It was early in the morning and time to go to work. He rubbed his eyes. His fellow workers were eying him, bewildered. He sat up and threw his blanket aside.

“What’s the matter with you?” Muwemi asked.

Silence.

“Tell us.”

He did not respond. He stood up and headed out to the field, his face downcast. Muwemi followed him. At mid-morning, Vikutikana sat down to rest for a while. He reflected on his dream. Would he ever look so handsome? Would he ever dress so nicely? What about the car and the sexy prostitute? Would he ever have them? Surely, that was how he wished he would live his life when he came down here. Perhaps, he could, if it were not for the treachery he suffered at the hands of wicked Batala and Mgezenge.

Although Vikutikana dreaded how his dream ended, he had fallen in love with it. Every time he recalled the dream, a strong feeling of yearning colonised his heart. He prayed the dream would become a reality.

One evening, Vikutikana sneaked out of the compound. A narrow path stretched out to the south east through a forest. He walked fast. He could hear faint voices emanating from homes beyond the trees and bushes. He crossed a dry stream. The forest was now far behind him. He trod the long earthen road, passing by farms and a few tiny houses. Thirty minutes elapsed. Lights glowed before him. He had reached western Diepsloot. The pathways were still bustling with people.

Peace Night Club stood invitingly on his right. In worn out clothes and shoes and reeking of sweat, he was the out of place stranger in this local bar and drew the curiosity of many other patrons. He hid in a corner. The last time he had sex was that night in Malawi when he said bye to his wife. With his poor looks and the lower class nurture of the pub, he knew it would be difficult here to find a prostitute like the one he dreamt of. All he required was any woman into whom he would just relieve himself.

Late into the night, moderately attractive local whores flooded the small dance floor. Vikutikana jostled through the wiggling crowd, his eyes intently examining the nudging bodies around him. The women were not interested in him. The sixth one pushed him away violently. He eventually managed to get hold of one skinny sex worker. She was not appealing at all. Her wrinkled body looked weary of the exigencies of her demanding trade over the years.

A shallow mattress and smelly blankets and sheets lay on the filthy floor of her tiny room behind the bar. She asked for her five-rand service fee before she would undress. Vikutikana paid, pulled down his trousers and eagerly waited to put to use his erect manhood once again. With that prostitute he dreamt of still fresh in his mind, he expected he would have satisfying sex with this ugly bitch standing immoveable like a pole.

He stormed out of the room looking this way and that. He was furious. The whore had bolted right before his wide-open eyes, leaving him deflated and embarrassed. Vikutikana peeped into the adjacent rooms. She was not there. He rushed back into the bar. She was not there either. It was late now. Vikutikana could hardly walk back to his base alone. He spent the night in the pub.

Dawn had just materialized when he started off. He needed to be back at the farm before his colleague’s suspicion grew too much. A teenage girl on an early morning errand walked down a bushy path on the left side of the earthen road. Vikutikana stalked the unsuspecting girl, pushed her to the ground and threw himself upon her.

Underneath, the girl struggled and pushed, trying to shrug him off. She screamed.

He squeezed her throat with his left hand, pinning her down while fumbling out his erect tail. He would relieve himself into the helpless girl. Vikutikana was really stupid to assume that nobody could already be working in the nearby farms at that hour to hear the little girl’s muffled protests and shouts. Two men arrived at the scene before he even brought out his penis. He withdrew from the girl and considered running when more people surrounded him, baying for his blood.

He had heard that residents this side were ruthless. They burned to death thieves, rapists and murderers. Was that how his end would be? For unknown reasons, he carried a small knife in one of his trouser pockets. He held it out and charged the two men on his south-western side. The men let him pass, afraid that he could stab them. Vikutikana headed further southwest, running through a large farm. The irate mob was not too far from his back, chasing him and shouting.

“Rapist! Catch that rapist!”
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Image: Pixabay.com.

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