Lessons from ‘Mlamu’s’ ordeal

Five years ago when I had just relocated from Blantyre to Lilongwe, I was for a long time failing to come to terms with my moving away from the usual toast of a town that had raised me.

Like it usually is for many in such a situation, I would feel so homesick the whole working week, painfully waiting for a Friday to jump on a bus to Blantyre and spend the weekend there!

This is exactly how I became a regular in both the Lilongwe Bus Depot and the market behind it. If I were to wait for a bus to amass enough passengers for a trip, I would spend an hour or so in the market, buying books or fruits to enjoy during the ride.

For a change, I would walk about the bus depot, getting acquainted to a couple of minibus drivers, vendors, callboys and a few other souls to whom the crowded bus depot is home.

I began to see patterns in the disorganisation that characterises the congested market and bus terminal.

Life in the market and bus depot began to accept me too. I made friends and enjoyed the benefits it oozes to know the muscles that control the mafia life of these two worlds.

So, one Friday evening as the sun surrendered the baton to the rule of evening, I was in the market appreciating some old but nice magazines at a stall behind in which were five guys enjoying liquor from a five litre plastic container they had concealed in a black school bag.

Amid banter, cigarettes and music from a small radio set, the five enjoyed their union.

The four were regular piecework seekers, I got to learn. The fifth, the financier of the merrymaking was, from the cue of their chit-chat,an ‘in-law’ to one of the call boys.

‘Mlamu wathu walemera adakali mwana — lero akugula zokumwa mosaumira!’ the ‘beneficiaries’ would shout amid sips.

As darkness fell, the alcohol had taken its toll on the five, mainly Mlamu the buyer! His short trips to the loo were becoming cumbersome. 

On one of his attempts to the loo, Mlamu the buyer lost his footing and landed on his knees. He rose up quickly and dusted himself, the whole episode punctuated by laughter from his friends.

The next trip, Mlamu staggered and rested on a stall. The four friends rushed to help him. Mlamu was leaning forward, his head almost in between his knees, but still looking good to go.

But the four friends soon had Mlamu up in the air, each one of them holding on to Mlamu by the limb it suited them best.

It was an emergency situation now and the one most related to Mlamu was shouting on top of his voice:

‘Usasanzire mumsika, ulakwitsa kwambiri Mlamu!’

At first, Mlamu tried to break free, telling the friends he was okay to walk with just a little help, but the men were in control, holding him towards the exit.

‘Zigwire Mlamu, usasanzire mumsika Mlamu! Tiye kuseliku ukasanzire kumeneko Mlamu!’

People made way in the narrow aisle between the ill-spaced stalls for Mlamu and company to hurry out of the market. Mlamu looked weary.

At least Mlamu was lucky to have friends so willing to carry a man on the edge of puking, I thought to myself.

In fact, the other guys had been taking the alcohol sparingly, watching Mlamu walk into their trap with his serious gulps of the drink!

Mlamu’s story this week catapulted to the forefront of my mind by a recent spate of texts message making rounds:

‘Okondeka, mwapatamalata, njinga komanso matumba a simenti 10! Chonde tumizani adilesi yanu komanso K10,000 yoti tilipire omwe adzakakusiyireni katunduyu.’

I knew someone somewhere may blindly walk into this trap, just like Mlamu did on that harrowing Friday! n


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