A Lifetime Chance By Rumbidzai Kwindani

Feb 13, 2024 | 2023 Competition, Secondary School Prize, Short Story Competition | 0 comments

The first rays of the hot Malawian sun crept through the curtains casting a warm glow on Tiyamike’s face. She stirred, her dreams giving way to reality. The sound of her aunt’s sharp voice shattered the serenity.

“Tiyamike! Wake up! Do you want my children to be late for school?”

Aunt Patuma’s words cut through the air like a serrated knife. Tiyamike reluctantly rose from her thin tattered mattress realising that she was trapped in this cruel existence, shackled to her wicked aunt.

Life, she believed, offered everyone a chance but embracing it was the challenge.

Tiyamike had grabbed her opportunity when it came, but she had yet to fully embrace it.  Her young eyes had witnessed life’s cruelty from an early age, a harsh lesson many might never experience. At five, she lost her mother to a relentless illness. Her father had never been a part of her life but her mother had ensured that she never felt his absence. On her death bed, Tiyamike’s mother entrusted her daughter to the care of her sister, Patuma, and with no other surviving relatives. Tiyamike’s fate was sealed.

Raised by her embittered aunt, a woman who nurtured nothing but hostility for the child, Tiyamike endured hardship that would have broken most spirits. There were nights when she went to bed hungry despite the kitchen overflowing with untouched food.  Her skin bore the evidence of physical abuse, a mixture of bruises and scars. The insults, body-shaming, and relentless name-calling were buried in her memory. The little girl endured it all.

Her education was a mockery. While her mother couldn’t afford to send her to preschool, there was no excuse for her absence from primary school when it was free. Aunt Patuma always procrastinated when Tiyamike brought up the subject. Patuma saw sending Tiyamike to school as a loss of labor. “Who will do my chores?” she thought every time the topic came up.

One fateful day, as Tiyamike made her way back from the stream, she encountered a distressed young lady standing by her car with its engine refusing to come to life. Tiyamike’s heart, still full of love despite a decade and two years of neglect, couldn’t bear to witness someone in pain. This chance encounter would change the course of her life.

The young lady’s name was Rachel, a name befitting her radiant beauty. As they exchanged small talk, Rachel realizing that it was a school day, became surprised that Tiyamike was not at school. She couldn’t be ill, having just fetched water from the stream. The truth emerged as Tiyamike narrated her life story. Rachel’s eyes welled with tears.

“Can you take me to your aunt?” Rachel suggested, eager to confront the wicked soul. Tiyamike pleaded for caution. She led Rachel to Patuma and in a surreal twist, her aunt displayed an uncharacteristic facade of warmth. With a plastic smile, Aunt Patuma addressed Tiyamike as “darling” keen to appear benevolent before Rachel. She calculated people’s wealth at a glance, a talent that led her to two failed relationships. Despite her ability to spot riches, she was blind to sincerity in men.

Rachel had a request: to take Tiyamike as her house help. She knew Patuma wouldn’t willingly release the girl, so she hatched a plan, making Patuma believe that Tiyamike would remain uneducated under her care. Rachel pledged to send Tiyamike’s salary, claiming the girl was too young to handle the money.

Patuma accepted without hesitation, her greed clouding her judgment.

Tiyamike’s new life in the city held the promise of a brighter future. She no longer had to fetch water or firewood; everything was readily available. The girl realized that life had a sweeter side. Her focus shifted to her studies the one thing she had been denied.

Rachel and Tiyamike shared a blissful life that resembled that of sisters in their affection. Rachel dutifully sent money to Patuma each month keeping her end of the bargain.

But life can turn around and a perilous disease called jealousy can infect even the purest hearts. Tiyamike tasted the luxuries of the city, gradually forgetting her background. She yearned for the extravagant life she had seen on reality shows.

“I can’t wear this anymore,” she muttered, her face masked with arrogance, as Rachel presented her outfits she had worn only once or twice. The poverty-stricken child had transfigured into an ambitious and upper-class girl.

“I’m allergic to this or that,” she lied whenever the food didn’t meet her standards. Rachel endured all this, convinced that Tiyamike was just a child.

Tiyamike’s envy for Rachel grew each day. She started to take charge of Rachel’s belongings, seeking to outshine her. Everything became a competition in Tiyamike’s eyes, as she yearned to surpass her kind benefactor.

In the course of time, Rachel asked her fiancé who was an engineer to help Tiyamike with her studies. They would spend hours together. As Tiyamike’s grades improved, her fondness for him developed into a ridiculous obsession. The days turned to weeks, and her crush matured into love.

Her obsession was so intense that she couldn’t resist flirting with him. Her advances escalated. The engineer’s discomfort grew, but his respect for Tiyamike’s past plight held him back.

The proverbial fortieth day arrived, and Tiyamike’s advances crossed the line. He felt trapped, unable to escape. Just as he prayed for divine intervention, a door creaked open. Relief washed over him as he heard Rachel’s voice, saving him from a potentially grave mistake.

“I can explain,” Tiyamike shamelessly stammered.  She knew her world was about to crumble, for Rachel wouldn’t let this transgression go unpunished.

Rachel’s wrath was fierce. She unleashed a torrent of words, each one a dagger that pierced Tiyamike’s heart. The girl realized that she had a chance, but she had never truly embraced it.




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