Grandma Eliza By Lindsay Katchika-Jere

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

When I heard my grandmother call me from the front of the church door, I knew New Year’s Eve was destined to be a nightmare. To say I was embarrassed is an understatement – I was holding on to my dear life. My brief two minutes of romantic conversation were abruptly over. I could only speculate what manner of punishment awaited a disobedient and soon-to-be harlot of a child. The drive back home was tense and silent, with my grandmother – a 52-year-old woman who was as short in stature as she was in temper – expertly navigating the rough potholes as if they were not even there. Her yellow skin was marked with fiery red patches of melanin, lending her an air of intensity that only added to my anxiety. My heart raced alongside the newly purchased pickup, nearly knocking my head against the door. Through the rear window, I observed the moon receding into the clouds. By the time we arrived the house early rays of sun made their entrance. Without saying a word grandma Elisabeth or Eliza as we called her hurried inside the house, with me trailing behind like a lamb to the slaughter. I clung nervously to her handbag that was sitting over my shoulder. I wished many times that I had vanished into thin air, and, most of all, that I had died. Yes, my life never mattered anyway. How could a 14-year-old be treated in such a way? What a terrible and awful life God had given me. It was never fair. When would I pass this impossible test? Despite studying hard and consistently ranking in the top ten, Grandma never seemed to trust me. Even the praise from my teachers and the church women fell on deaf ears. Punishments were the order of the day, and I felt like my life was a never-ending cycle of misery.

“Kneel! Right this moment!” Her face was like a graveyard about to collapse. I don’t mean to disrespect old people, but that is how I remember it – wrinkled, angry, and falling apart. All in the name of scaring the devil out of me.

“I give you 30 minutes. 30 good minutes,” she repeated over and over. “You’re a sinner, Tamandani. God is not proud of you. You have to repent.” She tossed a maroon holy bible right in front of my arms before walking away. I was fortunate we had just walked out of a church service – it could have been worse.

Just like the last time I had a boy’s number in my phone, and she hit me in the face with my own rubber shoe. It was just one boy I had seen only one time.

How could one boy determine that my entire life would be ruined?

Sharp footsteps echoed through the corridor. I fell into shock for a moment and then jumped straight into prayer, but I had no words for God. My brain was blank, and my mouth was empty. What had I done wrong? This was the moment where I would burst into crying. Sometimes standing in front of the mirror, watching my swollen face that looked like I had been stung by a bee. I flipped a couple of verses in the Bible. It was always to the same verse: ‘Whether my parents abandon me, the Lord will receive me.’ But it never gave me any comfort. No one wanted to be rejected by their own parents – the thought itself was life-threatening. The other children thought I should have been lucky – ‘Grandmas are never strict. They’re sweet and will say yes to anything’ – as many say, but mine was a totally different version. As I gazed at the disheartening image before me, my mind wandered to various thoughts. I reminisced about Malumbo Sakamba, my estranged father, who had become preoccupied with amassing wealth and establishing a reputation. His frequent appearances on television interviews were a reminder of his existence. The following day, my classmates and teachers would frequently approach me, commenting on the similarities between my surname and that of the man on the screen, as well as the prominent forehead we shared. While the experience was often uncomfortable, it nonetheless instilled a sense of pride and hope within me. Perhaps, one day, he would extend an invitation for me to join him in his mansion. However, eight years seemed like a distant and improbable promise. I recall hearing a line in a Nigerian movie, “When elephants fight-ooo it is the grass that suffers” and I could not agree more.

As the sun reached its full radiance a few hours later, the door suddenly erupted with a forceful burst. Startled, I turned to face my grandmother who still looked very angry with me. “Were you deaf to my calls?” In a flurry of emotion, I wiped my tears with the zeal of a frantic fowl, insisting, “Agogo…I assure you, I did not hear a thing.”

“You are just as stupid as your father…so rude…so proud,” she let out a sigh of disgust. Walking closer to me, “Stand still,” she commanded. Her probing fingers poked and prodded at my stomach, and then she ordered me to lift my shirt. It was clear she thought I was pregnant. Suppressing a burst of laughter, I boiled with anger, counting down the seconds until she would finally leave. She flung a brown chitenje, bearing the image of a sickly looking politician staring at me. I was about to look like a billboard that had lost its course. “Hurry up and put this on,” she snapped. “we are going to Limbe.”

Rarely did I venture beyond the towering brick walls and sugarcane plants encircling the expansive 2-hectare compound, but on this occasion, I took the opportunity to do so. Living in a predominantly Indian neighborhood, with only four households belonging to our black Malawian community, the serenity that enveloped our abode was second to none. Thanks to my grandfather’s successful medical career, we were able to afford such luxurious living. Despite my grandmother’s retirement from teaching, she had ventured into the murky waters of politics, which didn’t end well for her. She withdrew from the arena after losing the election and suffering a scorching facial injury that she attributed to witchcraft. She had invested millions of kwachas in distributing free blankets, soaps, salt, and handouts, but it all went to waste. Her once optimistic outlook on life had been replaced with a bitterness that consumed her. “People are wicked, Tama! Wicked, I tell you! Nobody is trustworthy,” she lamented with conviction.

In a brief moment, grandma returned, her voice now gentle. “Let’s prepare a delicious dinner tonight, perhaps some chicken,” she said, her smile barely visible but still present. This was her way of atoning for her previous misdeeds. She thought a long walk to the market in a long wrapper on top of a long dress would be fun. “Are you still upset?” she suddenly reverted to her old self. I simply shook my head. “Your silence will only invite God’s wrath upon you,” she threatened. I knew that living with her was punishment enough, but I was too scared to be brave and escape. Even if I did, where would I go? After all, grandmother had raised her own children in the same manner, and worse. She boasted about hitting my mother with a stool when she caught her staring at a boy through the window, and how she left Mavuto, her youngest child, outside in the middle of the night because he didn’t finish his dinner. She released the vicious dogs and took pleasure in hearing his cries. But in her mind, it was all for their own good. This was why they had all obtained degrees, including master’s degrees, and were “God-fearing.”

“Tamanda, you’ll never learn, will you?” She tugged at the chitenje, cinching it so tight that I felt like I was gasping for air. “It’s so the vendors don’t hiss at you,” she explained, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Apparently, even with dresses that brushed the ground, I was expected to be covered up like a nun.

As we walked through the bustling streets, I prayed that none of my schoolmates would spot me dressed like a pastor’s wife. Grandma clutched my hand tightly, as if we were being chased by some unseen threat. And all the while, she lectured me about the pitfalls of being a woman.

“Girls who flaunt their bodies and show off their legs are just asking for trouble,” she warned. “Look at Mphatso – she had two kids out of wedlock, and now no man wants her. And Lisa, oh my goodness, don’t even get me started on her!”

I nodded along, even though I couldn’t always remember who these women were or why Grandma hated them so much. But I didn’t dare speak up – not when we were in a crowd of hundreds of people. Every time Grandma spotted someone she disapproved of, she’d grip my hand harder and mutter “Blood of Jesus” under her breath. And her dislikes were always so petty – the way someone walked, the way they talked, even the type of wig they wore.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when she ranted about the anchor on TV wearing a wig and calling it ‘unnatural’ especially since Grandma herself had relaxed and straightened every strand of her own hair so neatly that one could think she was bald from afar. She also had an obsession with anything that had a “made in USA” logo on it, and would admire and try to mimic the American accent.

All in all, it was a relief when Grandma declared that we were done watching the 7 o’clock news. Who knows what else she might have found to criticize?


As the darkness of night crept in, so did my fears and loneliness. I searched for ways to escape, diving into the depths of my curiosity. I found myself staring at forbidden things on my phone, shameful and disgusting things that I could never speak of in the holy canopy of my life. I prayed and prayed, but the shame and emptiness only grew deeper. I knew I was nowhere near the holiness grandma wanted for me. And yet, in those moments, I found a fleeting sense of escape.

One night, as I lay in bed, cautioning my sinful pleasures, the sound of yelling erupted from the other room. My grandmother’s voice boomed like thunder, and I knew they were fighting again. I covered my ears with a pillow, but it was no use. I could hear the sound of objects hitting the wall, shattering to the ground, and the disturbing slaps and screams that filled the air. I was scared for them, but I was also scared for myself. I was just a helpless bystander, unable to do anything to stop the violence.

Since grandfather had retired from his job, hope for a better future started to decline. As the days passed, I watched as my grandfather’s health deteriorated, and with it, fear filled the house. Sometimes, grandmother would blurt out words to me I must have never heard. “See your grandfather, he will finish like this, eh?” Sometimes I knew she was scared, but angrier than scared. Money was tight, the bad days were soon approaching. Slowly, the workers were being fired until we only had one left. Only the 797 Toyota corolla that was as old as grandma herself had a bit of life, the pickup was long dead, and the van had vanished. Grandfather’s velvet couch sat dusty and isolated like a museum exhibit, for DSTV lines had been cut. The diet changed too, from regular goat meat and grilled chicken to sausages (that were often on sale), eggs, usipa beans, and lots of beans.

The house grew more silent every day. My grandfather, whose mere footstep had once propelled us catapulting out of the sitting room like panicked antelopes fleeing the wrath of a thundering lion, now appeared to have lost his roar. He was weak, too weak that he stopped attending his drinking sprees. The eerie silence of the house was suffocating, broken only by the occasional visit of pastors and prophets who came to pray him. It was during these times that my spoiled little cousins would start to show up more frequently. Including my mother and her ‘busy’ siblings came to visit more often, taking turns to encourage him. When he finally found faith, there was a glimmer of pride in my grandmother’s eyes, and she seemed to ease up on me. I couldn’t seem to figure out if it was because of grandfather’s illness or because I had reached my last term of secondary school. Regardless, I was grateful for the peace and quiet it brought as I prepared for my final exams.

After years of perseverance and determination, I finally arrived at college, far away from the torment of my childhood. On my very first day, my grandmother phoned me, eager to offer her support and blessings. She spoke words that I wish I had heard long ago, saying, “I’m proud of you. You know I always knew you would make it. All my children are smart. See now, all that discipline helped you, my darling.” Despite her kind words, they felt hollow, like the static sound of a broken record. Suddenly, my grandmother interrupted our conversation, calling out to my cousin Luntha, an orphan she took from the village to replace me. “Come speak to Tama,” she exclaimed. “She’s in college now. You should follow in her footsteps and become a star just like her. Tama always listened to me, and that’s why she’s excelling.” She said with pride.

Grandfather’s funeral beckoned me back to the place of my suffering, forcing me to walk down the same road of agony. I could not imagine the humiliation of skipping my grandfather’s funeral. People would assume I had cast a spell on him. So, I sat awkwardly in the tent with strangers, feeling like an outsider in my own family. I observed from a distance as the churchgoers held my grandmother, who wailed inconsolably. She cried with such intensity that it reminded me of my own childhood memories of tears and pain. But was she truly sorrowful, or was it a façade? If you ask me, I am sure my grandfather was ecstatic to be at rest in his grave, away from the woman who had tormented him into his deathbed. He would have found it amusing to witness the performance my grandmother put on, and their children were all crying, trying to comfort each other as they mourned. Everyone wanted to express their sympathy and condolences, but no one paid attention to me or how I felt. No one noticed the girl who was still trapped in the same cycle of hurt.

As I stood there, whispers circulated around me, discussing the cause of my grandfather’s death. “It was HIV, I heard.” one person said.

“How strange. Are you sure?”

“I was part of the team that came to pray for him. His condition was indeed terrible.” A third person chimed in.

“And the woman?”

“Apparently, the man must have touched the wrong apple.” They giggled at their own jokes.

“We thought they were a perfect family. Oh, I feel so sorry for the woman. She’s a prayer warrior and her kindness oh my Lord!” I found it all too disheartening and overwhelming.

Out of the blue, an older aunt, her head wrap so large it resembled a cooking pot atop her head, beckoned me toward the front of the tent. I feigned deafness, wishing she’d relent, but her determination prevailed. “Your grandmother’s calling for you,” she hollered. To save myself from embarrassment,

I strolled over to my grandmother’s side. She embraced me tightly and sobbed, “We will surely miss him.” My eyes were dry as a desert.

Months later, my mother called, complaining that my grandmother was worried.

I had been ignoring her endless calls and ignored her random messages.

“There’s something wrong with my phone” I lied.

“She’s stressed; why don’t you visit her?” my mother asked.

“She says she has kept a special room for you in her new home, she’s trying to heal. She loves you so much. I have planned a trip for you to go during the holidays. She’s an old lady she might die anytime”

“What about you mum? Why don’t you go?”

“Well…there’s a lot of work I have to do and you know how she is sometimes”

“Like what?” there was silence at the other end of the line. “Mom, why did you leave me with grandma all these years, it was hard”

“Tama, I know. It wasn’t an easy decision. After the divorce things got complicated. I had to finish college, I had to find money to-“

“Complicated? Selfish that’s what you are, you and dad…both of you!”

“what did you say? Tama… Hello…Tama are you there?”



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