I am Victor By Karen Kaliwo

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

Like rain drops, salty liquid trickled from his eyes down his cheeks in a steady stream. It was hotter than he had imagined. And sour. It rained heavily. It was a heavy rain. One that hadn’t been witnessed before. The wind blew like one that would take the house south. It was an angry wind. Windows shook vigorously. This was more impulsive. The scene of a few hours before came vividly to his mind. The suffering face of his mother, stained with bloody sweat and convulsed with anguish, rose before him. In the realm of despair, Boma, had come across more pain than the last. Of course, that was not to be expected.

The rags he’d been using a few moments earlier were thrown in the rain. He only noticed it there, as one woman used her torch light, unveiling a ray of light that sharply illuminated the dirty soaked rags through the broken window. She couldn’t take her eyes off of him. He was perfectly still, staring back at her with confusion. He pressed on in solitude and darkness. Whenever he took a glimpse of his thoughts, little clouds of tears rose, whirled angrily in his eyes and then slowly settled again. Through the chaos, a strange cat meowed. Everything seemed cold. She held out her hands for him, but he did not say a word. Puzzled by her attitude he spat at her face and ran into the next room.

The atmosphere in the old hospital corridors was tense and confused. She made quick, springing steps, her hands dangling freely by the side of the window frames. The confusion stretched on. Soon people started filling the space like a swarm of bees. Boma tiptoed back, he shuddered almost tripping as he tried to retreat. Thoughts hovered in his head. It could be ritualists trying to kidnap me and my brother. It could be assassins or anyone. It was weird.

“What do you want? Who are you?”

He looked around. She was nowhere.

Everyone was murmuring. She suddenly appeared from the crowd, with her torch light again.

“Boma, are you scared?”

He was still looking around when he felt a sharp tear on his back. He turned to look at who was behind him. It was Hunter, the guy who always caused havoc in the streets. He was vulnerable and unprepared.

He screamed out of fear.

Boma gathered himself up wondering what a terrible dream it was. He took a deep breath. At that moment it dawned on him. He had to look for his mother, Najere. He ran in the empty corridors that felt like a horror. Clutching his head, he stumbled towards the old mortuary. Her mother told him, she was going to pray there. She was not there. People did not greet him as they did. It felt unusual. He gasped for breath as he approached the kitchen. The atmosphere was different. There was no single trace of fire. His family of 2, fed from the leftover meals, guardians made for their patients in the hospital. Everyone gave him a cold attitude.

“Aunt Eliza, why is everyone looking at me like that?”

There was no reply instead tears rolled down her face as she caressed her swollen belly. She was drenched and gasping for air. He pulled her up into the shelter and called her mother.

Aunt Eliza was one of the pregnant ladies who stayed far from the hospital. She stayed close to Makwasa tea estates. Her pregnancy was almost due, hence the decision to stay at the hospital premises, waiting for her delivery. She became close to Boma from the very day she set her eyes on him. He helped her with physical exercises as per the nurse’s instructions. Boma was good at acrobatics. He did some of the moves to entertain the pregnant ladies and their guardians.

Eliza heaved a sigh and held her mother’s hands. Episodes of contractions dealt with her. Her swollen legs spread as though she was battling for air. She was in pain.

“Mama, I am in labor, my water just broke.”

14 years old Boma knew what was about to happen. He grew up being friends with such women. He found joy in helping them. He made his way to the new hospital. He only had one thing in mind: to meet the patient attendant or the HSA.

“Who is chasing you, young man?” a familiar voice interrogated.

“I am looking for Mrs. Chikoti, there is an emergency.”

“She is at the mortuary, hopefully you will see her in the corridors pushing a stretcher.”

While he was turning around to proceed to the mortuary, he was tapped on the shoulder. He turned slowly, only to find his two friends, Hunter and Scorpion. They wrapped their arms around his shoulders.

Tearful they said to him.

“We are sorry for your loss Boma.”

Their expression softened. It was so unusual of them. These were his fellow street children troubling people, left, right and center. Thyolo Police cells felt like home to them. They left Boma perplexed.

“Tell me what happened.”

The way in which he asked, left the two with questions; could it be that, he is not aware of his mother’s death?

“Tell me. I am listening,” he said in between groans.

The stretcher made a whirling sound as people followed back, the sound of their footsteps trailing behind them. Boma turned to look at his friends, who dutifully were not about to leave him alone.

“Don’t tell me…it is my mother…”

And as soon as the one pushing the stretcher passed, the thought of losing his mother came. Flashbacks came flooding like visions.

He was only 12 years old when her mother opened up to him. Close to Mulanje Boarder was a wealthy man. It was barely morning when the sun had just paid its greeting. Shop owners had just started making heavy sales as it was market day. Limbuli remained a market place for ages. Najere had sent 3 years old Boma to his father so she could attend to a few errands. She was heavily pregnant and prone to sickness. Just the other day, she was given a beating she had never had in her life.

Nevertheless, like the submissive wife she was, Najere did what her husband wanted. Her heartbeat raced as though some misfortune had befallen her. She felt unease. She was led by her thoughts to her husband’s shop. She felt like her son was in trouble. She strolled past the tomato sellers, sweating like a porous pitcher. Her armpits drenched with sweat like she poured water in them.

Najere’s heart sank as she found her son sobbing and groaning loudly whilst her husband forced his manhood into his mouth. Makoza, her husband who had infected her with HIV. She trembled as she shouted, tears welled in her eyes.

“Leave my son!”

She was agitated. She pulled her son from the mat. Maybe she did not give her husband much pleasure in bed. Najere was always tired but yearned for her husband even more. She gave him back to back. As scared as she was, she grabbed her son without saying a word to her husband and left.

Najere was never the same after that. Her husband never uttered a word. Robbed of her peace of mind and sanity, she stopped taking care of herself. She gave birth prematurely and the child died days later. She cried herself to sleep and never wanted to stay an inch away from Boma. She could not even look at herself in the mirror. For days, she felt like a loser. One day when everyone was away, she took her son and fled. Rumors spread that she failed to kill her husband. Nobody wanted to stay close to her and her son. Everyone said she was mad. As years passed, she started begging in the streets with her son just to feed. They moved from one market to the other until they found shelter inside Thyolo old hospital. Najere became famous for being a kind mad woman. Her son, Boma teamed up with a gang of street children. She accepted her fate but always advised her son to be kind.

11 years down, she found herself in and out of the hospital, she hadn’t been taking her antiretroviral therapy. People thought she was joking when she went to the hospital to get her medication. His thoughts were then replaced by those of the surly, insensitive nurses pushing the stretcher from the mortuary. They bluntly told the people behind them that Najere was a mad woman.

“My mother was not mad!”

It was over, it was time for her mother to rest. How he wished he had the strength to trace his father for vengeance, but he didn’t know where to start from. How he would bury his mother, broke him down. He cried his throat out.

“I will fight and I will be victorious, this is not the end of my story” he heaved a sigh before proceeding, “my name is Victor.” From that moment, Boma felt he had to work hard, knowing her mother wanted the best for him despite the predicaments they went through. The hospital personnel and the vendors helped him with his mother’s burial.

Najere’s story went viral. Everyone felt sorry for Boma. His mother was his family. He was surprised at how people showered him with love. He panicked at how everyone wanted to be of help to him. Some gave him money as some pledged to offer him accommodation. He panicked.

“These are the same people who chased us in the streets when we were begging for food. They said mad people don’t die with hunger.”

The scars remained. Sleep did not come on a silver platter for him. He had mixed feelings; a life was lost but he had to rise from his comfort zone. The thought of losing his mother gave him motivation to work hard.

He spent the first few months of life without his mother staying at the old hospital. He’d still visit his friends but did not go begging. He used the money he got during his mother’s funeral to set up a groundnut business. Boma grew up to be a strong man that his business grew no matter the circumstances. He became a groundnut supplier for big cooking-oil factories in Malawi. On 15th October, 2020, after 16 years since his mother passed away, Boma had something planned for the day.

“I want all street children and the mentally challenged out of the streets of Thyolo… I have built a home for them under my organization known as We Are One (WAO).”

Boma had become successful, he made his proposal to take care of street children and the mentally challenged through the ward councilor and the social welfare team. He was advised not to leave the mentally challenged out of his initiative but he insisted. He believed that there are some facing his mother’s fate. Problems made them look mad. Some were taken to the mental hospital and others to the rehabilitation centers before taking them home.

A few days after this happened, Boma went to pay his mother a visit at the graveyard. He laid roses on his mother’s grave. He smiled as he took pictures of his mother’s resting place.

“My new name is Victor mama. I am a big boy now. I wish you got you flowers whilst alive. This is my token of appreciation; you gave birth to me for such a time as this. I will always love you Anajere. I hope you are smiling. Keep on resting in peace, till we meet again.”

Hector and Scorpion his two friends who had changed their names to Hope and Chimwemwe pulled him up whilst patting him at the back as they left the graveyard. He groaned in pain as he had a flash of the memories with his mother. He rushed home to his wife, he yearned for a long embrace from his wife who had just given birth. A new life had come. A sign of restoration.


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