Life Under the Bridge

Oct 9, 2020 | Blog | 0 comments

Kisha grew up in southern Malawi and in the big city of Blantyre. He was eight years old when he lost his mother. That was the day his life began to change. He had an older sister who was ten. Their father died when Kisha was five. Losing his mother meant he only had his uncle to live with.

He did not like living with his uncle in his one-bedroomed house that trickled when it rained and had a whiff of everything abysmal. The house was amalgamated to other houses on either side in a murky neighbourhood that was so loud with women barking orders at their children, babies crying, kids playing and music from proximate drinking joints. The toilet gave Kisha an unusual uneasiness; it was a pit latrine used by most households. It was almost full and each time he went to poo, he could see feaces, pieces of paper, maize cobs and everything people used to wipe.

Not that Kisha’s parents had been rich. They were also poor but this was different. They usually went without food for days. His uncle was not a cold-hearted man; he just did not care about life. He was a young man in his early twenties, uneducated, poor, living in Bangwe, one of the meekest localities in Blantyre. He usually left early in the morning, leaving no food and went to the common min bus stop at Ginnery Corner where he worked as a minibus tout pocketing changes that could only buy a cigarette. He was one of those guys that made a living from shouting, “Mukwera ya Chirimba, 200 Kwacha? Mukwera ya Mibawa 100 Kwacha”. will you board the Chirimba bus for 200 Kwacha? The Mibawa bus for 100 kwacha?

He would come back home drunk at 1 am, smelling of cigarettes and with empty hands. Kisha heard him each night he came home but pretended to sleep. Stupid man, he would utter noiselessly to himself.

To survive, Kisha had to go around the vicinity looking for food for him and his sister. He went around asking for piece work from well to do neighbours or look for food in their waste bins. It hardly worked out, most people just turned him away, saying “Pita uko mwana iwe!” Go away kid!  When it did, they would say, “Sweep the compound and don’t take anything”. In return, he would get 300 or 500 Malawi Kwacha. This kind of a life meant Kisha did not attend school anymore having dropped out of Standard two. He had been a brilliant pupil, often scoring position one.

Time went by very fast. About a year later, Kisha noticed that Amara, his sister would disappear for days. When she came back, she brought good food. It was during this time that he learnt Amara had gotten a job at the house in the big gate as a house girl. Life started to improve for Kisha- apart from the food Amara brought, the lady at the house allowed him regular visits to eat and her son would give Kisha some clothes. Eventually Amara moved out to start living in the house.

Kisha was usually alone and very miserable most of the times. He would wake up at night over random noises and cry himself to sleep. When it rained and the house leaked, Kisha would wake up and run to the corner of the house, quivering and sobbing till morning.

While he would wake up in the morning after facing the cold and pondering on where to go for food, his sister started to look like one of those rich kids; well bathed and smelling good. Although Kisha had food on a regular basis and sometimes clothes, he was alone and blue. He just never spoke about it.

In the months that followed, Kisha scarcely saw Amara until she ultimately stopped coming out of the big gate. He was not allowed to see Amara or to go to the house. His life became even more desolate and destitute. One day, Kisha sneaked into the gate and when he met Amara, he noticed that that she had a big belly.

“Why is your stomach so big?” he asked her.

“They say I will have a baby,” Amara said with tears in her eyes.

Kisha did not understand why she cried. Unanimity, perhaps a heave of emotions from missing Amara, solitude and all that he had gone through made him want to cry too but what he had gone through in the last few months was his strength. It made him so hard-hitting that tears just could not come out.

That was the last time he saw Amara. Rumour had it; the house boy who tended to the garden and flowers at the house had been molesting the eleven-year-old for months until she got pregnant. When she got pregnant, the family decided to keep it a secret. But you know how they say, there are no secrets under the sun; news eventually came out.

Fearing an arrest and for his life if mob justice decided to act, the houseboy fled. Mob justice had become common in the country with thieves, rapists and all kinds of suspected criminals being burnt death alive. It did not take time before Amara also disappeared. The family where she worked tried all they could to look for her but they could not find her. The police had been informed of her disappearance and they assumed that she had fled to be with her boyfriend, the houseboy. It could have been a lead, except they did not know where the houseboy had fled to.

Over the few days that followed, Kisha’s life became abysmal. It was during this time that he met Mavuto one day. Mavuto was a boy of thirteen. He was a street kid and had been so for the past six years. He did not have a home or parents. He spent his life moving from place to place with a gang of other street kids who had made their home under the bridge at Blantyre market which covered Blantyre river.

The day Kisha met Mavuto he was looking for food. He saw Mavuto drinking a bottle of Maheu, a local drink made from a mixture of maize and millet flour. He was so hungry that he kept rubbernecking at Mavuto. Mavuto discerned this, for he approached Kisha and said, “you want some?”

“Yes,” Kisha replied and followed it up with a resounding nod. Kisha gulped down the drink until he almost finished it.

“Sorry, “he said as he timidly withdrew the drink from his mouth.

“No, it’s ok, you can finish it. You are so hungry, aren’t you?” Mavuto replied.

“Yes, I haven’t eaten in two days…” there were tears in Kisha’s eyes as he said this.

Mavuto felt sad. This was actually the first time he had felt sad in a very long time. He fought back tears and went over to Kisha. He placed his left arm around Kisha’s shoulder and said, “Follow me, let’s go get you some food.”

They walked for a long time before they came to a restaurant. Mavuto spoke incessantly as they walked. He told numerous stories. Kisha, who had learnt to be silent surprised himself with continuous laughter. He did not say much, seldom saying, “Uhmm. Okay. No”.

But from this, Kisha found Mavuto very amiable. Although, when Mavuto said, “You can come stay with me and my friends under the bridge, It’s fun”, Kisha wondered, how would one live under a bridge?

The restaurant they arrived at had its dining place outside. The dining place had tables covered by some sort of hats where customers sat and ate.

“Wait here. Don’t move until you see me coming, okay?” Said Mavuto.

“Alright, where are you going?” Kisha asked. He felt a peculiar sense of discomfort.

“To get you food. Just wait.”

Mavuto moved ahead of Kisha with a few steps and then waited till he saw a waiter bring out a plate of nsima with chicken and place it on a table next to a customer. The customer moved out to the sink which was in front of the tables. Soon as he had moved, Mavuto swiftly moved to the table and seized the plate of food.  He ran off to Kisha.

The lady next to the table shouted, “Mwana wa masikini uyo watenga chatenga chakudya!”. The street kid has taken the food!

The waiter shouted, “Iwe siya pompo!” Hey you leave that there!

Mavuto reached Kisha and said, “run!” The two ran off very fast till they felt safe. They stopped under a tree. Mavuto was laughing out loud. Kisha did not know what feeling to feel out of anger, fretfulness and thrill. So for a fleeting moment, he just looked at Mavuto, irresolute of what to feel. He looked at the food and thought, I have never seen food so beautiful like this.


This was how Kisha was inaugurated to the life of a street kid. It was a life of hustling and doing treacherous things to survive. His friendship with Mavuto bloomed. Mavuto often looked out for him like his own little brother. When he saw what Mavuto could do to protect him or get him food, he felt that Mavuto only cared for one person; Kisha.

One day something happened that turned Kisha into something he thought he would never become. They were walking in a path that formed an aisle between the fence that covered Mibawa min bus stage and a bush right in the middle of Blantyre city. It was around 2 pm on a hot Wednesday afternoon. Kisha was with eight other street kids. The oldest of them, Kondwani, who usually acted like their leader, spotted a lady coming their way from a distance carrying a basket on her head. Holding his finger over his lips and making a sound to signal them to keep quiet, he said “Follow me, let us hide under this bush.” They all hid there and Kisha felt electrified.

It was going to be one of those days when they pulled out a job; bullying someone and then taking their possessions. He remembered his first job. It had felt sad at first but it later turned out exhilarating. They ambushed a young man walking in a road at night alone in the middle of the city. At first, three street kids, kondwani and two others, stood in front of the young man. Kondwani said, “give us all you have” in a commanding voice.

The young man laughed and said, “stupid kids, go away before I beat you all.”

But before he could finish, the boys pulled out razor blades. The young man turned and decided to run but behind him four other boys with razor too appeared. He turned to run in another direction towards the shops but other boys appeared including Kisha. Before he could turn again, he was hit from the back and fell to the ground. They beat him amid his screams.

At first, Kisha felt disinclined but he looked at the man smartly dressed and looking well bathed and felt anger at why he should look so nice when him and his friends did not. As if he had been possessed by a supernatural power, he joined and with his right leg, to kick the guy relentlessly. Everyone stopped and stared at Kisha as he kicked the crying guy while mumbled some words like; stupid man. Who do you think you are?…while we starve…here…you are…stupid.

Kisha did not realise but there were tears in his eyes as he did so. For the first time he felt so free. When he stopped, he raised his hands in the air, looked up to the sky and yelled something only he understood. His friends cheered him on and hugged him. He felt nothing and everything. It was the day he became hard-nosed and learnt how to survive.

They took the guys phone and wallet and run off to the bridge. The wallet had money amounting to MK30,000. It was a lot of money. They later went to buy food for all the kids under the bridge. They also bought sachets of spirits. This was the first day Kisha drunk and he felt so good. He sang a song by the renowned band, the black missionaries which he had heard from the bars. Mulomo wu. Mulomo eh. Mulomo uzakupaphetsa. This mouth. This mouth. The mouth will get you killed.

Kisha’s thoughts were interrupted by Kondwani’s voice backing out orders, “Mavuto and three others you will go in front. The others we will go behind with me,”

As the lady was about to pass where they hid, Kisha and the others led by Kondwani came on behind her and whistled. The woman turned to look at them and quickly turned back to run but as she did so, in front of her, the other kids appeared. The woman screamed but immediately afterwards, she was brought down and Kondwani grabbed her mouth.

He pulled out a knife and said, “if you move or scream, I will cut your neck. Ok?”

The woman full of distress and a teary face could only nod a yes. Kisha thought this was about the contents of the basket which had turned out to be bananas.

Kondwani pulled off the woman’s skirt all the way to her waist. The others whistled and cheered. For a moment, Kisha did not know what was going on but he felt an odd feeling like the day Mavuto had stolen food from the restaurant.

Kondwani then pulled off the woman’s underwear as the others held her arms and pulled her legs apart. It was at this juncture that Kisha realized what was happening. Oh God No, he thought.

But Kondwani had already pulled down his tatty pants and was on top of the woman. The woman could only sob as quietly as possible but she did not scream for help. She did not even struggle. She knew she had met her doom and there was no redeemer coming. After Kondwani finished, it was Mavuto’s turn. Then one after another, all the boys took their turns. Kisha had never felt so petrified. He felt compassion for the woman. It was an odd feeling because although he had done awful things, this seemed like the vilest of them all.

When it was his turn, he kept quiet and did not move. Kondwani said, “it’s your turn Kisha.”

“No I’m okay….”

“No, everyone has to do it Ki,” this time it was Mavuto.

Kisha not wanting to disappoint Mavuto, did the deed. He felt a very unusual sensation and actually thought it was good.

Just as soon as Kisha finished, two girls appeared from the bush and everyone turned to look at them. Kisha wanted to run before he heard one of the boys say, “Oh its Amara and Nishani”

It was as if Kisha had seen a ghost. He looked again and again. And yes it was his sister, Amara, looking all dirty and very skinny. Kisha wanted to cry, scream and run at the same time. He chose to run to Amara and they hugged as they both wept. The others had picked up the bananas and beckoned to Kisha and Amara to run. They run off all the way to the bridge.

Later that night as they moved up and down, Amara told Kisha what happened over a year ago. The man of the house where she worked, came to her room one day and slept with her. He gave her money and told her not to say anything or she will be chased. This continued for months till she got pregnant. When she got pregnant, the wife to the man found out and wanted to chase her but the husband refused saying it would make things shoddier if the news came out. So they decided to blame it on the house boy and told Amara to say it was indeed the house boy. I will kill them all, Kisha thought and made it a promise to himself.

The house boy ran off eventually. When he did, they planned for Amara to have an abortion. They bought her an abortion pill and she bled for weeks. One day, Amara sneaked out of the house and ran off to nowhere till she met Nishani and her friends who went about begging, doing piece works in rich people’s houses, sleeping with random men for money. She joined them at their place in a dilapidated house in Machinjiri, a township on the outskirts of Blantyre city.


Over the next few weeks, life was fun for Kisha. They moved from place to place, pulling out jobs, going to the stop lights and beg rich people who would pull up in their cars, going to the rivers to swim and drinking alcohol under the bridge.

Kisha felt a strong sense of attraction towards Nishani. He liked her and he felt love for her. Nishani also liked Kisha. She was always next to him. They played and touched each other when no one was noticing. Kisha always brought food for Nishani and Amara and gave them cash he had acquired either from stealing or begging. Kisha was concerned for Amara, though; she looked very skinny and sick. She had a terrible cough that never seemed to end. At night she sweated and sometimes cried. Although, she would walk with them during the day, she occasionally had to sit down to rest and complained about fatigue.

One day they went to an Indian owned restaurant. They had developed a habit of going there to wait for customers to finish eating and collect remains. The owner of the shop did not like this sight because he had received persistent complaints from customers. He had tried to chase the kids using his workers to no gain. So on this day, he decided to put a diarrhoea inducing drug in the food remains and left it for the kids.

They happily collected the food and went to eat. Within hours, almost all of them had developed massive diarrhoea. The diarrhoea continued for some more days. By the end of the week, most of them had recuperated but Amara. Kisha felt so scared and felt that she might die. But he did not know what to do.

Kisha, Nishani and Mavuto decided to take Amara to Queen Elizabeth central hospital. They began to walk from around 6 am taking turns to carry Amara on their backs. When they got to the hospital, it was around 8 am. They did not know what to do and just sat on the entrance to the hospital. Amara had stopped moving. She just lay their catatonically. People went in and out of the gate and paid no attention to them.

At around 10 am, Mavuto left to look for food. Soon as he left, a red car drove past them. Then it pulled up a few meters off and reversed. There was a white man in the car. He got out of the car and spoke to the kids in a rather incomprehensible Chichewa but they seemed to understand each other.

“Is this one ok?” the white man asked pointing at Amara.

“No. No…no” Kisha replied in a fragmented voice and began to cry. Nishani cried too. The white man reached out to Amara and felt her cold body. He tried to feel her purse and felt the faintness of it. He immediately carried Amara and said to them, “follow me!”

He run off with Amara in his arms into the hospital. He placed Amara on a stretcher and told the nurses to take her into one of the rooms. He told Kisha and Nishani to wait as he disappeared into the room. The white man was in the room for about thirty minutes. When he came out he seemed broken and his eyes were wet.

“My name is Dr Nelson Anders. You should call me Nelson,” he said to the kids before pausing.

“Who is the girl to you?” he said when he continued.

“She is my sister,” Kisha replied.

“Where are your parents?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Where do you live?”

“Under the bridge in city…,”

“Oh my God…no. I will be right back, wait here, “said Nelson.

He went outside, lit a cigarette and puffed on the smoke so hard. He leaned against a wall and wept so hard while covering his face so no one noticed. He had been in Malawi for six years now and had witnessed some of the worst stories presumable but this made him weak and helpless.

He heard car honks coming from the gate and remembered he left his car still running close to the gate. He wanted to run to the gate but his legs felt heavy so he just walked.

When he returned, he asked Kisha how long they had been living under the bridge and if they had any relations. Kisha said, they had an uncle who was a minibus tout but he had not heard from in a while. He said he knew where his uncle’s house was and so Nelson decided to go there with the them.

“No, wait. We cannot go yet. Let me go and look for Mavuto,” said Kisha.

“Who is Mavuto?” asked Nelson.

“He is my friend. He went to look for food.”

Kisha returned without Mavuto after thirty minutes. When he returned, the first thing he said to Nelson was, “Amara is dead, right?”

“Yes. I’m sorry, it was too late to do anything…” replied Nelson in a hesitant voice, shocked at kisha’s candour.

Kisha got in the car in one of the back seats and leaned against the front passengers seat. He wanted to cry out loud but he bit his teeth and wept silently. Nelson moved from his seat and placed his arm on Kisha’s head stroking it but saying nothing. Kisha pulled his head up, wiped his eyes and the said, “it’s in Bangwe. Let’s go, I will show you the directions.”

When they got there, they found a woman who said the man who lived there died four months ago. He was just found dead in the house one morning, she said. Kisha felt weak. He did not cry this time although tears had meandered down his cheeks. He could have admitted at this juncture that he contemplated death and that his tears were more for all that he had gone through than the death of his uncle. It just has been a long day and a sad life, Kisha thought.

Nelson did not know what to do. There was a body in the mortuary, a kid next to him who was in mourning and homeless, another kid who like Kisha, was homeless. He held his chin for a moment, scratched his head then said,” oh no.”

He did not believe in God but he had so much love for people and he could not imagine seeing these children on the street again. This day more than ever he felt angry at people who believed in a God of love. If he was there, why would kids like this suffer alone while he watched?


Nelson took the kids to Blantyre police station. He wanted to do something about this but he did not know what it was.

“Hello, how are you?” The police officer he met at the reception greeted him.

“I’m good, thanks. Who can I talk to about these kids. You see, er…they are street kids who lost their sister and they have no relative. I think I will take them with me…,” he stopped talking because the police officer had looked at him in a very eccentric way.

He thought his voice sounded unsure. So he grabbed Kisha’s hand with his left, then grabbed Nishani’s with his right. Afterwards, he looked at the officer with a more tranquil face, and just like someone who had had an epiphany said, “I want to adopt them.”

“Eh? You mean take them as your kids? These kids are dangerous. They rob people, rape women and murder people. We have so many such cases. They will even rob you, kill you and take off with your things. I wouldn’t advise you to do that,” the police officer said unfeelingly. He sounded confident and like someone who had actually seen Kisha do all of these except kill a person because little Kisha had done it all.

“Sir, I have really had a long day. Is there someone I can speak to?”

“Yes, you can leave the kids here as you…”

“No, I’m not letting them out of my sight sir,” Nelson cut the police officer.

After a long day, that involved the social welfare office at the District Commissioner’s office, lawyers and a lot of paper work, Nelson finally drove Kisha and Nishani to his home in Sunnyside. The next day, Nelson arranged for the burial of Amara at the city cemetery.

Kisha and Nishani began to live with Nelson and his wife. Nelson did not have kids. At his home, he had four workers. He hired tutors for Kisha and Nishani to prepare them for school. Kisha loved the food but he missed the freedom of roaming up and down. Most of all, he missed Mavuto. He eventually got bored and did not seem happy at all. Nishani on the other hand was having fun and enjoying her new life. Of course, Kisha loved to see her happy. They were siblings now but kisha still loved her in a special way and he knew she felt the same way too.

One day after three months into his new life, Kisha packed slices of bread, fried sausages, cooked rice and disappeared. When Nelson came back from work, he found kisha gone. He had not told Nishani where he went. He had not stolen anything. He just left. After that day passed, Nelson reported the matter to the police and he put up a radio advert but still Kisha was nowhere to be seen.

Kisha had left to find Mavuto. He went straight to the bridge but he was not there. On the first day, he went everywhere he thought Mavuto would be but he could not find him. Although he got hungry, he did not touch the food which he kept telling himself, it’s for Mavuto. The next day, he asked around again but no one had seen Mavuto. Kisha became so hungry and so worried on the third day. He thought Mavuto had disappeared like one of the kids that usually just went missing and never came back. The rumour was that when street kids disappeared, they had been killed and their bodies were taken by the police for secret burial. The thought of this happening to Mavuto made him restless.

Nelson had been going to the bridge every day during the day to look for Kisha but he found no one there. On the third day, Nishani told Nelson that the best time was to look for him very late at night. Nishani missed Kisha and although she loved her new life, her life had become sad since Kisha disappeared.

On the third night as Kisha sat down under the bridge, feeling the smell of the food that had gone bad, feeling hungry, feeling the cold and faintly hearing the voices of other kids, he wept feebly and silently. He felt so weak. He thought of his mother but he could not make out a clear image of her face. He thought of Amara and there was emptiness in that thought. He thought of Nishani and he wished for her to sing. She had a good voice. He thought of Nelson. He thought of Kondwani. He thought of Mavuto and then quickly thought of Nelson again. He forced a smile but he could not feel anything. He wished Nelson would appear from somewhere and take him home to Nishani.

Then he decided to walk back home that same night, but as he tried to rise up, he felt so weak that he could not feel his legs. He felt cold. I will just go in the morning, he thought. He imagined someone call out his name; it felt like Nelson’s voice. Amara and Mavuto, would have loved Nelson, he thought.

Then, he felt or imagined a robust touch. But that was the last thing he felt before he saw indescribable darkness, nothing like he had ever seen before. There was interminable desolation in it. His eyes closed while his hand steadfastly held onto the jumbo with food for Mavuto.


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