Content Warning: Suicide
With the heavy sun of Mozambique beating down upon my bare back, my hand cupped the wilting plant. Colorless leaves begging for water, a luxury we could not provide. Crumbling stem, slowly turning to ash. Moribund, expiring. My frail bones resemble the maize plant all too much. A tear trickles slowly across my thin-cut cheek. I gently move aside the leaves and spot the last maize of the season. There are only a few ears left, small and drooping. I pry them away from the plant and drop them into the woven basket Ma made.
Ma. I vividly remember the angry conversation she had with Baba nearly a fortnight ago, inside our one-roomed mud hut. Before Baba was gone.
I had plastered myself to one cool wall near the doorless entrance, and I often eavesdropped there.
“What will become of us, Baba! All our harvest money is gone! And now you are lazing around at home instead of selling at the market” Ma cried
“We are on our last reserve of maize,” Baba’s voice is clenched, held in, “ I do not have any more maize to sell at the market. Give a break to me, Ma. I am the only one in this house who does any real work.”
My father’s eyes are igniting, like the flames my mother cooks over.
Our food is prepared outdoors by reason of our thatch roof. Normally, we eat the scrawniest plants in our stock. Otherwise, on a day of particularly good sales, my mother will walk to the market and buy ingredients for fufu, a staple food in Africa, as well as cheap collard greens.
Sometimes, the undersides of our food would burn.
What will burn this time?
I had yet to find out.
“You do not have the money to send Debelah to school. You do not have any maize to sell. All you do is drink chibuku and spend our remaining earnings.” Ma spats.
Tears slide into place, blurring my vision of the thin maize stalk before me. Dizziness is overpowering, and my head sways. My throat burns. Dehydration.
A man-made trough lies at the end of this field. Water is collected from there and turns up there from rainfall. But recently, the rain has been sparse, if any at all, throughout our rainy season. I am praying that there is some of that precious liquid left.
The lipless mouths of the cracked earth are sucking me in, pulling at my heels. In desperate need of the refreshment of water. I heave myself forward when I see the through hoping to see the diamondlike liquid. But when I reach, there is simply a thinned out mud. I cup my hands and lift it out, bringing my lips to it and sip.
Hot sludge fills my mouth, and suddenly I am coughing up bile. Body wracking coughs are bringing me to my knees. And then It is not only the thirst, but I am begging myself to stop pulling back memories that want to stay where they are. In the past. Yet I still pull them forward, pressing my lips together, ignoring their jagged edges ripping at my soul. Secrets, pain. Something did truly happen to our harvest money. And it may as well have ruined our lives. And eradicated my father’s.
As I lie here on this hot earth, I will recount what happened that fateful day.
There are three sections to our vast market. While the barriers that separate them were never truly spoken, they are still there. There is the wealthy market, poor market, for people like us, and the swart market -the black market. It is filled with illegal, stolen, goods you can get for cheap. After this years tough times in terms of farming, men began to meet there, respect and dignity forgotten. Including my father.
Mind that we didn’t know much about it, of course. But sometimes he would slip in late at night, like a shadow, with the putrid scent of chibuku lingering around his body. I would never say anything, nor would my mother, even when our food rations would be cut considerably short. And during the day, a aura of defeat surrounded him. He would sling his thin body across our roughly carved wooden chair, and look out at our dying crops. His dark eyes turned blank, and I wondered what was going on with him.
My Baba was giving up.
The days pass. Sometimes he would just stay limp, ignoring everyone, hardly touching his dinner. But at other times, he would lash out like a snake, waiting to bite in the most painful spot possible. I recall clearly his hand swiping across my Ma’s face when she dropped a platter of fufu. Useless, uneducated woman! Can’t you do one job correctly! I remember the tears that dripped from her eyes as she clutched her red cheek.
And then, the secrets got to be too much. Three nights in a row, Baba was gone from the house. On the fourth day, I was working in the fields, a man’s task I still had to do. And that’s when I heard it.
It rippled and echoes across the field. A sound I had never heard before but caused fear’s clawed heart to wrap around my heart. A gunshot. I drop my basket in shock. And I begin to run, following the remains of the echo.
I already know what happened. I can already envision the body collapsing to the ground. Suicide. A word only whispered out of mouths. But Baba… not him, it couldn’t be him. My thoughts and emotions are whirling around.
I am trying to outrun fear itself. I hurtle through the stalks, ignoring how they cut into my arms. But as my feet pound the musty ground, I know one thing for sure. No matter what, I am heading to where it all ends.