Everything is Gonna Be All Right

Mzana Mthimkhulu
For a man whose wife we had buried two hours earlier, Mpala was too energetic for my liking.
He emerged from the four-roomed house with the air of a conquering army general about to inspect his troops. The heavy trench coat from his police days did not seem to weigh him down.

He quickly got down the three steps and started shaking hands with the mourners. Although I could not hear his words, I could tell that he was thanking the mourners for coming.
“Come on Majaha,” naka Zandile, my cousin-sister nudged me. The two of us were sitting on a bench by the gate. “Get up and meet your son-in-law half way.”
“I am now overall father of the extended family,” I reminded her. “So do not order me around.”
“As long as I am four years older than you I will order you around. Besides, with aunt naka Thandiwe now gone, I am the oldest surviving member of the Ndlovu family. I can order all of you around. Now, stand up and offer Mpala our family’s condolences.”
I gulped down what was left of my coke, stood up and walked towards Mpala.
Mpala’s broad clean-shaven face was calm. “Son-in-law,” I murmured as we shook hands, “our families have suffered a major loss.”
He winced, as though fresh arrows had pierced him. “How true, baba Ndlovu, how true. Your daughter was the best wife a man could ever wish for. I suppose it was the inevitable outcome of an impeccable upbringing.” I smiled to acknowledge the accolade.
Suddenly he covered his face with his hands and broke down in tears. He was at least a foot taller than me so my attempt to put my arm around his broad shoulders was not a success. I felt awkward trying to comfort a man who at fifty-five was ten years older than me.
“Hush, son-in-law,” I said softly. “Everything is gonna be all right.”
“Do you think so?” Mpala asked, as he tried to wipe the tears from his eyes. His sad face pleaded for assurance. “Do you really think everything will be all right?”
“Oh yes,” I said, injecting in my voice a confidence I did not feel.
“If you think so, then it must be so,” Mpala smiled. In an instant he seemed reassured and happy. “Before you leave, our family would like to speak to yours on an important matter. How about you coming to see us in twenty minutes?”
“Sure,” I nodded. He turned round and walked back to the house.
I quickly gathered members of my extended family to prepare for the meeting. By default, I was now the family head. Our eldest brother had ten years earlier emigrated to the United Kingdom. The second oldest brother had been killed in a car accident three years back. Our fathers were now all late. So here I was, the guiding light of our family affairs.
The family members gathered in a semi circle with naka Zandile and myself facing them.
“I have no idea why the Mpalas want to meet us,” I told them, “but I think it is a good idea that we first…”
“I know what they want,” naka Zandile cut in. “They intend to ask for a ripe girl from the family to replace our aunt and be Mpala’s wife. Majaha, you must have noticed the way Mpala was delighted when you assured him that everything was going to be all right? This was because such an important assurance was coming from the most senior male member of the family.”
“But I was just repeating a line from a Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry,” I protested. “I am in no position to wave some magical wand and solve Mpala’s problem.”
“Yet you went on to offer him a wife?” Siphiwe, my twenty-four year old sister chided me. She was evidently enjoying her first involvement in an adults’ discussion. I clicked my tongue in annoyance. There was laughter at my unhappiness with the way the meeting was going.
“Look people,” I cut through the laughter. “You all know that I am against these backward tribal practices. Our aunt is gone and there will be no one in the family to replace her. I am, after all, a born again Christian. I will just tell the Mpalas – no deal, ours is a Christian family.”
“Huh,” naka Zandile snorted. “We may not be happy clappers who revel in all night prayer marathons, but we are all Christians here. Being a Christian does not give you a licence to contemptuously dismiss our African traditions.”
“Then I will not be part of the delegation to meet the Mpalas,” I said, folding my arms.
Siphiwe scowled. “Brother, you can not shirk your duties just like that,” she snapped her fingers.
“Aha,” I thundered, pointing a finger at Siphiwe. “I will offer you as aunt’s replacement. I am sure Mpala has you in mind for a wife.”
“Who?” Siphiwe exploded. “You know I have a steady boyfriend and, next month, his people are coming to ask you for my hand in marriage.”
“Tell him and his people that the meeting is off. I have ruled that you are now Mpala’s wife.”
“Be your age Majaha,” naka Zandile rebuked me. “Not even father, had he been alive, would have the authority to marry off anyone. Siphiwe will only marry a man of her choice. Get this straight, you only speak for the family, not dictate to it.”
“Tell him sister,” Siphiwe applauded. “In any case, I am only a year older than cousin Thandiwe. How then can I be her mother?”
“Okay,” I said, throwing up my arms in exasperation. “What are we going to say to the Mpalas?”
Naka Zandile took a deep breath. “It is now time we stopped skirting the yard like a goat and, instead, tell each other a few truths. We all know that aunt died of AIDS. We all know she got it from that good for nothing womanising husband of hers. So it is out of the question that we consider any one of our daughters to go and keep the fire burning at aunt’s house. The challenge before us is to say no to the Mpalas without saying so.” Avoiding looking at each other, we slowly nodded our head taking in what naka Zandile had said.
For the next thirty minutes we deliberated and strategised with the seriousness of top executives whose company was facing a hostile take over. Once we had agreed on our position, I led my team to the house for the talks.
Flanked by naka Zandile and my cousin-brother, I faced the Mpalas. We listened to Mpala’s elder brother shower more praises on our aunt. “She was a remarkable woman. Whatever wealth my brother has today, it is thanks to her hard work and business mind. My brother has over a hundred cattle at our rural home. As for goats and sheep, I don’t talk about those. Here in town, he has a flourishing tuck-shop and a brimming bank account.
“Now, my brother is still young with hot blood surging through his veins. Our family has agreed that it would be an insult to your family if we let some strange woman just walk in to inherit all this wealth created by your daughter. Only a member of your family has such a right. So, baba Ndlovu, we ask you to send us another daughter to come and look after naka Thandiwe’s husband and her property. We guarantee you that your daughter will live in more comfort than a mother well supported by her children in the United Kingdom. We will of course pay the full lobola for your daughter.”
I cleared my throat to signal the start of my response. “In the middle of the pain we are going through, we are comforted by the fact that you think so highly of our aunt. We are particularly delighted that you want an encore from our family. This makes us feel that we are an integral part of the community. My family respects our people’s tradition that a marital position can be inherited.”
As I spoke, I saw the expression on Mpala’s face change from gloom to relief, and then joy.
“However,” I continued, “our family requests that we observe a period of mourning before acting. At least a year must pass before we start making arrangements for one of our daughters to inherit her aunt’s position.”
In a split second, Mpala’s face was gloom. “I respect your reverence for the dead,” he burst out, “but things are rapidly changing. You know how difficult it is to keep wealth intact. I need a responsible woman by my side…”
“I understand your concerns,” I said sympathetically, “but we are not going to risk incurring the wrath of aunt’s spirit. We must wait. As for a responsible woman, you have her in the form of your twenty-three year old daughter, Thandiwe. She has, after all, been virtually running the tuck-shop.”
Mpala was about to speak, but his brother raised his hand to silence him. “We will wait,” the brother announced with finality.
We shook hands all round to cement the agreement we had reached. Five minutes later we were on our way out.
“Now, child of my father,” I said to naka Zandile as I drove her home, “what are we going to say when Mpala pitches up a year from now demanding his wife?”
“We will use traditional methods to contact aunt’s spirit and she will instruct us to wait another year before replacing her.”
I frowned and glanced at her. “Surely you can’t know in advance what aunt’s spirit will say?”
“Why not? I am the oldest surviving member of the family. Aunt will speak through me.”
“Okay,” I said, “we may get away with it, but we can’t postpone confronting Mpala forever. What will we say a year later?”
“We will cross that bridge when we get there,” she replied looking straight ahead.
We never got to the bridge. After being in and out of hospital several times, Mpala died two weeks before the anniversary of his wife’s death. My sister Siphiwe and her husband were part of the team that ran around making preparations for the funeral. We buried him two days later. Though distraught, his daughter Thandiwe was there to ensure that everything went well.
Everything is Gonna be All Right, by Mzana Mthimkhulu, was first published in the ‘amaBooks collection Short Writings from Bulawayo II. Mzana has lived in Bulawayo for most of his life and is currently a human resources practitioner. His short stories and social commentaries have appeared in several newspapers and magazines in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Mzana has had short stories published in Short Writings from Bulawayo I, II and III and in Writing Now.
Books from ‘amaBooks Publishers are available in Zimbabwe through [email protected] or elsewhere through [email protected] or [email protected] .

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