A Troubled Mind

By Mutombo Mupomba

The rain poured down as I did my best to stay on solid ground, carefully watching every step I took to avoid falling into the mud. I sought shelter in an abandoned building whose roof was barely hanging on. Dark clouds covered the sky as if they were shielding me from the scorching sun. The trees were dancing to the tune of the thunderstorm; it was fascinating how perfectly in sync they shook back and forth. I stood and watched the wondrous scene as my thoughts wandered.

Eventually the sky cleared and the howling wind became a breeze. Birds took flight as if to celebrate the glorious appearance of the sun. I picked up the pace and went home to my loving family. I was twelve year old. I had five siblings and caring parents. We were a happy family, even though we weren’t rich. I never had the privilege of knowing what it felt like to stare at a washing machine as it spun round and round washing your clothes. I bet it was like staring into a black hole, watching things get swallowed into the void—well, that was how I pictured it in my mind anyway. We lived a fairly simple life, but I was always grateful for everything we had. I was full of curiosity, and my thoughts flowed constantly. I would imagine entire movies from start to finish. My mind was a safe haven where I could escape from the cruelty on earth. When my parents argued and shouted at each other I would lose myself in my thoughts, imagining a world where my parents didn’t argue and where life was full of happiness.

My parents named me Kondwani. I never liked my name as a child. I preferred biblical names like Peter, John, or Ishmael. Being young and naive I thought such names were lucky, but luck doesn’t favor you just because you have a certain name. When I turned fourteen, it was time to attend high school. High school was a nightmare for me. I saw it as a prison with strict rules that taught children how to behave in society. We were taught how to write professional letters and about community ethics: respect, love, and all that. My high school was located in the Salima District in Malawi. The school was near a lake so students would sneak out to go swimming there. Since I’d never had any swimming lessons, I was terrified of the lake, so instead I would go to a nearby garden that had a big mango tree, and I would lie under it and look up at the branches and just let my thoughts wander. I loved the peace and quiet; sometimes I would fall asleep. In high school I was an ordinary student, a background character in a movie of no significance at all. My grades were average in every subject.

Sometimes I wonder how I survived high school. Kids used to bully me because of my small size. I was tossed and kicked around like a small plastic bag; the meanest students in senior year sometimes locked me up inside a locker and left me there. But I never showed any sign of pain, never once did I cry or tell my parents about what I was going through. I just looked down and lost myself in my thoughts, refusing to let the pain get to me. Every evening my mother would ask me why I had bruises. I would give a fake smile and say I fell from a slippery guava tree. Life went on.

That summer the sun was so hot it was like a flaming monster trying to devour the earth. I was woken up one morning by a ray of sunshine. I looked up at the ceiling and sighed, “It’s Monday again.” I got up with a gloomy expression, dragging my feet like a zombie, shoulders dropped and arms hanging at my sides. My mom was in the kitchen cleaning and sweeping. I grabbed a cup of water and rinsed my face, put on my uniform, and started on my journey to school.

I walked a couple of miles as fast as I could with my tiny little legs. All of a sudden I heard chanting and singing. “Kondwani!” I heard a voice shout from some distance behind me. I recognized the voice. It was Jacob. He was a tall light-skinned kid who made my life in high school a living hell. As I turned around to face him— “Booooom!” Something came crashing into my face. My head started spinning, blood was coming out of my nostrils, and I fell to the ground, hitting my head so hard I lost consciousness.

When I regained consciousness, I saw Jacob and his friends in a boat, laughing and chanting, “Swim, little fish, swim!” Soon I realized I was drowning. My head was still hurting from the fall. My lungs felt heavy. I was flapping my arms like a monkey caught in the jaws of a crocodile. I did not know how to swim. I cried and shouted for help. “Is this the end? Is this what death feels like?” I thought to myself. I remembered my home, my mother, my father, and everyone who would miss me. My vision began to blur and the darkness enveloped me as I sank deep into my thoughts. I had always thought of death as the inevitable fate of all human beings. One day we are born and just like that the clock starts ticking until the day we die. I had actually made peace with the fact that one day I was going to take my last breath, but what terrified me was not knowing what happened after that. I thought all this as I struggled in the water, trying to stay afloat, but gravity was like a vacuum pulling me down to the bottom of the lake. I was shouting and crying and then my mind suddenly went blank, and in the silence I could feel my heartbeat fading.

Some time later I felt a breeze over my skin. I opened my eyes and a light shone into my face. I took a deep breath. It seemed I did not die after all. When I was drowning some fishermen saw me, and they rescued me and took me to the hospital. My mother was sitting beside me, tears in her eyes, relieved that I was alive. My father was outside the room shouting at Jacob and his friends. Jacob and his friends were later expelled from school. I transferred to another school. The incident made me appreciate life more; it changed me for the good. I began to look after myself and protect myself. I began to use my imagination to write stories and poems. Yet ever so often I still get lost in my thoughts.

15 May, 2023