Chapter 3: Becoming a Man

By Emmanuel N.D.

The news was a devastating blow to the family and a deeply disturbing one. Mujago’s father hurried to the Msika Wanjala market, where his mother’s lifeless body was discovered, tragically missing her breast. He encountered the police officers who were already present and was subsequently escorted to the police station to provide a statement. Upon their arrival at the station, they discovered that others had already reported that Mujago’s father had killed his wife. As a result of this accusation, Mujago’s father was incarcerated.

When Mujago and his siblings arrived at Msika Wanjala market where their mother was killed, they found a crowd of people already gathered, discussing the news that their father had been accused of killing their mother. The children were left feeling lost and confused. As they tried to process the violent loss of their mother, they also grappled with the shocking news of their father’s imprisonment. With their father in the maximum prison in Lilongwe for a crime he didn’t commit, the siblings needed to support one another. When they returned from the market, they huddled together in their home, asking each other questions and trying to make sense of the tragic events.

Mujago, the eldest sibling, recognized that he needed to find a new home for himself and his brother and sister. They could not afford to live independently without guidance, and paying the rent was impossible for them as they were too young to find work, cover bills, and take on responsibilities. They decided to go to their aunt’s place who lived in the same town, Lilongwe area 2. They arrived at their aunt’s doorstep with heavy hearts, seeking refuge.

Their aunt, married to a man who harbored little affection for them, hesitated before letting them in. Her husband had a previous wife, and together they had six children. Mujago, his young brother, and younger sister coming from Msika Wanjala were still grieving the loss of their mother and the arrest of their father. They stood on the veranda, uncertain and vulnerable, their eyes reflecting the hardships they had endured. They had school bags containing their few belongings. The aunt struggled with her emotions, caught between her love for her sister’s children and her allegiance to her husband.

As Mujago and his siblings settled into their new home, they quickly realized that life had changed drastically. Their room was small with a shared bed. They were now living with people they barely knew, and their once comfortable existence was replaced with hardship. Food, clothing, and other basic necessities were scarce, and they had to adapt to a new way of life. Their stepfather, a harsh and unkind man, forced them to work tirelessly. They cleaned, cooked, and chopped wood, all while enduring his cruel treatment. Mujago’s younger sister had been given endless chores, her small fingers blistered from scrubbing. Mujago and his young brother, once full of laughter, now flinched at every raised voice, their dreams overshadowed by constant fear. They knew they had to change their way of living to survive, and they clung to each other for support.

Mujago’s father’s court case was closely monitored while he was in prison, but Mujago and his siblings were too young to follow it themselves. Instead, their aunt kept them updated on the case, and they occasionally heard news about it on the radio. After a four-month stay in Maula Maximum prison, Mujago’s father was found not guilty by the court and released. As the prison gates swung open, their father emerged, carrying a small bag containing his belongings: a few clothes and letters from his children. The children’s excitement was palpable, their faces lighting up with radiant smiles. His eyes welled up with tears of joy and relief as he locked eyes with Mujago, his strong, weathered face breaking into a tender grin. The children rushed forward, their steps quickening with a blend of anticipation and impatience, finally wrapping their arms around their father in a tight embrace. Words were initially hard to find amidst the overwhelming happiness, but soon laughter and affectionate exchanges filled the air. Amidst the laughter, their father whispered words of love and reassurance to Mujago, “I am proud and you have taken good care of your little brother and younger sister. Now you are a man.” Despite the death of the mother, their hands tightly intertwined. They walked away from the prison a united family.

26 October, 2023