Nina was a village girl. She grew up in a small village called Bango. When she was off from school, she used to help her mother with household chores like cleaning, washing plates, and searching for firewood from the nearest mountain with her friends. After she assisted her mother, she played netball with her school friends. Nina was loved by many people at school because of her talents in netball. She carried the flag of their school because she played the shooter position and never missed a goal when she caught a ball. Most of the students at Nina’s school lacked the motivation to work hard in class, and, like them, Nina had no dreams of becoming someone who could bring change to the community. But this changed when one of the medical universities initiated a program of educational and motivational talks in secondary schools. When the talks started, they assisted many students, including Nina. She started to work hard, especially in science subjects, to become a nurse.
Nina was passionate about becoming a nurse. She had long admired a nurse who worked at the nearest health clinic. The road to the clinic was very close to Nina’s home, and it was easy for Nina to see the nurse going to work every day. When Nina was sick, she was treated by this same nurse at the hospital. The nurse inspired Nina, especially because of her uniform (a white dress with a white cap on her head). Nina admired the uniforms that nurses wear, and she wanted to become a nurse in her village, just like the nurse working at the hospital.
After months of waiting for the results of the admissions exam at the medical university, Nina and her friends were returning from the mountain to look for firewood when they met their secondary school teacher. The teacher told them they should hurry home because the national radio station had begun announcing the names of successful candidates to attend university. They rushed home and waited to hear the names from her district. Boom! Nina heard her name from the biggest radio station in Malawi: “Nina Banda! Kamuzu College of Nursing.” She jumped and cried with happiness. She never thought that she would be among the selected candidates. Her friends and everyone in the community were very happy for her because she was hard-working and deserved to go to the university. Her parents came from the farm upon hearing the news. Her mother danced for her, her father killed a goat, and they invited friends to celebrate her victory.
Thereafter, her father went to the university to inquire about the tuition, boarding, and everything else. The university bursar gave him a quote for everything. Nina’s father, upon looking at the total amount, could not believe the number he saw. Remember, they lived in a village, and no one from his clan had gone to university; his poor daughter would be the first. Nina noticed something strange about her father when he returned home. She asked him what the problem was, and he told Nina that she should let him rest for a while. Nina was not happy with her father; she waited in her room, and after a few minutes, she heard him calling her name. Her father showed her the amount that he needed to raise and pay. He told her that even if he could sell the few goats that he used to rear, it might not be enough because he was supposed to pay that huge sum every year, four years in a row. He said he could not manage it. Nina could not believe what was happening to her. She never replied to her father, and she did not talk to anyone or eat food for two days.
Nina’s father called his two old friends to assist him in talking to his daughter. He invited these elders to his house and called Nina to bring them water. Nina’s father knew that if he had informed her ahead of time that people were coming to speak with her, she would have refused to show herself because she had never spoken in front of the elders. When Nina brought water, her father told her not to leave but to sit on the chair. Nina was surprised by this. What is wrong here? she asked herself. She sat on the chair that was placed in the corner of their small sitting room to show respect to the elders. One of the elders greeted her and said, “Your father has told us that you are not eating or talking to anyone. Why?”
Nina did not respond.
He further said, “This is not the end of your future; understand your father; he cannot raise such huge sums of money in four consecutive years!”
Her father intervened and said, “From now on, I will work hard on the farm so that I can at least educate your younger sister, who is in grade 7; perhaps she will also pass the exams and go to university. I am very sorry, my daughter, that I cannot manage to raise this amount of money!”
Nina remained silent and unresponsive.
Another elder said, “Please talk to us! At least we should know what is on your mind!”
Nina was nervous because she has never talked to elders and was surprised that her father had taken the matter seriously. Nina thought about what to say and replied, “I am very sorry, my elders, for my behavior. It is not that I hate my father, but I thought that the fees for the university were affordable and that my father could have managed to pay for me.” Nina cried, “I am feeling sorry for myself because I’ve lost my dream of becoming a nurse. I am very sorry I reacted in this manner!”
Her father comforted Nina by touching her hand and said, “I am so sorry my dear daughter, don’t cry, everything will be alright.”
The elders thanked Nina for her understanding and left. Nina confronted her father and reproached him for bringing his friends to help her with her issue. “What else could have been done?” her father defended himself. “I have tried many times to talk to you, but you were not willing to do so.”
Nina laughed at her father and said, “You made me nervous and shaken; you know I have never spoken in front of elders.”
Her father replied, “I am sorry, my daughter.” Everything returned to normal, except now Nina knew what she had to do.
After a month, Nina started a small business to financially support her father and raise funds for the university. She asked her father for a small amount of money to start the business of selling charcoal to the nearest small town. Her father sold a goat and gave her the money. She started with only a few bags of charcoal. At first, she carried the bags on her head and got dirty. Then she thought of buying small plastic papers to pack the charcoal so she could carry them easily. The business started growing because she formed friendships with many customers. It was easier for her because she delivered charcoal to their homes. At the end of every day, there remained only a few plastic bags to sell to people passing by.
One day, when Nina was selling her remaining charcoal, she saw a car drive up and stop nearby. She was working with another customer, so she could not look up to see who it was. As the customer gave her change, the car turned off its engine. That was how she met Mr. Grey. He was handsome with a brown complexion. He was called Mr. Grey because of his wealth, as he had many businesses in town. But Nina was not aware of his wealth because she was staying in the village. Mr. Grey asked Nina if she wanted a lift, which she denied. She told Mr. Grey that she was busy selling charcoal. Mr. Grey asked, “Why are you doing such business, a beautiful girl like you?” Nina responded, “I am looking beautiful because I am doing this kind of business, and there is no problem with me.” Mr. Grey was surprised by Nina’s response. He bought all the remaining charcoal from her and again offered her a lift home. Nina finally accepted as she was tired of roving around selling charcoal on such a sunny day.
In the car, Mr. Grey asked Nina about her background. Nina, with her innocent mind, told Mr. Grey everything, including her shuttered dreams of becoming a nurse. Nina was a bit excited because she thought Mr. Grey was a politician, and many politicians pay bursaries for students in other locations in Malawi. Nina hoped that this cute, rich man who was listening to her story attentively would come to her rescue. She also inquired about Mr. Grey’s biography, but he told her that he would return another day to discuss it because he was late for an important business meeting. Mr. Grey dropped Nina off and promised Nina that he would come back the next day.
The next day, Nina left her home early to purchase charcoal. When she returned, her heart stopped: there was Mr. Grey’s car parked by her house. Nina was very shy because she never told her parents that yesterday she met Mr. Grey and that he dropped her home. According to Nina’s culture, it is taboo for a girl to be with a man alone without the knowledge of the parents. She greeted Mr. Grey while kneeling down and introduced him to her father as a friend. After a few minutes, Mr. Grey told Nina’s parents that he was leaving. Nina escorted him and got in the car, as she wanted to hear the story behind Mr. Grey.
Mr. Grey took Nina to a park, and he ordered some juice while they sat on a bench. Nina started to fall in love with Mr. Grey, not because he was rich but because of his good character and the way he respected her parents when he left her home. They chatted about their youth, especially their achievements and weaknesses. Mr. Grey told Nina to meet again after a week because he was attending a business conference in one of the big cities in Malawi. He drove her back home, and then he drove to town, where he stayed. Nina was somehow scared of Mr. Grey because she had been dumped by her first boyfriend for another girl after a few months of dating. She thought that could happen again. But because of the way Mr. Grey talked to her, she thought he might be a good guy. He seemed humble, and he respected her.
Nina told her parents and her friends that she was falling in love with him. Her friends mocked Nina, saying that she had fallen in love because Mr. Grey was rich, and her parents accused her of the same. Nina denied the accusation and said there was an inner connection between herself and Mr. Grey. She explained to them that they shared many interests, including the culture of doing business.
After a week, Mr. Grey came again to her house and found Nina resting after a busy day of selling charcoal. Upon hearing the sound of Mr. Grey’s car, Nina rushed outside and hugged him. They drove to the same park as before. They shared their experiences from the past week. Mr. Grey asked Nina to close her eyes because he was about to give her something. He hid a rose in his pocket at the back, which Nina did not notice. “Please accept my flower as a symbol of my love for you!” he said as he knelt down on one knee. “Be my girlfriend, Nina; I now know that you and I are truly meant to be together.” Nina was short on words: “Yes!” Inside her heart, she wanted this to happen, but she was not expecting that Mr. Grey would do such a thing. Nina had a habit of crying when she was very excited, and she started crying now. “I accept your love from deep down in my heart, and I hope you will not disappoint me in the future.” While receiving the flower, it slipped from Mr. Grey’s hands and dropped into the mud. Mr. Grey picked up the flower and gave it to Nina, and she hugged him. That was a bad sign, and they both pretended like they didn’t see it.
1 February, 2023