Life: What a journey – CHARLES CHISALA
LIFE is not rosy for the hordes of hustlers milling in and outside the ever-congested Intercity Bus Terminus in Lusaka.
Each day is just as tough as the other with the average hustler completely blank about where his next bite will come from.
The weak ones resort to unorthodox means of survival which often land them in the hands of the law.
This particular day I went to the station with my madam to pick a parcel and money that were coming from Luapula Province by bus.
The time was just a few minutes after19:00 hours. One bus after the other was driving in and out of the station.
There were more arrivals than departures owing to the night travel ban for public passenger motor vehicles.
Being peak time it was difficult to find where to park our vehicle, but the hustlers are always on hand to ‘help’ as long as there will be “something for water”.
There were four to five of the notorious kaponyas standing by the roadside mobbing each arriving motor vehicle and offering all kinds of services, ranging from ushering to carrying luggage at a fee.
They saw that I was struggling to find space where to park.
The oldest of them, clad in an old pair of jeans trousers which were hanging over his ankles (don’t-touch-my-shoes), a fever coat and head soak walked over and offered to help create some space along the steel fence of the smaller station where Zimbabwe-bound buses load from.
When I managed to park the vehicle we came out. I thanked the man.
I could judge from the ‘burnt’ lower lip that he is a junta (highly potent cane spirit packed in small bottles) drinker.
He asked us what our mission was at the station, and we explained.
The man offered to carry the parcel from the bus and deploy his boys to guard our vehicle.
“Ishina lyandi ninebo Chanda [my name is Chanda]. I am originally from Luwingu district,” he introduced himself politely.
“Ifi fibaice fyandi [these are my boys],” he said, turning and pointing at his three younger colleagues.
“This one here is Chola,” he said, pointing at one of them.
When we told him we both hailed from Samfya district in Luapula Province he was very excited.
“Luapula is close to Luwingu. We are the same. Muli babbululu [you’re my relatives],” he said.
As we started walking into Intercity bus station Ba Chanda, as his henchmen called him, issued a stern instruction to the ‘boys’, “Look after the car, Chola, okay?”
But the ‘boys’ responded with laughter, wondering when Ba Chanda had learned how to speak English.
Ba Chanda rebuked the disrespectful ‘boys’.
“Be careful fibaice [young ones]. You think I am not educated just because we are found together here at Intercity? I am an educated Bemba from Luwingu,” he said in flawless English, which quite impressed me.
The ‘boys’ responded with sincere applause.
They clapped their hands and whistled with their lips to congratulate Ba Chanda on his good English.
The bus we were waiting for finally arrived from Samfya.
As we headed back to our vehicle with Ba Chanda carrying our fresh fish-laden cooler box on his right shoulder, he started complaining about how tough life was at the Intercity Bus Station.
“Sometimes we don’t make even enough to buy a plate of nshima. Yalikosa Ba anti [it’s tough, aunt],” he said.
I encouraged him, “I am happy that at least you and your friends work hard for your living instead of stealing from people even if things are tough.”
Ba Chanda vowed never to steal but work for his daily bread because he had learnt from what had happened to his friend a couple of years back.
“We had always warned him not to steal from travellers because some of them might be committed Christians who might complain to God, but he wouldn’t listen,” he narrated ruefully.
Ba Chanda said one day the person he was talking about was engaged to carry a traveller’s bag to City Market bus station for a woman who had just arrived.
He explained that the young thief eluded the woman and managed to disappear into the chaos of the teeming station, making off with the bag.
The hustler left the female traveller, who had a baby strapped to her back, wailing like a little girl.
“After he did that stupid thing he stopped coming here for almost one month for fear of being apprehended because we knew what he had done.
“When he started coming again we rebuked him and warned him that if he did such a wicked thing again we would report him to the party cadres and the police,” Ba Chanda narrated.
“You won’t like what happened to him a week later, Ba uncle,” he went on. “He was innocently walking to the station. He was metres away from the road, but a light truck careered off the road, followed him on the foot path and knocked him down killing him on the spot.”
He said his friend’s death had taught him a lesson he would never forget.
“But umugaizi alifwa ububi [it was a terrible death].”
I encouraged Ba Chanda to turn to God and refrain from crime to avoid a similar fate, which somehow frightened him.
“It’s better to remain poor than to steal and lose your life. Even in Israel, there were poor people who were faithful to God until their death,” I said.
I gave him the example of Lazarus in the Bible, who was Jesus Christ’s best friend but died a poor man.
“You have spoken well Ba uncle,” he said.
We found our vehicle intact.
I paid Ba Chanda K20, for which he was immensely grateful.
He waved at us as we drove away.