WE FINALLY crossed another river on a pontoon as the sun set before we arrived in Kalabo by 18:00 hours. It was hot and humid. Kalabo was
smaller than my home small town of Lundazi in the Eastern Province of Zambia. The only small rest house we stayed at served us nshima with chicken. The following morning, I spent an hour inspecting the small NAMBOARD depot. The only one employee who was the manager complained about the delay of delivery of fertiliser from Mongu provincial headquarters since the December growing season was just two weeks away. Soon after we embarked on our long return journey to Mongu.
That night at about 21:00 hours Mr Mundia and I walked from Lyambai Hotel to Sinjonjo Bar to see if I could by the remotest chance still find the mystery chiphadzuwa or chipeshamano woman. As fate would have it, I was desperate to meet her again since I was flying back to Lusaka the following morning. We waited and waited as I bought several rounds of beer and chit-chatted with Mr Mundia at the bar; not as my NAMBOARD driver but this time as one desperate young man trying to help another. I had been watching the bar entrance like a hawk. She suddenly popped in. I saw her quickly surveying the bar clearly searching for someone. Once her eyes locked with mine, chiphadzuwa walked towards me. I was very ready knowing this may be the last time I might see her.
When I shook her hand in the Zambian greeting, I held it a while longer this time to feel her soft hands. She drew nearer and stood closer to me.
“Something…something…Kaonde and…something Silozi…something…something,” she said hastily suspiciously glancing at Mr Mundia, laughed nervously.
“Bo Mundia,” I quickly asked. “What is she saying, what is she saying!!??”
“She is saying she speaks Kaonde but knows very little Silozi. She is asking if I am a spy.”
“No, no, no,” I shook my head. “Tell her you are my friend. Tell her we work together at NAMBOARD. Ask her name. Ask her why she thinks you are a spy. Ask her who that man was the other night who took her away from me.”
“Something…something…something, Chintele, Ikelenge…Kaonde…Linda,” she said rapidly as she began to tag and pull my arm with both her hands toward the door.
“Bo Tembo, she says the other night she was with her cousin who was watching her. She is from the small village of Chintele in Ikelenge in Mwinilunga north of here. Her name is Linda. But she can tell you more outside the bar because her cousin may have spies here.”
All three of us walked out of the bar and turned to the right along the wall where it was more discrete. I beckoned Mr Mundia to come and stand closer to us. She leaned against the wall and held my right hand between both her hands and began squeezing my hand between her hands playfully. This immediately set my body on fire. I leaned my left elbow on the wall with my palm supporting my head next to her head, felt her warm breath and tried to kiss her. She moved her head to the side the last second and softly tapped me on my shoulder lightly pushing me away while smiling.
“Something…something…something…something?” she asked Mr Mundia.
“Bo Tembo, she is asking what is your name and what do you do in Lusaka.”
“Tell her, I am Mwizenge Tembo, from Chipata or Lundazi, I speak Nyanja. She can call me Tembo. What’s her Kaonde name. I am a staff training officer at NAMBOARD in Lusaka. Ask why she came here to Mongu. Tell her I am very attracted. I love her. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
This time the conversation was getting longer between Linda and Mr Mundia because of so much information. I was beginning to get jealous that Mr Mundia might just try to steal her for himself during the translation. Linda was at first animated and then she paused the playing with my right hand between her hands. She looked down with anguish and sadness as if she was about to cry.
“Bo Mundia,” I asked anxiously. “What did she say? Why is she sad?”
“Bo, Tembo, it is a long story. She says she is happy you find her beautiful. But she said all men say that to women. She says her Kaonde name is Jitanda, which means bright star. She asked me how do you say I love you in Lusaka city Nyanja. She likes to hear it. Her parents had arranged marriage for her to a man she did not love and did not want to marry. She ran away from her Chintele village in Mwinilunga to get away and hide at her cousin’s house in Mongu. But her cousin betrayed her. He wrote a letter to the village that Jitanda was at his house. Her uncle, who owns a truck is a fishmonger in Mwinilunga. He drove to Mongu to buy dry fish. Her cousin and her uncle are making sure she will be on that truck, when going back to Mwinilunga. She is afraid and sad.”
I slipped my right arm around her tender soft waist and pulled her to my chest and whispered I was sorry. She leaned her head on my left shoulder and sobbed, throwing her left arm on my right shoulder. Her soft bosom heavily leaning on my fast thumping chest inflamed my body and my passion for her was so overwhelming that it boiled over. I wanted to protect her. I wanted to furiously pierce with a spear his wretched heart any man who wanted to torture this my beautiful soul. We breathed hard hot steam like two furious Cape buffaloes fighting to the death. I desired to devour her like nshimas with a thousand delicious dendes, ndiyos or relishes; chicken, beef, rape, delele, beans; all together. I wanted to devour her like a thousand delicious mangoes. We kissed deeply, desperately, and passionately like the world and tomorrow did not exist at that moment. We meshed as one and almost on the edge of death with passion for each other.
Suddenly she pushed me away. She had seen something over my shoulder. “Something…something…bar…,” she said as I held on to her hand as she tagged away from me toward the bar entrance. Mr Mundia had moved a good distance away from us, no doubt to get away and seek safety from the dangerous fire-sparks from two passionate lovers.
“Bo Mundia!” I shouted breathlessly. “What is she saying?”
“She says her cousin is here looking for her. It must be the man who just entered the bar. She has to go. She has no choice.” There was a pause. “Bo Tembo,” Mr Mundia spoke in a low tone, “she is not a local girl. She loves you. She has not even asked you for money.”
“Bo Mundia!!” I pleaded. “Oh, please ask her to come with me to the hotel. She can come with me to Lusaka. She can sit on the floor of the plane. She can slip away with me. She can hide in the hotel with me. Tell her, I swear I won’t touch her all night!!”
“Something…something…something,” she replied.
“She says she is not that kind of girl. It is bad enough that she is at a bar. If her family heard she had spent a night at some hotel with a man she was not married to, she would be called a prostitute. That would be the end of her life. She might as well be dead.”
A minute later, Linda came out with her cousin and they were engaged in an animated argument. She pointed in my direction. She sadly and painfully waved at me as she reluctantly walked away into the dark night. I felt a nail hammered into my heart.
The following morning at 10:00 hours, the half-full 35 passenger Zambia Airways two propeller plane was raving loudly, getting ready to taxi for take-off at Mongu Airstrip.
The door was still open and Mr Imasiku and Mr Mundia were still standing by to see me off. A young man ran to Mr Mundia, said something, and handed him an envelope. Mr Mundia looked at the envelope and rushed to the still open door of the noisy raving plane and beckoned me to come to the door.
“Bo Tembo, a young boy on a bicycle brought this letter to the NAMBOARD office this morning. It is addressed to you.”
I put the letter in my jacket pocket. The Zambia Airways Friday weekly plane flew from Lusaka that morning. It was now going to fly to Sesheke to drop and pick up passengers.
Then it would fly to Livingstone to pick up some tourists and back to Lusaka. As I stared at the beautiful landscape below, I realised at that moment through a glaze of my own tears that Linda Jitanda had just made me love Zambia even more and forever.
How could you not love your country if it gives you such a beautiful soul of a woman; everything that a man worships in a woman? Why would she have to marry a man she did not love?
I was thinking of the best moment to open the envelope. The thoughts and anticipation tormented me so much that I decided, with my hands shaking, to open the envelope while flying calmly between Livingstone and Lusaka.
21 November 1976
Dear Husband Tembo,
I don’t know to write. Only know Kaonde. I ask friend to write for me. I am very happy to meet you. I love and think look you for 4 days. Last night I give you all my heart forever. I cry. You good man. Go back to Chintele village today. Come to Lusaka. Marry, clean house, cook food, speak Lusaka Nyanja. Make you happy. Nikukonda maningi Tembo. Meet in Heaven forever.
In Part III, next week Friday, the author talks about his journey to North-Western to look for Linda Jitanda.