Art by Hernease Davis
Imagine you kill someone at midnight. Not that you are very sure, but you are there, you see a dead man, you are right there.
Imagine what first words you can tell your wife. If you can tell her, that is.
If you can tell her.
Then remember, can you remember?
Then imagine no hair on top of your head, trunk long, face broad. Imagine that man, almost thirty-five.
Kipasamo Mwenempiki remembers, that night, the dead man, the fears.
Also, he does not remember, the things after the killing.
How did I find my way home?
How did I manage to sleep?
Did I even sleep, after all?
If you ask, who is Kipasamo Mwenempiki?
He is a man that is waking up.
What a way to start a day.
He looks up and there is a suspended fluorescent bulb that irradiates the gleaming sky-blue ceramic tiles and the colossal, mahogany double bed; he looks down and the glossy reddish cover of his blue mattress is glowing as if it is a torch powered by new Durata batteries. He checks his left, checks his right. He notices that Shaki is not in the plush, strawberry-smelling bedchamber.
Where is my wife?
Where on earth am I?
“She is the girl that imposed herself like a blooming woman but after two years of marriage, still is a girl, more girl now, maybe an infant even.”
He has killed and his uneasiness can tell there is something different about him. Something that numbs his wrists, his thighs, his elbows, his shins, his ankles and his calves; something that bites his stomach, that poisons his ligaments, that cuts his temples, that chews his insides, that kindles concussion.
All this is about killing someone, mind.
On a normal day, this unusual feeling could arrive because of the goading of Shaki.
She is the girl that imposed herself like a blooming woman but after two years of marriage, still is a girl, more girl now, maybe an infant even. The least you can say is Kipasamo does not go along with Shaki but it does not mean they always have to: husbands and wives are nemeses that vow to stick together forever; wives keep their rancor on their throats; husbands hide their disgust under their wrinkles. Shaki has her mood swings, Kipasamo has his own basket of ‘I don't want to speak’ and ‘I don't want to smile.’
The last time Kipasamo giggled, the chuckle was slyly disproportionate and inconsistent with characteristic indignation which Shaki had come to be acquainted with. To understand this, appreciate that marriage has its own discourse or context. Ask wives who they are married to, they will tell you, ‘A good husband is always a good husband, so too a bad one.’ The good husband can startle his wife by, one day, drifting into the pool of bad husbands, which is what pretty much every man is, anyway. For example, he will ask his wife, ‘Where is my lunch?’ and before she answers, he will shove her to the floor; that is a surprise, unexpected of him. Equally, the bad husband—which Kipasamo is for sure—will raise the eyebrows of his wife when he is suddenly good, holy like an angel, soothing like an air conditioner. For instance, when he kisses her and he is enjoying it, she can howl, ‘What the hell!’
The day he surprised his wife, Kipasamo caressed her and told her, ‘I love you’ and he accompanied that air of a bombshell with a warm, open smile, of all things, which meant he was not joking, which showed he meant whatever he was saying—and this made the whole puzzle even more complicated for Shaki. It would be better if he said his gibberish and smiled and then left without saying goodbye. She would assume it was an abrupt slip of tongue or maybe an accidental contortion of face. Shaki had been with Kipasamo long enough to know what he could do and what he could not, what was vacant of him and what was not. He liked to surprise her, but only so much. He could buy a new dress for her and she would thank him for the Dubai garb but she knew very well what every husband could do: buy a gift for a wife, that’s all. But on this particular day, Kipasamo’s I love you was not I love you of convenience, or of accommodating the principle of an association of two bound people, or of shooting a ball of sarcasm into her bosom. It was one that Shaki could see; it was one that she could touch; it was one that she could feel. It was a symmetrical line that was regular and pure, a line of sudden triumph and a line of impulsive catastrophe, a line of hope and a line of despair. It pushed her with a relentless abandon that was both reassuring and frightening. In Kipasamo’s self-ingratiating smile, Shaki located both her savior and her ghost, both her husband and her tormentor.
‘What did he eat?’ she asked herself—and this was a normal reflex. She could not let go of his stimulus, his from nowhere attitude. It was as though Kipasamo was swarm of bees that attacked a dog that was quiet at home. Shaki did not complain that she missed the things Kipasamo used to do for her: the boyfriend things, the fiancée things, the groom things. She did not whimper that he had changed, changed a lot. She knew him and then she started to understand him and then she started to accept him, to accept the good and the ugly, to accept that the good would vanish into thin air as swiftly as it had come; to accept that the ugly would come quickly and often. And so Shaki loved Kipasamo enough to stay, but not enough to expect him to care let alone to love her or to say ‘I love you.’ It was why she was astonished by his I love you and she felt stirred up and she would not let up.
‘I am not the reason for that big smile,’ Shaki said—and what she implied was, there was another woman.
There might have been another woman, men will always be men, but this smile was Shaki’s smile, Kipasamo swore inside his silence and he was sure of this. He was as hurt with her scorpion of mistrust as he was with his own elephant of being the cause.
This romanticism captures all that Kipasamo has become: a man that is clinging to a thread of love whose helpless cord is giving up; a man that is trying hard to walk into the temple of ultimate husbands but his antagonist is right in the house.
This is a small story. There are other stories, more heart-breaking stories. It’s fair to say Kipasamo is not a very happy man in a not very happy marriage, you will agree.
But this morning is far from the misgivings of his wife. The thing is: Kipasamo is waking up and he can’t forget that he has killed someone. That is the issue, not his wife, not his not so-very-happy marriage. He is stretching his happiness, yes, but is that not marriage, really?
Otherwise, these days, Kipasamo likes to be calm because, he tells his closest friend Vundakulwayo Mwapulika, ‘I am a gentleman’. To him, what is enough is he is married, married once. He is satisfied being married once, satisfied to be in a joyous bond, satisfied to seem unloving his wife in a loving way or to seem loving his wife in an unloving way, satisfied to have quarreled with her but to have never separated, never divorced.
Right now, Kipasamo Mwenempiki is looking at the wall: the long arm of the gold clock hits 9, the short one points at 4.
There are some things he doesn’t need to remember—things he already knows. For example, he knows that this is his house and this is master bedroom, his bedroom and his wife’s bedroom. What Kipasamo also knows is when Shaki is not here, it is because he has come after midnight and she is scared of late, hot-tempered conversation of:
‘Where are you coming from at this time?’
‘You’ll mind your business.’
‘I am your wife.’
‘I am your husband.’
‘Who was naked with you?’
‘You’ll shut up.’
The squabble usually ends with her bloody nose. So Shaki prefers to avoid his troubles altogether; it is how Kipasamo knows her logic, it is all down to the essence of calculation right now. Kipasamo is not sure how he entered his house, after all. It could be he found Shaki snoring. And maybe, she must have woken up when she saw him and then, she must have sneaked out of the expansive bedroom and she must be in the guest room, anyway.
Do you know what will happen in case Shaki finds out?
Will she tell the world?
Will she shut up, protect you?
Not so easy to tell, not certain.
It is a little dark but daylight promises to take over. It’s morning, December Thursday morning. There is a dense air that clings to the white POP ceiling, there is an impatient dusty wind that hangs on the deco windows. The English Premier League has not hit the climax, the wow moment of here we go ecstasy, because title pretenders are flirting with top positions and well, Southampton can't be second, Manchester City won't finish in the ninth position. Football is what throws Kipasamo towards his friend Vundakulwayo Mwapulika and they are friends for life, it is easy to intimate, friends before knowing his wife, buddies that call anytime and laugh anytime and gossip anytime. But football also whisks him away from the camaraderie of his wife. It's what contrasts the two of them, a young couple very much breathing tales of ‘I miss you’ and ‘kiss me like death’ but a pair so entangled in mixed years of optimism and gloom that they stand on shafts that can neither meet nor bend. If there is all else to discuss with her, it is not ‘Messi is better than Ronaldo’—or anything close because Shaki’s mouth won't send sensible impulses back to Kipasamo’s earlobes. Also, he will not entertain a motion of ‘Zee World is golden, my husband’ because there is no way Indians mean a life to him.
‘Indians are not Africans,’ Kipasamo always tells his wife, ‘As a matter of fact, they are more Europeans than they are us.’
Shaki does not agree; she is not an agreeing type but she does not fancy a debate over what are her hobbies and what are his tastes. His are overseas imports, awfully foreign, hers are only Asian inclinations.
Where she can, Shaki tells Kipasamo, ‘Indians know hunger, Indians know grief, Indians know greed, these are our African things.’
Besides, Shaki also watches Emmanuel TV; and her lovely prophet TB Joshua is an African, after all.
‘What’s your point?’ Shaki wonders.
The point is there is no point. The truth is the couple are two worlds apart; two vacuums separated by a deliberate, thin line. Kipasamo likes CNN and UEFA Champions League but he is not a Nigerian or a South African or an Egyptian, to start with. His country is the one that stunned him when he went to Germany and someone asked him a candid question, ‘Malawi, is it a village or a town in Africa?’ and he did not know where to start his reply.
Shaki says passion is universal, has no geography. It is how Kipasamo has come to absorb her insecurities, those scary bubbles that ascend and descend in the depth of her eyeballs.
From the very beginning, Kipasamo knew exactly what he was seizing when his uncles were escorting five cows for Shaki’s bride price and then, Kipasamo was busy saying, ‘Until death do us part’ and people were ululating and clapping their hands and chorusing their Amens as though he was a prophet that was propelled to ‘go deeper, man of God. I receive.’ There was he and his wife, a man and a woman with their specific sets of preferences—and this was no problem.
‘I’ll have to cope,’ Kipasamo told himself, ‘cope with our arguments, carry with me everything as they come.’
Just like now, he was not hunk handsome, not even fairly ugly. Hair drifting away from his forehead like he was a seventy-year-old, face broad and hard like a minibus that had crashed into a speeding lorry, skin defined by ups and downs as if it was all chiseled, cheeks choreographed by an ocean of pimples that dance like forever, complexion dark like an old bark. But what Kipasamo had was an aesthetically dry humor that could melt brass, that could invite foes to sit together and laugh like they were the best of companions. Plus, he possessed a shrill brain that was crowded with a long thread of lecture theater models. Then, what made him rather more affable was how good money, registering in seven digits, was clambering the quiet of his account every month end—but let it be known that this sense of coziness should not be mistaken with reading a straightforward narrative of a comfortable man with a plain sailing; let it be put forward that he did not have his first job until two years after his graduation; there were dismissal letters too. Shaki, then not his wife but a girl with pointed breasts, might not have really been a fan of an already-made jewelry but she must have fallen in love with Kipasamo’s telling potential, that assured sense of being dissimilar to a street man. Kipasamo tried his luck and Shaki loosened her sleeves. She studied him as if he was a patient before she accepted his proposal. He had a home that was her home: Karonga District. He had a dialect that was her own: Kyangonde. He had a tribe that was hers: Ngonde.
Easier to love than not.
It must also be said that Kipasamo discovered other things, prickly to him, tetchy to her, things such as Shaki was a Christian, Kipasamo was not so much, things such as she asked too much, ‘That's not wifely’ even his bachelor friend Vundakulwayo Mwapulika concurred with him but the discovery of these uncomfortable things was inevitable, commonplace. Lovers find themselves at crossroads. What matters is they find themselves there and must find themselves either through or out.
‘We will differ,’ he thought, ‘but our love will handle our differences.’
Now, though, they neither discuss the audacity of their love nor the kernel of their schism. In fact, all the couple does is differ, so much so that Kipasamo would rather speak and listen to his own wits; Shaki would rather speak and listen to her own senses.
Kipasamo Mwenempiki is now fully awake.
He is pretty sure of some things. For example, he is sure there was a dead man and he is sure that he was frozen.
He is not sure of other things, too, things like what happened to the dead man after he killed him. He doesn’t know where his remains are, maybe they are concealed, maybe they are still where they were, a little far from his modest abode. It's striking how anyone will find him, will pursue detective errands that he will effortlessly refer to as ‘ridiculously outrageous, outlandish and baseless charges.’
You will agree with him.
You will agree.
It's benign to say Kipasamo is safe but he should not tell his wife: that he doesn't know what started and he doesn't know what followed; that what he saw was a dead man, a dead man dead; that there were signs of a dead man who was killed, maybe by him, maybe by someone else. After all, at dead hours, anyone can kill anyone, it's clear. In these bothersome moments such as when you take away a life, you need someone to smooth out your tensions, someone to tell you to keep faith but the ‘someone’ should not be his wife. Shaki knows how to listen and she has the history of being exactly that.
In those fiancée days when she used to be—what Kipasamo boasted to his friend Vundakulwayo Mwapulika— ‘my soldier, my commander,’ Kipasamo was fired from a lucrative job. He loved the job and he was committed. He knew what gossips and rumors can do to a group of men and women converging at one place. He did not like these talks but in the end, the effect of speculation caught up with him and he was discharged. If Kipasamo was fired because he slept with his workmate, his expectation was that his wife would also sack him. Instead, though, she elected to stun him.
Shaki said, ‘Look, what makes this one your last job? There is another one. I can’t trust you more.’ Her composure could never have been more timely—and perhaps, she still has that poise. Also, Kipasamo’s wife knows how to position herself in times that weaken his muscles. It's not too long ago when his mother died. Death is always obnoxious to the bereaved; it erodes relevance; it removes confidence. Kipasamo was devastated; he felt the world bursting at the seams. His father had long gone, he had no brother, no sister. And now his mother was dead. It was as if he too was in the shining coffin that day. Somehow Shaki made Kipasamo believe, to believe that he was not alone, to believe that there was a purpose, to believe that there was life after his mother. She didn’t convince him but she made him see what he could not see: he was a man that would die and that was being a man, after all.
Of course, Shaki herself is a thirty-two-year-old second-born daughter of a deceased teacher and a deceased nurse. With Shakinongwa Nitikesyosa as her maiden name, Shaki has a slim, curvy, light-skinned body that is held by her five-feet-three frame, thoroughly gorgeous, exhaustively complete, tellingly exquisite, especially when she was only Kipasamo’s girlfriend. These days, she worships her iPhone and she is happy like that. But let’s say, she likes more to be a wife. Four years in a serious relationship followed by two of marriage and she is the reason. She has all those weaknesses that Kipasamo tells Vundakulwayo Mwapulika and the friend says, ‘Better die single. I won't marry for things that drain.’ Things that drain are things like what Shaki tells Kipasamo, ‘You can do better.’ Kipasamo is a man, his own man, not her man. It's wonderful to strive for perfection but it's adequate to be fallible. His wife thinks otherwise and this is their difference number one and also, Shaki’s first flaw: apparently, she had an image of an ideal husband and Kipasamo might have looked like one but it turned out he was not and he is not. It’s as if Shaki passed by a house and there was a song that sounded like One Republic’s “All the Right Moves” and when she got hold of it, it was not really that track. She tried to polish it but it was not one of her duties or her chores and it is now too late to find that favorite song of hers. There are other weaknesses: he fucks her and she wants more. This one is too disgraceful to explain even to a doctor who says sex is antidotal: ‘Please sir, understand your wife. She will not cheat on you.’ Talking of cheating, both of them have a record that does not augur well with being respected senior employees: lame accusations and complex excuses. A woman beeped Kipasamo’s Spark 4 Air at night and he picked up and he said, ‘I love you too’ because he thought Shaki was fast asleep. When Shaki spoke, all she wanted was for Kipasamo to be honest, to tell her if he had three or four or, even, ten extramarital affairs. He told her there was only one. When she asked him who it was, Kipasamo said she was his side chick and she was also his wife. In other words, Shaki was both his wife and his extramarital girlfriend; that was how annoying Kipasamo could become. For her mishaps, Shaki’s phone had a strange contact she saved as Dear and it wasn't Kipasamo’s number. First, she said it was her friend, a friend that was dear enough to be dear, a friend not a boyfriend just a friend, a friend Kipasamo didn't know and he couldn't know. ‘I’m sorry,’ Shaki told him. When this friend lie collapsed, she said it was her boss's number and he was dear because he paid her but Shaki would not let Kipasamo call him and prove herself right.
It’s funny to learn how spouses deal with these trust issues like ‘It is one of those things to be kept in the past.’ Theirs, too, are bygones, old but not absolutely forgotten. Both of them have become cautious but Kipasamo is more careful. He imagines one day, Shaki says, ‘There is a man that will marry me, just to prepare you.’ He imagines the debilitating implications of her thunderous bravery, the horrifying hurt of being lonely, the aching task of replacing what looks like a one-off of affection. It's a stupid thought but a genuine and a mature thought. It's moral to love, he tells himself, but it's also noble not to love. So his wife is his wife but also, his wife may not be his wife: he shouldn’t tell her he has killed a man even if it is not calculated, even if it is manslaughter. Shaki can handle a foolish man in whatever shape, that’s precarious enough but to defend a murdering husband is to presume shouldering a bulk of being an accomplice; it’s always repulsive even in the wildest of her dreams.
Speaking of murder, maybe it’s a little exaggerated, maybe it’s not murder or homicide. Maybe, it’s a story that can't be told, can't be posted in a written script, can’t unroll in a yes or a no examination.
Let’s take a look at the place of death—and especially, time, too.
In the middle of Item Street.
Where was a married man coming from, going? Suppose Kipasamo Mwenempiki says, ‘I was watching a mouth-watering Champions League match: Barcelona versus Juventus, Messi versus Ronaldo’ and it is indeed the correct answer, after all. Shaki always says, ‘You can watch at home’ but he always says, ‘Football is like church. You can always pray alone but congregation is what God advises.’
In this congregation, the plasma TV was stuck on a cream wall and Kipasamo sat in the front stools and he had a Coca-Cola bottle in his left hand and he wore a red but blue-striped Adidas-print t-shirt and he cheered and shouted, ‘Barcelona are winning’ but he ended up counting goals that were too many, not in his favor, against him.
‘Losing ensues in football,’ he bemoaned, ‘but conceding three goals is not acceptable for a club that is made to win.’
People, such as Shaki who doesn't treasure football, will say, ‘So what? Get a life, dude’ but people, such as Kipasamo who reveres goals and dribbles, will say, ‘The feeling after a loss is equal to that Jesus Christ movie especially where a nail was hammered into his wrist and he wept.’
And when Kipasamo’s team lost, it was agonizing, he couldn't sum up his emotion, it was also mystifying. In this state of confusion, it got trickier: he didn't know how he got out of Paris Sports Cafe, how he found his hands on the steering wheel, how the brand-new Yokohama tires were on the Chipembere Highway, how he was at Chichiri Roundabout, how he got into Item Street. Then, he came to a sudden halt, he also couldn’t remember how, as dumbfounded as he was.
There was a man down.
Did he hit him?
It’s difficult to tell at once.
Assume he ran into him, but where was the dead man heading to, coming from at this time? Did Malawi Gin spirit slosh into his esophagus? Perhaps, but Kipasamo was definitely not drunk, he doesn't take liquor. For context, Item Street (officially opened in the 1960s by late Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the first president of the Republic of Malawi) is an isolated road, more so in the darkest of hours, not to factor in at the height of midnight. There are no houses along the road, only institutional structures like Golden Peacock Hotel (constructed with support from People's Republic of China), Blantyre City Council, French Cultural Centre and Polytechnic Learning Facility, among others. The street is wider, almost a boulevard marked with a wired fence. It's tarmac but there are no street lights. It’s a splendid sight during the day; it’s a terrifying prospect during the night. People, especially those walking, have been robbed, have been stabbed to death. Remember a man that was late from work, searched for public transport but found none. He decided to walk and he as well decided to die. He would have screamed for help but it’s irrational to yell; it’s also silly to run away from your captors. Run to where before they get one over you? What is clear is, if they don’t catch you, you may have evaporated—and few have managed to evaporate if at all there is such a truth as there ever can be in a man evaporating. Fleeing makes sense for those who are driving and the only way they can get past is going at the speed of light, drive like they are the only traffic in the street. That is, if the robbers are not armed, if they are scared you have firearms, especially, if they are amateurs. And as for Kipasamo, he drove fast like a meteorite going into the space. And there was this dead man, blood in his neck, a broken back, skull torn in two halves, chest dismantled to shreds. When someone doesn't know what to think of a dead man, what they do is: they formulate theories—and Kipasamo’s theories were:
He must have been strangled and dumped into the road. Or he must have been hit by a reckless motorist who didn't want to declare ‘I am the one that has killed him, don’t bother.’ Or the dead man must have rammed into the crumple zone of Kipasamo’s Nissan Discovery or at worst, his car must have crept into the dead man’s frame.
Either school of thought, there was a dead man, dead like wood.
This December Thursday morning Kipasamo Mwenempiki muses over what to tell his wife—and what not to tell her; how to tell her—and how not to tell her. He will tell her everything. Then, not everything.
Or what if he doesn’t say anything?
It’s just a thought, only a thought.
Born and raised in Malawi, Helsea Ikwanga started writing as far back as when he learnt to use English letters. His specialty has been restricted to the art of short story writing but he is open to the challenge of crafting longer and more sustained pieces of prose such as novels. In 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize edition, his story “How to Kill Refuji” was longlisted and highly recommended by international expert readers. Because his short story “A Song to Sing” was included among top 500 entries in the 2017 issue, the writer earned a right to attend 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Workshop in Lusaka, Zambia where he was mentored by renowned and experienced novelists: Damon Galgut (South Africa) and Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia). His work has also been published in domestic platforms such as The Nation and The Daily Times newspapers. He is a graduate of University of Malawi.
Hernease Davis uses craft, photograms, cyanotypes, and sound performance as means to explore self-care and empathy. Her work has been exhibited throughout the US including at Houston Center for Photography, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts (NY), International Center of Photography (NY), and Center for Photography at Woodstock; it has been profiled in Lens Culture, Front Runner, and Musée. Hernease teaches at the Visual Studies Workshop (SUNY Brockport) and as Visiting Lecturer at ICP-Bard College.