The Man at the Door


Helsea Ikwanga

Art by Artschoolscammer


Yasini Baligani Pombe, or Bali for his liking, is going somewhere.

Going somewhere, to his house, which may not be his house.

Bali goes west of Indian Ocean, not Mozambique, in fact, he goes further west of Cabo Delgado where there is a song which goes like We are Muslims, don’t we? Don’t we? We are people, don’t we? Don’t we, he goes not to Tanzania where Swahili whispers are squirming in the velvet sky, but rather south of Kyela where his blooming silhouette cuts into the circumference of the virgin morning breeze.

Bali crisply craws into the bewitching expanse of Malawian flora via Songwe Border where brow-furrowed immigration officers leave their arms at V and gesture for him to please stop and ask him headless questions about his border pass which he doesn’t bother to produce—and many don’t produce because what’s the use?—and about his passport which he doesn’t have—and many don’t even have an idea what the thing is.

Bali cringes his head at a lopsided angle and the hungry temples of the men in uniform flush on a wad of his gleaming shillings and kwachas and their otherwise noble duty, which delicately spins around a whiff of lust, propels his bushed limbs to scurry, as the officers mumble their provocative Swahili “Furahiya kukimbia kwako” and their fascinating Chichewa “Muyende bwino.”

Bali submits the sticking weight of his luscious buttocks to a fully-packed yellow minibus as the disconcerting aroma of Sango fish from Songwe River ricochets through open spaces and he finds a suffocating purchase at the back seat where the horrifying stench that mobs his busy nose is that of a rotten egg mixed with that of a dead fish; and at once, he realizes that the thing here is: business and bathing are like water and oil, men keep their mortal stink in their armpits, women keep their lethal odor in their undies—and that’s okay “as long as we have our merchandise and we have customers home,” they say and if you want to know, they purchase their clothes and their wrappers in Kyela District of Tanzania and they sell their merchandise at more than double the purchase price and their market is their home and home is Malawi where people crash bubbles of ice into the embers of petrol fire until their mighty deity listens, where wiry women climb to peaks of mountains because God is there and God will give them their husbands, where electric power will locate your house after years of asking but don’t be too excited because blackouts, too, will come.

A few years ago, Yasini Baligani Pombe, or Bali for his liking, bought bricks and cement and timber and iron sheet; and a house was almost built, almost because there was no more money, almost because the house was not complete and then, there was xenophobia because Malawians were saying Tanzanians had to go and Bali did not want to die, he had to flee. Now Bali is going to see his house, a house which may not be his house.


Bali is at Karonga Boma where summer leaves slap the comforts of the burgeoning boulevards and then, he walks along Chitipa-Karonga Road going northwards like he is going to Chitipa where joyous women love with the sleeves of their cheeks when the thing between your legs promises fireworks of Christmas. He walks some more and sees a glaring billboard announcing ‘WELCOME TO CHANKHALAMU DIOCESE’ where people come to make confessions that later become “touch me like that, brother.”

Bali walks a little more and turns to his left so that his eyes lock with the mind-boggling spectacle of the diocese whose perimeter is as striking as are tousled wrinkles of Bishop Sylvester Mwafulirwa who triumphantly stands on its pulpit.

He pushes his way to late Tata Mungetemwesa Gondwe’s mahogany-painted shop which has a somewhat derogatory and boisterous KyaNgonde inscription ‘FYANGU FYO FYANGU,’ literally translating to ‘MINE IS MINE,’ and he greets late Mr. Gondwe’s widow—fondly known in these spaces as Bunga—the chubby yet self-deprecating woman in the shop who asks him with a face of someone that has loathed him forever, “What do you want?” instead of asking him, “How can I help you, customer?”

Bali tells her he is going somewhere, he does not say he is going to his house and Bunga makes a stinging slur sound that can dismantle her husband’s grave and Bali drinks in her seductive rebuke even if he wishes he could chop the stout neck off her pumpkin-like head but he eschews the bubbles of a potential misogynic storm that may ensue.

He turns around late Gondwe’s rectangular shop as if he is heading to Bwiba Catholic Institute, the one that was constructed with a fat check that flew all the way from old cardinals that form a retinue in Nairobi, and he treads, ever so carefully, on a sandy road with his long tongue wagging like he is Mama Vero’s dog that eats once a month, and then he is swallowed by the breathtaking green of Mwanganda woodlands where a threesome of crickets chime in for a familiar childhood chorus. As he puts each cautious step forward, he fights against the impossible aura of meeting a lion that can divide him into two or three or meeting a cobra that can shoot a drip of poison into his blistering groin.

Bali then plods in the face of a tombstone engraved ‘MRS. DINNAH MWAMPAGHATWA, BORN 21/08/1959, DIED 17/03/2013, BURIED 19/03/2013, REST IN PEACE.’

Yasini Baligani Pombe, or Bali for his liking, is still going because he has not seen his house but knows he will see it soon.

Bali passes an isolated, concrete borehole that dings on the cunning lips of Honorable Anganile Mwamondwe who, with his blue tie swinging in the hot of air, always said, “Vote for me again, I will bring more developments.”

Bali then sees Mwesha Hill, that gloomy Old Apostolic Church where a boy complains of headache that swirls through nerves in his head and his mother says, “God will find you” and everyone applauds the audacity of her faith and the boy makes a face that tells the mother to listen carefully and the mother listens and then does not listen and the boy touches his stomach as his bowels sing a national anthem but the mother, still ingrained in her shrewd benevolence, prays, “God, heal my son” before the boy’s breath cascades, and then hushes up and the mother shouts “My son, can you hear me?” and the boy does not answer.

Bali then crosses Mwesha River, ever so diligently, clothes rolled to his knees, cardigans blowing in the untidy winds and shoes (are they, really?) suspended in his hands and the venom of angry tides fang his cold toes as if to stop him from thrusting forward.

Yasini Baligani Pombe, or Bali for his liking, is still going because he misses his house which may not be his house.


Bali saunters through Chamavi Bush which stinks like the behind of Tata Wangu Inn where people export and import all quantities of HIV and his brothers Syphilis and Gonorrhea and Candidiasis.

He then strolls a little more and sees a ragged hut that keeps an old woman whose husband died although she did not know until after a week because she was too drunk.

Bali then walks for a few seconds until his eyes settle on a brick bungalow that looks deserted and is not finished: windows filled with sacks, roof covered partly with corrugated iron, partly with a grass thatch, a big house, maybe five huge bedrooms and a giant living room and a gigantic dining room, but not completed yet—and alone: four of the neighboring houses in sight are each almost ten minutes away.

Yasini Baligani Pombe, or Bali for his liking, has seen his house—and the bungalow is his house, but Bali is not relieved.

He glides towards the veranda of the bungalow whose rough floor has patches of concrete and he throws his right fist at the wooden door with a bang of someone that whips the leather of a Mapenenga drum and then he knocks again, hoping to awaken someone or something from a start; after some edgy minutes pass, a fairly young man opens the door, only a crack, then opens it fully ajar because there is no use hiding and the man stands at the doorjamb with foundered eyes, with a mixture of deep shock and introspection and Bali learns that not too far from here, there is a house that hosts ego-driven royalty and that village headman is Mwanganda who has gone to America and speaks English through his hollow nostrils, but Bali doesn’t care about who is blessed and who is not blessed because his eyes are on the man at the door, who himself is choked with emotions and is full of questions, yet apparently empty of answers.

Yasini Baligani Pombe, or Bali for his liking, is not a man to fight but he does not know the man at the door and his house was supposed to be vacant.

Bali is looking at the man at the door, who the man thinks he is and who the man is, really.


If you want to know the man at the door, the man, maybe thirty, who likes to skulk to his neighbor’s transparent curtains and watches a war on TV and Ukrainians are asking his people, “Help us” and his people are saying, “How can we help you?” and his people are also saying, “How can we be thinking about what to eat and then, we are also thinking about …” and his people are laughing in the way you will mock a man that borrowed your money and comes back to borrow more money.

If you want to know the man at the door, the man that likes to take his screen-tainted Samsung smart phone and opens Google and types the word xvideos and watches young women undress and display their delicious breasts and their wet creases that vibrate with vicious powers and there are men, some with a skin that looks like misty coal tar, some with muscles that look more artificial than superficial they are, and the men, with pure softness and tenderness, clamber onto the resigned bodies of the naked women and the rest, as they say, is history.

If you want to know the man at the door, the man that likes to reduce his trunk to a sleeping position like a whore that has sold her real life to wonder and then he unzips and tells the thing that is long and monstrous to see the naked bodies on his phone and then, the thing, such a thirsty thing, obliges and bulges to a strain of pressure, he takes the thing, such a morbid thing, into his clenches and then, calls for friction to explode and lets white, creamy fluids out and glances as his frail heartbeat vaporizes on the walls and he smiles a smile that is satisfying and complete, feeling like one lucky bug, and he weaves his forlorn soul outside and sits under the antique mango tree and grabs all the pull of cool winds that blush his eyelashes.

If you want to know the man at the door, the man that loves to call his girl—there is a girlfriend by the way—and tell her “I love you” and she says “I love you too,” and the couple, like all lovebirds, thrives, laughs, and he tells her, “Will you come tomorrow, I am horny” and she says “Tomorrow, that’s fine” and the girl sometimes comes, sometimes does not come until she says, “I have something that has been troubling me” and she says, “I am not saying it’s over,” and then she says, “I hope you will find someone that loves you.”

If you want to know the man at the door, the man that has gone to school and has got a bachelor’s degree in social economics from University of Malawi, the Polytechnic, but has no job five years after graduation and has nothing really and has stayed with aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who have had a lot to crow about because they said, “We too have other people that look up to us” and one cold morning, the man at the door was looking at himself in a mirror and at once, he saw an image of someone else, someone in solitude, someone left to do all by himself, someone left to figure it out and then, in the end, after thinking this and dismissing that and after measuring this and ignoring that and after asking this and answering that, he discovered that he was someone that had nowhere to go.


“If you want to know the man at the door, the man in a self-destruct mode that has played with the idea of suicide because he believed it could feel mellow as if it were pellets of ice cream that you swallow for the first time in your life and then, sometimes, the man has dismissed the thought of suicide because he said, ‘It doesn’t make sense to die when all you can do is live,...’”


If you want to know the man at the door, the man who hired a bicycle taxi which helped him through Karonga-Chitipa Road, the cyclist pedaling with a hell of rush such that the man at the door had never experienced and the taxi dropped him at the Roundabout and then, he had to negotiate with the chaos of congested housing behind Nitikesyosa Maizemill and he asked, “Where does Prophet Mfwilaseko Simeza stay?” and they said, “You are still, keep going” and he walked through muddy views and smelling toilets and glossy Airtel and TNM towers and ubiquitous Premier Bet vessels and he asked again, “Where is the Prophet’s house?” and they said, “You are not there yet but you will be there,” and he walked through gatherings of funerals and meetings of village peasants and sermons of church elders and he asked again, “Do you know Prophet Simeza’s house?” and they said, “Do you see that house that is blue? Not that house. You will pass that one and then you will find a church and you will turn right and the house you see that is beautiful, it is his house. There is a brick fence and there is a black gate,” and Prophet Mfwilaseko Simeza, quite unassuming unlike in the popular culture, gazed at the man’s stolid face from the corner of his red eyes and he shook the monster of his head with a sense of panic that could even dislodge ESCOM poles that were behind his house, and then he took a haste stock of the man’s features, from the top of his head down to his knees, and the prophet asked the man who he was and the man realized that said Prophet Simeza did not know him but he did not say, “As a prophet, you must know me in your vision—and why I am here” and then, after Prophet Mfwilaseko Simeza asked the man other questions like “Do you have faith?” and after he prayed for him, the prophet said, “You can think I have a big house, you can think I live alone.” He exhaled before he continued, “Do you know who I live with? Angels have bedrooms. I could accommodate you but the house is full. Just pray hard, my brother” and the man was definitely amused but also displeased.

If you want to know the man at the door, the man in a self-destruct mode that has played with the idea of suicide because he believed it could feel mellow as if it were pellets of ice cream that you swallow for the first time in your life and then, sometimes, the man has dismissed the thought of suicide because he said, “It doesn’t make sense to die when all you can do is live,” and then he has tried to think, “What if I attempted?” and then, he has tried to think, “What if I don’t?”

If you want to know the man at the door, the man who walked and still walked because he had hope which was not too much but still was hope and that night, he had nowhere to sleep and he asked the first man, “Can I sleep in your house just for tonight?” and the first man, easy on the eye, said, “Go to your uncle’s” and the second man, his face brighter than a shooting star, said, “Your aunts should answer” and the third man, with a surreal humor, said, “My house has no spare room” and the fourth man, with a sonorous voice, said, “I wish I could help but something is telling me no” and the man walked and still walked with hope that was not too much but still was hope and there was a house, not complete but he decided it was habitable; and in morning and the morning after and the morning after, after he had uprooted the tallest of weeds and after he had swept the debris on the floor and after he had smoothened mounds, no one said, “Leave my house” and the house was, in his words, fine, no piercing noise at night, no billowing stare of an owl, nothing; and then, after a week and a week after and a week after, after he had put sacks in the windows and after he had put a latch on the front door and after he had fixed grass thatch in the master bedroom, no one said, “Please leave this house, it is mine” and the house, in his words, was okay, no ghosts in the corridors, no tempers of marauding birds, nothing; and then, after a month and a month after and a month after and a month after, after the house was not looking perfect but looking like someone’s house and after the house still had this smell but let’s be honest, there was a considerable difference, after gossiping women said their words that were not compliments but the words inspired him to transform the house even more, the feeling of making this house his own must have started to bloom and must have sparkled infinitesimal pebbles of ‘this is possible’ and must have ignited curious molecules of ‘do it now’ and then, slowly like the slit of a tortoise, he took to the plain sky and looped his mind into a net and he discovered that the feeling of being called an owner was a tempting offer and fittingly so, and then, he made-believe himself that the house was his or was going to be his and then, in that way, it occurred to him—even if it could be he was apparently sitting on a ticking bomb identical to the Fat Man of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—that the house was his own; and when he was sure the house was his, he shouted and shouted again and shouted again, even louder, and his voice echoed in the morning air and he declared, “This is my house,” and then he laughed, no signs of schizophrenia, no signs of a mind gone bad and he was even reading about How to register a real property and even about How to obtain a title deed, not far-fetched an idea but isn’t that being too ambitious? “Far from the point,” he said, “The issue is this is my house, full stop.”

And the issue that this house was, indeed, his house must have been rehearsed, must have been molten on a crucible, must have been frozen in an ice chamber, must have been cooled in open air, must have settled for all to see. And then, the man at the door happened to have a house—and the bungalow you see right now in front of your eyes, incomplete but splendid in his words, is his.


Look at the man at the door carefully.

One, he is Byronically handsome to some, especially to girls that let him come into them.

Two, he is dark like burnt shell of Napolo snake that invited incessant rains, destroying Phalombe villages in 1991.

Three, he is tall like a blue gum tree in Mwanjabala Village, which when it was being cut didn’t feel the momentum of the axe because old men of the village said, “It is the only tree that has seen heaven.”

Four, he has a witty pace that makes people gossip, “Where is he rushing to?” and “Won’t he fall?”

Five, he has a voice that does not start World War III; it only sticks to nerves in a way that blue seal lotion will clatter the freedom of your skin.

Six, he might be a Christian.

How much ounce of banality must a head gain to turn Christian? And maybe, half of him is that Christian man, maybe half of him not much and he knows all those God things, he knows of a man that said, “Let there be light” and there was light, he knows of a man who commanded a sea to divide into two so that God’s people passed through, he knows of a man who used a bull’s horn to murder other people and heaven clapped hands, he knows of a man who multiplied two slices of bread into thousands and there was no stock margarine, he knows little about women except that one was a prostitute and she confessed her sins to her master and there was love between them.


In reality, the man at the door was a Christian at first and he said good things about otherwise confusing creation theories and people at his church said, “In you, there is the Holy Spirit,” then he started to ask questions and other questions and more questions, questions that were not too Christian, questions like “Jesus was born in Jerusalem, why was he not born in my Mwanganda Village?” People at his church said, “Chase the devil,” causing him to ask more stupid questions and other stupid questions and some more stupid questions, questions like “Joseph did not sleep with Mary and their son was born, who was the real father?” and questions like “My mother died at twenty and I am thirty, who will be older upon resurrection?” People at his church said, “Blasphemy.” Now he doesn’t ask questions and since he has discovered a whirlwind of illusions lacking certainty.

And Tumpale is the man at the door.

His citizenship identification card, which dangles from the base of his neck, says his sex is M and his date of birth is 21 Apr 1992 (but the identification card does not talk about his twin sister, who said Tumpale’s mother was born in the morning and was dead in the afternoon). The identification card, which is now six months old, also says his full name is Tumpale Fyabwakabwaka Mwambyale, each name derived from KyaNgonde whose defiant diction is as radical as the pensive persona that preaches its essence. In 2004 when Tumpale was a boy, maybe thirteen with glimpses of first love, and he was in standard six and his graceful mother was someone he called his best friend, his mother’s bony frame propped on one elbow and then, she placed her hands on her bosom and she said, “Something is moving in my stomach like a snake and it is moving fast,” and then the slim nurse, pumping her bloodied fists, said, “What can I say that I have not said?” and then his mother was a dead mother just like that. By this time, Tumpale’s deadbeat father, whose appalling face Tumpale could not recollect, had taught his mother how to thrive on the fringes of his lies and had already said words that were biting and were final and were especially enough: he said, “I am coming” but he never came back—and has not come back.

Yasini Baligani Pombe, or Bali for his liking, is still looking at Tumpale right now and Bali reckons that Tumpale is not just the man at the door, he is also the one that is staring at Bali as though he intends to find a sharp knife which he will use to stab Bali’s abdomen and eject his intestines to be sure if his blood, too, has hemoglobin—and the way Tumpale’s stare is steadfast and assuring, there is no doubt what can make him happier.

“Please, go away,” Tumpale does not tell Bali but in case Bali still has no clue, his presence is as unwelcome as can it ever be repulsive.

Tumpale thinks Bali could be anything; could be someone who is looking for a job, any job, even slashing bush; could be a thief who is desperate to steal anything, even a shirt hanging on the line; could be an assassin looking for a man to sacrifice in exchange of millions; could be a police officer investigating something sinister. Maybe this house, maybe Tumpale.

And Tumpale also thinks Bali could even be the original owner of this house.

“Impossible?” Tumpale does not want this to be true, which explains his disgust, explains everything. He doesn’t want Bali to be the owner, not because he will have nowhere else to go, not because Malawi Police Service will charge him for displaying conduct likely to cause breach of peace, but because this is his house—he has dressed it and he has fed it, he announced his intention to own the house and he announced his ownership and he announced his happiness to own and no one came to ask him questions. He owns a house and this is his house and this is his house.

Case closed, may the court rise.

Tumpale looks at Bali again, still saying nothing, and then he looks at him once more with a cheeky frown before looking away. This time, he will look away forever.


Spring / Summer 2023

Helsea Ikwanga

A Malawian writer, Helsea Ikwanga’s works have appeared or are forthcoming in Ibua Journal, the Atlantic, and local Malawian newspapers. He has been long-listed for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize twice. He is an alumnus of the Commonwealth Creative Writing Workshop Lusaka 2018, mentored by renowned writer Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia) and Man Booker awardee Damon Galgut (South Africa). A resident of Blantyre City, Ikwanga is currently working on his debut novel titled “Thou Shalt Kill.”


Artschoolscammer is a Brooklyn-based conceptual artist, visionary, educator, curator, and advisor. Forging tools to deal with social, economic, and environmental injustices, their work promotes principles of sustainability through their collective work, and reimagines limitless possibilities of joyous existence for black and indigenous people. Developing the transitions of cultural institutions and museums run and maintained by Artists, Farmers, Griots, Healers, and Revolutionaries, their goal is to establish a narrative around truth-sharing in our culture. Offering affirmations of community, they anticipate their role as trailblazer and steward of the arts.

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