Short Story: The path that knows

This is story is about a broken man who has to search for hope after a tragic incindent and walks the footsteps of a stranger, dealing with the weight of his loss. A man once motivated by his struggle for a country’s independence now has to once again reclaim the happiness that was taken away from him.

The old man walks sullenly on the empty dust road, hedged on both sides by tall, brittle, chalky brown grass that reaches his shrivelled shoulders. He is lost in deep silent thoughts.

His small grey head is bowed down like a religious man praying at mass, his eyes are shaded as shadows play across his face. He walks slowly with a soft rhythm and his torn and tattered dusty black shoes pick up little spurts of dust behind him.

Like a leper abandoned by family and civilisation, he follows the unknown road without care. His thoughts pre-occupy his mind and his heart desperately yearns for the untouchable as he is consumed by the memory of Mona. Her sweet laugh plagues him and he can never forget the warm look of her bright brown eyes.

He still remembers the first time he met her even though it was a decade ago, in 1990, at a time when he was still reeling from the wounds of the war. Dragged down by wounds that would not heal, and tormented by visions of the dead, he moved to a small farming community called Dambarefu in search of peace. With a small amount of the compensation money that he had received he nursed great ideas of setting up a library for the children on the small piece of land he had bought.

On that land he built a small two roomed cottage and a larger room closer to the road where he intended build his library. The library felt right to him, a means of giving thanks for his survival and as a repentance for the killing he had done. Reading books was what had given him solace as a guerilla and he wanted to share this untainted element that still remained after all the death and suffering he had encountered.

This passion and impulse driven love of books and reading is how he unexpectedly came into contact with Mona. She came into his life, so clear and so open; Through introductions from her uncle, the Headman, she walked into his life so clear and open, that through her energy and zest he felt like he could see the world.

She was brazen, but also focused, and together they made plans for the library. She was happy to do the administration work, collecting the books, categorising them and systematically storing them. He was good at the logistics aspect, with a good friend in Harare who was working at the City Library he was able to receive some donations for books and buy others at a good price.

From the moment Mona came to his house, ready to start work, she had decided that she would dedicate her Saturday afternoon to helping him out, he felt even more motivated and driven than before. As a teacher at the local school, her weekdays were busy and Sunday was always a tricky day with Church and Sunday school where she helped out as well. People often called her a 'busy bee', because she seemed to always have an abundance of energy and a keen eye out for something new to do. He never realised until later that not only had the library been her project but him as well.

She was opinionated and was very interested about the world which she had mostly discovered from the books she read. She had told him that she wanted to finish her high school education and be able to qualify for her dream job as a librarian in the city.

Days with her were curious, motivating and funny and when the library was open to the public she would spend days arguing with the elders of the community on the importance of reading and would bring the noisy children to order.

He never knew when he fell in love with her, he just woke up one day and knew how he felt deep in his heart . He could do nothing else but wait in doubtful hopefulness until one day she showed up unexpectedly and told him matter of factly, 'Im staying'

Loving Mona with no inhibition and fear had thawed the coldness he had felt inside for so long and he had begun dream of so many possibilities for their future. A few years later they turned his small plot into an active ground of small projects, the Library was running with the help of a few more volunteers, he and Mona had tended to a thriving vegetable garden of which they harvested maize to sell from their fields to raise money for Mona to go to a College in a neighbouring town.

He stops walking abruptly feeling weighed down by the flood of memories, he mutters more to himself than to anyone, ‘Mona! Mona! Tell me you are still here. Tell me that this is all a dream and that you have never left me. Mona! Mona please!’

A tear trickles down his face, flowing down hisdeepened lines.

His Mona was gone, she had died nine years ago during childbirth in the small cottage they had called home. The baby they had so desperately hoped for was a stillborn.

He still felt deeply the pain of losing her and could not face the world. Soon after her death he shut down the library, locked his gate and sought instead a life of isolation and mourning; becoming a drifter, neither living nor dead, walking and sleeping in the forest. His property became overgrown with weeds and the green lush garden soon dried up with no-one to tend to it.

Over time his abandoned home eventually fell into neglect, he preferred roaming the forests, than the company of men. He felt deep down that he had been a fool all along by believing that he could have a good life after all the killing he had done. The same death he had bestowed with his hand upon those that he had called enemies, had come into his life and snatched away his happiness.

Having shunned the people in his community, he earned himself the nickname 'Crazy Mutede', which some brave village children would shout, at a distant from his homestead. Rumours soon circulated from mothers telling their children that he turned into a rabid animal that preyed on naughty children. It was believed by the farming community of Dambarefu that if one passed by his house on a full moon’s evening, one could hear shrieks and howls coming from his small hut.

As he walks on the small trail a soft but familiar voice echoes to him passing with the wind, “My love, let go, let go.”

The hairs across the nape of his neck stand and the place becomes heavy with silence. He turns around in panic, searches through the trees in the hopes of catching sight of the source of the voice. He yells out in pain, his voice crackling, “Mona! Mona!”

After a few minutes pass, he shakes his head as if to remove from his head a heavy weight and for the first time in a long time, he smiles. His smile at first trembles at the edges but slowly forms fully. He starts to feel warm and light. He looks up and catches the warmth of the sun with his face.

The breeze caresses him, flutters his faded, torn, grey trousers, it gains strength and lifts him up towards the white spot in the blue sky. The spot grows brighter and bigger as he approaches it until he disappears from sight.

Below the birds, silenced before, chirp once more, intensely. The birds one of the few creatures to notice the strange event discuss amongst themselves fervently.

This story is sadly lost to many who believe to this day that Old Mutede died in the forest somewhere and his bones are lying in some unknown ravine. However at uncertain moments to those that seek for answers and knowledge, it is told to them in dreams, and they come to know of the path that can shape itself to the traveller’s mind’s design They learn of the Path into the unknown.

©Barbra Anderson

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