Short Story: The path that knows
This is story is about a broken man who has to search for hope after a tragic incident and dealing with burdening grief, he lives his life in isolation.
A man once motivated by the struggle to free his country from colonisation now faces a different kind of battle, a battle to once again reclaim the happiness that was taken away from him.
The elderly looking 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 head full of greys 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 dragged down by wounds that were slow to heal, and tormented by visions of the dead. He had just bought land with the compensation money that he had received as a war veteran in the small farming community of Damabrefu, where her intended to farm and open a library for the locals there.
His wish was to give back to the living that which he had stolen from the dead. Knowing full well the trauma of the war, he knew for ceratin that there had been casualties on both fronts, black and white alike. In this turmoil called war, he had been by chance intoduced to reading by a white old missionary priest who had been an ally of the rebels. Heof course knew how to read and write, but what he learnt from that man was how to appreciate reading stroies. This tremendous skill had offered for him solace and somewhere where he could escape the weight of death and suffering all around him, even if it had been for a few peaceful hours on a quiet evening.
Enthusiastically pitching his idea to the headman of Dambarefu, is how he had first met Mona. Upon hearing his idea, the headman had immediately called for his niece, who he mentioned was a teacher at the local high school and also had the same passion for books as he did.
As he laid eyes upon her, he felt just by seeing her, a kind of relief, as if he had been waiting for her the whole time and never realised. She had been of course reserved, a bit doubtful of his idea but promised to pass by in the next day. When she had seen the small shed he had quickly built upon arriving and which was a short distance from his living quarters and closer to the footpath, he was suprised at how delighted she was. She brightened up and he brightened up too, it was a if her very nature was to wake in him, something he had long thought was gone. An enthusiastic zest for a challenge.
He soon realised what he had mistaken for doubt and pessimism, had rather been contemplation, and that she was also capable of lighting up with excitement as she was with sitting down and practically planing. Of which they did both. After a long session of discusiion she took on the job and for a small price and agreed to take on most of the admninistrational tasks of the library.
His job which he did very well was to quickly fill out the 6 shelves with books, and with his contacts in the city, he received in no time the books, of which most of were donations.
Her presence in his home soon became regular and familiar. There were their planning meetings, then fixing up the room with the help of some villagers and then the days after where she would regularly open up the Library. He eventually convinced her to eat with him at least once a week, on a Sartuday evening after closing the library and when she wasn’t needed so much at home. Slowly they took on a familiar and comfortable rythm and both did not realise till later, how much their lives had assimilated into each other.
One of the things that he loved about herwas her curiosity for new things and her dreams for the future. Having only finished high school and done a small Teachers course, she dreamt of traveling and also expanding her studies. As he listened to her plans, he found himself, nursing hopes he never thought he could. He found himself fantasizing of the two of them traveling, eating exotic food and getting stuck days on end in the great big libraries of the world.
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, as they had their dinner today, she asked him, ‘I would like this to be our everyday. Do you?’.
With a skip of the heart he had stummered a, ‘yes’ and that had been it for them.
Her presence, her mind, her thoughts, their conversations, all of it rollled up in a ball thawed the coldness he had felt inside for so long and he had begun dream of so many possibilities for their future. In a few years time his small plot had turned into an active productive space, the Library was running smoothly, he and Mona had tended to a thriving vegetable garden of which they harvested to raise money for Mona to go to a College.
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 his deepened 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 had 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 for believing that he could get a second chance after all the blood he had on his hands. The same death he had bestowed with his hands 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!”
He stands for a few minutes in silence, then 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, the wrinkes on his eyes tremble as a face that had been used to scowling and sometimes hissing, lightened.
He starts to feel warm and light and as he looks up he catches the warmth of the sun on his face.
The breeze caresses him, flutters his faded, torn, grey trousers, it gains strength and lifts him up towards a 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.