Rosa Mistika

Euphrase Kezilahabi

Translated from Swahili into English by Jay Boss Rubin

Rosa peered out the window, but saw only darkness. She closed her eyes and tried to rest, but before long she climbed out of bed again. She finally fell asleep just before dawn. When she awoke, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Out the window she saw two — no, three — men, one being carried between two others, his feet dragging on the ground like a corpse.

“Hodi, hodi,” called a voice at the front door.

Rosa’s mother, Regina, came and opened it.

“Where’s his bed?” asked their neighbor, Ndalo. They laid Zakaria down, and Ndalo explained Zakaria had drunk a bottle and a half of moonshine. When he showed them the bottle, it was clear Zakaria had drunk closer to two. They splashed water on Zakaria’s face, brought him milk, made him sip lemon juice. By 10am, he was still out cold.

Rosa couldn’t leave her father like this. Her trip to begin secondary school was canceled, ruined. Rosa and her sisters spent the day orbiting around Zakaria like satellites. They even took their meals at the foot of his bed. Around 6pm, Zakaria opened his eyes; Ndalo saw he was going to be alright, and went home. When Zakaria opened his eyes a second time, Regina asked what she could bring him.

Zakaria was silent.

“What do you want to eat?” Regina asked, louder this time.

“‘oonshine. ‘oonshine,” Zakaria answered in the faintest of voices.

They brought him porridge instead. After a few spoonfuls, Zakaria had the strength to sit up. That was how Ndalo found him when he returned that night to check on him.

“Aaa! Aaa!” Zakaria began. “Yesterday, liquor destroyed us. How many bottles did we drink again?”

“If I remember correctly, ten,” Ndalo answered.

“U, u, u. Not even on Christmas do we drink that many!”

That night, Zakaria slept well. The following morning — it was a Tuesday — Regina went to Ndalo’s place to do some intelligence-gathering. She needed to know what had happened the night before. Ndalo admitted that Zakaria had bought rounds for the entire village. No one had turned him down, and Zakaria had spent close to fifty shillings.

Regina walked home with her arms behind her back, like a bereaved person. Rosa wouldn’t continue on to secondary school; her journey was through. Regina broke the news to her, but she already knew. When Zakaria had scooped out the money set aside for her education, he hadn’t even bothered to close the clasp on Regina’s jewelry box.

The one cow they still owned couldn’t be sold; it was no longer calving. And Rosa wasn’t the only one who needed assistance; her sisters’ school fees were due, too. Regina did have her cassava farm, she considered, three or four acres of it…

Regina told Rosa to harvest one acre. Together with her sisters, Rosa dug up the cassava, peeled it, dried it in the sun and pounded it into flour. None of these tasks were easy; all of it was arduous work. But after three weeks, they had cassava flour. A pile of it sat on display in front of their house, but failed to attract any customers.

After two days, Rosa lost hope all over again. Zakaria was at peace and went on with his drinking, as if Rosa’s troubles had nothing to do with him. Finally, it occurred to Regina what she could do: exchange some flour for millet, and make cassava wine, called mapuya. It was a Friday when the home brew was ready to sell — three big barrels of it.

At the wine party, Rosa did the vending herself, and her sisters stayed home to help her wash drinking bowls. It was the first time a crowd had ever gathered at Zakaria’s. The villagers were shocked at the condition of his home. It was beyond repair.

But the wine was strong, and by noon people were no longer paying attention to each other. Everyone was speaking drunken Swahili, even those who hadn’t purchased their own bowls. Rosa’s younger sisters had never observed drunk people before. Honorata, age nine, was washing a bowl when Stella, even younger, alerted her, “Look! Look! a! a! a!

Honorata’s eyes nearly fell out of their sockets: someone was taking a piss right next to them. Eventually, Stella grew accustomed to their neighbors peeing on their orange trees, banana plants and flowers — on their house, too. A fiddler played in the afternoon. People shook their shoulders as if they were made out of jelly and stomped their feet as if they were being attacked by ants. One person stomped so hard he dug a hole in the ground. He just kept dancing and digging himself in deeper — to show his strength, perhaps. If a woman liked a man, she stood before him and rolled her shoulders slowly and seductively, without moving her feet. If a man shook his shoulders in response, the woman danced so hard the man threw his arms up in submission. Duh!

A reveler slid over to Rosa and tried to impress her with his English: “Mai children! We know Anglish Makerere I.” How clever, Rosa thought. “Mabia. Yes, yes give me mabia.” She filled his bowl.

Stella listened as a drinker was ejected from one of the little groups that had formed. “Get out of here, you leech! Buy your own from now on!”

She eavesdropped at the edge of another group, in which a man was giving a sermon on the dangers of alcohol. Someone once became so intoxicated, he said, that he forgot to cover himself at night with a blanket. Mosquitoes sucked his blood until all that remained was a husk! A drunkard once slept the entire night in his yard; when he woke, his clothes had been eaten by termites! Everyone laughed, the stories subsided, and the man ordered more wine.

In another group, two men were arguing about who was richer. “Not you, you bareass!”

“My cheeks may be bare, but I could provide for your entire family!”

Elders had their own huddle. Whoever bought him two wines, a man said, could marry his daughter. Zakaria preferred this group, even though he wasn’t that old yet. He boasted to the elders that he was an expert at raising his daughters. Each time Zakaria emptied his bowl, he demanded his wife refill it.

If she dared to cut him off, he warned, he’d knock over the wine that remained.

By 6pm, all three barrels were in the bellies of the drinkers. Some got to their feet and stumbled home. Others slept right there in the yard. Regina and Rosa counted the day’s taketwo-hundred shillings — and were very happy.

Usiku Rosa hakulala. Aliamka kuangalia dirishani. Aliona bado giza. Alijaribu kufumba macho apate usingizi. Kazi bure; usingizi hauwezi kushurutishwa. Baada ya muda mfupi aliamka tena. Aliona bado giza. Usingizi ulimpata karibu kucha. Alipoamka mara ya tatu ndege walikuwa wamekwishaanza kuimba. Alipoangalia dirishani hakuweza kuamini macho yake. Aliona watu wawili — hapana, watu watatu. Mmoja wao alikuwa amebebwa katikati, miguu yake ikikwea chini. Alikwenda kumwamsha mama yake alipomtambua baba yake.

“Hodi, hodi.”

Regina alifungua mlango.

“Kitanda chake kiko wapi?” Ndalo aliuliza. Zakaria alilazwa juu ya kitanda. Ndalo aliwaeleza kwamba alikunywa chupa moja na nusu. Alipoonyesha kwa mkono ile nusu, ilionekana kwamba alikunywa karibu chupa mbili za moshi. Zakaria alimwagiwa maji na aliletewa maziwa. Alinyweshwa maji ya limau. Saa nne asubhuhi Zakaria alikuwa bado hajafunua macho yake.

Safari ya Rosa ilivunjika. Hakuweza kwenda siku hiyo na kumwacha baba yake katika hali hii. Mchana kutwa binti zake walikuwa wamemzunguka. Hata chukula cha mchana walikula karibu na kitanda chake. Saa kumi na mbili jioni Zakaria alianza kujitingisha. Alifumbua macho. Ndalo alimwona ni mzima na akaondoka kwenda nyumbani kwake. Zakaria alipofumbua macho tena Regina alimwuliza.

“Unataka nini?” Zakaria alinyamaza tu.

“Unataka kula nini?” Regina aliuliza tena kwa sauti. “Ombe, ombe,” Zakaria alijibu kwa sauti hafifu sana. Waliogopa kumpatia “Ombe.” Badala yake walimtayarishia uji. Baada ya kunywa uji Zakaria aliweza kukaa kitandani. Ndalo alipokuja usiku kumjulia hali alimkuta amekaa kitandani.

“Aaa! Aaa! pombe jana ilikuwa ya kutuua. Hivi tulikunywa chupa ngapi?” Zakaria aliuliza.

wazo lilimwingia kichwani. Alikusudia kutengeneza pombe ya muhogo — inaitwa mapuya. Alipata mawele kwa mabadilishano na udaga. Alikuwa na nia. Pombe ilitayarishwa. Ilikuwa siku ya Ijumaa pombe ilipokuwa tayari — mapipa matatu.

“Mimi nakumbuka tulikunywa chupa kumi.”

“U, u, u. Hata Christmas hatukunywa namna hii!”

Rosa mwenyewe ndiye alikuwa akiuza. Dada zake walimsaidia kuosha bakuli za kunywea. Hawakwenda shule siku hiyo. Ilikuwa mara ya kwanza watu wengi kufika katika mji wa Zakaria. Wengi walishangaa walipoona nyumba ya Zakaria. Ilikuwa imelala upande.

Usiku Zakaria alilala kama kawaida. Ilionekana wazi kwamba amepona. Kesho yake asubuhi — Jumanne–Regina alikwenda nyumbani kwa Ndalo kufanya upelelezi zaidi. Regina aliuliza maswali yake yaliyokuwa yamempeleka. Ndalo alimwambia wazi kwamba Zakaria alikuwa akinunulia watu pombe ovyo, hata watu ambao hawakumfahamu siku hiyo walifaidika. Alitumia karibu shilingi hamsini.

Regina aliporudi nyumbani alikuwa anatembea mikono ameweka nyuma kama mtu aliyefiwa. Ilionekana wazi kwamba Rosa hatakwenda shuleni. Rosa sasa alifahamu. Aliambiwa na mamake. Zakaria alisahau kufunga sanduku alipozichukua.

Ng’ombe mmoja aliyekuwa amebaki hakuuzwa kwa sababu alikuwa hazai tena. Zaidi ya hayo wadogo zake pia walihitaji ada ya shule. Regina alikuwa na shamba kubwa la mihogo, kama eka tatu au nne hivi. Alimwambia Rosa kuchimba eka moja. Dada zake walimsaidia. Kazi hii ilichukua muda mrefu. Kuchimba, kutoa maganda, kukausha na kuuza — hii haikuwa kazi rahisi. Majuma matatu yalipita, udaga ukawa tayari. Udaga ulikaa pale nyumbani muda wa siku mbili: wanunuzi hawakupatikana. Rosa alikata tamaa.

Zakaria alikuwa ametulia tu kama mambo haya yalikuwa hayamuhusu. Aliendelea kunywa pombe kama kawaida. Regina alikuwa akitumainia wanunuzi kila siku. Mwishowe

Pombe ilikuwa kali sana. Watu walimsifu vikubwa Regina. Saa sita ilipofika watu walikuwa hawasikilizani tena. Hata wale ambao walikuwa hawajanunua pombe walikuwa wamekwishaanza kuzungumza Kiswahili kirefu.

Ilikuwa mara ya kwanza kwa Stella kuona walevi — matendo na maneno yao. Honorata alikuwa akiosha bakuli Stella alipomwambia: “Honorata! Angalia! Angalia a! a! a!”

Honorata aliangalia akatoa macho mara moja: mtu mmoja alikuwa anakojoa karibu nao. Stella mwishowe aliwazoea, kwani aliwaona wakikojolea michungwa, migomba, maua yao — hata nyumba. Palikuwa na mpiga zeze. Watu walichezesha mabega yao utafikiri hayana mifupa. Walipiga mishindo chini utafikiri siafu walikuwa wakiwatambaa miguuni. Mmoja alikuwa amekwishachimba shimo refu kwa mguu wake, lakini bila kuhamisha mguu aliendela kupiga mumo humo — labda kuonyesha nguvu zake. Wanawake pia waliingia kucheza. Wao walisimama mbele ya mwanamumue waliyempenda na kuchezesha mabega yao polepole, bila kupiga miguu chini, shingo zao upande. Walipiga vigelegele pia. Mwanamume aliyechezesha mabega zaidi aliinuliwa mikono juu na mwanamke.

Wakati watu walipokuwa wanacheza zeze, mtu mmoja alimwendea Rosa akamwambia: “Mai children! we know Anglish Makerere I, Makerere I.” Rosa alicheka.

“Mabia. Yes, yes give me mabia.”

Ujanja wake, pombe alipewa na Rosa.

Wanywaji walikuwa wamekaa katika vikundivikundi. Katika kikundi kimoja mtu fulani alikuwa akisukumwa atoke. Stella alisikia walivyokua wakimwambia. Alirudia maneno. “Kupe toka! Jitegemee!”

Katika kikundi kingine watu walikuwa wakicheka sana. Stella alikwenda kusikiliza. Mtu mmoja alikuwa akisimulia ubaya wa pombe. Alisema kwamba mlevi mmoja alilewa sana akasahau kujifunika blanketi. Mbu walimnyonya damu yote wakabakiza mgozi tu. Mlevi mwingine alilala nje; kesho yake alikutwa nguo zimekwisha liwa na mchwa. Alipomaliza hadithi zake aliomba pombe anywe.

Katika kikundi kingine watu wawili walikuwa wakigombana juu ya utajiri.

“Una nini wewe matako nje!”

“Ndiyo, matako nje lakini ninaweza kukulisha wewe pamoja na mji wako mzima.”

Wazee kabisa walikuwa na kikundi chao. Mzee mmoja alikuwa akisema kwamba atakayemnunulia madebe mawili ya pombe atampatia binti yake aoe. Zakaria — ingawa hakuwa mzee sana — alikuwa katika kikundi hiki. Yeye alikuwa akijidai kwamba anafahamu kutunza binti zake.

Regina alikuwa amempa Zakaria debe zima la kunywa, yeye pamoja na rafiki zake. Debe lilipokwisha alidai tena jingine. Alitishia kwamba atamwaga pombe yote kama wakimnyima. Walimpa.

Kama saa kumi na mbili hivi, mapipa yote matatu yalikuwa matumboni mwa watu. Watu waliyumbayumba kwenda majumbani kwao. Wengine walilala hapo. Regina na Rosa walipohesabu pesa walizopata walikuta shilingi mia mbili. Walifurahi sana.

Euphrase Kezilahabi was born in 1944 in the village of Namagondo, on the Lake Victoria island of Ukerewe in what is now Tanzania. He authored six novels, all in Swahili and quite diverse in style. He was an innovator of Swahili poetry, as well. With tact and respect, he departed from the rhyme and metrical schemes of centuries-old traditional forms, and composed in free verse, which better suited what he sought to express. He held an M.A. from the University of Dar es Salaam and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was on the faculty of the University of Botswana, in Gaborone, when he passed away in 2020 at the age of 75.

Jay Boss Rubin is a writer and translator from Portland. His work has appeared in Columbia Journal, Buckman Journal, Barzakh and other publications. He has translations forthcoming from The Hopkins Review and Two Lines Press.