“See page 3”, and on the cited page were photos of him, leaping out of the metal coffin, darting down Chitungo Road, then sinking into the pothole
By Nhamo Muchagumisa
Emma’s uninterrupted visits to the sickroom caused Melvin to think that he had fallen into an endless dream which hosted other dreams within its endless span. Her voice, like a baby angel’s, fresh like apple juice lingered in his mind long after she had left the room.
Emma never forgot to send her face to him every night as if to stop Melvin from slipping into the world of the deceased.
The only sensible thing Emma should have done was to unconditionally terminate her relationship with Melvin as he had turned out to be a great embarrassment to her. That is what everyone, boy or girl, who knew about their relationship thought. But to Emma, that was the thinking of average minds. She had to be at her best when he was at his worst.
A dark cloud had landed on Melvin’s prospects when a police van had driven to the gate of Elise Gledhill High School in Sakubva to collect his remains. His corpse had been found at the entrance gate by the teacher on duty at 6:30 in the morning. The teacher had immediately dialed the ZRP emergency toll free number.
Melvin had apparently frozen to death. By the time the Defender Land Rover arrived on the scene a small crowd had gathered at the entrance gate for a glimpse of what could turn out to be a murder mystery. Having taken a brief statement from the witness, the police loaded Melvin into a colossal metal coffin, but before they brought down the lid of the coffin Melvin stirred.
The spasms of his laboured breath told one of excruciating pain. The odour his breath emitted told one of extreme irresponsibility. Melvin hoisted himself from the coffin as the warmth of the risen sun melted away the rigidity of his frozen muscles.
A sudden rush of energy in his body propelled him down Chitungo Road, knocking one of the onlookers flat onto the tarmac road, but he did not go far. His right foot sank into a pothole a few paces from the police van, and he collapsed into a crumpled heap.
The energy that had taken possession of him a few moments ago had evaporated from his body. His rescuers came to pick him up but this time, they placed him in a seat, just behind the driver. The police drove Melvin to Victoria Chitepo Provincial Hospital.
The night before, Melvin had drowned himself in alcoholic beverages at a popular waterhole in Sakubva.
The Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education had hiked vocational training loans from a paltry $50 to an incredible $500. For Melvin, it was an opportunity to quench his insatiable thirst for alcohol.
It was approaching midnight when he decided to walk back to Mutare Teachers’ College. Sleep overtook him on the way and the weight of it brought him down at the Elise Gledhill entrance gate.
It was end of May and the settling winter caused his body to freeze, conveyed cramps into his muscles and paralysis into his brain.
Melvin’s consciousness returned upon admission to the hospital, but he was tormented by hallucinations. The ceiling above him was alive with strange shadows as if a horror movie was playing on a colossal screen. He sometimes yelled for help. A nurse would rush into the ward, and he would say: “Can’t you tell those people to go away?”
The nurse would simply smile and say: “You will be fine soon.”
After three days, Melvin was discharged from hospital, but medical experts were still at his service. He still needed the constant attention of a medical practitioner, hence his transfer from the provincial hospital ward to the college sickroom. Emma was the sickroom’s most frequent visitor.
As his brain became fully functional, Melvin realised that he had created a record for himself nobody on campus would break. He sorely desired to hear Emma say to him, “It was good while it lasted. I am moving on.” But Emma was playing a different tune.
“I never thought you were going to make it,” Emma told Melvin, a day before his discharge from the sickroom.
“Why don’t you leave me alone Emma?” Melvin said in response.
“The reason is that everyone – including you thinks that is the right thing for me to do, but the problem with me is that I always have my own way of thinking,” she said and immediately walked out because the visiting hour was over.
After his release from the sickroom, Melvin’s reunion with the rest of the students was stressful. Whenever he walked alone, to the lecture rooms, to the dining hall, to the library, he heard deafening whispers behind him. Everyone was talking about his return from the dead.
Nothing could take away the heavy load weighing on his mind. Sleep was not refreshing anymore. Each time he closed his eyes to sleep, he would be awakened by laughing voices in his room, only to open his eyes and discover that he was alone.
One morning he woke up to discover that somebody had tucked a leaf of the Eastern Post under the door of his room. He picked it up and read the headline that screamed in his face: “Student-teacher drops dead after an overdose of alcohol”. He read about himself.
The reporter had extravagantly embellished the story with figurative expressions, good stuff for the young adult minds that constituted the majority of the college population.
“See page 3”, and on the cited page were photos of him, leaping out of the metal coffin, darting down Chitungo Road, then sinking into the pothole. Emma had read that story and seen those pictures, and was still not ashamed to be seen in his company!
Melvin felt his self esteem dying inside him. The urge to commit suicide took possession of him, but Emma’s silent, telepathic rebuke made the daemonic thought leave his mind like a passing cloud.
Avoiding Emma, though emotionally distressful, was the way to go for Melvin. She was just too good for him. She deserved better, but she seemed to underrate her worth. Melvin thought that if he shunned her, she would learn to move on and leave him to the disgrace that he had become.
One afternoon, as Melvin sat alone in one of the college huts at the centre of the college fish pond, he sensed the smell of aquatic life being slowly refreshed by the scent of a woman’s perfumed body. He did not turn to check who it was that had sought his company, but the voice that bounced off her lips told him who she was.
“Melvin, for how long do you have to keep this funeral mood?” Emma asked him.
“Till I learn to find my way out of the mess I have created for myself,” Melvin said.
He looked at the girl who would not let him go. She was dressed in a sleeveless body top, fancy dressing for twenty-first century young women and a ventless skirt that touched the heels of her feet, not so fashionable for modern women, yet the combination gave Emma a dignified outlook. Her calm and motherly presence made Melvin feel desperately inadequate. He was 24 and she was 18, but he would never call her baby friend again as he used to do.
“Melvin, this is going to be the last time I am going to ask you to listen to me,” she sad, the tears she had held back for too long flowing with her voice.
“I will always listen if you have something to say,” Melvin said, sensing the pain that was welling behind her voice.
“My father died a drunken death five years ago. He had won a labour case after he had been sacked from his job. He was given a hefty severance package after the court ruling…”
“What happened next?” Melvin’s heart beat like a piston.
“He spent days drinking away from home, defaulted on his routine medication and died in his sleep in one of the lodges here in Mutare.”
The sight of Emma’s moistening eyes told Melvin that it was his turn to play the comforter, but there was only one way he could achieve that, never shunning her again.
That night as he lay in bed, Melvin made up his mind never to taste alcohol again, and as he drifted into a tight slumber, Emma did not forget to send her face to him. She was speaking happily to him, but he could not hear her words.
Nhamo Muchagumisa is an English Language and Literature teacher, and he writes from Odzi. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on +263777460162. Email him at: email@example.com.
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