I was born in Zambezi District hospital to a single mother. I was the fifth born. My mother died when I was five years old in a bad bus accident. What I remember most about my mother was that she had beautiful, long hair and she was gentle yet a harsh disciplinarian. My father left a long time ago so I never knew him. So I was orphaned at age five.
When my mother died, everyone came and picked who they were willing to collect and adopt into their household. I was the only one left and nobody had volunteered to take care of me. Even after my mother was buried, I was alone. My mother had taken care of this man when he was sick at the hospital and because he was so grateful to my mother, he came to her funeral and chose to take care of me. That is how I was separated from my siblings.
This man came and took me to live in a village called Mumbezi. He was an elderly man with a wife and no children. They were very kind to me. He used to carry me on his back. Just when I fell in love with him, he died. He left instructions to his eldest son to ensure I would be taken care of. The village was very superstitious, so they thought I had death following me. This man’s eldest son was afraid and for three days after his father died, I had no home. I was only six years old and left alone. After those three days, the man called and explained why he had been so hesitant to come collect me. He said the villagers said if I take you in, I’m also going to die, but I don’t care, so you’re coming to my house.
They changed my name to Mumba, the name of a village headman who had died many years before. I stayed with this man and his wife and three children and they treated me as their firstborn. I used to sell sweet potatoes and mukoyo (a drink made from fermented maize) by the roadside. The man I stayed with worked for the roads department so he moved from place to place. He did not make enough and drank alcohol, so his wife would make sweet potatoes and other foods to sell by the roadside and I would help her. Those years, there was a rebel man, a bad guy who lived there and he used to kidnap children. I was terrified of him. But villagers killed him and danced all night in jubilation. These are some of the memories I had as a child.
Then, one day, when I was in grade four, my life changed. I was left with one of my younger siblings because the man had gone on duty and his wife went to deliver a baby, so she went to be with her mother. We continued to sell sweet potatoes and food so we could have some income while the man and his wife were gone. One day I was selling and there was a bus that came by. A beautiful lady asked to buy stuff and I just liked her. She kept gazing at me. After she got on the bus, she remembered me. I was her kid brother. I kept calling her, but the bus continued to move. There was no communication then so she had no idea where I was. She left and told my firstborn sister, I know where our youngest brother is. There was little they could do. They were still in school. My firstborn sister graduated college the next year. As soon as she started working, she went looking for me. So one afternoon, I was designing my toys – I enjoyed making art even as a child – when somebody sent for me. The family didn’t know her, except that she looked like she was from town. Later on, I recognized her. It was a touching moment because I had not seen her for years. I was 11 years old at the time and my firstborn was 23. So my sister collected me and asked permission from the man who had been taking care of me if I could go. He and his wife said I would be better off if I left the village.
So I went with my sister to a town beyond Solwezi. There I continued grade five in school. Now, suddenly, I had electricity and running water. From there, I went to secondary school and moved to Zambezi where there was a boarding school. My uncle was a teacher. I finished school and moved to Lusaka to live with my second sister, who married and lived there. I went to college, finished, and met a nice man also from Zambezi who let me stay with him. I worked at Munali boys high school and afterward, got a contract teaching in Botswana. I taught at a junior secondary school about 78 km from the diamond mines in Mpipi for three years. Then I got a contract with one of the international schools in Zambia and came back. I have been working here now for four years.
I did not see the family that took care of me until last year. I kept dreaming about them. I was worried that the woman had died and I never got to express my gratitude to them for taking care of me. They had a child after I left and they named him Mumba, after the name they had given me. They told him stories about me and said I would one day come back. One day, the child heard me singing on the radio. There was a brief interview with me and that is how the child knew where I was. They traced me and he came to find me. I went to visit them last year. It was a joyous moment and the man said, I knew one day you would come back. This boy comes to visit me once in a while. I am still in touch with the family.
I dream a lot about my mother. I had a dream that I was in college and went to live with my uncle on holiday. He told me this man in town is doing miraculous things. They can dig out remains and resurrect people. So in the dream we go dig the remains of my mother, all her body parts, and try to revive her. After putting her body in a bag and harboring so much hope to see her alive once again, we are told we’re too late. Then I am once again disappointed. It’s so real – all that hope. I miss her.
**John is a pseudonym.