For day 3 of WinterABC2022, I have decided to take a stab at the writing prompt from Bhala writers: Write a short story set in an African city of your choice, in which a particular landmark plays a crucial role. I decided to write about the World War Memorial Tower located in Lilongwe, Malawi. You can find my first and second Winterabc2022 posts here and here.
On the day that Sekuru died, Yewo attended her first therapy session. She had just gotten out of the therapist’s office when her father called, a man of few words he had simply said, “Sekuru has gone to be with the comrades.” And she had understood, the tears had not been a surprise but the gratitude that enveloped her was definitely an unfamiliar feeling considering the circumstances. It had been a warm June day in Lilongwe, so unexpected considering the month, when Sekuru feeling restless had requested they go for a walk. “How does one greet neighbours or make friends when there are surrounded by walls?” He would complain every morning of the fence that surrounded the house. A village man for most of his life except for his stint in the Kings African Rifles and the South African mines, he was used to seeing as far as the eye could. “With these walls, how can one know where the enemy will attack from?” This would usually be followed by a story from the war. Sekuru was a second world war veteran, he had fought in Burma for the Allies and had seen it all as her father would say. Now an old man in his 90s, he was remarkably fit for his age, his bent back, walking stick and hearing aid were usually what gave his advanced age away. Yewo decides that a walk around the neighbourhood would indeed do Sekuru some good and they start off. Listening to her grandfather’s stories is one of her favourite past times and as they walk she decides to ask him something that had always intrigued her. “Sekuru, did you ever think you would die during the war?” “All the time,” he responds. “It was always either the enemy or me, I had to think of that no matter what,” he continues. As they walk, Yewo remembers the newly opened World War Memorial Tower that towers through the thicket of trees in the area between their Area 18 neighbourhood and City Center and thinks they can make it there. Walking with Sekuru was better than sitting in one’s room and musing over a fail grade anyway. “You know the thing about walls, Yewo?” Sekuru asks as they cross the M1 road to start walking the final stretch to the tower. “No,” she responds. “They can keep you safe but also away from help, when we were in the trenches in Burma, I could spot the enemy a mile away but I could also spot my regiment when they were coming back from getting supplies,” he says. She knows where this is going, Sekuru might have been old but he was a perceptive man, he had been a soldier after all. “You’re walking too fast, my old legs can’t keep up” Sekuru complains. “But we are almost there, do you see that tower?” she asks him. “Yes,” he responds, “It’s a surprise for you,” she says enthusiastically and he grunts. They finally make it to the tower and go up the steps and when Sekuru reads the inscription and realizes where they are, his eyes light up. “Your uncle John told me about this tower the last time he came home, they must’ve still been building it then” he says. “So what do you think, a befitting memorial?” she asks as they move around reading the soldiers’ names. “In a way,” he responds and Yewo laughs, she had momentarily forgotten how her grandfather was such a hard man to impress. “War is a cruel thing, you see people die in the most brutal ways and somehow have to keep it together,” he says as he looks at her. “Do you know why I came back from South Africa?” he asks her. “One day I just couldn’t get up from my bed, all I could think about was blood and mangled bodies, I spent three months in a psych ward, one day I told the doctor in charge to release me so that I could come back home and die among my people,” he says calmly. Yewo realizes what she must do as she digests Sekuru’s words and stares into the thicket of trees, she needs to get help. “Sekuru, it’s getting late we must go,” she says to him. “My legs will be on fire tomorrow but I am glad we came” he says as he picks up his walking stick. “Yeah, me too” she responds.