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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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Packing my gear, I set off with Khamba down the trail behind Geoffrey’s house that led to the graveyard, down into the blue gums where the trees were taller and provided good shade. The hills of the Dowa Highlands—which separated us from the lake—rose beautifully before me, capped in gray, dripping thunderheads. A new storm was on its way, so we had to work quickly.

I found a good spot off the main trail, near a tall blue gum that would cast a long shadow once the sun broke through the haze. Using my hoe, I cleared away the grass and vines until the red mud was exposed—a surface of about four feet in diameter. Taking my knife, I sawed off two thick branches from the blue gum and stripped their bark, then whittled both to sharp points. I pushed the poles into the moist soil about two feet apart, then pulled them to test their firmness. They held.

I cut the bicycle tube into two thin strips and attached both pieces to the section of steel wire. I then tied the rubber strips to the blue gum poles. When finished, it resembled a giant slingshot with a thick steel center. This was the kill bit.

Stripping bark off several nearby trees and lashing it together, I fashioned a long rope about fifteen feet long. I then cut a small, eight-inch section off it and attached it to the steel bit. I tied a short stick to the other end, making the knot fat and round. Gripping the stick like a handle, I pulled back the rubber bands as far as they’d stretch, then wedged the handle between two posts—a second stick and the bike spoke—using the fat, round knot to hold it in place. The long rope then led back into the trees and acted as the trigger. Once it was set, I stacked the four bricks several inches in front of the trap, then sprinkled the maize chaff in the middle. This was the kill zone.

When the birds landed to eat the chaff, I’d pull the rope and release the sling, slamming the birds into the wall of bricks.

“Let’s hunt,” I said, and Khamba followed me into the trees.

We hid behind a small thombozi tree that allowed me to see clearly without being spotted. As soon as we got there, Khamba lay down beside me and stared keenly ahead. He never moved, never barked. After about half an hour, a small flock of four birds swooped over and spotted the bait. They fluttered down and began pecking at the dirt. My heart began to race. Khamba’s ears perked up and his mouth began to quiver. I was about to release the rope when I saw a fifth bird land just behind the others. It was giant, with a fat gray chest and yellow feathers.

Come on, I thought, a little more to the right. That’s it, come on.

After a few long seconds, the fat bird nudged his way into the group and started to feed. Once they were square in the kill zone, I pulled the rope.

WHOO-POP!

The birds disappeared in a cloud of feathers and chaff.

“Tonga!” I shouted, and Khamba and I dashed out of our blind.

Four birds lay dead against the bricks, while a fifth had managed to fly away. The large bird was still flapping against the mud, so I picked it up before it revived. Its body was warm and soft in my hands. I could feel its tiny heart fluttering against my palm. I pinched its head between my two fingers and twisted its neck.

I picked up the others and dusted off the mud. Normally I’d carry a sugar bag, but today I’d forgotten. I stuffed the limp birds into my pockets.

Once the trap was reset, I waited for another half hour, then finally gave up.

“It’s time to eat,” I said.

Khamba and I then set off for mphala.

MPHALA MEANS “A HOME for unmarried boys,” which is exactly where my cousin Charity lived. It was more like a clubhouse, situated on our property just across from Geoffrey’s house. James, the seasonal worker who’d fought Phiri, had once lived there. But after he’d been laid off, it remained empty. Charity had taken over the house with his friend Mizeck, a big fat guy who’d dropped out of school and now worked as a trader. Although they both still lived with their parents—Charity’s house was near Gilbert’s in the blue gum grove—they slept at the clubhouse at night.

In the corner, someone had built a bed from blue gum poles and maize sacks stuffed with grass. Dirty clothes were strewn everywhere, along with mango peels and groundnut shells and other strange pieces of rubbish. One wall featured a poster of the soccer club MTL Wanderers—otherwise known as the Nomads—which were my favorite team in the Malawi Super League, and possibly the whole world. A poster of their chief rivals, Big Bullets, adorned the opposite wall, and I can’t tell you how much I hated Big Bullets. A fireplace sat in the corner—just a large shallow pot with holes poked in the sides for ventilation and filled with charred maize piths and wood. A small window above ventilated the smoke, but not very well. It also let in the room’s only light, a thin beam of sunshine that was polluted with hanging dust. The air stank like dirty feet. To me, it was the greatest place in the world.

Because I was young and annoying, I was mostly forbidden from entering the clubhouse, unless, of course, I earned my entry. A few times I was allowed in after helping steal mangoes. Charity would make me wear a mpango sack around my neck and sneak into the neighbor’s compound. With my knife in my teeth, I’d climb the trees and quietly snip the mangoes and drop them into the sack. I’d take them back to mphala and they’d let me inside. It was like paying dues.

Once inside, the conversation was lurid and often confusing for my eleven-year-old mind. Much of the talk was about girls, and I was lucky if they forgot I was there. One time, Mizeck stopped midway through a story about a certain girl he’d seen in town and said to Charity, “We should take care, we have a child among us. This boy can’t handle such stories.”

I started pleading. “I’m not a child. Come on guys, carry on. I’m a big man. I know some things about girls.”

“Oh yeah, and what do you know?”

“I know…I know what you know.”

As KHAMBA AND I walked home from the hunt, I knew I’d earned enough loot to gain myself an entry. As I got close, I heard Charity and Mizeck inside. I knocked and Charity swung open the door.

“What?”

“Guys, I got four birds just now! They’re here in my pockets. Can I come in?”

Mizeck appeared at the door. “What do you have for us?”

“Four birds.”

He smiled. “This is the type of man we need here at mphala. Good job.”

“We’ll make a fire,” said Charity.

I walked inside beaming. Khamba followed.

“Get that stupid dog out of here,” shouted Mizeck. “He’s going to think he lives here or something. Dogs don’t belong inside, don’t you know this? I bet you even talk to that thing.”

“Khamba,” I screamed, “get outside!”

I reared back my leg, and he scurried out the door, then looked at me confused.

“Just wait,” I whispered.

I began cleaning my birds, plucking off the feathers and shaking them from my fingers into a pail. I popped the heads off and scooped out the entrails. When I opened the door, Khamba was waiting. This was his hunting treat, a reward more treasured than life itself. I tossed each head into the air, and Khamba leaped up and grabbed them. One crunch and they were gone. The entrails were slurped in a gulp.

Back inside, Charity and Mizeck already had the birds laid over the coals. The sizzling meat smelled delicious.

“Guys,” I said, “I’m really starting to salivate!”

“Be quiet.”

Once they finished cooking my birds, they even allowed me to eat one. But as soon as I was no longer useful to them, the inevitable happened.

“Hey boy,” said Mizeck, “don’t I hear your mother calling?”

“What? I don’t hear anything.”

“He’s right,” said Charity. “That’s definitely your mother.”

My marching orders had been given. Without protest, I holstered my knife back into my waistband, called my dog, and together we returned home to a houseful of girls.

CHAPTER FOUR (#ulink_8cfba4a2-8a73-5f25-8388-c8fa595e736e)

THE YEAR I TURNED thirteen marked the beginning of a new century, and gradually, I noticed a change happening in myself. I started growing up.

I stopped hunting as much and started hanging out more in the trading center, socializing and meeting new people. Gilbert was usually with me, along with Geoffrey and a few others. We’d go there and play endless rounds of bawo, a game that’s very popular in Malawi and East Africa. Bawo is a mancala game played with marbles or seeds on a long wooden board lined with holes. Each player had two rows of eight holes each. The object is to capture your opponent’s front row of marbles and prohibit him from moving.

Bawo requires a lot of strategy and quick thinking. I’ll admit, I was pretty good at this game and would often beat the other boys at the trading center, a small revenge since most of them had benched me in soccer when we were younger. If I never got mangolomera, at least I had bawo.

Each time I left for the trading center to see my friends, Khamba would perk up and try to follow me. He missed our trips together, but I forbade him to tag along. People would think I was backwards for walking with a dog. One time Khamba followed me to the trading center without my realizing he was there. When I got to the fig tree near the barbershop where we played bawo, someone pointed and laughed.

“Why do you need this dog behind you?” they said. “I don’t see any rabbits or birds around. Are you going hunting in the market?”

The other boys started laughing too. It was embarrassing. After that, whenever Khamba tried to follow, I had to get mean.

I cursed and shouted, but of course, he never listened. After a few meters, I had to pick up a small stone and hurl it toward his head.

“Now leave me alone!”

After a few times, he got the message. He’d still come to the trading center on his own, usually during July mating season, when the female dogs were in heat and roaming the villages. He’d see me and gallop over, wagging his long tail. I’d always stop him short.

“Get!” I’d shout, kicking the dust to scare him before anyone saw me.

Also, as I got older, the day-to-day fate of the MTL Nomads no longer determined my moods and emotions. Throughout my life, the Nomads had been more than men. I listened to every game on Radio One and imagined them as giants. When the Nomads lost—especially to Big Bullets—I became so upset I couldn’t even eat supper, not even if my mother served chicken, and I loved chicken. This following had become an obsession. During a game that year with Big Bullets, my heart started beating so quickly I was convinced I was dying (I think they’re called anxiety attacks). I thought, What am I doing to myself? Soccer is too stressful for my health. After that, I sort of stopped following the game altogether.

AROUND THIS SAME TIME, Geoffrey and I started taking apart some old broken radios to see what was inside, and we began figuring out how they worked so we could fix them.

In Malawi and most parts of Africa that don’t have electricity for television, the radio is our only connection to the world outside the village. In most places you go, whether it’s the deepest bush, or the busy streets of the city, you’ll see people listening to small, handheld radios. You’ll hear Malawian reggae or American rhythm and blues from Radio Two in Blantyre, or Chichewa gospel choirs and church sermons from Lilongwe.

Ever since the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation began, around the time of independence, Malawians have thought of their radios like members of their families. My father talked about the early days of MBC and hearing Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers from America and the wonderful sounds of Robert Fumulani. Back then, agriculture programs were very popular, and my father remembers President Banda—Farmer Number One—reminding everyone to clear fields, dig ridges, and plant before the rains, saying that doing so would make Malawians happy and successful. He also reminded people to apply manure! And for me growing up, I’ll always remember listening to the Sunday sermons of Shadreck Wame from the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in Lilongwe, followed by the Sunday Top Twenty.
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