Hello! Here’s a short story I wrote for Blantyre’s May StoryTelling session at Kwa Haraba. It was an honour to read a story I wrote, inspired by the work we do as Little BIG Prints, mentoring secondary school girls in Zomba, Malawi. Let me know what particular issue(s) resonates with you. Enjoy!
Edit: This story also won Third Prize in Makewana’s Daughters 2019 Short Story competition.
LILY OF THE SKY
I don’t know if you remember me. I was in your Geography class. I first had a chat with you when that NGO came and was looking for needy girls to pay for their fees. You were writing down our names. I was first to meet you. It was one of your first days working for the school. I really needed to complete my secondary school so this was a chance I wasn’t going to let pass me by.
Anyway. Madam, I have important news to share with you. But before I get into that… I never told you this, but you were very grumpy when you first joined our school. I’m sorry if that’s rude, but it’s true. When I heard that a female teacher was coming to join our school, I was excited. I was looking forward to asking you a lot of questions about life out there. I wanted to be close to a lady that had made it. I decided in my heart that you were going to be my friend, whether you wanted to be my friend too or not.
Then you came, and you were always keeping to yourself. The first day, you wore your floral dress and you held the chalk in a weird way, like it was burning your fingers. After every class, you went straight home and didn’t talk much, not even to your fellow teachers. But I didn’t give up. I would run after you, tap you and you would remove your headsets, while sighing, and say, “Lily, it’s you again. I’m on my way home.” And I would say, “I know, madam. But I need more books.”
I knew the NGO donated books and I loved to read them. But Mr Chinzele, the headmaster, usually kept them in his office. He said he didn’t want us to damage them. So you would ask him for the books, and I would read them. The books made me imagine more. They made me want to fly. Literally. I dreamt of being a pilot one day. I really wanted that for myself and my family. They worked so hard in the fields, but we were still very poor. I wanted to change that for us.
Then I asked you about being a pilot. I will never forget your response. You said, “We don’t have aviation schools here in Malawi. And only people from good homes make it there.” My heart sunk. What about me? A girl from a community school in Phalombe can’t dream about flying? You sighed. You said, “the world is unfair, Lily.” That day, my dreams started to die a little.
But I knew there must have been something that made you pessimistic, madam. So I planned to ask you one day.
“What did you want to be when you were young?” I asked.
You sighed, the way you did when I’m asking too much.
“Something else,” you said. I knew that was just an answer to make me shut up.
I was silent. I was tempted to let you be. But I was also curious. Your words hang in the air for what seemed like forever. Then I gathered the courage.
“What did you want to be, then?”
More silence. Then your face changed and you looked serious. I knew you had a sad story to tell and I wanted to hear it.
You said you were a hardworking and optimistic girl, just like me. You came from a village too, with a poor background. You said you wanted to be an Accountant, get out of your village and join a big firm. Your friends fell pregnant and dropped out, but you were determined. You said you had the best points at your school. But when you applied at the University of Malawi, they didn’t select you. And that made you sad for a very long time. Then someone told you of Domasi Teachers College. And you were posted here at this school after you graduated from there. But you didn’t like being a teacher. You hated how far our school was from town and you hated the smell of chalk.
I never said it that day, but I think you are brave and smart. Maybe you didn’t end up where you wanted to be, but you still came out of your village. I also understood why you were so grumpy. Eventually, you seemed more relaxed and smiled more. I really wanted to prove that I could make it out of my village too. Despite the hardships I faced, I wanted to fly. And I wanted to fly you first just to show you dreams can come true. I worked very hard, madam. You know I did everything I could. And I got the good grades you all expected me to get.
Then the worst thing happened. I wasn’t selected to university. I felt pain in my heart. I lost all hope and I felt like a waste of space. You said to me, “try to apply for these other colleges,” but my parents didn’t have the fees. I asked you, “can the NGO help me?” and you said, “the NGO no longer has donors funding it. The money was embezzled by the people that worked there.” That was a blow to me. But I know you really tried to help me. Thank you, madam.
I got very sad. I no longer dreamt the way I used to. My mother said, “you can’t cry forever, Lily.” I went back to helping my parents with their farm. Remember, I’m writing you because I have news to share with you. I know you will hear it soon, but I want you to hear it from me first. I am pregnant, madam. Mr Chinzele, the headteacher, is responsible. He said I have no choice but to be his second wife. My family thinks so too.
Thank you, once again, for your help.