Forget Me Not
by Dhasi Mwale
The morning after Niza tried Malumbo’s special marijuana, she woke up next to a monitor lizard. The half-eaten forget-me-not chocolate bar on the dresser, however, pointed to a different sort of Malumbo-incited mischief.
He laughed when she called to tell him the hexed chocolate bar had turned her little sister into a lizard.
“Mum comes home in an hour! You have to do something!”
“I’m coming. Don’t feed her.”
Feed her? He hung up before she asked what exactly he thought she’d feed the lizard.
She stared at the sleeping lizard and dared to believe her eyes.
She hadn’t actually expected the chocolate to be magical. Just another classic Malumbo prank. Another tall tale from a selection of unbelievable stories he tried to pass off as life experiences.
Afraid your boyfriend will leave you when he moves away? Have no fear, here’s a forget-me-not chocolate bar guaranteed to keep him interested.
Good grief! If she’d believed him, she’d have hidden the damn thing.
Malumbo showed up at their door twenty minutes later, with a clownish grin on his face. On seeing lizard-Monje and the forget-me-not chocolate bar, he fell into such a fit of laughter he got the hiccups. Niza did not appreciate how lightly he was taking things.
“Please tell me you can make me another one?”
“Shouldn’t you be more concerned about your sister’s current form?” he said between chortles and hiccups, brushing away tears.
Niza clicked her tongue. “She deserves it. Little thief. I am tempted to keep her like this and teach her a lesson.”
“Your mother will notice.”
“Not for a whole day. I can fix it so it looks like she’s gone to school. Yeah, that will show the little twerp to steal my stuff.”
Malumbo gaped at her. “I’m starting to see it.”
“I am a bad influence on you, chéríe.”
The mothers of Chindwin Army Barracks called him “that Congolese boy,” as if saying his name would bring them misfortune. They’d lock up their daughters if they could. In his first two months in the barracks, he’d broken a dozen hearts and gotten suspended from school. He often smelt of alcohol and marijuana and stirred up trouble in the schoolyard just because.
It stunned teachers and parents alike that Niza and Malumbo became quick friends. Niza was the community golden girl who ordinarily avoided troublemakers, but Malumbo was an oddity. She was immediately fascinated by the refugee boy who ranted in French whenever he lost his temper, thrived on conflict and yet managed to maintain a place on the school honour roll.
His aunt, a woman Niza hardly knew, was so distraught by their friendship she took it upon herself to set things right. She begged with tears in her eyes for Niza to stay away from her delinquent nephew.
He was the rogue all mothers feared. Well, all but one.
Niza’s mother was indifferent. Upon hearing of the new delinquent in the barracks, she’d sat her daughters down to lecture them about the dangers of a boy like him. She left the rest to fate. Fate and the condoms she discreetly shoved into Niza’s hands whenever she saw them together. She was a big believer in better to have and not need and so on.
“How long will it take?”
Malumbo fed lizard-Monje a dead mouse dipped in a foul smelling concoction.
“It will work when it works.”
“And my replacement chocolate bar?”
“You’re still going ahead with it? Even though it turned your sister into a lizard?” He stared at her askance.
“It’s not going to do the same to Harris is it?” she asked, panic rising.
“If you’re lucky he’ll lose his ability to speak and start to bark instead.”
Malumbo and Harris’s dislike for each other was explosive. Harris had even gone as far as to demand Niza stop being friends with Malumbo. She’d refused, and their relationship hadn’t been the same since. Cue the hexed chocolate bar, Malumbo’s suggestion.
“Are you trying to turn my boyfriend into an animal?”
“Non, ma chéríe. I’m saying he is a dog.”
* * *
Half an hour later, Monje transformed. Not into the annoying fourteen-year old they loved but a large brown hen. This time Malumbo didn’t laugh.
“What happened?” Niza demanded. The large hen pecked away at the rug, apparently oblivious to her former human status.
Malumbo sniffed and scratched behind his right ear. “I don’t know. It was supposed to work.”
“Can you try again?”
“I could but...”
“Chéríe, I think we should take her to a witch doctor.”
It was bad enough she’d schemed to feed her boyfriend a hexed chocolate bar, now she had to go to a witch doctor? She could think of at least a dozen reasons why it was a bad idea. For one, she had no money. How was she going to pay said witch doctor?
It’s not like she could walk up to her mother and say, “May I have some money for a witch doctor? Oh, while we’re on the topic, the delinquent turned your youngest into a chicken. By the way, have I ever told you he’s a sorcerer?”
At this point, her mother would probably drag her by her braids to church for deliverance.
“It’s a school day.”
“I think this justifies absconding”
“And you’re sure you can’t fix it yourself?”
He picked up chicken-Monje. “Exhibit A.”
* * *
The first witch doctor they visited was a motherly woman who tried to sell them everything except what they’d come for. She finally gave in and admitted she did not know how to fix Monje.
Monje, by this time, had transformed into a most vicious cat, and they spent a good half-hour trying to figure out how to woo her into a basket. She did eventually crawl in after a fish head and sat there, trapped. Although, she didn’t seem to mind very much as she munched on her fish head.
The next witch doctor boxed Malumbo’s ears and scolded him until Niza begged him to help. He admitted that even he couldn’t fix Monje, but he knew who could.
Monje transformed into a dog. Niza picked up the brown puppy. It snarled and she thrust it into Malumbo’s arms. “Malumbo, we have to fix this before she turns into a bird and flies away. Why don’t we visit this man they keep sending us to?”
Malumbo rubbed puppy-Monje’s belly. She wagged her tail. “Because he won’t want to help me.”
“Why? What did you do to him?”
Niza hid her eyes from the overhead sun. It was almost noon, and Monje was expected home in an hour. If Monje had been a more sociable kid, Niza could have lied that she’d stayed back for a club meeting. But, no, not bookworm Monje. She was home exactly ten minutes after school was out, every single day. Mom would be back from her shift soon after. They had to figure something out, yesterday.
Niza turned back to Malumbo, arms akimbo. “Look, he is helping me, not you.”
“Come on! At least we should try.”
* * *
The old man looked her straight in the eyes and refused. No pity, no remorse, nothing.
Niza wanted to shake him. “Why won’t you help us?”
“He knows what he did.” The old man had barely looked up since he’d ordered Malumbo to keep his distance. Niza had watched, awed, as Malumbo obeyed without protest and positioned himself at the edge of the yard, under a guava tree near the exit.
The old man had listened to Niza’s frantic recollection of events while calmly shelling a bowl of peanuts. And afterwards, he had the fortitude to say no? How heartless could this man be?
“Malumbo is not the one asking for help. It’s me. Please, sir. I need your help,” she begged and fell to her knees, ready to kiss the ground or his feet if that’s what it took.
“You used one of his potions,” the old man said in a matter-of fact way.
“Well...” Niza began to say, but the words refused to flow. No, she had no idea what to say or if she should say anything.
The old man spoke in a flat tone devoid of inflection. Yet Niza could sense a deep and powerful rage underneath his calm. “He stole from me. I gave him shelter. I taught him my trade and he repaid me with spite.” The old man spat on the ground.
Niza trembled and balled her hands. “I can’t defend something I don’t know, but I’m begging you! For my sister.”
She touched her forehead to the ground. A few feet away Monje chased her tail.
Niza lifted her head and waited, hopeful. The old man beckoned to Malumbo. As soon as he joined Niza on his knees, the old man smacked Malumbo’s head so hard he lost his balance. “You are a despicable boy. Look at what you have done!”
“I didn’t think...” Malumbo protested a palm over the spot the old man had slapped.
“That’s right! You didn’t think! You never think!”
Malumbo bowed his head, his hands on his thighs curled into trembling fists. “Shikulu...”
The old man slapped Malumbo again, this time so hard that Malumbo fell over. Niza bowed her head even lower.
“Here is my price. Return what you took from me and never ever practice magic again. You have talent but no restraint. And you, girl, you allowed yourself to take part in this foolishness. You will pay my full fee. Come back before sunset or your sister will be lost forever.”
* * *
The 45-minute trip home felt like an eternity. Neither of them spoke and, though Niza wished she could say something, anything, she was too afraid words would force her to confront the utter hopelessness of the situation.
They shuffled into the yard with dog-Monje in tow. Malumbo was first to break the silence. “I’m sorry.”
Niza fought back the tears. “What am I going to do? I don’t have five hundred kwacha. And even if I did, it’s only part of the deal.”
“Just go home, Malumbo. It’s my fault after all. I was reckless.”
“Please just go.” She turned her back to him and made a hurried show of unlocking the front door. Dog-Monje clawed at the door almost as if she knew this was home.
“I’m sorry,” Malumbo said again before retreating.
* * *
The mothers of Chindwin Barracks swore that Malumbo would bring Niza’s downfall. He’d lead the astute, obedient girl astray. Maybe impregnate her before the year ended, or get her expelled.
Niza watched Monje play with their bedroom rug, dread and regret soaking in. She should have listened.
She had four hours to sunset and only one choice, tell her mother. Of course, mother would demand that Niza stop being friends with Malumbo in exchange. She would make that trade. Monje was her little sister and, annoying though she might be, she’d never gotten her into trouble before.
But how would she get Malumbo to return whatever he had stolen? A knock at the door pulled her out of contemplation. She shut the bedroom door, praying to heaven Monje wouldn’t trash it, and went to answer the door.
“Hi. Surprised to see me?” His grin was its usual width but had none of the mischief.
Niza shrugged. It had been over an hour; she had never expected he would come back. “I still don’t have the money.”
“Don’t worry about it. I got the medicine.”
“May I come in?”
Niza led Malumbo to Monje and silently stood by as he forced the medicine down the reluctant dog’s throat. Monje almost bit off a finger or two but he won in the end. They retreated to the living room to wait for the potion to take effect.
Niza mindlessly flipped through the channels on the TV, unsure what to feel. “Where did you get the money?” she asked at length.
“I had some saved up. For when I had to leave.”
“You’re leaving?” Niza fought to keep her pulse steady. She couldn’t lose Malumbo. He made her otherwise structured and boring life lively. She couldn’t go back to being just plain old Niza hanging out with the honour students and pretending she was happy.
“I don’t know. Usually, by now I’d have been kicked out.”
“So, you called him grandfather,” Niza commented by way of query and to avoid dwelling on why he thought his aunt would kick him out.
“It’s a long story.”
A high pitched scream signalled Monje’s successful transformation. “That’s my cue.” Malumbo shot to his feet and handed Niza a chocolate bar. She stared at it frozen. “It’s just an ordinary chocolate bar. I’m sorry about the other one. I’m also sorry for making you feel you needed to hex your boyfriend to keep him interested. You are an amazing girl. If he doesn’t see that, it’s his loss. See you at school tomorrow.”
“Hey, Malumbo.” He paused at the door. “Shikulu said he wanted you to give up on magic forever. How does that work exactly? He doesn’t expect you to listen. I mean it is you.”
He stretched out his hands to show her the fresh binding tattoos. “Shikulu doesn’t take chances.”
* * *
“I thought you and Harris would be having a spectacular goodbye make-out session,” Malumbo said without turning around.
Niza sat next to him on the big rock, cross-legged, and took the hand rolled cigarette. “I dumped him.”
“You what?” He sat up.
Niza took a long drag from the cigarette and handed it back. “I have something for you.” She pulled the chocolate bar from the coat.
“Thanks. But you know I don’t like candy.”
“Shut up. It’s a gesture.” She flicked his ear. “I’m sorry I made you lose your magic.”
“It’s okay. I only used it for selfish reasons anyway.”
“Please don’t leave. This place would suck without you.”
“You know I can’t promise that, chéríe.”
“What can you promise? After the day I’ve had, I need a promise.”
“I promise,” he said, puffing smoke into her face, the mischievous glint back in his eyes, “that you’ll never have a dull moment while I’m here.”
Copyright © 2020 by Dhasi Mwale