Intwasa Short Story Competition 2019 – The Candle Light by Brian Ncube (1st prize)
The flickering, twitching and
unstable candle light made the words look blurry, inviting involuntary light tears
that Thandi kept wiping away as she struggled to read for her exams. There was
no room to quit or wait for the return of unscheduled power cuts; she had to do
what needed to be done to pass the exams.
These were not just examinations but determinations of ends or beginnings. She summoned the little energy that her hunger ravaged body could muster and ate into the set book The Cherry Orchard, just like in our country in the book also regionalism and tribalism painted the pages red with the blood of the poor who had to bend double for greedy political mavericks that somehow controlled their lives.
When electricity returned she was
half way through the book. She paused for a while as she gathered all the air
she had to extinguish her painful studying candle and joined the joyous shouts
that came with electricity, this was a window of opportunity to iron, cook and
heat up everything that needed electricity, one never knew how long it will
last, and she held on to her match boxes, preparing for the worst but still
hoping for the best, these were the days of academic sacrifices, Thandi lived
for these moments, moments when electricity came back. Living without was
painful but when it did come back all is forgiven to the inept power supplier,
indeed there is beauty in the struggle, the return of electricity was the
beauty of Thandi’s academic struggle, as she waited for water to boil and make
the world’s second popular drink she leaned on the edge of the stove and stuck
her nose in the book as she continued with her information accumulation of the
It was not long until the hunger gnawed with such persistence that she had to stop and appease it. A fleeting glance towards the kitchen betrayed a lack of activity that left her with a sinking feeling. The porridge that she had left in the afternoon seemingly was the only food that she could combat her hunger with at that moment, because she had prepared it using the remnants of what was a 10kg mealie-meal packet. It wasn’t the best of meals but she pounced on it and as she ate the images of her next door neighbor competed for attention with the themes and plots of The Cherry Orchard. Mdlongwa was old enough to be her father, he had a child slightly older than Thandi and went to the same school as her, but he had quite a number of time made sexual advances on Thandi, which she kept rejecting with threats of informing other elderly people in her vicinity as her parents had joined the popular bandwagon to the Neighboring South Africa, to try and make ends meet as the country slid further into recession, if that was even still a thing cause our economy had been on an intensive care unit for what it felt like a lifetime, the economist had graded us into a junk status and were still arguing around declaring our Country a banana republic.
Thandi had found herself in a position where she had to outgrow her teenage years and take up responsibilities far beyond her unsuspecting teenage years and here she was like an innocent chick, that recently hatched finding it’s ways around the art of picking unsuspecting insects unaware of the hovering hawk, a hawk that has spotted the vulnerability of an exposed chick, it kept hovering around marking it’s target for a clean swoop, Mdlongwa fed his lust for Thandi and fancied his chances of succeeding in his heinous act with the vulnerability of a starving teenage girl, with parents far beyond reach slaving in distant lands and still fail to provide.
Thandi was a rare beauty, inviting a legion of potential suitors from the young and the uncultured old ones; she had on her a pair of eyes that were at once as alluring as they were enchanting. She would give you a feeling that she needed no candles like everybody else; she would probably shine through the darkness with ease. She finished her meager meal with the disturbing images of Mdlongwa and his horrid voice, which was accompanied by the smell of cheap cigarettes, merging seamlessly into the sub themes and settings that she had memorized. Sleep was sneaking up on her ,but she could not respond to the nature’s call, not before she filled all the water containers in the house as like electricity the precious liquid had a disappearing tendency leaving a trail of disappointment and in some cases, an unusable toilet as one could do the secondary job unaware that the accompanying party to the great sewer pipes has fast disappeared, so she filled up everything that could hold water, as the water dripped from the tap…. Mdlongwa’s promises to her kept appearing with every drop, indeed hunger makes one contemplate on doing what they never thought possible, as she filled the last bottle, a sudden surge of darkness engulfed the house, ‘damn, it’s load shedding again’ shouted Thandi with utter disgust as she finally succumbed to the nature’s call and retired to bed.
As the biting cold winter night swings to it’s unforgiving force for someone covering themselves with a torn slumber, Thandi kept twisting and turning as her stomach growled with hunger, the world was so unfair at that moment, as memory lay it’s hand upon her dreams and instantly turned them to a living nightmare, she woke up and started a race inside her head, to be or not to be? competing towards the image of a very ugly man named Mdlongwa, her predator. ‘If it happens just once, I can sustain myself for a week with food, no one will know, I wouldn’t dare tell a soul’ her inner voice said.
There was a slight knock on the door, she waited to hear it again to confirm if indeed it was a knock, at times wind blows stuff against the door, ‘knock, knock’ said a voice outside, ‘who is it, at this time of the night’ Thandi inquired ‘Open up I need to talk to you for a second, don’t be scared’ responded the voice.
At this moment Thandi was
struggling for breath, she could recognize the voice, it’s been haunting her.
She gathered herself together and demanded Mdlongwa to say what she was there for or leave immediately.
I brought you food, and money, I am a careering neighbor, I just want to drop it off and leave please open the door’, ‘I honestly don’t trust you, please leave’, ‘I was only trying to help, as a father, goodnight’
At this moment, hunger is demanding that she opens the door; her brain is telling her to be clever enough and remain within the protection the confines of the house provided her with, while she is still undecided she hears herself shout “wait”
“Wait” a word she uttered in a second and regretted it for a very long time until she held Thembelihle in her arms, her cries announcing hope and redemption to a teenage mother.
Thembelihle, conceived of a moment of needless pleasure and painful circumstances to her mother who lost not only her virginity but dignity, her being, and future yet Thembelihle was the lead semen, that the mother ensured it survived the morning after and had the monster of a rapist locked up and justice throwing the key away. Heinous deeds are done beyond closed doors, in the darkest of places, and in the deem alleys far away from the candle lights, but justice favors those who stand up and speak out, for justice listens and rewards accordingly, to the victim and the perpetrator.
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