Celebrating East African Writing!

The Corpse in Prada by Martie Mtange

Onam cringed over and over again. “There is no way I am going to simply hand over my daughter to you for less than fifteen goats, five cows and a Mercedes Benz. In addition to that, we expect you to buy suits for all the men in the family to use during the said wedding” Dora’s father barked. “About the suits, that is no problem, I will sort that out; do your other suggestions even sound reasonable to you? Are we buying her from you? The girl can’t even clean; would you pay that much for such a woman? With all due respect this is your doing. You will not punish us for that” Onam’s father retorted accordingly. Onam was already astounded by the demands being made by Dora’s father who he thought he had always thought of as a second father. They were both part of their neighborhood’s Security Watch. Did that not deserve some form of penance? He was just another African man in the middle of a transaction: the purchase of a wife.

Onam took out his phone and addressed his text message to his father who was the only one who seemed to be doing the talking. Ronnie, his older brother sat still, going through the motions as if such occurrences were commonplace. He seemed nonchalant, indifferent, because he knew he had no hope of getting or keeping a wife, therefore all these negotiations were simply a playing field for him; like a housewife who had been dragged to a rugby match, to watch brawny men that she could never have. “Papa, please tell him that I’m not a rich man, I just started operating that clothes’ store in town. I don’t have a car of my own so how can I possibly afford a MERCEDES for him?” Onam finished typing and furiously clicked the “send” button. He knew he was not allowed to talk. The two men continued to butt heads. “Are you married?” Dora’s father asked Onam’s. “I was, but not anymore. She left. I had demons she could not deal with.”

“Oh, pole. Is that the legacy you are leading my daughter into? Is your other mute spawn here married?”

“No. He is wise to travel this journey of life alone without the madness a woman brings. I do not see what’s wrong with that.”

“One has a failed marriage, the other wants nothing to do with marriage, my daughter, are you sure you want to be a part of this confusion?”

Silence. Onam looked down at his feet and chanced a glance at Dora who was staring intently at her father. The two fathers stared at each other unwaveringly, fists clenched, each willing the other to strike first. Onam’s father stood up first. “We shall resume this after Mzee Tambo’s funeral service tomorrow. I hope then that you will have mustered your tongue to address me with respect. I am a man who has nothing to lose.”

Mr. Marwa, Dora’s father spoke on behalf of the entire neighborhood at Mzee Tambo’s funeral. He stood up elegantly, strode to the front of the congregation and said, “Tambo was notorious for driving into the neighborhood at two in the morning at top speed, so Juma as the watch-man always had to be awake to ensure the gate was open, to make sure Mzee Tambo did not run it over because he was drunk.” Mr. Marwa paused in the middle of his testimony to allow the soft giggles that erupted.

“He would park diagonally outside his gate, diagonally! He would block the entire driveway with his Mercedes S-Class. Shameless man! I’m sure I’m not the only one who would watch him stumble from the driver’s seat onto the pavement, then see him struggle to get up, clutching at the air as if only he saw the invisible ropes that were willing to help him stand. He was a real dancer that one! He would dance his way onto the threshold of his gate, and tango around the bell before pressing it like he was seducing a woman. Seeing that no one was showing up, he would turn to the gate instead and beat on it like he was attacking a thief, with kicks, fists and head-butts until his young daughter would scamper to open it. Ha! Mzee Tambo was a certified drunkard, yet he still sent the largest contribution toward the estate’s Christmas party, had a wonderful sense of style with his fitting suits and ever-shining shoes, plus he always paid school fees for Juma’s children. Mzee Tambo, I can say, was just a human being. Flawed like the rest of us but still a human being nonetheless. Bless his soul.” With that, Mr. Marwa sat down. The atmosphere was not too somber, because everyone knew that Mzee Tambo would not appreciate a melancholic air around his demise; he loved a good time, of clutching brown bottles and holding slim waists, of howling like wolves and dancing like our feet were made to moon-walk, of dressing like kings and smiling like the sun resides in our teeth. That was just the kind of man he was.

The coffin lay open in front of the crowd that stood, singing hymns and waving white handkerchiefs in the air. Mzee Tambo’s daughter sat in the front row of the crowd, sobbing into her estranged mother’s shoulder in gentle ripples that coursed through her body and manifested into a slight draught that whipped small dust-hurricanes into the air. Even the earth felt the loss. Onam’s eyes were fixated on Mzee Tambo’s corpse in the casket. The suit he was clad in was quite elegant. It was jet-black, well-fitted to his large body, not a speck of dirt on it. A white shirt peeped from the inside, whose cuffs protruded from the sleeves of his coat. He was too well-dressed for a dead man. Onam appreciated the fashion sense, but there was something that compelled him to think that perhaps all this extravagance was unnecessary, that those clothes could be put to better use on the living. He should not be thinking like that. Onam turned to his father to ask if they could leave now; but his father’s gaze was in the coffin. He seemed transfixed, like the coffin was beckoning him, yet gravity tied him down. It was almost as if they were the only two who were fixated on the corpse

Onam could not sleep. Ever since his father had urged him to open a clothes’ store, his sensitivity towards clothing and fashion had deepened. Onam would mentally judge the fashion sense of anyone he crossed paths with; undressing and redressing some, criticizing color-blocking and mismatched clothes. Dora had a perfect fashion sense. She was chocolate-colored and beautiful; always knew that purple and red lipstick complimented the color of her gums, and preferred to don skirts to show off her best assets: her legs and her buttocks. That was one of the many reasons why he loved her; but now the individual differences between their fathers threatened to tear them apart. Onam sat up in his bed, rubbed his eyes and stretched. 2 a.m. was no time for him to be awake, but he could not sleep because he kept on visualizing images of Mzee Tambo in his coffin, dead but still in that beautiful suit. In these times of hardship and scarcity, could people still afford to waste brilliant suits on corpses? That was not right. He wanted that suit. It would be put to better use on the living; it would certainly bring a touch of class to his newly-opened shop. Besides, the cemetery was full; people had started double-burying so if he was to dig it up, it would not take too long; it was only three-feet deep anyway…

The night-air pierced straight into the bone in its cold indifference, shamelessly causing the erection of hairs and a slit of mist in the air. It was like an ambience straight out of a horror-movie set. Still, Onam persisted with his shovel and jembe (hoe) in hand; he had never done this before, so he skulked in the shadows so that he was not seen by anyone. He felt a tinge of shame, but there was no way he was leaving this beautiful specimen behind to rot with the dead. There was a periodic hacking sound as he got closer to the gravesite… as if metal was striking the soil. Onam approached cautiously and was shocked to see someone immersed in a rectangular hole in the soil, lifting the hoe up, letting it gleam in the moonlight then leveraging it to descend back into the soil, muttering. Onam dared to get closer because the familiarity of this hulking figure drew him in, and confused him. He was tall, and had a bent back and a torn shirt that Onam had grown up seeing; it could not be. It could not be. Onam abandoned all pretense of caution and stepped into full view; all he could hear from all the muttering was “This suit is not going to waste. We all have our demons. I have nothing to lose… This suit is not going to waste. We all have our demons. I have nothing to lose…”

© Martie Mtange 2015



One comment on “The Corpse in Prada by Martie Mtange

  1. salmakhamala
    February 4, 2015

    This story surely MUST GO ON! The suspense is too intense, I need to know who it was at the grave site. Language, originality, of course grammar and style is superb!
    I rate this a 6/5 🙂


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