Chapter 18: The Kachere Tree Pact
I’m the only one who likes roll call. There’s something magical about a large group of people together waiting on their names to be said. You don’t really know if you exist until it happens. Sometimes when almost everyone else has left after hearing their names I have a moment where I think I must be invisible. Even though I’ll always be called closer to the end with a last name like Omar, I panic. When my name comes I say ‘Here! I’m here!’ a bit too loud. I’m afraid that I’ll disappear.
It’s hard to know whether or not you’re alive when your name is only called on the weekends. Now I have roll call everyday. My Prefect, Elita, comes to my room first thing in the morning. She gives me my pills and watches closely as I take each one. All my teachers call my name first in class. At Prep Time a Housemistress sits on my bed and watches me for a few minutes, and when they’re not around I’m always with Temwa. My life is one big roll call, yet I see myself vanishing everyday.
It starts on a Wednesday, I wake up and notice that I’m a little blurred around my edges. I think its just sleep so I scrub extra hard in the shower but the blur remains. Everyday I get a little more blurred until I can almost see right through my arm. No one else notices. They just keep calling my name and thinking I’m okay. Even with the pills, nothing changes. I believe it’s a curse, an incantation meant to erase me, I feel it every time someone says that word;
They’re letting me die right in front of them
I don’t have to miss the Kachere Tree trip. Everyone has been talking about it for weeks now. I don’t think I can handle coming back if I can’t go. People will be talking about it and I won’t have a clue.
Lindani and Temwa come to my room so that we can fill out our exeat slips together. Date, full name, form, reason for leaving, and a faculty signature. Our housemistress has already signed all of them; it makes me feel like I have a blank cheque and can buy anything I want.
It’s a special occasion so we all have to wear our other uniform, a dark green skirt, gold shirt (although mine looks like mustard), and a dark green blazer. My favorite part is the boater; they’re made of straw and have a thick green and gold band around them. Mine fits me perfectly, Lindani’s head is too big for hers, and Temwa’s keeps slipping off her head despite using the band that’s supposed to hold it in place.
“We look like we’re going to sell something.” Temwa says.
We walk to the staff office together and wait whilst the Gomani girls are called in. They went to see the tree this morning and the smug looks on their faces are already starting to set.
“Okay Mlonyeni girls over here!” Mrs. Chiume says.
She calls out our names, starting with mine and asking me to stand by her as she finishes with the rest. Two prefects arrive also dressed in Green and Gold. One is Temwa’s sister, Elita, and the other I’ve never seen before. We start walking towards the gates. Mrs Chiume is walking right next to me and keeps looking at me every few minutes. At first I think there’s something on my face but no matter how many times I wipe it, my hand keeps coming back empty. I can’t look at her for too long, I’m afraid her face might melt onto the cement sidewalk so I walk faster before I scream.
“Not too fast Khadija. You have to stay close to me the whole day.”
I finally notice the way the other two prefects are hovering just in front of me. They’re talking to each other but every so often one of them looks back at me, like the stray dog you want to make sure is following you home. When we get to the gate we all stand in single file and wait as the guard checks our exeat slip. His uniform is also dark green with gold tassels and epaulets. The black bill of his hat is pulled low over his head so that you can’t see his face, just a sunburned arm with dark spots and hair reaching out to collect one slip after another.
All the green and gold is making me sick.
Once we step outside everything is dust. It curls around my feet and then moves away, it doesn’t want to be here either. The gates close behind us with a crash and I almost want to run back and beg for shelter. We walk right, sticking to the edge of the tarmac. I can’t see Lindani and Temwa through but I can hear them laughing.
We reach the roundabout. The only green place since we left the gates. The grass is even and rings of yellow flowers surround it. I blink and see myself lying in the middle of the roundabout. My arms are crossed over my chest like a mummy and I know I must be dead. People in cars circle me and admire the pretty yellow flowers, they shed a tear for the roundabout girl but they can never get too close to care.
The roundabout is in the middle of a T-junction. If we go right again we’ll end up at the PTC where everyone goes to buy snacks on Exeat. We keep going straight then take the first left into a clearing.
The area is bordered with short bushes that sprout leaves so green and soft they look like pillows. There is a small hut right in the middle; walls caked with mud and a thatched roof.
Then there’s the tree.
It stands a few feet away from the hut but its branches seem to cover everything in a perfect umbrella of cool green. Its trunk is thick and wide. I can tell its been around a long time because almost all of its roots have burst through the earth. They reach out to every corner, marking their territory.
We all gather around the ‘guide’, a woman in a dusty chitenje who is telling us the history of the hut.
“Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda grew up right here.” She says
We can’t all go into the hut at the same time because it’s too small. All the other girls enter in groups of three, laughing as they go. I’m left alone finally, Mrs. Chiume and the Prefects are too caught up with making sure everyone behaves to notice me slipping away.
I walk up to the Kachere tree, the wind whistling through its leaves like music. There is a sign nailed into its trunk, so old that the bark has started to grow around it:
Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda learned all he knew under the shade of this Kachere Tree. All his dreams began here
“Isn’t it inspiring?”
I almost think it’s the tree talking until I see a pair of shiny black shoes peeking out from the other side of the tree. Lindani stands up and brushes some stray leaves from her skirt.
“What is?” I say.
“The founder of our school, the country’s first president. It all started here. It’s like…like…”
“Just like holy ground.”
Temwa runs up to us then, her boater hanging around her neck. The three of us stand around the tree, reading the inscription to ourselves yet not saying a word.
“My grandmother once told me that Kachere trees are sacred.” Temwa says, “You stand in its shade and you feel…I don’t know, closer to the gods or something. Make any promise everlasting.”
“We should do it.” Lindani says
“Do what?” Temwa says
Lindani grabs one of the lower branches and pulls. The branch comes loose so quickly I think the tree just gave it up to her. She takes the branch firmly in one hand and draws a circle in the dust around the tree, trapping us inside.
Everything is still.
“Dreams came true under this tree so we’ll make our own promises too,” Lindani says as she holds our hands, “Like how the teachers act towards you Dija, so what if you see dinosaurs in people’s hair.”
“It’s not really there.” I say.
“People in books aren’t really there, doesn’t mean they’re not real. So what do you want?”
Nobody’s ever asked me that question seriously before now. I know I am in awe of her, this girl who knocks boys to the ground for mocking me, makes binding promises to trees, and doesn’t call me crazy.
“I want…everyone to stop looking at me like I’m different. I want to come back next year and still have friends.”
“I want to do things without someone comparing me to my sister.” Temwa says
“I want people to stop thinking they can just do or say what they want to me. I want to be strong enough to fight back.”
It’s a spell and an incantation. Green leaves shower our heads, I look at Temwa and Lindani and they are both smiling. Lindani has a fire in her eyes that continues to grow; I don’t think it will stop until its burnt her up. She’s the only one who wished for revenge. This won’t end well. I look down at my hands and smile.
I’m no longer disappearing.
Next week Lindani and Temwa finally take their revenge on Alinafe but it all goes horribly wrong. Like this story? Hit the follow button to get all the new chapters first.