There is a song that used to boom rustily from the radioes when I was a little girl. I can’t remember any of the verses, but the chorus sang (over and over) “Bus ya kwa Jali imakoma kumathelero.” [Jali's busride feels the best when it's about to end]. I recall asking my mother what it meant. She was cutting something on the old, wooden chopping board in the kitchen. Whatever she was cutting was tough. That, or she was using a blunt knife, for her hand moved back and forth swiftly with the knife in an effort to slice through.
“Every good thing feels the best when it’s about to come to an end,” she said simply.
I remember marveling at this simple fact, and the level of truth I saw in it. Mornings were the first thing I thought of. It was June. The weather was cold, and the most appealing places to be were by the stove as my mother cooked, or between my blankets in The Girls’ Bedroom.
In the mornings, my older sister Mphatso would wake up and steal away from the bedroom to take a bath. I would stir in my bed, especially enjoying my last minutes of sleep. Moments later, she would return, and tell me it was my turn to go and have a bath. In that instance, sleep was the sweetest, and my body was curled up, awash in a new reluctance. I stayed there for moments longer, permitting myself to fall only half asleep, that state in which I could smell Mphatso’s glycerine-diluted cocoa-butter lotion, and could hear her hum as she oiled her limbs. The sound of her palms rubbing together swiftly to spread the liquid over her short, light thighs sounded just like that of my crisp, warm duvet as I shifted in my sleep. Other times, like quiet waves, coming and going breezily in the warm morning sun.
“Wake up!” My eyes fluttered open. She was fully dressed now, her neatly ironed uniform tucked into the dark-green skirt that fell right below her knees as she peered down at me momentarily. The morning sun poured in, blinding, and the smell of cocoa-butter awakened my senses. I got up, my limbs feeling as heavy as large boulders, weighed down by the turmoil of having to wake up. It was true, Jali’s bus ride WAS better at the end.
I could relate this to lots of other things, too. Like the times when my cousins from Lilongwe came over. They came once a year. When they first arrived, there was an expected awkwardness that walked into the house as they did.
My sister and I made our way to the living-room well after they had, walking extra slowly the closer we got to the open door, whispering nervously to each-other. The smell of visitors emanated from the sitting room. Once we got close, we whispered louder and began shoving each-other savagely, neither of us willing to face the awkwardness first.
Auntie and Uncle sat down on the fat sofas after we had hauled all of their luggage to bed in the guest room (on which my mother had laid the best linens in the house). Emily and Pempho sat down quietly, often squeezed weirdly between their parents on the sofa (until they grew too big, that is). We eyed them, our new playmates, with hungry eyes, minds already plotting the different games we would teach them.
A week later, our cousins were driving out of our compound, almost breaking their necks to look back at us and wave. Afternoons of frenzied play, scraped knees, dismembering poor grasshoppers who we forced to nibble on blades of grass filled our recent memories. Evenings of getting scolded by our mothers for playing out in the cold too late, without slippers, or with stones, too close to windows. We waved as they drove out.
The bus ya kwa Jali was, indeed, sweeter at the end.
I’ve been quite cool about leaving home and starting college, and as the days draw nearer, this is one bus ride I’m savoring. This was going to be a post filled with my longings and bittersweet feelings, and then I remembered a wisdom a dear friend of mine told me the other day. It’s a simple wisdom, it’s depth is not foreboding: This, like everything in life, comes and it passes. My year home is, my life as a teenager soon is, and college, well it’s coming soon but it, too, will pass.
So here’s to living in the now. Here’s to enjoying the bus-ride ya kwa Jali, as well us enjoying the moments my feet touch the ground and it’s time to walk. Here’s to smelling the flowers, tripping over my shoelaces, breathing the clean air, and getting to cliffs from which the view of the sunset is breathtaking.