Chika was fourteen when she gave birth to Mosi, her first child by Jelani. The previous spring, Jelani, a Malawi man, from the next village claimed the dark-eyed beauty for his fifth wife.
When Jelani heard Chika was carrying his second child, he sent her back to her parent's home.
Chika asked Jelani why he had taken her for his wife, knowing she would bear children. He said he had fallen in love with her beauty and foolishly married on the strength of it. She argued with him, saying he was responsible for her. High-caste Jelani dismissed the notion. He told Chika that because she was low-caste, she was no longer welcome in his home.
Jelani's other wives and children were also high-caste; constantly complaining at sharing their home, with a low-caste wife.
Chika knew the truth; the other wives, had lost their beauty, and were jealous of her. She knew they had been scheming against her; believing that with Chika out of the way, they would regain the attentions of their coveted husband.
She returned home with a swelling belly dragging Mosi with her. A few months later, Chika’s father became ill and died of cholera. Left to cope with six children, a grandchild and another on the way, Amina, his ageing wife, was bereft.
Amina, with the help of her neighbour brought Chika’s baby into the world on a cold winter night. In the overcrowded mud hut, all the family gathered around to welcome the new baby girl. Chika’s sisters, Eshe and Jamila, cooed over their niece. Imamu, Ndidi, and Rudo, Chika’s brothers looked on in awe.
Until the passing of the children’s father, life in their village was bearable. Now after the birth of her second grandchild, Amina was struggling to make ends meet.
Imamu the eldest at thirteen, showed courage and understanding. He told his mother, the families ‘faith’ in God would ensure their future.
In nineteen ninety-seven, six months, after Chika had given birth the village experienced a terrible drought. People relied on the growth of rice and maize; the lack of rain meant the crops would not grow.
They could not feed their animals, and all the cattle and goats perished. With no flesh left on the dead animals, the villagers were unable to eat them. Some families used their fishing skills, and shared their catch with neighbours. However, they soon realised there was not enough to feed everyone.
When the rain eventually came, the people faced a critical famine. The seedlings were either overgrown or scorched by the intense heat.
A food distribution programme was organised by some people from the church. Mass starvation was narrowly avoided as overseas charities, helped and food was flown in.
Two years passed since the drought, and the ‘Smit’ family had survived including Farida, the young daughter of Chika.
Unfortunately, some of the elders and sick children from the village lost their lives, but most others pulled through the disaster. The village returned to normal.
‘Ndidi come here at once,’ called Imamu.
The younger brother had a habit of hiding when there were chores to be done, but Imamu was strict. He made sure each child did its fair share.
‘What do you want me for?’ Ndidi asked his brother.
‘I want you to stop playing games. You are a young man now, and you must help Moeder (mother) around the hut. The other children manage, so why are you always playing with your friends when there are things to do?’ Imamu challenged, annoyed.
Ndidi did not argue with his brother and did the chore he had been given to do.
Chika fed her children, as she watched her younger brother, chopping the wood.
Mosi, four years old, crawled away to where his uncle Ndidi was chopping wood; stacking it into piles.
‘Come back Mosi,’ Chika called, concerned the boy would come to harm if her brother did not see him approach.
‘It is all right Chika, do not worry I can see him,’ Ndidi shouted back. He laid the axe down carefully, away from his nephew’s reach.
Picking Mosi up in his arms, Ndidi brought him back to the safety of his Moeder.
Chika smiled saying, ‘Thank you Ndidi you are so kind.’
‘You will have to rein him Chika,’ her younger brother scolded. ‘He is too quick for you, and you cannot control him.’