By Jabbes Mvula - I was still in bed when I felt a gentle hand touching my head, and as I woke up, I saw him with a broad smile standing next to the bed. He was always smiling, that is why sometimes we used to call him Smiler. I looked at the window as the streams of the sun beamed onto my face through the curtains. I looked at the watch, it was only a minute or so after 07:00 hours in the morning and yet the sun was already bright. What a bright summer morning. The day was 23rd October 2001, on the eve of Zambia's independence day.
He pointed to the food on the bedside table, "You did not eat your food last night," he told me as if I did not know. I knew that he wanted the food, and I told him to take it to his Mum to warm it first. He had gotten used to eating with me such that it seemed like he never enjoyed his food alone. I envied his great appetite, no wonder he was a big boy, the opposite of his skinny father. He dashed out of the bedroom to the kitchen like lightening, and then I switched on the radio to listen to the morning main news at 07:00 hours.
I was off from work, and after the news, I sat to plan my day. I had only three appointments on this day, one at the National Arts Council (NAC) where I served as a Board Member, another one with Actors and Actresses who had featured in the play entitled 'Banjo' that I had just finished producing the previous weekend, then later in the evening, there was an "Independence Cultural Night and Dinner" at State House to be hosted by the Republican President. As a board member of NAC, I had the privilege of attending high profile cultural and artistic functions.
I was still in the bedroom when I heard noise coming from the kitchen as if there was a party. I was very upset because it was early, and besides, my late Dad was visiting us and he was still sleeping. When I went into the kitchen, I found the whole family surrounding a three-year-old boy, Jabbes Junior who was singing and performing. He was singing the songs he learnt from the Theatre Club when the family went to watch my play the previous week. The song was not in very good taste, but as a kid, he was singing it very innocently, and I should admit that he was a spectacle to watch anyway. However, I breathed fire on everyone for watching a kid sing a naughty song, and I screamed at the three-year-old-one-man-performer (I regret screaming at him - will explain later).
There was an immediate silence in the room, then I enquired as to why the boy was not yet in school uniform. The Mum explained to me that he woke up with some blood clot in the nose, and she thought it wise that he be taken to the Doctor. I had no money at that time, so I promised to take him to the Doctor after coming back from the bank. I started walking out of the kitchen when Jabbes made a very silly remark behind my back, he said “TOLILO VOVO”, a local slang meaning “CRAZY”. Everyone in the room laughed at me especially that I used to defend him, and today I had received a dosage of my own prescription. He ran out of the room laughing after calling his dad ‘crazy’. He was the kind of kid who liked making silly comments when the mood in the house was tense, and somehow, we always laughed.
He came back in the living room after a while to inform me that the driver had come to pick me. By the time I got to the car, I found him seated in the back seat talking with the driver. I had to play some tricks to get him out of the car, leaving him crying. Am told he really cried very much (another big regret-will explain later).
I was in the meeting with the Deputy Director at NAC when I got a call on my cell phone. It was Dad with a shaking voice, “Your son is very sick and he has been taken to the clinic, please can you rush back home”. I was completely shocked because I left the boy playing. I called the mother to assure her not to panic, as I would move him to a private Doctor. Somehow, my mind kept on thinking ‘I hope my son will not die’. I tried to get this thought out of my mind, but it kept coming back. I was walking back towards the main road when the cell phone rang again, this time it was my younger brother Simeon. Immediately I answered the phone, he broke down, then after a while, in between sobs, he said, “Jabbe is dead”. I was devastated and I do not remember what happened next, but I just remember struggling to stand up. I think I got confused because I ran until I found myself in my office because I was somehow near the office when I got the message. My friend Joseph Zulu escorted me to the road to get a taxi.
When I got home, I was told that they had gone to the clinic with him. I gave myself some hope, thinking that may be he had only collapsed. At the clinic, I was greeted with shock, entering the Junior Doctor’s examination room, just to find my son lying on the bed as if he was only sleeping. I carried him in my arms and knelt down praying for a miracle. My workmate Ireen Nthani came into the room and asked me to put him on the bed and thank God for everything. She prayed with me for sometime.
The clinic had no mortuary, and as such, we were advised to take the body to the University Teaching Hospital where there was a mortuary. Since he was taken to the hospital already dead, it was classified as a B.I.D case (Brought In Dead). The pathologist Doctor had to first examine the body and certify that he was truly dead before he could be taken to the mortuary. Again I hoped that the pathologist would find him to be alive, but it was not to be. I remember the pathologist telling me that ‘Am sorry sir, you had a very health son’. All hope was gone now.
This now was the most painful moment. I asked to carry my son into the mortuary because I did not want the mortuary attendants to just throw him like any other dead body. When we entered the mortuary, it was a sorry sight. Earlier in the month, there was a road traffic accident in which some people died and most of the bodies were kept in one big refrigerated room of the B.I.D section. Most of the bodies could not easily be identified because of the blood which had dried up with dirty, with some of them being completely disfigured. There was just no space, and I told the mortuary attendants that I could not put my son on top of dead bodies. Out of understanding, they moved some bodies aside and created space for me to lay the child on.
I was reluctant to let go of the child, but after some persuasion, I just had to, and they had to almost drag me out of the refrigerated room. As they closed the door to the room, I remembered my last encounter with him – I screamed at him. I never had chance to make up with him again, just how is his spirit looking at me? I wished I had been given chance to make up with him. I also remembered that I ran away from him leaving him crying. I imagined him crying, “Is that the way you can ran away from me dad?” I could hear his voice saying “Are you leaving me alone here in the mortuary dad?” I used to tell him that I would always be there for him no matter what. I imagined that if he is to wake up, the first person he will call will be “Dad!” and I will not be there for him. I WEPT.