The Wise Tales of Mzee Dabwa


When I was in secondary school, I thought I might become a writer. I was editor of the school paper and later of the school magazine. Here is a short story my father found by chance. I wrote it for the school magazine but I don't think it was ever published. Well thanks to the Web, it can finally reach the light of day! The photo above is my Form 1 class photo (1979). Can you find me in it?

There's an old man called Mzee Dabwa who lives just outside the school. Whenever I'm going to lunch I see him on the veranda of his house. We usually sit together for about five minutes mostly sharing jokes. One day, however, when we were talking, he asked me seriously "Tell me, do you chase after girls?" I looked at him very surprised that he should pick up such a topic from the blue.

"Why do you want to know?" I asked.

"Well this is Africa and not Europe or America, you see. Running after girls may be fun but it is also a very dangerous hobby. You can even die!"

"Surely you exaggerate!" I laughed.

"No! Let me tell you about my grand-nephew Jonathan."

The old man's story went like this:

Jonathan was the type of person who was very proud of his hobby. He claimed to have ten girlfriends and was now operating on an eleventh. Her name was Carol. He had met her once or twice on the road where he lives. In their short conversations, he had forgotten to ask her where she lived. However he knew it was one of three houses down the street.

One day he planned to visit her. In case he met up with her old man, his alibi was that he was looking for where to buy eggs. So equipped with an empty egg tray, he knocked at the first of the three houses.

A fat woman answered. "What can I do for you?" she asked.

"Do you sell eggs here?" Jonathan asked.

"Yes. They are five Kwacha per tray" she answered. Jonathan hesitated for a moment. He had not reckoned that he would find the house does sell eggs. He then thought up something brilliant.

"May I see them please?" he asked.

"Why?" she asked.

"Well my father is particular about the colour of the eggs he eats."

"Very well, come along" she invited him through the house to the chicken houses and on the way Jonathan asked:

"Do you have any children?"

"Yes, three. They are all at university" she replied then asked him suspiciously, "Why do you want to know?"

"Oh well, the house seemed so quiet!"

She showed him the eggs and Jonathan told her they would not do since they were not pure white but speckled with brown spots.

So Jonathan left and crossed to the second house. Very pleased with himself, he confidently knocked at the door. A mean-looking middle-aged man answered and gruffly asked "What do you want?"

"I wanted to know if you sell eggs here" said Jonathan.

"Hold on a second" and off went the man who soon returned with a hunting rifle and said, "I know what you want, you're just after my daughter" and he shot Jonathan dead.

Much later in heaven, Jonathan looked down at earth and suddenly realised that Carol did not live in the second house after all but in the third one!

I laughed at the story and Mzee smiled but then frowned and said seriously "But remember the moral of my story; in Africa you can die for nothing!"

Three weeks later as I was going for lunch, I noticed Mzee was not on his veranda as usual. I knocked at the door and he answered after a long time. I couldn't recognize him until I strained my eyes. His face was swollen in places and there was a bandage around his head.

"What happened to you?" I asked.

"This other fool thought I was fooling around with his wife and when he found me here with her, he assaulted me. I'm going to sue him. I swear."

"Ah ah! What was she doing here anyway?" I asked.

"She was just...anyway why do you want to know. I'll still sue him. You'll see. Thinks he can take advantage of an old man."

As I was salting my chips at Mr. Ngulube's shop, I couldn't help laughing aloud. Everyone in the shop looked at me as if I was mad. A friend of mine asked, "What's funny?"

"You can die for nothing" I replied. He looked at me very seriously with a puzzled expression. Up to now, I can't convince him that I don't smoke dobo.

1999 Hugh Molotsi