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Peter! I am sorry

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MARCH 27, 2010

"Footprints in the Sands of History" is an article I wrote many years ago. It is a tribute to the sisters, mothers and children of Kasisi Children's Home. A Home in which I have over the years found comfort, support and love.

 I write "I came to your world as a stranger, but today I am a friend, a brother, and son" Today, I know there are no other footprints I seek to tread, but yours. In my journey, I know I will falter and meander, but in my heart I know that since your footprints in the sands of history are an inerasable monument, from the distance I will always see your footprints."

It is an old article, and has been on the website for quite some time now. A week ago Mamusia[1] asked me when I was going to write another article. 'I do not know', was at the time the most logical answer I could give, not knowing that tomorrow there will be an event that will force me to think twice.

Over the years, I have reduced on writing mostly because I believe Zambians do not read. It seems to me they are still steeped in folklore as the most effective means of communication. What is said by mouth often travels much faster than what is in print. The only exception is if what is in print is slander or an untruth, then it surely travels as fast as it will be conceived to be a truth.  In fact, most often what is said by mouth is based on innuendo and the most absurd.

Anyway, the bottom line is, today, I yet again seek to communicate in the form I know and understand best. Words of pen.

And this is because Peter was scrounging in our garbage bin!

I have not done much that I know is written in the stars. My destiny. It is written in the stars, that ours shall be the kingdom. It is written in the stars that we are all stars. Our ways should light the path of darkness, not only for ourselves but more so for those that come before us, for those that do not have the strength to walk with us, and for those that fell before us. We are the light, and our ways, not our words, should be the living monuments of that light.

Children come in from the dark into our world, frail and weak, and it is our promise that the children run and play in open skies and greener green open fields.

It is our promise that tomorrow, the children walk with us, as we should be the light.

It is our promise that tomorrow, the children too become the light for those to come before them.

This is the promise, and we should always try not to break it.

This has been my promise. To be the words that are written in the stars. I broke that promise. And it is really not the promises we keep that matter most. It is those we break.

With hindsight a tear always falls. I will tell you why.

I first came to have a sense of an unjust act at a very early age. Six or seven years old. Or may be it was when I deciphered the words in the bright stars on a cloudless night. Or may be this is because there are events in our lives that never fade. They scar you so deep that you will always remember the event like you are seeing it recur today. Psychologists always argue that the traumas of our childhood will always come to haunt us. But often we never think much about this psychology construct until it hits you full in the face.

Long time ago, when most children enjoyed being children, and the roads and open fields where the playground. We decided to try a game of golf. We had got tired of the usual mocking around pretending to be Pele or Godfrey Chitalu. Our golf clubs, were grass-slashers. Golf balls, anything that could be hit and fly!

With darkness fast closing on us, and the different moms screaming their lungs out for us to go in doors, the golf game reached a crescendo. It was then it happened.

"She is fine guys. Look she is not crying or making noise."

"But she is bleeding badly."

"Of course, women bleed badly even from just a scratch."

And with our well rationalised child observations, we ran into our respective homes.

Little did I know that my father stood at a distance. Listening. Watching.

Never thought much of the incident, as me and my younger brother were being scrubbed. Mom always scrubbed us like we have never had a bath in a year or so.

It was only when we were about to walk into the living room, that even at that young age my heart nearly failed. I walked into the living room like a zombie, while my younger brother zoomed off into the bedroom with the speed of light!

My father looked at me and simply said. "It is those that scream without raising their voices that need our help the most."

He asked mom to help him take the woman to the clinic, and asked us to clean up the blood that had messed his "Persian carpet". At that time we found it strange that he had allowed the woman to bleed all over his "Persian carpet", when he always ranted whenever we stepped on it with muddy shoes: which we deliberately did quite often.

As they walked out into the dark, I heard mom say. "It is those that hear the silence that make a difference in the lives of others."

Looking back, it is then that I knew there is a promise we all should keep.

It is then that I knew silence must be heard.

It is then that I knew we are all stars.

Since then, in all my years, I have listened to the silence, the screams only the deaf hear, and indeed tried to keep the promise of what is written in the stars. This is because my parents lived the promise, and in latter years Kasisi, the footprints in the sands of history that is an inerasable monument, are that promise.

In due fairness to myself, I know in my heart I have kept promises. And that they have been kept is a story that needs not to be told.

It those I have broken, whose story needs to be told.


Peter is a promise that I broke.

I worked in human rights activism, not because it was vogue, but because I believed I could change the lives of those not able to stand up for themselves. It is within this purview of life and destiny that I met Peter.

We did a lot of good work as human rights activists, but with hindsight we broke a lot of promises. Our failure was that we gave people hope, but we did not give them a new life. Hope is a feather in a whirlwind, and it dissipated as soon as our shadows disappeared with the sun disappearing on the horizon.

Peter, like many others was a victim of the State. The police tortured him and broke his soul. Like the young soldier in a Copperbelt town that ended up in a wheel chair after the police broke his knees, we picked them up and promised we will light the path of darkness their broken souls were heading into by seeking justice for them.

If I may digress. It is hard and sad that today I am writing my deepest inner feelings in promises I broke. But may be it will help those that also read the words written in the stars. The young soldier in the Copperbelt town could have had justice prevail, but we failed because among us are those who claim to keep the promise but merely do so for their own personal pursuits and egos. These individuals have lamentably failed to comprehend that that there is no higher calling than that where a human puts the interests of others before his or hers.  Or like I write somewhere (I can not remember where) - "it is only when you move beyond fascination with yourself that you can change other lives".

We were youthful and we sincerely believed our ways could light the path of darkness, not only for ourselves but more so for those that come before us, for those that do not have the strength to walk with us, and for those that fell before us. Peter, the young soldier on the Copperbelt fell before us, and we picked them and gave them the promise of hope.

For over ten years, I gave Peter the hope that the State (government of Zambia) will compensate him for the torture he and his friends (they were five and three are long dead) suffered at the hands of the police. I gave him this hope, because I took it upon myself to pursue the case. Visited offices, called friends in public offices that could help me seek closure to the case and compensation, thereof. Human Rights Commission, and the offices of the Solicitor General, and Attorney General. I also even consulted lawyer friends in case we may need legal action to further our cause.  

In all this time, Peter would religiously turn up at my door, and I would religiously assist him get to the one office he was always told "to come tomorrow". I would sometimes call the office so as to make it easier for him, and the person at the other end of the line would courteously give me hope that today is the day our overs ten years of seeking justice will come to a close.

 As the hope faded, I watched Peter degenerate.

In earlier years, Peter was a happy young man. He would turn up at my door smiling. His poor clothing and shoes looking clean. We would sit and chat of what to do next.

As the years passed, the clothing and the shoes started having holes, and I started giving him my old clothing and shoes. One day in the cold season, he even asked for warm bedding for his mother.

It was then the cleanliness, too, started fading, the alcohol smells started increasing, and hunger signs started being etched on his face. We now started giving him food.

His frequency at my door increased and I started to be agitated. My daughter did not mind Peter. I always actually sensed she pitied him and that she really did not understand the bond between us. But because each day I saw Peter was a failing to me, I really could not bring myself to explain to her why Peter always came to our door.

My calls to the offices that could help Peter also started to be infrequent, as I now knew like the young soldier on the Copperbelt, I could not keep the promise I made to Peter. I could not help him seek justice. The journey had run its course. I had failed to keep to the words written in the stars.

One day in October 2009, I told Peter I could no longer help him. I, with great sadness, told him I had failed, and it is time he accepted there will be no justice, no compensation for him. I also told him to reduce on knocking on my door. I wanted to tell him to stop being on my door, but I did not have the strength.

Peter did not shed a tear. He just looked at me like he did not understand what I was saying. I later shed a tear.

Peter now started hanging out by the gate. Every time I drove out in the morning, Peter would come to my car window, hand stretched out hoping I would give him some money or food. But I did not, as I really now wanted him out of my life. I had failed destiny and I hoped he would understand that.

A month later, I was standing on my balcony enjoying a cup of coffee when I saw Peter. The hand holding the cup limped. A tear fell.

Peter was scrounging in our garbage bin!

For over ten long years I had stood by Peter. We gave Peter food. We gave him clothing. But I did not light the darkness so that Peter can have a meaningful life.

I did not even know Peter.  In all these years I never even knew where Peter lived. I never knew who his mother was. I never even knew where he slept.

Peter! I am sorry. I heard your silence. You screamed without raising your voice, and I heard.

Peter! I am sorry. I hope somewhere you have found peace and have it in you to forgive me for wasting your life by giving you false hope.

Peter! I am sorry. You may smell, be in torn clothing, but deep in my heart I know you are the light. I write the words in this article to your memory and thank you for allowing me to walk with you. The journey with you was a lesson that I will cherish and never forget in my life.

We are all stars. The light.

I failed you, but you taught me humanity. You taught me the struggles of keeping the promise. That our ways should light the path of darkness, not only for ourselves but more so for those that come before us, for those that do not have the strength to walk with us, and for those that fell before us.

Peter! I am sorry, but thank you.

NB: This article is a true-life story and not a work of fiction. Peter exists and is not a creation of my imagination. Thank you for reading this article, and I hope we will always be the light for others less fortunate than ourselves.



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