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The Road to Migowi by Ken Lipenga
Boring jobs are the same the world over. Doing exactly the same thing day after day after day can destroy you.
The man who tells this story works as a bus conductor on a route between towns in Malawi. He has been doing this job for nine years, but it feels like a hundred years…
At Chitakale the bus, although already packed full, picks up a few more passengers and continues on its way. The road is wet and the March rain beats gently but endlessly upon the roof of the bus. Outside, the yellow maize stands in the fields, unmoving, drunk with too much rain. The rainy season, dark, long and heavy, is coming to an end, and soon people will be coming to cut the maize.
But neither the muddy road nor the maize in the field can show me anything new or interesting. For nine years I have been a bus conductor, and I cannot begin to count how many times during those nine years I have been on this road. Whether it is the rainy season as now, or a dry September afternoon, or a cold June morning, it is all the same to me.
I always have one wish, and it never changes: to get to the end of the journey as quickly as possible. And yet I never get my wish. I know the life history of every bridge, every stone, and every tree on the road from Limbe to Migowi, I promise you. My past is on the road, so is my present, and I find it hard to imagine a future away from this road, the road to Migowi and back to Limbe, and back again to Migowi…
I don’t enjoy thinking about my past before I became a conductor. I know I once had a father and a mother. We once lived on one of the large tea estates in Mulanje. But in my mind this time is distant, not clear. My father died when I was a little boy, and my mother lived on, selling kachasu, illegal beer, to pay for my schooling. When she had finished doing that, she drank herself to death on the day I went home with my first pay.
I also had an elder brother who went to work in the mines in South Africa. At first we used to write, then my brother stopped answering my letters, so I stopped writing.
The bus stops, and I loudly ask if there is anyone getting out here. There is no answer, so the driver starts his engine and the bus moves on. But a moment later someone rings the bell and again the bus stops.
‘I’m dropping here,’ says a man rising up from a seat not far away from me…