Life Happens Along the Road
We are four middle-aged boomers driving home under the stars after a day trip.
Above us the Milky Way in the black night sky twinkles with stars as plentiful as the garbage on the paths into the villages.
Stars as white as the teeth of the sixteen-year old girl we transported in the back of our white, Toyota, four-door pick-up, down the mountain after our feast at the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, where warning signs are posted not to feed the baboons; they can be aggressive at this season. One baboon watches us eat through the window;
he pees on the patio.
The young girl clambers into the truck box, book bag slipped from her back, bundle of firewood removed carefully from her head; she is a student on her way back to school having spent the weekend with her family in the village.
‘Stay in school,’ our driver says, as he tucks a 500 Kwacha note into her hand;
she shines her starry smile on us.
More stars sparkle through the truck’s back window against the night sky blacker than the faces of the three … no four … no five … children selling buckets of potatoes along the road, on our journey up the mountain.
For 300 Kwacha each, we could buy their produce.
On our way down we bargained with the same children – a long, laughter-filled, tough, negotiation ending with the purchase of two buckets-full of white potatoes
At 150 Kwacha each – that’s about $2.00 for ten lbs.
Thank you, thank you; they waved and shouted and smiled
until we were gone around the bend.
We sing ‘Baby, You’re the Best’ along with Carly Simon and warble with Susan Boyle’s ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘How Great Thou Art,’ and ‘Ave Maria’ by Paul Potts.
Universal songs in our cozy vehicle, volume lowered each time we’re stopped for the five police checks on a seven-hour drive. Their machine guns are big and black and visible.
In the daylight, we waved at children bathing in mudflats, watched laundry being washed in streams of brown and dried on the grass or on bushes.
Females of all ages, wearing wrap-around skirts in every rainbow colour, carried just-washed dishes and pots and pans, striding beside us on the paths as we drove past,
along the road.
In bamboo market stalls along the road, we admired soft, red tomatoes piled five high into picturesque pyramids.
Beside them banana peels, blue plastic bags, corn cobs and candy wrappers are tossed along the paths, anywhere, unsorted.
Life happens along the road.
We gave a lift to a thin man teetering under his bundle of firewood on his way down to the village to sell, his gleaming smile a thank you for the ride.
“I have time to go back up and carry down another load before sunset. Thank you.”
Now in the night we sing, dodge potholes, and answer police queries
under the Milky Way.
There are car lights, bus lights, and starlights brighter than the candles in the village homes dotted along the road lit by sparse light bulbs; one or none in most houses.
Has the power gone out?
Or is there no money to buy electricity?
An all you can eat buffet
Camel rides on the beach
School children, child vendors, wood for sale, paths of litter,
Life happens along the road
Under the Milky White starlight against a dark black
Night sky as we travel home from Mangochi on Lake Malawi to Blantyre.