I can’t write anymore! Good people, this was the final word The Nation extracted from Professor Steve Chimombo who died recently.
When our arts reporter John Chirwa phoned Professor Steve Chimombo in July, it was clear six years of battling with stroke had not spared the very thing that made the good teacher one of the greatest wonders of this country.
It’s over! That was the opening of the story.
This transports thoughts to the Hill of Skulls where a crucified Jesus Christ facing a sting of death was heard sighing: “It’s finished.”
But Chimombo was not yet over.
He told us: “Stroke has killed my writing. The only thing I am doing is offloading my books to bookshops.”
He was only learning to die.
We didnt know he was dying slowly–like any other being.
The heavyweight scholar of English Literature, who has gifted ardent readers 29 books of poetry, drama and prose, finally bowed out of this mortal sphere on Friday when he checked in at Mwaiwathu Hospital for a checkup.
Alas! What an illustrious career he had. A profusion of tears gush, mixing with mortifying memories of what we the country has just lost as they wash away grief.
Python! Python! This is not just the title of Chimombo’s epic published in 1994.
That’s what sympathisers scream when friends of theirs are being circled by a killer.
If only we had known that death was baying for the author who had carved a niche chronicling the myths of Napolo!
The Wrath of Napolo shows an author with a rare touch to tell a localised tragedy—or perception of a mythical divinity—to unravel greater realities of this life.
Some opine that the detention of writers during the one party system actually pushed Chimombo to escape into symbolism for cryptic imagery was safer than plain text.
The beholders of this view further propose that this ‘cowardly approach’ could be the reason he went scot-free when the iron fist of Kamuzu Banda’s dictatorship forced Nobody’s Friend writer Sam Mpasu and Of Chameleons and Gods poet Jack Mapanje into detention without trial.
What the blokes, who accuse Chimombo of not fiercely using the liberating prowess of the pen when it mattered most, will not tell you is that he was not a coward as they purport.
Unlike the real cowards, Chimombo did not sheath his pen when the tyrannical system was murmuring: “kill the dissidents for their bad verses.”
He kept writing. Writing a stash of books that most of his accusers can only envy while they peddle their theories and empty talk.
We are not talking about 30 books, including Wachiona Ndani, The Hyena Wears Darkness, The Bird Boy’s Song, the Python and The Rainmaker.
He danced his rainmaker dance. He wrote his inner musings. He recited his perception of the Napolo, an imaginary force which could be misconstrued as a personification of the ruinous side of the reign of the dictator once revered as the lion, the saviour and all that jazz.
Such was the writer, who appealed to people of all walks, culture zealots and forces of modernity, who gathered at his Old Naisi residence to see off the only professor from 50 villages under Group Village Samuel in Malemia, Zomba.
It rained. The skies sobbed. The superlatives showered. Chimombo’s Song of Death thundered.
The raindrops did not wash away the cherished memories or his final home, but the tears that temporarily eclipse the noteworthy legacy Chimombo willed to the literary and scholarly world.
From the stumps of those dead and buried, tears and sorrow are just windows through which the world gazes back to appreciate and celebrate the gems the deceased strived to be. May the good old Prof rest in peace. n