It is very rare that My Diary veers off its brief which is to be a weekly no-holds- barred critique of the decisions of those in power.
This week I have no presence of mind to do this. Last Friday was one of my saddest days.
Newsrooms are stressful places because of the nature of the newspaper business. Deadline pressures, not to mention the grit that must come with reporting the underbelly of society and the excesses of those holding power, all conspire to make your average journalist cynical by orientation.
But for some reason that did not seem to apply to Elizabeth Lisuntha Banda, a very close friend of mine who died last week.
She had a bubbly personality and a sunny disposition that lit up any room she walked into and you could not help but feel that perhaps, she was better placed in public relations where charm is everything.
Yet she was as much a journalist as anyone. Her face did not grace columns like mine (although she had one) nor did her name find its way into the by-lines but she was responsible for keeping all online editions of the Nation family updated.
It was hard-work and entailed long hours with a computer as a surrogate husband but Liz did her job with a smile, breaking out in infectious laughter now and then. Her deep-seated Christian faith and unwavering belief in God kept her strong even in the face of adversity.
I was very close to Liz not because we both hailed from Kasungu but because she was straight and honest, speaking her mind and giving sound advice whenever I needed it.
I joined the newsroom in May 2000. Shortly after that came a quiet, shy, well-mannered woman dressed in coffee slacks and a matching floral coffee blouse. We learnt that she had been hired to work on a kids supplement in Weekend Nation, Young and Free.
She later started to open up and we immediately reached an understanding of each other and it was the beginning of an enduring 13-year relationship that was only characterised by laughter, mutual advice and camaraderie.
We were each other’s harshest critic of work but we both knew that we were doing it with one aim, for both of us to excel.
Liz called me brother and whenever she wanted something from me, which she suspected I might refuse, she knew how to sweeten it. She would start: “Ajijo, do you know that you are my brother?” To which I would answer: “Yes I know, but Liz, can we cut the bluff, what is it that you want?” She would then break into laughter and say what she wanted.
At times, our relationship would turn different and it depended on mood. We had a running dialogue over the years which never lost its sheen.
It normally took place when we had not seen each other. I would shout: “Is that you, Liz babie!” and being one not meant for such empty but endearing nuances, she would shout back to me in her sweet angelic voice:” I am not your babie!” Then I would retort: ” Ok, Liz babie, I accept you are not my babie, then why can’t I be your babie?”
Seeing my tenacity, she would burst into laughter to the amusement of those around us.
I last spoke to her Wednesday last week when she was in hospital. Typical of her, she gave me the impression that it was nothing serious and she would be out, which she was, only to die later.
In Liz, her daughter, Yanjanani, has lost a very loving mother. Yanjanani was her world. Her parents in Kasungu have lost a daughter and her brother and sisters have lost a sister.
But I have lost not only a good honest friend, but also a truly amazing human being who is in God’s glory and whose life gave everyone around her the feeling that although this world is rotten, there are still good people left.
My only regret is that I never joined the thousands that gave Liz a befitting sendoff.
Rest in peace, my friend, and I know this once, you will accept that you are Liz Babie.