The knock came at 2:51pm, echoing over the mourners on the living room floor. Vinjeru Mkandawire stood fast, but Uncle Mike blocked him. He stared wide-eyed at his grim uncle. “What are we going to do?” he whimpered. Without replying, his uncle rose to answer the door, and Vinjeru followed, stepping carefully around puzzled mourners.
When Uncle Mike opened the door, Vinjeru stood behind him and looked over his head at the two imposing men standing bone straight; the Green Scorpions. These disciplined men wore lime military fatigues with the Authority’s logo on one pocket, the holographic Malawian flag on the other. Their eyes were concealed by visors.
“It has come to the attention of the Green Authority that you have produced waste,” the first said. Vinjeru winced at their insensitivity. They were referring to grandpa’s death. The Scorpion continued. “While this itself is not illegal, should you then carry out an unauthorised disposal of waste, you will suffer the full extent of the law.” Vinjeru felt like throwing up. An ‘unauthorised disposal of waste’ described exactly what he and several relatives had done last night.
Uncle Mike nodded like a compliant citizen… but out of sight of the Scorpions, Vinjeru noticed his tight grip on the door. The Scorpion gave Uncle Mike a pamphlet printed with environmentally friendly ink. “Familiarise yourself with the legal options for recycling your waste. Ignorance is not an excuse.”
The Scorpions stepped back from the door, and raised their right hands simultaneously. Uncle Mike and Vinjeru instantly mirrored them. Together they all chanted, “A Greener Tomorrow is Here Today!” Then they left.
Uncle Mike threw the pamphlet into the recycling unit. Vinjeru knew what the legal waste management methods were. There were guidelines for removing the hair from the corpse to make string, flesh to be submitted for legalised cannibalism, bones, teeth and nails to make ivory, while blood and viable organs were to be sent to the Central Hospital for transplanting. Anything remaining would be liquefied into fuel for vehicles.
However, there was no corpse to submit when the Recyclers came.
Vinjeru began to shake. “Uncle-”
“Hush!” snarled Uncle Mike. He nodded towards the men in the driveway entering their black patrol hovercraft. When their Glider rose above the ground, Uncle Mike closed the door and locked it.
Uncle Mike glared. “Don’t give us away!” he growled. “Unless you want them to take your grandmother.”
Vinjeru looked down.
Uncle Mike marched through the circular dining room, up the spiral staircase to the bedrooms. Vinjeru’s heart drummed in his chest to the beat of his rising panic. The mourners were groaning next door, some calling out his grandfather’s title, Sekuru. So much had happened since his father’s father had breathed his last, and it wasn’t over…
He followed Uncle Mike up the stairs. He heard a commotion as he approached the guest bedroom. “What, are we going to do, abale?” gasped Gogo her shaking hand holding onto the edge of the bed.
“I told you we shouldn’t have done it!” yelled Uncle Mike. Vinjeru entered, and all the elders turned. “Vinjeru, go and serve the guests!”
“The child should not be here…” said Auntie Ngina.
Vinjeru inhaled deeply and raised his voice in a way he knew was insolent. “I’m not a child!” They all fell silent. Vinjeru tried to ignore the lump in his throat.
“Bringing the boy to the burial was another mistake,” Uncle Mike growled. Vinjeru’s night vision goggles were the reason they let him come. Every word Uncle Mike spat out made it clear he hadn’t forgiven Vinjeru for receiving the largest inheritance from Sekuru.
Uncle Mike gripped Vinjeru’s arm painfully, but he yanked it out of his grasp. “Sekuru would have wanted me to be here!” said Vinjeru.
“Enough,” said Vinjeru’s mother in a low firm voice. She glanced at him with a look full of meaning he couldn’t decipher. She turned to Gogo. “Mama, what were Sekuru’s wishes?” Her question got all the elders’ attention.
Gogo looked up at his mother, weary-eyed but calm. She had cried a river but now stood on the shore of acceptance. “Sekuru, wanted to be with the ancestors. We honoured him.”
Uncle Mike raised his hands in exasperation. “Did he tell you how to escape the Green Scorpions, heh? Or did he make sure his last selfish decision would ruin all our lives?”
“And what if, I were to say,”Gogo wheezed through her anger, “that I wish to be buried next to him? Would you deny me, my last honour? Condemn me to be recycled and… eaten?”
The room fell silent. No one ever said it out loud. People did not want to hear about cannibalism… it wasn’t a word which belonged in 21st century civilisation. Instead people spoke of “rare meats” served in trendy restaurant chains sardonically named Meat You There. Things were the way they were because there was no room to bury the dead.
Gogo’s defiant expression shifted to a tired resolve. “Basi, it is too late. You cannot unbury a buried man, it will anger the spirits. No. You will find a way kuti zitheke.” Make it work. Gogo sat back on the bed to rest. Uncle Mike, scratched his beard. “We need a plan. Before the Recyclers come. ” His gaze met each of them in turn. All were silent.
Vinjeru felt deeply worried as he watched his elders at their most helpless. It scared him. He spoke up, desperate. “We need to give them a body.”
The crazy idea was forming as he was telling them about it. He studied nanotechnology at his university, and there was a concept he thought might just work. Uncle Mike naturally protested.
“You want to defraud the Green Authority? No!”
Vinjeru quickly continued explaining his idea. When they eventually agreed to his plan, it was a sign of the extent of their desperation. To execute it, they would use a whole pig which was bought for the funeral.
Uncle Mike and Uncle Mada went to the kitchen to prepare the pig, while Vinjeru himself went to the room he shared with his cousins.
He took out a steel canister containing his class-assigned sample of Nano robots. He overrode the tiny robots to respond to his commands, using a program his classmate had given him. He didn’t know what he would use for class projects now, but he focussed on one problem at a time. When they were ready, he took them downstairs.
On the kitchen table In front of him was a pig’s body, cut and laid out in the vague positioning of how grandpa’s head, torso and limbs would have been in the recycling bag. Vinjeru plugged a memory drive into the port at the side of the nano-bot container, and selected an image of his grandfather as soon as the hologram appeared above the container.
With a humming sound, the nano-bots began reading the information, and Vinjeru hurried to the pig to scan it. He activated it, releasing the grey cloud of tiny robots. They obscured the body of the pig as they swarmed over it and began to alter its cellular composition…
In minutes, the pig’s limbs were knitted together like a human’s, the snout had tumbled down like play bricks to form a human face, the stubby body of the beast was elongated to the right height, and skin tone darkened from pig pink to grandfather’s dark brown complexion as Vinjeru stared.
Uncle Mike stormed in. “They’re here! Are you done, boy?” Before Vinjeru could answer, Uncle’s frantic eyes saw the body lying on the floor and gasped.
“He… looks almost… alive…” With tears in his eyes, Uncle Mike gripped Vinjeru’s shoulder. “I don’t know how you pulled it off, but you’re a genius, boy.” Vinjeru was taken aback by his rare gesture of approval and felt his own tears prickling his eyes.
“I…had help from a friend,” he said, looking down at the face of the wisest man he had known.
Uncle Mike exhaled, and his shaky smile was almost too much for Vinjeru. “Come on Vin, lets hand ‘Sekuru’ over to the Recyclers.” Together they wrapped the fake corpse and heaved it from the kitchen to foyer, avoiding the mourners in the lounge.
Gogo and the others came up behind them to look at the body. She collapsed into shuddering tears, and Aunt Ngina supported her weight. His mother choked back tears. They all said a silent goodbye, some with kisses into their palms and placed on the forehead, others with a brief bowed prayer.
Vinjeru was the last. He knelt down next to the body. “Goodbye, Sekuru.” He walked away as the Recyclers carried the body, unable to watch.
As he passed the lounge, Aunt Gertrude, an irritable relative, called out to Vinjeru’s mother in a tone which was too loud for the occasion. “Vanessa! The mourners are hungry, njala wamva? Where is the funeral pork?”
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