Daniel lived life on slow motion, he lived on regression, replacing things more than he added to the little he had. His house was a mud hut, yet it never occurred to him that his family needed a house, since he was home only once a year. Agnes, his wife, had pleaded that he at least build another mud hut for the children to sleep in when he was around, but he ignored her until she decided to do what other women did, she decided to build it herself. She did not mind sleeping with her three daughters when he was not around. Two would sleep on the floor and she would sleep with the youngest on the three quarter bed that squeaked loud whenever she turned. Whenever he was around; she would arrange that the children go and sleep at their neighbor’s, but the prideful Daniel hated the idea and decided they would all fit in one hut.
January 2000, Agnes began the slow process of building a hut for her children, but when the rain came and turned into a flood in February, it destroyed her half-done construction before it got to their only hut which collapsed eight days after the heavy rain started; when she and the children were sleeping. Most huts in the village had collapsed that night and the rain was expected to go on for another four weeks. It was only God’s grace that had saved her and her children when the wall collapsed. The roof fell low to almost touch the bed and most of the mud bricks fell on the outside of the hut. Agnes was awake when it all happened, but it happened so fast that she almost didn’t make it to the floor with her two year old daughter. The roof came crumbling down as soon as the wet wall resigned, and she moved as swiftly as it came down and managed to snatch her youngest from the bed to cover her along with the other two on the floor, she held up one hand as though to stop the roof but fortunately the triangular structure of the roof touched the ground and stilled. The children woke up covered in hay in confused alerts, they crawled out and had to wake their neighbors for shelter that night. In the morning, they walked to the end of the village in the rain where Daniel’s aunt lived with her husband and daughter. She had two huts and she would accommodate them until they’d rebuilt after the flood had stopped. Daniel was now forced to send money to build two huts with high roofs made of strong wood and hay.
He came home on the December of 2001 and hated the bed he had to sleep on, the rain had fallen on it and was left to dry after the rain to be used again. He got so irritated that he dragged it to the pit where he burnt everything else and set it on fire. His wife and kids merely looked at him and said nothing, they knew he was a pyromaniac, who enjoyed to watch the black smoke rise to make dark clouds above him. He used to burn everything, if he bought knew clothes, he would cut the old ones into pieces and burn them. Agnes knew she had to hide certain things like her plastic Tupperware containers whenever he was coming home, and the children knew they had to hide their favorite playing clothes. When the flames had died down, he went and bought a new bed and promised to send money to buy one for his children.
Daniel was a two faced quiet tall man who had no friends. Whenever he was home, he would sit outside and watch everyone move up and down when he was done burning the garbage for the day. He had one face that made his family warm up to him and waited up until he got home when they knew he was on his way. He carried a certain atmosphere that changed everything when he arrived. He used to bring them new clothes, a lot of sweets and ginger biscuits that made Christmas, a good holiday. It gave him ultimate joy to see his children happy even though he would never say it .Yet he had another face that kept the neighbors away. His silence made neighbors fear him. No one would visit until he was gone, for he would not greet them even if he found them sitting by the door.
Everything was fine, they were a happy family who had embraced their differences and their circumstances, and they were getting by from the little Daniel made. They were okay until 2006 when he lost his truck driving job, stock went missing and the theft was pinned on him. He was innocent but found no way to defend himself. He stuck around Johannesburg for a while to search for another job but nobody wanted a forty eight year old man. He was then forced to go home that December, hoping the UIF would take care of things until he got another job, but he spent most of it going back and forth on a fruitless job search. The okay life they were accustomed to rapidly became hard. His silence became graved, his mood changed, the atmosphere he used to carry disappeared for being home too long, neighbors began to come in and sit a little bit, and gradually they began to ignore his presence. He felt as though he was losing his power, he thought too much and shared nothing with anyone, not even his wife. She was however supportive, she started working for CWP, sweeping the streets of their town for three hundred Rand per week that put food on Daniel’s table. She suggested that they went to church for prayers but he was too embarrassed to approach the church since he had once shown the pastor his second face. The pastor visited during Christmas to meet him back in his reigning days. Agnes received the pastor with reverence and gave him a black plastic chair to sit by the hut shade. Daniel peeped by the little window and saw a man in his yard and was infuriated. Agnes was about to stand to call him to meet the pastor when he stood by the door with the most intimidating expression that made the Pastor’s heart beat like a bass drum in his chest. Daniel was tall and intimidating and he, the pastor was a short slim man who laughed at his own jokes, he knew the moment he saw Daniel’s face that he had to run.
“Pfutsek!! Go and have your meeting outside my home”
‘Pfutsek’ means piss off and is used to dismiss dogs. Agnes was embarrassed that she did not even see the Pastor run out. She could not move, and she had no idea how she was going to apologize to the pastor for her husband’s unacceptable behavior. Now they needed the pastor, but he could not humble himself to take that day back, he was too embarrassed and so he pretended not to believe the church would help them.
“We don’t need prayers, I need a job…prayers will not take the kids to university, your damn prayers will not feed us”
“But prayers can make a way for a job”
“For a CWP job, is that the least your prayers can do?”
Agnes knew when to stop, she kept quiet and walked out. Life became hard for Daniel, he became bitter and hated how he had to now depend on his wife’s wages. It made him feel less of a man, after many years of being able to provide, he was frustrated that every conversation turned into an argument.
“Papa, it’s been three years now, why won’t you ask your brothers to help you get a job” Agnes tried to help one night
“I don’t remember the last time I spoke to my brothers” he said in a more repentant tone than normal.
He was beginning to see the need for relatives that he’d disregarded ever since he moved to his own home. He had isolated himself and kept to himself that his children hardly knew their relatives. He wished he could ask for their help but he was again too embarrassed.
“I know, but I think it’s time to swallow your pride and let other people help you, they will not reject you” she said
“How do you know?”
She paused for a while, trying to make out how he would react if she told him that she’d spoken to his brothers but they needed him to ask for their help himself. And then she said it.
“So you go behind my back and discuss me, you want them to laugh at me?” he fumed
“They are your brothers and they are willing to help”
“I don’t need anybody’s help”
He strode out and disappeared into the night. He found a log in the bushes and sat there for a while before he decided to set the grass on fire, just for his satisfaction. Even though he did not smoke, he kept a lighter in his pocket just to nurse his pyromania. When the flames glowed to light up where he was sitting, he felt a sudden relief, he felt the burden lift off his shoulders and for a moment, the voices in his head quieted down. The next morning, he decided to take his wife’s advice, and approached his three brothers for help.
“So you know us now, now that you need help we are your brothers” his eldest brother said
It ticked him off and made him regret the move, he was only supposed to say he was sorry, and they would help him but their questions made him feel so small, even though he was the last born, he hated feeling small. He walked out on them.
“You can all go to hell, I’ll do this on my own”
Daniel could not sleep that night, the fact that he had no plan tormented him. At midnight, he rose to find his lighter, he wanted that feeling, that feeling of relief that flames and smoke gave him. Agnes heard the door when he stepped out but she thought he was only going to relieve himself as he often did in the night. He closed the door behind him and stood outside his hut for a while before he began to pace up and down like a trapped witch in-between the two huts, turning the lighter on and off as he did. He kept recoiling his body and scratching his head like a craving drug addict and then he suddenly stopped very near his children’s hut, but continued the on and off of the lighter. He could touch the roof edge with no struggle as he even had to bend his neck whenever he went in or out.
The roof hay was dry and he knew they would make such gratifying flames. He could imagine the feeling and so he did it. He set the roof on fire and stood a meter away to watch the flames. It felt good, it took him to another world and by the time Agnes saw a glow through the window, the flame was half way round the hut. She screamed and ran to the door to find it locked from inside. She could hear them crying and struggling to unlock the door, until she finally broke in and that was when Daniel came back to realize what he’d done. The roof suddenly collapsed, setting fire and trapping Agnes and her children inside. Daniel could hear tormented cries that awaken the neighbors. The flame grew intense as their cries fainted. Daniel and everyone tried their best to stop the flames to no avail. The cries stopped and everybody knew what had happened.