Austin Kaluba was born in northern Zambia and studied journalism at the prestigious Africa Literature Centre in Kitwe-Zambia. He then joined the national newspaper The Times of Zambia as a features writer. He studied creative writing at different institutions in the UK. Kaluba’s poetry has appeared in the black UK newspaper The Voice and his short stories have been published in magazines in Europe.
AUNTIE AGATHA’S QUEST, a short story by Austin Kaluba
Aunt Agatha was examining an emerald green evening gown she had just bought from Debenhams. She stretched the gown lengthwise against her body. The gown seemed to be the right size for her slim body.
‘ Heh Lameck. Look at what I have here.’
‘Good gown Auntie.’
‘It is an evening gown. My friends have invited me to a party in London next week.’
She unloaded other items from bags bearing different shop names: Next, BHS and Marks and Spencer. She had also bought two books from Waterstones ; one was Danielle Steele’s Impossible and another called Watching The English by Kate Fox. After I helped her put away her shopping, she retired to her bedroom. She had spent the previous night at a friend’s party in Leeds. I heard her cursing and later she opened the door roughly, pushing the Pekinese dog outside and quickly locking the door. The small dog looked lost and scampered into the garden.
I knew Aunt Agatha back in Zambia when I first visited Uncle Tom in Lusaka. They lived in Emmasdale in a three bed-roomed house. She had just failed her Form 3 examinations when she married my uncle. Auntie, as I called her, was a petite, light pretty woman with a gap between her front teeth. I wouldn’t say I liked or disliked her. I found her interesting though she overworked me with domestic chores. Ours was a love-hate relationship.
Our family did not approve of Uncle’s choice. They expected him to marry a fellow educated woman, preferably a doctor. However, Uncle had always been a rebel in his silent way, and no one had the audacity to tell him what they felt about his wife though I know he guessed that many of his relatives were not happy with his choice.
Shortly after marrying, the couple had a bouncy baby boy and tongues were let loose about the period they had married and the time she conceived. The 9-month test did not match with the time Aunt Agatha conceived. So people concluded, they had been sleeping together long before they married.
I was doing my grade 7 when I first visited the couple and continued visiting them during school holidays. I found the stay with the couple more bearable compared to my cruel step mother who treated me like a slave. During my first visit, I helped Auntie with babysitting while she knitted a shawl for the baby.
Uncle Tom’s job as a doctor at the University Teaching Hospital meant he came home late, tired. He would eat his meal and retire to his bedroom or living room to read The Times of Zambia or Newsweek magazines. He sometimes listened to Jazz records by artists like Duke Ellington, Billy Holliday, John Coltrane and Miles Davies.
It was Aunt who spread her weight around even when my Uncle’s friends visited us. It was said Uncle Tom was under a ‘petticoat government’. Needless to say, Aunt was very unpopular among our family members, especially the womenfolk.
She earned a nickname in our family circle as the ‘Wasp’. I don’t know if it is my sister Joanna who gave her the name which somehow suited her physique and personality. She had a slender waist, a big bust and behind just like a wasp. She really stung from time to time.
At the time of step mother’s visit, I was also spending my school holiday with the couple. I had just passed my examinations to go to secondary school. I had graduated from wearing shorts to wearing trousers. My step mother’s visit meant I was somehow relieved from doing domestic chores.
My step mother disapproved of my hard-working, complaining that what did the ‘Missis’ –that is the word she used – do if I did all the work. I felt the comment was hypocritical since she overworked me more than Aunt Agatha.