Everybody knew Mr. Tin but nobody knew his real name.
Children in the neighboring community called him by that name and parents of these children were also used to this name.
A quite man in his thirties but appeared mid forties. Some of the naughty children used to throw stones at him and used abusive languages. But never he reacted to them. He did not even look at them. He just shielded himself with whatever he had in hand.
Continuously he murmured something to himself, not audible or understandable to anybody. He scavenged the litters in the neighboring streets. He specially looked for the metallic or tin pieces among the litters. He never wore two pieces of cloths. His chest was always bare. The pant he wore was just for namesake. In front it covered his loin, on the back side, it was just clusters of strings. The layer of dirt on his pant was heavier than the fabric itself.
The bones of his chest were as prominent as of a good quality chest x-ray film. If the sisal rope which was tied on his waist as the belt was a bit tightened, it would separate the hip from the chest. The belly was a crater; one could literarily see the vertebra from front.
He always carried his torn gunny bag on his stooping back with the metallic pieces inside. He never begged. Once in a while if some Good Samaritan threw some coins to him, he politely picked it up and nodded in appreciation.
His son Ramadhan, the 15 yrs old boy considered embarrassing to be seen together with his father. For the past 1 year they had never gone out together. After Ramadhan leaves home for school, he also used to leave, to go and search for his raw materials, the discarded tins from the litters. He had his own principle. He would never scavenge near his area. However far he had to walk, he preferred that. That way he could avoid wrong accusations. In the late evenings, when he came back, he usually rested for 30-40 minutes, and then started the daily routine chores.
Juma-(Mr. Tin ) was an orphan. He grew up in his widowed grand mother’s house. When his grand mother was alive, they used to cultivate little staple food in their home yard. Even though it was a small area, but at least it supplemented their need. He did not know actually how big their plot was. It was in the outskirts of city center, un-surveyed area. Local people knew whose area ended where. Where his grandma pointed her finger “dig up to here” was the boundary. Year after year he had been tilting the soil up to her grandma’s boundary.
He was only 16 when his grandma died. He did not know anybody as his relative.
He was a truant in the school. Instead of sitting in the boring classroom, he preferred sitting under the shade of trees, watching birds. Whenever he felt hungry, grandma was always there to boil sweet potatoes or cassava for him. With difficulty he completed class IV. By the time he realized the importance of school, he had overgrown his age mates. He did not have any type of professional skill also. When his grand mother died, everything around him was confusing and shattering.
Soon the little foodstuff left in the house also got finished. Only 3-4 months after his grandma died, the immediate neighbors started encroaching his land, which he inherited as the sole living heir. He tried to claim back, but was asked to produce proof. Everything was shattering apart slowly.
When he was 19, he met a young girl in a local dance who had come to visit her relatives. They were dancing together in a local dance “ngoma”. They both had sipped some local brew, which was provided by the host of the “ngoma.” Both were inexperienced. He vaguely remembered the intimacy he shared with the girl. He did not feel the desire of repeating the episode or regret for the action. Neither he felt it was a wrongdoing. At times when they met, they only exchanged casual greetings.
2-3 months have passed. One fine day morning, the girl gave him the shocking news- they were going to have a baby. He never ever dreamt that the consequence of that one single episode could be so grave. He was completely unprepared for that.
But he knew he couldn’t escape.
Time passed at lightning speed. The girl’s belly started swelling. As he had not shown any response, the girl threatened him one day that if he did not allow her to come and stay with him in his house, she would commit suicide.
They stayed three months together before the fateful day arrived. His wife died while giving birth to Ramadhan. He raised his son as a single parent. He never married again.
For the first few days, the neighbors helped him to take care of the baby. Soon the sympathy and hospitality died down. He was left all alone with his newborn son.
An elderly person from the locality, popularly known as Ndevu, advised Juma to sell his land and start afresh. With the money, he could keep life going till he finds a proper solution. He agreed. An Asian man introduced to him as mzee Haji bought ¾ of his land. He was left with the hut of his late grandmother and a space of 5x5 meters behind the hut. Mzee Haji, a shrewd businessman knew he would benefit in future if that little space was left for Juma.
With his infant son, he could not go far searching for job opportunities. The elderly man from the locality welcomed him to join him in his blacksmith work. The old man needed a helping hand anyway. He considered it a service to God to pass on to somebody the skills and knowledge he acquired. His own grand children did not respect his profession; they had opted for more lucrative jobs, one as a Taxi driver, and another as chef in tourist hotel.
Juma learnt the profession very quickly and efficiently. He could mould and make any design instructed to him by the old man.
Mzee Haji had constructed a brick fence wall all around the plot including Juma’s little space with the pretax that Juma would be safer. Ndevu recognised the loyalty and simplicity of Juma. He had developed special affection for him like his own grand child. Under his influence Juma had sold his land. So he felt it his duty to protect Juma from loosing that little space he had. Without provoking any doubt in Juma’s innocent mind, the old man suggested that as they were two people working now, his space had become a bit congested. They should move their workshop to Juma’s back yard and in that way Juma would be able to check on his son also. On the same day they transferred all the instruments and other necessities to the new premise. Mzee Haji protested but the old man handled very cleverly. No alternative was left. Mzee Haji had to build another low height wall, an inset, separating the two plots. Thus Juma also had brick fence all around his house. His hut stood out as the servant’s quarter from outside, but it had a permanent boundary at last.
Slowly Juma started learning means of survival through his GURU, Ndevu. They were doing very fine in the beginning. They could meet the demand of their finished products by the locality. Soon as a result of Juma’s hard work, the products had become surplus. They needed marketing. In the meantime, Mzee Haji had opened a local provisional store. They made a deal with Mzee Haji. Ndevu did not live long after the agreement of the deal. Everything fell on Juma’s shoulder to keep up with the agreement.
His son Ramadhan was growing up. Soon he would need to go to school. He was already 7 years old. He would not allow his son to suffer like him. He would make him a real man. From that time on, Juma vowed, he would do anything whatever it takes to make his dream come true.
Juma never wanted his son to come near him when he was working. He was afraid that he would follow him in the profession.
Ramadhan grew up on his own. During day time he was with his friends, at night after having meal with the father, he went straight to bed. Nobody around to talk to. Juma continued with his work till late night.
The following year Ramadhan would be completing primary school. After that he would need a lot more of expenditure to go to high school.
Every penny he earned, Juma stored it in a plastic container, tightly closed. Whether on the road or at home, constantly he calculated in his mind again and again. Sometimes he calculated aloud. How many pieces of tin he has collected; roughly how many items he would be able to make from those tins: how much money he would get from that and so on. For years he had not bought a cloth for himself, even a second hand one. The only thing that mattered to him was his son’s high school education.
Father and son had quarreled several times about his appearance. Ramadhan considered his father’s appearance as shameful. Occasionally he had asked the father to wear proper cloths. He was not worrying about the school fees. His friends had laughed at him about his father. One friend even taunted him saying “ if he does not like to wear cloths, let him make a suit out of tin for himself.” All the other friends enjoyed the remark. They all giggled, laughed, added some more remarks. Every remark was a sharp wound to Ramadhan leaving an ugly scar in the young mind.
Whenever Ramadhan tried to talk out to his father, the only word he uttered was “school”. Sometimes Ramadhan even wondered whether his father’s hearing was also impaired. Nothing could be discussed.
Ramadhan had seen several times his father counting the money from the plastic container. He had never mentioned about it to the father. One day he skipped some classes and came back home early. He knew his father must have gone out to collect his raw materials. He ransacked whatever little they had in the house. It took him hardly 10 minutes to complete the search. There it was, carefully wrapped in a greased, torn piece of bed sheet. He hurriedly counted. He could not believe his eyes. It was more than Tsh.60,000. He had never held so much money in his life. He wrapped it carefully as he found it and returned back to its place. He could not think of going back to the school but he has to be seen coming back with his friends from school. He went back near the school and waited for the bell to ring while his mind started working on the plans of what to do with the money.
From that day onwards he could not concentrate anymore in his studies. During the break time he preferred to hang around with his senior schoolmates and listen to their gossips about their future plans. At least he had learnt one thing that whether he liked it or not he has to complete his primary school and 16 yrs old to get a job. He still had a lot of time to plan. It had become a routine to check on the plastic container to ascertain that his father had not used it.
Juma never noticed the change in his son. Everything around seemed the same routine to him. No interest of noticing new. He was too occupied with his own plan. Next year would be a big step in his life.
Months have passed; seasons had changed. Rainy season over. Scorching summer heat finished. Spring had arrived. Trees were turning green and decorated with flowers of all colours. Even Juma had a look of content. His continuous murmur had reduced. Once in a while even a little sign of smile could be noticed; few weeks more, his son would be giving the National examination; his plastic container was well fed; his son would be going to high school; he would be an educated man.
Standard VII National examination day. Juma completed collecting the tins earlier than any other day. He did not like to put any saving on that day in the container. The day was supposed to be a happy day, they would have a decent meal. On his way back, he bought fresh fish from the vendor. He made his plans- in the evening, after dinner, to sit down with his son and tell him everything. No worries anymore, sure his son was going to High school.
Neighbors’ children had come back after the examination already.
“Why is Ramadhan late? May be his friends came by bus today. Can wait few more minutes”, he consoled himself.
The sun has set already. The sky had turned dark. Here and there few stars had started twinkling in the sky. The new moon was high in the sky.
“Where is Ramadhan now”.
He went to ask the neighbors child, who sat for the examination with his son. Nothing-informative news- after the exam, he saw Ramadhan going with some ex senior students.
Anxiety gripped him. An instinct made him to go and check his container. The greasy piece of bed sheet was there in the corner, opened. The container gone. He checked the only 2 shirts and one trouser his son had. They were gone too.
Suddenly the stinking fishy smell and green flies hovering around the fish made him nauseated. Vomited once. His chest tightened. Felt as if somebody had stabbed him on the chest. He had never experienced body pain in his life. It was becoming difficult to breath. Cold sweat beads appeared on the forehead. Slowly things around him became blurred, felt dizzy. Could not support his weightless body any more. Fell down on the floor, unconscious.
----“He saw his own lean figure, dressed in a white long robe floating in the sky.
Down below the cloud, he saw his son with a long motorcade. A large crowd standing on each side of the road cheered at his son, soldiers saluted him. He was waving his hand slowly to his son.“ Bless you my son”.
Mr. Tin never woke up again.
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