By Philip Chirwa
AT about 03:15 hours in Lusaka’s Helen Kaunda Township., my cousin, Lywell Nali, then Deputy Chief Sub-Editor at the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation(ZNBC) who had been sick for over two months, woke up his wife and told her he was leaving.
“Leaving for what?” asked the wife, surprised. “It’s still late at night. Let’s just sleep.” As he was suffering from malaria and meningitis, she thought her husband had somewhat become confused.
“But I am leaving,” Lywell insisted. “Can’t you see the people who have come to collect me? Here they are and they are telling me to hurry up. If you can’t see them, that’s your problem. Goodbye.”
After he said that, silence followed. Wondering whether her husband had been talking in his sleep, my sister-in-law felt his pulse. It seemed the heart wasn’t beating. Alarmed, she cried out, “Mr Nali! Mr Nali!” as she frantically shook him. But still there was no reply.
As if in a dream, that marked the end of Lywell’s life on earth. He was no more. Meanwhile, neighbours were alerted and they quickly contacted ZNBC and Woodlands Police who sent a vehicle which took the body to the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) mortuary. This was on Sunday, March 7, 1993.
For some reason, the family was not told of the death until some six hours later. I was the first relative to be informed about it at about 08:45 hours and when I was told, I felt thoroughly disappointed and angry.
This was because I did not expect my cousin to die: I was convinced that he was going to survive his illness that had tormented him since January 20 that year.
My hope that Lywell was going to survive his illness emanated from the fact that exactly a week before his death, I had an hour’s chat with him at his hospital bed during which he disclosed a beautiful message of salvation to me.
We had this discussion on Sunday, February 28, 1993, after 16:30 hours. To understand and appreciate the message, it would be worth noting that Lywell had been an atheist since childhood.
Lywell was an ardent supporter of the Marxist-Leninist ideology. He did not accept that there was such a supremo called God and as far as he was concerned, the Bible was nothing more than a book of fairy tales written by men to help regulate people’s behaviour!
Furthermore, Lywell was a heavy drinker and, as he confessed to me at his bedside, he even drank kachasu. In short, he was the type of man you could not associate with anything religious “because I do not believe in such things.”
Apart from that, Lywell had a reputation for being a harsh supervisor who was dreaded by his subordinates at ZNBC because of the manner he treated them. It is said that one of his juniors, disgusted by his ruthlessness, had remarked publicly that even if Lywell died that day, she would never attend his funeral – and as it turned out, she didn’t!
As if this were not enough, Lywell led a lonely life. He seemed to have made a firm decision not to have anything to do with relatives because he considered them to be a bother!
I had lived with him at my house for five years and was in fact the one who helped him get a job at ZNBC after he graduated from the Evelyn Hone College where he did a three-year diploma course in journalism.
He had been a brilliant student and obtained a good diploma. Indeed, throughout the period I lived with him, I had had no problem with him in terms of discipline. My wife and I liked him because he was hardworking, always ready and willing to help with house chores. More importantly, he loved children and related to his nieces and nephews very well.
But for some reason, after he got his first salary, Lywell started showing his true colours. He resorted to heavy drinking, coming home late and generally making a nuisance of himself. I tried to advise him to take life easy but he wouldn’t listen.
I reached a stage where I told my wife not to leave any food for him if he came home late.
Then there came a time when I had gone to Mozambique to attend an international media seminar in Maputo.
Upon my return a week later, I was informed that while I was away Lywell was nearly shot by our next door neighbour.
The story was that while I was away, Lywell had developed a habit of sneaking out of the house late at night to go drinking. The family would have supper together and retire to bed after watching television. It was after this that Lywell would sneak out of the house.
He had apparently arranged with one of my little cousins sleeping with him in the spare bedroom to open for him when he returned from his drinking sprees. The boy was given a token for keeping his mouth shut over his escapades.
Unfortunately, one night, things didn’t work out well for Lywell. He over-delayed in coming and the boy fell asleep. Thus, when he returned from wherever he had gone, the boy wouldn’t respond to his knock, so he was forced to bang the door hard.
That frightened the other members of the family, including my wife, who were not aware of the arrangement between the boy and Lywell and thought that they were under attack by criminals. So they started shouting for help.
The shouting woke up our next-door neighbour who came out of his house brandishing a rifle. He fired into the air in order to scare away the so-called criminals. By that time, the boy had opened the door for Lywell who was now lying safe in the spare bedroom, trembling.
When I questioned him about this embarrassing episode, Lywell tried to defend himself but the boy challenged him. It was then that I told Lywell, “It would appear that this ZNBC job has gone to your head. Supposing that our neighbour shot you dead, what would people say? I can’t tolerate this nonsense any longer. Enough is enough. From tomorrow, pack your things and go wherever you want. After all, you are now earning your own money. You can look for your own accommodation somewhere.”
That apparently marked the end of my relationship with Lywell; for once he had left my house, he never came back; nor did he visit any other members of the family. Even when an uncle of mine died, he never came to pay his condolences. Indeed, we had many other funerals in the family after my uncle’s and messages would be sent to ZNBC to inform him but he would be nowhere to be seen!
Meanwhile, he found a woman to marry and paid lobola without informing me or any other member of the family about it. None of my relatives knew where he lived. In fact, I first saw his wife and house early 1993 after he got sick. The wife had come to my place of work at Zambia Daily Mail to inform me about her husband’s illness. I had been visiting him in hospital since early February that year.
I was surprised that as I approached his bed in Ward E21 shortly after 16:30 hours on February 28, 1993, Lywell exclaimed, “I’m very happy that you have come, cousin. I have an important message for you.”
He told me that the family might not have realized it but that at some point during his first admission to the hospital, he had “died” and had gone to another world.
According to him, as he approached this other world, he saw a man standing outside a huge gate carrying a big book in his hands. He suspected that this person was either God or an angel.
“The man appeared to have been very angry with me. He complained that the book he was carrying was full of sinful activities I was involved in while on earth. Just then, he tore the book in my presence and threw it away.
“That done, the man opened the gate and asked me to look to my left. Cousin, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was as if I was watching a video; for there I was, seeing myself dancing and drinking in bars with prostitutes surrounding me. The man said the people I was seeing in that video, for lack of a proper word, were waiting to be thrown into the unquenchable flames of Hell because they were filled with sin.
“But he told me he was to give me a second chance and send me back to earth to convert those I was drinking with in bars to turn to God; for they were lost and needed someone to guide them.
“Thereafter the man asked me to look to my right and when I did, I could also not believe my eyes. I recognised a number of faces of people I used to despise on earth for preaching the word of God. I could see that the people on the right were at peace with God. They were very happy.
“Then the man told me that if I wanted to be as happy as those people when I die, I should be born again and accept Jesus as my personal Saviour.
To this end, therefore, I want to promise you, cousin, that once I come out of this hospital, the first thing I will do is to stop drinking. I will never, never drink again. I am now a servant of God.
“My task will be to go from bar to bar, preaching to the beer-guzzlers and the prostitutes to stop their evil ways and turn to God. I am now fully convinced that the Bible is a God-inspired book and not a book of fairy tales as I had been made to believe.
“Secondly, the man up there admonished me for the harsh manner I was treating my subordinates at work. He reminded me that the authority I was exercising over my juniors was not mine but from God and that I had no right to treat them like slaves.
“According to him, since my juniors had five senses like me, I did not need to force them to obey me. He said juniors should respect their bosses and not fear them and that he was not pleased with what I was doing to my subordinates.
“Again, once I come out of the hospital, the first thing I will do upon resuming my duties will be to call a meeting of all my subordinates and ask for their forgiveness for the ill-treatment I subjected them to. I will tell them, guys, forgive me. I didn’t know what I was doing.
“Thereafter, I would start working with them as a team because without them, I would not be where I am as deputy chief sub-editor.
“Turning to my family, I know I have been a big disappointment to them. I never visited them, thinking that no problem would ever befall me. Of course, I now realize that this was very foolish and selfish of me.
“The fact that it is now you my relatives who have been suffering over my illness proves the folly of my actions.
To this end, I ask all my relatives to forgive me; for clearly I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Admittedly, I was quite moved by Lywell’s confession of guilt and signs that he had turned a new leaf. For my part, I forgave him right there and then. But jokingly I said, “Lywell, you are saying these things because you are sick. Let the doctors discharge you and you will go back to your old ways.”
But he assured me that he had repented and that there was no going back because he considered himself lucky to have been given a second chance to come back to earth.
He said the only thing that surprised him was why God was still keeping him in hospital if it was His wish that he should start preaching the gospel to the lost sheep. “But then, God works in many mysterious ways,” he conceded.
Since he was expected to be discharged the following day, on March 1, 1993, we arranged to meet the following Sunday, March 7, at his house, so that he could confirm what he had told me in hospital concerning his repentance.
Unfortunately, I was not to see him alive again; for on the morning of the very Sunday when we were supposed to meet, I received a message that Lywell had died….
The author is a Lusaka-based media consultant who also served in the foreign service as a diplomat in South Africa and Botswana. For comments, sms 0977425827/0967146485 or email: email@example.com.