Angel at the Fuel Queue

by Bruce Zondiwe Mbano

“ A German lady accosted me for allowing a car to queue-jump and I lied that that was its place for it had been ahead of me previously. She said that could not be true for she had been on the queue since 4:30 am, which was also a lie because she came behind me and I arrived at 4:45 am.”

Last week on Thursday, there was an indication fuel would be coming at one of the new Total filling stations after a long dry spell throughout the country such that on our trip home earlier on we had to rely on black market fuel selling at three or four times more than the normal pump price.  With that good news, I drove to the place at about 4:45 am, left the Toyota venture there and walked back four km to take a bath and breakfast.

I went back later to be on the queue from 8:30 am. There was excitement when the tanker drove in to deliver at about 11:30 am. If the owners of the small cars that stood in the way did not come in time, people would have carried them away.  Immediately after delivering the rare liquid, electricity went off so they could not start selling. We had to wait for about two hours before they could start selling. There was so much excitement that my venture failed to start when it was time to move forward.

Stranded, I came out to try singlehandedly to push it. It was an impossible task. I do not remember whether I prayed, but at that very time a strong young man came and helped me to push it until we filled the gap. Later we decided that the problem was that the fuel that had been so low even when I drove to the fuel station must have run out. He suggested buying one litre so that we do not have to push any more, explaining how such purchases can be expensive and take extraordinary negotiation skills, so he asked for the sum of one thousand Kwacha, which I happily gave, and would have given even more. Soon he came back with a container and we poured the fuel in. They had been refusing even to sell him since containers is forbidden by the Malawi Energy Regulation Authority. He had to plead with the attendant and for taking the risk the man charged five hundred above what was proffered. I did not only give him the extra five hundred note, but also added two hundred to thank him for the service.

After we shifted the cars twice or thrice, it started to rain. Seeing my angel outside my car getting wet, I invited him in. He told me he knows I am from Chancellor College, and also mentioned two lecturers, one from department of Theology and another from Law, whom he said he assists with driving their cars to filling stations when they have no time to wait on queues. He also drives people’s taxis since he does not have a vehicle of his own. Later he told me he has a Malawi School Certificate of Education with weak points obtained from Balaka Secondary School. He wants to rewrite four or five subjects to add credits so that he qualifies for university courses, since learning driving has not helped him. Before the fuel tanker arrived, I had kept myself busy by marking students examination scripts, the scourge of teachers, so I had a big envelop at the back seat. He offered to drive for me so that I could continue my marking since it would take more than an hour before we could reach the pump. I checked his performance the first time and was satisfied, though he stopped to close to the front car. Hence I settled to my marking. Meanwhile we moves three or four times and there were less than fifteen cars ahead, except that ours was not the only line because on my left there were two parallel lines, which at some times seemed to be moving faster. Early in the morning while leaving the car on the queue there was only one line of cars. When I came back to find these parallel lines I went to the attendants to ask why they allowed this confusion to develop. They said they try to control but people do not listen so they just leave them. At other filling stations, they sometimes bring in police to control the lines, which helps a bit, although the police also allow some cars to jump the queue.

I went to the pumps to monitor the situation. A party van drove along drove from the bus stage up the road to the roundabout, took the road to Blantyre it came close to our fuel queue, turned towards the Gynkana Club, took the road to St George Anglican Church and from there rejoined the main road to Blantyre.

‘Forward with DPP, for development, justice and security; forward with Professor Ngwazi Bingu Wa Mutharika, the father of development, peace and security…,” announced a male voice, amid blasting party songs, and calling everyone to attend a ground breaking ceremony for the construction of the new Zomba-Blantyre road on Sunday, by the president, the father of development and economic engineer. ‘This is deliberate provocation,’ said a man, who looked tired.

‘How I wish they had come close to the queue,” said another man, in a serious tone.

This narrow road to Blantyre constructed during the colonial days and improved during the era of Kamuzu was so bumpy that if you arrived without a stomach upset you had the thank you robust constitution.

When I came back to the car, my wife phoned to ask if there was a chance of filling the official car she drives which was empty so that that morning she had to buy five litres fuel from black market at K5,000 when at filling stations it would cost her less than K2,000. I told her there was little chance because the queue was long and of three lines thick. Worse still minibuses and taxis jump the queue. In his polite tone, the boy said I should not discourage her. Since the tanker had filled fuel at the next filling station where people were currently queuing, with his knowledge of the dynamics of queues, he would assist her position the car strategically. When I phoned my wife and she came, our consultant angel went to assist.

Within ten minutes, I saw her car driven by the consultant in queue dynamics coming from outside the road to stand parallel to me on the left. Immediately the front car moved the consultant drove into the place in front while a taxi was doing the same two cars in front. A German lady accosted me for allowing a car to queue-jump and I lied that that was its place for it had been ahead of me previously. She said that could not be true for she had been on the queue since 4:30 am, which was also a lie because she came behind me and I arrived at 4:45 am. It was hard, but I thought even in this scourge of fuel queues occasioned by irresponsible political decisions that forget the needs of the people my wife deserved her place closest to me. A day later at a Bible study we released the burden to our friends. Will there be a solution to these economic woes in Malawi? It is rumoured that a West African prophet has prophesied the expiry of an old dictator in Africa. People fervently pray that the prophecy should come true, and quickly. It is even reported that a Zimbabwean and Malawian overseas have fought to claim this prophecy.

Soon our queue stopped moving for fifteen minutes or more. It was reported that a minibus driver refused to drive away insisting that they sell him more than the K5,000 rationing. We were about to go all of us at once and lift it away when someone reasoned with him and he drove the bus away. After shifting two times, we were within four or five cars. The consultant driver of my wife’s vehicle branched to another pump where they now would be at number three, leaving me to be number three to. At that moment another tanker came and caused some confusion as it blocked some cars that had filled and were driving away on the other side. We were told it had brought paraffin and cars had to shift for it to reach the paraffin pump. A driver of minibus on another queue came to me and advised me not to drive forward when the car in front moves so that his minibus can come on to create space for the tanker. I told him I will not do such a thing unless I am asked by the attendants. Thereupon he went advised the attendant to tell me the message. The attendant came and announced that I should be the last to move forward and fill, after me the rest will stop until the tanker passes to the paraffin pump. So it was that both my car and wife’s had a chance to purchase and drive away. It was difficult to negotiate our way out because from the other side there was another queue. But having come out we stopped somewhere and paid the angel K1,000 for his service. It was now 3:45 pm, and tired I drove straight home to rest while my wife drove to college to collect her things from her office.

The following day, on Friday I went to office. Opening my computer, I found that three flash disks I kept in one of the computer bag were not there. After thoroughly checking the bag and the car I could not trace my important devices. At home, later, I checked thoroughly but they were not there. Later my wife also found that a flash attached to a music device put in a compartment on the dashboard of her car was also missing. I phoned our angel but there was so much noise that I did not successfully communicate. He said he was in a minibus from Blantyre but would come. Indeed he came and I told him about out loss. He asked me to check thoroughly and promised to come again the following day. I was hopeful.

On Saturday morning he came around 9:00 am as I was just arriving at the office. I explained that we have checked that the items were nowhere else but in the cars on that day, that no one else entered our cars but him, and that they missed on that day. I explained about the important documents in them such as my books and the music which had been collected from different places, such that we would not expect to find them locally. After talking about over and over, he left only offering a promise to pray so that the items are found and to come and see me again on Monday. It is now a week and he has not come.

The author, Bruce Zondiwe Mbano is a lecturer in the Department of Language and Communication Skills at Chancellor College. He has authored short-stories, plays and poems, some of which have been published in The Fate of Vultures(BBC prize-winning poetry), Heinneman and The Haunting Winds(published by Dzuka). His poem The Viphya won second prize in the 2000 Peer Gynt Literally Award. Mbano’s has published beautiful poems on Afreecan Read including, Eyes of AgeRoad to Emmaus and The Breadwinner.