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Almeida Cumbane

Translated by Samantha Morito


At dawn, the clinical condition worsens. The moon and stars preside over the night, and my father offers up to them his wails of despair. He screams with all his might, but his vocal chords give out under the weight of his age and his voice hoarsens to a gasp. He cries out the names of both the living and the dead.

Moisture seeps through every nook and cranny and crevice in his body. As the days wear on, his skin reddens like a ripening tomato. His eyes bulge from their sockets as though they are a pair of comets straying from orbit. This alarms us, as our father has been listening with his eyes for the last 20 years, ever since the din of the machines in the platinum mines stole his ears. His deafness is the most enduring souvenir he has brought with him from Mandela’s land.

When the pain that sits on top of him subsides for a moment, he gazes at us with those crimson eyes. Whenever my father spoke, he would shout in an attempt to hear himself. Since he was able to hear his own voice that way, he always assumed that his deafness was just a case of other people speaking too softly. But, now, with tremendous effort, all he can mumble out is,

"Please, my children. Just a little. I promise, I won’t overdo it."

We exchange glances. We are all of us doubtful; afraid of being responsible for sending our father to his grave. But neither are we able to bear his torment. We keep our lips sealed. My ears strain to avoid making sense of the slurry of words spilling from my father. I pray for God to grant me the miracle of blindness, so I do not have to witness this image of my father crumpled over in desperate supplication.

We found consolation in the doctor’s words, heard on an endless loop: “It will be difficult. He’ll have impulses he can’t control. He’ll suffer periods of depression, irritability and anxiety. He’ll constantly try to put off sleeping and he’ll refuse to smile. He has no way of quitting without your help. You shall be his rehab clinic. I wouldn’t advise you to look elsewhere.

We already knew all of this, but it’s one thing to know that hell exists, and another to actually be there. One thing which explained my father’s propensity to addiction was that my grandfather, too, had suffered from such tendencies, and he was the one who had introduced my father to them at a young age. It was a worrying prospect that we could also one day, if not already, be controlled by addictions. We gave the old man all he asked for, thinking that we were doing the right thing.

To communicate that he has to abandon the thing he loves most is hard. It’s a problem that would stump a genius. Saying the actual words might be easy enough, but it was a struggle to break it kindly to a deaf man. What was even worse was trying to get the doctors’ jargon across to him: “the cerebral circuits involved in the pursuit of pleasure become hypersensitive to the memories he associates with his vices, so for this reason you should avoid responding to his requests.” We could have written it down for him. However, to us, who only know how to write in letters of the alphabet, our old man was unlettered.

Only in the morning does the doctor arrive. He observes his patient and ascertains that the situation has escalated from delicate to critical. He gazes fixedly at the space in front of him. He meditates, summoning the gods of psychiatry. It wasn’t just the vices now- it seems that, since we had cut off his sources of pleasure, Dad had progressed to a state of madness.

The doctor agrees with us. We have to find a way around the situation if we are to avoid losing our father- even if it means yielding a little to his pleas. Suddenly, the doctor has a brain wave. We hurry to the market and buy the colossal plastic sheet he prescribes for our dad’s treatment.

He covers Dad over completely with the plastic sheet. Then, he creates an opening for his face, and slots in a visor, and a protective face mask. Then he cuts two more holes in the plastic, one on the left and one on the right, for him to put his hands through, and then gives his authorisation:

You can hug him now.

Almost immediately, my father’s clinical condition improves. We can’t see his lips, hidden behind the mask, but his eyes are smiling. Life is expressed in trinity: birth, life and death. Christian sanctity is expressed in trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. My father’s vices are expressed in trinity: receiving visits from his children and grandchildren, hugging them, and kissing them. Now, though, the chaos of the corona has gotten in the way, so we’ve had to cut all of it out. He misses the touch of their faces against his, but contents himself with the occasional hugs, and the sight of his grandchildren, even if it is from a social distance of at least one and a half metres.


Almeida Cumbane was born in Maputo, Mozambique. He wrote the novel Ilusão à Primeira Vista (Prémio Literário TDM 2016). He organised and contributed to the collections Fique em casa amor (poetry) and 19 cartas para a covid-19, both published by Associação Cultural Xitende. Os assassinos também choram was one of the 12 selected to the collection Olhos Deslumbrados: Histórias de Maputo, by Fundação Fernando Leite Couto. He's co-author of theatre scripts and radio-novels. He writes for magazines and blogs.

Samantha Morito was born and raised in London, and has done an assortment of teaching jobs in both English and Portuguese. She has recently completed her degree in Linguistics and Portuguese Language and Literature at Oxford University, and is looking forward to taking part, for the first time, in such a varied and current translation project.

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