A Life of Patchworks…and the loss of innocence

‘Patchwork’ tells the story of a discerning and deceptive little girl, affectionately known as Pumpkin.  Shrewd and deceptive not by choice but characteristics borne as a result of growing up in a harsh environment and thus living a life no child should ever have to.

Her fashionable mother is the Queen of Tudu Court, but underneath the veneer of her exquisite taste and glamour lies a woman with a crippling addiction to alcohol.

Surrounded by a mischievous and feisty bunch of friends, Pumpkin finds solace in the bitter-sweet camaraderie they share. To maintain her street cred and save face she learns to mask her pain with laughter concealing the hurt she feels about an absent father that no amount of sweets and toys can replace.  Her circle of friends – BaDodo, Bee, Sonia and Daisy provide comic relief to readers despite the fact that their lives are immersed in a mesh of social and cultural ills.

Raised both by a dysfunctional mother and ruthless, no nonsense, tavern owner-Grandma Ponga, nine year old Pumpkin is forced to grow up fast.  Perceptive Pumpkin is no fool she knows Grandma Ponga works hard at loving her, but her being Tata’s daughter makes it hard for Grandma who hates Tata as much as Ma loves him.

Pumpkin’s father pays an unannounced visit on the night his little girl has had to clean up her mother’s retch. Despite her furtive efforts to mask the odour by dousing the house with air-fresher and bug spray the evidence is glaring and in a fit of rage Tata forcefully takes custody of Pumpkin.

Pumpkin’s life takes a different trajectory when she moves to live with her father.  As she becomes Tata’s darling, her father’s affections regrettably attract her stepmother’s ill treatment and scorn causing Pumpkin to seek comfort in the close relationship she shares with Zimbabwean house maid-Sissy and her father’s glamorous girlfriend, Gloria.

As life would have it, Pumpkin unfortunately develops into a scarred woman. As she subconsciously contends with unresolved daddy issues, and the rejection she faced as a young child from her dad seep into her marriage and recurrently rears its ugly head, she struggles to trust her husband.

Sadly, the unsettled issues manifest themselves in extreme paranoia and negative self-fulfilling prophesies making her, her own worst enemy. She consequently fails to see that she had married a decent man and was driving him away through her paranoia.

Despite her emotional challenges all hope is not lost and Pumpkin gets a second chance to build a relationship with her politically-aspiring father, whose life is regrettably cut short in the wake of his rise to political prominence, leaving behind a host of unanswered questions.

The onset of Pumpkin’s emotional healing comes through her childhood friend, Bee.  Through their reunion Bee counsels Pumpkin and advises her to embrace life as is, count her blessings and to reassure the little wounded girl inside, that though her father made mistakes, he loved her. Though he may have let her down it was never intentional–he still loved her; and most importantly it was time she lived her own life appreciating the good man and family she had always had.

Patchwork-a little book that is chock-a-block with family and social dynamics, exposes the challenges that children growing up in broken homes and societies may face and brings to light the scars that may result. One should never underestimate the importance of security, stability and a good home environment as it appears the lack thereof can result in devastating psychological effects, when left unchecked.

Suffice it to say one then wonders (since life appears imperfect by default which results in societies and homes that are fragmented) would it not unequivocally create idiosyncratic personal patchworks that each individual must figure out and make peace with on their own and in their own time?

Ellen Banda-Aaku (born Ellen Banda, 6 May 1965) is a Zambian writer who was born in the UK and grew up in Africa.  Her literary works are mainly for young adults and she has won several literary awards for her superlative writing. Her first novel, Patchwork won the Penguin Prize for African Writing and was short-listed for 2012 Commonwealth Book prize.

Ellen has judged on the 2006 Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa, the 2013 Malawi Peer Gynt National Novel Writing Competition and on the 2014 Writivism Short Story Writing Competition for Africa.  Presently she is a patron of The Pelican Post, a charity dedicated to distributing appropriate children’s fiction to schools and supporting charities in Africa. – Zimbo Jam

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