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William tells stories about his father, Trywell. Trywell started as a trader, traveling as far as Lake Malawi to trade with the Yao. Trywell was a large and strong man, known for drinking and fighting. He earned the nickname “Pope,” because he avoided picking up women from bars. During a Robert Fumulani concert, Police officers tried to remove Trywell for being intoxicated, but he fought them all off. Eventually, once Trywell met William’s mother, Agnes, he had to settle down. Several of his friends had died or gone to prison. After getting arrested for fighting, Trywell turned to Christianity and became sober. Trywell’s older brother, John, was a successful farmer and invited Trywell to become a farmer in the same village.
William states that his childhood began when his family moved to Masitala and Trywell became a farmer. Initially, Trywell built additions to the house by himself, with clay bricks. By the time William had four sisters, Trywell had made enough money to pay others to expand their home. William then tells the story of a man named Phiri, who had a form of magic called mangolomera that gave him super-strength. William was not a strong child and was bullied. Another boy in the village, named Shabani, said that he could give William the power of the mangolomera. Even though his father had warned him against magic, William agreed. Shabani cuts William’s knuckles and rubs ash in them. However, when William tries to pick a fight with a larger boy at a soccer match, William gets beat up. He believes that Shabani cheated him.
In Chapter Two, William describes the life of his father Trywell, and he reveals more about Trywell’s character. William looks up to his father despite a checkered past. Most importantly, Trywell provides an example of transformation. Where Trywell was once a drunken fighter, he is now a pillar of his community and a strong fatherly influence. William can see now, through his father’s experiences, that people are capable of great change. While Trywell’s change is internal, William seeks external change in his community. Regardless of the difference, William looks to Trywell as a good example of how to be. Despite Trywell’s weaknesses, he is strong enough to overcome them. As William faces challenges of his own, he sees his father as a shining example of success.
Magic becomes an antagonistic force in a pivotal moment in William’s childhood. William desires to be strong like his father, so when Phiri supposedly acquires strength through magic, William sees a way to fast-track becoming more like his father. But after losing the fight, William is disillusioned. The mangolomera did nothing to help him, so he must accept now that magic is not real. This is a hard lesson, but one that William must learn to grow as an individual. He does not want harm to come to himself or his community, but he must find ways to address problems that do not rely on magic. Magic is, according to William, a big lie. It is through hard work and real-life problem solving that William can protect himself and his community.