In a battle of the mind and the heart, it is the part that’s more vulnerable that concedes first. For Sibusiswe, it was never a question of which part won over the other for if she had to live, the two parts had to exist in harmony. But when love comes, it neither knocks nor seeks permission, and it certainly knows no boundaries.
Sibusiswe had clocked a month at M&M Law firm and she took delight in having survived without much event. Apart from the constant game of hide and seek she played with Martin and Ted, Sibu stay at the firm was free of drama.
You were born unlucky and you will die unlucky. The very blood flowing through your veins is the curse that will live with you till the day you die. How could she ever forget her aunt’s ominous words that haunted her through the night and day?
Despite being the only family she had, Aunt Tafadzwa treated Sibu like her greatest nemesis. Months would go by without the two talking to each other unless there was something the thirty-eight year old woman needed from her; then she would call to shamelessly announce her demands, like she did one Friday afternoon.
Sibusiswe was attending to a client on the work line when the first call from her aunt came and so she ignored the call. Only twenty minutes remained to lunch tie, I will call her then, she had reasoned as she did her best to ignore the vibrations.
Unfortunately Aunt Tafadzwa went on to give her fifteen more missed calls before she could finally run outside to take the sixteenth call. She could only imagine the rage rising up her aunt’s oesophagus, ready to explode the moment she answered the call.
“What the hell is wrong with you? Do you have any idea how long I have been trying to get in touch with you?” Sibusiswe had to slightly pull the phone away from her ear to keep the enraged woman from blasting her eardrums.
“How can you change jobs without telling me? Do you think you can run away from me just like that?” her aunt unleashed her fury, sparing Sibu no chance to return the favour. “Where the hell are you? Come to the gate right now. These idiots won’t let me in unless I tell them I have an appointment.”
The idiots in question being the two security guards stationed at the gate who worked under strict instructions to only let into the building identifiable people and those with appointments. Aunt Tafadzwa definitely did not fall into either category.
Sibu’s eyes widened in surprise and trepidation, “You are here?” She asked the obvious question, taking a few steps forward to get a clear view of the gate in the distance but since the massive gates were closed, she could not see anything apart from the two guards seated in their booth.
A loud bang on the gate sent her running in that direction. When she got closer to the gate, she gestured an apology towards the visibly upset pair of men in uniform before removing the card which was hanging around her neck, holding it to the machine and waiting for the small gate to open.
The moment she stepped outside the building, she was met by a woman glowing in rage. Sibu was not sure if the red stamps all over her face where a result of the cold or the effects of the skin lightening creams eating away at her melanin.
Dressed in a chitenge wrapper with a matching top swallowing her whole upper body, Aunt Tafadzwa grabbed Sibu by the ears and dragged her to the side, away from the gate.
Reasoning that protesting would only get her in more trouble, Sibu could only lower her head to cushion the pain if only just slightly as she was being dragged. She lost her footing for a moment and a shoe came off her foot in the process.
When her aunt finally came to a stop, Sibu almost breathed a sigh of relief but her joy was short-lived because upon releasing her ear, she was slapped hard across the face with such force that she went tumbling to the ground.
Wide-eyes, she reached out her hand to touch the assaulted area, slowly rising up from the ground in embarrassment. Apart from the guards and a car parked on the other side of the gate, there were no people in sight.
What would happen if any of her colleagues saw her like that?
“That is for making me wait out here in the cold and subjecting me to that kind of treatment by your guards.” The angry woman snapped, fuming from ear to ear and daring the guards with her eyes to try and interfere in her business.
“Is that a new watch you are wearing?” Aunt Tafadzwa roughly grabbed Sibu’s hand to examine the wrist watch.
With tears welling up her eyes, Sibu struggled to keep her mind working against the ringing sound coming from her ears. Everything was happening so fast.
“What the hell is going on here?” Someone grabbed Sibu’s hand from her aunt’s painful grasp.
It was Martin. He had her shoe in his hand.
Where the hell did he come from? Sibu thought. “Martin,” was all she could manage as she wished for the ground to open up and swallow her whole.
“Who the hell are you and why are you causing a scene in front of my father’s firm?” Martin fired at the woman with vengeance. “Guards!” he turned towards the two guards who had been watching the scene wide-eyed through the glass screen of their booth.
They quickly fumbled out of the little room the moment they were summoned.
“What the hell are you doing while an employee is being physically abused right in front of you?” Martin snapped, his hand still holding on to Sibu’s.
“Martin please,” Sibu pleaded, desperately trying to free her hand from his grasp but Martin would not let go.
“Who do you think you are to interfere with how I choose to discipline my niece?” Aunt Tafadzwa retorted, sizing him up with her lips curled tightly.
“She is your aunt?” Martin turned his gaze twowards Sibu.
She nodded. “Yes she is so please don’t interfere and let me handle this myself. It is none of your business. Please…just pretend you did not see anything, I am begging you…please.” The pleading look in her eyes tore at Martin’s insides. What was really going on?
Martin searched her face and all he could see was fear written all over her features. He wanted to take her into his arms if only to keep her from trembling so much. He could feel the dread coursing through her body from her hand.
Is this the same woman that had defiantly rejected him numerous times?
Sibu took advantage of Martin’s befuddled state to free her hand from his grasp, stealthily moving away from him to stand in front of her aunt. “I am very sorry aunty,” she put her hands together and raising them up as if in prayer, she rubbed them up and down with her head shoulders hunched forward as she begged her aunt for forgiveness.
Martin could not believe what he was witnessing. “What do you think you are doing?” He was eyeing her contemptuously.
He reached out to grab her hands and stop her demonstration but she quickly tossed his hand away, continuing her show of obeisance to her aunt.
The guards seemed at a loss for both words and actions. They just stood at attention with only their eyes moving from Sibu to Martin.
“If your family wants to put up a show, I suggest you move it far away from these premises,” Martin warned, his face tightening to the point of uniting his perfectly shaped eyebrows into one straight line.
Without saying a word, Aunt Tafadzwa pranced angrily to the other side of the road with a nervous Sibu following closely behind.
Martin was shaking his head slowly in disbelief as he watched the pair cross the road. And just when he thought he had seen enough drama, Sibu went straight down on her knees the moment they were out of the road. She remained in that position with her head bowed down as her aunt went on a tirade; poking Sibu’s head every now and then as she continued talking. He could not make out what was actually being said but the body language was enough to cause indignation to rise up his spine.
“What’s up with those two?” A girl in a school uniform joined Martin by his side. She was watching the scene unfolding across the road with lividity. “Shouldn’t that woman be arrested or something for abuse?” the teenager asked. “How can something like this be happening in front of a law firm?”
“Don’t look at them Mwiche,” Martin put his hands on the girls shoulders and turned her around. “Watching them will only make her feel even more like a victim. It’s their family matter, there’s nothing we can do. You need to go home now. Mum will have a fit if she discovers you didn’t go straight home from school.”
Mwiche chuckled. “That’s exactly what Clement said a minute ago.” She said, waving her hand at the driver waiting in the car just a few feet away.
Martin looked around to see if there were any other people in sight apart from them and the guards. He felt some form of relief when he couldn’t spot a soul in sight apart from the vehicles passing through the road.
“But are you really going to let that girl get treated like that?” They both turned to look across the road. Sibu was now up on her feet, slightly bending to wipe the dirt off her jeans where she had been kneeling. She then straightened her back, removed something from her jacket and handed it to her aunt.
“Did she just give her money?” Martin’s little sister asked, looking very shell-shocked.
“I don’t know what’s going on there but whatever it is, it’s very twisted.” Martin was shaking his head. “Let me escort you to the car, I can’t look at that shit anymore.” He took his sister’s hand and led her back to the car.
After saying goodbye to Mwiche, Martin went back inside only to appear a few minutes later in his car. He parked on the spot where Clement had been parked and he waited for Sibu to finish her case with the mad aunt.
Martin didn’t need to wait for long because after receiving the money and delivering a bit more of her onslaught verbal diarrhoea, Sibu’s aunt had turned around and walked away, leaving Sibu alone to nurse her wounded pride.
Martin could hardly recognize the eighteen year old girl standing across the street looking so dejected and defeated like a leaf on a hot summer’s day.
That girl was not the feisty young girl that always stared down at him and challenged his manhood every chance she got. That withered looking girl made his heart ache to a point of no return. Instead of envisaging holding her naked body all through the night like he always did, the girl in front of him made him want to hold her tightly in his arms and drive her pain away.
When five minutes had gone by and Sibusiswe had not moved from the spot her aunt had left her, Martin got out of the vehicle and walked to where she was.
Sibusiswe kept her eyes glued on her aunt’s retreating figure as a storm of tears poured down her eyes. She was fixed on the task at hand that she did not hear Martin approach because the next thing she knew, he was grabbing her hand and leading her towards his vehicle.
“Don’t even try to fight me,” Martin warned her sternly as he quickly got them across the road. He opened the front passenger door and shoved Sibu inside before she could further protest. “Belt,” he instructed before banging the door and moving to his side of the vehicle.
By now Sibu had stopped crying and was starring wide-eyed at Martin.
“Where are you taking me?” She asked, finally resigning to put her seat belt on since Martin had already set the car in motion.
“I am taking you to a place I know you will love,” he replied nonchalantly.
Sibu bolted up in her seat. “Have you lost your mind? I have a job to attend to Martin!” she yelled at him.
“Calm down, I already asked Peggy to take care of it while you are gone.”
“What?” He was impossible.
“I told her that my father sent you on an errand so you don’t have to worry about anything. I can tell what’s going through that mind of yours.” He chuckled lightly. “Relax,” he reassured her.
Martin put on some music and Mozart’s Requiem in D minor filled the car.
Sibu reclined her seat and tried to relax. “Wake me up when we reach wherever we are going.” She laid back and closed her eyes as the music filled the air.
Martin got her cue and raised the volume slightly.
After driving for a few minutes, Martin watched Sibu take off her pumps and raise her feet from the floor of the vehicle only to curl them up on her seat. Before she could completely hunch herself into a ball, Martin noticed the tears.
Had she been silently crying all along? He wondered, not sure if he should say something or remain quite. He was not very good with touchy-feely things. The only time women ever cried in front of him was when they were either cussing him for breaking their hearts or begging him to take them back. In both instances, he never cared much about how they felt. He was sure of his feelings so he didn’t need to know or understand theirs.
But what was this situation? How the hell was he expected to respond?
Despite all the confusion going on in his head, there was one feeling Martin could neither deny nor suppress; the ache in his heart upon seeing Sibu in such a state.
What exactly was this feeling? He placed his hand over his chest as a sombre and troubled expression played on his face.
He curled his hand into a fist and repeatedly, yet softly hit it against his chest as if to stop his heart from feeling whatever it was threatening to feel.
If there was one thing Martin was most afraid in life, it was feelings. Sentimental feelings and Martin existed in two parallel universies.
Putting both his hands back on the steering wheel, Martin blinked profusely as if to
wake himself up from whatever spirit was threatening to overpower him. He didn’t need to look in Sibusiswe’s direction to imagine what she was going through. The force she was using to try and keep her pain under wraps was causing her body to shudder almost violently against the seat. He too could feel the pressure from where he was seated.
Martin took a deep breath and kept his eyes right ahead, his hands tightly holding on to the steering wheel as if to keep it from slipping away. With just classical music playing in the background and no words spoken between them, Martin drove like that the rest of the way.
Martin had driven for close to an hour when he finally brought the car to a stop. He got out of the vehicle and stood outside to give Sibu chance to compose herself.
Inside the car, Sibu slowly opened her eyes which were now swollen from crying for such a long time. When she looked out through the windscreen, she was impressed by the scenery around them. It almot took her breath away.
“What’s this place?” She was now standing behind him.
Martin had both his arms tucked in his pockets with his legs spread apart as if in deliberate pose.
As she took in his frame, Sibu wondered what time he had taken off his jacket. There was something a little safe with his jacket on and something completely unsafe with it off.
With his now exposed light blue shirt clinging to his broad shoulders and compact upper body, and his well-fitting dark blue pair of trousers whispering promises of long chiseled legs, Sibusiswe struggled to maintain focus of her surroundings.
There should be a law against being that good looking, Sibu mussed to herself.
“Where are we?” She asked as she came to stand next to him.
Martin turned in her direction, his hands still in his pockets.
Sibu blushed and immediately looked away at the sight of his buffed up chest threatening to reap through the tight white vest under his shirt where he had left the top buttons undone.
“It’s my secret hideaway.” Martin cheerfully announced, loving the reaction on Sibu’s face. “It’s the first piece of land my father put in my name. I always come here whenever I need to clear my mind. What do you think?”
A few meters from where they were standing were beautiful young palm trees lined up into a narrow aisle that went on as far as the eye could see. To the right of the hedge was a thirst provoking orchard with bounty fruits yelling a near harvest.
To the left where ready to harvest vegetables that seemed to be doing surprisingly well in spite of the weather. About six yards away from the cabbages was a small but beautifully designed two story cabin towering over everything else that caught Sibu’s attention.
“Are there people that live here?” Sibusiswe asked.
“Yes, the caretaker,” Martin supplied. “It’s refreshing isn’t it?” He had his arms stretched out with his head pulled slightly back to allow the fresh air to reach most parts of his body.
Sibu mimicked his actions. “It’s very beautiful,” she said. “Who would have thought that there’s such a place in Lusaka? I guess there really are perks to being friends with rich folks.”
Martin was more than glad to see her smiling. His plan to cheer her up had worked after all.
“I can only imagine what it would be like watching the sun set in over such a beautiful scenery.” Sibu muttered. “Thank you for bringing me here Martin. I don’t care what your intentions are for bringing me here but…I needed to see something like this to remind me that there are still beautiful forms of life on this earth…kind of makes you want to live again.”
Martin grinned proudly, completely missing edge to her tone during her last remark. “If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were looking forward to spending more time with me,” he teased.
“I was wondering when the douche in you would wake up,” she teased back, not daring to look in his direction. “You never disappoint.”
They both laughed.
“So are you going to tell me what that was all about?” Martin asked after a while.
The smile on Sibu’s face disapeared immediately.
Noting the hesitation, Martin tried again. “What did you do that was so bad that you let your aunt treat you like that?”
“I wish I could tell you everything…but today is just not the day. I just want to take in this scenery and forget about everything that happened today.”
Not one to pressure any woman into divulging personal information that might cause his heart to betray him, Martin only nodded and quickly changed the subject.
Perhaps the less he knew about her the better. The last thing he needed was getting attached and messing up his already laid out plans for the future. Women were just too complicated for his brain cells. He already had enough on his plate memorizing all those statutes.
As Sibusiswe allowed herself to get lost in the scenery before her, she couldn’t help feeling a great sense of respect and gratitude towards Martin who had made it possible for her to forget about her sorrows even if just for a little bit.
It was the first time anyone had ever taken the time to do something for her. Although she suspected that he might have ulterior motives for appearing as her knight in shinning armor, she resolved to only focus on the good part of the experience because her mind had had enough misery for a day.
When Sibu finally came back to reality, it was to find Martin behind her, his back resting against the car with both hands back in his pockets. The manner in which he was smiling at her gave Sibu pause. for the first time she could see sincerity in his eyes.
Since when did he start looking at her like that? She blushed profusely, debating whether to take her eyes away from him or maintain eye contact. If she broke contact, he would know he had some effect on her, and if she kept looking at him, her eyes might betray her.
With her heart nearly leaping out of her chest, unconsciously, Sibusiswe brought her hand to her chest. It was her inert defensive mechanism shielding her from harm…. How else could she stop her heart from feeling things it was not supposed to?
Just in those few seconds she had lost herself in the embers of his smile, Sibusiswe’s heart sent her mind to slumber. Never before had she felt so vulnerable.
And still, Martin kept smiling.
He was silently taking pleasure in watching the mixed emotions playing on Sibu’s face. However, just as he was about to climax from the rewards of his well laid out plans, something in Sibu’s eyes sent shivers running down his spine.
Was that fear he had just seen in her eyes?
And just why did that make him uncomfortable?
* * *
Saturday mornings were always a hype of activity at Chilenje market. Both shoppers and marketeers went about their business in committed shrew.
The perversely undecided winter sun relentlessly assaulted Sibusiswe’s windscreen and crushed onto her forehead, forcing her to drop the sun visor in frustration.
Parked by the side of the road overlooking an array of shops on the other side of the road, Sibusiswe straightened her back in her seat and kept her focus on one specific store where an unsuspecting woman fortuitously attended to her vegetable stand in front of her fully stocked shop.
It was Aunt Tafadzwa.
In tight fitting blue skinny jeans and a tight red top, Aunt Tafadzwa put most women her age to shame. Her forty-nine year old form was very different from the slightly overweight woman with a passion for oversized clothes she had been eleven years ago. It seemed time had somehow awakened a sense of fashion in her and given her a flair of youth that had eluded her all those years. Now that she was just a whisper away from the fifties, she was intent on negotiating her case with time and nature till they succumbed to her wiles.
How unfair could life be? Sibusiswe thought as she watched her aunt enjoy a hearty laugh with two of her customers.
Gripping her hands around the steering wheel as the contempt boiling up in her stomach threatened to overwhelm her, Sibusiswe shut her eyes and curled her faced to half its size.
She finally stepped out of her vehicle and walked towards the store.
Aunt Tafadzwa’s smiling features graduated into a frown in record breaking time the moment she laid eyes on Sibu.
The make-up on her face was perfectly on point, as if done by a professional.
I wouldnt put it past her to use a professional make-up artist every single day, Sibu thought as she glared at her aunt.
Aunt Tafadzwa handed over the plastic bag of vegetables to her customers and reluctantly said goodbye to them, taking her time as if there was no one waiting for her.
“You have never visited me on your own volition. Who has died?” Aunt Tafadzwa asked whilst walking back into the store.
Sibu followed her inside and offered herself a stool while her aunt sat on the one behind the counter glaring at her.
“You still carry yourself like a rich madam despite being divorced,” her aunt commented sarcastically looking at her immaculately attired niece.
Sibusiswe was dressed in a long white dress that contoured around her body in eye catching fashion despite the mid-length fur-collared red coat she had on top.
“I guess some things are hard to get rid of…” Sibu replied, looking down at her red and white striped stilettoes for a second before looking up at her aunt. “…like your attitude towards me despite all the years I’ve spent slaving for you.” She fired back, her eyes unflinching against her aunt’s disdainful glare.
“I never asked you to do anything you didn’t think you needed to do,” Aunt Tafadzwa retorted. “Don’t you think it’s about time you stopped playing the victim card?”
Sibusiswe scoffed. “Victim you say?” She said a few expletives under her breath.
“I never forced you to marry Martin,” Aunt Tafadzwa growled. “You had fallen head over heels in-love with him even before I suggested marriage to you. Now, just because your marriage failed miserably, you want to blame me?”
Sibu could feel the rage rising up inside. She silently willed herself into calming down. “It is true I was in-love with Martin but I never wanted to get married to him. I would have easily taken care of my feelings and walked away but your threats forced me to marry a man I knew for a fact wasn’t good for me. Having feelings for someone does not mean you have to marry them. But because of you, I had to get married to him.”
Aunt Tafadzwa came down from her stool and stood resting her hands on her waist defiantly. “I never forced you to marry Martin!” she yelled, pointing an accusing finger at her twenty-nine year old niece. “I made you a proposition and you made the choice yourself. You could have refused and we could have gone on with our lives.”
Sibusiswe couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You call it a proposition I call it a threat,” she thundered. “But I am not here to argue semantics with you. What happened, happened…nothing can ever change the past…but I certainly intend to change the future.” She laid it thick for her aunt.
“What do you mean by that?” Aunt Tafadzwa asked.
Putting her white fur clutch on her laps, Sibu leaned back against the shelves behind her, not caring for a second abbout the products she was probably crushing. She crossed her arms over her chest and crossed one leg over the other.
“I am done catering to your every whim and demand aunty,” Sibu barked. “The deal we made was that if I marry Martin, I get to see Henry through high school and Tammy through college. I did that. I kept my end of the deal and now it’s time for you to keep yours. You promised you would leave me the hell alone and stop making crazy demands if I sent your children to school. But that text you sent me last night and the manner in which you commanded me to prepare funds for Henry’s college fees infuriated me.”
“Do you think you have any right to get upset?” her aunt asked.
“Stop it!” Sibu got up from the stool so fast she dropped her clutch to the floor. “This is exactly what I am talking about,” she remarked. “…you guilting me into making decisions every chance you get. The only reason I went through that tumultuous marriage was to free myself from your malice. Yes it was a decision i made but only because you left me no choice! I understand you are mad about what happened to your sister but I am done paying the price for something I had no control over. Every day and night I beat myself over it…I don’t need you to constantly remind me of my sins. You claim my mother would have taken care of you and your children if she were alive but do you think she would have wanted you abusing her only child in this manner?”
“Abusing you?” Aunt Tafadzwa’s small eyes danced in furry. “You call marrying a handsome and impossibly rich man like Martin abuse?” She laughed bemusedly.
“Yes, making a fourteen year old do all those things you made me do for your family is what the law calls child abuse. And there’s a word they use to describe forcing someone to marry someone they didn’t want to just so it can benefit you.”
“You act as if you didn’t benefit from the marriage,” her aunt fired back. “Just look at you,” she said, running her and up and down in Sibu’s direction. “…looking all high and mighty like you are better than everybody else. If I told Martin what you did, do you think he would have insisted on marrying you in the first place? Thanks to me you got to enjoy such a high class life and married the most sought after man in the country. Any normal person would be grateful, but not you. You have always been a selfish ungrateful wench ever since you were little. And thanks to that selfishness of yours, my sister is now six feet under!” She was furiously pointing and digging at the floor with her feet.”
“Do not bring my mother into this,” Sibusiswe told her aunt. “I promised myself that I will not let your emotional blackmail get to me today. I did what I promised to do; I sent your children to school. Tammy is the same age as me and she is now working. It is now her time to send her brother to college. I will be leaving the country in a few days and there is nothing you will say to me that will stop me. I just don’t care anymore…I just don’t give a dame any more. Seek a witch doctor to deal with me like you’ve always threatened to do or kill me yourself with your bare hands, I don’t care. I know that as long as I am alive, there is no getting out of this hell I set up for myself and you polished for my comfort. But I am done with you…so either you let me go in peace or I drag you down into this hell with me.”
“You think it’s easy to just walk away from your family just like that?” Aunt Tafadzwa asked, seeming much unperturbed by her niece’s threats.
Sibu scoffed. “Has there ever been a time you considered or treated me like family? If what you and your children are to me is family, then I will gladly embrace being alone in this world.” She bent down to pick up her clutch, and taking a deep breath she said, “I came here to say goodbye, not to fight. My walking away from you does not mean I have forgotten about my sins. I just think I have paid you enough and I would like to battle my own demons on my own terms. You take care of yourself and your family.” And with that, she turned to leave.
“You think running away will absolute you from everything? What do you think your husband’s family will do when they find out that you only married into their family for money?” Her aunt’s voice roared from behind.
Sibu stopped. “I never said I was running away,” she said with her back still turned. “I am simply removing some weeds from my hell. It is my hell after all, only I get to decide the company I keep while I await my pending doom,” and turning around, “you no longer get to call the shots.” She declared. “You are done. You and I are over. You can say whatever you want to Martin’s family, see if I care.” With that, she walked out of the shop, leaving her aunt reeling in bridled rage.
Putting on her invisible triumphant shoulder pads, Sibusiswe walked out of the store with her head held high. She was busy busking in her glory over putting her aunt in her place when something blocked her path right outside the store.
It was her former mother-in-law, Mrs Temwani Mwewa.
To say she was looking unpleased would be an understatement. With her brows arched upwards going all the way and stopping only a few inches short of her hairline, and with her lips parsed into a long thin line, the fifty-five year old woman was a vision only found in children’s nightmares.
“Fancy finding you here Sibu,” Mrs Mwewa said, arching one eyebrow further into her hair.
All Sibu could do in that instant was stare in disbelief at the woman who had made it her hobby to make her marriage life unbearable.
Why did she have to be there at that particular moment? And how much of the conversation with her aunt did she hear?
“Bana Martin, mwaiseni!” A very cheerful Aunt Tafadzwa came out of the store to gleefully welcome her former in-law and seemingly good friend.
Since when did the two become so close? Sibusiswe wondered as the two women shared a hug.
A cold streak of chagrin ran down Sibusiswe’s spine as flashes from her past threatened to crush her head into little pieces.