After my fateful encounter with Thandiwe, I went back to my car and sat there for close to two hours…just thinking about where to go from there.
Thabo and I had an understanding from the time we got married; that no matter how heated an argument was, none of us was to leave the vicinity of our home – we could leave the bedroom yes, but never the house. For ten years I kept that promise.
But that night as I sat alone wallowing in self pity in the car park of the lodge I had almost committed adultery in just a few minutes ago, that decision couldn’t come to me easily.
That night I was afraid of a lot of things and of all those things, the truth topped the list.
I was not just afraid of what I might do to the woman who had betrayed me like that. I was mostly afraid of finding out the truth and how it might change life as I had known it.
That night I thought about the other two children…the twins; Natasha and Merebeth. I thought about what had happened that morning immediately after my wife had confessed the truth to me.
I was on my way out of the house in a rage when they appeared in front of me out of nowhere, blocking my way with huge grins on their faces absolutely oblivious to whatever had just transpired.
“Daddy look what we made!” Natasha was excitedly showing me something I was not really seeing despite looking at it. To think that the only thought going through my mind during such a proud fatherly moment was… are you even my kids?… makes me feel so much shame in myself right now.
To this day, those two cute innocent smiles still haunt me in my sleep when I think back to the thoughts that went through my mind at that particular moment. Days after my finding out the truth, I would wake up in the middle of the night in bouts of sweat, the fear of what was, what is…and what could have been ripping through my body and breaking it into convulsions that threatened to send me to an early grave.
That night as I sat in my car contemplating my next move…I pondered the question I had been most afraid to ask;
Who was the father?
I thought back to my past and wondered what sins I might have committed for whose price I was only paying then?
How did I get to such a point? Where did I go wrong?
I was not sure whether to thank my wife for revealing the truth to me of her own volition or to be mad at her for rocking a boat that had been sailing smoothily all along.
There was nothing about my son or any of our children that made me question their paternity and there had been no signs of infidelity or suspicious behaviour from my wife. The thought of my own children not being mine had never even crossed my mind before. I mean, what sort of man would I be if I doubted something like that?
Whats worse, almost every single person that met my son said he was a spitting image of me…so why…how…what was going on? Despite everything, there was a huge part of me that felt responsible for how things had turned out.
I was the one who had left a beautiful wife at home for two years and only went back to see her once. How lonely she must have been? If her loneliness was anything compared to mine…then where would I even begin shaming her?
Granted, our lives had become a whole lot better after attaining my second degree. I had been immediately promoted at work and Thabo had finally managed to set up her own business. We could afford to send the children to the best schools in the country and we lived a much comfortable life. We were happier than we had ever been before those two years.
…and what about our families…dear God.
What was I to tell my family?
In a society that heralded a man’s infidelity but scorned a woman’s, just what was going to happen to the woman I had dedicated my whole life to?
I wanted to hate her and I wanted her to hurt as much as I did. I thought about divorcing her the moment she had dropped the bomb on me but the memories of everything we had been through together kept me from thinking rationally.
I wanted to hurt her…but how could I get myself to lay a finger on a woman and still look my mother in the eye?
And what about Chikondi? What was going to happen to our son?
You see, even in those moments, I couldn’t bring myself to think of that handsome little fella as anything else other than my son. He had been my first, and I would have laid down my life for him in teh blink of an eye.
After thirteen good years, three years dating and ten good years married…how did i end up siting in my car in the middle of the night outside some lodge reduced to nothing but tears?
Before that fateful day, I was not a man that easily cried. The last time I had cried was when I saw my wife cry over her mothers grave during her burial…and it had been fie years prior.
“I was lonely…vulnerable…I was so sick and he had been there taking care of me….”
Those words assaulted my ears until I could only hear bells ringing in my head from out of nowhere.
I had finally decided to head back home but I did not enter the house. I stayed outside in the car park and pretended not to see my lovely wife looking out the window from our bedroom every ten seconds.
I cannot remember when I slept but here’s what I remember vividly; waking up in the morning to the sound of a knock on my window only to find Chikondi starring closely at me.
It was the boy that was my son but never my own.
I adjusted the seat back up and rolled down the window.
“Good morning dad?” the eight year old greeted me, concern written all over his face.
Something dropped inside of me…and it hurt real bad.
I could only stare back at him as I prayed to God to not let my emotions show on my face.
“Did you and mum fight?” the boy asked. For an eight year old, he had the maturity of an older person…something I always boasted he took after me.
“Why are you crying dad?” Chikondi asked me.
Was I crying?
I quickly checked my face with my hand and for sure, there were tears coursing down my face.
How did i get reduced to the kind of man that cries in front of his child…even if that child wasn’t biologically his?
I quickly wiped away the tears and forced a smile on my face. “I drunk too much last night and your mother wasn’t happy at all. I think this is the hangover at work,” I lied.
“Dad, I think it’s alright for a man to cry once in a while. It only means he’s human, not that he’s weak…as long as he doesn’t do it often.”
Those were my very own words being echoed back at me.
Who the hell was the father to this wise little fella?
I could have given anything to rewind time and stop my wife from revealing the truth to me. I could have paid anything to erase my memory if it meant getting rid of the ache in my chest every time I looked at Chikondi.
And so I got out of the car and did something that would haunt Chikondi for the rest of his life.
I knelt down before him, put my arms around him and cried my heart out. Even though I was crying silently, the convulsions from my body were more than enough to let my son know what was happening.
“What’s wrong dad?” I heard the boy ask.
It took a few more minutes for me to get my balls in order and man up. I slowly released him from my embrace and looked up at him tall frame.
“I was trying to be human,” I told Chikondi, my voice a little hoarse from emasculation. “How about we go inside together so mummy and I can told a bit.”
He only nodded in response. I could see that he was almost tearing up and that only made me feel even worse. I should not have let my emotions get the better of me in front of him.
As if she had been watching us from inside, Thabo opened the door to let us in the moment we reached the house.
Before I could even step the first food into the house, the twins came running towards me and went straight for my legs, each hugging one for herself while my wife looked on in terror.
I leveled myself up to girls height and smiled at them, taking them both into my arms.
“Where did you go dad?” They chorused the moment they were out of my arms.
“I was working,” I cheerfully lied.
“Chikondi, why don’t you take your sisters to the kitchen and have some breakfast?” Thabo instructed and the boy immediately obliged.
Without uttering a single word to her, I headed upstairs to our bedroom and she followed me closely behind.
“You decide, I leave or you leave,” I said once the door was shut behind us, my back to her.
Thabo could only look at me with a deadening look on her face. “No Harry,” she said pleadingly. “Please don’t do this. Let’s talk about it first….”
“Is there anything more you have to say to me Thabo?” I turned to face her, my hands in my pockets.
She started walking towards me but the look in my eyes warned her to keep a distance and she listened.
“I will do anything you want me to do but just don’t ask me to leave Harry.” She begged.
“Then I will be the one leaving,” I said, walking over to the closet to grab some of my clothes.
I don’t know when she moved but Thabo was right behind me, holding on to me as she cried her heart out, imploring me not to leave.
Any other day I would have softened my heart and given in to her but not on that day.
I just stood there with one hand down while the other held on to a shirt hanging on a hanger in the closet while she had her arms around me from behind. “Who is he?” I finally asked the billion dollar question, but I was only able to because I was not looking at her.
I felt her loosen her hold on me and slowly she removed her arms from around me.
“Who is he?” I asked again, still unable to turn around and face her.
Was I being too much of a coward?
I could hear Thabo pacing back and forth from behind. She wasn’t talking.
I went ahead and grabbed a few clothes from off the closet in anger, got a small suitcase from the many that were piled up on top of the wardrobe, threw it on the floor and then threw the clothes inside.
“Jeffrey,” I heard her say amidst my packing tantrum.
I immediately paused.
“Who the hell is Jeffrey?” I had stopped whatever I was doing and was now looking at her shriveling figure in one corner of the bedroom.
With her hands held together, she muttered, “Pastor Jeffrey.”
I cannot even begin to describe the look on my face upon hearing those two words.
Pastor Jeffrey was the Senior Pastor at our local church, a man I respected so much and a man whom I had sought counsel from several times in the past years.
Ten years ago, he had been introduced as a new Pastor at church, a bright looking man with a very welcoming and humble demeanor he had been.
“You mean the same Pastor I know?” I desperately wanted her to say no.
I needed her to say NO.
“Yes, the same one.” Thabo sent my world crumbling down.
Like a leaf that had just been cut off from its branch, my knees gave way and down, I hit the floor.
Thabo quickly ran to me and tried to touch me but i sent her flying back where she had come from. I heard a thump…something must have hit something…probably her head…but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to care.
I quickly picked up the few things I had removed, piled them into the small suitcase and off I went.
I could hear Thabo crying as I stormed off the bedroom but I didn’t want to look at her lest I weakened in my resolve.
I needed to be as far away from her as possible…not because I was leaving her, but because there were kids in that house that still needed their mother.
I had been pushed to the brink of insanity and I did not trust myself enough to keep holding on to the principles I had lived by all my life. I had stuck to them all those years and yet there I was…broken and betrayed by the two people I had believed would help pave the way for me into paradise.
* * *
“Your wife cheated on you, had a baby with another man and she passed on the child as yours and yet you are the one that leaves home?”
It was my best buddy Thomas chastising me for my decision to leave home.
“What kind of man leaves his cheating wife in his fancy mansion while he wallows in pain in his friend’s spare bedroom? You should have sent the bitch packing and….”
“She might be a lot of things Thom but please don’t call her that…she is still my wife and the mother of my children.”
“Your children, you say?” Thomas wasted no time digging into my wounds. “I suggest you get a paternity test before they turn twenty and your wife feels like sharing the truth.
I wanted to scream and say a whole bunch of expletives at him but I resorted to quietly nursing my wounds.
“You do know that you gonna have to send her back to her parents right?” Thomas asked the one question I still wasn’t ready to confront.
“I wanted to send her packing the very moment she revealed the truth to me,” I told Thom. “You know those moments when someone asks you what you would do if something happened and you straight away have a confidence answer of what you would do? Well, I have proved that reality isn’t always black and white. It might seem obvious what I ought to do…but it ain’t so with my heart…or mind. I have absolutely no idea what the right thing to do is.”
“The right thing to do is send her back to her parents,” Thomas emphasized. “She violated the sanctity of your marriage and even had passed on a child that isn’t yours as your own. What more do you think she has to do before you come to your senses?”
“Have you forgotten that I was the one who violated the sanctity of my marriage by leaving my wife alone when our marriage was still so young?”
“Is that why you are acting like this? Because you somehow feel it’s your fault?” Thomas quizzed me in disbelief. “Are you nuts?” He really was going all out. “Before you left for school, didn’t you consult your wife about making such a decision and what it would mean?”
“I did,” I answered.
“Did she or did she not willingly allow you to go?”
“She did…she was actually very proud of me for getting sponsorship. We were both excited because we knew what it would mean once I got the paper.”
“You see where I am going with this now, don’t you?”
I went mute. I couldn’t bring myself to say out loud the words he desperately needed me to say because the moment they were out there, it meant I had to face the truth.
I still wasn’t ready.
The truth of the matter was that despite everything that had happened, despite all the emotions and confusion going on in my head, despite the betrayal…I was still madly and crazily in-love with my wife.
I had reached a point in my life where I could not picture a life without her. Everything I had built…everything we had built together had been structured in such a way that the both of us had to be together in order to enjoy life. And now my friend was asking me to forsake all that and start all over again?
Until that moment, I had no idea how scary the idea of starting all over again could be.
I was petrified.
I was afraid of the things I knew and the things I did not know. And most importantly, I was afraid of the things I needed to know that I still didn’t know.
“You know what else makes me mad?” I said to Thomas. “That I believe her…I believe her when she says it only happened once.” I could see the strange look Thomas was giving me…like I had completely lost my mind, but I chose to ignore it. I needed someone to talk to and he was the only person I knew I could speak to without worrying about the news spreading everywhere.
There was someone else I would have gone to immediately…unfortunately, that person was the reason behind my pain. No matter how wise or holy his counsel might be, I was just too human to keep myself from punching a man holding a Bible in his hands.
“What I can’t accept is the identity of the other man,” I told Thom. “Why did it have to be him of all people? I let that man into our home so many times. I spoke to him about the challenges Thabo and I faced once in a while and he always gave me wise counsel. I trusted him so much that I would have felt comfortable leaving my wife and children under his care if ever i had to travel somewhere far. To think that a man I trusted like that….” I shook my head.
“I guess now we know why your wife had insisted on you guys changing churches right after you returned from your studies….” Thomas pointed out.
Realization finally dawned on me. So that was why.
“I remember now,” I said. “I was so mad at her because she couldn’t give me a good enough reason for us to move churches and I really felt at home in that church. Now that I think about, she never was comfortable with me seeking counsel from him or let alone invite him to our home. But you know what’s even funnier, that he seemed okay with everything!”
“He is either a sociopath or he has a tendency to forgive himself a little too much.” My friend said.
“Do you have any idea the sort of mess this would create if the truth ever gets out?” I asked. “That is one of the biggest churches in the country and the thought of my dirty laundry being aired out to the public like that makes me cringe. I do not want the whole world to know about my weaknesses or my marriage.”
“What do you mean your weaknesses?” Thomas was genuinely puzzled. “How does your wife cheating on you make it your weakness?”
“You know that sometimes you act like you are not married?” I said to Thomas.
“The difference between you and I is that you treat your wife like an equal partner. I always let my wife know who is boss in this marriage and that’s why shit like that will never happen to me.”
“If there’s anything I have learnt from all this, it is that things are not always as they appear.” I said. “Yes, I regret certain things but not the way I treated Thabo. I would still treat her or any other woman I am with like that. Your problem is that you demand respect from Claudia instead of earning it…and you’ve never respected her in any way.
“It’s not only men that ought to be respected in a marriage. If you respect her, she will respect you even more and there would be no point of you demanding it. She is a very beautiful woman…and I know you will say and so are other women out there…but none of those women can put up with you as much as Claudia does. Before you end up like me…or worse, I suggest you start paying more attention to doing what’s right.”
“The guy gets his heart broken once and suddenly he’s become a philosopher,” Thom retorted sarcastically.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Take it or leave it. I am just trying to be a friend.”
“But this isn’t about me!” He said. “We need to find a solution to your current problem. What are you going to do about that pastor?”
“I thought about confronting him when I found out…. I even drove all the way to his house in Olympia but when I saw his wife who opened the gate for me and welcomed me in such an unbelievable manner, I couldn’t bring myself to state my case. The kids where running around the house…everyone seemed so happy and I just couldn’t bring myself to…you know. And besides, the pastor wasn’t even home. He’s traveled to Ndola for some conference. He will only be back after a week.”
Tsk tsk tsk, I heard Thomas say, looking at me pitifully. “That soft heart of yours will be the reason for your undoing. Oh wait, you’ve already been undone!” He laughed.
I gave him a stern look.
“My bad,” he raised his arms slightly in the air as if in surrender. “Bad joke. And how about your wife, you still gonna let her stay in your house after everything she’s done?”
I didn’t respond immediately. I had no idea what I was going to do. The moment I decide to send Thabo back home, everyone was going to know what happened between us. I didn’t want that to happen, just yet.
And most importantly, I didn’t want Chikondi finding out the truth in such a manner. It was going to screw him up forever. He was a very deep kid…and deep kids like that have the potential to have deep psychological issues. I know he wasn’t my real son…but I just couldn’t turn off my parental instincts towards him as if it was some switch I could just press and everything would go away.
The truth was, at the back of my head, I kept hoping that there was a mistake somewhere…that Thabo had made a mistake and that Chikondi was actually my son.
If he really wasn’t mine, then why was there such an uncanny resemblance between us? He looked nothing like the man who was supposedly his father.
So was the resemblance a fact or simply something me and everyone else cooked up just because we had accepted the natural and expected things to be like that?
“I need to get some fresh air,” I announced to Thomas, grabbed my coat from the bed that would temporary be mine in the coming days and walked out of the house.
Walking down the clean and clear street of the Phi neighborhood where Thomas and his family lived, I took in the fresh breeze of air and thanked God for the low density of the neighborhood. It meant I could do some thinking I desperately needed without having to worry about people starring strangely at me.
I had been walking for close to twenty minutes with earphones in my head listening to songs that once meant something to my wife and I…and I was busy fighting off the tears threatening to erupt when I felt someone tag me from behind.
I removed the headsets and just when i was about to turn around, she popped up right in front of me and caught me off-guard.
It was Thandiwe.
Yes it was her…except, she didn’t quite look like the woman I had met the night before. She was wearing a chitenge, a red oversize t-shirt on top that reached just above her knees and she had dirty looking
Was fate playing some cruel prank on me?
Why did I have to meet her again?
But there she was standing in front of me with her eyes sparkling as she smiled at me. She was obviously happy to me.
The feeling wasn’t mutual.
She was a reminder of just how bad things had become for me.
“I knew you were that good man that helped me!” She said excitedly. “Do you live in this neighborhood Mr?”
“No,” I replied curtly and automatically wiped the smile from off her face.
She took a step back from me. “You are obviously not happy to see me.”
She was very perceptive. I was forcing me to like her.
I didn’t want to like her.
I only stared back blankly, but she got the point alright.
“I am sorry I rudely interrupted you,” she stepped aside to let me pass.”
“It’s fine,” I lied. “I have to be on my way so goodbye.”
She nodded with her head low, avoiding my eyes. I had embarrassed her.
I hadn’t meant to…but I embarrassed her still.
I walked passed her and put my headsets back on, instructing my brain not to look back at her.
Don’t look back, don’t look back, don’t….I kept chanting but it was as if I was telling myself to look because I finally did!
I had only walked a few steps away from her but when I looked back, she was still where I had left her standing. She was glaring at me so hard it was a wonder I didn’t have any holes in my back.
And then I saw it. Her tears.
I won’t get any break now will I? I said i my head as I walked back to her.
I took out a handkerchief from my pocket and handed it to her. She tentatively reached out and accepted it, slowly wiping away her tears.
“You live in this neighborhood?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Hell no. I would not afford to live in such a neighborhood even if I died and came back again. You live here Mr?” She was looking up at me, her eyes were still dumb from the tears but she had stopped crying. Thank God.
“No…I am just visiting a friend,” I said, touching my forehead instinctively…something I do whenever I am nervous or lying.
“Are you married?” She was looking up at my hand. I quickly dropped it to the side. I didn’t have my ring on but there was a mark on my finger solid enough to scream the fact.
I had removed it the previous day after ten straight years of never taking it off. It was something I had done in anger and I had regretted it immediately. I tried looking for the little thing in my office but it just wouldn’t reveal itself. It was like a bad omen.
I had spent the next two hours looking for it relentlessly but it was as if it had disappeared into some hole in the office I was not even aware of. I only stopped when I was called into a meeting and after that, everything went blank.
I still didn’t know where the little thing was hiding.
“I approached you last night because I thought you were single.” The kind of fear I saw in her eyes mirrored that which I had seen in my wife just after she made that fateful announcement.
“How could you…?” She was visibly shaken by that realization and it made me feel more worse about what had almost happened the other night.
I had been right when I said she wasn’t cut out for that kind of job.
“Calm down,” I made the mistake of reaching out to lay my hand on her shoulder because she flinched in disgust, like I was some leprotic bastard trying to defile her or something.
That chewed down at my pride.
I withdrew my hand immediately. “Yes I am married,” I calmed explained to her. “I admit…what happened last night was something that shouldn’t have happened but…I was having a rough day and I reacted immaturely. I regretted it the moment something was about to happen…I don’t think I did to explain any further…you were there.”
She seemed to calm down a bit. “I understand,” she said. “And who I’m I to judge you anyway? I am not any better…probably worse…it’s Just that…even though I know there are no degrees to sin, I was kind of hoping you would not be a married man. I had checked your finger…and I ended up making assumptions. I guess I should have asked first.”
“It was your first time after all,” I found myself smiling.
She smiled back. “Yes it was. And you were right when you said God doesn’t sleep because…we were both about to make the worst mistakes of our lives.”
“You can say that again,” I said.
“I listened to your advice and found myself an extra job for the weekends,” she proudly stated. “I am working as a nanny and a maid for that house over there.” She pointed to a white and yellow painted house just a few blocks from where we were standing.
“That’s very good. I am happy for you.” I said.
“The pay is obviously not better than what I would be making if I continued…like that. A friend of mine told me people like that make a lot of money on a good night more than people with regular jobs make in a month.”
“Your friend might have been right…but she also never told you everything you needed to know.” I said.
She nodded. “You are right. I did a lot of thinking after meeting you and I thanked God it was you I met instead of someone else.”
“I guess I also ought to thank God that it was you I met and not anybody else…otherwise….”
“Anyway, I have to rush back to my job before they discover I’m missing,” she said. “It was nice to see you again Sir.”
There was something about the way she addressed me that me feel old. I was only in my late thirties and she was about twenty-five…I wanted to tell my name just then but something didn’t seat well with me.
“Take care of yourself Thandie,” I said and resumed my walk while she ran back to her place of work.
It was not going to be the last time I ran into her like that. Like a very bad joke, fate kept pullig us together and forcing me to know more about the girl I almost had an affair with.
To this day, I strongly believe that had it not been for Thandiwe, my journey from the moment I learnt the truth from my wife would not have been so complicated.
Without meaning to, that innocent looking lady would implant herself on my heart and shake me up till I could no longer think rationally.
I was a man on the verge of collapse…because she came to love me more than I could ever fathom.