“I just need you to tell me what’s wrong with you.” Sibusiswe implored him. “I know now for a fact that you are sick but I don’t understand why you won’t tell me what you are suffering from. Is it that bad?”
Martin walked over to her, took her hand into his and led them to sit down. “Sibu, Sibu, Sibu….” he said whilst playing with her hand over the table. “There’s that look in your eyes…one minute I can swear on my life that you love me…and the next minute, you treat me like a plague you wanna avoid for life.”
“Stop trying to change the topic Martin,” Sibu said forcefully.
For a moment, Martin paused whatever he was doing with her hand and just held on to it like that, starring hard at their hands entangled together and yet it was so clear his mind was somewhere else.
“If you don’t tell me, I know someone somewhere who would be willing to tell me if I begged him properly.” She threatened him.
And then very slowly, he led her hand to the table, carefully placed it down and withdrew his hands under the table. “Yes I am sick Sibu,” he finally admitted, suddenly sitting up straight and delivering the devastating news in the most casual tone he could cook up. “I have a kidney problem and the doctors think getting a transplant is the best thing for me.”
Despite her implorations, she never really expected him to come out with the truth right away, but looking at Martin standing there, there was an unsettling feeling that had crept up on her and she couldn’t get rid of it.
“You are serious, right?” She was studying him closely.
Martin was looking at her bemusedly. “You need to learn to trust me, Sibu. Why would I lie to you about something like this?”
“Then why do you look like that?” She was gesturing towards his whole demeanour.
“What, you want me to be all sad and feeling sorry for myself just because I have a terminal disease?” He asked.
“Not exactly,” she replied. “But you don’t look sick at all and you act like there is nothing serious going on with your health.”
“It’s not that serious, yet…” he answered nonchalantly. “And I have been doing enough to keep things under control.”
“You mean like partying and drinking?” She said sarcastically.
Martin only laughed in response.
And then a thought crossed Sibu’s mind. “Your conversation with the doctor that night…and what Ted just said…does it mean you don’t want to have surgery?” The expression on her face had suddenly turned serious.
Martin had dreaded this moment but it had finally come. “I told you about the disease Sibu but that’s all I’m gonna say.”
“Why won’t you have surgery when it will help you live? I just don’t understand that. Is it because you haven’t found a donor?” She asked.
“Tell me something Sibusiswe,” Martin leaned his back against his chair. “Why are you so concerned about my health or my wellbeing in general?”
The question was so unexpected and Sibu struggled to give a response right away.
“Because we are friends,” she had finally managed. “I am just concerned about you as Ted is.”
“There we go again, Ted.” Martin bleated. “What’s up with you and Ted? Are you sure nothing happened between you two? Why does he feel the need to call you all the way from there and then talk about me?”
“He didn’t call to talk about you, don’t be so conceited.” She replied. “And just like the way you and I are, he too is a friend.” She was now up on her feet and ready to go.
Martin got up as well. “So does that mean you slept with him too?” he asked.
If looks could kill, Martin Mwewa had just been turned into a fossil.
“You said just like us,” he shrugged his shoulders innocently. “Okay,” he moved closer to her and closed the distance between them. “It was a bad joke,” he placed his hands on her shoulders and much to his surprise; she did not flinch or protest like she normally did whenever he initiated physical contact. She was just looking at him with the same murderous expression on her face.
It was Martin’s turn to feel uncomfortable. He dropped his hands from her shoulders and put some distance between them. He was looking at her suspiciously.
“You were not planning on hitting me in the balls were you?” He asked, looking down at her foot which was busy tapping the floor.
“I am going back to work,” Sibu said to him before turning to leave.
“I met your aunt over the weekend,” Martin’s announcement brought her to a complete stop.
Sibu immediately turned back around and walked back to where Martin was standing, his hands back in his pockets as a satisfied grin appeared on his face. “Figured that would get your attention,” he said.
“Are you kidding me?” An angry Sibu shouted.
“Oh no, I wasn’t lying about your aunt. I really met her on Sunday. She called and said there was something she needed to talk to me about. Tell me, is that woman your real aunt?” Martin asked, for the umpteenth time.
“What did she say to you?” Sibu’s voice was husky and shaky.
“There, that look again.” Martin was pointing at her face. “You always get like this whenever your aunt comes up. You act like she is more of a nemesis than aunt.”
“What did my aunt say to you Martin?” She repeated the question, this time placing emphasis on every single word.
“Nothing important, she said she was curious about me and just wanted to know me better.” He lied and she wasn’t buying.
“You lying to me means that she said something worse,” Sibu muttered. “Why won’t you tell me what she said to you?”
Martin had somehow successfully landed himself into a hole. “Because it’s not that important Sibu,” he said. “She just wanted to know how far our relationship has gone and she said something about being on my side and looking out for me if you give me a hard time.”
Sibu still looked unconvinced. “I know my aunt and I know for a fact that that does not sound like anything she would say…well, maybe she might have said something in those lines but I know there is something else she said to you that you are not telling me.”
“Sibu….” He tentatively reached out for her hand.
“Never mind,” she said dismissively. “Even if you don’t tell me, I will find out.” And with that, she turned and walked away.
Left behind, Martin brushed his hand through his hair in frustration.
“How did that happen?” He scolded himsef.
Just like she had promised Martin, Sibusiswe went directly to her aunt’s house that evening after knocking off from work.
“I knew you would bring yourself home soon,” Aunt Tafadzwa passed the snide remark the moment she opened the door for her. That phrase had unconsciously become her welcoming remark to Sibu.
“Why did you ask to meet Martin aunt and what did you tell him?” Sibu had offered herself a seat and she went straight to the point the moment she was settled down.
“Typical Bemba man,” Aunt Tafadzwa said as she too sat down to face her angry niece. “They all talk too much.”
“Aunt,” Sibu called out to her, a grave expression on her face. “For how long do you intend to run my life like this? What do I have to do that will satisfy you and make you leave me the hell alone?”
“I am glad you asked that question my dear,” her aunt replied. “You claim to have done enough for me yet here I am still languishing in poverty. My friends at the market are busy upgrading and they now own shop yet all I have is that small stand which isn’t even mine to begin with.”
“And how is that my fought?” Sibu asked. “I gave you money to start the business; did you also want me to take care of every little thing for you?”
“Have you forgotten that you are the reason my family is this poor?” Aunt Tafadzwa asked. “If not for you…and if not for all the hospital bills I had to pay for your recovery, my children and I wouldn’t have to depend on you for anything.”
She always knew when to bring up those words in a conversation and after so many years of using them, she had come to master their exact effect.
Sibu sighed heavily and let her head fall back on the sofa. She had no more fight left in her. Every conversation she had with her aunt somehow always led to this particular conversation.
How was she supposed to win an argument when she was disadvantaged from the get-go? There was only one person who knew what happened that day and that person was bent on using that information against her till the day she died.
“You said that if I marry him,” Sibu sat up straight and had a new kind of resolve in her eyes. “That if I send my cousins to school and set up a business for you then you will let me go, right?”
Aunt Tafadzwa was grinning from ear to ear. “Yes, yes, you’ve thought wisely my dear.” She was nodding her head excitedly as she spoke. “Marrying a man like him will set you up for life.”
More like set you up for life, Sibu thought to herself but loudly said. “I will marry him,” she announced to her very delighted aunt. “But only I get to decide how much money you get from that family,” she added before her aunt could say anything. She could tell she was itching to give her five cents on the topic.
“You will not under any circumstances make any financial demands from Martin or any member of his family,” She went on. “If I hear that you contacted any one of them behind my back, I will cancel this arrangement and disappear from your life, to hell with the past and all that talk about penance. Have I made myself clear aunty?”
Aunt Tafadzwa didn’t look pleased at all with the terms that came with it. “The way you sound…and the way you are looking at me, who can tell that you are my niece? Tsk.”
Sibu stood up. “After draining me of my blood and sweat, do you still think that there could ever be such a relationship between us?” She said. “To me you will always be the person that put a price on my mother’s life and made me pay every cent of it using my blood.” She then picked up her handbag and left the house.
During the time Sibbusiswe walked from her aunt’s house to the bus stop, she had made two major decisions in her head and she committed to delivering on one of them right away.
At the bus stop, instead of getting on a bus, she took a cab and told the driver, “Longacres please, Mirabell Hospital.”
“Why did you ask me to come to your house doc?” Martin asked Dr Sanjay once they were sited in his living room. “It’s so quiet today,” he noted. “Where’s everyone else?”
“My husband and the kids are at the other house.” She was gesturing towards the back of the house where they had built three more houses for their extended family. “His parents are visiting so everyone seems to be spending more time there.”
“I see,” Martin said. “So, what was so important it couldn’t wait till morning?”
“We found you a donor,” the doctor said.
Martin grumbled and stood up in frustration. “I knew it.” He said. “What was I expecting?” And he started walking towards the door.
“You need to ask me who the donor is,” the doctor said to his retreating figure.
“I really don’t care,” Martin responding without looking back.
“But I think you should care,” Dr Sanjay insisted. “You know who the donor is.”
Martin paused and then slowly turned to look at the doctor. The question was written all over his face.
“Your girlfriend, Sibusiswe Hangaala.” She provided.
Martin gaped at his doctor in response. “What do you mean by that?” He knew what he had heard, but he hoped he had heard wrong.
Unfortunately, Doctor Sanjay wasn’t privy to his heart’s desires and so she repeated, “Sibusiswe came to see me at the hospital just as I was knocking off and demanded that I have tests done on her to see if she can be your donor…thing is, I already knew she was a match….” the doctor nervously added the last part.
“Did you push her into….”
Doctor Sanjay waved her hand in the air to deny the incoming accusation. “We ran a lot of tests on her the last time you came with her…I just happened to check and…. I never told anyone about it, not even you or her until today. It was just a by-the-way thing before but now it’s turned out like this.”
Nothing was making sense to Martin. Why would Sibu do that?
“Isn’t she your girlfriend?” The Doctor asked.
“What?” Martin asked, looking extremely disturbed.
“You asked why she would do that?” Dr Sanjay answered.
“Oh,” he said, “I thought I said it in my head.”
“Why don’t you sit down?”
Without protesting, Martin went back to sit.
“She never mentioned whether she wanted to keep the donation private or not…I assume she would have preferred the former but since I know you, I figured you would want to know lest you threaten to shut down my practice again.”
Martin stood up again. “This is very confusing…it doesn’t add up,” he said. “I have to talk to Sibu first. I think this is some sort of bad joke. I hope you didn’t get her to sign anything.”
Doctor Sanjay winced in embarrassment.
“What?” Martin asked upon seeing the doctor’s reaction.
“She forced me to get her to sign the papers and threatened to inject herself with anything she could lay her hands on in the hospital if I refused to do what she wanted. I asked her if you knew she was going to be your donor and immediately sensed she hadn’t since she couldn’t give me a straight answer. I suggested talking to you first and that’s when she went berserk. I really believed her when she said she would inject herself. Her eyes were searching my office for any weapons. She is one scary girl.”
“Are you even a doctor?” Martin yelled at her. “How can an eighteen year old make you do something like that?”
“She might be eighteen but her mind is older and wiser than the both of us put together.” The doctor could recall the spine—chilling moment Sibu had looked into her eyes and made the threat. She had never before seen such determination in a teenager’s eyes. “Do you even know what her IQ is?”
Martin huffed and left the house in furry.
* * *
Not wanting to disturb Sibusiswe who was now sleeping in the bedroom after coming in from work in a very bad mood, Sibeso had finished preparing supper and had just dropped her body on the sofa with a plate in hand when someone knocked at the door.
It was not one of those subtle and respectful knocks that people usually get on their doors. This one was loud, irritating and was so powerful it would have knocked the door right off its hinges if it continued any longer.
Sibeso put her plate down on the table and got up to check on the rude visitor in frustration. She could hear Sibu tossing and turning in her sleep from the noise and so when she opened the door, it was not with a welcoming smile.
For a second, Sibeso’s huge frown almost made Martin forget why he had come there in the first place.
“I need to talk to Sibu,” Martin said the moment he recovered and shoved himself passed Sibeso and entered the house.
“What are you doing here?” The noise had obviously awakened Sibu.
“What have you done?” He fired at her right away.
“What do you….”
“Doctor Sanjay, she told me!” He yelled.
“You do know we live in a flat, right?” Sibeso reminded Martin. “These walls have ears so I suggest you tone it down or we gonna have to print tickets next time you visit to accommodate the large audience.” She then picked up her plate from the table and headed to the balcony, closing the door behind her to give them some privacy.
Sibu’s attitude seemed to raise Martin’s blood pressure even more. She simply shrugged her shoulders and went to occupy the same spot her friend had been in.
“Is that the only reaction I am going to get from you?” Martin asked, sitting down as well.
“What do you want me to say?” Sibu said nonchalantly. “I have no plans of becoming a widow just after a year of marriage. What sort of fool do you take me for?”
“How the hell do you expect me to…wait,” that’s how long it took for her words to sink in. “What did you just say? Did I hear correctly?” A smile slowly crept onto his face. “I’m I really….” Martin was up on his feet, one hand pressed on his mouth in disbelief.
Sibu instinctively smiled back at him, but unlike his pure genuine smile, hers was riddled with joy and something mysterious. “Yes, I will marry you…but only if you agree to have the surgery.” She said.
…because that’s the only way I can lessen my guilt towards you and some else. She added silently.
And then suddenly, his smile mirrored hers before completely faded into oblivion.
“What are you so afraid of Martin?” Sibu got up and walked over to him. Martin avoided her gaze, looking down at his feet with both his hands now in his pockets.
“The doctor said you don’t want to have surgery because you don’t want to live like a patient for the rest of your life; forever taking meds despite having a new kidney…and so you would rather die. Is that correct?”
“Would you live such a life yourself Sibu?” Martin asked.
The question startled her. “For me death is a luxury I cannot afford,” she said in a very solemn tone, quickly turning her back to him to avoid eye contact. “But we are not talking about me,” she said, sitting in the same spot as before. “I think you are just being a coward.”
“What?” Martin was incandescent in his delivery. There was something else she had said he wanted to address because he had heard it before but her last remark made everything else seem less important.
“I am a coward?” He hissed. “How does getting to decide how or when I die make me a coward? Do you have any idea what it’s like living a life dependent on drugs? Every little thing I do, every decision I make, I have to consider my health first. You’ve seen how I’ve lived my life so far, do you think someone like me can survive such a restrictive lifestyle? It’s as good as being dead!”
“I knew you were a spoilt brat before…I just didn’t know it was to such an extent,” Sibu chastised him, much to his chagrin. “Do you have any idea how many people out there would kill to have the same opportunities as you but here you are taking everything for granted.”
“I never asked anyone to donate their kidney to me,” Martin stated. “And I most certainly never imagined receiving one from you. Look at me, do I look sick to you?”
“That’s beside the point,” Sibu argued. “I don’t even think you did any research to find out how your life will change after surgery. You just heard a few lines from the doctor, you didn’t like the sound of them and then you made your decision. Have you even tried reaching out to people that have had such transplants before? You are even lucky you got the diagnosis on time so you’ve had enough time to adjust your lifestyle and live a much healthier life. Who says your life has to change dramatically just because you have to take meds every now and then? It only takes a few seconds to drink medicine and if you have someone by your side, you won’t even think of it as such a hustle.”
Martin said nothing in response. Everything she had said was right. They were the same words Doctor Sanjay had tried telling him but she never gave her the chance to finish. However, there was something about those very words coming from Sibu’s mouth that made him want to listen. There was something in her voice that gave him hope that life wouldn’t be so bad after all.
From the moment he had been diagnosed, he had done everything possible to erase any memory of it…to go on with life and pretend as if nothing was wrong. Even in those moments when the pain came, all he had to do was get a quick fix for pain and sleep everything away. Tomorrow was always a brand new day and thanks to Sibu who had appeared in his life like an accident; his days had become even brighter.
“What made you change your mind about marrying me?” was what Martin asked when he finally spoke. “What happened to all those reasons you gave, love, school and what not?”
“I can easily change my mind again if you like,” she threatened him.
“No, no, no,” Martin pleaded. “Please don’t.”
Sibu laughed. “I am a woman, changing my mind is a major part of my operating system. You should get used to it.”
He too laughed. “But seriously, what made you change your mind?” He asked again.
“My aunt did everything in her power to convince me,” she said jokingly.
“She didn’t threaten you, did she?” Martin asked.
Sibu laughed. “Even if she did, it’s not like I would tell you…because that would just defeat the whole purpose.”
“Oh wow, that hurts real badly,” he held his hand to his heart, feigning pain but smiling at the same time. “Your aunt really scares me. She is like a villain in a soap opera. Instead of Aunt Tafadzwa, you should be calling her Aunt Maxine…the female version of Max from No One But You.”
“I would say the same about your mother,” Sibu said. “How are you going to convince your parents to let you marry me? I am not exactly the kind of woman you introduce to a family like yours. Your mother has already made her feelings known…explicitly.”
That part hadn’t crossed his mind yet; his father was not a problem…it was his mother he had to worry about.
He had not spoken to his mother ever since the nasty exchange they had had after he returned from abroad which ended with him being kicked out of the house. Mrs Mwewa never thought her son would actually leave which was why she was more shocked than anyone else when he actually did.
Coming from a very poor family background, Martin’s mother operated under the assumption that anyone poor that had sights on her son did so with ulterior motives. Being ten years younger than her husband, everyone naturally assumed she had married him for his money; something Martin had come to learn was a fact when she had gotten drunk during his fifteenth birthday celebrations and told him that she would have not been attracted to Martin Senior in the first place if not for his money but that didn’t mean she never loved him as a man…only that the money made her look in his direction.
With a background like that, Mrs Mwewa was suspicious of any girl that tried to get close to her son.
“By the way,” Sibu was now resting her head on Martin’s lap as the two of them made themselves comfortable on the biggest chair in the room. “Why does your mum hate Tonga’s so much?”
Martin giggled. “Oh that,” he said whilst playing with her hair. “It’s a long story…but the short version is; her mother died when she was twelve and her dad remarried another woman just two months later who ended up mistreating my mother and her siblings. That woman was Tonga by tribe.”
“Oooh,” was all Sibu could say in response, finally making sense of the things she had heard.
“How about your name, it doesn’t sound Tonga.” Martin said.
“It’s actually Ndebele…well, it’s also found in the Eastern province, but it has the same meaning in any language.”
“What does it mean?” Martin asked.
“It means blessing. The original name is actually Sibusisiwe… but when I was in pre-school I had a teacher who insisted on calling me Sibusiswe and ended up putting it on all my school documents and here we are….”
“I kind of like Sibusiswe better, the other one is too long,” Martin laughed.
And just like that, the two of them chatted all the way to midnight when Sibeso finally gave up braving the mosquitos outside and crushed their party to go to bed.
That following weekend, Martin decided to visit his parent’s home to talk to them about his marriage. His mother was excited to have him home thinking he had decided to come back. However, her hopes where shattered during dinner when Martin finally launched his marriage campaign.
“I have decided to get married,” Martin had announced to the unsuspecting audience consisting of his parents and young sister Mwiche.
“Marriage? You?” Martin Senior scoffed. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“Junior,” his mother was giving him a warning look to shut up.
Mwiche was the only one responding in excitement. “Is it who I think it is?” she asked her brother.
Martin was all smiles when he replied, “of course it is. She finally said yes!”
Mwiche clapped her hands excitedly. “I am going to be your flower girl ka?”
Martin laughed. “Have you ever seen a flower girl as old as you?”
Mwiche’s excitement dulled down to a zero as she dropped her shoulders and head in disappointment.
“You are serious?” His father finally gave him his full attention.
“Yes dad, I am serious.” Martin answered confidently.
“Is it that girl at the reception?” Martin senior asked.
Three faces gaped at him in astonishment.
“How did you….” Martin was asking.
His father smirked. “Is there anything I don’t know,” he answered smugly. “I see you take after your old man,” he was smiling proudly. “She is young, fresh, and beautiful…and quite intelligent I hear.”
His wife was glaring at him in disapprobation, making their two children bust out in laughter.
“I don’t like her,” Mrs Mwewa vomited.
“Have you ever liked anyone honey?” her husband asked.
“Honey!” his wife complained, the thick foundation on her face almost melting from anger.
Martin and Mwiche chuckled surreptitiously.
“What about school, are you really going to drop out?” His father asked.
“Of course not,” Martin answered. “I will continue from here.”
“Why are you suddenly in such a rush to get married?” His mother asked.
Before it was because he thought he was going to die but after the recent developments, he only had one thing in mind;
“Because I love her and I want to marry her before any man beats me to it.” He was as assertive as could be in his response.
His father was smiling at him proudly. “That’s my boy,” he said as he raised his glass to him and the two of them toasted, earning themselves a glacial stare from one woman and a smile from another.
“Doesn’t she need to college? I am not very comfortable marrying my son off to a high school graduate. And I don’t like where she comes from.” Mrs Mwewa pressed her case.
Martin had been waiting for that. “We already talked about that mother,” he said. “She will apply for the 2010 intake. We will try to find a house close to campus so she can easily move to and from home. And as for where she comes from…you can’t seriously blame her for being of a certain tribe just because you had a bad experience with one person of that tribe. That’s just unfair; she did not chose to be born of her parents just as I never chose to have a tribalist mother.”
“Martin, watch your tone with me,” his mother roared, it was the only thing she could hit him with since he was coming off as a wise-ass. “This is exactly why I don’t like that girl. In just a few months she’s changed you to this person I can no longer recognize.”
“I actually like who he’s become now,” his father chipped in.
His wife gaze was enough to freeze anyone it landed on but after so many years, Martin senior had developed immunity against it.
“Ever since that girl came into his life he’s matured.” He continued as if there was no lightening close to him threatening to light up the whole house. “He doesn’t party like he used to and he’s finally stopped being such a mama’s boy. I was worried you would turn him into a sisy with all your whining and meddling. You are forgetting that if I hadn’t disobeyed my parents, you and I would not be having this conversation right now. Leave the boy be.” And with that declaration, he got up and went upstairs.
His wife went after him to continue their war behind closed doors.
“He’s in big trouble,” Mwiche said with a mischievous grin on her face.
“I know,” Martin said, looking up the stairs from the top of his wine glass.
That same evening at the N’cube’s residence in Kanyama, Aunt Tafadzwa welcomed into her home a visitor that appeared to be in his mid-fifties. He was well groomed and smartly dressed, definitely not anyone in Aunt Tafadzwa’s circles.
“You still look as radiant as ever Tafadzwa.” The man was obviously trying to ingratiate himself into her favour. “How long has it been?”
Aunt Tafadzwa was wearing her usual visitor smile. “Eighteen years I think.” She replied.
“It’s been that long isn’t it?” The soft-spoken man said.
“What brings you here so unexpectedly? I thought you would have forgotten us by now.” Aunt Tafadzwa said.
“How can I ever forget you my dear? If anything, I thought you were the one that forgot about me. Every time I tried to get in touch with you, you would either cut my calls or ignore them altogether. I use to send letter before but when I noticed you weren’t writing back, I gave up.”
The woman was blushing in embarrassment like someone who had been caught doing something bad red-handed. “Well, I thought it was a prank call and sometimes when you called I was probably busy and couldn’t attend to the phone.”
“I see,” the man said, obviously unconvinced by her words. “One time a girl answered the phone and said she was your niece…I didn’t know you had a niece.”
Aunt Tafadzwa looked like she had just swallowed something bigger than her oesophagus could handle. “My niece…? When was that? I don’t have any niece.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought,” the man replied. “As far as I know…Mi..riam….” he struggled to say the name. “…she was…your only sister…and she never had children…as far as I know.”
The frog in Aunt Tafadzwa’s mouth was growing bigger by the minute. Any longer and hell would break loose in her mouth. Her face was starting to change colour.
“Yeah…you are right…she…she…never…had any…any children,” she was stuttering and laughing nervously. “I think you of all people would know if she had any children. You were her fiancé after all.”
By now, it had become apparent to the man that something was not right. He was searching Aunt Tafadzwa’s face intently.
He’s not suspecting me, is he? Aunt Tafadzwa thought. Calm down Fadzwa or the wonderful future you just earned for yourself will blow up in your face before you even get to smell the dollars.