When morning came, I was still awake. I had not slept a wink that night.
I showered, put on some fresh clothes and walked to the restaurant to have my breakfast while I waited for Thandiwe to report for work.
There were a lot of things I was curious about; what had she been up to for the past two years? How did she end up in Ndola? Was she seeing anyone? Who was that Alex guy to her? How was her son doing? And there was another question I dared not say out loud to myself but it was constantly there at the back of my mind;
What did she think of me?
I was not even sure why I cared so much about what she thought about me but the question just kept tagging at me.
I was too embarrassed to entertain that thought consciously but out of everything else, it occupied the most part of my brain. However, even as I kept thinking about another woman like that, I was fully aware of what my thoughts said about the kind of person I had become.
I was busy wondering about how Thandie felt about me when the very act of thinking about her made me a man I knew for a fact she would not be proud of. I could not understand why I was obsessing over her. It didn’t make sense and yet there I was thinking and thinking about a woman I was never going to have.
“Has Thandiwe reported for work already?” I asked the receptionist at the front office. It was a man this time. I hoped the female from last night had gone to take an advanced hospitality course.
“Thandiwe?” The twenty-something year old quizzed me.
“Yes, your boss, the general manager.” I provided.
The point had finally landed home. “Oh, you mean Ms Mwale?” He said.
She really was still Ms Mwale. Hallelujah!
“Good morning Mr Harry,” a voice greeted me from behind. I didn’t need to turn to know who it was.
I smiled and turned around.
“Is there anything you would like me to help you with?” Thandiwe was back in her professional mode and even if her smile reached her eyes, it was not the same smile that had greeted me at one point in Lusaka.
“Can we talk in private?” I asked her.
“Is it something related to your stay here sir?” She asked.
There was only one kind of answer that was correct for the kind of situation I was in. “Yes ma’am,” I lied.
Of course she didn’t buy it. She baptised me in a long cold stare before smiling again. “Let’s talk in my office then,” she motioned towards a door on the other side of the building.
“What do you want?” She had taken off her hospitality cloak the second we were behind closed doors in her articulately designed office.
She had indeed made something of herself. I couldn’t help feeling proud of her as I looked around. Was this the same woman that had asked for 500 bucks from me if I slept with her? She had really come a long way.
“So how did you end up here?” I was getting myself acquainted with her office while she stood closer to the door with her hands crossed over her chest and looking at me like a huge bug she desperately needed to get rid of.
“What happened to you?” Was the question she asked me. To this day I still remember the look on her face when she asked that question.
What happened to you?
She was disgusted with me and somehow that made me feel even more disgusted with myself.
Thandiwe then walked passed me and went to sit behind her desk. “If you have nothing to say to me then I suggest you leave so I can get to work.”
I found myself walking towards her desk and sitting down in front of her. I was embarrassed but somehow I still couldn’t get myself to leave.
“What are you doing?” She had stopped trying to busy herself on the computer and she was looking at me in wonder.
“I don’t know,” I said, shaking my head and trying to figure out whatever was going on in my head. “I really don’t know.” I repeated. “Right now I am supposed to be at a workshop but here I am…I also wish I knew why this is happening.”
“That ring on your finger tells me you are married but that woman I met in your room didn’t look like your wife. Would you like to talk about that first?” She asked sarcastically. “When did it become so easy for that gentle and wonderful man that showed me the light at the worst time in my time? How did you become this person?”
It was that look again.
Right there, right then, it occurred to me why I had so desperately wanted to meet her. It was her voice and that look in her eyes.
When Thandiwe spoke, I listened to every word she said. With just those few words she had spoken, I had found the answer to one of the biggest questions I had had;
Why her? Why Thandiwe?
Because she made me want to be a good person.
Because she reminded me of the man I used to be and she made me want to be that man again.
You see, despite all the efforts our mentors had put in to help us restore the honour our marriage had lost, what they never taught me was how to forgive and forget. I had convinced myself that I had forgiven Thabo but not once had I forgotten.
They had taught me how to forgive but they couldn’t teach me how to forget. It was something I had to teach myself to do.
I felt cheated in my life and in my marriage. I blamed God for how things had turned out and I felt that if God was not going to reward me for the good things I had done…for being the best husband I could be to my wife, I felt I had to reward myself.
I did not start cheating on Thabo because I wanted to revenge. I did all that because I wanted to be in control again. Ever since my wife’s confession, I felt as if I had lost control of everything…like there was an external force somewhere pulling strings and leading me into a direction I did not wish to go.
I wanted to get back the control I had had before everything crumbled to pieces… the control I had lost when my wife felt it was okay to be with another man since I was not there, the control I had lost when the son I thought was mine turned out to be another mans, the control I had lost over my heart when I could not get myself to hate or disown a child I knew not to be my own…that kind of control…the kind that made me a man, a husband, and a father.
I knew that I could never gain back that control but somehow, knowing that I could do whatever I wanted to out there without Thabo knowing about me gave me some form of satisfaction I cannot even begin to explain.
Most importantly, cheating made me feel justified…like it was the reward I had earned for myself for sticking to a marriage that should have been broken. I felt like I had a passport…that I could sin as much as I wanted and not get punished for it.
Not once did I feel guilty for my actions because I felt it was not my fault. However, that morning in Thandiwe’s office, I realised why before her I had felt shame and why before my wife I felt no guilt;
Because Thabo was the woman who had given me the passport to sin and Thandiwe was the woman who would remind me of the man I used to be.
All along I had convinced myself that my wife was not aware of the numerous affairs I was having but the truth was, she knew. I knew she knew but I kept telling myself she didn’t.
“Please take care of yourself…and your health,” had become Thabo’s favourite goodbye phrase every time she said goodbye to me whenever I left home. Those were simple caring words from a wife to her husband but for me they were laden with so much more and yet I chose not to look deeper into them….
And yet…every time I met another woman, I remembered to wear protection no matter how much I got carried away in a situation…at the back of my head I cared…because I had heard Thabo’s words.
“Please take care of yourself…and your health,” she would always say with tears welling up in her eyes. Those tears were not sad goodbye tears because her husband was to be gone for a few days. Those tears were tears of regret for the man she had created and they were tears of mourning for the man she once had.
I realized all these things just because Thande had looked at me in a certain way. She just had to stand there and give me that look that sent chills down my spine and I was awakened from my moral slumber.
As I sat there starring at her, I wondered what she would do if she knew she had so much effect on me…if she knew that even without uttering a single word, she had spoken to me in ways that no man had managed to reach out to me simply…
…because she was Thandie.
Like the fool I had become, I started crying right there in her office.
At first I think it was because of the embarrassment, the shame I felt when I saw her look at me so cuttingly. But then the memories of everything bad I had done came flashing before my eyes.
I saw the many different women I had given my soul to…most of them I would have not given the time of day had I still been the kind of man Thandie expected me to be.
I saw all those moments at home I had chosen to pretend not to notice…when my wife would silently cry in the bathroom every time we finished making love.
I saw Thabo coming back into bed to join me with red swollen eyes yet smiling at me, planting a kiss on my forehead before saying goodbye sweetly. I could see the pain hidden there and yet I chose to ignore it.
I saw Chikondi walk on tip-toes around me, scared he might do something that might upset me and maybe force me to send him away to that place he always feared I would send him to.
I saw my little girls, the twins…I heard them telling me they hated me out of nowhere…like they had some divine power to know of everything I had done against their mother…I heard them say loudly in their sweet little innocent voices, “you are a bad man daddy!”
All these things I had seen and heard happen in my home but I could not get myself to listen. I heard it all, saw it all but I never stopped to listen.
But that was until Thandie stood there and looked at me like that.
Just one look and it all came pouring out.
I finally remembered who that man was.
The man Thandie had smiled at and asked, “What woman in her right mind can break the heart of such a kind hearted man?”
How far back would I have to walk to reach to that point in my life when a woman would take one look at me and see something in me that she had not seen in other men?
“Why are you crying?” Thandiwe asked me.
I couldn’t talk; I just kept bawling my eyes out.
This must have been the fourth time I was showing my weakness in front of this woman.
While my head was buried in my hands, I heard her stand up and walk to the door and then I heard a click. I think she had gone to lock the door. Next I heard her walk towards me and she put her arm around my shoulder.
It was like a switch had gone off and I lost control.
It was not my proudest moment. In fact, there was no pride to speak of in the first place. I was shattered. I was ashamed and I was desperate.
“I am so sorry…I am sorry….” I kept repeating while I cried in her lap. The poor woman, I had my arms around her legs and I buried my face in her skirt, sobbing like the greatest fool she would ever come across.
Instead of kicking me off, I felt her soft hand gently stroke the top of my head and she did not say a single word. She just stood there and let me cry like a baby with my arms wrapped around her while I drowned in my tears.
“Are you feeling better now?” Thandie asked me minutes later after that embarrassing moment. She had handed me a bottle of water and she watched me empty the contents from behind her desk where she was now seated.
Despite everything, I saw no judgement whatsoever from her. But I did see pity in her eyes. She had finally given me her full attention and she was most willing to hear my story. I told her about everything I had done and what had become of my life and my family from the time we had parted ways and she listened without interruption.
“So what are planning on doing now?” She asked me once I was done telling.
“I am not even sure where to start,” I told her. “But I have to correct the wrongs I’ve done against my wife and against my children.”
She was smiling. It made me feel good because it gave me hope I could still be a man she could be proud of.
“I thought I had forgiven my wife for everything, I thought we had moved on…. I thought I had done her a favour when I chose reconciliation over divorce but I had the wrong mind set all along. I should have given our marriage a second chance and given my all to make it work but I deceived myself into thinking that I could use her transgressions as some sort of pass to violate our marriage vows.
Ultimately, I ended up becoming the sort of man deserving of the things she had done to me because I felt justified in my sins while she had taken responsibility for hers.
“So now it is your turn to seek her forgiveness,” Thandiwe stated.
I nodded. “Yes, if she will accept me.” I said. “I don’t know if she has already given up on me or if she has simply been feeling like I am making her pay for her mistakes. Now that I think about it, I don’t think she has forgiven herself either…otherwise, why would she let me do all this to her?”
“You are right,” Thandie said. “The good thing is, marriage isn’t just about two people, it’s about God too and because of him we get second chances…even third chances. I don’t think that you are a bad man Mr Harry…I just think that you are a man who had some unfortunate things happen to you and you responded in ways you thought were right. But now that you know, it makes everything a little easier to correct.”
“I have only now realized that I never told you my full name,” I laughed…and she laughed with me.
“I know your full name already, Mr Phiri,” she said. “You did use your full name to book into the lodge after all,” she added in response to my puzzled expression.
“Ah!” I exclaimed and laughed. “Then why did you keep calling me Mr Harry?”
“Because Mr Harry is the man I know. I didn’t recognize the Mr Phiri that was booked here. I won’t even ask where you found that rare T-bone steak woman.”
I chuckled. “Please don’t,” I said. “Speaking of which, how did you end up here?” I asked.
“After that episode with you at church, I went in search of another one and I ended up finding one where my son and I felt at home. I love involving myself in a lot of church activities so I ended up being a part of this one programme where I got to learn a lot of things. Through that programme I discovered that I love cooking…and that I was very good at it. One time we had an interdenominational kind of trip and we ended up here in Ndola. During that trip I met someone who was very impressed with my cooking skills and he offered me a job as a cook at his lodge which he had inherited from his mother. After working for close to a year and half, here I am….”
“I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and say that the owner of this lodge is that Alex guy?” I said and she smiled, confirming my suspicions. “Are you two dating?” I asked her.
Thandiwe was blushing. “No, of course not. We are just friends.”
“But he likes you isn’t it?”
She didn’t answer.
“I am right!” I said. “Why don’t you like him? He seemed like the kind of man any woman would kill to have.”
“I never said I don’t like him,” she admitted. “He’s only been in this country for four years and I have known him for two. After everything I’ve been through, I have learnt that if something appears too good to be true, then it probably is. I always used to wonder why my ex-husband picked me out of all women. I was not the type of woman a man like that would marry. I was uneducated and the only thing going for me was my face. Whenever he had friends visiting or whenever there was a function somewhere, he preferred me with my mouth shut while he rattled on with his ‘intelligent’ buddies.” She quoted the word with her fingers in the air.
“I was never good enough for him and he took pleasure in reminding me about how lucky I was to be married to a doctor. During the time we dated, he showed no sign of being such a conceited person but it all came pouring out once we were married. And now here’s this young and good looking guy who can have any woman in the world…why would he want to marry someone who’s been divorced and is a single mother? Does that make sense to you?”
I could understand why she was feeling like that but she really had no idea just how wonderful and attractive she was as a woman…and how not being aware of that fact made her even more attractive. Any man would be lucky to have her.
“Your ex-husband was a fool Thandie,” I told her. “It’s just unfortunate that you’ve been exposed to only bad men in your life…your husband, that doctor, and me, but I can assure you that there are a lot of good men out there. Imagine what would have happened if I thought all women were bad just because one woman gave in to a moment of weakness and broke my heart?
“But I met you and you were different…. I have never regretted meeting you. Don’t paint all men with the same cloth just because you’ve had a few bad experiences. Do you intend to live the rest of your life alone, scared that someone might break your heart again?”
She didn’t answer, but I could see she was thinking about what I had said to her.
“Do you think that if we told someone our story…that we were together in a lodge, you half naked…me on the bed yet nothing happened and they would believe us?” I asked her.
“They wouldn’t because it sounds too good to be true…yet it is true! I don’t know who this Alex guy is or where he comes from but I think it’s unfair for you to make him pay for another man’s mistakes when he’s shown you nothing but good intentions. Nothing in life is definite…even in marriage. I am the perfect example. I know for a fact that my wife and I love each other but look at what we’ve been through. Sometimes it’s just about the choices we make when we are faced with certain challenges but that don’t make us bad people.”
Thandiwe was smiling at me in that old usual way that I liked.
“You sound like a very wise man Mr Harry…can’t believe that you are the same man who was crying here just a while ago.”
I winced in embarrassment. “I knew that would come back to haunt me, dammit!” I said.
Thandiwe laughed. “I don’t think that’s something you should be embarrassed about. On second thought…maybe you should, now that I am looking at my skirt.”
I gasped, imagining the damage in my head.
She was still laughing. “Don’t worry about it. In this line of work, it’s only wiser to have plan B and C…and sometimes D.”
“No wonder you got promoted so fast. You’ve always been a smart ass…the kind of natural intelligence you can’t pick up from a book. I am very proud of you Thandie.”
“Thanks,” she said. “Although I think Alex’s feelings had a lot to do with it. And I am proud of you too for recognizing your mistakes instead of blaming them on someone else. It takes a lot of guts to do that.”
“So will you give that Alex guy a chance?”
“We’ll see…I need to think about it some more.”
Her smile was telling me she had already made up her mind.
I was not such a terrible man after all. My conversation with Thandiwe, though unconventional, gave me hope that not all was lost. Even though the mistakes I had made had driven me away from the man I used to be…through Thandie, I had been given a second chance to do things right.
She had been right that first night we met when she said that God does not sleep.
He indeed doesn’t.
Thandie had been brought into my life for a purpose.
* * *
A few days later, Thabo came to pick me up at the airport and when I set my eyes on her, it was as if it was for the first time. I ran to her like a mad man and scooped her up into my arms and kissed her with all my heart.
I guess we must have looked like newlyweds to the people watching us because there were all smiles around…and probably some glares too but I didn’t care much at that time. Thabo was surprised by my behaviour and she kept asking me if everything was okay the whole way she drove us home.
The moment we were in the privacy of our bedroom walls, I put my laptop bag down, got on my knees before her and did something I should have done a long time ago;
I begged for her forgiveness.
All along I had thought that our journey to reconciliation had started two years ago…but that mid-morning after my trip from Ndola, that was when both Thabo and I decided to really make things work.
Unlike before, we promised each other to forgive and forget. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but because this time we would be doing it together, we had faith that we would succeed.
Nine months later I was going through my emails at work when I saw one from Thandiwe. We had not spoken or seen each other since that morning at the lodge and I had had no idea she had my email address.
“Dear Mr Harry,” her letter read;
You must be surprised to receive an email from me. Your address was in your contact details when you checked in at the lodge and I apologize for using that information for personal purposes.
I hope you and your family are doing well now.
I have some great news that I really wanted to share with you because you played a big part in helping me come to this decision: Alex and I will be getting married next month.
I followed your advice and gave Alex a chance. He really is a great guy. We travelled together last month to see where he grew up. I discovered that his parents divorced when he was little and his mother sent him to London to live with her sister. He was an only child between his mother and father but he has four step siblings, two from his mother’s remarriage, and two from his father’s remarriage.
His two cousins from London are very nice and they treat Alex like a big brother. Melissa, that’s his oldest cousin, she is thirty-two years old and has three kids. She wants my son to go visiting since we had left him home this time around.
His father died five years ago and left him the lodge were we both work. The two of them were never close but before he died, he regretted not having been in his life and the lodge was some sort of way to make up for not having been there.
His mother lives in Lusaka with her new family, I met them a couple of months ago and they were kind of nice. They are not very close to Alex and his relationship with his mother is very strained so they just get along out of politeness. I don’t think they will be very much involved in our lives either. At first I was nervous that they might not like me since I am divorced and with a son but they didn’t seem to mind at all…either that or they just don’t care. Hahaha
Oh, by the way, my ex-husband heard that I was getting married and he came looking for me at my workplace. Fortunately, Alex put him in his place and he went away a very pissed off man. I must admit it felt so good watching him beg me for a second chance. It turns out, his wife was seeing another man and apparently he is the father of that same child that made him leave me for her. She left him last year to be with him. He was so mad because she left him for a nobody, his words, not mine.
Although I felt some form of vindication seeing him looking so pathetic, there was a part of me that felt sorry for him.
We set November 9th as the date for the wedding and both Alex and I would be happy to have you and your wife there…especially me, it would mean a lot to me. I know its short notice…but I still hope you can make it.
I hope to see you soon and do take care of yourself.
I was very happy for Thandie. She finally found her own happiness and that good for nothing ex-husband of hers finally realised he had lost a good thing.
I would have been like that man too but I was fortunate enough to be rescued at the right now. I had seen the opportunity and I had gone running after it even if at that point I did not understand why I was so desperate.
Since then, although my life has not been perfect, it’s been filled with so much happiness.
I learnt a lot of things since that morning my wife had woken me up from my sleep and told me that she had something she needed to get off her chest.
I learnt that it is easy to notice the sins of others and judge them accordingly yet for our own sins, we tend to find justifications;
I lashed out because you upset me, I stole because I was desperate, I lied because I didn’t want to hurt you…or I cheated because you made me to.
At some point in each of our lives, we’ve made these and many other excuses for our actions.
However, the thing about life is, for every act we do, every decision we make, we do so whilst consciously being aware of the likely consequences to follow…and even when we consciously know that we are doing something bad, we prepare our defence and we manufacture whatever excuses we can to lessen our guilt.
Although my wife had defiled the sanctity of our home when she lay in bed with another man, I was the one that had betrayed her on a much grander scale because I had deceived her into believing that I had forgiven her. Instead, I used every opportunity I got to hurt her…thinking I was justified in my actions simply because she had done something wrong to me first.
Unlike her who had recognized her mistakes and taken responsibility for them, I had been a coward, hiding behind her while I slowly worked to permanently destroy our marriage.
It was I that made the decision to cheat, not my wife. She had given me the opportunity to walk away and I didn’t. The moment I had chosen to stay, everything that had happened before was to be erased so we could start afresh. Instead, I let myself get swept up in delusions that threatened to tear my family apart.
No one had held a gun to my head and forced me to do all those things I did. And for that, I paid the price…I stepped foot on an already cracked foundation and deliberately rubbed my foot in there and made it crumble to the ground.
In order to restore what had been and built what could be, Thabo and I had to start from the very beginning, together.
She had given me a second chance, not because she felt guilty for what she had done in the past….
But because she loved me.
I had sought her forgiveness…not because I thought I deserved it…
But because I loved her.