Natasha found her mother out on the street outside their home pacing to and from as she waiting for her husband to appear. Natasha quickly parked to the side and ran after her. The first thing she noticed where the tears in her eyes.
“Mum,” she held her tightly in her arms.
“I am scared Tasha,” Martha cried.
“It’s okay mum, it’s okay…I trust that dad is okay. You know how my heart paces when something bad is about to happen? Well, feel it,” she took her mother’s hand and placed it over her heart.
“It’s calm right?” Natasha said.
“What if something happened? What if the past…what if….”
Natasha slowly released her mother from the embrace and instead held both her hands. “Mum,” she said. “Dad won’t ever do that again.”
Martha gave her daughter a puzzled expression.
“I know,” Natasha said. “I know you and dad didn’t want us kids to know about what happened but there was that one time when I was in high school, you thought I wasn’t at home but I had dodged class to attend a concert. I overheard you and dad talking about how you met.”
Martha stood petrified to the core. “How much did you hear?”
“Not much really, I just heard you telling him not to try anything like that ever again. Your actual words where; no matter how bad you feel things are, nothing is worth taking your own life.
“You have me and the kids now, you are not alone any more. You told dad that if the past comes up again, he should talk to you first and no matter how bad things may seem, you would stick by his side.”
“You remember all that?” Martha asked.
“It was the first time I saw dad cry, of course I remember every single word.”
“I remember that day,” Martha said. “You came home that evening and read out a poem you had written for him. It was the first time you read out anything you had written. Before you would spend hours and hours in your room writing but you never allowed us to see what you were writing. You made your dad cry that day….”
The memory itself was enough to bring tears to the two women.
“Look mum!” Natasha pointed in the distance. “There’s dad’s car!”
Martha quickly turned to check. “Oh my God, that’s him baby.” She was shaking in relief. Natasha moved behind her and placed her arms around her from behind.
“I told you, he would be back home.” She said.
“You did,” Martha said, kissing her daughter’s hand.
Bernard went to park right next to his daughter’s vehicle and the two women ran to his side before he could even step out of the vehicle.
“I am so sorry my love,” Bernard said to his wife as he got out of the car.
“What happened?” Martha asked, taking his hand.
Natasha closed the door for him to give the two a chance to hug it out.
“Where were you dad? You got us very worried.”
Bernard moved from his wife to give his daughter a hug as well. “I am so sorry honey, I swear it won’t happen again.”
“I’ll move my car and you can follow. I guess the two of you have some catching up to do.” She turned and walked to car.
“But dad,” Natasha paused before opening her door. “Don’t ever do something like this again, okay?”
“I promise,” Bernard said.
“What happened, Ben?” Martha asked her husband the moment they were in the privacy of their bedroom.
Bernard sat down on the edge of the bed and hung his head down. Martha joined him by his side.
“I met her Martha.”
Instantly, Martha knew who he was referring to. “Where?”
“Outside Tasha’s place of work…she works there too.”
“I know, some strange fate.”
“Who recognized who first? What did she say when she saw you? What did you say to her? How is she? What does she look like? Where has she been? Is she okay? Did she grow up well?” Martha was excited to hear the good news.
Ben had not given up on the search for his daughter despite the many years that had passed. She was relieved that he could finally get some peace of mind now and experience happiness without feeling guilty every time he smiled.
“Everything happened just like I feared honey,” Ben informed his wife.
Suddenly perturbed, Martha gave her husband a questioning look. “She wasn’t happy to see you?”
“Oh no…but don’t look so beat my love,” she took his hand. “We expected something like this to happen didn’t we? It’s not like you parted on good terms. The two of you just need to sit down and talk so you can properly apologize and beg her for forgiveness.”
“I wish it was that easy,” he said. “But she doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.”
“That’s because she is still mad honey, the two of you just reconnected. It will take some time before she can start thinking of you kindly. Just be patient with her for now and keep going to her and do your best no matter how bad she treats you.”
Bernard sighed heavily. “Nothing like that will ever happen.” Tears had welled up in his eyes.
“Why do you say that honey?” Martha asked. “You are scaring me now. What did she say to you?”
Bernard fully turned his body around to look at his wife. “Honey,” he said in a very low voice.
“What is it Ben?” she asked.
He took a deep breath before speaking. “Luyando,” he began. “She arh…she….”
“She said some things….” He continued. “Some pretty awful things about me to her new parents.”
“So she was adopted? Wow, that’s even better. We always feared something bad might have happened to her or that she might have been taken by some bad people.”
“Did you even hear what I said?”
“I’m sorry honey,” she said. “I was just so relieved when I heard adopted. What did she tell her parents? It can’t be that bad. Did she tell them about your drinking?”
“She told them more than that.” Ben was looking down now, unable to repeat the words that his daughter had said to him. How was a man to tell his wife that his own daughter had accused him of violence and rape?
What did she say?” Martha probed her husband.
“The worst things baby, she said the worst things. She accused me of doing some terrible things to her.”
“Honey, look at me,” Martha put her hand under his chin and lifted his head up. “What’s going on? What did she accuse you of?”
The tears Ben had desperately been fighting back since he came home came pouring out. Like the typical man he was, he tried to hide his pain but Martha knew him too well. She moved closer and embraced him.
“Whatever it is, you can talk to me about it honey.” She told him.
Martha waited for him to calm down and when he finally did, he looked her in the eye and finally told her.
“Rape!?” Martha was in deep shock. “She accused you of rape?”
“I never did anything like that to her Martha. I would never touch my daughter like that. Please, please…you have to believe me. No matter how drunk I got, such thoughts never even crossed my mind. I promise you Martha….please, say something.”
Ben, Ben,” she put her hand over his lap. “Relax, I wasn’t quite because I doubt you. Rape? You?” she laughed. “I was just shocked that she would accuse you of something like that. Why did she do that?”
Ben looked relieved upon confirming his wife’s trust in him. “She said it was the only way to ensure they adopted her instead of just leaving her some money and sending her back to me. She wanted to have the kind of life they gave their son.”
“Wow,” was all Martha could manage.
“I don’t know what to do Martha. What am I supposed to do in a situation like this?” He got up from the bed. “My own daughter accused me of rape and physically abusing her because she didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore.
“If before I didn’t know just how terrible a father I was, now I am more than convinced that I deserved to die instead of Tasila.”
Martha got up and went to stand in front of him. “Don’t say that honey, not even as a joke. Luyando was in a messed up situation but she had no right to accuse you of those things, no matter how upset or hurt she was.”
“She threatened me, said that if I tried to contact her or her parents, she will spread the news that I am a rapist.”
“But we both know that’s not true.” Martha said.
“It’s my word against hers,” he said. “And who can doubt the word of a ten year old? What will happen to Tasha and Alex if Luyando goes through with her threats? I don’t want my children to live through the stigma of having a rapist for a father. Society is very cruel Martha. No one will care about the truth or even bother to search for it.”
“What if I try to talk to her? Do you think she would agree to meet with me?”
“I doubt it,” Bernard said. “She was so upset by the fact that I have a family now. I was not a good father to her and she most probably dislikes it that I managed to turn my life around after she was gone. She would have preferred it if I died or if I was still languishing in the gutter.”
“Don’t say that Ben. Don’t beat yourself over the things she said or did not say. Let’s just think about it for a while and hopefully we can come up with a plan. Right now she’s angry that you’ve reappeared and she probably thinks your presence might endanger her position and security in this new life of hers. Should we tell Tasha about this?”
Ben looked petrified. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. “Luyando said not to tell her. I am just worried that this may affect Tasha’s opposition at work. What if Luyando gets her fired? I know she is my daughter and I shouldn’t say this about her but, something in her eyes made the hairs at the back of my neck stand out.
“Her mother’s death didn’t just change me, it changed her too. She had become introvert and rarely spoke unless spoken to. She became haughty, short-tempered and she would easily get into fights with others.
“Perhaps, if I had paid a little more attention to her, she wouldn’t have turned out this way. I let her down at the point in her life when she desperately needed me. If after so many years I haven’t been able to forgive myself, I can only imagine what goes on in her mind when she thinks about me. She hates me…and the sad thing is, she has every right to.”
Martha put her arms around him again. “She might have every right to hate you, but she doesn’t have the right to accuse you of things you never did. Let’s just wait for a while, maybe she will come around.
“I will try and talk to her…tell her that we don’t want to get her away from her new family…that you just want to be closer to her as you try to make amends for the past. You just need to do your best to remind her of the kind of father you were before you got trapped in depression. What do you think?”
Bernard placed his hands on her shoulders and held her away from him so he could look at her properly. “I really don’t want to do anything that would make her life difficult. If she is happy there, then I should be happy for her. I am more than grateful that those people gave her the kind of life that I couldn’t.
“Even now, I couldn’t give her the kind of life she’s used to. I looked into who those people that adopted her are and it made me shake in my boots.”
“Oh dear,” Martha said, the pieces of the puzzle finally falling into place in her mind.
“Yes,” Bernard confirmed. “They are one of the few richest folks in the country…say in Africa at large. Mr Mulenga, her father….inherited his father’s newspaper company and turned it into an empire after partnering up with some very influential people. Now they own the country’s leading media brand. I am nothing but a speck of dust next to such a man.”
“You seem to be missing the point Ben,” Martha reminded him. “Being a good parent doesn’t mean you have to be the richest person in the country or the world. You just need to be there for your kids when they need you, protect them, love them and guide them in life every now and then even when they feel they are ready to take on the world on their own.”
“And I never did any of that for her.” Bernard cried.
“Not always, yeah, but you did your best when you could. So what if you lost your way somewhere along the way? The good thing is that you picked yourself up and you are ready to take responsibility for the mistakes you made in the past. I say you are one hell of a father and I am so proud of you.”
Martha drew his head down towards her and kissed him on the lips. “We’re going to get through this,” she assured him. “I don’t care what Luyando told those people but I have watched you with our kids for twenty years and I have never seen you lay a finger on them.
“You are always the one they run to when they’re in trouble and I don’t think children can do something like that when they don’t feel secure around you. Between us, I am the tough loving one and you are the softie. Anyone who can’t see that can take a dive for all I care.”
“What can I ever do without you my darling?” He kissed her on the forehead and hugged her tightly.
* * *
Luyando was welcomed by the smell of freshly cooked dry beans and vegetables when she entered her parent’s home.
“Mum I’m home!” she shouted as she took off her heels by the door.
Clad in a blue and red apron, Ayanda appeared from the kitchen. “I hope you’re hungry because I’ve cooked up a storm in there.” She said as she walked towards her daughter. “It’s not every day that I have my children over for dinner. Come here,” she stretched her arms and Luyando went in for a hug.
“Oooh, you smell of spices and shampoo.” Luyando commented.
“I washed my hair just before I started cooking,” her mother said. “Come, am not yet done with the gravy.”
Luyando followed her mother into the kitchen. “Anything I can do to help?”
“Everything’s all done, just the gravy but it’ll be done in a minute. Go and set the table. Your father and brother should be here soon.”
“Gosh, I missed your meals mum!” Luyando shouted as she carried some plates to the dining room.
Ayanda laughed. “At least you are here once or twice every week unlike your brother. That boy will only visit when I tell him am sick…and I can be sick only so much in a week.”
Luyando appeared back in the kitchen. “I guess there must be something keeping him busy these days.”
“What’s that?” Her mother asked.
A mysterious smile appeared on Luyando’s face, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “let’s wait, maybe we will find out during dinner.”
Ayanda stopped stirring the gravy and turned to look at her daughter quizzically. “Is there some big announcement he will be making?” Her eyes were dancing excitedly at the thought of her son finally settling down. “Did he meet a girl?”
“Mum we’re home!” Tulani’s voice came through the kitchen from the living room.
“They’re here,” Ayanda said, grinning from ear to ear. She removed the pot from the hot plate, laid it on the side and turned off the stove.
“Put this on a plate and take it to the dining room. Let me go and welcome the boys home.” She grabbed a towel from the rail, quickly rubbed her hands and ran into the living room.
“There’s the light of my life,” Tulani said the moment he saw his mother appear through the door. He rushed to give her a hug while his father watched on the side with a smile on his face.
“I missed this scent, you smell like my son.” Ayanda said.
“And I missed whatever is in the air tonight. What’s cooking mum?”
“Go to the dining room and find out. Your sister is setting up the table.”
“I am just going to sit here with dad until she finishes setting up everything.” Tulani went to join his father on the sofa. “I am too hungry and tired to help her out and knowing her, she might bully me into doing everything.”
“Are you talking about me behind my back Tula?” Luyando was towering over him from behind before moving to greet her father.
“I missed you dad,” she said, leaning her head against him and locking her arm into his.
“Why didn’t you invite your husband over as well?” Her father asked. “I called him to ask if he could bring those tools he told me about last time but he told me he wasn’t aware of any dinner plans here.”
“Oh,” Luyando said, thinking about the response she was going to give. She had not expected that her father would talk to Peter. “I didn’t want to bother him since he’s still working on that research paper.”
“Don’t always exclude him, he might start feeling like he’s not part of the family. Isn’t dinner ready yet?”
“It is,” Luyando said, smiling uncomfortably. “We can head to the dining room now.”
Tulani was the first one up. “I’m famished!” He said, rubbing his flat stomach as he walked to the dining room.
“Luyando said that there was something you wanted to tell us son,” Ayanda said to her son at some point during dinner.
“Me?” Tulani threw his sister a puzzled look. “What is mum talking about? I don’t have anything to announce.”
“Are you sure?” Luyando asked, clearly avoiding his gaze as she focused on the food on her plate.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Tulani asked. “Is this some kind of joke?”
Luyando laughed. “You see, that’s exactly what I thought when I first found out about it.”
“Found out about what?” Ayanda asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“Why don’t you tell them about the love of your life bro?” She was looking at him now, taunting him with her eyes.
“I knew there was a woman involved!” Ayanda couldn’t hide her excitement. “Who is she son? Do I know her?”
Tulani wasn’t listening to what his mother was saying, he was too busy glaring at Luyando to concentrate on anything else. Did she have to go that far? He thought.
He obviously planned on telling his parents about Natasha but he first needed to get her to agree to date him first before telling his parents about it like some excited teenager.
“Aren’t you going to answer mum’s question Tula?” Luyando asked him.
Tulani put down the ball of nshima in his hands and looked at his mother, suddenly losing his appetite. “What was your question mum?”
“She asked about your girl,” Luyando provided. “Who is she?”
“First of all, she is not yet my girl,” he answered curtly. “And secondly, I will tell you guys about her when the time is right, not when my sister feels like it.”
“So you won’t even tell us her name?” Ayanda asked.
“Yes,” he answered. “Because nothing is definite yet. There’s a time for everything mother. Do you want me to come running here to make announcements every time I meet someone I like even before dating them?”
“Does it make a difference if am the one who tells them instead?” Luyando asked her brother.
While Ayanda was looking at her expectantly, Tulani was giving her an evil eye that threatened to burn the food on her plate.
“Should I tell her bro?”
“Do whatever pleases you Lu,” Tulani said, angrily getting up from the table. “You always do whatever you want in the end right?”
“Don’t you think your own parents deserve to know that they have a four year old grandson?”
Their father, who had been quite throughout finally said, “A grandson?”
“A grandson?” Tulani and Ayanda chorused.
“Don’t give me that look Tula, acting like you don’t know what am talking about. For years you’ve been with that woman, even when she was married and you’ve hidden that life from us, your family.
Any woman capable of cheating on her husband and fathering a child with another man is obviously okay with you not introducing your son to the family. But I knew I had to tell mum and dad about her the moment I learnt the truth.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Tulani asked her. “That child isn’t mine, and Natasha never cheated on anybody. Look at me, why am I even explaining myself to you people?” He pushed his chair back and was ready to bolt out of there when Luyando’s next words stopped him.
“If you are not the father, why did she list you as the father on that boy’s birth certificate?”
Tulani turned back around. “What?”
“That boy’s name is Sean Mulenga, you can stop playing dumb now Tula. She ended her marriage with her husband about five years ago, that was around the time you travelled to the US. Not long after, the two of them divorced and nine months later she delivered a bouncing baby boy that looks exactly like you.”
“You should shut up if you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tulani snapped at his sister. “Natasha divorced her husband about a year ago. She had turned me down to get back with him after they had been separated for over a year. That was the time she and I were together but she later dumped me to start again with him.”
Hearing Tulani’s explanation, Luyando realized in that moment what she had done.
“So he didn’t know?”
“Didn’t know what?” Tulani asked.
Luyando who was in a daze did not realize that she was saying her words out loud. “That that boy is your son? He looks so much like you…how can you not know?”
“That’s because I have never seen the boy before and I have never bothered to ask about him. She never posts anything about him on social media and she never talks about him with me.”
“So you mean to tell me you have a son that you didn’t even know about?” Ayanda asked.
Joshua abruptly stood up. “In the living room, everyone.” He commanded his family and led the way there.
Tulani appeared to be in a trance as he followed them into the living room.
“Sit down Tula,” his father said sternly.
“I gotto go,” Tulani announced in his daze-like state. “I need to find out something for myself.” He grabbed his keys from the sofa and ran out of the house.
“What’s going on here?” Ayanda asked the two remaining in the room.
“That woman is a conniving little vixen who has Tula wrapped around her puny little fingers.” Luyando told her parents. “Can you imagine that despite lying to him, she asked him for a job and he hired her as the lead news anchor at the station?”
“How did my son end up with such a woman? How can she not tell him that he’s the father of the child? What’s her motive?” Ayanda asked.
“Who knows? Such girls always wait for the right opportunity so they can pounce on you and blackmail you into giving them a lot of money.”
“Can we not jump to conclusions?” Joshua cautioned the women. “None of us in this room is in any position to know what’s really going on so let’s avoid making wild speculations. Let’s wait for Tula to sort out his business and he will tell us what’s going on the moment he sets his affairs in order.” And he got up to head upstairs.
“What do you know about the girl Lulu?” Ayanda asked her daughter.
Ayanda was about to open her mouth when she felt her father’s burning look and she looked up to find him glaring at her from the bottom of the stairs.
“Well, aren’t you going to tell me?” her mother probed.
“Mum, I think I should leave now,” she got up, her eyes still fixed on her father’s retreating figure.
“Why? Don’t you think a mother deserves to know if her son might be in danger?” Ayanda was following her daughter behind who was rushing towards the stairs.
“Dad, I’m leaving now!” she shouted to her father who was now at the top of the stairs.
“Yeah, good night.” He said and disappeared into the bedroom without turning to look at her.
“What’s wrong with him?” Ayanda asked. “It seems his terrible moods are back. Could it be mid-life crisis?”
“Isn’t it a little too late for that mother?” Luyando said as she walked back into the living room to get her handbag.
“Are you going to leave just like that Lulu?” Ayanda was still pleading for more information. “I think I am going to die from curiosity if you leave me hanging like this.”
Luyando laughed and leaned towards her mother to whisper, “I will give you a call to meet me at the usual place tomorrow so we can gossip freely.” She was looking upstairs where her father had disappeared.
“Ah,” her mother quickly caught on. “Good idea. I’ll wait for your call tomorrow, don’t keep me waiting.”
“Good night mother,” she hugged her. “I love you, see you tomorrow.”
“I love you too my baby, give those two brats big kisses for me and pass my regards to Peter.”
“I will mother.” She opened the door and left.
Natasha was busy scalping her mother’s hair when a knock came through the door.
“Nooo, I don’t want to move from here, it’s too comfortable.” Martha complained.
“Let me get Sean to check, Sean!”
The boy came running into the living room from his play room. “Heard it! Will get it!” And he ran to the door.
The first thing Tulani noticed when the door opened were the deep brown eyes of the little boy looking up at him. It was as if he was looking at a younger version of himself.
“You must be Sean,” he said.
Natasha quickly turned her head towards the door the moment she heard the familiar voice.
“Tulani?” She jumped from the couch and sent her mother who was seated on the mat falling to the side.
Tulani lowered himself to the boy’s level, completely paying no heed to his mother.
“Are you mum’s friend?” Sean asked the strange man who looked like he was about to cry.
“Did bad people do something bad to you?” the boy asked.
Tulani laughed and blinked back the tears. Clearing his throat, he asked, “No they didn’t. Why do you ask?”
“Because you have tears in your eyes. Mum, come and see!”
“Sean sweetie, come here.” Natasha called out to him. The boy turned and went to his mother. “Go over there to grandma and tell her to get some ice cream for you from the fridge.”
“I can have ice cream?” The excited four year old was jumping up and down as he ran to his grandmother.
“Mrs Chimeko,” Tulani greeted the woman the moment their eyes met.
“Tulani,” she answered, guilt written all over her face. “Let’s give the adults some privacy Sean.” She took Sean’s arm and let him away.
“What are you doing here?” Natasha said, a nervous smile playing on her face.
“Come out, we need to talk.” He said in a very tight tone that sent chills down her spine.
Natasha knew exactly why he had showed up at her door unannounced.