Kondwani’s Debt of Love – Part 2

“How can you say something like that mother?” Kondwani asked.

“Come,” Claudia took her son’s hand and led him to sit down on the garden chairs in the backyard. “Do you think it’s easy for someone like me to suggest something like that to my own son?” She asked once they were seated. 
“Then why would you even suggest it?” he asked.
Claudia took both his hands and held on to them as she spoke. “It’s because I am tired of watching you sacrifice yourself just to take care of this family. Don’t you think it’s about time you thought about your own happiness, for once?” 
“If I don’t take care of you guys then who will? It’s not like you’ve ever heard me complain.”
“That’s the problem.” She said. “You never complain. When I think about how far we’ve come….” Claudia bit her quivering lower lip and fought back the tears threatening to pour. “When I think about the past,” she continued in a shaky voice. “Look at where we are now.” She pointed to the house and their surroundings. 
“Who would have imagined the Chileshe’s living in such a fancy house?” She said. “We have what we ever dreamt of Kondwani. Why are you still working so hard? Why should you sacrifice your whole life to marry a girl you obviously don’t love…and clearly, she doesn’t love you too if she’s doing those things behind your back.”
“You think that just because you now live in a house that’s a thousand’s times bigger than the old one makes you successful?” Kondwani asked his mother. “This is nothing mother, compared to the plans I have in mind, this is absolutely nothing.”
Claudia’s eyes appeared heavy with emotion. “Kondwani.” She said his name in a reprimanding tone.  “You said you were only dating her because you wanted her father to invest in your hospital, and he did. You got what you wanted so why are you still holding on to her? Let her go and start your life afresh with someone you genuinely love.” 
Kondwani rolled his eyes dismissively and pulled back his hands from his mother’s grasp.  “You think it’s that easy?” He asked. “Don’t you think I would have left a long time ago if it was that easy? Just because Miyoba invested in my business does not mean that he can’t pull it all back. Almost all the other people that invested in me…in my hospital only did so because Miyoba did.”
“This is exactly why I was against you establishing such a grand project at such a young age.” His mother said. “You could have started out slowly, build a small practice or -”
“Let’s not start with that mum.” Kondwani said firmly and stood up, ready to leave. 
Claudia got to her feet as well. “I’m just worried about you son.” The mother of four said. 
“Well I’m not a kid anymore so….” He deliberately left the sentence hanging.
“I know.” Claudia said. Her voice was as sombre as the look on her face. She could not fight the guilt she felt as a mother for having let her first born son take on the burden of caring for her and his siblings at a very young age. Instead of dating and partying like his peers, at just twenty years of age, Kondwani had become a full time bread winner of a family of five. 
Even though Claudia regretted all the years she had spent married to the father of her children, a man that had ran out on his family to establish a new one with his mistress, she did not regret the blessings she had received through those children. They were the best children any mother could ever ask for. If only she were the same to them as a mother, then perhaps she wouldn’t feel so guilty looking at her son and seeing what he had turned into in order to take care of her responsibilities. 
“Just think about what I said,” Claudia reminded him even though she knew he was no longer listening to her. Over the years, Kondwani had perfected the art of zoning himself out of conversations he deemed unnecessary or worthless. To him, every second was worth a penny and more. 
Claudia also had to accept the fact that even if her son was listening to her, there was nothing she was going to say that would shake him out of his resolve to succeed to the very top of the pyramid. Having lived a life of poverty all through his childhood, Kondwani had developed an insatiable appetite for success. Clearly, Abraham Maslow had not met the likes of him when he came up with his hierarchy of needs. Kondwani was bent on defying every norm and expectation set out by society. 
“Is there anything you need for the house or the kids?” Kondwani asked.
Claudia sighed heavily and folded her arms across her chest. “No,” she said. “I still have the money you sent to my account last week.”
“I’ll be on my way then.” 
“Wait,” Claudia stopped him. “Your sister wanted to talk to you.”
“Not today mum.” Kondwani had paused for a second to respond. “Tell her I’ll call her tomorrow.” He added as he resumed his journey back to his car. 
You are ever busy, Claudia thought as she watched his retreating back. When will you find the time to sit down and have a decent conversation with your family? 
“Drive safely!” Claudia shouted. “Don’t forget your seatbelt; the roads are dangerous out there.” 
Chilufya jumped to her feet the moment she saw the door open only to have her excitement replaced by disappointment when only her mother appeared through the door.  
“Where’s Kondwani?” Chilufya asked.
Closing the door behind her, Claudia answered; “He left, said he’s busy and that he will call you.”
“As usual.” Chilufya added in disappointment. “I’m going to bed now.” She announced and quickly left the room before anyone could say a thing. 
“She really wanted to talk to him.” Gift the youngest of the siblings said and immediately went back to whatever he had been committed to on the phone. 
“I wonder what it’s all about.” Twenty-two year old Mwansa chipped in as well from the carpeted floor where she was sitting, her eyes glued on the TV screen where  My Heart Beats for Lola was showing on Telemundo. 
“Gift, put that thing down and go upstairs to study.” Claudia commanded her last born. “The news is done already, what are you still doing sitting in the living room?”
The seventeen year old reluctantly pushed himself up, muttering something under his breath as he headed towards the stairs.
“Where do you think you are going with that?” His mother asked, pointing to the phone in his hand. “Bring it here.” She walked over to him and grabbed it from him. “You are only allowed to use this for two hours only in a day. Trying to play smart with me….”
Gift continued muttering protests under his breath and slowly took the stairs one at a time, making sure everyone in the house heard and felt every step he made along the way. 
“That kid is such a brat.” Mwansa commented without taking her eyes off the tele. “You should have taken him to boarding school…or military school. Do we even have those in Zambia? I saw an episode on Criminal Minds were-”
Claudia glared at her third born and walked over to the table where the remote controls were lying, grabbed the DSTV one and changed the channel to the Food Network. 
“Mum!” Mwansa protested. 
“You are one to talk.” Claudia said as she sat down on the sofa. “Busy watching these useless shows the whole day instead of learning something useful. These things will only fill your head with illusions that will never come to pass.”
“Who says they will never come to pass?” the 22 year old countered. “I will only start watching these food channels when they start showing us how to prepare African dishes. Lyonse lyonse it’s peppered tuna na chicory something something. Where am I going to find all that fancy stuff in Zambia?” 
“Tsk tsk tsk.” Claudia could only shake her head in disbelief and disappointment. “When the time to marry you off comes, I will give you out for free, no bride price whatsoever! I will even chip in your brother Gift as a complimentary package, my way of apologizing to the in-laws for giving them a faulty product. Maybe he can tend to their gardens and run some errands around the house for them. The two of you will be the death of me.” 
“I’ll be getting married to a white man so all that lobola nonsense won’t be needed.” Mwansa proudly announced. 
“Who told you all white men have bad taste in women?” Claudia remarked. “They don’t just marry any black girl just because her behind is protruding at an obtuse angle.”
Mwansa stood up from the floor, completely unfazed by her mother’s rebuke. “Men only care about this, this and this.” She said, touching her breasts, her lower abdomen and her bottom. 
“Stupid girl.” Claudia picked up a cushion and threw it at her. Mwansa had no time to dodge; it hid her right in the face. “Go upstairs and study as well. Just because you are on break from school doesn’t mean studying should stop.” 
“There’s a reason why it’s called a vacation mother.” Mwansa retorted, painfully nursing her face with her hand. 
“No one takes a vacation in my house. Go to your room now. I need some time alone to think. I suddenly have a headache.” Claudia said whilst massaging the sides of her face with her thumbs. 
“You mean the house built for you by your son?” Mwansa laughed and quickly ran out of the room to avoid her mother’s wrath.
“At least he built a house for me.” Claudia said to herself. “With that attitude, you might never even get to buy me gum.” And in a very low tone she added; “Well, compared to someone else, at least you still let me take care of you. But who’s taking care of him?”

Driving back home, Kondwani’s mind went back to the words his mother had shouted after him; Drive safely! Don’t forget your seatbelt; the roads are dangerous out there. 
“Oh mother,” Kondwani said, shaking his head slowly. “If  only you knew…if only you knew.” 
*******************************
Using her father’s vehicle, Alicia kept the promise she had made to her son to pick him up on Sunday after church from her mother in-law’s place in Avondale. Mary Kabwe preferred to take her grandson to her Catholic church instead of letting him go to a Pentecostal church with his mother. Mary’s traditional instincts and preferences only surfaced when she needed to use them as weapons against her almost daughter in-law.
Even though Mary had officially registered and announced herself as Alicia’s nemesis, their relationship had not always been that antagonistic. Mary had instantly fallen in-love with the first girl her only son had brought home and introduced as his girlfriend even though she was not a Catholic girl. 
According to Mary back then, “there was something special about Alicia. She is different from these girls of nowadays who have no respect for their elders and want to be treated as equals by their men.” Mary had no doubt that the girl would have no trouble changing denominations to meet her future husband’s needs. She was exactly the type of daughter in-law she wanted to have; kind and obedient to a fault. 
After that first meeting, Mary had gone out of her way to make Alicia feel welcome in her home. The meekness and humility of the then twenty-one year old Alicia had stood out in Mary’s eyes and she could not wait to have the young lady as her daughter in-law. Unfortunately, fate seemed to have other plans in store for them.
On the morning of May 15th six years ago, a very emotional Alicia had led Nicolas into a fight outside his parent’s home. Alicia had begged Nicolas to hold off proposing marriage to her until after the baby was born because she did not want to feel like he was marrying her out of obligation instead of love. However, Nicolas chose to ignore her advice when he stopped her right outside his parent’s home and got down on his knees to propose. 
Crying, Alicia had reminded him of the request she had made to him and accused him of being unfair before she ran out of the yard and onto the street, leaving Nicolas and the audience she had not been aware of that had been watching through the windows from inside the house befuddled and disappointed by the turn of events. They had all been expecting a happily-ever after reaction but they got instead was the total opposite of that. 
Nicolas had run out to catch up to her, afraid that she might hurt herself or the child running like that and in such a foul mood. The thundering skies above them also made Nicolas even more agitated and worried about the mother of his unborn child. Unfortunately, he did not find any signs of Alicia outside and so he went back inside, asked his sister to bring him his car keys and he drove in search of her like a mad man. 
“Be careful out there on the road son!” Mary had shouted after her son. “It looks like there’s a storm coming.”
Those were the last words Mary had said to her son. And it was the last time she had seen him alive. 
“What are you doing staring out the window like that?” Exhildah asked her mother when she entered the house and found her standing by the window in the living room. She looked like she had just swallowed a bitter pill.
Mary turned to welcome her second born daughter home. “Where are the others?” She asked upon seeing that Exhildah had come home alone from the mall where she had gone with her husband, their two children and her two sisters right after church. 
Exhildah plopped herself onto the sofa, sighing heavily as she did so. “I started my period last night so I didn’t have the patience to control those two brats in public who were trying to load everything they came across in the trolley.
“I walked out of there, got on a cab and here I am. They will find me when they are done shopping. Marcus spoils those kids too much and makes me seem like am such a bad parent.”
Mary laughed. “I thought you would grow out of your moods after marriage but it seems they’ve only gotten worse.”
“Ah,” Exhildah stretched out on the couch and laid her back down, wincing in pain from the stomach crumps. “Give me something for this pain ma.” She told her mother.
Mary got up and walked into the kitchen. “Maybe you should have stayed a little longer on the pill instead of stopping.” She shouted whilst taking meds from one of the cabinets. “Are you sure you want to have more of those species running around you?” she laughed
“Marcus wants a football team so what can I do?” Exhildah shouted back. “I still said yes when he proposed despite knowing that weakness about him. I thought I might convince him to change his mind but it seems he’s hell bent on fulfilling God’s instructions in Genesis 9:7.”
Mary appeared from the kitchen carrying a glass of water and pills in her hands. “What can he do?” She said. “That’s the only verse in the Bible men willingly follow to the letter without debate. The rest, it’s all bibliography.” She patted her daughter so she could sit up. Exhildah sat up and took the medicine from her mother. 
“Your friend’s use a cup of hot tea to calm down but it takes a whole medicine cabinet to fix your period tantrums Hilda.” Mary commented as she watched her daughter gulp down the pills. “Of all things, why did you have to inherit this from me?”
“Imagine that.” Exhildah said and handed the glass back to her mother. “That foolish Eve should have just left that apple in the garden alone.” She said and fell back into her sleeping position when her mother got up to return the glass to the kitchen. “Why couldn’t she pick an Orange or something?”
“What are you going on about?” Mary asked when she returned from the kitchen. She sat down on the adjacent chair. 
“I mean Eve, from the Garden of Eden.” Exhildah explained. “Isn’t she the reason we are suffering like this?” 
Mary laughed again. “Maybe God shouldn’t have put that kind of apple in there in the first place.”
“Anyway, what were you looking at so intently over there when I just walked in?” Exhildah asked. “You had this deathly glow in your eyes.”
“I was thinking about Nick…the last time I had seen him alive.”
“Ahhh,” Exhildah said. “I take it Alicia is coming this morning.” 
“How did you come to that conclusion?” 
“Because that’s the only time you have that look in your eyes when you think about Nick. Is she coming for Buseko?”
“Yes.” Mary answered, irritably. “She’s off on Sundays and Mondays so she asked to be spending time with him.”
Exhildah slowly and gently sat herself up. “Wow, and you allowed her?”
“Did I have a choice?” Mary asked.
Exhildah laughed. “You did a good thing ma.” She said. “That boy needs his mother. He already lost his father, he’s disadvantaged enough. Speaking of which, where is that handsome devil? I thought you came with him from church.”
“He went with Samuel to get some ice cream by the stores across the street.”
“Samuel was here?” Exhildah asked. 
“Yes, found him waiting in the living room. He still remembers where we leave the key when we are not around so he let himself in. You should have seen the look on his face when he saw the resemblance in Buseko. I thought he was going to faint.”
“I thought he would never visit this place…after Nicolas and all.” Exhildah remarked.
“Me too,” her mother replied. 
“I think he feels bad that he was not here when it all happened.” Exhildah said.
“I think something big must have happened in his life to make him think of his best friend. Those two used to be inseparable.” Mary smiled from reminiscence. “Perhaps things would have been different if he hadn’t gone to Russia for school. Maybe Nicolas wouldn’t have met that girl and-“
“Mum.” Exhildah stopped her mother. “Not that again, leave it be. It’s not Alicia’s fault that Nick is no longer here. It’s the fault of that wicked driver who hit into him and made it look like he was the one at fault.”
Mary sniffed and wiped at her eyes. 
“Muuuuum.” It was Exhildah’s turn to sniff. She pouted in her seat resignedly then got up to sit next to her. She put her arm over the shoulder of the woman trying hard not to cry.
“What’s taking Samuel and Bubu so long anyway?” Mary tried to laugh through her tears. 

Alicia was about to step out of the vehicle to open the gate when she spotted her son crossing the street by the arm of the last person she had expected to see in that neighbourhood…or let alone with her son. She got out of the vehicle and waited for the two of them to cross the street.
“Mum!” Buseko excitedly waved at his mother the moment he saw her.
“Bubu,” Alicia said, waving back at him but with a puzzled expression on her face, her eyes glued on the man holding her son’s hand. 
“Doctor Kayombo?” Alicia said when they got closer. Doctor Kayombo appeared to have a bemused expression on his face. He too had not taken his eyes off of her the moment he spotted her across the street. 
Buseko handed his cone ice cream over to Doctor Kayombo and ran straight into his mother’s arms and she lifted him up from the ground. “My love,” she said, taking her eyes off the doctor for a moment. “I missed you so much.” She kissed the five year old on the cheek and put him back down. 
“Can we go now?” Buseko ran to the car. 
“Bubu no….” Alicia quickly turned to him, thinking about the kind of wrath she would have to contend with if she took the boy without informing his grandmother first. 
“Buseko,” Samuel Kayombo went over to the boy and handed him back his ice cream. “You need to say bye to grandma first before leaving with your mother.”
“But she knows that mum is coming to pick me up.” Buseko sulked. 
Samuel lowered himself down to the boy’s level. “Gentlemen don’t just leave the house without saying goodbye Buseko.”
“Is that also something my father taught you?” Buseko asked excitedly, eager to learn more about his father from his best friend. 
Samuel looked up at Alicia and as expected, she was still looking at him quizzically. 
“Yes Bubu,” Samuel said, looking into the boys eyes with a smile on his face. “It’s also one of the many things your father taught me. So what do you say?”
“If it’s from my father, then I will do it!” Buseko declared proudly. “Don’t leave without me mum!” He shouted as he ran towards the house. 
“I won’t my love!” Alicia shouted back. 
“So,” Dr Kayombo put his hands in his pockets and took a few steps towards Alicia, a smirk on his face. 
“So, Nurse Daka is the famous Alicia I have heard about.” He said, his brows slightly squinted and his eyes dancing about mischievously…like he had just uncovered Coca-Cola’s secret formula. 
“I think you are talking about Alicia Keys sir.” Alicia said matter-of-factly. 
Dr Kayombo laughed. “I really can’t tell if you are serious or joking.”
Alicia didn’t seem to catch the humour. “I wasn’t joking.” She said with a straight face. “What are you doing here and what were you doing with my son?” 
“Why do I find the last part of your sentence a little insulting?” Samuel asked, scratching the side of his head for effect. 
“Oh no sir!” Alicia quickly moved to correct the misunderstanding. “I didn’t mean it like that. I am so sorry. I really-“
Samuel busted out in full laughter this time around, even bending and clatching his stomach. Alicia looked on in shocked horror, unable to comprehend what was happening. 
“This is what I meant,” Samuel said. “There’s really no telling what’s a joke and what’s not with you Alicia…Keys.” He added the last part with a hint of laughter in his voice. 
“I told you I am not Alicia Keys. Even though our bodies might be shaped somewhat the same, I am more beautiful than her and I am one feet taller than she is.” Alicia said with a very straight face.
Samuel wasn’t sure whether to laugh or not so his facial expression remained that of bemusement. While the words that fell out of her mouth had a comedic effect to them, the sober expression on Alicia’s face made it very hard for him to decode the exact message she was trying to send. 
“Perhaps it is I that can’t tell a joke from a fact.” Samuel surmised finally, quickly regaining the sanity back to his face.  “I have never met a woman so confident in her looks,” he remarked. “…except, I can’t seem to judge whether you are just plain arrogant or simply stating the facts.”
“It’s a fact sir,” Alicia said. “I might not talk very much and I tend to lose my words when they are really needed but there is one thing I’m really good at; I always tell the truth, in this case, I mean the truth in terms of worldly standards of beauty.”
“What is the other kind of truth…in this case I mean?” He asked.
“The one found in the Bible.” Alicia said. “The one that says we were all made in the image of God.”
“I did hear that you were quite a character…I just didn’t know to what extent.” Samuel said. 
“I take it that you are Sammy, my late boyfriend’s best friend?” Alicia said. “He used to talk about you a lot.  We even spoke on the phone a couple of times. I wondered if you could be the one when I first met you at the hospital.”
“Then why didn’t you ask me?” Samuel asked.
“I was afraid to have one more superior in my new place of work that didn’t like me. I figured I was better off not finding out the truth.”
“What do you mean one more person-“
“Doctor Chileshe,” Alicia supplied before he could even finish his sentence. “He doesn’t like me very much.”
“And somehow that means I would hate you as well?” Samuel asked. “Just how does that science work?”
Alicia chuckled. “Not exactly. Weren’t you Nicolas’ best friend?”
“Yes?” Samuel answered, still looking confused.
“And you are very close to his family, aren’t you?” 
“Yes?” He was still puzzled and eager to hear the end of her line of thought.
Alicia shook her head, wondering why he was not catching her point up to now. “Everyone blames me for Nicolas’ death.” She finally stated. “It’s only natural that you would feel the same, isn’t it? You were after all his best friend.”
Samuel immediately released the breath he had been holding, finally understanding her line of thought. He couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. “Do they still blame you for his death?” He pointed his head towards the Kabwe’s residency when he said they.
“I thought the blaming would stop once time passed.” Samuel said. “They really still think you are responsible for his death?” He couldn’t seem to believe it. 
Alicia nodded.
“What century is this?” Samuel asked. “Anyway, it’s nice to finally meet you Alicia who’s not Alicia Keys.” He laughed. 
Alicia smiled back and shook his hand. “It’s nice to meet you too.” She said. “You have no idea how much it means knowing that at least one person that knew Nick does not hate me for what happened.” I already hate myself enough, Alicia silently added. I don’t need any more people helping me with that.  
“Well, you don’t have to avoid me from now on. The fact that Nicolas fell head over heels in-love with you tells me that you are a good person.” Samuel said. “I am sure that in time, his family will come to accept his death for what it really was; an accident.” 
“I hope so.” Alicia said, almost in a whisper and with a distant look in her eyes. 
Samuel wanted to reach out and hug her but he held himself back. “We should go in,” he said. “I’m sure Buseko has already announced your presence.”
“Yeah,” Alicia said and moved to get the gate.
“Don’t worry,” Samuel quickly moved passed her. “I will get the gate for you.”
Alicia paused, a little taken aback by his thoughtfulness. She had really expected the worst kind of treatment from him when she first suspected that he could be the same Samuel Kayombo that had been her boyfriend’s best friend.
“Thanks.” She said and went back to her car. 
Samuel was closing the gate when he thought he saw a familiar car drive slowly past the road in front.
“Was that Chileshe?” Samuel asked himself, a grim expression on his face. 
While Alicia parked her car in front of the house, Kayombo took out his phone and dialled Gwen’s number. 
“Er, a call from you?” Gwen said the moment she answered the phone. “I thought you were still mad at me.”
“Why should I be mad at you?” Samuel asked. 
“Thought you got upset that I was with-“
“That’s your private business Gwen.” He cut her off. “It’s got nothing to do with me.”
“How can you say that Samuel? And yet you say that you are not mad at me.”
“What do you want me to say Gwen?” Samuel snapped. “How can I get mad at you for sleeping with your fiancé? I was the stupid one for thinking that you would leave him for me but I’m done this time around.”
“You think it’s up to you to decide when this ends?” Gwen asked shamelessly. “I am the one who gets to decide when something starts and when something ends. Who do you think you are to dump Gwen Miyoba?”
Samuel laughed. “So full of yourself, what was I thinking?” he said. “Your threats don’t work with me Gwen, try Kondwani. We are done.”
“Is that why you called me, to ruin my peaceful Sunday morning?” Gwen asked. 
“I called to ask if you were with Kondwani. I need to confirm something with him urgently but I can’t get through his line. I thought he might be with you.”
“He’s not with me.” Gwen spat. “He said he had some personal business to take care of.” And she cut the line. 
“So that was really you Kondwani.” Samuel said as he put the phone back in his pocket. “What the devil are you up to?” He finished closing the rest of the gate.  
He turned and stood with his hands in his pockets, a thousand questions written all over his face as he intently watched Alicia walk up to the door of the house. 
“Who are you Alicia…and just what do you have over Kondwani?” Samuel asked out loud. 
Alicia was about to open the door when she stopped and turned to look back at Samuel who was still standing by the gate.  

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Kondwani’s Debt of Love

 
[This is still in draft form…to be edited later]

“I am so sorry Alicia, but we have to let you go.”

Alicia Daka’s world came to an abrupt end in those few seconds it took her immediate supervisor to deliver the devastating news to her. 

She had only been working for the Allied Doctors of Zambia Hospital, popularly known simply as ADOZ for only three months. One more month and she was sure she was going to be confirmed as a long term employee of one of the leading hospitals in Southern Africa. 
“Why?” Alicia asked, wondering if she had missed some months on the Calendar when ahe woke up that morning and found herself on April 1st.

In the last three months, she had received better reviews than all the other nine nursing interns that had been accepted by management at ADOZ after weeks of gruelling interviews and tests. Alicia had thought that the news was too good to be true when she was informed that she was amongst the ten selected for internship at the prestigious hospital from over a thousand nurses that had applied. 
Perhaps it really was too good to be true. 
Having graduated from a small nursing school in her small community in Livingstone that had only been in operation for five years, Alicia had had great doubts of being selected for that internship especially that she was competing against nurses from top-notch and well-renowned nursing colleges from the capital, Lusaka.   

“I thought I was doing exceptionally well in my work” Alicia cried. “Did I make a mistake somewhere that I wasn’t aware of?” 

Mrs Miti the surgical  nurse in-charge picked out a napkin from the pack that had been lying on the table and handed it over to her favourite nurse. It broke her heart to see the dreams of such an intelligent girl being shattered to pieces over issues of bureaucracy. 

“I wish I had a better explanation for you Alicia,” the elderly lady said whilst fighting back her own tears. “But you know how these things go….”

“What things?” Alicia asked the fifty-eight year old.

Mrs Miti was looking at her in stunned disbelief. “You don’t know?” She asked.

“Don’t know what?” Alicia asked, looking as blank as the state of her confused mind. 
“Doctor Chileshe….”

“What about Dr Chileshe?” Alicia asked.

The supervising nurse chuckled in incredulity. “Your relationship with Dr Chileshe Alicia.” She said matter-of-factly. “Everyone knows about it.”
“What?” Alicia stood up from the chair. “What relationship are you talking about Nurse Miti?”
“Aren’t the two of you seeing each other?” 

Alicia started laughing. “Me?” She pressed her finger over her chest and laughed some more at the ridiculous things she had just heard. “You mean me and Dr Kondwani Chileshe? How is that even possible? I have only spoken to the man on three occasions; during the interviews, during the first day we reported for work, and that last time when there was that emergency situation with the Minister of Finance.

 “That time I was the assisting theatre nurse and there was no way of avoiding the lead surgeon. He asked me to pass him something during surgery in the operating room and told me to take great care of the patient once the surgery was done and he left the OR. I never said a single word to him in return so where’s all this coming from?”

“Don’t you find it strange that Dr Chileshe personally requested that you be the assisting nurse for such a high profile case despite you being an intern?” Mrs Miti asked. “He has never done anything like that before and it got people here talking, including his fiancé who happens to be the daughter of the largest shareholder of this hospital.”

“I didn’t even know that he had personally requested me for that surgery matron.” Alicia lamented. “I am telling you the truth when I say that I have never spoken to the man outside of work. I didn’t even think he respected me enough to recognize my presence.

 “During interviews, he told me that I looked like a preschool teacher from a rural area instead of a medical care giver. He was out-rightly rude and condescending and everyone laughed at his jokes at my expense. If Ms Miyoba wants me to explain things to her….”

“Do you think a pumped up queen like her has time to listen to a simpleton like you?” Mrs Miti asked. “She busted in here with a letter of dismissal and demanded that we get rid of you as soon as possible or risk losing our jobs.”

“But this is unfair dismissal. I have done nothing wrong.” Alicia cried and sunk back into her chair.

 “I know my dear.” The elderly lady said.

 “I think sometimes she forgets she’s the head of PR and not HR. You are not the first to go through this here.” She explained. “Gwen has managed to get rid of any female nurse or doctor that worked closely with her fiancé and none of them has done anything about it for fear of being blacklisted in the industry.”

“So what I’m I supposed to do now?” Alicia asked.
“If I were you, I would start by asking Dr Chileshe why he’s been following you around in the shadows like a crazy stalker.” The supervisor suggested. 

Alicia gaped at her. “Following me around? What do you mean?”

Mrs Miti opened her drawer and took out a medium size envelope and handed it to her. “Gwen left that with me when she came in earlier. Said she had you and him followed.”

Alicia quickly opened the envelope and flipped through the pictures with utter shock registering all over her face. 

“What’s all this about? Why has Dr Chileshe been following me? I wasn’t even aware….”

“It’s very clear from those photos that you were not aware of his presence.” Mrs Miti agreed.
“But didn’t Ms Miyoba see that I had nothing to do with this?” Alicia said as she continued browsing through the pictures. 
“I think you are missing the point here Alicia,” the wise nurse said. “She is not firing you because she thinks you are sleeping with her man. She is getting rid of you simply because she can…and because she feels you are stealing her man’s attention away from her. Gwen hates competition, especially when it has to do with the good doctor.”
“I am sure that there is a plausible explanation as to why Dr Chileshe has been following me like this.” Alicia reasoned. “That man genuinely hates me. There is no way he can be romantically linked to me as everyone seems to suggest.”
“I believe you because I trust you.” Her supervisor said. “But not everyone here will so I suggest you sort things out with Dr Chileshe before they get out of control. I would hate to see your career ruined over something as groundless as this.” 
“So until I sort this thing out, should I consider myself fired?”
“As far as I know, I haven’t seen you today.” Mrs Miti whispered and Alicia immediately caught on and ran out of the room to Dr Chileshe’s office. 
“I am very busy, what do you want?” Were the first words Dr Chileshe said the moment Alicia entered his office. He immediately set his eyes back  on the monitor and busied himself with whatever was flashing on the computer,  completely ignoring the other human presence in the room. 
Being someone that always wavered under pressure and had no fighting spirit in her whatsoever, Alicia thought about exiting the room quietly without airing her grievances. 
Was this the same man that was following her around everywhere she went with that solemn expression on his face?  What was that all about? Just how many faces did the doctor have? Alicia wondered as she looked at the ambitious tight-faced young doctor. 
Unable to bear the cold reception anymore, Alicia turned to leave. 
“What is it?” She heard him ask from behind her, forcing her to come to an immediate stop.
Where do I even begin? Alicia silently lamented as she slowly turned to face him.
Kondwani Chileshe took a deep breath and sat up in his chair, bracing himself for whatever Alicia was about to unleash unto him.
“Sit.” he pointed to one of the two chairs in front of his desk.
Alicia reluctantly and nervously sat down, her eyes looking everywhere except at him. 
“You have something to talk to me about Ms…?”
“Ms Daka.” Alicia provided, her eyes casted down on her uniform dress. Now that she was seated in front of the doctor, she lost all the confidence she had had about confronting him over his stalking. 
There was something about Dr Chileshe that made anyone that stood before him feel inadequate and useless. At only thirty-five years, he was leading one of the best hospitals in the whole of Southern Africa. It was his billion dollar idea to form an alliance of local Zambian doctors of all specialities to work together under one roof and provide the best medical service the country had to offer instead of relying on foreign doctors. 
A very ambitious man that he was, Kondwani had singlehandedly campaigned for the establishment of such an ace hospital and managed to win over a number of doctors and financers to come on board. Both as a doctor and as a business man, Kondwani Chileshe was a force to be reckoned with. 
“Again, what do you want?” Kondwani made no effort to hide his irritation and impatience. 
“I was just called to the matron’s office and was told that I have been fired.” Alicia finally found her voice. 

For a split second, she thought she saw astonishment on Kondwani’s face but it was quickly replaced by an all-out nonchalant expression.

“Soo?” He asked, raising his shoulders in mocking wonder. “You were told when you came to this hospital that we only accept a certain quality of work and if you can’t reach that standard, you won’t make the cut.”
Alicia’s jaw dropped to the floor, unable to believe the director’s play at innocence. Yet still, her tongue refused to move. 
“Is that all?” Kondwani asked, ready to get back to whatever he had been working on before the interruption. 
Alicia felt helpless sitting before him like that. She finally gave way to the tears she had desperately been fighting back. Seeing her crying, Kondwani could not hide his feelings this time around. He pushed himself back in his seat, as if to keep a distance between them…like a man suddenly avoiding a bolt of lightning threatening to hit him.
This was the third time he had seen her cry, except this time, she was doing it right in front of him, fully aware of his presence. 
“Ahhhh…Nurse Daka….” Kondwani fumbled for a piece of tissue and handed it to her. 
“Why are you doing this to me?” Alicia had finally gathered the courage to look at him, her face soaked in tears. 
She refused to accept the paper napkin he was extending to her, instead, she kept looking at him with her tear-filled big eyes and for the first time since meeting him, she saw the ever confident doctor lower his gaze before someone.

 
Alicia opened the envelope in her hands and threw the contents down on Kondwani’s table. “Why are you following me around?” She asked.
Kondwani almost leapt from his seat. He picked up one photo after the other and starred at them in disbelief. “Where did you get these from?” He asked.
“Your girlfriend gave them to the Surgeon nurse in-charge and demanded that I get fired.” Alicia cried. “Do you think that I am some sort of spy? Why are you following me everywhere I go?”
“Spy?” Kondwani put the pictures together and laid them on the side. It took a few seconds for him to realise that Alicia had just thrown him a lifeline; she really had no idea what was going on and he was going to make sure things remained like that.
“I heard that you are very paranoid about the safety of your business interests but this is too much.” Alicia complained. “I haven’t done anything to make you think that I joined your hospital to spy on you.”
Indeed, it was no secret that the ZAD hospital was at the centre of political debates between the government in power and the opposition, each accusing the other of privately financing it for selfish gains despite it being a private enterprise.  As the hospital’s managing director, Kondwani was left to deal with the implications of all possibilities and suspicions. 
“Apologies for this turn of events Nurse Daka.” Kondwani said, quickly jumping on to the safety wagon. “It’s just that with the health reform debates currently going on, this hospital has found itself at the centre of it all. 
“I admit that my ways of investigating were unorthodox, however, I personally needed to make sure before deciding which five of the ten interns could be employed full time.”
“So I was not the only one you were following?” Alicia asked, looking about ready to heave a sigh of relief. 
Kondwani chuckled noisily. “Of course not!” He said. “What reason would I have to follow you around Ms Daka?”
Alicia finally let out her breath. “I knew that there was a plausible explanation for everything.” She said with a huge grin on her face. Alicia felt like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. 
“Can you talk to Ms Miyoba then?”
“She had no business involving herself in HR affairs,” Kondwani said under his breath, mostly to himself than to Alicia.

 Looking up at her, he added; “You can get back to work Nurse Daka, I will take care of things with Gwen. This was simply a misunderstanding. I hope I can trust you to not tell others about what I’ve been up to….” He was looking at her for a response. 
“If you promise to stop following me around, then I won’t tell the others to watch their backs.” Alicia said.
The ease with which she had accepted the veiled truths and the innocence in her eyes made Kondwani’s heart break in guilt. 
“I promise,” Kondwani replied. 
“Thank you doctor.” Alicia stood up to leave. “I have to go back to work now. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“Thanks, you too.” Kondwani said and fixed his eyes back on the computer before Alicia was even out of the room.

 
That morning when Alicia went back to work, she noticed something about her colleague’s attitudes that she had somehow misinterpreted before the events of that morning. She had thought that her outcast treatment was as a result of being the only one that had graduated from a ‘mediocre’ nursing school whereas the rest of them came from some sort of ivy-league school. 
However, it was now clear that they all thought she got the internship from fraternising with upper management; something she would have never imagined could be associated with her. 

 She heard the whispers in the locker rooms, in the bathroom, in the cafeteria and even in the hospital hallways. 

How could I not have suspected anything before?
Alicia asked herself as she passed a group of interns in the hallway that evening as she made her way out of the hospital. Just how could one simple incident concerning a high profile surgery be so blown out of proportion?
Once outside the hospital, Alicia shoved her headsets into her ears and headed for the bus top. She had no idea that Kondwani was watching her from his office on the fourth floor of the building.

 
“What are you staring at so intently?” 

Kondwani heard Gwen ask from behind him and quickly turned away from the window. Gwen walked over to the window to look downstairs just as Alicia was disappearing through the gate. 
“There’s nothing here to see.” The thirty year old head of Public Relations said. 
“What did you expect to find?” Kondwani asked as he sat behind his desk. “What are you doing here?” He asked irritably. 
“There you go again sounding like an ogre.” Gwen said as she walked over to where he was and plopped herself onto his desk, exposing a third of her very light-skinned thighs to him, her knees deliberately touching the side of his leg. 

“What’s going on with you these days?” she asked, slowly running her finger over the buttons of his dress shirt.
“We are at work Gwen, try to control yourself.” Kondwani said sternly, quickly turning his chair to put a distance between them. 
Unable to take his dismissive attitude any longer, Gwen finally snapped. “Are you still mad at me because I fired that girl?” 
“You see, right there is where the problem is,” Kondwani said. “You have no right to fire anyone in this place. Your job is simply to look pretty, sound intelligent and make this hospital look good.”
Gwen scoffed and stepped down from the table, her eyes glaring at him with the force of a hurricane behind them. “Is that you talking to me like that Kondwani? See what I meant when I said you’ve changed?”
“Not right now Gwen.” Kondwani pulled his computer towards him looking about ready to busy himself, hoping she would get the message and leave on her own. “I have a lot of work to do.” He added. 
“You’ve always had a lot of work to do from the time I met you.” Gwen said. “I already apologized for misunderstanding you and that intern so what’s the problem now?”
Kondwani sighed heavily and pushed his computer away from him in resignation. 

“I hate it when you constantly run around the hospital making everyone feel your weight as the daughter of the largest shareholder of this hospital. Your father might have put in his money but I am the one who puts in the work so don’t go about undermining my authority.”
“I wasn’t trying to undermine your authority Kondwani,” Gwen argued. 
“Then what were you trying to do?” Kondwani looked at her as he waited for her response, his eyebrows furrowed in deep contempt. 
“I was just….” Gwen shrugged her shoulders in search of the right words to say. “Well,” she said after a moment of scratching her head. “I guess you are right. I guess I was too busy letting my emotions run my brain that I ended up crossing the line, again.” 
She then leaned the whole upper part of her body towards him and flashing her long lashes at him she said; “How can I make it up to you and show you that I am truly sorry?”
Kondwani thought about her offer for a while, his head slightly pulled back away from her as he studied her face from under his partially shut eyelids. “Are you sure about asking me such an open ended question?”
Gwen chuckled. She had him back exactly where she wanted him to be. 

“Yes doctor, I am very serious.” She said in a very calm and calculated seductive tone, all the while working her hands on the buckle of his belt. 
“Woah,” she laughed as she felt him move under her hand. “I think I know exactly what I ought to do to appease the good doctor.”
Kondwani laughed. “I like that you are very perceptive my lady.”
“Your wish is my command monsieur.” Gwen said as she got down on her knees. She had just finished taking out his belt when her phone started to ring from the table where she had earlier placed it when she entered the office. 
“What does Doctor Kayombo want with you?” The call seemed to distract Kondwani from whatever Gwen was burnt on doing to him.
“Just ignore it babe,” Gwen said dismissively. “It’s nothing important.” She added and went back to the business at hand. 
A bundle of mixed emotions, Kondwani tried to concentrate on Gwen’s ministrations down his trousers but the phone wouldn’t stop ringing. He reached out towards it and was about to grab it when Gwen suddenly came up and grabbed it. She switched it off and immediately went back on her knees without uttering a word a single word. 
In just a few seconds, Gwen had succeeded in getting Kondwani to forget about the disturbing call. 
**** 

The house was disturbingly quite when Alicia got home compared the noise she usually found every time she came home from work in the evenings. It appeared her two younger siblings; ten year old David and seven year old Mphatso were not around to ceremoniously welcome her home. 
Alicia took off her sneakers at the door and called out for her younger sister and mother. “Mum! Belinda!” she shouted. “Is anyone home?”
“In the bedroom!” Belinda’s voice came through the living room. Alicia followed the sound of her sister’s voice and found herself in her bedroom. 
“Where’s everyone?” Alicia asked from the door where she was standing.
“You mean everyone or just your two cheerleaders?” Belinda refused to take her eyes off the latest Game of Thrones novel Alicia had gotten her for her birthday. 
“Yes, where are they?” Alicia said. “And where’s mum and dad?”
“Arrrrrrhhhhh!” Belinda suddenly yelled out in frustration at being rudely interrupted from the world she had deeply immersed herself in for the past four straight hours. She lowered the book down and answered her older sister between clenched teeth, angrily stressing every word that fell from her lips.
“There’s some. Event. Going. On. At. Church. This. Evening. Mum. Dragged. Everyone. There.”
Alicia couldn’t help laughing, remembering a time in the past when she herself would hate to be disturbed when reading the Princess Dairies series or the Lord of the Rings collection. 
“I almost got fired at work today,” Alicia said. “Don’t you want to hear my sob story?” She made a face and pretended to be crying. 
The twenty-two year old siting in her bed protested for a few seconds but quickly gave in and patted the side of the bed for her sister to sit down. Alicia smiled and rushed to take position on the bed before her young sister changed her mind. 
“Just keep in mind that I have another world to attend to so try as much as possible to cut the long story short.” Belinda warned. 
“Yes ma’am.” Alicia laughed and started telling her story as briefly as commanded. 
“So you didn’t even confront the bitch after everything that she put you through?” Belinda said once Alicia had finished telling her story. 
Alicia quicly covered her young sister’s mouth with her hand. “Language Linda,” she cautioned her. “What if the kids walk in here?”
Belinda quickly pushed away the hand. “Don’t try to change the topic here Lee, I know you. you probably just let everyone at work walk all over you while you hide in some corner and cry alone. I understand you are a Christian and all but you know that there’s a difference between being kind and downright foolish right?”
“I can’t believe my own baby sister is calling me foolish.” The twenty-eight year old nurse sulked. 
“That’s because you insist on letting everyone around you walk all over you!” Belinda yelled. “Since you refuse to stand up for yourself, it’s my job as your sister to protect you. Tell me the names of all those bullying you at work?” She reached over to her bedside table and grabbed the writing pad and pen there, ready to take down names.
Alicia grabbed them from her and put them behind her. “I give you names so you can write them long stinkers and post  weird stuff on their Facebook walls?”
“Glad you know the drill.” Belinda said, trying to reach for the writing pad again. Alicia moved back and sat on the writing pad. 
“There’s no need for that sis.” Alicia said. “It’s not something I can’t take care of on my own. let them talk all they want. My conscience is clean.”
“Just cause your conscience is clean does not mean that you will be saved from the mental torture and pain that comes from that kind of gossip. You’ve already been through so much in life. you don’t deserve such unfair treatment from people that don’t even know who you really are.”
“That’s the thing,” Alicia said. “They can talk like that about me because they don’t know who I am. Eventually, they will get to know me and everything will be cleared.”
“Just like how mum still thinks you are the one who stole that money from seven years ago?” Belinda asked. 
“That’s all in the past Linda.” 
“Not for mum.” Belinda argued. 

“Sometimes I wish I could tell her to stop treating me the way she does and give all that love to you. I think she has already proved her love for dad so there’s no need for her to keep treating her own child like a step-daughter.”
“How did the topic change to this one?” Alicia asked, getting off the bed to avoid the rest of the ensuing conversation. 
“Your birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. Have you told her what you want her to get for you?” Belinda asked. 
Alicia chuckled nervously. “I am twenty eight years old sweetie; I am way passed the age of crying for present from my parents.” 
“I honestly think that dad is to blame for how mum treats you.” Belinda said.
“What do you mean?” Alicia asked.
“He should have asked her to treat her own child the way she treats his instead of the other way round. Sometimes I wish that I was her real daughter instead of her step daughter because I feel like I stole your mother from you.”
“Don’t start with this talk again Linda.” Alicia said. “Our parents have been married for over ten years now, I am over it. You should too. I need to go to my room and prepare for tomorrow’s test.”
“They are testing you again?” Belinda asked. 
Alicia laughed. “Every week.” She said. 
“Will they hire you to be doctors or nurses? What’s all the fuss about?”
“It’s the best hospital in the country sis so obviously they have standards to uphold. Get back to Winterfell and pass my regards to the Starks.”
Belinda picked up her book and with a huge grin on her face she said; “I will my sister, I will send your love along to all the walls of this lovely world of mine.”
Alicia laughed and closed the door behind her. 

Alone in her room, Alicia sat on her bed and picked up a picture frame holding a photo of her and her mother which had been taken a year after her father had died. Alicia held the frame to her heart, reminiscing about a time in the far gone past when she was closest to her mother. Who would have known back then looking at them smiling for the camera man in excitement that her world was about to change forever…and that that hug would be the last intimate moment she would ever get to share with her mother?

Henrietta Sakala’s second marriage after the demise of her first husband had brought with it a new daughter in their lives and later two boys. In a strange twist of events, Alicia had found herself the only outsider in the new family of seven as her mother laboured to prove to her new well-to-do husband that she was good enough for him.
Henrietta’s dedication to her husband came at the cost of her affection to her own child, her insecurities constantly forcing her to pamper her new step-daughter with more love than needed all so she could be accepted by father and daughter. Before Henrietta knew it, she gained a whole new family and lost the old one. 
Tears ran down Alicia’s face when she opened her eyes and awakened from her reverie. She placed the picture frame back onto the bedside table and in the process brushed her hand against the frame next to it. 
On it was a picture of a good looking man who appeared to be in his late twenties; dressed in a slim-fitting charcoal grey suit, brown eyes, a clean shaven head and a smile to brighten the darkest of days.
Alicia found herself smiling back at him as she slowly picked up the picture frame. 
“How can you still smile like this Nicolas?” She asked the man in the photo, a bittersweet smile playing on her face. 

“Do you want to hear your son’s voice?” Alicia asked him. 
She picked up her phone and speed-dialled the first number. She was about to give up on the call when someone finally picked up.
“Mum,” Alicia said, sitting up straight on the bed. 
“It’s very late Alicia,” the woman on the other end of the line said sternly. 

“Buseko is sleeping already.”
Alicia looked up at the clock on the wall. It was only three minutes passed 7pm. “I am sorry I called so late amai…I…I…thought…I…I just wanted to hear Bubu’s voice before he goes to bed.”
“I told you, he’s sleeping already.” The woman answered angrily. 
Alicia could hear a child laughing in the background. She knew without doubt it was her son. There was no way she could fail to recognize the sound of her own child’s laughter. And yet, she could not say a thing to the mother of the man she once loved with all her breath. She had full custody of her grandchild and she had the right to choose who spoke to him or not, even if the person requesting to speak to him was his own mother.  
“I am sorry –“
Belinda barged in through the door and grabbed the phone from her. “I knew this would happen.” She said as she raised the phone to her ear. “Aunty, I can hear Bubu laughing in the background, give him the phone.”
“Who’s this?” the woman asked.
“This is Alicia’s sister, Belinda. Why don’t you want your grandson to talk to his mother? Isn’t it enough that my parents allowed you to keep him instead of his mother?” Alicia tried to grab the phone from her but Belinda moved back to avoid her. 
“You are also a woman and a mother,” Belinda continued. “Don’t treat Alicia like this. You have daughters too, how would you feel if their husbands died and their mother in-laws blamed them for such bad luck?”
“God forbid!” The woman said. 
“So you even know God ka,” Belinda said sarcastically. “Then you and Alicia should start getting along now. It seems you both have the same father. Now put my nephew on the phone before I put a curse on your family.”
“Bubu.”
Belinda laughed silently when she heard the woman call out for her grandson. 

“Thank me later.” She said as she handed Alicia back the phone and left the room.
“Mummy, is that you?” Alicia heard her five year old call out to her and she put the phone to her ear.
“Yes baby, it’s me. It’s your mother.” She said. “I miss you so much.”
“I miss you too! When are you coming to pick me?” the boy asked excitedly. 
“I will come on Sunday my love. Did you go to school today?”
“Yes!” 
“What did you learn?” 
“We didn’t learn anything.”
“You didn’t learn anything? Why?”
“Because Teacher Mary wanted us to draw the sun and the moon.”
Alicia laughed, her eyes filled with tears.

Kondwani parked his Benz in front of his mother’s house and found his family camped in the living room watching the news on Muvi Tv. His mother stood up from the sofa and ran to him the moment she spotted him on the door. 
“My son,” she said, pride written all over his face.
“We need to talk mum.” Kondwani said, a grave expression on his face. 
His mother’s smile quickly faded. 
“Is everything okay bro?” Kondwani’s younger sister asked from where she was seated. 
“Yes Chilu,” he answered. “I just need to talk to mum about a private matter.”
The twenty-five year old nodded. 

“Okay,” she said. “I also want to talk to you about my tuition fees.”
“I know.” Kondwani said before leaving the room.
“What is it son?” Claudia Chileshe asked the moment the two of them were outside. 
Kondwani slowly took in the image of his mother before him. She was a total contrast of the woman she used to be ten years ago when life was nothing but a struggle for them. She now had a rich glow about her…as if everything in her life had finally fallen into place. 
How could he live with himself if he took this world of happiness she had created for herself and shuttered it into tiny pieces? 

Mother, I met the fiancé of the man we killed in that road accident?
The words were right at the tip of his tongue. 
“Kondwani,” his mother said. “You are now scaring me. What is the matter? Did something happen at work? Are those politicians still giving you problems?”
Kondwani laughed nervously. “It’s nothing like that mother. I just had a fight with Gwen and you were the only person I thought of going to to vent out my frustrations.” 
“What are you guys fighting about?” Claudia asked, her muscles instantly relaxing. 
“I think that….no, not I think.” Kondwani quickly corrected himself. “She is sleeping with someone else.”

“What?” His mother asked. 
“A doctor, my junior at work.” Kondwani said. 
“Ummm, how sure are you son?” Claudia said. “Isn’t this just one of those episodes of you being paranoid and overthinking everything?”
“I wish that were the case mother.”
“Then get what you need from her and get rid of her.” His mother advised, unflinching and unapologetic in her delivery.
Kondwani starred at his mother in incredulity.  

A Twisted Fate – Part 10

(Note: This part is still in draft form…to be edited later.)

On the way to the TV station, Natasha kept calling her mother but the phone kept ringing and ringing.

“She’s still not answering?” Tulani asked.

“No,” Natasha said, looking extremely worried.

“Try your dad.” Tulani suggested.

Natasha called her father and he answered after the forth ring. “Baby, where are you?” He sounded almost out of breath.

“Dad, is everything okay? Where’s mum? I’ve been trying to reach her for a while now.”

“Oooh…your mother…she is…she is…she should be sleeping I think.” Bernard stammered through the lie as he looked down at his wife’s sleeping figure on the couch. Having suffered through many episodes of panic attacks in the past, Bernard had learnt to keep Martha’s meds close by in case of such emergencies.

“She had a slight headache so she’s sleeping it off now.” Bernard said, not wanting to tell his daughter the truth because she would automatically start asking about what caused the attack and insist of coming home instead of going to work.

“Is it very serious?” Natasha asked.

“No, not at all. I think it’s just the heat; she still hasn’t adjusted to the change in weather. Where are you right now?”

“Tulani is driving me to work dad,” she answered, suddenly remembering why she had called in the first place. Her excitement quickly returned. “You won’t believe what happened dad! I have been given the chance to host the biggest program at work today.”

Bernard nervously laughed. “That’s good news baby. Your mother and I are very proud of you.” It was all he could tell her. Soon or later she was going to find out the truth about her father and there was nothing they could do as her parents to keep that from happening.

Instead of shielding her from the pain that the truth might bring her, Bernard reasoned that it would be better if she met her father now and draw her own conclusions based on what she sees. He trusted that the daughter he had raised all these years would be wise and strong enough to deal with such a shocking truth.

Silently, Bernard prayed for everything to be okay.

“Give mum a kiss for me and don’t forget to watch the show! Will call later to check how mum’s doing. Love you, bye dad.”

“What’s wrong with mum?” Tulani asked the moment she was done on the phone.

“She has her usual migraines,” Natasha said. “She’s been getting those since we moved here. I think she’s having trouble readjusting to the weather.”

“We will go straight home once the program is done. What does she like to eat?”

Natasha gave him a look.

“What?” Tulani asked innocently. “She’s also my mother too so what’s wrong with me caring about her?”

“I didn’t say anything,” Natasha laughed.

“Your eyes were loud enough My Lady.”

Natasha continued chuckling.

Despite it being a Sunday, Tulani Media House was a hype of activity as employees readied themselves for the biggest program of the month. With only an hour to go, Natasha went over her lines in Richard’s office for the last time.

“Mr Kaponda is on his way Tasha,” Mr Chanda announced from the door.

She immediately stopped pacing and gaped at her boss in excitement. “How long?”

Mr Chanda laughed. “Thirty minutes.”

“Great!” She said with one hand tied into a fist to warm up her fighting spirit. “I got this.”

“Yes you got this,” Mr Chanda echoed her words with a reassuring smile. “Finish up and head upstairs.”

“Yes boss.” Natasha answered enthusiastically.

The DoP laughed nervously, feeling extremely uncomfortable to have the soon-to-be wife of TMH’s successor enthusiastically refer to him as boss. Given his previous experiences at the hands of Luyando when she was a Mulenga, Mr Chanda had expected the worst from the mother of TMH’s heir. Fortunately, Natasha’s humility was too overwhelming it seemed to catch him off guard every single time.

By the time they reached the station, Nataniel Kaponda had given up trying to reach Martha whose phone was now off. He was led up to the studio blindly, unable to imagine what possibilities that laid ahead. Ever since Marth had told him about Natasha, he had gathered enough information about her to form some kind of composition as to what kind of person she was.

However, the question that haunted him the most was; would he be able to hold himself together in the face of moving vivid reminder of the biggest sin he had ever committed?

Nataniel found the answer ten minutes later when Natasha walked into his designated dressing room where he was having his make-up done with a huge smile on her face. Shaking in his boots, Nataniel stood up from the chair unannounced and surprised the make-up artist whose powder contents went spilling all over the floor…and on Nataniel too.

“I am so sorry,” the nervous wrecked man bent down to pick up the small powder container but Natasha was on it before he could reach it.

“Woah,” Natasha said as she handed it to the trepid artist who appeared about ready to cry, fearing her job might be in danger over the mistake which had not been of her doing. “I had no idea even politicians get nervous.” She laughed and extended her hand over to him.

Patricia, the make-up artist was beside herself now, stifling her sobs upon noticing the large mark of make-up on Mr Kaponda’s trousers. She had just spilled powder on the president of PfP! The man might be the opposition leader but there was no doubt he would be the country’s president in just a few weeks.

“Oh believe me when I tell you that even the most confident of men suffer a bout of nervousness every now and then.” He said as he shook her hand. Just then, a sob escaped Patricia’s tightly closed lips and the two turned to look at her.

“Patricia?” Natasha quickly went over to her, unknowingly giving Nataniel time to compose himself. “Look at you, you are shaking!” She put her arm over her shoulder to help calm her down. “I honestly don’t think Mr Kaponda blames you for the accident.” She was looking at him for affirmation.

“Oh no, not at all.” Nataniel quickly chipped in, rubbing the dirt away. “Just a little rub…and it’s all gone!”

“Good thing it doesn’t stick!” Natasha said, shaking Patricia by her shoulders. “See,” she pointed to where the stain had been. “It’s all gone, relax.”

“I am sorry….” The twenty-six year old make-up artist cried.

“Patricia, you are going to make our guest uncomfortable if you continue acting like this.” Natasha admonished her. “He already said its okay, and the mark is gone so pull yourself together. Do you think you will be able to finish in this state?”

Patricia nodded profusely.

Nataniel Kaponda silently thanked the nervous make-up artist for making the first meeting with his daughter less awkward and less stressful for him…even though it was at her expense. The little mishap had given him time to compose himself and think about what to say now that the ice was broken.

“Can you give us a few seconds to talk in private Ms Patricia?” Nataniel asked. “Oh no, I just need to go over a few things with Ms Chimeko before the interview starts.” He added upon seeing the look of dismay on the young lady’s face.

Nodding, Patricia left the room.

“Is there anything that concerns you about the interview?” Natasha asked the politician. “Please, sit,” she pointed to the chair he to his chair while she sat down on the other one meant for the make-up artists.

Mr Kaponda pulled his chair and sat down, facing her. “Not at all,” he answered. “I just make it a habit to create some kind of rapport with the interviewer before sitting in front of all those cameras.”

“You mean to make us friends so that I don’t ask grilling questions later?” she laughed.

Laughing too, Nataniel said; “Well, partly, yes.” He admitted. “But this time I genuinely want to get to know you a bit. I don’t know if you’ve heard, your future father in-law and I are quite close.”

“Oh yes, Tulani…I mean Mr Mulenga told me and of course I came across that fact as I was going through your information in readiness for this interview.”

“I have met your husband…I hope you don’t mind me addressing him as such…considering the two of you already have a child together….”

Natasha laughed.

“I knew him since he was a young boy. His father and I met by chance but we became close since, enough to consider each other family.”

“Where are you going with all this Mr Kaponda?” Natasha asked, smelling a motive in the air.

Mr Kaponda chuckled. “You are as intelligent as she said you were.”

“Who said?” Natasha asked.

He immediately realized his mistake the moment she asked the question.

“Oh, I meant my wife,” he lied. “She is a fan of yours. She heard you would be the one conducting the interview and she told me a little about you. She loves your accent.”

Natasha blushed. “Ooh, thanks…tell her I said thanks. It’s flattering to know that the First Lady is a fan.”

Mr Kaponda busted out laughing. “Except she isn’t the First Lady! I don’t want to jump the gun and start making assumptions. If there’s one thing I have learnt about elections in this country, it is that the actual results are always unpredictable; it’s anybody’s game.”

“You are very humble Sir, it’s a rare trait to see…in politics.”

“You flatter me Ms Chimeko,” he said.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” she reminded him. “Why are you trying to get close to me? It can’t be because of the interview, I have seen you take on giants before without breaking a sweat so a political amateur like me wouldn’t faze you in the slightest.”

Nataniel Kaponda laughed heartily. “You truly are bold, perhaps even more than all those giants I’ve faced in the past. I like you Ms Chimeko. You remind me so much of….” he let the sentence trail the moment he realised he was about to make a second mistake.

“You mean my mother?” Natasha asked, closely watching his frazzled demeanour. Mr Kaponda almost choked from the shock of her question. She quickly handed him a bottle of mineral water that had been left on the side of the dressing table for him.

Natasha’s question had the exact desired effect she had hoped it would three hours ago when she decided to test a crazy theory that had popped into her mind upon closely examining Mr Kaponda’s perfect family portrait. The dots seemed to connect a little too perfectly for coincidence.

“Your mother?” Nataniel stammered.

“You are my biological father, aren’t you?” She went straight for the jugular, again catching Mr Kaponda by surprise.

“Natasha….”

Hearing her name fall out of his mouth in that manner confirmed Natasha’s suspicions. “Oh dear,” she said, getting up from the chair and putting her hand on her forehead. “No, no, no…I have to be wrong…I can’t be right.” She was desperately trying to fight off the tears but they came pouring.

Mr Kaponda did the only thing he could do in that situation; try to reach out for her hand but Natasha pulled away from him, a repugnant expression on her face as she shook her head in disbelief.

“What did you do to my mother?” she asked.

Just then, Tulani and Mr Chanda appeared through the door.

“Babe!” Tulani immediately noticed her state and ran over to her.

“I’m fine.” Natasha said forcefully, turning her back to him to wipe away her tears but it was too late, they had already seen them.

“Is everything alright Sir?” Mr Chanda asked Nataniel.

“I –“

“Everything is fine,” Natasha interrupted the politician. With her face cleaned dry, she turned to face everyone. “I am fine,” she said to Tulani who had his arm around her waist and starring at her intently before giving Mr Kaponda an accusing look.

“What happened uncle?” Tulani asked Mr Kaponda. Due to the nature of the relationship with his parents, the Mulenga children referred to the Kaponda couple as Uncle and Auntie just like the Kaponda girls did to his parents.

“He just said something that made me tear up a little…it wasn’t anything bad.” Natasha assured the two men looking at them quizzically. “I just got emotional a little, I’m totally fine.”

“You sure?” Tulani was still not fully convinced.

Natasha feigned a laugh. “Of course I’m sure!” she said. “I’m going to my dressing room to fix my make-up while Mr Kaponda finishes his as well. We don’t have much time left to broadcast.”

“Okay, I will walk you there. Ba Chanda, find Patricia and ask her to finish up her work here.”

Yes boss,” Mr Chanda said and walked ahead of them out of the room.

“See you on the other side Mr Kaponda,” Natasha said before leaving the room, trying to sound as natural as possible.

Nataniel Kaponda hung his head in shame, unable to find the right words to say.

Alone in her dressing room, Tulani grilled Natasha for answers.

“Let’s talk about it when the program is over baby,” she kept telling him. “I am really fine, I promise.”

“I don’t believe you but I will wait till the interview is over.” He said and kissed her on the forehead.
When the time finally came, Natasha carried herself like a pro, only slightly flinching in her chair when time to ask about Nataniel Kaponda’s family came. She blinked copiously, looked down on her writing pad for a second too long before gathering her wits together and asking;

“One of your strengths as a politician has always been your family…you have been devoted to the same woman for over twenty years and…and together…you have two lovely daughters.

“Tell me…tell the millions of viewers watching us right now how you’ve successfully managed to keep such a tight neat family despite your demanding life as a politician?”

It was at that point that Martha and Bernard who had been following the program closely at home knew that their daughter had discovered the truth in that short time. Imagining the sort of conversation she was going to have with her when she returned home, Martha broke down in tears.

Nataniel too shifted nervously in his seat and tried to smile to musk the shame and fear. “That’s a very good question Natasha,” he said. “And the answer I’m going to give you is the same answer I’ve always given people that ask me that question; indeed I have been blessed with a tight neat family however, we are far from perfect.

“Just like families out there, we have our own issues that we try to work out as they come. My career as a politician, having served many years as a Minister of Agriculture and also as the Secretary for the opposition party PfP, life is indeed demanding and time expensive.

“I am going to be honest with you, I am still trying to figure out how to find a balance between my family and my career…I am not sure if there is even such a thing!” he laughed. “Nevertheless, my family is my life so I always strive to be there for them and to be the best husband and father I can be; it’s every man’s responsibility.”

“A very diplomatic response, thank you very much Sir.” Natasha said, feigning a smile for the umpteenth time during the interview.

“I think I should add something though,” Mr Kaponda added before Natasha could chip in the next question. “I think its public knowledge that before I married my wife, I led a very questionable life as a young man. There was a very brief period in my life when my life fell apart.

“Back then as youngsters, our answer to every problem was alcohol and, I am not trying to make excuses here but, I made a lot of mistakes back then…bad decisions that I am not proud of. I turned my life around since and I have learnt from all my mistakes. I think that honestly, that’s why I am able to be a good husband and father.

“All I ask the public is that they give me a chance to contribute on a larger scale to the growth of our beautiful nation, for a new start, for much needed change, and for prosperity.”

A politician indeed you are, Natasha thought as she silently mulled over how calculatingly well he had survived her question.
“Can we talk in private?” Nataniel asked Natasha the moment the interview was over.

She waited for the crew to take away their microphones before leaning in towards him and whispering; “For what, so you can talk your way out of your mistakes? Never gonna happen.”

Tulani was beside her in that moment, watching the two closely and suspiciously. “Thank you for coming all the way uncle,” he shook the man’s hand.

“It was an honour for me to be here son,” he replied. “Besides, it’s the least I could do considering how much I owe your family. You have a very beautiful and intelligent woman here Tulani,” he was looking at Natasha who couldn’t seem to hide her look of disdain any longer. “Take care of her and cherish her the way you would want your own daughter to be cherished by her man.”

“Thank you uncle, I intend to do exactly that.” Tulani said most confidently.

“We should get going now Tula, it’s getting late.” Natasha quickly forced the conversation to an abrupt end. Turning to Mr Kaponda she said; “Thank you for answering all my questions despite my inadequacies in the field of politics. I hope we will have the pleasure of seeing you here again soon after you win the elections.”

“You flatter me Natasha,” he answered reservedly. “Win or lose, I will always have time for you…for TMH.”

“Of course.” She said between clenched teeth before turning to leave.

Tulani closed the windows and locked the doors of his car the moment they were inside and gave Natasha his full attention.

“Aren’t you starting the car?” Natasha asked.

In response, Tulani crossed his arms over his chest defiantly. “We are not going anywhere until you tell what happened between you and my uncle. I know that politicians have their own shade of darkness…did he try something….”

“Hell no!” Natasha yelled before he could even finish his sentence. “It’s nothing like that.” She laughed.

“Then why were you crying?”

“It turns out that man is my father.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“How….” Tulani started to ask.

“That’s a question I don’t ever want answered, ever.” Natasha said sternly.

“But, don’t you want to – “

“I don’t remember much of my childhood but there’s one thing that’s stayed on my mind; my mother’s fears…her panic attacks, the nightmares…and dad telling her that man would never hurt her again. I always wondered who the man was…until today when mum suddenly got sick right before I gave her the news of my interview.

“At first I didn’t make much of it…but then I saw a picture of Mr Kaponda and his family. Those two girls look like me; their eyes, their noses, even their foreheads…it’s all me. After that, everything else fell into place.

“I recalled my mother’s reaction every single time the name Nataniel Kaponda was mentioned on the news in the past few months; her mood would drastically change and she would refuse to eat anything for days. It all made sense today.”

“Baby….” Tulani drew her into his arms and she broke down in tears right away.

“I think I know the truth…about what happened,” Natasha said in-between sobs. “But if I ask, it will all become real. I don’t want to know what really happened Tula.”

“Ooh my love….” Tulani tightened his arms around her. He let her cry for a while before finally driving her home.

“Are you sure you are going to be okay in there?” He asked her once they were parked outside her home. “I am sure your parent’s are waiting in there ready for you to fire away.”

“I know.” Natasha took a deep breath, kissed him goodnight and stepped out of the vehicle.

Tulani made sure she was safely inside before driving off. Before opening the door, Natasha turned to wave at him for the last time.

As expected, she found her parents in the living room looking like a pair of wet puppies. Bernard stood up the moment the door opened and ran over to her, his eyes heavy with emotion.

“Woah, did someone die in here?” Natasha asked loudly, a huge grin on her face as she gave her father a hug. “I expected to find a lot of food laid out on the table with loud music playing waiting for me to arrive and celebrate my achievement today.”

Bernard and Martha gave each other knowing looks. They knew exactly what route Natasha had chosen to take. They had considered two possibilities; either she bombards them with questions or she plays it cool, acting like nothing ever happened. She had obviously gone for the latter.

Martha stood up and went to give her daughter a hug, tears streaming down her face. “I am so proud of you baby,” she said. “Thank you for making me so proud…and sorry I couldn’t take your call earlier….”

Natasha fought back her tears. She understood very well what her mother was apologizing for. “I know mum, I know.” She said, her arms still around her.

“Okay, enough hugging!” Bernard clapped his hands and the two women separated. “To celebrate, I prepared your favourite Tasha, and something extra special.”

“Uuuuu, I’m excited!” She said and right away headed towards the kitchen. She avoided looking at both of them as she left the room. Bernard went to put his arm over his wife’s shoulder and led her to the kitchen.

That night Natasha went to bed early. She took a sleeping pill and slept the night away.

She never asked her mother any questions concerning Nataniel Kaponda, not that day…or any other day.

* * *

The following morning, Martha was excited to prepare Sean for his first day at pre-school while his mother prepared for work.

“Why didn’t you wake me up mum?” Natasha asked her mother when she went down into the kitchen to grab a sandwich.

“You had a tough day at work yesterday, I wanted you to rest a bit, you deserve it.” Martha answered whilst feeding her grandson.

Natasha spotted her well packaged breakfast on the table and put it straight into her bag. She bent down to give her son a big kiss on one cheek. “I really wanted to see him attend his first class here in Zambia.” She lamented to her mother.

“I will record everything so you don’t have to worry about a thing.” Her mother promised.

Natasha ran over to her side and gave her a hug. “Did I ever tell you that you are the best mother in the world?”

Martha chuckled. “Not as many times as I would love to hear.”

“Then you will be hearing it every day from now on!” her daughter said.

“And what about me?” Ben appeared in the kitchen. Natasha ran over to him as well and wrapped her arms around him. “You too dad, you are the best dad in the whole world! I love you,” she kissed him on the cheek and started running out of the room. “Send me the teacher’s number when you get it mum!” She shouted.

“Do you think she’s going to be alright?” Bernard asked his wife.

“She’s our daughter.” Martha said proudly. “An angel,” she added. “God always protects his own.”
An hour later, Martha led little Sean to his first class, all the while recording everything around them as well as Sean’s excitement as they walked towards the school’s administrative block. Having expected him to cry for her for leaving him behind, Martha was surprised to notice that Sean appeared comfortable in his new strange environment and seemed to be getting along well with the boys around him.

Something about his charming smile reminded her of his father Tulani, that evening outside her home in the US when he dropped off Natasha. The two of them had no idea she was watching them. Martha remembered seeing the smile on Tulani’s face and could tell he had fallen in-love with her daughter.

“I bet Tulani was exactly like that when he was that age, a real charmer.” Martha laughed to herself as she recorded Sean from the door. Once she was sure she had gotten enough for the mother, she waved to the teacher and closed the door.

She was just about to step inside her car when something made the hairs at the back of her neck stand up. Martha quickly turned around and scanned the area in sight. Apart from the empty cars in the parking lot, there was nobody else in sight. Shaking her head, she turned and got into the car.
Five hours later, Martha received a call from Sean’s teacher Ms Moyo and instantly regretted having ignored that feeling earlier that day.

“What do you mean someone picked up my grandson?” Martha asked.

Bernard entered the bedroom right at that moment.

“A lady, she said she was the boy’s aunt.” Ms Moyo was saying.

“His aunt?” Martha asked, quickly putting on some shoes and ready to bolt out of the house. Ben followed her downstairs.

“Did something happen to Sean?” He asked her as they ran down the stairs.

Martha stopped to look at her husband. “Someone took him honey. Someone took our boy.”

“What do you…give me that.” He took the phone from her. “Afternoon, this is Mr Chimeko, Sean’s grandfather. Who did you say took my grandson? Couldn’t there be some sort of mix-up? We never sent anyone to pick him up. My wife was just about to head over there right now. Isn’t he supposed to knock off at 2?”

“Yes Sir, that’s right.” The young teacher answered. “However, the lady that came to pick him up said that there was a family emergency and she was sent to collect Sean. She seemed to know a lot about your family…and I happened to know who she was since I’ve seen her in the papers and on TV before. Your grandson even referred to her by name, called her his aunt.”

“Oh dear God.” Ben said, giving his wife a desperate look. “You have the keys?” He asked her.

Martha nodded. “What’s wrong? Has she told you who took him?”

“You won’t believe this,” Bernard said. “Luyando, she’s the one that took him.”

Martha’s heart sunk, her knees almost gave way but Ben held her in time. “Give me the keys,” he told her as he led her to the couch. “I will find Luyando and get back Sean safely.”

Martha snapped her arms and pushed him away. “And you want me to just sit here and wait? I’m coming with you Bernard Chimeko and you better pray that that woman doesn’t harm my grandson or I swear to God I will wring her neck with my bare hands.”

“I would do that to her myself before I let you get your hands dirty.” Bernard said. “Let’s go then.” He grabbed her hand and ran out of the house with her.

“Call Natasha right away.” Bernard instructed his wife as he drove them to Luyando’s new house. “Let her and Tulani think of other places she might have taken him just in case we don’t find her at home.”

“Shouldn’t we also call the police?” Martha asked.

Bernard hesitated to answer.

“What if she intends to take out her anger on him honey?” Martha tried to reason with him. “I understand she is your daughter but you of all people know better than anyone that she needs help. Luyando is not in her right mind.”

“I know, Call them.” He conceded. “And call his other grandparents as well. We need all the help we can get right now.”

Martha punched 911 on her phone but hesitated to press the call button, the defeated look on her husband’s face giving her pause. “Let’s look for them first,” she said and put her phone number. “If we don’t find them in the next hour or two, then we can call the police.”

Bernard heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank you honey.” He said.

“Thank me when we find Sean well and safe.” She said, picking up her phone again to call Natasha. Just like she had feared, Natasha was beside herself the moment she heard Luyando had taken her son.

She ran out of her office and headed straight to the boardroom where she knew Tulani was having a board meeting, leaving a trail of wide-eyed people staring after her. She was sobbing and panting when she busted through the doors of the boardroom.

“She has taken my son,” were the words Natasha whispered before falling to the ground in shock. Her adrenaline had finally caught up with her.

Tulani ran over to her and gently picked up her limp body from the floor, all the while calling out her name in despair as the other joined him in lifting her up and carrying her to the nearest chair.

“Luyando has taken Sean.” Natasha said almost in a whisper as tears rolled down her eyes. She tried to stand up from the chair but Tulani held her down. “Everyone leave,” he told the room. “We will continue this meeting another time. Baby,” he turned back to her while the others were walking out.

“We need to go,” she tried to get up again.

“I know,” Tulani said, desperately trying to control his rage and be the pillar she could lean on. He didn’t need to ask her more questions to know what was going on. He knew very well what Luyando was capable of. He just didn’t know how far she would go to get her way.

“I want you to try and catch your breath for now. I need you to breathe in and out…take deep breaths and we will walk out of here to look for Sean. He is going to be just fine baby.”

Natasha did as she was told and the two of them were out of there in no time.

“Where are we going?” Natasha asked Tulani on the drive out of TMH.

Before he could answer, Tulani’s phone rang. “That’s dad, I’m sure your parents have told them. Pick up the call for me, phone’s in my side pocket.”

Natasha took out the phone and answered.

“It’s me Mr Mulenga,” Natasha announced herself immediately. “Tulani is driving right now.”

“Your mother called us about Sean, where are you going to look? Tell Tulani to head to the Chongwe house, his mother says Luyando never returned the keys to that house. She might have gone there with the boy.”

“He says we head to Chongwe,” Natasha told Tulani.

“I know, that’s where we are going.” Tulani said.

“That’s where we are going Sir.” She relayed the message.

“Good.” Mr Mulenga said. “Ayanda and I were look at some lodges Luyando loved to frequent. Sean is going to be okay Natasha.” Joshua reassured his daughter in-law. “Luyando might be crazy, but she is not downright evil. She wouldn’t harm a child.”

She slashed herself when she was a kid! Natasha thought. God knows what she is doing to my son right now. As the thought crossed her mind, the tears started rolling again.

“Thank you Mr Mulenga.” She said and cut the line.

Tulani reached over to her and grasped her hand. “He is going to be just fine Tasha.” He said. He needed to believe those words as much as he needed her to.

 

Standing in the middle of the living room and looking down at the four year old boy smiling up at her with his big brown innocent eyes, Luyando felt like she had finally reached her breaking point.

“Are you mad at me aunty?” Sean asked her.

Luyando blinked away her tears. “Why do you ask that?”

“Because you don’t look so happy.” He answered.

“Why do you think I don’t look happy?”

“Because you are sad.” The four year old answered. “Mummy said you are sick. She said you need love only. What did she mean?”

Luyando’s fight against her tears intensified. “Your mother, she said that?”

“Um,” the boy nodded. “Grandma, granddad, mummy too, they always hug me and tell me they love me. Do you want me to give you a hug Auntie Yando?”

Luyando cried, finally.

“Why are you crying Auntie Yando?” Sean asked.

Luyando had spent the last hour listening to the boy talk like there was no danger lurking before him. Not once had he looked at her and cried in fear. He had not even asked about his parents, trusting that he was safe in the hands of the woman he believed to be her aunt.

She did not even have a plan. She had just woken up one day and decided that the best way to punish the woman that had taken everything from her was to take the one thing she cared about the most. She had not thought far enough to know what she would do with the boy once she had him in her custody.

The innocence in Sean’s eyes reminded her greatly of her own children. Looking into Sean’s eyes, Luyando remembered all those days and nights her children had cried for her attention, when she could not see them except for her desires to win over the heart of a man that never thought of her as a woman but only as a sister.

If Sean could see sadness in her eyes, what did her twins see when they looked at her? Luyando wondered. She had been willing to give up everything, including her own life for one man, but what had she received in return? She was now holding hostage someone who had no clue as to what was going on and the only thing he knew to do was trust…trust that he was not in any sort of danger. When was the last time she had trusted someone like that? Had there ever been anyone like that in her life…someone she could trust to take care of her against all odds?

An image of Peter immediately crossed her mind. How come she had never seen it before? He had stayed with her and loved her for years despite knowing she had another man on her heart. He had loved her and he loved their children like no other had ever done, not even her own father.

Before she knew it, Luyando hit the floor on her knees and broke out in sobs. Confused by whatever was going on, Sean did the one thing he had seen his grandmother do to his mother whenever she was feeling down; he wrapped his tiny arms around Luyando.

Sean’s innocent act of tenderness finally pushed Luyando over the edge and sobbed some more, wrapping her arms tightly around him as she did so.

“I c-an’t bre-a-th-e.” Sean complained under his breath but Luyando was too wrapped up in her sorrow to hear him…or hear Tulani’s car pull up in front of the house. It was only when Natasha yanked her son from her arms and pushed her away that she regained her senses.

“Mum!” Sean shouted upon seeing his mother.

“Baby, mummy is here.” Natasha said as she examined her son everywhere. “Are you alright baby? Are you hurt anywhere?”

“No,” the boy answered nonchalantly.

Once he was convinced Sean was fine from watching him with his mother, Tulani walked over to Luyando and reached out his hand to help her up.

Luyando rejected his hand and tried to push herself up, except, she kept failing miserably. The more she tried and failed, the more shame and embarrassment she felt. Is this how pathetic I have become? Luyando cried as she slammed herself back on the carpeted floor. She buried her head into her hands and sobbed.

“Mummy can you give auntie a hug?” Sean asked his mother. “She is very sad.” Natasha turned to look at Luyando’s desperate state.

“Sean, why don’t you and I go out and take a look at the beautiful orchard behind the house?” Tulani took his son’s hand and led him out of the room.

“What is an orchard dad?” Sean asked.

“It is a garden of fruits son.”

“Woooow. Are there apples there?” the four year old asked excitedly.

Inside, Natasha watched Luyando from where she was standing without moving. Five minutes went by and no word had been said between the two…except from the fading sobs of Luyando whose face was still buried in her hands.

When she couldn’t take the tension any longer, Natasha went to sit down on the floor next to Luyando. Luyando felt her beside her and lifted up her head.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Luyando had stopped crying and was not glaring at Natasha.

“You look like you could use a shoulder to cry on.” Natasha said.

Luyando scoffed. “From you?”

“Why not?” Natasha asked. “Think about it Lu, have I ever been your enemy?”

Luyando tried to get up but her head was spinning from crying so much that she was forced to sit back down. “Just leave me the hell alone or call the police on me for kidnapping.”

“As much as I would love to do that, I can’t do it…because whether I like it or not, you are my sister…which means you are also Sean’s aunt. I just don’t appreciate you taking him away without informing us.”

Luyando was looking at her like she would a crazy person. “Is that how you want to play this?” She asked. “How kind of you.” she said sarcastically. “Are you doing this just to look good in your fiancé’s eyes? Or, is this some ploy to show you Bernard what a better daughter you are compared to me?”

“Why do you always assume the worst of people?” Natasha asked. “I have never once tried to take anything away you; not Tula, not my father and not anything your mind has cooked up.”

“Easy for you to say since you’ve grown up receiving the love that should have been mine from in the first place.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you’ve never ever received love of your own all your life?” Natasha asked. “I am sorry to have to surprise you Luyando but you too grow up with plenty of love, you were just too dame selfish to notice it.

“Dad might have made a mistake with you back then but he never once forgot about you. You were fortunate enough to be adopted into a good family and be loved by a mother that loved you probably more than she did her own biological son.

“Even knowing that, Tulani still loved you. instead of lashing out at you for taking his mother’s love away, she tried to understand your situation and he loved you like a sister nevertheless. And let’s not forget about your devoted husband Peter. You are where you are today Luyando not because the world has been unfair to you; you are here crying on the floor after kidnapping an innocent child because you do not love yourself enough.

“How do you expect people to love you when you can’t love yourself? You had plenty of chances to make something of your life, to live happily but you blew all that away due to your selfishness. It’s not like Tulani ever gave you hope. You knew from the beginning what his feelings were yet you kept pursuing the hope of you two being together.

“I’m going to be honest with you; I don’t pity you at all. In fact, I don’t think you even need therapy. You know very well what your problem is and the sooner you face the facts, the better for everyone, especially yourself. You have two beautiful women that are going to end up being raised by another woman simply because their mother was too wrapped up in making some man fall in-love with her.

“Imagine the kind of hate you felt towards dad when he neglected you, what do you think your kids will feel when they find out why their own mother abandoned them? I don’t think you are a bad person. If you were, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now having this conversation. I just think that you are a very disturbed person with misplaced priorities. Take a long walk back into your life and see who your enemy really is.”

A minute went by and Luyando said nothing in response.

“Luyando?” Natasha called out to her.

“You talk too dame much.” Luyando finally spoke.

Natasha laughed. “So I hear,” she said. “Is that a smile I’m seeing at the corners of your mouth?”

Luyando quickly straightened her face. “What smile?” She asked. “How can I be smiling in this situation?”

“Well, I wouldn’t hurt to try.” Natasha said.

“You must think that I am a nutcase, right?”

“I never said that.” Natasha said. “Well, to be honest, a little.”

Luyando kept quiet for a few seconds before busting out in laughter. “I knew I would never win Tulani the moment I met you.”

“Do I take that as you conceding defeat?”

“Definitely,” Luyando answered. “Only a fool can keep pursuing a man even after kidnapping his child. I hate that things had to reach this far…that he saw sides of me he should have never seen. I wish the ground would just open up and swallow me. It’s embarrassing.” She shut her eyes and hung her head as she ended the sentence.

“I Can’t say I am not happy to hear you say that.” Natasha admitted.

“I know,” Luyando replied.

“What do you plan on doing now?”

“Those things you said about me…those many many things, you are right. And you know what the funny thing is; I thought the exact thing when I looked at your son today. It took a four year old to finally make me realize exactly what’s wrong with me. Gosh, a four year old!”

Natasha laughed. “If it makes you feel any better, the doctors said he is way too intelligent and mature for kids his age.”

“At least he didn’t take after his father in that department.” Luyando said.

They both laughed.

“See, you are finally laughing.” Natasha remarked.

“Imagine that,” Luyando said. “I never thought a day like this would ever come. I guess a lot changes when one changes their perspective. I wonder what would have happened had I realized certain things sooner.”

“No one can tell what the future will be like.” Natasha said. “You can try, but you can never be 100% sure. We just to deal with whatever situations we are dealt the best way possible.”

“It’s obvious who your son takes after,” Luyando commented sarcastically.

Natasha laughed. “It’s obvious indeed.” She said.

“I am going to look for Peter.” Luyando announced.

Natasha gaped at her in disbelief before smiling. “You will?” She asked. “That’s fantastic Lu!”

“I am too proud to beg him to take me back…but I am hoping he does. But if we can’t work out, I will be happy to have my kids back. It took long I know, but I finally realized they are the best thing that ever happened to me. I will take my kids, or just one of them since I know for a fact Peter wouldn’t let me leave the country with both.

“I might not have been a great mother to them…but I still loved them…I still do. Never once wanted any sort of harm to come to them…like I felt with Sean earlier. With my kids, I was just too preoccupied by other things to appreciate them more.”

“You’ve made the right decision Luyando.” Natasha said.

“I want to say something smug, a clever retort of some sort but I don’t want to do that anymore.”

Natasha chuckled.

“Did we perhaps enter the wrong room?” Tulani asked the two ladies seated on the floor.

* * *

Four Months Later

After years of waiting and begging for her heart, Tulani finally got his wish when he wedded Natasha. In Tulani style, it was an extravagant ceremony, a page out of a fairy-tale. At thirty years old, divorced and with a child, Natasha would have never imagined herself being the centre of attention at such a profligate event. But it was exactly what Tulani wanted; a loud statement proclaiming his undying love for the woman of his dreams.

A few minutes before the bride and groom were to make an entrance at the reception that evening, Nataniel Kaponda begged to have a private audience with them in their room.

“That should be him,” Natasha got up from the bed, shaking and almost breaking in a sweat. Tulani went over to her, pushed the train of her second wedding dress for the day to the side and pulled her towards him.

“You’re gonna be just fine Mrs Mulenga.” Tulani said. “However, he is the president of this country. We can’t possibly keep him waiting by the door any longer.”

“Ooh…why did he come?” Natasha whined.

“He was invited!” Tulani laughed.

“We never really expected him to accept the invitation. Has he no shame?”

Tulani chuckled. “He’s a politician love, shame is a rare emotion for them to feel. Besides, he is your biological father. whatever happened between him and your mother in the past is just that; past. He obviously wants to have a relationship with you. Should I open the door for him now?”

“Okay, let him in.” Natasha went to position herself on the edge of the bed while Tulani went to open the door.

“Your Excellency,” Tulani shook the president’s arm.

Mr Kaponda laughed. “I asked you to continue calling me uncle, not this excellency nonsense between family. This is a private event with family and friends. I would like to feel like I am a part of your family…at least.” He was looking at Natasha from the door as he said the last part.

“Come in,” Tulani stepped aside to let him in. “Except I don’t think all these men will fit in the small room….”

“Wait here gentlemen,” Nataniel said to his bodyguards. “I won’t be long.”
Natasha found herself up on her feet again. “Mr President,” she greeted the man she now knew to be her father.

“Sit Tasha,” Nataniel said as he pulled a chair from the dresser to sit in front of her.

“I’ll be out here getting to know your security team uncle while you two chat.” Tulani said and closed the door behind him.

“Why did you come, to both the wedding and the reception?” Natasha asked.

“How can I miss your wedding Natasha?” Nataniel asked.

“Stop.” Natasha held out her hand. “Just stop it. I will never acknowledge who you are to me even if you are the most powerful man in the country.”

“I know that Natasha and I understand. I am not trying to force my way into your life, I promised your mother I wouldn’t…and I intend to keep that promise. As for coming here, I beg that you forgive me.

“It was very selfish of me, I know…but I couldn’t help myself. I have absolutely no right to be here or to expect anything…but, I just had to come and witness the beginning of your new life here. This will be the first and last time. But Tasha, if you ever need to….”

“No, it’s never going to happen.” She cut him off, turning her back to him to fight off the tears.

Looking defeated, Nataniel was forced to agree with her. “I know,” he said. “I am very sorry Natasha…for everything.”

“I know, just leave.” She said with her back still to him.

Nataniel got up but before he could open the door, he stopped and looked back at her. “Congratulations on your marriage Natasha.” Then he opened the door and left the room.

Natasha dropped to the floor and gave in to the flood of tears. Tulani rushed over to her and put his arms around her.

Twenty minutes later, the two of them entered the reception hall with the dance of their lives, all smiles like nothing dramatic had happened just a few minutes ago.

“I think I should teach brother in-law a few moves after the honeymoon.” Natasha’s younger brother Alex told his parents. “What the hell does he think he is doing?” the twenty year old was laughing as he watched Tulani dance.

“Not everyone spends their time parting and clubbing son.” Martha said with a huge smile on her face, her gaze fixed on the dancing pair. “Let my son in-law enjoy himself. This is one of the best days of his life.”

“Is it safe for Tasha to be dancing that much?” Bernard had concern written all over his face.

“She’s only a month old pregnant honey, relax. Other women have done worse things. A little exercise doesn’t hurt.”

“Tasha is pregnant!?” Alex yelled right at the moment when the song was ending and Tulani and Natasha were about to sit at the high table. The whole room had heard him, including Tulani who like all the guests appeared to be hearing the news for the very first time.

“You’re pregnant?” Tulani asked Natasha.

“I wanted to surprise you later tonight but – “ she sent her kid brother a stern look. Alex simply shrugged his shoulders innocently.

Taking everyone by surprise, Tulani put his arm around Natasha’s waist, tilted her back and laid kissed her passionately on the lips, winning himself applause from the guests.

Natasha managed to separate herself from him and hitting him on the chest she said; “Our parent’s are here!”

“So what?” Tulani asked, laughing before taking her hand and leading her in a bow towards the guests before sitting down. The MC immediately sounded off.

Natasha was looking at the guests as they sat down on their seats when she thought she saw someone familiar disappear through the door.

“Isn’t that Luyando?” Natasha asked her husband.

Tulani turned in the direction of his wife’s gaze and caught the last glimpse of a female’s back. “I know that walk very well.” He said. “It’s really her. I thought she had left the country….”

“She’s still fighting for custody of the children with Peter. I heard from mum that his new wife doesn’t want him to have any dealings with her. She thinks Luyando is trying to use the kids to get back with Peter.”

“She is not even his legal wife, what’s her problem?” Tulani asked.

“They’ve been living together ever since he moved out of the house with Luyando and she’s nine months pregnant with his child.”
Luyando ran to her vehicle the moment her feet stepped out of the hall and locked the doors, panting and sweating, she dropped her head onto her steering wheel and cried.

Unbeknownst to her, Alex had seen her enter the hall and followed her out thinking she was out to cause again. He had heard all about her crazy antics from Joshua, his sister’s new father in-law and he had made sure to stay alert during the ceremony and reception to protect his sister.

However, the picture of Luyando crying alone in her car was not the image he had imagined her to be. After five minutes trying to compose herself, Luyando stepped out of her vehicle again and sent Alex hiding behind a car.

He followed her quietly behind and watched her hand an envelope to one of the door bouncers at the door and walked back to her car. Once he was sure she was out of the premises, Alex ran over to the bouncer who had received the envelope and got it from him.

“The lady said to give it to the bride and groom.” The well-built man said in a thick masculine voice.

“I know,” Alex said. “The bride is my sister.” He then opened the enveloped with utmost care and found a cheque and a note inside. “$1000! Is she nuts!?” Alex almost lost it. “Who the hell gives this much as a wedding present?”

None of the bouncers answered him.

Alex opened the note;

I hope you do not take this as me trying to buy your forgiveness. I know that no amount of money can ever make up for all the things I put you two through.

However, this is the only thing I could think of doing. I started at $300, but it seemed so little so I raised it to 500, then 700…and finally settled for 1000. It’s my way of saying congratulations on your marriage…and that I wish you nothing but the best.

I hope that if we ever meet in future, it will be on good terms so we can start all over again. I hope the two of you and the rest of the family can think of everything that’s happened in the past as simply; a twisted fate.

Congratulations Mr and Mrs Mulenga!

Your sister,

Luyando Mulenga Chimeko.

“Wow,” Alex said upon finishing. He folded the note in half again and put it back in the envelope. “A twisted fate indeed.” He said and walked back into the hall.

THE END.

A Twisted Fate – Part 9

“What do you mean I lied to you?” Bernard asked his daughter.

Luyando moved her phone from her right hand and ear and placed it on the other side as she steered the vehicle out of the parking spot.

“Tulani and Natasha are engaged!” she yelled.

Bernard, who had been expecting such a call since the day Tulani approached him and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage calmly stood up from the couch and went to take the call outside.

Seeing the look on her husband’s face, Martha knew right away who was on the other end of the line.

“You promised that you would talk to Tula for me!” Like a mad woman, Luyando pressed hard on the accelerator and headed towards her father’s house.

“I kept that promise to you Lulu,” Bernard said. “I spoke to Tulani about you just as I promised.”

“Then why has he proposed to your step daughter instead of me?”

“I am not responsible for his feelings Lulu,” Bernard said. “I tried to tell him to wait a bit before making a commitment to Natasha but he said he was sure whom he wanted to spend his life with so there was no need of waiting. He – “

“I am coming to you right now, you just wait.” Luyando said and cut the line.

“What’s going on?” Martha was standing by the door behind him.

Bernard sighed heavily and turned towards his wife. “Tulani finally proposed to Natasha and Luyando hasn’t taken the news well.”

Martha moved and went to sit at the bottom step of the veranda leading up to the house. “I was hoping that she would get over that soon.”

Bernard went to sit next to her. “Me too,” he said, looking as weary as he sounded. “I really don’t know what to do about her anymore.”

Luyando indeed appeared before them thirty minutes later, panting and geared to unleash a tantrum. She parked her vehicle in front of them, got out, slammed the door shut and charged at Bernard and Martha.

Mr and Mrs Chimeko were both on their feet, waiting for her to attack.

“How could you do this to me?” Luyando’s face was drenched in tears, her lipstick was smeared and her running mascara made her queen of the Panda kingdom.

“I did what you asked me to do!” She yelled. “I never wanted to see that shrink in the first place but you forced me.”

“Lulu,” Ben took a step towards her. “I asked you to see that doctor because you need help.”

“I don’t need any help!” she shouted.

“Try to listen to your father Lulu,” Martha said.

Luyando turned her fiery glare towards her step-mother. “You stay out of this. This is none of your business.” She said in an icy disparaging tone.

Without saying a word in return, Martha looked at her husband and turned to go back in the house.

“We are all just trying to do what’s best for you Luyando,” Bernard said.

“What’s best for me or what’s best for your precious daughter Natasha?”

“This has nothing to do with Natasha.”

Luyando furrowed her brows and scoffed. “You think this has nothing to do with her? This has got everything to do with that trump!” she raised her voice.

Bernard wanted to ask her to control her tone and get rid of her foul language but he stopped himself, fearing that that might give her another reason to flare up further.

“If that girl wasn’t in the picture, Tulani would have had the time to realize the feelings he has for me are not brotherly. That fake daughter of yours stole him from me but guess what, there is no way in hell I’m going to –“

“Stop it!” Bernard yelled. “Just stop it already!”

Luyando was taken aback by her father’s sudden outburst having expected him to play calm towards her. He had a lot to make up to her so he had no business getting angry at her. He was supposed to spend the rest of his life dancing to her tune, not shouting at her.

“I am sick and tired of listening to you talk about yourself like a victim.” Bernard said sternly. “You are not a victim so stop acting like one! You brought all this on yourself. Yes I messed up as a father but look at you Luyando, you are not a child anymore. You are someone’s wife, and a mother!”

“Are you shouting at me?” Luyando asked in disbelief.

“I am not shouting at you, I am trying to make you face reality. Tulani has never loved you the way you love him. He is in-love with someone else. You cannot force a man to love you just because you have feelings for him. That’s not how it works.

“You had a man that loved you like no other and you even have children with him. Can’t you focus on winning your husband back and bringing your family together again? How long are you going to continue pining for a man that doesn’t even care whether you exist or not?”

Bernard had had it up to his neck walking on egg shells around his daughter. He had come to learn that all his efforts in shielding her from pain and all his desires to make up for lost time were only worsening her situation instead of helping her become a better person.

Instead of being a better parent to her, his soft approach was fuelling her bad behaviour, making her feel justified in doing whatever she wanted to do. It was about time he taught his daughter that life doesn’t always have to go her way. She couldn’t keep blaming everyone around her for the things going wrong in her life. As long as Luyando could not come to the conclusion that she needed help on her own, there was no way she was going to change.

“What was I thinking coming here?” Luyando turned to leave in fury and walked back to her. She was just about to open the door when she spotted Tulani’s vehicle come through the gate, her eyes rolling at the sight of Natasha seated comfortably beside him. She immediately changed her mind about leaving and waited for them to park.

“What is she doing here?” Natasha asked Tulani upon noticing Luyando.

“Maybe she came to see your dad about something.” He said.
Natasha was the first to step out of the vehicle and walk towards Luyando who had not taken her eyes off of her.

“Tasha,” Ben intercepted the face-off between his two daughters by placing himself between them. “Is the party over already?” he asked, unable to think of anything else to say in such a situation.

Immediately sensing what her father was up to, Natasha stopped in her tracks, leaving a reasonable distance between her and Luyando. “Yes dad,” she answered. “Is everything okay?” her eyes were fixed on Luyando who was now walking towards them with a huge frown on her face.

“I guess congratulations are in order,” Luyando remarked sarcastically, her eyes narrowing in on Natasha’s engagement ring.

“Sister,” Natasha matched her rival’s tone but with a smile that barely reached her nose. “How nice of you, thank you very much.”

“Luyando came to see me about something…she was just leaving.” Bernard was still trying to avoid a confrontation between the two.

“Why are you trying to get rid of me so fast, dad?” Luyando puckered her lips at her father like a little girl. “Are you afraid Natasha might find out about the deal the two of us made?”

“What deal?” Tulani asked upon joining them. “Luyando, it’s been a while. I see you nothing much has changed.”

“I was just telling your girlfriend, oh wait, its fiancé now isn’t it?” She faked a chuckle. “I was just about to tell her about the deal that –“

“Luyando,” Ben interrupted her. “I beg of you do not cause any more trouble.”

Luyando laughed, enjoying the fact that she had the upper hand. “What’s wrong dad? Don’t you think your daughter deserves to know the truth?”

“What truth is she talking about dad?” Natasha asked Ben.

“It’s nothing important,” Ben answered nervously. “Why don’t you two go inside while your sister and I talk for a bit?”

Natasha took Tulani’s hand and was about to lead him away when Luyando stopped them.

“Not so fast you two,” she told them. “Don’t you want to know what your father here promised me in exchange for seeing a shrink?”

“You mean what he said about talking to Tulani on your behalf?” Natasha asked smugly.

Luyando’s heart almost skipped a beat. “How did you –“

Natasha laughed. “About two months ago dad followed me to my room looking nervous and all and talking about things that didn’t make sense at all. However, I could tell the whole time that he was apologizing for something he did…something he couldn’t bring himself to say.

“I knew right away that it had something to do with you and Tula. A bit of pressure on my mother and she spilled everything. Have I answered your question?”

The frown on Luyando’s face darkened. She was looking at her father as if to burn him down with her fiery disdain-filled eyes.

“I never told her anything,” Bernard defended himself against his daughter’s accusing eyes.

Without saying a word, Luyando turned around and walked back to her car. She angrily opened her door, got in and slammed it shut and sped off.

“What’s her problem?” Tulani asked.

His hands placed in his pockets and his gaze following Luyando’s disappearing vehicle, Bernard answered, “Everything,” and started walking towards the house. Tulani and Natasha followed him closely behind.

The three of them found Martha in the living room watching TV with Sean on her laps. The four year old jumped the moment he saw his father and ran straight into his arms. Bernard silently disappeared upstairs.

“I just want to see the ring,” Martha said, getting up to take a look at her daughter’s hand. “Oh wow,” she gasped. “This is beautiful Tulani. Just a few hours and Natasha’s hand already looks thinner than the rest. It’s one heavy stone you have here sweetie.”
Natasha laughed while Tulani appeared disturbed.

“Should I change it for a smaller stone?” He asked the two women.

Martha and Natasha looked at each for a second before bursting out in laugher at the look of genuine concern on Tulani’s face.

“What did I say?” Tulani asked Sean but the blank expression on his face told him that he too was just as confused as he was.

“That was a joke Tula,” Natasha put his mind at ease. “Mum meant to say that the stone looks extremely expensive.”

“Oooh,” he blushed in embarrassment.

“Congratulations to the both of you.” Martha hugged her daughter.

“Don’t I get a hug too?” Tulani shot pleading eyes at his future mother in-law. He put Sean down and waited for her to come over to him.

Laughing, Martha went and gave him a hug. “Congratulations,” she said.

“Thank you mum,” Tulani said, winking at Natasha who was gaping at him in disbelief.

“Gosh I have always wanted to say that!” He exclaimed excitedly.

“C’mon Sean,” Martha called out to her grandson. “Let’s go do some reading upstairs….”

“Martha,” Ben called out to his wife from the bottom of the stairs. He appeared frozen in petrification.

“Honey,” Martha slowly put down Sean and looked up at her husband.

“You need to come see something upstairs,” he said.

“Dad, is everything okay?” Natasha asked, walking over to him. Martha followed.

“You look like you’ve just seen a ghost,” Martha said, going to stand by his side.

“Is everything okay Sir?” Tulani asked.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ben said. “I just broke something that Tasha’s mum treasures.”

“You broke something?” Martha asked in a sharp tone.

“Just come and check for a second.” Ben took her hand and quickly led her upstairs.

Natasha and Tulani shared a look.

“I think he’s in real trouble,” Tulani said.

“Can you read to me dad?” Sean asked his father.

“Most definitely son!” He lifted him up and carried him upstairs.

“I will get some snacks ready,” Natasha shouted after them.
“What did u break?” Martha asked by the door. Bernard stepped aside and positioned Martha in front of the TV. He locked the door behind them.

Right away she knew why her husband had looked like he had just seen a ghost when he came to fetch her.

Her hand went straight to her mouth when she saw the face splashed out on the TV screen and heard the report;

So it appears the nation finally has a favourite for the upcoming presidential elections. New opposition party leader for PfP Nataniel Kaponda is leading in the latest polls by a margin never seen before!

Martha was shaking like a leaf and her knees were about to give in when Bernard ran to her and put his arms around her and led her to sit down on the bed. After setting her down, he picked up the remote control on the other side of the bed and turned off the TV.

“How can…how can someone like him –“ Martha was shaking her head, the fear in her eyes aging her way beyond her years.

Ben quickly went to stand in front of her and pulled her into his arms.

“Why is this happening?” Martha sobbed in her husband’s arms. “Why is this happening now?”

“It’s going to be alright my love,” he comforted her. “You don’t have anything to worry about. I’m here with you now…there’s nothing to worry about. There is nothing he can do to you now…you’re safe.”

Suddenly, Martha lifted her head up to look at him. There was a new determination behind her eyes. “What if we just go back to the US?”

“Martha….” He sat down next to her and held her hand. “What are you afraid of? It’s been thirty years since….”

“And he’s way more powerful now than he was then!” Martha cried. “What if he discovers I’m in the city? What about Natasha? Oooh, my poor baby….”

Ben pulled her into his arms again. “Given the kind of spotlight he’s under right now I don’t think he can do anything stupid. Why don’t you just trust me? I will make sure nothing happens to you or Natasha.

“Please honey, don’t cry…just trust me. I know I haven’t been much of a protector to my family but I have finally learnt how to be a better husband and a better father so, trust me.”

Martha wanted to trust him, to believe that no harm would come to her or her daughter but even after so many years, the memories still had the power to scare her to death just like they did thirty years ago. She had hoped that time would heal her completely but seeing the face of the man who had shattered her life to pieces on television and hearing the praises being thrown at him like he was some kind of saint made her feel even worse.

So many years had passed and she had thought she had changed…how can it be that she hadn’t and he looked like he had? The face she had just seen on the screen might have been the same one she had known all those years back but still, there was something about his eyes…his demeanour that had changed tremendously.

The piercing evil eyes and the angry face that had towered over her and made her wish for nothing but death…that face had been replaced by the soft and relaxed features of the nation’s political hero; a humble looking but well-spoken man of honour he had been called. How in heaven could that have happened? In Martha’s eyes, Nataniel Kaponda was the perfect portrayal of the clichéd politician; a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“Right now is not the time for us to get worried or run.” Ben was saying. “If you go back to the US it means he still wins. He doesn’t deserve to win. If you think about it, we are the ones with the upper hand.”

Martha gave him a puzzled expression.

“We know something about him that might instantly kill his political career if revealed.” He explained.

“With the kind of power he now has he can easily do something to silence us. We don’t stand a chance against a man like him.” Martha said.

Ben laughed. “That’s where you are wrong my love,” he said. “I did my research on him immediately after you told me about the news you had heard months ago. Do you know who the major corporate sponsor of PfP is?”

“Who?”

“TMH, Joshua Mulenga.”

“What!?” Martha jumped from the bed.

Ben was smiling like a man that had suddenly won the lotto. “Yes my love. Do you see where I am going with this? Right now Mulenga is our in-law; our daughter and his son will be getting married soon and let’s not forget, between us there’s Sean. What do you think Kaponda will do when he discovers this?”

There was hope finally glowing on Martha’s face. She walked over to her husband who was still seated on the bed, pulled his head back and planted a kiss on his lips. “Genius!” She said, sitting down beside him. “Sometimes I forget that I married a genius. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?”

Ben was grinning from ear to ear. “Don’t kill me but I have a suggestion.” He looked at her nervously. “I know it’s going to sound ridiculous…and possibly even risky but you know what they say; sometimes offence is the best kind of defence.”

Martha looked disturbed. “What do you mean?”

* * *

With the election date slowly drawing closer, there was a hype of activity all over the nation’s capital. It was no secret that Zambians thrived on political drama; the idea that a government that had been in power for over ten years would finally be rid of was as thrilling as a plot from a Shakespearean tragedy.

Martha’s sudden realization that she had the power to push a button and shift the prevailing political tides in a whole differnt direction gave her the strength to confidently walk into Joshua Mulenga’s home office in the company of her husband and make a life-changing request to him.

She was never going to forget the look of horror on her in-law’s face when he heard the news.
Two Days Later

“Are you sure about this honey?” Bernard asked his wife. They were at the headquarters of the leading opposition party PfP, seated in their car in the parking lot.

“Yes,” she said, breathing heavily. “But that doesn’t mean I am not nervous. Ooooh I think am going to have a heart attack.” She placed her hand over her heart.

“Maybe I should come with you,” Ben suggested for the umpteenth time.

Martha gave him the same response she had given him all those times. “I want him to believe…to see that I am not afraid of him…that I can take care of myself. If I go in there with you, it will just make me feel powerless before him…like in the past.”

“What if we just cancel everything?” He was the one now acting nervous. “Maybe if we just lay low he won’t ever discover that you are back.”

Martha couldn’t help laughing at how the tables had quickly turned. Just a few seconds ago she was the one whimpering in fear.

“We have a daughter who’s a news anchor, she’s about to get married to the only son of one…if not the richest man in the country who just so happens to be the man behind Nataniel Kaponda’s political career. The phrase lying low shouldn’t even exist in our vocabulary.”

“I know you are right,” Ben said resignedly. “I guess now that we are here, I am a little scared…well, maybe not just a little…I am not comfortable with you being alone with him. What if he tries to hurt you again?”

“I don’t think he would try anything like that right now, not when he’s under public scrutiny. He might be the scum of the earth but he’s got a fully functioning brain too. Besides,” Martha laid her hand on Ben’s knee. “He’s expecting a reporter in there, not the girl he raped thirty years ago.”

“I am not sure how to respond to that.” Ben said.

Martha opened the door and stepped out of the vehicle. Leaning in from outside, she told her husband; “I was nervous a few minutes ago but now I’m not.” She was smiling. “I know what you just did so…thank you for being the best husband in the world.”

Ben came out and walked around to give her a hug before letting her go.

“I will be right here,” he said. “I am not going anywhere. Now go and let that son of a bitch know who’s in charge.”

Martha chuckled nervously and waved at him.

Nataniel Kaponda was going through the speech his secretary had just prepared for that evening’s fundraising event when the secretary walked in to announce his appointment for 10am.

“Send her right in,” the presidential hopeful cheerfully said, ready to ingratiate himself to the press. With the speech files in his hands, he stood up and readied himself to welcome the reporter sent by the man he owed his whole political career to.

The young secretary stepped aside and Martha came into view.

The small folder in Nataniel’s hand dropped to his desk.

The proud smirk on Martha’s face upon seeing the frightened look on his face was unmistakable.

Martha made sure to close the door behind the secretary before going to sit. “Nataniel,” she said in a calm but playful tone. “This is a beautiful office you have here.” Her eyes roamed the expensively furnished office. “Looks like you’ve done pretty well for yourself compared to where you should be, if life was fair.”

“Martha….”

She pulled one back of the two chairs in front his desk and served herself a seat before he could make the offer. “Why don’t you sit?” She pointed to his huge leather seat. “You look like you are about to faint.”

Like an obedient child, Nataniel sat down. “How….”

“How come I am the one here and not some reporter?” She finished for him.

“Yes.” He said.

“It could be because your saviour and I have a special kind of relationship.” She said suggestively and immediately got the reaction she had been hoping for from him.

“Relax, I would never be anybody’s mistress.”

He seemed to relax a little.

“He is my in-law,” she clarified. “My daughter and his son are engaged…and we share a grandson.”

Nataniel looked like he had just had a bucket of cold water poured on him. Only yesterday he had called Joshua to congratulate him on his son’s engagement after reading front page reports about it on all forms of media available in the country.

“That anchor is your daughter?” He asked.

“Yes,” Martha answered matter-of-factly. “And she is the reason I am here.”

“She is?” He looked surprised. “I thought you came for…” he left the sentence hanging, unable to bring himself to say the life-threatening words.

“Who said there’s a difference? To me it’s one and the same thing.”

True to his character, Nataniel picked up on her meaning immediately. He couldn’t remember when he got up from the chair but he was now standing. Martha’s disparaging glare made the world around him spin even faster.

“Nooo,” he said, shaking his head slowly.

“Sit down Nataniel, you look like a fool. What happened to that over-confident bastard that pinned me down and drained the life out of me?”

He sat back down again. “My life is over,” he said with a distant look in his eyes, obviously imagining all the fame and money slipping away. ”I knew this day would come but I just didn’t –“

“I didn’t come here to blackmail you or anything, if that’s what you are moaning about. You should know me better than that. The devil might have bruised me, but I never turned into one.”

Confused, Nataniel asked, “then why did you come here, especially now? Did someone ask you to do this? To force me to pull out of the race?”

Martha laughed. “Don’t flatter yourself Mr President.”

Very suddenly and unexpectedly, he got up from his chair and dropped to his knees before her.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Martha tried to pull away from him but he was holding on to her legs and sobbing like a child.

“I know I have no right to ask this of you –“

“Oh don’t be so predictable!” She said scornfully. “I am not one of those people that buy into your political manipulations. I don’t care how far deep you are in pretending to be an outstanding man, I know who you are. I know the real you you miserable bastard.”

“It’s not like that Martha,” he pleaded.

“Get off of me!” Martha kicked him away and sent him falling on his back.

Nataniel slowly picked himself up and knelt down where he was, away from her. With his head bowed down, he continued pleading.

“I don’t expect you to believe that I am a different man now,” he said. “I don’t even blame you for thinking the worst of me because I deserve it. But Martha,” he looked up at her. “I have truly changed. I was going through a lot back then and I lost control, once. I have never done anything like that to anyone else.”

“Wow, then I guess I am the lucky one! I was raped by the mighty Nataniel Kaponda, someone, please, give me a medal.” There were tears in her eyes as she said the sarcastic words. Nataniel’s presence before her had vividly brought back to life the memories she had been trying to forget for the past thirty years.

“I know there’s nothing I can say right now that you will believe but please…I am truly sorry for what I did to you. I was drunk that day, my dad had just put me aside in favour of my step-brother…I know these are all excuses but I am not that man who took out his frustrations on an innocent girl any more.

“There’s absolutely no justification for what I did. I have regretted that night to this day. I have never forgotten, not once. I searched everywhere for you after I woke up the next day and found the blood stained sheets. Everything that had happened in the night came back to me in full force. I was ashamed of myself…of what I had done. I wanted to apologize, to do whatever possible to show I was sorry.

“I even prepared myself to go to jail. I thought you reported me. I was scared. I wanted to take myself to the police but my father refused to let me, said we have to wait for you to press charges instead of serving myself to the police just like that.”

Martha bolted from her chair in anger. “You sent people after me!” She yelled.

“What?”

“A man entered my dorm at the nursing school in the middle of the night and tried to strangle me! He would have killed me if the girl from the next room hadn’t heard my screams and come to my rescue.”

“I swear that wasn’t me! I never sent anyone…” he then remembered his father’s words the day he had run to him for help.

“Don’t do anything stupid like reporting yourself to the police. I will take care of things. The last thing I need is the likes of you running my name through mud.” His father had said.

“You actually expect me to believe that?” Martha asked.

“I swear Martha, it was my father. I only got to find out about it when he kept insisting that I leave the country. I thought it was because he wanted me completely out of his life but then he told me that it was because he had sent someone after you but you managed to escape. He never meant to hurt you, he just wanted to scare you.

“I went looking for you but I couldn’t find you anywhere. There were crazy thoughts on my mind…I thought I made you do something stupid…like kill yourself. You were such a proud and fearless person and what I did to you was the worst that could happen to anyone. I knew I had ruined your life…and I desperately wanted to make things right.”

“I didn’t come here to hear your excuses,” Martha said sternly. “I might have forgiven you for what you did to me but that doesn’t mean you can’t face the consequences.”

“I know,” Nataniel said, his head hanging low. “I really had no idea my father was planning something like that. If you want me to step down or if you want to tell the world about what I did…you can do that.”

“What?” Martha asked.

“I don’t want you to,” he answered honestly. “And I am willing to do whatever possible to beg you not to but, if it’s something you feel you have to do, I cannot stop you.”

“Do you honestly mean that?”

“Martha,” he said in a calm and collected tone. “You knew me before that night. Those few months I resorted to drinking where just days of me acting out after my father’s rejection, God rest his soul. I made a mistake once, a very grave mistake and I will never forget it.

“That night,” Nataniel shut his eyes closed, as if to block the memory from his mind. “In a moment of rage I lost control. People think that I do all these charity works around the community and go to church every Sunday because I am a good person but that’s not it. Everything I have done since that night has been my way of making out for what I did to you.

“Even my political career, I thought if I can make a difference in the world, that if I keep doing good things, I thought it might help me feel better about myself. I haven’t forgiven myself for the past, I don’t deserve anyone’s forgiveness so I won’t even dare ask for it.”

“Then why did you do that to me? I trusted you!” Martha cried.

“I don’t know,” he was shaking his head in regret. “I really don’t know. I just remember being so mad that day. I guess I was just selfish, only focused on my pain. I didn’t understand why you couldn’t sleep with me that night when you claimed to love me.

“I was young, it didn’t make sense then but I know better now. I have two daughters. I think God gave me daughters only as a way of punishing me…to make me see just what I had done to someone else’s daughter. I didn’t even know I had a third daughter.”

“Well, she is actually your first, not third.” Martha corrected him.

“Does she know about me?” Nataniel asked.

“Of course not. What did you want me to tell her, you are a product of rape?”

“Martha?” He dropped his head low in shame again.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “But for the past thirty years I have only thought of you as a villain in my life. I couldn’t remember the person you were before that night.”

“Does Mr Mulenga know? Is that why he helped you set up this meeting?”

“Yes he knows. My husband and I decided it was the best thing to do. I didn’t know it was your father that sent someone after me so….”

“So you thought I might try to harm you again if I discovered you were around?”

“Yes.”

“I guess I deserve that.”

“You do.”

“Can I sit up now?” He winced in pain. “My knees are killing me. I am not young anymore.”

“I never asked you to kneel.” She said. “You went down on your own.”

Nataniel got up from the floor and nervously went to stand behind his desk. “So what do you plan on doing with me Martha? I am at your mercy right now.”

“It’s a good thing you know that,” Martha said.

“Whatever you decide, can I just ask one thing?”

Martha threw him a look.

“I know, I’m shameless right now but, about Natasha….”

“What about Natasha?”

“Can I talk to her first before the truth gets out?”

“Apart from your father, did you tell anyone else about what happened that night?”

“No, just my wife.”

“What? You told your wife? Who tells his wife that he raped someone? Are you still married to her?”

“I told her before we got married. There was no way I was going to ask her to marry me with something like that weighing down on my neck.”

“And she still agreed to marry you?”

“Not right away,” he said. “She dumped me right after I told her but later on I think she felt pity for me and forgave me. Said she was glad I told her about it first.”

“Well aren’t you lucky with women Nataniel?” Martha said sarcastically.

“It’s a miracle,” he said. “You mentioned your husband earlier…I take it he knows?”

“He knows. He’s downstairs right now as we speak.”

Nataniel straightened his back. “What? He’s here with you?”

“There are no secrets between us.” she said. “I had come here to make a few threats but it appears I have to change my script.”

“What did you want to say?” He asked.

“I am sure by now you’ve realized the position we are both in. Apart from the fear of my daughter discovering exactly how she was conceived, there is nothing else that would keep me from telling everyone what you did.

“I can’t tell right now if what you told me is the truth or not…and frankly, I don’t want to know. I just don’t want you to try anything against my family thinking we are here to ruin your political career. You are lucky that you have such loyal supporters like Mr Mulenga.

“Even though he was sorry about what happened to me, it was clear he has a lot of faith in you. He said you once told him that you have a deep regret in your life and only when I told him my story did he connect the dots of whatever it is you had talked about.

“However, there is something else in his life that’s more important than his political ambitions and that’s his family. I want you to stay away from my daughter –“

“Martha, she is my child too,” Nataniel tried to reason with her. “How can I –“

Martha raised her hand. “Don’t even go there,” she warned him. “You should know better than anyone else; there are consequences to every decision we make in life. It should be enough for you knowing you have a daughter but don’t even dream about coming into her life.

“As far as she knows, you don’t exist. Unless you want to break her heart or give up on your political career, you will stay away from her. Am I making myself clear?”

“I understand,” he answered resignedly.

“Keep your promise and you will have a smooth sail towards State House. Try something funny and it’s goodbye to everything you’ve worked so hard for all these years. Don’t even try to get your wife to get close to my daughter. I will ruin you.

“Natasha picks up on things quickly. The moment she senses something, she will ask me about it and I don’t think I have the strength to look her in the eye and lie to her. I think she’s aware that my relationship with her biological father wasn’t good so she’s never asked me about him.

“I have seen the need in her to know but somehow, she always manages to keep quiet for fear of breaking my heart.” Pushing back tears she added, “She’s about to get married…I don’t want her discovering the truth. It will break her.”

Nataniel Kaponda was at a loss. He understood very well Martha’s terms and was more than appreciative of the mercy she had shown him, however, he had reservations about going on with life pretending he didn’t have another child. How was he going to survive something like that? It had been hard enough living with the guilt over his past but this?

“I hear you,” he told Martha after a while, his voice heavy with emotion. “I won’t tell her anything. I promise.”

Martha heaved a sigh of relief.

* * *

One Week Later

Natasha was out on a picnic date with Tulani when she received a call from the Program Director. Wondering why he might be calling her on her day off, Natasha answered the call.

“Oh thank God you picked up!” The fifty year old said. “Where are you right now?”

Natasha laughed. “Boss, its Sunday today. Have you forgotten?”

Is that Chanda? Tulani mouthed the question to her. Natasha nodded.

“Bring the phone here,” he grabbed it from her before she could protest.

“Ba Chanda, why are you interrupting my date? Do you want to lose your job?”

“Sorry boss,” Mr Chanda quickly apologized. “But we have an emergency. You know that we are supposed to have Mr Kaponda as a guest on Richard’s show tonight right?”

“How can I forget? Everyone in this country is impatiently waiting for tonight’s episode. The elections are just in two weeks.”

“That’s exactly why I called Sir. Richard was involved in an accident on his way to the station.”

Tulani sat up. “What happened? Is he alright? How….”

“I’m told his injuries aren’t fatal but he’s certainly in no condition to appear on TV or let alone open his mouth. We need someone to take his spot but we can’t get through to Morris or Towela. I understand that Natasha is still a stranger to Zambian politics but she’s our only hope right now.

“We have four more hours till the interview. The script is ready already and I have assembled a group to gather some relevant information she might need to know to sail through smoothly.”

Tulani was looking at Natasha with furrowed brows, wondering if she was ready to take on such a challenge so soon.

“What’s wrong?” Natasha asked.

“They want you to take Richard’s spot on his program tonight.”

Natasha’s eyes lit up. “For real?” She asked. And then realization struck her. “What happened to Richard? He was looking forward to tonight with bated breath.”

“He was involved in an accident,” Tulani answered, his phone still by his ear.

“Is he okay?” there was a look of horror on Natasha’s face.

“He’s going to live, but he can’t come for work just yet. Do you think you can fill in for him? And no, Morris and Towela are missing.” He had read the next question on her face.

“Of course I can do it!” She answered confidently. “I have been reading up on local politics since I came. The new show am working on has a political component to it so – “

“She says she’ll do it,” Tulani told Mr Chanda on the phone before Natasha could finish. “I will be dropping her off in about thirty minutes. Make sure you have everything ready. Also, don’t forget to inform Mr Kaponda about the change. Those people hate it when they are caught off-guard.”

“Yes Sir, thank you very much!” The director said before hanging up.

“Looks like my woman is about to become even more famous now.” Tulani said as he got up. “Let’s go,” he reached out his hand to Natasha and helped her up.

“Let me even call mum before we get to the station. She will be in shock!”
Martha was in the kitchen cooking when she received a call from a strange number.

“Hello,” she said.

“Martha this is Nata, sorry to call you out of the blue but we have a huge problem.”

“I thought I asked you….”

Bernard, who had been watching TV in the next room thought his wife was talking to him so he rushed over to her. He arrived in time to keep her from hitting her head on the floor.

Martha had passed out.

Tipping at Restaurants: Why I Resent Being Forced To Do It

By Guest Blogger: Margaret Mwewa

I have always believed that tipping at a restaurant is something you do to reward a server who has provided an exceptional service. It is a kind gesture to appreciate a server who goes above and beyond to make your dining experience more than just good, but great or wonderful. Well, recently, in my travels in a neighbouring country, I went to a restaurant where gratuity was clearly stated on the bill as mandatory. It was expected of every customer to pay gratuity, the bill stated.

The food was nice and the server was okay. I did not think that he deserved a tip because he had basically done his job by getting my order correctly and making sure that everything was fine so that I could have a good meal I was rightly going to pay for. So, why was I being strong-armed into paying a tip? Nevertheless, I followed the good old advice to do as the Romans do when in Rome. I kept my objections to myself and paid the gratuity.

It was the first time I had encountered this requirement in real life. Of course, I had read articles online, of Americans engaged in heated arguments for and against the culture of mandatory tipping in restaurants in the US. I never thought it would be something I would come across close to home. I always thought of this topic as a “first world problem.”

I still think that a restaurant should pay its staff a minimum wage or whatever amount it can afford to pay and not expect its customers to fork out more money in form of mandatory tips to supplement the poor wages of its employees.

I certainly hope the mandatory tipping culture, which is primarily American, will not find its way to Zambia anytime soon. I have embraced a lot of American ideals and idiosyncrasies that I find reasonable and even excellent, but mandatory tipping is one that I am willing to pass on. I find it unfair. Personally, I would rather go to a restaurant which offers good food and good service at a premium price and does not require its customers to pay tips rather than go to a restaurant with standard prices, where I will be expected to pay mandatory gratuity in addition to my bill.

At the end of the day, I am just happy that restaurants in Zambia have not caught on to this mandatory gratuity trend. And if they have, I am glad I have not encountered it yet. I still have the freedom to use my own discretion to pay a tip to someone I think really deserves it. Cheers to that!