“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.
“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.