For a few seconds, Alicia stood by the door, wondering why Samuel was looking at her like that. Just then, Samuel waved to her with a huge grin on the face and started walking towards her. Confused, Alicia shook her head, opened the door and entered the house.
“I guess it must still be hard for you to enter this house.” Mary commented the moment Alicia appeared through the door. “We could see your feet through the glass, below the curtain.” She pointed to the curtained glass door.
“No, it’s not that.” Alicia started to explain.
“Which is a good thing,” Mary continued, acting like she hadn’t heard Alicia say a single word. “I would be surprised if you walked into this yard without feeling an ounce of guilt for what you did.”
“Mum!” Exhildah shouted at her mother and got up to offer Alicia a hug.
“Hi Hildah,” Alicia greeted her former sister in-law as they hugged.
“You have lost weight.” Exhildah noted, giving Alicia a full body scan.
Just then, Samuel came through the door.
“Where have you been?” Mary asked from the sofa where she was seated. She had not bothered to move an inch even when Alicia had walked in.
“I was on the phone mum.” Samuel answered, not sure why he felt the need to give a half-truth.
“I was just about to introduce the two of you but then I remembered that you work together! Exhildah said. “You’ve met her before right?”
Samuel smiled at Alicia. “I actually only found out today that she is the Alicia.” He stressed the word deliberately.
Alicia gave him a look and continued standing awkwardly, not sure whether to offer herself a seat or wait for one to be offered.
“Aren’t you going to sit down?” Samuel asked Alicia as he threw himself down on the two seater couch opposite Mary. It was as if he had read her mind. He patted the space next to him for her to sit.
Alicia first looked at Mary for approval and found the woman looking at her sternly.
“You are not really waiting for mum to actually say the words ‘sit’ are you?” Samuelasked, squinting his eyebrows for her benefit.
“She still thinks she’s my daughter in-law this one.” Mary remarked.
Very so quietly, Alicia went to sit down next to Samuel.
“Juice or wine?” Exhildah asked the two guests.
“Don’t worry about me,” Samuel answered. “I already served myself half of the contents of every wine bottle in your cellar.”
Exhildah laughed. “I thought being a doctor would turn you into someone normal.” She said. “And you Alicia?” She turned to her.
“Nothing for me,” Alicia said in a very low voice. “I am not staying. I’m only waiting for Bubu to get ready. Thanks.”
“I somehow expected that response.” Exhildah went to sit down next to her mother. “Buseko will be here in a minute. He’s gone to get his bag; mum already packed everything for him.”
“Thank you m-“ Alicia stopped herself in time before Mary could shoot the fiery daggers in her eyes at her. Buseko chose that particular moment to come running into the room to save his mother from his grandmother.
“Let’s go mum!” They boy announced excitedly, dragging his bag and leading walking towards the door.
Alicia quickly got up, happy to escape from the home she knew she was never going to be welcomed. “We are off now.” She announced, her gaze moving from Mary to Exhildah.
“You are not going to say bye to me?” Samuel asked. “I thought you said you wanted us to get along fine.”
Alicia’s eyes flipped wide open as she glared at him in disbelief and embarrassment. “When did I say that?” She asked, nervously looking at Mary and praying that she doesn’t misunderstand Samuel’s bad joke.
Something about her uncomfortable reaction amused Samuel. “You should see your face right now!” He was laughing and pointing at her.
“Don’t mind this guy Alicia” Exhildah said. “I don’t know how he behaves at work but at home he is as childish as the sixth baby my husband will force me to have two years from now. Don’t mind him.”
Alicia relaxed a bit, happy that no one was taking Samuel’s words seriously.
“Yeah right.” Samuel said to Mary. “Says the woman who had a crush on me all through high school.”
“Let’s go I say bye to you outside my grandson.” Mary stood up and led her grandson out of the house. Alicia remained standing between the two seated across from each other, not sure whether to follow her former mother in-law outside or to give her a chance to say bye to her grandson in private. She felt awkward being in the middle of Samuel and Exhildah who were busy firing verbal shots at each other.
“You said it yourself, high school.” Exhildah was quick on defence. “You can’t blame me for what my hormones made me do when I was a teenager. Thanks to you, I know the difference between a man and a boy.”
Samuel gave Exhildah a mocking blank look, his lips hanging opening as if in owe and then shaking his head slowly. “Other women search for a Proverbs 31 man but you my dear u settled for a Genesis 9:7 man. Your womb will talk to you one of these days. Tell your husband that that scripture wasn’t directed at him alone.
“Every year you guys are producing kids faster than Samsung upgrades their phones. Tell Marcus to get a vasectomy and tell him I’m offering to do the operation for free, it’s on the house. Who the hell does he think he is, Gideon?”
“I think I should leave now.” Alicia could no longer bear the direction their conversation seemed to take. She started walking towards the door.
“So you are going to pretend you don’t remember begging me to get along with you?” Samuel’s words immediately brought Alicia to a stop.
Alicia turned back around in frustration. “I never said such words to you Doctor Kayombo.”
“I thought you said you were very good at telling the truth.” He reminded her of her own words from their conversation outside. “The last time we talked on the phone, Nick insisted that I talk to you and when I did, you told me-“
“Oh you mean from the past?” Alicia placed the palm of her hand over her forehead, finally understanding Samuel’s words. “I thought you meant today.” She said. “Gosh, it’s been like how many years? How did you expect me to remember what I said six years ago?”
“But I do.” Samuel said.
“There’s a reason why you are the doctor and I am the nurse.” Alicia replied.
“Given the opportunity, you would be a far much better doctor than me.” He said. “I heard about your achievements from the matron. Sometime people are not where they are simply because of their intelligence. You will make one hell of a doctor someday Alicia.”
Alicia blushed from head to toe.
“Are the two of you flirting right here in front of me?” Exhildah looked from one to the other.
Samuel laughed. “If I was flirting, the both of you would be pregnant with twins right now.” He said smugly. “I am that good.”
Exhildah picked up a cushion and flung it at him. Samuel dodged in time, sticking out his tongue at her and laughing.
Alicia took that moment to quietly walk out of the room.
“I think you made her blush.” Exhildah laughed, holding her hand over her mouth to keep from being heard outside.
“What do you think mum would say if I told her that I like her?” Samuel asked.
“Like who?” Exhildah asked.
“Alicia of course.”
Exhildah sat up straight, her eyes piercing into his soul. “You are kidding me.” She said.
“I am looking for a rebound and the poor girl just happened to cross my path at the right time.” he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “And she has one hell of a birth machine. That’s a handsome nephew you have there.”
“You can’t be serious.” Exhildah said.
“Are you really asking me that?”
“Grow up Samuel. Leave that girl alone. She’s been through enough already. She deserves her own happily ever after and the only kind of happy you are capable of giving her is by leaving her the hell alone.”
“What makes you think I’m incapable of giving her real happiness?” Samuel’s tone had suddenly turned serious.
“You just said so yourself!” Exhildah said. “You said she’s a rebound!” She reminded him. “Gosh, do you even hear yourself when you talk? I bet you don’t cause if you did, you would have stopped talking a long time ago.”
“Jealous much aren’t we?” Samuel said.
Exhildah laughed. “Over you?” She scoffed. “I don’t know what chemicals they use to wash your white coats but whatever it is, they need to stop. The day I feel attracted to you Samuel will be the day my husband succeeds in impregnating himself so he can cut off the middle man…or woman. Anyway, what’s all this about a rebound? Did you and that fiery princess finally call it quits?”
“I broke up with her.” Samuel said.
“Woooow. You did?” Exhildah said. “What happened to finally make you see sense?”
“Arh, I guess I just got tired.”
“And her fiancé, he didn’t find out did he?”
“How should I know?” Samuel answered. “That guy is too busy adding zeros to his bank account to notice anything happening around him.” A picture of Kondwani driving past Exhildah’s home flashed through Samuel’s mind in that moment.
“But still, he’s your boss Samuel.” Exhildah reminded him. “Can you imagine the kind of trouble you would get into if word of it got out?”
Instead of feeling afraid, Samuel had this smirk on his face. “Not if I have something to bargain with when trouble comes.”
“What do you mean by that?” Exhildah asked.
“Let’s just say that my life is about to become even more so interesting than usual. Hehehe.”
“Why did I even bother to ask?” Exhildah got up and left the room for the kitchen. “I take it you are staying for lunch?” She asked from over there.
“Why not?” Samuel asked and went to stretch himself across the three-seater couch Exhildah had been seated on, a mischievous grin playing on his face.
“How about we go to Kafue for a boat cruise?” Alicia’s father asked a few minutes after she had walked in with her son. The idea of being a grandfather seemed to excite Joseph Daka more than words could describe. He quickly turned towards his wife who was preparing lunch in the kitchen for approval. “What do you think honey?” He shouted from the living room.
“You guys can go.” She shouted back. “I have a committee meeting for Natalie’s bridal shower to chair here at 15. Have you forgotten?”
Joseph looked up at his step-daughter from the floor where he had been setting up a makeshift pilgrim with Buseko and he didn’t miss how quickly the excitement that had been in Alicia’s eyes faded upon hearing her mother’s decline.
“Oh yeah,” Joseph muttered. “I had totally forgotten about that. “So what do you think about the six of us driving over there?”
“Count me out?” Belinda said as she walked down the stairs with her younger brothers following closely behind her, rushing to welcome their nephew home.
“I thought you were done reading Game of Thrones?” Alicia remarked.
“Yeah,” her sister replied. “I have a date with Patrick this evening.”
“Who’s Patrick?” Her father asked, getting up from the floor to give the two boys a chance to play with their nephew. “Relax dad, he’s a great guy.” Belinda assured her father.
“The last guy you described as great had a funny hairstyle and came knocking at my door with a cigarette in his mouth.” Joseph reminded her. “Where do you even find these men when you are buried in your books most of the time?”
“There’s this good book called Facebook dad,” Belinda candidly informed her father. “Unlike other books, this one allows you to actually chat in real time with the characters.”
Alicia laughed at the blank look on her father’s face. “This Facebook is messing up you people’s lives. I should sue the guy that came up with such a grand plan of destruction.” Joseph said. “Alicia,” he turned to his eldest daughter. “Get the kids ready so we can go immediately after lunch.”
“Yes dad.” Alicia replied.
“Daddy’s little girl….” Belinda mocked her sister as she walked passed, flashing her tongue out and wiggling her behind in a mocking fashion.
“Grow up Linda!” Alicia said and followed her dad upstairs. “Go and help mum in the kitchen!” She shouted before reaching the top of the stairs.
“Can I do the veggies mum?” Belinda asked when she joined her mother in the kitchen.
“They are done already.” Henrietta answered. “I’m almost done.” She added as she removed the pot of nshima from the stove and settled it down on the kitchen island for serving. “Pass me that plate over there?” She pointed to the big plate on the other side of the table in front of Belinda.
Belinda passed it over and moved a chair to sit down. “You know you could have easily agreed to go with them to Kafue when dad offered.” She told her mother. “It’s not like that committee can’t function with you.”
“I don’t think Alicia would have liked me going there.” Henrietta said.
“Are you kidding me?” Belinda asked. “How can you not know your own daughter mum? You should have seen the look in her eyes when you said you weren’t going. She wanted you to be there.”
Henrietta stopped whatever she was doing and looked at her step-daughter. “You think so?” she asked.
“I think so?” Belinda scoffed. “You are just unbelievable mum.” She said.
“Your sister kind of scares me.” the mother of four confessed. “I think it’s too late for me to fix things between us.”
“Maybe you should try fixing them first before you can claim failure.” Belinda said and got up to leave. “I’m going to take a dump first so I can clear my stomach for the trotters I just smelled in here.”
“Lindah!” Henrietta scolded the back of her daughter as she ran out of the room.
The twenty-two year old laughed and disappeared from the room leaving Henrietta shaking her head in incredulity.
When Joseph and the kids finally got on the road to Kafue, he took the opportunity to intercede on behalf of his wife with his daughter who was seated with him in the front of the mini-bus while the younger ones played in the back.
“You know your mum is trying to get close to you right?” Joseph said. “She’s just not sure how to go about it.”
“You don’t need to speak on her behalf dad.” Alicia told her father.
“I know.” He said. “Just like I know that you gave up on her a long time ago.”
“What did you expect me to do dad?” Alicia said, blinking profusely to draw back her tears. Every topic about her mother threatened to break her down to pieces. She was done trying to force her own mother to give her something that should have been given to her naturally. That’s not how a mother’s love worked.
“I know that her approach has been somewhat wrong, and I’m the one to blame for that.” Joseph said. “I should have stopped her before it was too late…but I guess I cared more about filling the void in my own daughter’s life without realizing what that was taking from you.”
Her father’s words echoed Belinda’s words to her from the previous day. The reality of it went straight to her heart as two drops of tears cascaded down her cheeks. Her mind replayed all the moments she could remember from the time Joseph and Belinda came into their lives and how quickly her mother had started to change. Having lost her husband at a very young age, Henrietta was more than determined to make her second marriage work.
The widow at that time wanted to prove to her gossiping family and friends that she could rise again despite losing her husband at such a young age. Back then marriage was the greatest achievement any woman could ever attain and Henrietta was hell bent on succeeding for the second time.
“I don’t think God destined me to receive love in this world.” Alicia said, wiping at her eyes with the palm of her hands.
“How can you say that?” her father asked.
“Come one dad, think about it.” Alicia said, more tears flowing from her eyes. “I lost my father when I was just a kid and just two years later you and Belinda came along and I lost my mother. Then I met Nicolas….” Alicia cried.
“I thought, finally.” She lowered her voice to avoid being heard by the kids. “Nicolas made me feel like I could be loved too.” Alicia sobbed. “He made me feel special in ways no one else ever did, not even my mother. But guess what, I lost him too. Why does everyone around me seem to be receiving love and all I keep doing is losing it?
“My mother lost one husband and soon gained another. Belinda lost her mother but she gained mine. And what about me?”
“There’s some tissue in that glove compartment.” Joseph said, pointing to the compartment in front of Alicia.
“What I need is not tissue.” Alicia fussed. “I need God to see me cry, to see my tears so he can do something about it.” Just then Buseko laughed at something in the back, his childish laughter filled the car and brought a fresh bolt of tears to his mother’s eyes.
“Just look at my son,” Alicia lamented. “The fruit of Nicolas’ love for me. He too, I lost him to the woman that blames me for her son’s death. What wrong did I ever do to God for him to keep punishing me like this? What did I do dad?”
Joseph reached his hand across and squeezed his daughter hand. “I understand your pain love.” He said. “You have the right to cry and complain but, it was never God’s plan for you to face this kind of pain at such a young age.
“We all face challenges in our lives. I know that right now you might think that you are the only one facing hardships…and that you might question God once in a while. However, if you really think about it, don’t you think that there are also many good things that have happened in your life despite the hardships?”
He was watching her as he waited for her response. He could see her thinking about his question.
Joseph put his focus back on the road ahead when Alicia remained quiet. “Think about it.” He said. “Take your time out today on the water to think about some of the good things that have happened in your life and let’s continue this conversation afterwards. Is that okay?”
Alicia turned to look at him. “Is that why you suggested this trip?” she asked. “Did you know I was going to lose it like this?”
Joseph laughed. “I simply wanted to spend some time with my children and grandchild. Don’t you think the weather is just beyond beautiful today?” Joseph rolled down his window and allowed the cool breeze to wash over his face.
He exhaled deeply and then rolled the window back up.
Alicia smiled through her tears as she watched her father.
She had just found the first two answers to his question. She reached across and opened the glove compartment, still smiling as she removed some tissue to dry her eyes.
Once she was done wiping away her tears, Alicia rolled down her window and did exactly as her father had done. Joseph smiled as he watched her.
Alicia turned to look out her window and took in the beautiful mountains around them. She stretched her hand out and allowed the air to brush against it.
“Mum!” Alicia heard her son call out to her from the back and she turned to look at him. “Can I do that as well?”
Alicia’s first instinct was to shout NO! But she saw the excited look in his eyes and her heart softened. She turned to David the oldest. “Open that window David.” She pointed to it. “Just slightly, not too much.” She instructed the ten year old. “Don’t move him from the seatbelt. Hold him for just two minutes as he looks out and then get back to your seats.”
Once David finished doing as instructed, Alicia faced forward and started laughing, softly.
Her father couldn’t help smiling despite not knowing what she was laughing about. “What’s gotten into you?” He asked.
“The answers,” Alicia said. “They just keep coming.”
“What answers?” Joseph asked.
“You asked me if there are any good things that have happened in my life despite the things I’ve lost.”
“Ooh!” Joseph remembered. “Do you think we can continue that conversation once we arrive?”
“Certainly.” Alicia answered.
The following day, Alicia was out shopping for some clothes with her son when she bumped into Kondwani in one of the men’s boutiques. He had a couple of shirts and slacks hanging over his shoulder while she had some shoes and shorts for Buseke in a shopping basket.
“Are you still following me?” Were the first words that came out of her mouth the moment she saw him standing in front of her.
Kondwani laughed. “Hello.” He said arrogantly, looking around the store to remind her of where they were.
“Oh.” Alicia cringed in embarrassment.
“Mum we found it!” Buseke came rushing towards her with a t-shirt in his hands, the store assistant tagging behind him with a smile on her face.
“He refused to leave the storeroom until we found it.” The store assistant said. “If there’s anything else you’ll need, I’ll be over there helping those customers.” She pointed to a group of men standing a few feet away from them struggling with which choice of shirt print to pick from the collection before them.
“Yes, thank you very much…Dyness.” Alicia read out her name from the tag on her shirt. “I will see you before we leave, thanks.”
“You are welcome.” The girl said and went away.
Alicia turned back to Kondwani and found him staring at Buseko who was also staring back at him defiantly.
“Are you two in a staring competition?” She asked them, laughing.
The sound of Alicia’s voice so close by brought Kondwani back to reality.
“Mummy, who is this man?” Buseko asked.
Alicia laughed. “This man is my boss at my new job honey.”
“Is he a doctor?” Buseko’s eyes widened in expectation.
“Yes he is.” Alicia answered.
“Wow.” He boy said, suddenly looking at Kondwani as if he was a God. “When I become an adult, I want to be a doctor also, like you and Uncle Samuel.”
Alicia was looking at Kondwani and expecting him to say something nice to encourage her son but instead, Kondwani remained silent. He face looked pale, like he had just seen a ghost.
“Doctor Chileshe.” Alicia called out to him. “Sir, are you okay? Your face, it’s suddenly turned pale.”
Kondwani blinked copiously to force himself out of the scary world he had fallen into. “Yeah, I mean no…I mean yes, I am okay. Is he, is he your son?”
“Your eyes,” Alicia pointed to them, completely ignoring his question.
“What about my eyes?” Kondwani continued blinking profusely.
“They’ve turned red.” She said. “Sir?” She was now looking at him suspiciously. She moved closer to him and whispered into his ear; “are you on drugs?”
The unexpectedness of her question caused Kondwani to choke on his saliva. “What are you talking about?”
“Bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils….” Alicia explained.
“Out of all the conditions associated with those symptoms, you just had to settle on that?”
“I am sorry if I offended you.” Alicia quickly apologized. “I was just worried-“
“I am not on any kind of drugs.” Kondwani provided sternly. “Is this your son?” His gaze went back to the boy looking up at him in awe.
“Yes.” Alicia answered. “His name’s Buseko. Bubu, say hi to this gentleman. His name is Doctor Chileshe.”
“Hi Dr Chileshe.” The boy greeted him.
“Nice to meet you Buseko.” Kondwani said.
“My pleasure sir!”
Both Kondwani and Alicia stared at the five year old in disbelief.
“Who taught you how to say that?” Alicia asked.
“Uncle Sam.” Buseko answered proudly. “He said he is going to teach me how to become a man.”
“I didn’t know that you and Doctor Kayombo_”
“He used to be best friends with Buseko’s dad.” Alicia explained.
Kondwani nervously cleared his throat. “Used to be?”
“He’s late.” Alicia said in a whisper whilst watching her son to make sure he had not heard her. Fortunately, Buseko was too busy taking in the magnificent presence of the god before him to pay attention to anything else.
“I am sorry to hear about that.” Kondwani said, his eyes quickly searching the room to look for an exit. And then he felt someone hold his hand. It was Buseko.
“Did you also know my father?” Buseko was looking straight into Kondwani’s eyes, smiling as he anxiously waited for a response in the affirmative.
“What?” It was all Kondwani could come up with at such short notice. How had he missed the fact that Nicolas’ fiancé was pregnant six years ago?