Alicia pulled her son away from Kondwani who was visibly uncomfortable with the boy’s line of inquiry.
“He is just my boss at work honey,” Alicia told her son. “He didn’t know your father, only Uncle Kayombo knew him.” The disappointment on Buseko’s face heart breaking to watch.
Alicia had done her best to talk to her son about his father. The only thing she had not told him were the exact details surrounding his death. How could she make a child of that age understand the complications surrounding Nicolas’ death when she the adult was still struggling to find answers?
“I should be on my way now.” Kondwani quickly announced.
“Oh year, sorry sir for keeping you.” Alicia apologized and together with her son she stepped aside to give the doctor enough room to pass.
“See you at work tomorrow.” Kondwani said and quickly headed towards the counter to pay for his clothes, completely oblivious to the shock on Alicia’s face as she watched his retreating back.
See you at work tomorrow was not a phrase she would have conjured up even in her wildest dreams as coming from Dr Chileshe. The Kondwani she had just spoken to and the one she usually met at work were two different people that could have come from parallel universes.
Why did he appear so shaken up and why was he acting so polite? Alicia wondered.
Out in the parking standing by his car, Kondwani took out his phone from his pocket and called his mother.
“Are you home?” He asked.
“Yes I’m home!” Claudia who had not been expecting a call from her son so soon answered excitedly.
“I’m on my way.” He said and cut the line.
In her excitement, Claudia had missed the seriousness in Kondwani’s voice. She rushed to the kitchen to get started on lunch before he showed up at the door. She was in her happy mood, humming and singing as she tended to the stove when her second last Mwansa came to stand by the kitchen door.
“I’m going to see Charlene mother.” The 22 year old said.
“Your brother is coming for lunch,” Claudia answered without turning around to look at her daughter, her eyes fixed on whatever she steering in a pot. “We rarely have meals together as a family so go back to your room and postpone whatever plans you had till your brother leaves.”
“This isn’t fair mum!” Mwansa sulked. “You are the one who wants to have lunch with your precious son so why do we all get to suffer? I’m leaving.” And she turned to leave.
“Stop right there young lady.” Claudia stopped whatever she was doing and turned to look at her, a threatening expression on her face. For someone as stubborn and as free-spirited as her daughter, Claudia had learnt to be strong in her approach if she was ever to get through to her. Mwansa was not the type of daughter a mother with a weak heart could handle. She had the power to drive anyone that had the misfortune of talking to her to suicide with her antagonistic attitude.
“You are staying for lunch and that’s it.” Claudia declared sternly. “And what’s that you are wearing?” She finally noticed her daughters outfit.
Mwansa looked at herself in surprise and then back at her mother. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” She asked innocently.
“Where’s the rest of that top?” Claudia asked, clearly remembering that when she had bought that blouse for her, it had been way longer than it appeared now.
Mwansa laughed. “It’s called a crop top mother.” She was looking at her mother like she would a fossil at an archaeological site.
“A crop what?”
“A crop top.” Mwansa said the words slowly, as if her mother’s hearing was the issue at hand. . “It was too big and outdated when I tried on so I had it cut and redesigned into something modern and cool.”
“So is it going to grow longer by the time you get to wherever you are going?” Claudia asked.
“Huh?” Mwansa wondered if her mother’s menopause had reached an all-time high. What is she going on about?
“You said it’s a crop top.” Claudia explained herself. “Aren’t crops supposed to grow? Or are you going to paste on the rest of that top at some point? Your whole stomach is outside and-”
“What’s going on in here?” Chilufya rudely brushed passed her sister and went to check on what was cooking on the stove. “Pasta?” disappointment crossed her face. “I was really craving nshima.”
“Your brother is coming over and you know he hates nshima.” Claudia informed her daughter.
“Kondwani is coming?” The disappointment was quickly replaced with excitement.
“Are you pregnant sis?” Mwansa asked and shocked both her mother and elder sister.
“What!?” Chilufya asked in disbelief.
“You’ve been wanting to talk to bro for over a week now. One can only assume you got knocked up and you want him to help with some abortion pills.”
Chilufya walked over to where her young sister was standing and smacked her at the back of her head.
“Ouch!” Mwansa cried out as she moved away from her sister to hide behind their mother.
“Do you just use your head to make yourself look taller?” Chilufya snapped. “Why does everything that comes out of your mouth stink?” She then stormed out of the kitchen.
“Are you just going to let her hit me like that mum?” Mwansa looked at her mother pleadingly, one hand softly nursing the back of her head.
“You had it coming.” Claudia said and went to get vegetable from the fridge.
“Why don’t you ever support me?” Mwansa started to cry. “I am forever the black sheep of this family.” It was her turn now to storm out of the kitchen and off to wherever she had plans of going.
Claudia remained shaking her head in incredulity.
Outside the house, Mwansa stopped to wipe her tears off with the back of her hands. “Thank you for your timely provocation dear sister of mine.” She said to herself, a mischievous smile playing at the corners of her lips. “Now I can go about my business without feeling guilty about skipping lunch with His Majesty.”
Mwansa took out her phone from her handbag and called someone.
“I’m starting off from home, where are you?” She asked whoever was on the other end of the line.
“I’m at my aunt’s place in Woodlands,” said a whispering male’s voice. “I’m trying to sweet talk her into letting me use her car for the day.”
Mwansa laughed. “Send me the address; will get on a cab and meet you outside.”
Thirty minutes later, Kondwani found his mother in the kitchen finishing up on lunch. Without announcing himself, he stood by the door and watched her hum her way through her activities. She was obviously in a very happy mood.
How do you expect me to talk to you about my problems when you are this happy? Kondwani thought. One sentence from my mouth and your perfect little world will be turned upside down. What would you have me do, mother?
“Why are you the one cooking?” Kondwani finally made his presence known. His mother quickly turned upon hearing his voice, a huge smile on her face.
“Where are the kids?” Kondwani asked as he made his way into the kitchen to sit down. “Why are you the one cooking?”
Claudia chuckled. “Only Chilufya knows how to cook in this house.” She said as she cleared the pots off the stove so she could join him by the table. “She wanted to cook nshima but when I heard you were coming-“
“You didn’t have to do that.” Knodwani interjected her. “I said I don’t like eating nshima every day, not that I hate it.”
“You said you hated it because it reminded you of those days we would line up just to receive a sack of mealie-meal from Red Cross.” She reminded him.
“And you just had to bring it up.” Kondwani complained. “Where’s Chilufya?” He got up to leave. Whenever his mother brought up the past, his whole mood would be spoiled for the day. He already had his fair share of disparagement from Alicia, he didn’t need his own mother to tip over an already sinking boat.
“Bro, you’re here.” Chilufya entered the kitchen in time.
“Mum said you wanted to talk to me-“
“Yeah,” she said. “I was going to come to the hospital but, I thought you might be very busy.”
“Come, let’s talk in the living room.” He led the way and sat down.
Chilufya appeared reluctant to sit down, twisting her fingers nervously.
“Aren’t you going to sit?” Kondwani asked.
“How about we talk outside, by those garden chairs outside.”
Kondwani threw her a suspicious look but instead of asking, he got up and led them outside into the garden.
“What is it you want to talk to me about that you don’t want mum knowing?” Kondwani asked his baby sister once they were seated outside.
“It is not that I don’t want her to know.” Chilufya said. “I think that you are the one who wouldn’t want her knowing.”
“What do you mean?”
“You do know that I am a very busy man right?” Kondwani reminded his sister.
“It’s about the accident.” Chilufya announced very so suddenly.
Kondwani tensed up. “What accident?” He feigned ignorance.
“You know the one am talking about.” Chilufya stated matter-of-factly.
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” Kondwani said, his voice slightly shaking.
“About six years ago,” Chilufya said. “I overheard a conversation between you and mum.” She was watching her brother’s every reaction. Kondwani looked like he had just been drenched in a cold bucket of water.
“You…what did you-“
“I heard most of it.” Chilufya answered.
“Why didn’t you say anything all this while?” He asked. “Why choose to talk about it now?”
“Because I recently discovered something that’s made me have sleepless nights since.”
Kondwani sat up, his eyes widening in deep terror. “What did you-“
“When I heard the two of you talking about the accident, I got curious.” Chilufya explained. “I looked up the family of the man that died…I don’t know why I did something like that but, there was something you said to mum that night that kept bothering me.”
“What did I say?” Kondwani asked.
“All I know is that after I heard everything, I wanted to know who the man that was involved in the accident. You know me, when I am curious about something, I won’t stop till I find answers. The next morning, I went to that hospital and I saw the fiancé of the man who died.”
“Why are you telling me all this sis?” Kondwani asked.
“Because I know that that man’s fiancé now works at your hospital and I know that you know who she is.”
“It was an accident Chilu,” Kondwani said. “It happened six years ago so I don’t see any point as to why we are even talking about it.”
“If it was just an accident, then why did you to the police?” Chilufya asked.
“I never lied to the police. What are you talking about?”
“Did you know that that man’s fiancé was pregnant?” she asked.
“How did you-“
“I told you, something about the whole thing didn’t sit well in my heart. I followed that woman around until a year later when she disappeared. I was on Facebook a couple of months ago when I saw a familiar name on a friend’s wall.
“I clicked on it and for sure it was her. Like a stalker, I went through her profile and that’s how I discovered she was interning at your hospital. I didn’t know about the child until a few weeks ago when I saw her with the child outside her home.”
“You even followed her to her place?” Kondwani asked.
“You are one to judge.” Chilufya fired back at him accusingly. “There is something about that woman’s pain when I saw her crying at the hospital that I haven’t been able to forget to this day. I even hear her crying in my sleep.”
“I hope you haven’t mentioned any of this to mum.” Kondwani said.
“Don’t you think that mum deserves to know the truth?”
Kondwani jumped up from his seat, eyes blazing at his sister. “You will do no such thing!” He commanded her.
Chilufya got up as well. “Bro-“
“What I’ve said is final Chilu and I hope you don’t try to second guess my decision.” Kondwani said sternly. “Nothing good will come out of telling mum the truth. Do you think that the thought of telling her hasn’t crossed my mind? I drove all the way here today with the intention of telling her everything.
“I had somehow managed to convince myself during the drive here that she needed to know but my confidence and resolve waned the moment I laid eyes on her. There’s no way in hell I will be the reason she loses that smile on her face after everything that she’s already been through. I refuse to do that to her. I won’t.”
“It’s not like don’t understand you Kondwani,” Chilufya tried to reason with him. “But do you honestly think that you can keep everything from her all the way to the end? The truth always has a funny way of coming out.”
“So far there’s just us three who know about that night….”
“You mean two?” Chilufya corrected him.
“Whatever the case maybe, I intend to do everything in my power to shield mum from the truth. If she ever knows that that accident resulted in death, then it won’t just be that man’s death we would have to contend with.”
Chilufya sighed heavily, her brother’s words finally sinking into her. “What about that lady nurse?” she asked.
“What about her?” Kondwani asked.
“Don’t you think we need to do something about her?” Chilufya suggested. “She lost custody of her son because her former mother in-law blames her for her son’s death. For the life of me I can’t seem to get a good night sleep from the time I discovered she was a mother…knowing very well who’s responsible for putting her in a position where she can’t raise or see her child as she pleases.”
“I already told you,” Kondwani said defensively. “It was an accident. It’s not like someone set out to end that man’s life. He just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Can you confidently look that woman in the eye or that man’s family and tell them that?”
“I would love to see you try.”
“What’s all this about?” Kondwani asked. “Whose side are you on sis?”
“I am not on anyone’s side. I just wish you could be a little more sympathetic that’s all.”
“You think I don’t have any compassion?” Kondwani asked. “From the moment Alicia walked through the doors of my hospital, my life hasn’t been the same. Like a mad man I keep following her around, wondering what sort of life she’s living and if I can be of any help to her without exposing myself in the process.”
“All I can see is a man desperate to burry a crime in order to protect his family.” Chilufya remarked.
Kondwani put his hands in his pockets and moved his head slightly towards her, his eyes searching her eyes. “Okay, tell me Chilufya,” he said. “What would you have me do?”
“What sort of life do you think that woman would be living right now if her fiancé was still alive?” Chilufya asked.
“What are you asking me to do Chilu?” Kondwani gaped at her in shock.
“I don’t think you need me to explain that to you.” Chilufya said tightly. “You figure it out, you are after all the brains of this family.” She then left him standing there to mull over her words.
Kondwani was too dumbfounded to move.
Mwansa found her boyfriend Stephen waiting for her outside his aunt’s place, his back proudly leaning against the car he had successfully managed to borrow. She quickly paid the taxi driver and excitedly ran after Stephen.
She was about to throw her arms around him but he grabbed them instead, his eyes searching the surroundings for an audience. “My aunt is very strict when it comes to dating,” Stephen warned his girlfriend of two weeks. “She will castrate me right here if she discovers I borrowed the car for dating purposes.”
Mwansa laughed. “I think she and my mother would get along very well. They sound like twins.”
Stephen opened the door for her like a gallant prince and Mwansa stepped into the vehicle like royalty, blushing at the thought of being treated like a princess by the 24 year old. Stephen was the first guy she had met that made her feel special with every act he made towards her and every word he said to her. It was the first time since she started dating that she was seeing only one guy at a time.
After going out on her first date with Stephen who had taken her to a respectable restaurant instead of a nightclub two weeks ago, Mwansa had locked herself in her room and dialled every boy’s number she had been seeing on and off and told them she was seeing someone officially.
“So where are we going?” Mwansa asked her boyfriend as he got them onto the road.
“You’ll see.” Stephen said smiling.
“Oooh, I’m so excited!” Mwansa danced excitedly in her seat.
“By the way, do you think you can talk your mum into letting you leave home early this coming weekend?” Stephen asked.
“Leaving early and not getting home late?” Mwansa asked, confused by the timing in his question. Her past dating experience was consumed by her worrying about getting home before curfew and never about leaving home early.
Stephen laughed. “There’s some youth activities going on at church this Saturday, thought it might be fun if we went together.”
“So you also think that I need Jesus?” Mwansa sounded disappointed, her head falling back onto the head rest with a thud.
Stephen chuckled. “Why would I think that?” He asked. “Besides, isn’t it a fact that all humans need Jesus in their lives?”
“My mum and sister are always telling me and my kid brother that we need Jesus. Frankly, I think Chilufya needs him more than me. That girl is a wierdo.”
“So do you think she will let you?” Stephen later asked.
“Of course!” Mwansa answered. “If anything, she might even offer to drive me there herself.”
“I already asked my aunt if I can use her car then, said I can pick it up in the morning. Will come and pick you up from home.”
Mwansa almost jumped in her seat. “Hell no!” She shouted. “You can’t come to pick me up.”
“Why not?” Stephen asked.
“My mother would never believe that I had plans at church if she saw a guy picking me up that early in the morning. Unlike your aunt, my mother has no life. Her life revolves around her children so she’s ever meddling in our affairs.
“My mother is the kind of person that can follow you outside the yard just so she can see which direction you are going or who you are going with. She has that much time on her hands.”
Stephen laughed. “So what should we do?”
“Like today, will get a cab and meet you outside…provided your aunt doesn’t see me as well.”
“Oh no, that won’t be an issue with her. She knows that I have activities at church most Saturdays. If she sees you on that day, she will just think am giving you a ride to church.”
“Thank God.” Mwansa heaved a sigh of relief. Stephen laughed.
After a three hour long heated discussion with the hospital board concerning the expansion of health services to be provided by ZADH, Kondwani couldn’t wait to get out of the board room and lock himself up in his office for a quick nap.
Fridays were one of the busiest days at the hospital due to people’s carelessness in celebrating a weekend that they might never even get to see as a result of their behaviour. The last thing Kondwani needed was to be depressed by a bunch of power hungry old billionaires trying to milk every dime from the pockets of unsuspecting patients suffering from incurable diseases.
Unfortunately for Dr Chileshe, he could not get that much needed rest in the office because Alicia had picked that very moment he stepped out to approach him.
“Traffic accident, Great East Road, eight badly injured, one DOA.” Alicia the interning nurse was almost out of breath from running up the stairs.
“And they brought them here?” The Medical Director asked.
“We were the closest.” Alicia explained.
“Dr Kayombo and Makani?”
“The AP is in the OR right now and Dr Makani is at the conference-“
“Since when did ZADH become understaffed?” The Medical Director asked. They had finally reached the chaotic ER where the residents and nurses where running about attending to patients.
“It’s the conference sir.” Alicia explained but Kondwani was no longer listening to her. He was taking in the chaos unfolding before him, deeply regretting the timing of that medical conference where half of his staff had gone.
By midnight, the atmosphere at ZAD hospital had calmed down a little. Exhausted, Alicia who was working the night shift took the stairs to the rooftop of the building to take in some fresh air.
She had just landed her feet on the top step when she spotted Kondwani standing with his back to her, his legs spread apart and his hands in his pockets, a position she had come to know as his regular pose. Not wanting to disturb him, Alicia slowly and quietly turned around to go back.
“Alicia.” She heard him call out to her.
“I am so sorry,” she turned to apologize. “I had no idea-“
Looking at the tired expression on her face, Kondwani couldn’t help recalling his sister’s words;
What sort of life do you think that woman would be living right now if her fiancé was still alive?
Do you always have to look like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders every time I see you? Kondwani silently asked Alicia.
“How did you know about this place?” Kondwani asked, moving to lean his back against the wall, one leg stretched forward and the foot of the other resting against the wall.
Alicia remained standing where she was, not sure whether to join him where he was or to just answer his question and retreat.
“Dr Kayombo told me about it.” She answered.
“I take it that you and him are very close?” Kondwani said.
“We know each other through a mutual friend.” Alicia replied. “I will leave you-“
“What, you don’t like talking to me?” Kondwani asked just before she could turn back around. “Are you afraid someone might see us together and spread more rumours?”
“No Sir, I would never-“
“Or could it be that you were the one spreading those rumours to make your peers jealous?” Kondwani asked.
“What?” Alicia asked in disbelief.
Kondwani nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders, a smirk appearing on his face. “It’s been known to happen; a male doctor gives a chance to a promising nurse or intern and she picks up other ideas from his professional gesture.”
The accusation he was throwing immediately brought tears to the eyes of the introvert nurse. Alicia had not imagined that something so wicked and calculating could be said about her character in such a very short time.
Was that the kind of person Dr Chileshe thought she was every time he looked at her? The embarrassment was too much to handle whilst standing there in front of him. Instead of defending herself, Alicia opted for the only route she knew would shield her from further embarrassment; escape.
Her crying and running away from him like that was not the direction Kondwani had expected that conversation to go. He quickly ran after her and caught up to her right in the middle of the stairs.
Alicia first heard him run down the stairs and then felt him grab hold of her hand.
“Alicia, that was a joke.” Kondwani said once he managed to get her to come to a stop. “Don’t you have a sense of humour?”
“I am just tired,” She lied, consciously avoiding lifting her head to look at him. “I need to go back and check on a few patients.” She wiped her tears with her other free hand, Kondwani was still holding on to the other one.
“I am sorry,” he quickly apologized. “I guess it was a very bad joke. But do you cry this easily when you hear something unpleasing to your ear?”
“My hand.” Alicia was looking at her hand and moving it to free herself from his grasp.
“I said I’m sorry.” Kondwani apologized again, still not letting go of her hand.
“I will file this in as sexual harassment.”
Alicia’s threat had an immediate desired effect as Kondwani who let go of her hand. Without saying another word, she walked down the rest of the stairs.
Kondwani remained where he was, laughing at the absurdity of the situation. Her reaction towards him had completely caught him off guard. He didn’t know whether to feel insulted by it or to be impressed by her uniqueness. Either way, he found the whole experience amusing.
When Alicia’s shift ended the next morning, she found Kayombo waiting for her in the hospital lobby. His casual and relaxed attire announced the fact that his shift too had ended.
“I thought you had already left.” Alicia said when she stopped where he was.
“Was waiting for you.” Kayombo said and started walking towards the exit.
Alicia ran after him. “You were waiting for me?” She asked.
“I am passing through the Kabwe’s, thought you might want to see Buseko for a bit.”
“Are you serious?” Alicia couldn’t hide her excitement.
Kayombo was grinning proudly. “I told you that I would help you out whenever I can.” He said. “I figured that you might not have the freedom to see your son whenever you want and since am welcome in that household 24/7, I can help make things a little easier for you.”
Lost in her excitement, Alicia almost reached out to grab Kayombo’s hand but Kondwani’s presence in front of them as they walked out of the hospital brought the both of them to a stop. He was glaring at the two of them suspiciously, one hand in his pocket while the other carried his bag.
“You look like a detective standing there like that.” Kayombo commented. “You are going to scare the patients leaving the hospital and send them back into the ER.”
“I was about to head to the car park when I remembered something I forgot to pack in my office.” Kondwani said. He was obviously not in the same joking mood as his colleague. “Are the two of you leaving together?” He asked.
“Yes,” Kayombo answered, a little too loudly. He offered no further explanations.
“Try to watch your conduct the two of you around the hospital.” Kondwani warned them sternly. “The last thing we need is an administrative scandal between a physician and a nursing intern. I think we’ve had enough of that with this batch of interns already.” He was looking at Alicia piercingly as he said the last part.
Alicia could only lower her gaze in defeat. There was nothing she was ever going to do that was going to fix her ruined reputation around the hospital.
“Don’t mind him.” Kayombo later said as he drove them to Mrs Kabwe’s house. “That guy hates anybody that has a life because he has no life of his own.”
“Isn’t he engaged to the PR manager?” Alicia asked.
“That’s not an engagement, it’s a sham.” Kayombo answered without thinking.
He realized his error a little too late. “My bad.” He said, quickly shrugging off his careless remarks. “Enough talk about the MD, what are your plans for your off days?”
The rest of the way, the two of them talked about everything else except work or anyone related to their work. Kayombo stopped his vehicle a couple of blocks from Mrs Kabwe’s house.
“I will pick up Buseko and we will find you here.” He said.
Alicia paused before opening the door. “Won’t his grandmother suspect anything?”
Kayombo laughed. “I already told her that I will be hanging out with him for the day so you have nothing to worry about.”
Alicia nodded and stepped down from the vehicle.
About ten minutes later, Kayombo parked on the other side of the road and motioned for Alicia to cross over. Buseko started waving at her excitedly the moment he spotted her. With her eyes focused on her son, Alicia briefly lost caution of her surroundings and could have been hit by an oncoming vehicle had it not been for the alert driver who came to a stop in time.
Alicia gaped at the driver in shock and guilt, ready to apologize for her carelessness when she recognized the person behind the wheel.
“Alicia?” Stephen called out to her in surprise.
“You know her?” Mwansa who was seated beside him asked.
“Yes,” Stephen said as he opened the door. “She is Buseko’s mother, you know, the boy I told you about.”
“Ooh,” Mwansa said as she recalled one of their past conversations on the phone. So this is the woman responsible for making your aunt have tough dating restrictions? Mwansa thought as she looked at the visibly pale and shaken up woman.
“Are you okay?” Stephen asked as he walked over to Alicia.
“Alicia,” Kayombo came to join them.
“Uncle Kayombo?” Stephen turned to him. “What are you doing here?” He looked over to his car where he had come from and spotted Buseko looking out the window, a knowing expression suddenly crossing his face.
“Better not tell your aunty about this.” Kayombo warned the young man, realizing that their secret arrangement had just been compromised.
Stephen laughed. “I thought about doing the same thing as well but I was too scared to risk getting into Aunt Mary’s bad books.”
“Thank you Steve.” Alicia said.
“Not a problem,” the 24 year old said. “Just remember to look left and right and then left again before crossing the road next time.” He teased her.
Kayombo moved to smack him in the head but Stephen quickly ran back to the car, laughing.
Kayombo took Alicia’s hand and moved her away from the road so Stephen could pass. The two of them waved as he drove passed them.
“Do you think our secret is safe with him?” Alicia asked.
“Yes,” Kayombo answered easily. “I would bet my life on it.”
“What about that girl in the car?”
“I have never seen her before but whoever she is, she looks like she would do about anything Stephen asked her to do.”
Alicia scoffed. “Men.” She shook her head and started walking towards his car. “They think the world revolves around them.” She mumbled under her breath.
“I heard that.” Kayombo said from behind her.
“You’ve suddenly gone quite.” Stephen said to Mwansa when he realized he had been talking to himself for a while. “Did that close accident scare you that much?” he laughed. “I didn’t page you for a scaredy cat.”
“Something about that woman’s eyes,” Mwansa said. “She has the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. I just can’t seem to get over it.”
“If I told you her life story, you would understand that look in her eyes.” Stephen said.
“What’s her story?” Mwansa asked.