The thing with Alicia was that when it was required of her lips to say something, they chose to tighten, tightly so. Like a comatose person, while they can hear some of the things going on around them, they can do nothing to engage or respond, except slightly twitch their fingers. That was the kind of personality Alicia had.
From up his office window, Kondwani had accidently seen Mary storm into the building and immediately recognized her as Nicolas’s mother and Buseko’s grandmother. He had done enough research by now on that family to even chant their names involuntarily in his sleep. Despite everything that had happened, why did his sympathies lie with the girlfriend of the deceased and not the woman that had given him life?
Perhaps, had the woman not sold her conscience for a thousand bucks, would Kondwani have something else other than malice in his eyes when he confronted her in the cafeteria? But who was he to judge? If heaven and hell existed, the two of them would probably end up on the same ride anyway. Kondwani thought.
“This is a hospital,” Kondwani told the woman fuming in fury. “We are in the business of taking care of people and not bringing them harm. What do you think you are doing bringing your personal issues here? Have you no shame or class?”
Mary tried to spit something back at him but her lips refused to budge. Instead, she was looking up at him with the mouth wide open. She had never been that disrespected in her life. Who the hell did this young man think he was embarrassing her like that?
Oooh, it seems you’ve made a few friends for yourself now Alicia haven’t you? Mary sent a chilling look in Alicia’s direction. Alicia shrivelled up behind Kayombo who had moved in-between the two women.
Kondwani was glaring at Mary as if daring her to say something or do something else stupid. “This is my ship and these are my people. I run things around here so please leave while you still have your head held high.”
Alicia almost jumped at Kondwani’s unexpected thunder as she watched her former mother in-law cower before him. She had never seen the woman at a loss for words before. Mary Kabwe was always the woman in charge wherever she went. People cowered in her presence and not the other way round.
When Mary finally made her move to leave, Alicia knew just how much she was going to pay for everything that had transpired in those five minutes.
“Don’t you have work to do?” Kondwani thundered down on everyone in the cafeteria and sent them scampering in all directions.
“Not you,” he said to Alicia whose face was drenched in tears from imaging the kind of wrath that awaited her when she got off from work. “In my office.” Kondwani commanded and Alicia ran to walk behind him, she was no match for his angry long strides.
When they were finally in the privacy of his office, Alicia frantically tried to wipe her tears with her hands. Kondwani stopped before sitting down to give her a disapproving look. How many times in a day did this woman cry? He thought to himself as he threw a pack of paper napkins at her.
“Sit.” He said and Alicia did as instructed. She took a couple of towels and rubbed her face but the fear of the pending doom and the realization of what had just transpired was too overwhelming that her body was rocking in the chair from all the effort she was putting in not to cry out loud.
“Kond-“ Gwen stormed into the room, looking about ready for a fight in whatever form a fight would present itself. She stopped when she saw Alicia crying in her seat, her face bowed down.
“Ms Miyoba, what gives you the right to storm into my office in such fashion?” Kondwani’s tone was a stern reminder that he was in no mood to be personal with her. Even without him saying it, Gwen could hear him say; I am not your fiancé at work and I owe you no explanation so disappear from my presence right now.
Remembering the last conversation she had had with her mother, Gwen threw Alicia a look and left the room in the same manner she had come.
Kondwani sighed frustratingly and walked over to Alicia who was bawling her eyes out now. He roughly grabbed her by the shoulders and lifted her up from the chair. Alicia braced herself for more tongue lashing but Kondwani surprised her by pulling her towards him and wrapping her into a tight embrace.
He rested her head on his shoulder and told her something he never imagined he would ever tell any woman to do. “Cry, just let it all out.”
The sudden and unexpected words uttered by those lips and in their soothing tone caught Alicia by surprise and before she knew it, she succumbed to the moment and sobbed in Kondwani’s arms. As her body rocketed in anguish, Kondwani tightened his arms around her and said nothing.
She had a lot of questions to ask Kondwani, the most important being, why? Why was he doing the things he was doing and why was he being so kind to her? The more questions she passed through her head, the more she cried, the uncertainty and confusion of it all making her feel even more helpless.
She would have sold her own soul if it could get her back her son so why should she be mad at him for interfering and setting her up in the cross-hairs of her son’s grandmother? Since Nicolas, no one had gone out of their way to give her something she so desperately desired.
In that moment, in his arms, it did not matter to Alicia what Kondwani’s motives for helping her or the consequences of his actions on her against her former mother in-law were. She was just happy to know that at least there was one more person in the world on her side.
When he felt her start to calm down in his arms, Kondwani held her by the shoulders and pulled her slightly away from him. “Are you feeling a little better now?” He asked, his eyes closely searching her face.
Alicia froze. She had never seen Doctor Chileshe’s face that up close. She felt something move in her stomach and she could feel her eyelids move ferociously against her will.
When a sudden smile appeared across Kondwani’s face, Alicia felt her knees weaken and the doctor had to place his arm around her waist again to steady her. “Are you okay?” He was examining her in his usual doctor-patient manner.
Alicia nodded and batted her eyelids a thousand times in a second and pulled herself away from him. “I’m fine,” She said, and then placing her hand over her forehead she added, “Just a slight headache. I haven’t cried this much in a long time.”
Kondwani raised an eyebrow. “In a long time?” He laughed. “I seriously doubt that.” He then went back behind his desk and sat down.
“Do you think we can talk now?” He asked, pointing to the chair in front for her to sit down. “I think you and I-“ His phone rang and he knew it could only mean one thing. He got up, took his phone from his pocket and just as he was about to check, Alicia’s phone rang as well. While Kondwani grabbed his coat, Alicia excused herself and ran out of his office. Kondwani rushed out of his office behind her, following the direction she had taken.
A few hours later, Alicia was freshening up in the bathroom by the nursing department when she was accosted by Gwen. With Alicia’s colleagues watching, she slammed her back hard against the wall and slapped her on either side of her face in rapid succession. The other four interns watched in horror as their friend got raffled up, afraid to move or say anything that might anger the hospital’s first lady. They had a gruelling internship to survive; they dared not risk their chances by interfering in business that was none of their concern.
“Didn’t I warn you?” Gwen spat in Alicia’s face, her complexion working completely against her. Gwen’s fingers were visibly imprinted in red on either side of her face.
“I-I-I….” Alicia’s tongue froze as tears streamed down her face. She remembered those few minutes she spent crying in Kondwani’s arms and the guilt could not allow her to look Gwen in the eye. She lowered her gaze.
“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Gwen yanked Alicia’s face up. she was about to land another slap when Caroline entered in her usual jovial mood only to freeze when she realized what was going on in the bathroom. Unlike the others, she did not remain frozen for long, she rushed over to her friend and pulled Gwen away from her.
She was so rough in her movements that Gwen fell straight on her bottom. A very embarrassed Gwen glared at Caroline. “Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?” She said as she lifted herself back up. She walked over to Caroline and yanked her name tag off her uniform and stormed out of the bathroom.
“Nooo!” Alicia tried to run after her to get back her friend’s nametag but Caroline pulled her back.
“It’s fine,” Caroline said nonchalantly. “Let her keep it if she wants.”
Caroline laughed. “Relax Ms Keys,” she put her arm over Alicia’s shoulders. “Her old man and I have history,” she whispered. “How else do you think someone like me got into this kind of place?”
Alicia held her hand over her mouth in shock. She looked around the room to see if the others had heard her friend’s confession.
“I’m sure they all heard.” Caroline said, turning to face the other four in the room. “Yes, I sleep with men to get what I want? Does anyone of you have a problem with that?”
The four cowards said nothing.
“My moral campus might be grey but at least I still have a conscience.” Caroline shamed the girls. “You people have no heart at all and I will make sure to sleep with whoever is in charge of making the final grade just to make sure none of you fools make the cut. Scram!”
The four immediately scrammed out of the room.
“I will even collect packets full of condoms just for their benefit, bloody cowards.” Caroline threatened. “Come,” She took Alicia’s hand and started leading her out of the bathroom. “I have something in my locker we can use to hide those things on your face.”
On the other side of the hospital, Gwen found Kondwani in the one place she knew he would be after a full day’s work. He was standing at the very far end of the rooftop, his legs spread apart and his hands in his pockets.
Kondwani was so deep in his thoughts that he did not hear Gwen approach.
“Thinking about her?” Gwen said and Kondwani turned.
“Don’t tell me you are still mad over what happened in the morning?” Kondwani said.
“Do you even hear yourself Kondwani?”
“What have I said? I simply-“
“How would you feel if I embarrassed you like that in front of a stranger?” Gwen asked.
“Do you honestly think you have the right to ask me such a question Gwen?” Kondwani asked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked.
“Just forget it.” Kondwani said and started walking away from her.
Gwen ran after him and stood in front of him, stretching her hands out to block him from moving further. “What do you mean right to ask such a question.”
“I don’t want to talk about this here.” Kondwani tried to move passed her but she followed him still.
“No, we are going to talk about this now!” Gwen shouted. “That’s the problem with you, you always shut me out whenever I try to have a conversation with you and you never say what you feel no matter how much something bothers you.”
“Then if you know it bothers me, why keep doing it?” Kondwani yelled.
“Because it’s the only way I know to get your attention.” Gwen answered.
Kondwani stared incredulously at her. “Sleeping with my junior at work is your idea of getting my attention?”
“Would it be different if he was not working under you?”
“I knew Samuel even before he came to this hospital.”
“Somehow that makes things better?” Kondwani asked sarcastically. He pushed her to the side and walked the remaining distance towards the stairs.
“I beat her up good you know.” Gwen shouted from behind him.
Kondwani stopped. It took a few seconds for him to grasp the meaning of her words and the moment he did, he flung at her. “What are you talking about?” He was grasping her by the sides of her arms, shaking her for an answer.
Gwen scoffed. “Just look at you,” she said, looking into his burning eyes. “Look at the way you are acting because of her. Even when you discovered something was up with me and Kayombo, you never had such a look in your eyes.”
“What did you do to her?” Kondwani asked.
“You are hurting me!” Gwen pushed him away and stormed passed him without giving him a response.
“If you think I’m going to tell you then you truly must take me for a fool Kondwani.” Gwen said to herself as she silently cried. When she reached the corridor, she quickly wiped her tears and put on a brave face.
After searching everywhere for her, Kondwani finally found Alicia by the nurses locker rooms. She was seated on a stool while her friend towered over her, doing something to her face he couldn’t see clearly.
Just how much damage had Gwen done? Kondwani ran towards them, his heart almost falling out of his chest in horror.
“Alicia?” He pushed Caroline aside to take a closer look at Alicia’s face.
Caroline watched the doctor in amusement, shaking her head slightly before leaving the two of them alone. Once at the door, she removed the lock from the door and then locked the door from outside.
Alicia and Kondwani stared shocked at the door when they heard the key turn and the next thing they saw was a key pushed from under the door towards them.
“That girl.” Kondwani laughed. And then turning back to Alicia, “are you alright? Gwen told-“
Alicia got up from the stool to avoid him seeing the glowing part of her cheek that Caroline had not yet attended to. It was the same side Mary had assaulted earlier that day.
“I’m fine,” Alicia said with her back to him, her hand covering the area.
Kondwani went to stand in front of her. He touched her arms and removed her hand from her face. He winced in pain when he saw it, instinctively, his hand reaching out to touch her face. Alicia pulled herself away from him and in the process almost tripped over the stool she had been sitting on.
Kondwani grabbed her by the waist and pulled her towards him. “What I’m I to do with you?” He asked in helplessness. This time he managed to place his hand over the red area of her mildly swelling face.
“I know.” Kondwani said resignedly and released her, putting a safe distance between them. “I’m sorry about that.” He pointed to her face. “I wish I had something better to say-“
“It’s not your fault doctor,” she said. “I think I would misunderstand things too if I were in her position.”
“That’s no excuse to get physical with someone.” Kondwani said. “I hope you report her to HR. Gwen needs to learn that she can’t mix business with her personal issues.”
“There’s no need for me to make a report.” Alicia said. “My conscience will not allow me to do something like that to her.”
“Your conscience?” Kondwani asked.
“I deserve what happened to me.” Alicia said, turning away from him to stand in front of her locker. She opened it but Kondwani closed it right way, pinning her back against the locker, one arm passing over her head and pressed against the locker while the other locked her in place from the side.
“Why do you think you deserve what she did to you?” Kondwani asked her, his face just a few inches away from her. Alicia’s eyes instinctively went towards the door.
“No one is going to come in here.” Kondwani reminded her, his eyes pointing to the keys on the floor just a few feet away from where they were.
Alicia’s heart was racing and pounding loudly in ways it had never done before. She tried to move away from Kondwani but he placed his other hand to the other side, now completely locking her in.
“I am very uncomfortable right now Sir.” She nervously told him, lowering her gaze to look at his shoes.
“Why?” Kondwani seemed to be enjoying putting her on edge a little too much.
Alicia suddenly raised her head and looked straight into his eyes. “I think that I might be in-love with you.” She said.
Kondwani coughed and dropped his arms right away. “What?” He said as he tried to catch his breath. Her confession was so unexpected that it completely threw him off guard. Even as he deliberately pushed the boundaries with her, he knew without doubt that she had the power to push him away which made teasing her more fun for him.
However, he had failed to be comprehensive in his assessment of her. In his calculations, he had forgotten to account for her inexperience in matters in the heart, thinking that she would keep pushing him away if not threaten him with a report of harassment.
If he could get her to leave the hospital on her own free will, Kondwani thought his life would get back to normal then. He would make sure she got into a new good hospital where she wouldn’t have to worry about losing her job. If she was somewhere he could not see her cry or witness her hardships, would his life get back to normal then?
Kondwani only intended to push her slightly towards that decision without arousing unnecessary feelings between them. Knowing the kind of person she was, He figured that instead of confronting her feelings, she would simply run away without revealing them to him. How was he to know that she would come right out with her feelings the very first moment an opportunity presented itself?
Whereas more experienced women employed tact in their pursuance of men, inexperienced ones simply went with the flow. That was something Kondwani had not accounted for in his rush calculations to free himself from the sorrowful widow.
“I think that-“
“No, I heard.” Kondwani said, putting his arm forward to keep her from talking and at the same time, taking steps away from her.
“Doctor-“ Alicia tried to say something but Kondwani started shaking his head.
“I know, this is all me.” He stopped at the door. “This one is on me,” he repeated. “I think I overstepped my bounds and –“
Kondwani looked puzzled.
Alicia walked forward and picked up the keys Kondwani had stepped on as he made his way towards the door backwards. She picked them up and covered the distance between them.
Alicia stopped right in front of him. In just a few seconds, their roles had shifted; she the aggressor and he the subdued one.
“My heart beats so fast whenever you and I stand this close and I feel butterflies in my stomach.” Alicia said. “I want to do things with you that only Nicolas and I used to do and yet…there is something else I keep feeling when I think about you that I’ve never felt before.”
Kondwani lost his tongue; he could only stare at her in shock and amazement. Something about Alicia’s personality reminded him of his sister Chilufya. They both had a way of surprising him in the most profound ways possible.
“I am not coming after you.” Alicia candidly informed the doctor, a playful smile showing slightly at the corners of her face. “I am telling you this to warn you to keep a safe distance from me. I have neither the time nor the luxury to feel feelings or act out a hospital’s sad love romance where I’m the woman who stole another man’s fiancé.”
She then lifted the keys up and handed them to him. Kondwani quickly turned around and opened the door. He was ready to bolt out when he heard her say;
“Ah, please text me the number of the lawyer you hired. I think it’s only right that I meet with the man who intends to help me get my son back. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Kondwani said. “I will send…I mean, I will text it.”
Alicia smiled. “Thanks.” She said and closed the door.
After walking for a few steps, Kondwani suddenly came to a stop. He turned to look back where he had just come from and he sighed heavily. “Did I just get played?” He asked himself.
Back in the locker room, Alicia closed the door and leaned against it, heavily breathing in and out before collapsing to the floor, her hand over her chest as she willed her heart to settle down.
A few minutes later, Kondwani texted Alicia the number of the lawyer.
“Can I meet you at 6 after work?” Alicia asked Mr Silavwe after exchanging a few pleasantries with him.
“Yes, sure.” He said. “You know where our offices are?”
“No, but I will find my way there.” She said.
Immediately after ending the call with Alicia, Anthony Silavwe called Kondwani.
“She just called.” He reported.
“What did she say?” Kondwani asked.
“She asked to meet at 8 this evening.”
Kondwani looked at his wristwatch. “That’s about an hour from now.” He said.
“Don’t forget to brief me after.”
Once her meeting with her lawyer was done, Alicia braced herself and took the bus to Mary’s house. When Mrs Kabwe opened the door and found her on the other side of it, she let go of the door and went back to sit down.
“I knew you would bring yourself here.” She said.
Alicia let herself in and went straight to kneel before the woman who could have been her mother in-law. “I am very sorry Mrs Kabwe.” Alicia hung her head low before the woman.
“So now I am Mrs Kabwe when you want to drag me to court ah.” Mary said. “C’mon get up and get out of my house. Stop wasting my time.”
“He is my son.” Alicia cried. “I just want-“
“That child is not your son!” Mary yelled. “He is my child, left to me by the son you took away from me. Have you no heart Alicia? How can you do this to me after everything that you’ve done? How can you?”
“You’ve had him since he was born, can’t I have him now?” Alicia begged. “He is the only one I have-“
“The only one?” Mary scoffed. “What about that rich doctor of yours that hired you the lawyer? The both of you are still young, can’t you just start a family of your own and forget about my Buseko?”
“There’s nothing going on between me and the doctor.” Alicia said. “He’s simply helping me out-“
Mary laughed. “Is that what you people call it these days, helping out?” She scoffed again. “I always wondered when your true colours would show and here we are. You got a bit of education and now you think that you are all that. Do you think that such men are interested in damaged goods like you Alicia?”
Alicia did not respond.
“As the woman who gave life to my grandson, let me give you some free advice.” Mary said. “He is just using you. I am sure he could see how naïve and timid you are and he jumped right at the opportunity. Does he even know that you drove your boyfriend to his death? Does he?”
Alicia still remained quiet.
“Did you come here to gloat about the new fancy lawyer your rich boyfriend has hired for you? Do you think that someone like Mary Kabwe can be intimidated but such trivialities? I have already hired the best lawyer in town as well. There’s no way I’m going to let you take away another one of my family members.”
“I don’t have any intentions of taking anyone away from you.” Alicia tried to reason with her. “Buseko is still going to be your grandson and he will keep coming here whenever you wish to see him.”
“That’s not up to you to decide.” Mary snapped.
“My lawyer says that I have every right to have my son back this time.” Alicia said.
“That’s what he thinks.” Mary retorted. “You will have to kill me first before you can take that boy away from me.”
“I’m not your mother!” Mary snapped. She got up from the sofa and glared down at Alicia. “Get the hell out of my house Alicia!”
Alicia quickly got up and walked out of the house.
She was waiting for a bus to come through when Kayombo stopped in front of her. “Are you coming from where I think you are-“
“Yes,” Alicia said, going over to his window. “Is that where you are going?”
“That’s where I was headed until I saw you. Hop in.” He opened the door for her from inside.
“I’m going this way.” She pointed in the opposite direction.
“Yes, I’m taking you home.” Samuel said.
“Just get in Alicia.” He insisted. She obliged him.
“Why have you changed your mind about going there?” Alicia asked as they got onto the road.
“I was going there to try and calm her down about the custody issue because she scared the hell out of me today. I have never seen her lose it like that before.”
“Me too.” Alicia said. “She’s really not taking this well. I wish I had given her more time to prepare herself. I was also caught off-guard by everything.”
Kayombo gave her a suspicious look. “Why did Kondwani do something like this for you…and without even telling you about it? Is there really nothing going on between you two?”
“How can you ask me that again Kayombo?” Alicia said. “I expect people that don’t know me to think me capable of seeing an engaged man but you…you’ve spent time with me and you’ve known me for a longer period of time despite having only met recently.”
“C’mon Alicia,” Kayombo said. “You have to admit yourself that everything seems suspicious. I have known that guy Kondwani for about five years now and I have never ever seen him show interest in anyone, not even his own fiancé.”
Alicia mulled over Kayombo’s words, her mind going back to that moment in the locker room.
“I will be honest with you since you are my friend.” Alicia said. “I like Doctor Chileshe.”
Kayombo parked the car by the road side. Slowly, he turned towards Alicia. “You what?”
“Yes,” Alicia said. “I like him but nothing is going on between us. I didn’t even know I had such feelings until…anyway, it doesn’t even matter because nothing is ever going to happen between us. I already told you, I am not interested in dating anyone, especially someone who isn’t even available.”
“And does Kondwani know about your feelings?” Kayombo asked.
“Yes he does.” Alicia answered simply. “I told him and if you must know, he isn’t interested in me like that.”
“Is that what he told you or that’s what you think?”
“He told me straight to my face.”
Kayombo shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense at all.” He said.
“What doesn’t?” She asked.
“Nothing,” Samuel answered absent-mindedly and got back on the road.
“Are you okay Doctor…Samuel?” Alicia asked after ten minutes passed and Kayombo had not said a word to her.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I was just thinking about something. How’s your sister Belinda?” He quickly changed the subject.
On the other side of town, Kondwani opened the door and Chilufya walked right in.
“What’s so important you needed me to come all the way to your house Wani?” She threw herself onto the sofa and made herself comfortable.
“No go ahead, feel right at home Ms Chileshe.” He said sarcastically as he sat down.
Chilufya laughed and sat up. “What’s eating you up?” She asked him.
“She said that she thinks she might be in-love with me.” Kondwani said.
Chilufya’s face beamed with hope and excitement. “A girl confessed to you? Who is she? Is she a doctor too?”
“Chill out young lady.” He said. “Yes she works at the hospital but she’s a nurse…and you know her.”
“I don’t know any nurse at your hospital.” Chilufya answered quickly. However, no sooner had the words escaped her lips than realization crept in. “NO!” she said, eyes wide open.
“Yes.” Kondwani said. “The girlfriend to the man I killed says she’s in-love with me. Tell me again sis, which seat next to the devil shall I occupy in hell; left or right?”