Kondwani found Chilufya waiting for him in his living room.
“Finally,” she said the moment he appeared at the door. “What took you so long? You said you were on your way.”
Kondwani laid his bag on the sofa and went straight to the upright fridge in the living room to get a bottle of water to drink. Chilufya was right behind him, watching restlessly as he gulped down the contents of the bottle and followed him back into the living room where he went to plop himself on the sofa.
Chikufya sat next to him, her fully bulged eyes fixed on him and her lips ready to go.
“I said I was just leaving the hospital. I didn’t say I was already on the way.” Kondwani said.
“Isn’t that the same thing?”
“No, there’s a huge difference.”
“I didn’t come here to argue semantics with you bro, we have a problem on our hands.”
Kondwani raised his eyebrow. “Problem on our hands? This can only be about Mwansa or Gift. What did they do?”
“It’s Mwansa.” Chilifya said. “I don’t even know where to start. This is so messed up.”
“You can start at the beginning.” Kondwani said sarcastically and worn himself a glacial stare from his sister.
“Remember that accident lady, Alicia?” Chilifya asked.
“I work with her.” Kondwani said. “How can I forget her?”
“You know that she has a sister right?”
“Yes, step sister to be precise. I can’t remember her name. What about her? Don’t tell me you are here to try and talk me into doing something crazy for them are you?”
“Her name’s Belinda. Your baby sister Mwansa is dating Belinda’s ex-boyfriend.”
“So?” Kondwani asked. “Is there a law against that? Unless he’s seeing her at the same time as the other girl then there’s a problem.”
“What if that guy is related to the man that was killed in the accident?”
Kondwani gawked at her. “What do you mean related?”
“First cousins, his name is Stephen Malambo and-“
“How serious is that relationship?” Kondwani asked.
“Serious enough for Mwansa of all people to be considering marriage.” Chilufya replied.
Kondwani stood up and started pacing around the living room. “How can this be? What are the odds of something this ridiculous happening?”
“My thoughts exactly.” Chilufy said. “My blood froze when I realized the connection. What’s going to happen to Mwansa? She’s really fallen head over heels for this guy. To make matters worse, Nic…I mean the mother to the guy that died is the one sponsoring Stephen to school so she’s more of a mother than aunt to him. What’s going to happen to Mwansa when the truth comes out?”
“What truth?” Kondwani asked. “That Mary woman took the money that was offered to her so our family doesn’t owe her anything. And if you, me and mum keep our mouths shut, no one else will get to know the truth. I say Mwansa should date whoever she likes, enemy or not, that’s all up to her.”
“How can you say that?”
“What?” Kondwani quipped. “I am so sick and tired of that accident following us around every turn we make in life. No one set out that night planning to kill anybody. It was an accident, an accident Chilu.”
“Don’t get mad at me! Why are you getting upset with me?” Chilufya sulked.
“I’m sorry,” Kondwani said, coming to sit down next to her. “It’s just that this thing, sometimes I wish I could wake up and find that it was just a bad dream. I can’t move on with my life when am being confronted by it every single day.”
“Is this about the nurse?” Chilufya asked. “I’ve never heard you sound so defeated before. Did something happen at the hospital?”
“I need a drink.” Kondwani said and got up to walk to the fridge. “Want one?” He asked as he took out a bottle of Heineken and held the fridge open waiting for her response.
“You know very well I don’t drink.” She said.
Kondwani closed the fridge. “I guess some things really never change.” He went back to sit down, this time he took the sofa facing his sister. “How long has Mwansa being seeing this boy?”
“Don’t change the topic Kondwani.” Chilfya said. “What happened between you and the nurse?”
“You might as well talk to me about it. I know you don’t have any real friends you can talk to about such things.”
“Who told you I don’t have friends? I have plenty.”
“You mean the ones that like you for your money or the ones that you do business with?” Chilufya asked.
“Always a smart ass.” Kondwani said.
Chilufya laughed. “I took after you so it’s not my fault. Are her lips full, wide, thin or round?”
“Full. Wait, what?”
Chilufya laughed. “You are in-love with her aren’t you?”
“What are you talking about?” Kondwani shifted uncomfortably in the seat. “You just surprised me.”
“Exactly my point,” Chilufya said. “You think about her even when you don’t want to right? That’s called love.”
“Or attraction.” Kondwani argued.
“So you admit you are attracted to her.”
“She is a very beautiful woman…once you get to know her. But there’s nothing very outstanding about her, apart from her intelligence of course. She’s book smart, not street smart. Sometimes I hate her naivety and sometimes I find it attractive. She acts so bold with me, always answers back but when a real situation presents itself and she has to speak out, she disappears into her shell. She is so frustrating. ”
“Do you hear yourself?” Chilufya said. “I wish you could see the way you look when you talk about her. I think you and Mwansa are in the same boat that’s why you got all worked up when you heard about her situation.”
“I am not in-love with Alicia.” Kondwani insisted. “Unlike the Kabwe’s, I can’t help but feel guilt every time I look at her. I wish there was something I could do for her once and for all that would take away all the guilt but-“
“Doesn’t she like you? It’s hard for me to imagine a woman out there that’s not attracted to you. Didn’t she say she was in-love with you?”
“She did but then she said that’s not equivalent to her wanting to go out with me. The woman is a lot of work. Everything with her is a struggle.”
“And you are frustrated.”
“Of course am frustrated.”
“But if you are not in-love with her, then why are you frustrated?” Chilufya asked.
Kondwani chuckled. “You are on a roll today little sister.”
Chilufya laughed triumphantly. “I always am. What do you think is the one thing that she wants in life now that she has her son back?”
“A man.” Kondwani answered right away.
“And what do you desire the most right now?” She asked.
“Her, Alicia. I want her so bad sometimes I feel like am about to lose my mind. There, I said it.”
“See, it wasn’t that hard.” Chilufya said.
“Easy for you. I only want her physically, not emotionally or spiritually…whatever she might like, a real troublesome craving that refuses to go away. I have all these convictions in my head about what not to do with her but every time I see her, it’s like I lose my senses and I end up doing something stupid. I know very well that pursuing a relationship with her would end very badly for the both of us, especially her but-“
“But what?” Chilufya asked.
“I feel like if I don’t have her, am going to go crazy.” He said. Just then, they heard someone punch keys into his security system by the door and they both sat up.
“Are you expecting someone?” Chilufya asked.
“No.” He said.
“It can’t be Gwen right?” Chilufya said. “I thought you changed your password-“
The door opened and in walked their mother carrying two baskets of well packaged lunchboxes in both hands.
“Give me that.” Kondwani grabbed the food baskets from her and put them on the table. “What’s all this?”
“It’s food.” Claudia Chileshe said, sitting down next to her daughter. “You will know what’s inside once you open the lunch tins. What are you doing here Chilu? Even you Wani, aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“So you still came here knowing full well that you wouldn’t find me? Who even gave you the code to my house?” Kondwani asked.
“I heard Chilu talking to you on the phone the day you changed your password and I wrote it down as well.” Claudia said. “You always give her the password and keep it from the rest of us.”
“That’s because she is the only person I trust in this world.” Kondwani said, sitting back down after putting the food in the fridge. “I forgot, some juice?” He asked his mother.
“Water, just give me water.” She answered.
Kondwani was about to stand up to go back to the freezer but Chilufya stopped him. “I’ll get it for her,” she offered.
“Just look at her,” Claudia said looking at her daughter. “She looks more at home here than she does in her own mother’s house.” Claudia said. “Now you Wani,” She turned to her son. “Are you saying that you don’t trust your own mother?”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you.” He said. “I just wouldn’t be comfortable knowing you have access to my house. I am a grown man mum and I have…you know…. I just need my privacy.”
“So who is this girl that’s going to make you go crazy if you don’t have her?” Claudia asked her son.
With a glass of water in hand, Chilufya starred at her mother in shock from behind her. “How did you-“ She started to ask.
“I heard voices coming from inside and I stopped to listen for a little bit. I came in the moment I recognized your voices.”
There was fear in Kondwani’s eyes when he asked; “How long had you been standing here?”
“Just about thirty seconds. How can I fail to recognize my own children’s voices. So who’s this girl that has my son’s heart?”
Chilufya came around and handed her the water but her eyes were on Kondwani, wondering what the hell he was going to tell his mother. She had the same look in her eyes as Kondwani did when he heard that their mother had been listening at the door.
“She’s no different than the usual mum.” Kondwani said dismissively. “You should have called me to let me know you would be coming.”
“Do I really need to make an appointment with my son before I can come over?”
“That’s not what I said. Anyway, how are you?”
“Don’t be clever Kondwani.” Claudia said. “Something in your eyes tells me that there’s more to this girl than you are letting on and I think your sister here knows something about it.”
Kondwani stood up. “I told you, it’s no one important.” He said. “Thank you for the food. I wish I could stay and chat with you guys but I have a lot of work to do upstairs.”
“Yes mum.” Chilufya quickly got up and started helping her mother to her feet. “I only came to see him because I needed his help with something relating to work. We should leave him to work now.”
“Why are the two of you acting so suspicious?” Claudia asked, looking from one child to the other.
“Stop thinking crazy thoughts, let’s go.” Chilufya said and started leading her towards the door.
“I’ll bring the lunch tins home when am done.” Kondwani said. Thanks for the food mum.”
Claudia stopped and looked at her son. “When are you going to stop avoiding me?” She asked.
Kondwani appeared confused. “Avoiding you?”
“I know you think I haven’t noticed just because you pass through home every now and then but a mother knows when her own child is avoiding her. Ever since that day…that rainy day years ago, you have never looked me in the eye.”
Chilufya who had her hands resting on her mother’s shoulders dropped them immediately and looked at her brother.
“Mum, what are you going on about?” Kondwani walked over to her, put his arm around her and started walking her out of the house. “I have no reason to avoid you, I have just been very busy. It’s not like you don’t know about it.”
Outside the house, Mrs Chileshe came to a stop and looked at her son in the eyes, taking his hand in hers. “You are not keeping any secrets from me are you? You would tell me if something was wrong right?”
“Yes mother, I would but right now there’s nothing so don’t worry about unnecessary things.” Kondwani said.
“Are you lonely?” His mother asked.
Chilufya laughed and Kondwani gasped in disbelief. “What?” He asked. “Why would you even think that?”
“Mrs Katongo, our old neighbour has a niece who will be coming to Lusaka next week from Namibia. She was studying economics at Unam and just graduated-“
“And why are you telling me about this?” Kondwani asked.
“I saw a picture of her on her graduation, a very beautiful girl. Should I set you up on a date with her?” Claudia asked.
“No!” Kondwani shouted. “Why would you do something like that? Do I look like someone who would have trouble getting his own dates?”
“I am starting to think that I will die without ever seeing my grandchildren from you Kondwani. You keep-“
“Mum, I really can’t have this conversation with you today.” Kondwani said. “I need to go back in and do some work. Both of you, drive carefully.”
If Chilufya thought they had escaped their mother’s curiosity, she was wrong. That night her mother came to her room and refused to leave until she spilled the beans on Kondwani’s love life.
“Your brother tells you everything,” Claudia said. “I know that you know something. I just want to know who the woman is that’s made him like that.”
“Made him what way mum?” Chilufya feigned ignorance.
“Who is Alicia?” Claudia asked.
Chilufya’s jaw dropped. “Where did you hear that name from?”
“I heard more than I let on.” She said, a proud smirk on her face.
Chilufya finally sat up straight on the bed. “What exactly did you hear mother?”
“I came when you were asking him what he desires the most and he mentioned her name. He sounded like he really likes her so why doesn’t he want to pursue her?”
“He has his reasons I guess. Look mum, I think only Wani can give you the answers you seek, when he’s ready. Right now he’s going through a lot at work, his research, managing the hospital and dealing with his ex-father in-law. Give him a break for now, please.”
Claudia got up from the bed. She knew when she was fighting a losing battle. If there was anyone among her children capable of holding her tongue firmly, it was Chilufya. No matter how much pressure she put on her, there was no way she was going to betray the trust of her beloved brother. If she wanted to find out the truth, she would have to go digging for the truth on her own.
* * *
Three weeks had passed since Alicia got Buseko back and in those three weeks Henrietta her mother had gone out of her way to make the boy feel at home in her house. The effort she was putting in was too much that it sometimes made everyone around her uncomfortable, especially Alicia. Henrietta had decorated the boy’s room with the latest of décor ideas suitable for boys his age and bought a whole new wardrobe for him. When Alicia saw the determination in her mother, she wasn’t sure how to react. She felt both pain and joy seeing the two of them together and seeing how much of her time her mother was sacrificing to tend to the boy.
One evening after an endless shift at work and after going through her usual push and pull with Kondwani, Alicia came home and found her mother sewing an outfit for Buseko on the machine she had bought when they were younger because she wanted to tailor-make her youngest daughter’s outfits for her ballet classes, the very classes that Alicia was not allowed to attend because they were too expensive and they couldn’t afford to pay for the both of them.
Alicia’s eyes welled up in tears as she looked at her mother’s happy back humming her favourite tune as she sewed.
“What are you doing?” Alicia was standing by the door of the project room, a room they used for all sorts of activities and she could see from the shape of the fabric under the machine that the pair of trousers was for someone of Buseko’s age. All the years Alicia had spent existing under the shadow of her step-sister came flooding down her memory. Even though she loved Belinda to pieces, there were still certain things, which even though where not her fault made Alicia want to resent her baby sister.
Henrietta paused and looked at her daughter with a nervous smile on her face. There was something about the look in Alicia’s eyes every time she looked at her that made her freeze up in fear. She didn’t need to ask to know exactly what her daughter felt about her.
“I thought I could make Buseko something. I was doing some cleaning up and I found this machine-“
“Why are you doing all this?” Alicia asked sternly.
“What do you mean?” Henrietta sat up straight.
Alicia entered the room, leaving the door open. “Do you think that doing all this will change the things you did to me?” She asked her mother.
Henrietta nervously stood up from her chair. “Alicia-“
“Why are you doing all this?” Alicia cried. “Tell me because I don’t understand how it’s so easy for you to do this now when you couldn’t get yourself to do it years ago.”
“Alicia-“ Henrietta always seemed to find herself at a loss for words whenever her daughter confronted her in such a direct manner. Could there ever be anything she would say that would excuse all the sins she had committed against her?
“Is it because now you feel safe that dad won’t leave you because he’s stayed with you all these years?”
“I just wanted to make Buseko something nice I saw on tv the other day. If you don’t like it, I’ll stop.”
Alicia dropped her handbag on the floor in hunger. “Don’t talk to me in that tone! Why do you make me sound like am the bad guy here? I see you every day running about like a headless chicken ever since Buseko came and I get so pissed.
“Why should I feel so dirty…so mad upon seeing my own mother dot on her grandson? Why do I feel like this? What was so hard about you doing these things for me ten years ago? My have you turned me into the bad guy in this house?” Alicia sobbed.
“I know that I made a lot of mistakes with you my daughter-“
“Don’t call me that! I am not your daughter! I have always wondered if I was truly your biological daughter.”
“Alicia,” Joseph Daka entered the room, Belinda closely following her behind. “Don’t talk to your mother like that.”
No dad, let me talk to her how ever I want today.” Alicia said. “I have kept quiet for so long I feel like I am going to lose my mind.”
Belinda went to stand next to her sister and put her hand over her shoulder. “Alicia, you look very upset right now. I don’t know what happened but how about you and mum talk when you’ve calmed down?”
Alicia turned on her sister. “You too are on her side right? Everyone in this house is on her side. I am always the villain,”
“You know that’s not true Alicia.” Henrietta said, tears welling up in her eyes now.
“I have always been the third wheel in this family! If you had a way you would have given me up just so you could protect your lovely new family.”
“Alicia.” Joseph sent her a warning shot.
“It’s okay honey,” Henrietta said. “Let her talk. She has every right to be angry.”
“It’s that tone, I hate that pretentious tone of yours!”
When her father’s slap came, Alicia did not see it coming because she had shut her eyes for a few seconds.
“Honey!” Henrietta grabbed her husband’s arm. “What have you done?”
Alicia touched her cheek and glared at her father in shock, tears streaming down her eyes while Belinda watched with wide open eyes from the side. Alicia picked up her handbag from the floor and stormed out of the room.
“Why did you slap her!?” Belinda asked her father, her voice shaking from fighting off the urge to cry.
“She was being disrespectful to her mother.” Joseph said. “Can’t she see that her mother is trying very hard to make things up to her?”
“Don’t you know why she’s like that today?” Belinda asked.
The moment Belinda asked the question, realization dawned on Henrietta. “Oh no….” she said, her hand covering her mouth.
“What is it?” Joseph asked.
“It’s her birthday today.” Henrietta said.
“Wait, isn’t it supposed to be a few days from now? Don’t the two of you share a birthday?” Joseph asked his youngest daughter.
“Don’t you know?” Belinda gave her father a blank look.
“Alicia’s birthday is actually on the 15th but I moved it to 18th because I wanted to avoid the hustle of preparing for two birthdays when hers and Belinda were so close to each other.”
Joseph couldn’t hide the shock. “Since when did you decide that and how come I wasn’t aware of it all these years?”
“I had asked her to keep it a secret because I didn’t want her to burden you.” Henrietta explained. “I knew that you would have wanted her to celebrate her birthday on her own but we weren’t doing so well back then and we needed to save on-“
“Did I just hear you use the word burden?” Joseph asked. “No wonder that child is this bitter. Why didn’t you tell me the truth all these years!? Dear heaven what have I done?” He ran out to find Alicia but she was neither in her room or anywhere else in the house.
“Her phone is off.” Belinda informed her parents in the living room.
“Have you called any of her friends?” Her father asked.
“Yes, they all said they are not with her.” Belinda said.
Henrietta dropped into the couch, her hand over her forehead.
“And why didn’t you tell me that your sister had a different birthday? Did you like sharing your birthday that much?” Joseph turned on his daughter.
“I also only found out three years ago, by accident.” Belinda said. She had asked me to photocopy her NRC and I saw the date. I asked her about it and she made me promise not to tell you because it’s something that mum wanted to keep a secret.”
Joseph glared at his wife. “Why honey?” he asked her.
“I don’t know,” Henrietta answered. “I was so desperate back then I made some dumb decisions and never thought about how they affected her. She never complained back then so I thought she was okay with it. I really don’t know what I was thinking.”
Turning to his daughter; “Where does she go when she wants to be alone?” Joseph asked.
“Kafue mostly but this time?” Belinda answered. “It’s very late and I’ve seen your car still parked outside meaning she went on foot.”
“What if she never comes back?” Henrietta cried.
“She left Buseko sleeping upstairs so she’s definitely coming back.” Belinda said. “I think she just needs some alone.”
Just as Alicia was dropped off by the cab outside Kondwani’s house, another vehicle came to park next to them; a white Range Rover with a private number plate. The girl looked about twenty-four, tall, slender and of a very light complexion. She had a gigantic mass of synthetic afro hair on her head, black knee high boots on a white mini-skirt with a matching white crop top.
As the cab driver drove away and Alicia remained standing with the strange girl, she couldn’t help feeling more desperate and foolish in her predicament. She still had tears in her eyes and all over her face from bawling her eyes out on the drive there and she was wearing the same clothes she had been sleeping on for the past two days after working three straight shifts at the hospital. She looked every part of her feelings.
Kondwani had heard the cars and had come out to check who had come to visit unannounced. He gawked at the two women in front of his house and wasn’t quite sure what to say in that surprising situation.
“Alicia?” His mouth managed to form the words.
“Hi Kondwani!” The thinly clad girl excitedly greeted Kondwani and ran to give him a hug.
“Did the two of you come together?” Kondwani asked, quickly peeling the girl from his body. His eyes had not left Alicia who was looking like she could will the ground to open up and swallow her.
“No, I don’t know her.” The girl said. “Is she someone you know?”
Finally, Kondwani turned to the girl. “You must be Mary-Ann right?” He asked.
“I look exactly as in the pictures I sent you right?” The female quipped. “You don’t look so bad yourself.” She added, scanning him from head to toe. “I asked Aunt Claudia for your address and I thought I could surprise you a little-“
“Listen, Mary-Ann, I appreciate that you came all the way but as you can see,” he was turning away from her to go to Alicia as he spoke. “I already have plans with the very distraught woman behind you. She happens to be my girlfriend and I need to take care of her asap.”
“You have a girlfriend?” Mary-Ann asked, giving Alicia a nefarious eye. “Your mother told me that-“
“My mother doesn’t know everything about me so I hope that you will take this as official notification and cancel out whatever stuff you thought would happen between us.” And he left her standing there and went to where Alicia was standing.
As if he could read her mind, he stood in front of her with arms stretched wide and she went straight into them, wrapping her arms around him very tightly as if to make up for all the days she had restrained herself.
Kondwani was dying to pass a funny comment about the situation but when he heard her sobbing against him, he held her tightly and said nothing.
By the time he looked up, Mary-Ann had already left.
“Hey,” Kondwani said to Alicia after a while. “Are you okay?” he was searching her face.
“Is there someone else in the house” Alicia asked.
“Huh?” Kondwani said.
“Why haven’t you invited me in yet?”
Kondwani laughed. “Oh, my bad.” He said, took her hand and led her into the house.
“I’m sleeping here today.” Alicia announced, quickly making herself comfortable on the sofa.
“I feel like I should pinch myself just to confirm whether this is real or a dream.” Kondwani said. “What are you doing here Alicia?”
“Am I not welcome here?” She asked. “Fine, then I’ll leave.” She got up to go but Kondwani quickly stood in front of her.
“What happened?” He asked.
“Don’t you have a spare bedroom here?” Alicia asked.
“Spare bedroom?” He asked. “I thought you were aiming for my bedroom. I think am getting mixed signals here.”
“Don’t even think about it.” Alicia warned. “It was either here or Doctor Kayombo’s place since Carolyn is out of town and I don’t have any friends I can go to at such-“
“Are you and me that close Alicia?” Kondwani asked. “You’ve spent the past few weeks avoiding me like a plague and now you are here in my house, crying and telling me you are sleeping here. You are confusing me.”
“I know.” Alicia said. “I know very well I shouldn’t be here but I am too angry to go back home. I am trying my best to pretend as if me being here is all cool but am dying inside because am too embarrassed.”
“Did something happen at home?”
“I don’t wanna talk about it.”
Kondwani sat down facing her. “Then what should we talk about? I am dying of curiosity right now because you’ve surprised me.”
“Who was that kid I met outside?” Alicia asked.
“What kid? Oh, you mean Mary-Ann. She is someone my mother is considering to turn into my wife.”
“I see.” Alicia said, almost in a whisper.
“What’s that?” Kondwani asked. “Jealous?” he laughed.
“Isn’t she too young for you?” she asked.
“Don’t you know that the younger they are, the more joy they bring to men?” He said teasingly.
Alicia angrily stood up. “Show me to the bedroom. I need to sleep.”
Kondwani walked over to her. “Are you upset?” He asked.
“Why would I be upset?” Alicia asked and turned her back to him. “Is it this way?” She pointed up the stairs.
Kondwani brought himself in front of her. “Why did you come here Alicia?”
“I came to forget.” She answered.
“To forget?” Kondwani asked. “How?”
“When am with you, I tend to forget everything, including my pride and morals. So I came here to forget about everything.” She said.
“Is it working so far, you being here?”
“And do you know why?”
“Because you keep asking me questions about it.”
“Wrong. Because you are doing it on your own.”
And without warning, he went straight for her lips.