“She is lying. I promise you.” Stephen said to the one person he needed to hear his words; not his overbearing aunt, not to Mwansa’s frightening brother or scorned mother, and certainly not to his pretentious cousins…but to Alicia, the sister to the only woman who’s heart he needed to win over at all cost.
“Please believe me,” Stephen begged when the suspicion on Alicia’s face appeared unfazed by his reassuring words. He grabbed Alicia’s hand, causing Kondwani to shift uncomfortably where he was now standing next to his mother, but still unable to move completely for fear of blowing wind on the flames already blazing the evening skies.
“But Steve-“ Alicia started to say.
“You know very well that I have changed Licia.” Stephen pressed his case. I have never, not even once gotten intimate with Mwansa. Please believe me.”
Aunt Mary forced Stephen away from Alicia by grabbing at his shoulder. “Why are you explaining yourself to her young man?” Mary hissed. “I am your mother,” She said. “Don’t you think you owe me an explanation?”
All this while, Mwansa kept sobbing silently, her hands covering her face in what Stephen could only assume was shame and embarrassment.
“I lied!” Mwansa spat, finally dropping her hands from her face. Everyone turned to look at her. “I just wanted to scare Steve for a bit but I didn’t think there would be all these people here!” And turning to her brother, “what are you even doing here!?” She asked.
Kondwani appeared taken aback slightly by his sister’s accusing tone but quickly recovered, disappointment registering all over his face. “When will you grow up Mwansa?”
“But son,” Claudia turned to her son. “What are you doing here?” She repeated her daughter’s question.
“I came to pick up Alicia,” he said.
Not sure what to do anymore given the unexpected turn of events, Alicia gave up on her mission to confront her former mother in-law. “Let’s go.” She said to Knodwani and turned to leave.
“Not so fast,” Exhildah grabbed Alicia by the hand, forcing her to turn back around. “You think you can just leave after barging into our home like that Alicia.”
Kondwani sensed the impending danger and quickly walked over to the two ladies staring at each other aggressively. “I don’t think this is the right time to talk about this.” He grabbed Exhildah’s hand that was gripping Alicia’s and forcefully pulled it off of her. “Alicia and I have somewhere to be.” Just as he was turning to lead them away, like a tag team Mwila and Rose blocked his way.
“Your girlfriend here barged into our home and levelled accusations at our mother.” Rose said.
It was now Mary’s turn to do some damage control. “Girls,” she took her daughters by their hands and started pulling them away from Alicia and Kondwani. “Have you forgotten that it’s my birthday today?”
“Aunt is right.” Stephen chipped in. “We can talk about this another time.”
Rose, who appeared suspicious from the onset pulled her hand away from her mother and stopped in her tracks. “What’s going on here?” She shouted on top of her voice, looking at everyone around before finally settling on Stephen.
“You know what she wanted to say don’t you?” Rose asked Stephen.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Rose.” Stephen feigned ignorance. “I am just trying to remind everyone that it’s Aunt Mary’s birthday today so we should be considerate. Whatever Alicia wanted to say can be said another day.”
“No.” Mwila said defiantly and confronted Alicia again. “What money did mum receive and who is Mrs Mulako? We are going to talk about this once and for all. You were so determined to shame our mother but you suddenly lost your wings when you saw your doctor boyfriend. You’ve already ruined a perfectly good day for everyone so might as well ruin it to the very end.”
“I ruined your day?” Alicia couldn’t hide her disgust. “If you-“
“Alicia,” Kondwani forced a visibly upset Alicia from talking any further, his eyes loudly and sincerely pleading with her.
Alicia kept quiet.
“Did you see that!?” Rose pointed at the two of them. “He just gave her a look and she went quiet. Something is going on here and it somehow involves mum and this handsome doctor.” She smiled for effect as she made reference to Kondwani and looked up at him.
Claudia came to stand next to her son. “What’s going on son?” She asked.
“It’s nothing mother.” Kondwani said sternly. “It’s just a misunderstanding Alicia and I had.”
“What misunderstanding would you have with Alicia that would have the both of you come all the here and make her accuse mum of receiving money?” Exhildah asked. “Wait,” she added as an after thought, turning to face her mother. “Did you pay someone to interfere in Alicia’s love-life?”
“What?” Mary asked in disbelief, such a thought having never once crossed her mind. “What do you take me for?”
“Then what money was she referring to?” Exhildah asked.
“Does this have something to do with Nicolas?” Rose asked, winning herself glacial stares from everyone.
“Nicolas?” Claudia said, her mind deep in thought. First it was the name Mrs Mulako that had peaked her attention and now it was this name Nicolas. What is going on here? She wondered. “Where have I heard that name before?” She looked from Kondwani to Mwansa. Her youngest daughter shrugged her shoulders but the look of horror on Kondwani’s face told a whole different story.
“Who is Nicolas?” Claudia asked Kondwani.
“He isn’t anyone you know mother.” Kondwani said. “I need to take my mother home now-“ Kondwani put his arm over his mother’s shoulder and was ready to lead her away when Exhildah’s voice stopped him.
“I think I know what this is about,” the eldest of the Kabwe offsprings said. “This is about Nicolas’ accident isn’t it?” She looked from her mother to Kondwani for confirmation, and then back to her mother. “What did you do mum?” She asked her mother accusingly.
Mary was shaking all over. “What do you mean what did I do?”
“What accident?” Claudia asked, her eyes exposing the emotions suddenly going on inside her. She finally remembered where she had heard the name Nicolas.
“Who are these people?” Exhildah asked her mother.
“How should I know?” Mary asked. She too didn’t know how Kondwani’s family was connected to hers apart from the connection that came with Alicia but after seeing the doctor’s face, she knew that Alicia must have told him something about what she had heard concerning Nicolas’ accident and the hush money she had received.
“Is this about that accident?” Claudia asked her son, her heart suddenly beating fast for a reason she did not yet know. She could feel the danger coursing through her body harder and harder with every second that passed.
“What do you know about my brother’s accident?” Exhildah confronted the woman.
Kondwani pulled his mother behind him to shield her from Exhildah’s accusing glare. “My mother doesn’t know anything about this so keep her out of this.” And turning to his sister. “Take mum home right now!” He commanded Mwansa, and when she hesitated, “take her right now!” he yelled.
Mwansa rushed over to her mother’s side but Claudia refused to move. “I am not leaving this place until you tell me what’s going on.” She said. “I always knew that there was something you were keeping from me. Is this it?”
The innocence on Claudia’s face and the fear written all over her gave Alicia pause. For a moment everything around her froze in time as she took in the damage she had just caused by lashing out at Mary prematurely. How was she supposed to know that the woman who had caused the death of her beloved would show up right there and then? In as much as she wanted to hate Kondwani’s mother, she knew that doing so would be futile. The woman did not even know that she had killed someone!
But Alicia needed to blame someone for her cold reality and the closest she could blame was Kondwani and Mary. These two knew exactly what had happened that day and for their own selfish reasons had kept the truth to themselves, putting her instead on the chopping board to take on the blame single-handedly.
What wrong had she ever done to anyone that she should be betrayed by the people she cared about in such a cruel manner? And of all people she could have fallen in-love with, why did it have to be with the man who had a hand in her late boyfriend’s death?
Why did it have to be you Kondwani? Alicia asked herself as her eyes narrowed in on Kondwani whose major concern now was his mother. Something about mother and son brought tears to Alicia’s eyes.
Stephen dropped his shoulders resignedly, concluding that they had reached a point of no return now. He walked back and sat on the door steps, behind everyone else, his hands covering his face as he sighed heavily.
“Are these the people that killed Nick?” Rose asked her mother.
Mary could only shake her head in response. “I don’t know these people.” She said absent-mindedly.
“Mrs Mulako used to be my boss.” Claudia announced. “How did you know about her?” She asked Alicia.
Alicia in turn turned to Kondwani, not sure what to say.
“Did someone die in that accident?” Claudia’s question was addressed to everyone standing there. “Who is Nicolas?” She finally settled on her son.
“Nicolas was our brother,” Mwila provided. “He was killed in an accident six years ago.”
“He…he…he…died?” Claudia asked, tears streaming down her eyes. She did not need to ask any more questions. she could infer from many incidences in her own home that the accident being referred to here was the very one she had been involved in.
Mwansa quickly put her arms around her mother. “Mum, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”
“Did you know our brother?” Exhildah asked Claudia.
Claudia could not respond to Exhildah question, instead she kept her teary gaze focused on her son.
“What’s going on here?” Exhildah asked when Claudia kept crying, no words coming out of her mouth.
“Let me explain everything to you at home mother.” Kondwani tried to put his arm over his mother’s shoulder but she shoved it away.
To everyone’s surprise, Claudia suddenly dropped to her knees before everyone, sobbing heavily. “I am so sorry,” She said in-between sobs. “I didn’t know…I…I had no-“
Kondwani bent down to force her up on her feet but Claudia wouldn’t barge.
“What is she apologizing for?” Rose asked.
“I was the one who caused that accident that night…the one that killed your brother.” Claudia confessed.
“What?” The three sisters and Mwansa asked all at once.
“Mum what are you talking about?” Mwansa asked her mother.
“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” Kondwani jumped in. “Mum please, get up.”
“Leave me alone!” Claudia shouted. “How could you-“ and then she stopped herself, forced herself back up to her feet and went to where Mary was standing, shock written all over her face.
“Ma’am-“ Claudia started to say to the woman standing in front of her.
Mary’s eyes where blazing fire. “You are the one that killed my son?”
Kondwani was right behind his mother just in case Mary decided to get out of control. He had seen that woman deal mercilessly with Alicia before and there was no way in hell he was going to let her treat his mother like that.
Mary turned her wrath towards Kondwani. “You knew about this and you still dared to go after my son’s woman?” She accused him. “Aren’t you afraid of karma?”
Kondwani scoffed at her. “I should be asking you the same question.” He fired back.
“What?” Mary said.
“You are one to talk.” He said. “Compared to what my mother did, what you did to the memory of your son must have him shaking in his in the grave every single day.”
Mary raised her hand to slap him across the face but Kondwani gripped her by her wrist and forcefully brought her hand down. “My mother might have been the one behind the wheel that night but she did not kill your son.” He explained.
“If I didn’t kill him then why did you keep the truth from me?” Claudia asked.
“Did this woman actually kill our Nicolas?” Rose checked her sister’s for confirmation but they both looked blank, not sure what was really unravelling before them. Stephen remained watching from the side-lines having resolved to let the adults deal with the issue on their own. Perhaps it was about time the truth came out.
Stephen sat up, suddenly alert and alive. What did this new revelation mean for him and Belinda?
“I am ready to face the consequences of my actions.” Claudia said to Mary, still crying.
“What consequences are you talking about mother?” Kondwani roughly shook his mother as if to force her back to her senses. “What consequences are you talking about and who here is going to make you face them?”
Exhildah proudly stepped forward. “If it’s true she’s the one who caused that accident that killed my brother then she has to face the law. There’s no statute of limitation on murder.”
“Murder?” Kondwani spat. “What murder are you talking about? Do you even know what you are talking about? Murder??”
“If it wasn’t, then why did the cops say it was an accident?” Mwila asked. “I heard that you are some rich doctor, you probably paid some corrupt people to-“
“Oh, you want to talk about payments now right?” Kondwani addressed the three sisters itching to deliver some justice for their brother. “Talk to your mother about that.” He pointed at Mary. “This woman here received money not from my family, but from the woman who owned the car that my mother was driving that night. My mother didn’t even know that the man in the other car had died.”
“Mum?” Exhildah looked at her mother. “Is what he’s saying true?”
“Is this the money Alicia was talking about?” Mwila asked.
While her two older sisters waited for answers from their mother, Rose started crying, the implication of Kondwani’s accusations ripping her heart to pieces. While Exhildah and Mwila were giving their mother the benefit of doubt, Rose had already made her own conclusions. She had seen the fear in her mother’s eyes when Alicia brought up the topic and she could still see that same fear…and shame right now.
“Wait,” Exhildah turned to Alicia. “You knew about all this?”
“I also just found out a few hours ago.” Alicia said. “That’s why I came here like that.”
“Mother?” Mwila was still focused on her mother. “Is what they’re accusing you of true?”
“So what if it’s true!?” Mary snapped.
“What?” Exhildah said, taken aback by her mother’s sudden admission of guilt.
“Yes, I accepted the money from the owner of the car.” Mary said. “My son was gone already and there was nothing I could do to bring him back. So what was wrong with me accepting the money if it was going to give a better life to my children who were still alive? I am sure Nicolas didn’t mind me getting that money.”
“Mother!” Exhildah cried in disappointment and sorrow over her brother’s tainted memory. “How could you?”
“Oh don’t judge me!” Mary shouted. “You’ve all lived such glorious lives thanks to that money. There’s nothing wrong with what I did. I did what any mother would have done.”
“You sold your own son’s chance at justice.” Mwila accused her mother. “You allowed the people responsible for his death to go scot-free!”
“I promise you I had no idea someone had died.” Claudia said to Mwila. “I don’t know what my son was thinking keeping that information from me but I am ready to pay for my mistake-“
“You are not going to pay for anything mum, get that into your head.” Kondwani said pointedly. “I was the one who asked you leave the scene and I actively participated in the cover-up. If anyone here is going to pay anything it’s me and this woman here.” He gestured at Mary with his head.
“What do you mean pay together with my mother?” Rose asked.
Stephen took this opportunity to get up and chip in. “If any of you plan on taking this to the police, it’s not just the people that caused the accident that are going to face the wrath of the law, Aunty Mary committed a crime by accepting hush money when she knew a crime had obviously been committed.”
“So you want us to keep quiet and not report these people?” Exhildah asked.
“You can report them if you like,” Stephen said nonchalantly. “That’s up to you. I’m just letting you know the chain events that will naturally result from making such a report.”
“Whose side are you on cous?” Rose asked Stephen.
“Is there anything like sides here?” Stephen asked. “I’m just trying to save you a lot of drama. Yes, I wish someone can pay for Nick’s death but making them face the law will also put Aunt Mary in the line of fire don’t you guys get it?”
Exhildah turned accusing eyes at her mother. “Was the money worth it mum?” She asked. “I am ashamed to even look at you and call you my mother.” She said and rushed towards the house.
Rose ran after her.
“I don’t even know what to say to you.” Mwila said to Mary and followed her sisters into the house.
Alicia approached Kondwani. “Are you satisfied?” She asked him, her eyes as cold as ice.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He asked.
“You managed to protect your family, like you wanted.” She said. “But what about me? What about my son? What do you want me to do? Right now I have nothing to lose. I don’t care much for the woman who made me feel guilty for her son’s death while she kept spending the money she received and made me pay for it by taking my son away from me…so I don’t have any problem reporting her to the police…but what about you and your mother? Is this why you approached me, to make it hard for me to report your crime?”
Kondwani wanted to remind her that he was not the one that approached her in the first place. If anything, he had done his best in the beginning to stay away from her but she had made her feelings for him known and sent his world in disarray. But he could not risk saying that to her. He had done enough damage already so why not just take on the guilt for everything that was happening to them and his family.
“I really had no idea-“ Claudia started to say but Kondwani cut her off.
“Feel free to do whatever you want Alicia,” He said. “But please, I only have one request. I know I have no right to ask this of you but please, keep my mother out of this when you decide to report. I was the one who made the mistake that night. Your son’s father could have lived had I done the right thing so it’s me that should pay the price.”
Kondwani’s words broke Alicia into pieces. She could feel it in his tone that he had already given up on them, a realization that shook her more than she dared admit given the reality surrounding them.
She should be happy that he had given up on her seeing that she could not forgive him for his betrayal but why did she feel like her world had just come to an end with his cold curt words?
“Is that all you have to say to me?” Alicia cried.
“What do you want me to say in this situation Alicia?” Kondwani asked. “Nothing I say will convince you of anything. I broke your trust a long time ago and I-“
“Can’t you even try!?” She cried. “Did you even care about me or was this all about protecting your mother? Can’t you see me breaking apart right here? Don’t you see my pain?”
Kondwani dropped his hands from his mother’s shoulders and moved to go to Alicia but she held out her hand. “Don’t bother.” She said. “Don’t even bother. I get the message.” She said and started running towards the gate.
“Go after her.” Claudia said to her son.
Kondwani felt conflicted for a few seconds but decided it was his mother that needed him the most in that moment. “I will talk to her later,” he said. “I will drive you home and Mwansa can drive your car back.”
“I can’t drive alone,” Mwansa said. “I only got my licence a few weeks ago so I need someone with me in the car. It’s scary-“
“But how did you drive here then?” Kondwani asked.
“Mum was there with me so-“
“See,” Claudia took her son’s hand. “Go after Alicia. I am okay, I am not as weak as you think I am. Of course am a little shaken up but I can take care of myself. Go after your girl and we will talk later at home.”
“Are you sure you can drive?” Kondwani asked his sister.
“As long as there’s someone in the car with me I can even drive all the way to Chipata.” She laughed.
“Since I never drive the car myself she’s been the one driving it mostly.” Claudia said. “We are safe. Go after your girl before it’s too late.
Kondwani planted a kiss on his mother’s forward and then turned to his sister. “Drive safely, and call me when you reach home. I will be there soon.”
“Okay bro.” Mwansa said.
“Please, convince your girlfriend not to go to the police ah.” Mary said to Kondwani before he turned to leave but he simply threw her a blank look and walked away without responding.
Claudia turned to Mary before leaving. “I don’t even know what to say….” The guilt she felt over her role she played in the death of the woman’s son keeping her from looking her in the eyes.
“Just convince that girl to keep her mouth shut and all this will be in the past.” Mary said and went back into the house.
Only Steven remained standing there with them. Mwansa was too embarrassed to look at him so she kept her gaze lowered.
“Get home safely ma’am.” Stephen said to Kondwani’s mother and left.
“Let’s go.” Claudia said to her daughter and led the way back to the car.
Outside Mary Kabwe’s home, Kondwani drove for a few minutes before finally finding Alicia. She was crossing the road to wait at the bus station. He parked in front of the bus station, got out of the car and grabbed her by the hand while she still had her back to the road.
Alicia was surprised to see Kondwani there and before she could take in what was happening, he was fixing the seatbelt over her before walking back to his side and driving off.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She asked him. “Where are you taking me? I thought you said you had nothing to say to me.”
“There’s obviously a lot we need to talk about.” Kondwani said.
“I think your mother needs you right now more than you need to protect her from me opening my mouth.” She said. “Don’t worry, I am still thinking about whether to report you guys or not but I can assure you that it won’t happen today.”
Angry at her words, Kondwani suddenly drove the car off the road and parked to the side. “Is that why you think I came after you instead of being with my mother right now?” He asked her.
“You are the one who said there was nothing for us to talk about.” She said.
“You made me feel like I needed to choose between you and my mother Alicia so what did you want me to say or do? I am here right now and you are still questioning my motives. That’s why I said nothing I say to you right now will make you change your mind about what you think of me.”
“I didn’t ask you to come after me Kondwani,” she fired back. “You can go back to your mother if you like no one of forcing you to stay.” She started to unbuckle the seatbelt but Kondwani quickly reached out and placed his hand over hers.
“I’m sorry.” He said. “Don’t go.”
Alicia leaned back in her seat.
Five minutes passed and no word was spoken between them. They just sat there in silence, each consumed by their own thoughts.
“I-“ It was Kondwani who had finally decided to break the silence but his phone rang just then. He picked it up and saw Mwansa’s name on the screen.
“You’ve reached home already?” He asked, looking at his wrist watch.
But Mwansa was not talking on the other end of the line, she was crying.
Kondwani sat up and moved the phone to his other ear. “Mwansa, what’s wrong? Why are you crying? Did something happen? Did you get in an accident?”
“No,” his sister answered. “Not me….” and she cried some more.
Kondwani started his engine running. “Where are you right now?”
He waited for her response as she continued crying.
“Mwansa!” He yelled. “Stop crying and tell me what’s bloody going on right now!”
“It’s mum,” She said.
“What about mum?”
“We were passing though these shops here and she asked me to pack and get her some water.”
“Yes.” Kondwani was too anxious to wait for her to finish. “What happened then? Where is she right now?”
Mwansa started sobbing again.
“I didn’t see them pass here that means they went in the opposite direction.” Alicia said and Kondwani quickly turned the car around and started driving in that direction, one hand to his ear.
“I am heading in your direction right now.” Kondwani said. “Where’s mum Mwansa?”
“She’s in the car.” Mwansa said, still crying. Kondwani could hear a lot of noise in the background.
“Why is there so much noise there? Where exactly are you?”
“I was inside the store when I heard the noise.” MWansa said.
“Mum,” his sister answered. “She got behind the wheel and drove the car into the tree across the road.”
Kondwani dropped the phone and hit the gas. “What have I done?” He kept reapeating as he drove.
“What happened?” Alicia asked. “What’s going on?”
“How can she do this?” Kondwani said to himself. “I should have driven them home.” He said, tears streaming down his cheeks.
Alicia picked up the phone that had fallen to her side of the seat and found the call had already been cut. When she looked up, she saw the commotion in front of them and immediately spotted the familiar car she had just seen packed outside Mary’s house rammed into the tree across the street.
“Dear Lord.” She gasped.
Kondwani parked the car and ran to the scene. Mwansa spotted him approaching and freed herself from the group of men holding her back from going to the car.
“She’s stuck in there and they won’t let me help her.” Mwansa cried into her brother’s hand.
“Take care of her for me,” Kondwani handed her to Alicia and rushed to the car.
Alicia took the sobbing Mwansa into her arms making sure to hide her face away from the scene of her mother’s bleeding body being taken out of the car. Mwansa tried to wiggle free to take a look but Alicia held her down tightly whispering;
“She’s going to be fine,” repeatedly. She might have been saying those words to Mwansa but deep down her heart she needed to say them out loud in order to believe them, not for Mwansa’s sake but for her own sake.
If Kondwani had not come after me, this would not have happened. Alicia thought as she watched a desperate Kondwani go into doctor mode to save his mother’s life.
This is my fault. Just like Nicolas. This is my fault. This is my curse. Why do bad things happen to the people I love?
What have I done again?