It was business as usual at the Athena VIP Lounge as first-class patrons went about their usual business of shoving their money in each other’s faces. There was nothing common about this lounge.
It was the exclusive spot where anyone who considered himself something could be found. It was a place where business partnerships got formed and some broken, marriages were born from there and some ended right there, friendships were formed and more were shuttered every day of the week.
A bottle of beer at Athena costed almost as much as the elegant interior décor of the whole place and yet the scores of people sitting drunk in the private sections of the lounge both upstairs and downstairs would make one believe otherwise.
It was the first time Shadreck Mtonga had entered the lounge but despite his efforts to not make that fact obvious to everywhere, his body language said he would rather be anywhere else but.
“Relax bro, try and have a good time,” Gilbert tried to encourage his pal.
Gilbert and Shadreck co-owned the three year old Apollo Entertainment Agency, the leading emerging talent agency in the region with over one thousand artists and creatives signed with the label. With his experience in arts and the entertainment industry at large, and together with his seventy percent shares in the agency, Shadreck had controlling power while Gilbert, with the remaining thirty and his expertise in finance was in charge of handling the agency’s finances.
The two had been friends for over fifteen years, a friendship that later graduated to family when Gilbert married Shadreck’s sister Beverley and were now expecting their first child in a couple of months.
“Why do you guys even come to this place?” Shadreck asked his four friends who appeared right at home with the uber rich masses.
Shadreck did a quick mental calculation of the worth of each and concluded that if they continued coming to such a place every weekend to drink beer, they would hbeabe to declare bankruptcy in the next six months…although it would take a bit longer for Gilbert but he too would get there eventually.
“Think of this as an investment,” Nate said to Shadreck.
Nate was an investment banker with an ego that was five times the size of his miniature frame. He was unrepentantly arrogant, a womaniser and misogynist and just when you thought he couldn’t get any aworse, he was a flasher of wealth. He was so used to handling rich people’s money that sometimes he forgot that he didn’t actually own the money himself. “I handle billions of kwacha and dollars every day my friend,” was his most favourite phrase.
He grabbed at whatever opportunity that presented itself to showcase his skills and brag about his money.
If the other three guys were to truly be honest with themselves, they would admit that Nate was the only reason they frequented such an expensive spot because he was their buyer, the big spender who found pride in being the one that grabbed the check first when it came and screamed “drinks on me!” whenever he knew there was an audience within proximity.
At thirty-five years of age, Nate had already been divorced twice and his current marriage was headed in the same direction at the speed of light…not that he seemed bothered by it. For Nate, women were created for the pleasure of men; you get what you want from them and then you discard them before they became a nuisance.
“What investment?” Shadreck did his best to mask his irritation.
He had never been a fan of Nate but he tolerated the guy because he was a distant cousin of Gilbert, meaning he too was family. He was the typical example of the side effects of marriage on the extended family, that one relative that made you sit up in bed in the middle of the night before the wedding to ask yourself for the umpteenth time; do I really wanna get Married into this family?
“There are so many bars and clubs out there but you guys would rather come to a place that charges fifty times over what other places charge. It should be more like liability than investment if you ask me,” Shadreck said.
Nate laughed in his usual loud voice that attracted the attention of three other closed off private tables on their section upstairs. If not for the gentle music that filled the air, even the people on the dance floor downstairs would have heard him.
“This is the problem with you New Money folks,” Nate was saying. “You are such penny-pinchers you still look and act poor despite being millionaires. Let me tell you something,” he leaned towards Shadreck in his semi-drunk state to drive his point across.
“This isn’t just a place for fun my friend,” Nate continued. “Business deals are born and signed from here. When these filthy rich folks see or meet you in here, they’ll think you are one of them and unlike how they might treat you in their huge fancy offices, in here they are most likely to give you the time of day…because they think you are one of them.”
Kafula scoffed. “Do you think these people don’t know who’s really one of them and who’s pretending?” He asked.
Kafula was the youngest in the group at age twenty-five. Because of his ambitious taste in women, he had been single for over four years, chasing after women that were way beyond his means. He was a nurse by profession but he paraded himself like a doctor whilst spending the little fortune that his late parents left him and his two siblings.
He had already sold two of the four houses he had inherited to support the spending habits of two diva-like ex-girlfriends. If not for Charity his overbearing and mother-hen of an older sister watching him like a hawk, Kafula would have been broke the very next month after their parent’s untimely demise.
“My friend,” Nate put his hand on Kafula’s lap. “It’s not pretending if you believe it.”
Kafula was glaring repugnantly at the hand, as if the force behind the stare would burn the arrogant banker.
“I heard you guys garnered a big one today.” Enock who had been listening quietly the whole time finally spoke. “It was all over the news today, congratulations!”
“Oh yes we did!” Gilbert shouted excited, raising his beer in the air in celebration.
“We didn’t even go after this one. Her manager came straight to us with all the documents ready and signed the contract with us.”
“I hope it’s not some scam.” Nate said. “You guys need to be very careful these days. There are a lot of people parading themselves as others and using their names to make money.”
“Is there anyone at this table who doesn’t know what Sasha Brand’s manager looks like?” Shadreck asked.
“I do,” they all answered in turns except for Nate.
“But no one knows what this Sasha Brand of a person looks like!” Nate argued. “She is like the Sia of Zambia except we at least know what Sia looks like thanks to Google. How do we even know for sure if she’s male or female?”
“So what’s your issue right now?” Enock said. “Is it that these guys signed a contract with her manager or that Sasha Brand is an enigma? Bottom line is, Sasha’s manager is like her face. Everyone knows who she is and she is the one everyone deals with because Sasha likes to keep her life private. So what’s your issue here mate?”
Enock was the only one in the group that never bothered to hide his disdain for Nate. At the age of thirty, Enock was running a very successful and promising I.T firm in the same building as the Apollo Entertainment Agency. In exchange for rentals at such a prime location, Enock had signed an MOU with Shadreck’s firm that required him to provide them with I.T related support, in kind. Enock was a known rebel, with subtle homosexual tendencies that he was yet to confirm.
He started his own company right out of college because he could not function well under someone’s leadership in the work environment. He was a perfectionist and result-driven monster according to the fifteen employees under his payroll.
“I was just trying to tell these guys to be extra careful.” A visibly flustered Nate said.
“So any chance that you guys might be able to see Sasha Brand’s face in the near future now that she belongs to your agency?” Kafula asked.
“I doubt that.” Gilbert answered. “Even her previous Agency in the States had never met her so I don’t think that’s likely to change now that she’s back in her home country.”
“Well, maybe things might actually change now that she’s in her own country.” Shadreck said. “I will make it my personal business to know who she really is.”
“And then what?” Gilbert asked. “Make us lose our biggest client?”
“Who said anything about losing here?” Shadreck said.
“Do you think she would want to stay with us if she knows we are trying to violate her privacy?” His friend asked.
“Gilbert is right.” Nate chipped in. “That girl, woman, or boy-man whatever she is had managed to protect her identity for over twenty years. No way she’s gonna let anyone destroy that for her.”
“Did you find out why she returned to Zambia?” Enock asked.
“Quoting her manager, ‘to get back to her roots.’ We are releasing a statement next week so, you can look forward to it.”
“Why should I look forward to it when you’re right here in front of me to tell me?” Enock said.
Kafula laughed. “He’s right.” He said. “What’s the point of having friends in high places if you can’t benefit from them?”
“I asked her manager if she could tell her boss to consider doing a fan meeting over the coming weekend.” Shadreck said.
Gilbert gaped at him. “You didn’t!” He said. “Is that what you were talking to her about when you chased her to the door? Now why would you suggest something so stupid to someone who’s never had a fan meeting before? The woman has never done any public appearances. What part of enigma do you not understand?”
“I tried my luck,” Shadreck said. “It’s not like it costs us anything. She can either say yes or no what’s the big deal. I am not going to treat her differently just because she is some international celebrity.”
“But you read her terms didn’t you? It said no public appearances, no personal contacts, no nothing and she even paid a huge sum to ensure that those terms are adhered to.” Gilbert reminded him.
“Are you guys seriously going to continue talking about work here?” Kafula asked.
“What the hell does this enigma chick do anyway?” Nate asked. “I just see people posting about her winning some awards on social media with foolish hashtags about her being Zambia and what not. What exactly does she do?”
Everyone around the table looked like they had finally found a justifiable reason to murder Nate.
“Are you kidding me?” Enock said.
“I am too busy counting money to know all the details about what’s trending in tabloids. Such bubblegum details are for you guys.” Nate said.
“Yeah right, counting other people’s money must be so taxing.” Enock retorted.
“What’s your deal with me tonight man?” Nate asked. “Did your boyfriend dump you?”
“What did you just say?” Enock looked about ready to deliver his first punch but Gilbert grabbed him by the hand and forced him back down.
“Not in this place you guys.” Kafula said to the two. “Why do the two of you always go at each other every time we meet?”
“Anyway, to answer your question Nate,” Gilbert came to the rescue. “Sasha Brand is an award winning writer. She’s probably written most, if not all the movies or series you’ve watched in the last decade. She started writing at the age of twelve, comics. Those days they were not so popular but she made them popular. She drew all the characters by hand and still does even now despite the technological advancements.
“She has written books, plays, songs and anything you can think of. She is like the queen of the writing world, a great artist too. Everything she touches turns to gold. She says she’s retired from Hollywood now and wants to make a direct contribution to the local industry here…something you can read about in the press release on Monday, obviously, but you are hearing it here first.”
“She sounds very talented.” Nate said. “Anyone know how old she is?”
“There are three things that the whole world knows about Sasha Brand.” Shadreck said. “1. That she is Zambian. 2. She is black and 3, that she is thirty years old.”
“How do people know all that when they’ve never seen her, especially that bit about her age?” Nate asked.
“Back when she was young, about the age of ten, it was around the time she started writing, she had entered a kid’s writing competition in America and won first prize. She was very new in the country as she had just been taken there a few months earlier by the American couple that had adopted her after meeting her during their visit to an orphanage here in Zambia. Because she was very shy and not accustomed to her new environment, her mother accepted the award on her behalf and informed the audience that just like the girl in the story Sasha had written, she wanted to keep her identity secret because it was her form of superpower.
“Of course the judges needed to confirm that it was indeed a child that had written the story and after agreeing to keep her identity private, the three judges met the kid in private and confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that indeed she was the one that had written the story. After that the kid became famous but because she was very shy and also because her parents wanted her to have a normal childhood, they insisted that it was best to keep her true identity private. So we can safely assume that there are only six other people that know who Sasha Brand is and what she looks like; the three judges, her parents and the father at the orphanage here in Zambia where she stayed before adoption.”
“I bet whoever it was that left her at that orphanage would kill themselves if they discovered just how successful the girl they abandoned is.” Kafula said.
“I don’t know why I’m only thinking of this now,” Shadreck said. “If I can find out who the father is, then I can retrace everything that happened twenty-five years ago and it would lead me straight to Sasha.”
Gilbert didn’t appear thrilled by his friend’s idea. “Are you seriously going to continue like this?” He asked.
“Can you imagine how much money we can make by being the first to uncover the true identity of Sasha Brand? Everyone in Hollywood tried and failed but this is Zambia. They will all come after us with offers for this kind of exclusive.”
“Has it ever crossed your mind that the woman might have a dame good reason for wanting to keep her personal life private?” Enock asked. “I mean, how would you feel if someone went behind your back and started digging into your past with the sole purpose of exposing you?
“We are very quick to treat celebrities like they’re not human which is very disappointing considering your company is responsible for handling and protecting such lives. It’s not like you don’t know the damage it might do to these people’s lives and careers. Don’t you have anything in your life or past that you wouldn’t want anyone knowing, let alone the whole world uncovering and digging further for their own entertainment?”
They were all looking at Shadreck and waiting to hear his response. He was the one person in their group who kept his past completely hidden. Shadreck hated talking about his past. Gilbert was the only one of his friends that knew about his past and private life.
Despite being in the public eye, Shadreck had somehow managed to protect himself from the prying eyes of the public. Gilbert on the other hand didn’t mind being in the public eye. He was so popular with the masses as the owner of Apollo that most people actually thought he was the CEO.
“I’m sorry,” Shadreck said, getting up from the couch and looking very flustered. “I think I lost my mind for a little bit.” He took his wallet out from his back pocket to pay for the one bottle of beer he had consumed.
“Oh hell.” Gilbert said, looking at something behind Shadreck that had caught his attention.
Shadreck followed everyone’s gaze and turned, a move he immediately regretted. They were all looking at a group of young men, their peers, faces all too familiar and faces that had the power to attract every man and woman’s attention wherever they appeared. Leading the pack of four was the obvious leader, Andy Mwila, the only heir to the mighty Pluto Investments empire.
Andy Mwila had the kind of looks and powerful presence that was the envy of most men and the desire of most if not all women. At thirty-three, he was the most eligible bachelor in the region, a billionaire heir, philanthropist, womaniser and world class playa.
Andy never had any reason to act arrogant or pompous. His name and everything that it came with did all the talking for him. The only thing he was known to brag about was his record of never having chased after any woman in his life. Women literally threw themselves at his feet.
“Finally, some old money in the building.” Nate whispered excitedly. “Ndiye bantu aba.”
Gilbert stood up. “I think we should leave.” He said to Shadreck and watched as the group of four slowly got closer to where they were. If not for the many stops they were making greeting patrons along the way, they would have already reached where Shadreck and his group was.
“No way!” Nate protested. “I have been coming here for the past six months and this is the only time I get to meet Andy Mwila. Do you have any idea the kind of contacts you would have just by knowing this guy? If I can get this guy to bank with us, believe me I will be the MD in no time.”
Enock got up and went to stand between the two gentlemen, Gilbert and Shadreck. “Are you guys okay?” He was looking from one to the other. “You look like you have seen a ghost.”
Shadreck counted a few bills from his wallet and put them on the table. He turned to leave only to come face to face with Andy. The whole crew had stopped by their table.
“I thought that was you,” Andy excitedly said to Shadreck, his hand on his shoulder.
Shadreck clenched his jaw. “Andy,” he said, feigning a smile.
Andy surprised everyone by pulling Shadreck in for a hug. “My God you have no idea how much I missed you,” He said, looking very excited to have ran into him.
“You know each other?” Nate asked.
Andy turned to look at the miniature figure.
“Hi, am Nate Bwalya,” He fumbled in his wallet for a business card while everyone looked on in amusement. He was fumbling and talking at the same time, afraid to lose the heir’s attention to someone else.
“I am the Head of accounts, investments at Tyche Bank Zambia. Very pleased to meet you.” Nate said.
Andy had a bemused expression on his face, this was the story of his life. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr Nate Bwalya,” reading the name off the business card he had just been handed.
“Please, call me Nate.”
“Sure,” Andy said and turned back to Shadreck right away. “I didn’t know you also hang out here,” he said.
“Today was my first and last time.” Shadreck’s tone was decisive.
“Why last?” One of Andy’s friend’s stepped forward and asked, concern written all over his face.
Andy laughed. “This is my friend Luke. He is the owner of this beautiful joint we are standing in right now. Luke, this is my friend Shadreck, well, he is more than just a friend. He is family. He is also the CEO of Apollo.”
“Is he the one you were telling me about the other day? The one that’s like a brother to you?” Luke asked.
“The same one,” Andy replied.
Luke shook Shadreck’s hand. “It’s very nice to finally meet you. I have heard some wonderful things about you from Andy and I happen to be a huge fan of your work.”
“Pleasure meeting you,” Shadreck said. “You have a very beautiful place here.”
“I would believe that if I didn’t hear what you said a few seconds ago,” Luke said.
“No, it’s nothing like that,” Shadreck said. Feeling badly for being careless with his words. “Everything was great and the service was perfect. This is just not my kind of scene. I am sure our mutual friend here Andy can testify to that.” He deliberately stressed the word.
“You should have seen the shock on my face when I saw him here,” Andy said. “Shadreck is the cool type of guy that enjoys his privacy and some quiet. This place is just too busy for his taste.”
“Not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing,” Luke said.
Andy laughed. “It’s a good thing for you that the place is busy but like life goes, different flavours for different people.”
“No I understand. But I do hope the rest of the gang continues coming,” he said to the rest.
“Oh yes, most definitely!” Nate answered.
“I will hold you to that then,” the forty-five year old businessman said. “And for that I say, next round is on me if Shadreck here can stay for another hour or two. It would be my honour to entertain Andy’s brother. You are the only human I have heard him speak of so fondly. Please, allow me to buy you a couple of drinks.”
“Please, Shadreck?” Andy pleaded.
Every part of Shadreck wanted to turn down the offer but the looks on the faces of each of his friends told him it was in his best interest to say yes.
“Sure, one hour wouldn’t hurt,” Shadreck relented.
“Fantastic!” Luke said. He motioned for the nearest waitress in sight and gave her instructions for serving the table as the men sat back down.
“I’m afraid I have to leave you guys for now,” Luke turned to Andy and his friends. “I have an appointment in a few minutes, I need to go through some documents one last time.”
“Are you sure it’s business?” Andy raised one eyebrow at his friend, a mischicious smile playing on his face.
“Get your mind off the gutter man,” Luke said. “I am a happily married man and this lady I am meeting sought me out specifically because ‘she heard I was respectable.’”
“Ah, so it’s a lady,” Andy joked. “I trust you man. You can go ahead, I need to go outside to make a private call as well. You guys grab a seat, I will be with you soon.”
“We can walk down together,” Luke said. He then turned to Shadreck and his group. “Gentleman, bill is on me for tonight so drink and eat away at your pleasure.” And then to Andy’s friends, “you guys have had enough of freebies here, you’re paying for yourselves tonight!”
They all laughed.
“No problem Luke,” Dennis said. “You always take good care of us.”