THE INVISIBLE MAN – Introduction by Anisha Simutowe
I was there.
History was made right before my eyes.
My father, an unassuming man, almost good looking but not quite there. Bless him, my mother had him convinced he had crossed the threshold.
Ronald Chalwe, my father, a Stanford graduate, political science major currently chasing his third Ph.d. A very reserved and soft spoken man with a withdrawn demeanour that’s crowned by an intelligent head over his shoulders.
I have both fear and adoration for the man.
My father, always the seemingly timid six foot one fella you would not remember seeing at a public event but you’re sure beyond reasonable doubt he was there…somewhere. what you wouldn’t know is the fact that he had been the brains behind every step taken and every speech given.
To most he was a very useful man. But only as long as he remained in the shadows. He was a man that didn’t require a second glance. They celebrated his efforts and what he had helped them achieve behind closed doors. And behind their private closed doors and along the long corridors of cabinet offices they whispered opinions of pity.
“Oh poor Ronnie, if only he knew he was just being used.”
There was something about my father that made anyone that looked at him running around like a headless chicken feel pity for him. There was no one else in the cabinet or the party itself that worked as hard or as much as my father. They called him the Errand Boy. Even the media used that name in their headlines and stories to refer to him.
My father would not want it any other way.
His performance was Oscar worthy. Ronald Chalwe was not a man to carelessly ignore. Whatever opinions of him they had, he had written the plot and fed them dialogue lines. He had created characters and gave them personalities. Like the fools that they originally were before he dressed them up in robs of power, they had no idea that the very confidence and power they wielded was all because of him.
Like a master puppeteer, he had his characters thinking they would be that good even without the strings. The only trouble was, my father never even allowed them to be aware of the existence of the strings. As far as they were concerned, they were the masters pulling the strings. My father was at the end of one of those strings.
A harmless pawn anyone could shift on the chess board and as long as they had him exactly where they needed him to be, they were guaranteed the queen in hand. The bloody fools. How could they not foresee the end game?
He had been there all along. A piece moved around by everyone and because he was ever so glad to be of any use to anyone, they missed the hunger in his eyes. They were too busy gloating in their glory and power that they did not even realize the tables had turned. When the moveable piece started to direct the hand that moved it.
I was there when it happened.
I was there when the strange men in suits appeared in our living room and begged and begged my father to take the main seat at the dinning table.
“It is only a temporary arrangement,” I heard the heavily pot-bellied man that always smelled like left over offals from three years ago say. Dolce & Gabbana are still working on a strong enough cologne to fight the man’s demons. He can easily afford it after all.
His name is George Mbula, the Financial Independency Party (FIP) General Secretary. He was my fathers immediate boss. He had strategically placed himself in that position but everyone knew exactly where his true power lay.
Mbula was a very rich man. Very very rich. At age 22, I had no idea how he had become so filthy rich. But eventually, I would find out. He was second in command only to the man who happened to be the reason they were all gathered in our home in the first place. Even though another man officially held the second in command position, it was no secret throughout the whole country that Mr Stinky was the one running the show.
I was twenty-two years old when that meeting happened. I was on a two weeks vacation from the University of Zenda. My father was fifty-one years old. My mother was forty-nine.
To my father, I was only just a baby. To me, my father was a god. A master manipulator. A man that knew everything about everyone in the room and even those close or remotely connected to them. Sometimes he searched for the information and sometimes it was handed straight to him without lifting a finger. That’s how much of a non-threat he was to most. And I say most because a lot of people saw him like that. Including my mother.
To a very large extent that’s beyond genetics, I am indeed my father’s daughter.
“But I am just the deputy GS!” My father, one Ronald Chalwe vehemently continued his protests. “Do you have any idea how ridiculous you all sound right now?”
“Listen Ronnie,” it was Kelvin Manda speaking, a midget looking fella in his late fifties but he had the quickest and smartest mouths of them all.
“People are laughing at us right now,” he said, one hand scratching away at his lice infested rough beard while the other worked futiously at removing the pork stew stain that had molested his trousers from God knows which meal of the day.
I was always amused by these folks that appeared rich on paper but poor in mind. The FIP had a lot of such fellas.
“Our president is critically ill and out of the country,” Manda went on. “Our vice president suddenly decided that his incestuous relationship with his step-daughter is more important than running this country so that’s out of the question. In accordance with the constitution, with the absence of the VP, you are His Excellence’s first choice because he trusts you.”
“You mean because am no threat to him or anyone else, right?” Daddy dearest asked.
You could tell that’s what everyone in the room was thinking but they were all too self conscious to admit it so openly.
“You’re right,” Andrew Ng’andu said. “He chose you because you are a puppet. He don’t have to fight you to get you off that seat once he recover. so don’t go thinking you’re a big man now.
“Everyone here knows George is the man,” Andrew continued, pointing his fat finger at the tycoon in the room. “Timiziba monse namanganizo yanu.”
They all gawked at him in horror. But Andrew was no stranger to being the recipient of such reactions. In whatever situation the thirty-eight year old university drop-out was found, he always played devil’s advocate. Legend had it that the first word he spoke as a baby was “Viva!” And the first man he called “dada” was his parent’s gardener. His fate was written in the stars. A very proud cadre, he would sell his very soul to the highest bidder just so his favourite candidate could win elections.
Where others in the room were book smart, Andrew was street smart. He knew how to play the crowds to his party’s favour and vice versa. Whereas my father was liked for his intelligence and unassuming manner, Andrew was both liked and hated with the same intensity for his wit and street smarts. The two were invaluable assets of the FIP party.
Fortunately, or unfortunately for most, only Andrew was considered a threat due to his popularity and in-your-face attitude.
“This is the president of the Republic of Zenda we are talking about young man,” dear old George roared. “This is no time for you to be passing one of your damned jokes. Show some respect.”
Ng’andu rolled his eyes but shut his mouth like an obedient dog. That was another strength of his; knowing when to speak and when to shut up.
George the tycoon then turned to my cowardly father. “We are not asking you to become the president Ronnie,” he said. “We wouldn’t even dream of it. You will just be acting. There’s a huge difference.”
My father was shaking all over. Everyone could see and hear his fingers tangle unceremoniously with the surface of the table they were supposed to be resting on. Sensing his nervousness, Colonel Manda placed his hands over my dad’s hands to reassure him. I saw my dad look at his friends hands…more like surreptititiously glare at them. He then pursed his lips for a split second and then smiled nervously as he lifted his head to meet his friends eye.
“I’ll be here with you every step of the way Ronnie, I promise.” Colonel Manda said. He and my father had known each other since college days. While he joined the army, my father went abroad to pursue his first degree. Now he was in charge of the nation’s security while my father ran errands for the big shots.
“So will I,” the rest of them chorused.
The whole time my eyes had not left my father’s from where I was hiding. Behind the tall cabinet that my mother had specifically made so she could display her expensive Chinaware.
Although not a vain woman, my mother took pride in being my father’s bride. For a woman whose greatest academic achievement was her high school certificate, being the wife of the Secretary General of the ruling party was everything she could ever hope for. Whoever said success was not sexually transmitted had obviously not met my mother.
My mother had absolutely no desire to further her studies. She had achieved her biggest ambition, and that was to be Ronald’s wife and mother to his children. And even though my ambitions are different from hers, I respect her a lot for being absolutely content with the way her life is going. Not many can say that about their lives. She is the perfect wife for a man like my father. She is also a great mother to me and my two younger siblings.
“Why does it have to be me?” My father asked. “We all know that George here is next in line to the president.” He was referring to Mr Stinky. “You’re the VP for Christ’s sake. You be his proxy!”
“Unfortunately, it’s not up to me to decide that,” Mr Mbula said. “There are laws we have to follow…for now. In a few days the cabinet will meet and instruct the chief justice to convene a board of doctors to determine the president’s capacity to carry out his duties. We all know what the outcome will be. His Excellence is well aware too and he knows we are having this meeting.”
“Does that mean we will be going to the polls after 90 days?” Enock Phiri asked.
Honorable Phiri was in charge of Foreign Affairs. A very lazy man that watched his deputy do all the work without complaining because he enjoyed getting paid without putting in any work. I still don’t know how he found himself part of the central committee, let alone an Honorable Member of Parliament.
He was more of a liability than asset. Every time Phiri opened his mouth to address the public, the party was grappled in a PR scandal.
“The president will have recovered by then,” Hon Martha Likando chipped in, her squeaky voice causing the dust hidden behind my mother’s living room cabinets to rise into the air.
“We have to continue praying for him instead of wishing and hoping for the worst,” she added. “We know how power hungry some of you are.” She shared a knowing look with Ng’andu.
At 45, Martha was a true embodiment of society’s version of womanhood; a proud wife and mother of four, a twenty-one year old marriage, and a string of feminist movements under her name. She had survived more mistresses than King Solomon’s first wife.
Her very rich businessman husband was well known for his philandering ways. Rumour even had it that his Mrs excelled in her political career thanks to his mistresses placed all over the nation whom he had tasked with carrting out vicious campaigns in support of his wife if they wanted to keep him as a blesser. Mrs Likando was now the party’s National Chairperson as well as the Minister of Gender.
I could see George Mbula fuming. He looked like he was hiding two babies in his mouth. His chubby cheeks were threatening to drop to the floor.
“No one is wishing the president ill,” he said. “We all wish him a quick recovery. However, right next to being humans, we are leaders of a whole nation. Our playfield is a dangerous one and there’s no mercy. The opposition is watching us closely. They have been making noise about the two thirds vote long before His Excellence was bedridden. They know our weaknesses and they’re ready for take-over. Instead of being emotional, we need to plan for the inevitable.”
“Now that’s just plain discriminatory and disrespectful,” Grace Gwanu fired at the businessman, jaw squared and all.
There was only a total of three women in the FIP central committee. One of them was out on official duty. Over the years, the women had learnt to stand together to protect each other and their interests against their testosterone-driven counterparts.
“Calm yourself down Grace, this is no time for your feminist bullshit,” Isaac Mbao said.
He was the party’s spokesperson. A vile chauvinistic, pompous and arrogant nicampoop with very high delusions of grandeur since the age of six. He imagined himself to be more intelligent than his IQ could ever let him. For a communications specialist, he had a very bombastic vocabulary that defeated the very essence of his role.
“Why does he always have to use the word emotional whenever a woman speaks in these meetings?” The fifty year old Art and Culture chairperson argued.
“By inevitable, I think the Money Shaker here meant that the president is dying whether we say it out loud or not,” the Honorable cadre purged, trying to steer the conversation back on track.
They all gave him looks that threatened to turn his very dark complexion even darker.
“Like you said earlier,” Mbula had turned to my dad, completely ignoring Ng’andu and the fuming Grace. “There’s protocol to be followed. Not just anyone can assume power over the nation just because the president is incapacitated.
“He set his affairs in order before he left the country and we have to ensure his directions are followed. No matter what we feel or think. Like you all are aware, am the backbone of the party even though I am not the VP. It had to be that way, not just for myself, but for all of us.”
Andrew Ng’andu made some throaty sounds but pretended to be masking a cough.
I’m the backbone of the party even though I am not the VP. It had to be that way, not just for myself, but for all of us.
Mbulo was popular for making these statements everywhere he went. So much so that his other nickname was Mr Backbone. It was a fact that he was the financial muscle of the FIP party, but it was also a fact that people were tired of having that fact shoved in their faces by him every chance he got.
That night, Friday the 13th, April 2012, my father was ‘forced’ into accepting the president’s orders. Once cabinet was done, he became the Acting President of the Republic of Zenda.
Two weeks later, His Excellence, president Gilbert Sakala of the Republic of Zenda passed away.
It was a new era for the Financial Indepedence Party. An era none of them saw coming.
Except for me and my dad.
“I know what you’re doing,” I said to my dad a week after the president’ s death.
He was in his study and had just finished a call with his long time pal Col Manda. He swirled his chair around to look at me. I was standing by the door, my arms folded across my chest wearing a slight smirk on my face.
“My baby,” he said, motioning me to get closer and sit on his laps.
I was twenty-two years old then. A third year political science major. To my father, I was still just a baby.
“How much did you hear?” He asked, completely unfazed and unpertubed.
“Everything,” I said. “Make me the First Daughter and I will help make you the best President this country has ever seen.”
Daddy laughed. Really really laughed because he thought I was joking, playing big people’s games.
He was wrong.
For years my father plotted his rise to grace. He left no stones unturned. When he came to the top, nobody saw him coming. They were not ready for him but he was more than ready for them. Everything was turning out exactly as he had planned.
Just when his old and new political enemies thought they knew what they were dealing with (an unexpected worthy adversary), I happened. Surprising both my father and a nation.
My name is Sandra Chalwe. I am the First Daughter of the Republic of Zenda. I have been for the past six years. I kept my promise to my father and helped him achieve his political ambitions. It was a long journey. One paved with twists and turns that sometimes threatened our very lives.
But still, we made it. And we want to keep going. That’s the thing with power. Once you’ve gotten hold of it, you have only two options available to you: maintain it or acquire even more of it. That’s all.
My time is now. For years I helped my father maintain his power. But now I want more. For myself.
It’s my time to achieve my own ambitions: to become the first female and youngest president of Zenda. After six years of being my father’s ally, I am about to become his greatest adversary. Just like he surprised and shocked his enemies once upon a time, I am about to give him the greatest shock of his life.
He did not see me coming.
At least I hope.
This is my father’s story. But it is also my story.
I am after all, my father’s daughter.