(Short stories – light non-complex reads- I write in between major writing projects to entertain my loyal readers. Enjoy the first story in this series.)
With only a few minutes to 11 o’clock, Mrs Mwansa managed to secure a seat on the Power Tools Bus headed for Ndola from Lusaka. Just a couple of hours before, she had just been through what she had come to conclude the worst experience of her life. A lot of things could have gone wrong, worst of all, her death. Fortunately for her, it had only ended as a robbery, a gruesome and very violent one. Never before had she appreciated the ability to breath in and out so easily without any form of restraint.
Life for the 52 year old had taken on a whole new meaning. Being alive and being able to board a bus that would take her back to the safety of her home was the perfect utopia she could ever wish for herself. Nothing else matters, not even the disheveled look on her, the dirty torn clothes and the smell of what she could only describe as pig’s vomit emitting from every pore in her skin. She most certainly could use a bath and a change of clothes, but that could wait.
Mrs Mwansa smiled as she walked the aisle of the bus, apologizing along the way for her state of dress and foul scent. It was clear on all the passenger’s faces that they did not appreciate her presence on the bus. More than her foul scent, which she gathered wasn’t that unbearable, it was her appearance that appeared to unnerve everyone. She couldn’t blame them. If homelessness and crazy had a face, she would most certainly be it. When the conductor leading her finally came to a stop, just a few feet away from the back end of the bus, he motioned to the right just as he turned to talk to the young girl occupying the window seat, her visibly expensive Louis Vinton bag resting comfortably on the seat next to her.
The man spoke in Bemba to her. “Sorry Miss, but do you mind giving this seat to your aunty here? She-“
The girl, appearing to be in her early twenties raised her hand to the conductor’s face to shush him, her sparkly eyes now turned razor sharp, accentuated to perfection by long eyelashes and perfectly arched brows scanned the unwelcome passenger from head to toe. If before Mrs Mwansa thought she smelled like pig’s vomit, she could have sworn she now smelled like the bio-end products of six fattened pigs ready for slaughter. It was not a look Mrs Mwansa was accustomed to but it was one she could understand. If she had more time in her hands, she could have easily avoided this, but her daughter needed her today. She needed to get home in time. All she could do for now was smile apologetically in return and hoped the girl would be kind enough to give up the seat she had especially reserved for her handbag.
“I told you I didn’t want any weirdos sitting next to me!” The young lady barked at the conductor in flawless English that couldn’t have sounded better flowing from the lips of a native speaker with curly blonde locks. Except, she sounded American, more American than Tiffany Hardish or three Melania Trumps put together. American like one of those rich black female characters in Taylor Perry movies who went to Ivy League schools and used the right knife on a fine dining table. Mrs Mwansa watched quietly and in awe as the two continued their exchange, turning bitter by the second, each unshaken in their resolve, one speaking in flawless unrepentant Bemba, and the other in impeccable tasteful English. The smile never left the woman’s face. If she thought her life couldn’t get any more dramatic, she had just been proved wrong. Not even Twilight’s Alice could have seen this one coming.
The argument between the two got so heated that the rest of the passengers, now completely frustrated by the delay decided to voice their feelings over the matter. To Mrs Mwansa’s surprise, the tide appeared to be in the favor of the “desperate old woman who had just survived a gruesome attack and needed to get home urgently.” The surmarised version of her ordeal sounded ten times more gruesome in Bemba. With all passengers hailing insults and judgement in her direction, the twenty-two year old finally relented, ever so reluctantly and moved her bag to give Mrs Mwansa a seat.
“Don’t even think about leaning on me or touching me,” the girl hissed.
“I’m really sorry for putting you in this position, I know it’s not easy. Thank you for giving the seat to me.”
“It’s not like I had a choice,” the girl said briskly.” They were threatening to kick me out of the bus! And why do you keep smiling like that? Apart from the way you look, is something else funny?” she blocked her nose with her perfectly manicured nails to keep protect herself against the woman’s unpleasnt odor.
Mrs Mwansa chuckled. “I actually think this whole situation is funny, but that’s not why I was smiling.”
“Not like I care,” the girl said, dismissively so. “Just don’t bother talking to me.” Before Mrs Mwansa could give a response, the young lady shoved her headsets into her ears and faced the window, her eyes shut.
Two minutes later, she opened her eyes and started typing away on her phone. A few minutes later, her phone rang. Mrs Mwansa was quick to notice it was the latest iPhone because she had only recently bought one for her daughter.
“I’m telling you, it’s that bad!” The girl said to whoever was on the other end of the line. “I can’t believe I have to endure this for the next five hours…yeah, I think it takes that long. This is public transport love. I sooo miss my Jeep you have no idea. I can’t believe I have to be subjected to this hell…. I don’t care if she can hear me. It’s not like I’m telling lies. She really smells like shit hun.”
Mrs Mwansa made uncomfortable throaty sounds, she looked up and smiled at the lady on the other side of the aisle just a few feet ahead of her who was giving her a pitiful look. The conductor might not have screamed out the full details of her attack, but it was enough to get everyone…well, almost everyone on the bus on her side. Now they were all looking at her like a clown at the circus, a pitiful one at that. But things could be worse, she mused to herself, rested her head back and closed her eyes, doing everything she could to shut off the whiny little voice of the girl insulting her as if she was not right there. This too shall come to pass, Mrs Mwansa thought.
It was quarter to 5 when the bus finally arrived in Ndola. Mrs Mwansa had just 2 hours before her daughter was to arrive from Johannesburg. She hadn’t seen her in two years since she went to school in London. If not for the parcels she needed to pick up from her aunt in South Africa, she would have picked a direct flight to Lusaka that would have seen her arriving a few hours earlier. But maybe it all happened for a good reason, considering the events that had just transpired.
Mrs Mwansa spotted her driver Richard just as she stepped down from the bus. He had an anxious look about him, obviously shaken by what his boss had told him over the phone right after the attack. Richard had worked for Mrs Mwansa for over fifteen years. He managed her home grounds, was in charge of her farms, and every now and then, he acted as cheuffeur when the need arose. There was never a day his boss had treated him as a servant. They were family, which is why he had taken her attack so personally.
“I’m alright Richard, don’t look at me like that. Where are you parked?”
Richard led the way to the light blue Range Rover packed in the distance. “I couldn’t find any spot closer-“
“That’s alright. I could use a bit of walking after sitting for so long. Did Kabwe call?”
“Yes she did, she’s very worried about you.”
“I hope you didn’t tell her the gory details of my attack. I don’t want her worrying unnecessarily.”
“I couldn’t,” Richard said. “I only told her that you encountered some unfortunate people and something happened but you have taken care of it.”
“You’re a good man Richard. How’s Betty and the kids? I hope I won’t find them waiting at the gate looking like they’re waiting to receive a funeral.” She laughed, because that was exactly the scene that awaited her. Richard’s stammering only proved she couldn’t be far from the truth.
She had just settled into her seat when she spotted the girl from the bus looking around aimlessly at the taxi rank.
“Is something the matter Madam?” Richard followed her gaze. “Someone you know?”
Mrs Mwansa smiled. “As a matter of fact, yes. Take us to where she is. We are heading in the same direction.”
Mrs Mwansa rolled down her window as the car came to a stop next to the girl. “Get in,” she said.
“It’s you.” There was still that look of disgust in her eyes, but it soon started fading as realization slowly kicked in. “I see what’s going on here,” the girl fully turned to look at Mrs Mwansa, her shoulders squared in defiance. “Trying to prove to me that you’re some rich old lady and I should be sorry for treating you the way I did?”
Mrs Mwansa looked amused. “Do you think I worked my ass off the past thirty plus years just to prove a point to a disrespectful twit like you? Get in the car and stop wasting my time.”
“Thanks but no thanks. I’m waiting for my ride. She will be here soon.”
“You mean the lady you’re trying to call whose phone is off?”
The girl gaped at her. “How-“
“I’m Kabwe’s mother. I am the lady who agreed to give you a home to stay after your mother kicked you out of her house because you fell pregnant for her boyfriend.”
For a few moments, the two women starred at each other, no words spoken. But they didn’t need words to communicate anymore.
“Help her with her bags Richard.” Mrs Mwansa said. “Get in the car Natasha.” She said to her.
There was silence in the car as Richard drove them home, except for the few whimpering sounds that escaped Natasha as she tried to hide her shame. Mrs Mwansa opened her glove compartment and handed her some tissues.
“Why are you crying?” She asked the girl.
“This is just so embarrassing,” Natasha said.
“Well, we all have our stories.”
“I wasn’t having an affair with him.”
“Chimuka, my mother’s boyfriend. He raped me. I know no one believes me but-“
“Kabwe believes you.”
“She told you what happened?”
“She did. Why else would I agree to let you stay with us?”
“So you believe me too?”
Mrs Mwansa could feel the desperation in the girls voice. Who better than her could understand the desperate need of wanting to be believed in such a situation?
“What does it matter what I think?” Mrs Mwansa feigned nonchalance.
“I know I can be a bitch sometimes.”
“You don’t say!?”
“Sarcastic much huh. I deserve that. I’m not a very nice person. You’ve seen that for yourself. Most of my friends talk shit behind my back-“
One reprobative look from the fifty-two year old and Natasha re-evaluated her vocabulary.
“I’m sorry, I meant…my friends say à lot of bad things about my mother and me, and they smile in my face like everything is all good. Only Kabwe is honest with me. She says things as they are and I’ve never had anyone like that in my life, not even my mother. She couldn’t even spare me a second to explain to her that I would never do something like that. She forgave her boyfriend for his ‘mistake’ but she won’t give me the time of day.”
“Why do you think no one believes you were raped Tasha?” Mrs Mwansa asked.
“I don’t know… I guess my lifestyle. But you don’t understand, I have no need to lie about being raped. In fact, I would rather people believed I stole my mother’s boyfriend and fell pregnant for him because that would be more in my nature. However, I refuse to admit to something I didn’t do. I hate that son of…that man.”
Mrs Mwansa silently applauded her for the vocabulary adjustment.
“He treats my mother like a maid and uses her like an atm machine. On top of it, he beats her whenever he feels like it. She is his punching bag for his bruised useless ego and she just let’s him because she thinks no man can ever love her. Even if he was the most handsome man in the world I would not spare him a glance. Deep down her heart my mother knows he hurt me. He forced himself on me but she is so afraid of being alone that she would rather lose me instead of him. I was drunk. I came home late one night, he heard me enter. I wasn’t expecting him home that night because my mother had traveled. He never sleeps home when she’s not around, but that night I found him. I was so drunk I could barely stand, let alone fight him, but I remember putting up a good fight. I was still no match for him.”
“Why didn’t you tell your mother when she came back?”
Natasha laughed. “You think she would have believed me just because it came from me? It wouldn’t have made a difference to her. Besides, it was my fault for being so drunk. Maybe if I was sober, he wouldn’t have had the courage to even think about touching me like that. I figured it would all just die down and no one need know about it, not like I was a virgin anyway, but then this happened.” She was touching her belly.
“How far along are you?”
“Two months and some weeks.”
“You know, it’s not your fault that you got raped,” Mrs Mwansa said. “It’s true that your defenses were down due to the alcohol but believe me, a sober you wouldn’t have stopped a man like Chimuka from taking advantage of you. He’s been doing that to your mother all these years and from what I hear, she’s a tough cookie. Men like him don’t need any motivation to cause harm. It’s in their nature, and women to them are mère pièces of property that can be controlled and dealt with whichever way they feel. So don’t ever blame yourself.”
“I can see where Kabwe takes her personality,” Natasha said, smiling.
“Kabwe is too nice for her own good, but I’m not. In as much as it’s not your fault that you were raped, you’re a snob. And you treat people horribly. That’s why no one appears to be on your side. Try to treat people better and you’ll see a lot of things start to change for the better in your life.”
“You mean like not getting raped?”
“Who said good people don’t get raped?” Mrs Mwansa said. “whether good or bad, no one deserves to be raped. I’m talking about you growing up and being responsible for that child growing inside you right now. You can’t continue acting wild and living irresponsibly as if you don’t care whether you live or die.”
“I don’t. And I don’t want to keep this baby. This is a bad seed. No way in hell I’m bringing that monster’s child into this world.”
“I see,” Mrs Mwansa said, choking back tears. “We’re finally home,” she announced a few seconds later, this time a little more enthusiastically.
“This will be your room,” Mrs Mwansa later said to Natasha.
“You’re a very kind woman Mrs Mwansa,” Natasha said. “I can’t believe that I thought someone who lives in a mansion like this one was the scum of the earth. I guess not everything is as it seems. I think I’ve learnt my lesson. You don’t need to lecture me about it.”
“I like that you’re ready to admit when you’re wrong. There are not a lot of young people like that.”
“Guess I’m not so bad after all, huh.”
Mrs Mwansa laughed. “We all have our strengths and weaknesses. See, the same way people think it’s not possible for a wild girl like you to get raped, it’s the same thing that happened to me when I got onto that bus today. The way we treat people, no matter how different they are from us, or how different their beliefs tells us more about who we are than who or what those people are. We respond and react to people based on our values, not theirs, otherwise we are all the same.”
“And I thought I could avoid the lecture. I deserve that,” Natasha joked.
“Yes you do.” Mrs Mwansa was ready to leave but somehow changed her mind at the door. “Natasha,” she said hesitantly.
“Yes Mrs Mwansa,” the twenty-two year old answered.
“Please, call me Aunt Trisha. What you said about Kabwe in the car, that she’s a good person….”
“Yes, please don’t tell me you’re going to ask me to stop hanging out with her? She’s the only good thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Mrs Mwansa laughed. “I trust Kabwe to pick her own friends. If she’s friends with you, then she must have seen something in you. Besides, the two of you have been friends since high school and miraculously, your bad girl behaviour has not rubbed off on her.”
“She’s not perfect either you know,” Natasha said. “She smokes. I don’t.”
“I know, but she’s an angel, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I would actually. She’s too good for this world.”
“That baby in your belly, he or she could be Kabwe.”
“No way! Not with a father like that wild boar.”
“I’m not going to dictate to you what to do, but I wish for you to take some time to think about it so that you have no regrets in future.”
“I can’t regret something that wasn’t even supposed to be in the first place.”
“And yet here it is,” Mrs Mwansa said. “There is no gurantee that the children we bear will turn out to be exactly like us. Before Kabwe, I was not the woman you see standing here. I became better and stronger because of her. She was a child who was never meant to be, just like the one you have in there. But look at her.”
“Are you telling me that…that Kabwe is…was…that you….” She couldn’t bring herself to say the words. She could only point at the woman she had come to regard in the past few minutes as the humblest, and most elegant woman she had ever met. How was it possible that a woman like her could have suffered the same fate as her? And Kabwe….it just wasn’t possible.
“It’s life my dear. We don’t always choose the things that happen to us. But we can choose how we respond to them. I’ll be in my room taking a long hot bath if you need me. In the meantime, you can find Betty in the kitchen getting dinner ready. Feel at home Tasha. And welcome to our home.”
Mrs Mwansa smiled and gently closed the door behind her.
Coming up next in The Life Series Vol 2: The Neighbor. Be on the look out. 😊