Thirty minutes had gone by and William was still parked outside his mother’s house. The thought of having a conversation with his mother was almost driving William to the brink of depression. Nothing good ever came from the two of them talking. Only hate, anger, and bitterness, and Joyce Chama was super generous when she dished out all three. William would need three exorcists to free him of the hurt and hate he anticipated coming from this particular encounter.
Bracing himself for war, he hooted at the gate and it opened automatically a few seconds later.
“I thought you were planning on spending the whole night out there,” his mother said as she opened the door to her house to let him in. She was dressed in a lose fitting light blue satin nightgown that ran all the way down to the floor. She had dyed her short hair a color between white, yellow, and red, William couldn’t tell and he didn’t care. It was not a common style for women his mother’s age but Joyce always managed to somehow find a dignified way of carrying her unique sense of style with making herself an object of ridicule. She was in fact considered one of the most stylish women in the country.
“You knew I was out there?” William asked, stepping aside to let her close the door behind him.
When she was done, she led the way into the living room. Her house was an open floor plan, and William could see his mother’s long serving house keeper Diana clad in a full uniform like an overdressed elderly French maid approach them from the kitchen.
“Of course I knew,” Joyce said nonchalantly. “I have a sensor and cameras all over the place you know. I’m not surprised you’ve forgotten. If you visited more often, this wouldn’t be the case.”
Here we go again, William thought.
She was exaggerating, something she was extremely good at. He had last visited her six months prior. For anyone who didn’t know about their relationship, it can easily seem like such a long time especially given that they lived only about 45 minutes apart. However, William had resolved to only see his mother two times in a year. Even that was too much for a toxic mother like her. But he was a filial son, cutting her off completely would have chewed at his conscience interminably. Twice a year was the least he could do for a woman who had given birth to him. He didn’t have to enjoy the visits, he only needed to show up and then leave as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, today’s visit could not be avoided.
Somewhere during the son-mother exchange, Diana had joined the pair and silently waited for her presence to be recognized. “Diana, bring my son a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc won’t you?” Joyce instructed, and to William, she turned and asked, “you still like your wine white, right?” She motioned her head toward the tea table next to the red ottoman where an empty bottle of Nero D’Avola and an almost full glass of wine sat.
Typical. The thought hit William’s head. The woman needed to be institutionalized. She was a walking alcohol sewerage tank and it would take her actually dying from the poison for her to accept postmortem that she was indeed an alcoholic.
“Yes ma’am,” Diana said before turning to William. “Welcome Mr William.”
“Thank you Diana. It’s good to see you. How are you and the kids doing? Is Martin still giving you trouble?”
The middle aged woman smiled, her heart warming at the thought that William had remembered the conversation they had had last week when he called to inquire about his mother’s health. She had mentioned to him that her thirteen year old grandson was becoming rebellious by the day. It was nice of him to remember his name and ask after him. How did a nice young man like this end up with a woman like this for a mother? Diana often wondered.
Unfortunately, Diana’s happy bubble burst in place when she felt the burn on her side from Joyce’s steaming glare. She turned to see her boss fuming from ear to ear and she forgot about the response she was ready to give William.
“I’ll go grab your drink Mr William,” she nervously said and quickly turned her back to him.
“Forget about that drink Diana,” William called after her. The woman stopped in her tracks to turn back to the room. “I’m not in the mood for alcohol tonight,” William informed her. “Just bring me a bottle of water, room temperature, please.”
“Yes Mr William.” Diana smiled and immediately made herself scarce.
“Aren’t you going to sit?” Joyce waved a hand at the couch furthest to the ottoman as she made her way to it. She might desire her son to visit more often, but she was not about to subject herself to his judgemental looks by sitting so close together.
William obliged her. “I’m not going to best around the bush-” He started to say as he took the seat.
“You never do,” Joyce interjected, raising her glass to her lips.
William took a deep breath, and watched his mother as she downed the contents of the glass, a blank look on his face. “Miranda paid me a visit today,” he said. “Did you know she was back in town?” It was a rhetorical question, but he couldn’t help himself.
Joyce finished the contents of the glass before putting it down. “Diana!” She yelled at the top of her voice. “Bring me another bottle!”
“Haven’t you had enough already?” William asked, his impassive features growing into concern. Wasn’t there a way he could force her into a detoxing program before she did any more harm to herself and her loved ones? Besides, he didn’t need her drunk while they had this conversation tonight.
“Oh give me a break! You’re not my husband.”
“I’m your son, mother, and I’m concerned about you.”
“Oh, you are?” Joyce snickered. “Look at me, how could I not have known that? I mean, look at all the times you check on me!?” She was waving her arms in the air dramatically.
“I ask after you,” he said. “I call Diana at least once every week.”
“Diana is my maid! If you want to know how I’m doing, you should call me. I am not sinile William. I can answer my own phone just fine.”
“Just look at us mother, we never have normal conversations. Barely two minutes have passed and you’re already screaming your head off.”
“I’m not screaming,” she said in a clipped low tone.
“Why didn’t you tell me Miranda was back?” He didn’t need her to confirm whether she knew about Miranda’s presence in town or not. He knew she knew. That’s just how things were done in his political family.
Joyce had employed people specifically to be on the look out for Miranda. She had managed to stay off their radar for twenty years, and finally she was back. There had to be a reason, and a cause for concern for both mother and son especially that it was election season. So yes, Joyce knew about Miranda’s presence in the country.
“Why should I tell you? That woman has nothing to do with us,” Joyce said.
So she was going to take this all the way to the end, huh? “If she has nothing to do with us, why do you have people at the ready to report to you on her whereabouts?”
“Is that why you came here, to interrogate me!?” She sat up straight, her eyes on the empty bottle of wine on the table beside her. “Diana!” She screamed again.
The housekeeper showed up at that moment, quickly serving her boss before William and disappearing from sight at record speed. Joyce poured herself a full glass of wine and put it to work immediately. William took a sip from his bottled water and placed it back on the tray on the table in front of him.
“How is that you’re able to lie, manipulate and ruin people’s lives without feeling an ounce of guilt or regret? I just want to know why?”
“Oh stop being such a baby Junior!”
“My name is William!” For the first time since he arrived, he didn’t care about losing his cool. There were so many things he could tolerate about his mother, but addressing him by his late father’s name was not one of them. “She was pregnant with my son for pètes sake! Your grandchild! ” He snapped. “You knew and yet you looked me in the eye and lied to me about her getting an abortion.”
Joyce poured herself another glass, her hand shaking like a leaf as the contents of the bottle kept spilling around the glass and onto the tray. But she didn’t care, she just kept pouring. When the glass was filled to the top, she took it to her lips and gulped the contents all at once. William was disgusted by the sight of her. “Just look at you,” he muttered in a near whisper, shaking his head in reprobation.
Joyce took a long breath before addressing her son. “She had no business keeping that baby.” She was pointing an accusing finger at nobody in particular. Her voice was now shaking, sounding almost out of breath from her own agitation. She was way past the point of being sober now. She wiped the sides of her mouth with the back of her hand. In that moment, William was reminded of the woman his mother had been before all the fame, money, and titles had gotten to her head.
Joyce’s mother, Grandma Pauline, had been a street walker who fell pregnant for a polygamous man who had the mind to turn her into a wife. Dominick, William’s grandfather must have been a very short-sighted man because it had not taken long for his new bride to start turning tricks within his compound.
Rejected and humiliated, Grandma Pauline managed to ensnare one of her many lovers into marrying her and together they raised Joyce in a dilapidated apartment in Kalingalinga. Joyce had always believed she was meant to live a life better than her parents provided. She despised them for subjected her to a life of such abject poverty. And so at sixteen years old, Joyce joined different youth groups around her community that would allow her to mingle with kids outside her community.
Like a chameleon, she managed to turn herself into a brand new person in front of the kids from the privileged communities. As fate would have it, fortune was in the favor of the sixteen year old when she was picked by a local church to attend that year’s summer camp.
Victor Mwanza was the leader of the camp supervisors. A smart, tall, and smooth talking articulate young man aged 22, he was the apple of every girl’s eye at camp. Being far much wiser than her peers, Joyce had made a quick calculation: to catch the eye of the arrogant rich kid, she needed to stand out from the rest. And so when Victor called her name during roll call that evening, Joyce had rolled her eyes, turned to the side to whisper something in her friend’s ear, and the two girls laughed.
Insulted by her dismissive and disrespectful attitude, Victor called her out on her behaviour in front of everyone. “Share the joke with everyone Miss Funny Beans!” He shot razors in her direction with his eyes as he waited for her response. Unbeknownst to him, he was playing right into her trap. She knew she would illicit such a reaction from an entitled man like him. Victor liked to be in charge, to be in control of everyone and everything. Joyce had seen it in the manner he carried himself and talked to people.
Instead of flinching under his scrutiny, Joyce surprised Victor by standing up and facing him head-on. “I said that you talk like you’re gasping for air,” she said.
The tent was filled with muffled laughter.
“Outside, now!” Victor barked.
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you?” Victor asked Joyce once they were outside, à shirt distance away from the communal tent.
“No, I don’t think I’m smart. I know I’m smart. There’s a difference,” she retorted.
Victor laughed, genuinely finding the arrogant teenager intriguing. “I like you. You’re different,” he said. “You’re foolish, but you’re also cute.”
“Come to my tent at 22,” Joyce offered. “I’ll make sure Chama isn’t around.”
“Do you just invite random boys to your tent?” Victor wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or concerned by her bluntness and bravado.
Joyce must have realized her error when she saw the confusion dancing in his eyes so she quicked went in for damage control. “No, I’m à virgin. Where I come from, there are no cool boys like you.”
“Ah, I see.” She had managed to somehow fix her faux pas and stroke Victor’s ego all in the same breath. “I’m not supposed to be in any relationship with the campers you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” she stated matter-of-factly.
Victor was visibly infatuated. “I’ll be there, but this stays between us. Deal?”
Joyce nodded. She ran back to the communal tent, grinning from ear to ear.
“What happened?” Her friend Chama asked when she joined her.
“I just won a jackpot,” Joyce said, her smile lighting up her whole face.
That fateful night, William was conceived. This was a story his father had told him over and over again. And in his version, it was a story about how a desperate, shameless, and conniving social climber had trapped a rich man’s son by falling pregnant for him and forcing him to marry her. However, in his mother’s version, this story was one of resilience, hope and determination. And true to form, his parents’ marriage had been a war zone, the two of both forever seeing things differently, and poor William, always stuck in the middle, paying the price for each of his parent’s shortcomings.
“I don’t even know why I came here.” William got to his feet. “It was stupid of me…coming here…what did I expect, that you would apologize to me?” He snorted. “I want you to stay away from Miranda and my son mother. I mean it.”
Joyce laughed. “And what do you think you’ll do to me if I don’t comply?”
“Cross me and find out,” William said. “Do not for once mistake me for my father. I am not him. The sooner you realize that the better.”
She got to her feet as well, her very unsteady feet. “Without me, you wouldn’t be where you are today. You need me to win this election. Who do you think made your father VP? Me!” She hit her chest with her finger. “Without me you have no chance. You’re just like your father, all bark and no bite. You want to come in here and blame me for your little whore leaving you? Please.”
She took a few steps towards him, stopping just a few hairs away from him. “I helped you!” She poked his chest. “You’re Victor’s son, you would have suffocated that girl to hell had she stayed. Your father tried to do it to me but I was stronger than that. I fought back! It took longer than I expected but I fought back. But that girl,” she shook her head. “What do you think she was going to do? She allowed you to use her every chance you got and still, she kept running after you, panting for your attention like a dog in heat. She wouldn’t have survived your father.”
It was William’s turn to laugh. “You really don’t know Miranda, do you? I feel sorry for you,” he said. “Why do you think my father suddey stopped the abuse? Do you think he just woke up one day and had a change of character? Oh wait,” he chuckled. “Did you think YOU had something to do with it?”
“What are you talking about?” Joyce asked. “I made your father change his ways!”
“Using what mother? Your charming personality and good looks?” He pulled his head back laughing.
“You were young, you wouldn’t understand the world of the grown-ups,” Joyce said.
“You really have no clue do you?” William never thought there would come a day when he would feel sorry for his mother. To him, everything she had been through at the hands of her husband had been well-deserved. But seeing her in this moment, he couldn’t help but feel pity for her.
“What are you talking about?” Joyce asked, finally getting the sense that she was missing something very important.
“I’m talking about the reason why the Mayor’s mansion was able to finally have peace. I’m talking about what a little girl had to sacrifice to make sure that your husband never laid a finger on you or your son. I’m talking about why your husband suddenly allowed you to speak your mind and run around like you were in charge.
“It was Miranda mother. It was all her. So don’t stand here and talk to me about Miranda being some fragile little girl who couldn’t have survived the mayor’s mansion. She is the reason we were both able to survive that hell hole! It’s because of what she did! “
Joyce was shaking her head in disbelief, unwilling to accept whatever her son was saying. There was just no way. He wasn’t making any sense. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she kept muttering.
“Believe whatever you want to believe mother. It changes nothing, but if it helps you sleep better at night, so be it. I’m leaving.” At that, William stormed out of the house.
Joyce went for her bottle of wine, drawing it to her lips and finishing its contents straight up. When she was done, she smashed the bottle against the wall ahead, sending the pieces splattering in all directions. Diana appeared in the room in no time.
Joyce swang around in her direction like a demented animal. “Vodka.” She said an eerily controlled tone. “If I don’t see vodka in front of me in the next minute, you’re fired.”
Without saying à word, Diana ran out of the room.