After the unforgettable reunion he had with Miranda, William had called his advisor Crispin Habeenzu to discuss the best way forward in handling the situation he had now found himself in. This could be a make or break situation and he needed to be sure of every move he made lest it cost him his political ambitions. But before that meeting, he needed to have that meeting with his mother…which had turned out to be another emotionally draining experience.
By the time William arrived at Crispin’s place, it was almost close to midnight. Fortunately for him, the old man happily welcomed him into his home despite the ungodly hour of his visit. Crispin led them straight to his study and William wasted no time bringing him up to speed with the recent developments. If he wanted to win these elections, he needed Crispin to be fully on board with him.
Pursuing the presidency had always been William’s end goal. The forty year old believed that all the sacrifices he had ever made on this journey would somewhat feel worth it if he succeeded in this particular dream. And perhaps, just maybe… his rejects would feel a little less burdensome. He might be terrible at being a husband and a father, but his political career was the one thing he understood and could manipulate to get a desired outcome if he worked hard and prepared himself well. The rest was still such a struggle, especially the love part.
William’s marriage of convenience to Shelly at such a young age had erased every little thing he had learnt about selfless love from Miranda, a poor young girl from some unknown village who had suddenly appeared in his life and completely turned it upside down. She had changed him, and he had liked what he had become. But what he didn’t know then but knew now was that such a great change came with great responsibilities. No one had ever prepared him for that.
At the age of fifteen, William would also come to learn the hard way that one could not save two masters at a time. He had to pick a side. Holding on to both would only lead to heartache and disappointment. However, being an ambitious young man that he was, rather than pick a side, William devised ways to maintain both. Thus, instead of becoming a better person, he become greedy. As fate would have it, he ended up losing the one thing he had desperately tried to hold on to. Life after that became a constant reminder of the wrong sacrifices he had made as a young man, an adulthood filled with regrets, and self dépravation as the only means of penance. By the time he realized he was going about things the wrong way, his new family had already become collateral damage.
Miranda’s return had given William a new lease on life. She gave him hope that there was more to his life than just politics, and that if he did things the right way this time around, he might have a chance at true happiness. This was the second chance he had long been praying for and he would be damned if he messed things up before giving them a try.
“Inform Shelly first before meeting the boy,” the seventy-five year old advised. “That way, she will be well armed with the truth if someone decides to throw false information at her face. Let me reiterate, you need her as your ally, not an enemy.”
“Why the urgency?” William asked. “She’s my ex-wife, and it’s not like I had the boy while we were together. I didn’t betray her in any way. Shelly knew better than anyone what was between Miranda and I. She is probably the only person I ever told the truth. People can think whatever they want.”
“Politics is never about the truth young man, Crispin said.” It’s about what people can belief and accept. Human beings think they prefer the truth to lies. They think that in order to earn their trust, one must be truthful. But they hate the truth. They don’t want the truth. What they want is for you to confirm and validate their prejudices, and when you do, they translate that to be the truth. Why? Because they can relate to it.”
William thought about his advisor’s words for a moment. And then he asked, “So in short, you want me to lie to my people?”
“That’s not what I said,” Crispin said. “You’re not listening to me. I’m telling you to give your people the version they’re most likely to believe.” When William still looked lost, the man continued. “Right now everyone thinks your marriage to your childhood sweetheart ended because you’re a workaholic. That’s both a good and bad thing for your political career. Good because it means you’re committed to your political responsibilities, bad because it means the opposite for your marriage.
“People will tell you that they want a hardworking president, but the moment your opponents bring your dirty laundry from your failed marriage to the public, then you become the villain. Why? Because that’s what they most relate to: family life. Next time someone asks them who they’re voting for, know what they’ll say? At first I thought I would go for that William guy, but now I’m not so sure. Something about him just doesn’t sit right with me.“
William was listening intently.
“Right now the public is of the opinion that Shelly is your childhood sweetheart. You sold them a sweet love story and they put you in as their mayor.”
“I never sold them that story,” William said. “Our parents are the ones who thought it was such a good idea to link the two families together. My dad agreed but I didn’t. They thought we needed to show the public that I was not running for public office for selfish financial gains, that I didn’t need to because I was already a man of means. That way people would trust me to be in office to serve their needs rather than mine. That was my selling point. That part I agreed with because that’s exactly what I wanted to do.”
Back then, William understood why he wanted to join politics so badly. He had seen the activities of his father behind closed doors and he wanted to change things. Thanks to Miranda, he had witnessed first hand the impact that selfish decisions by people entrusted with power had on the people who had accorded them that power to act on their behalf. He understood then that the rich had no business acting on behalf of the poor. A few donations here and there only saved to ensure that they maintained their privilege. And from what he knew, privilege was only privilege if it was extended to a select few. It was imperative for these people that those few remained few and protected.
William also understood at a young age the paradox that came with wielding both power and money. It was that in order to bring about the change he desired, he needed those same rich people at the top to be his allies. Unfortunately for him, turning such people into allies meant forsaking certain things and sacrifing certain people who had in fact driven him towards the same path. A poor man had little or no chance of breaking the barriers put in place by people at the top determined to protect their privilege. Over time, William had come to learn that there was no limit to the lengths those people…his people would go to preserve the status quo.
“The world cannot separate you from your allies Will,” Crispin said. “You became one with them the day they endorsed you, and when you did not come out to correct the stories that they were spreading about you and Shelly because you realized they were buying you public favor, you became an accomplice. That’s how politics work. The world doesn’t care whether you agreed with them or not, they only care that you never disputed the rumors. And now that’s the truth they know. Anything you say or do now that’s contrary to that will only make you a liar and an unreliable person.”
The picture was slowly starting to become clear in William’s head. No one knew about his relationship with Miranda outside the people closely involved with them. And even to most of those, the two had only been close friends because William never acknowledged the relationship for fear of incurring his dad’s wrath. Back then he thought he was protecting Miranda, he even believed the lie he had told himself countless times. But deep down his heart he knew his public rejection of her was only to save face and win the affection of a man who could never love him till the day he died.
Miranda’s reappearance in his life and the fact she had his child would automatically put a dent in the picture perfect relationship he had painted with Shelly. The world might have forgiven him for choosing his career over her, but he doubted they would be so forgiving if they learnt the actual reason for neglecting his family, which had little to do with Miranda per se, but could most certainly look like it given the current developments. The only person who could help spin this story in the right direction was Shelly. And for that to happen, she needed to know about Miranda’s return before a reporter shoved a microphone in her face with questions about her feelings.
William didn’t need to ask his ex wife to know exactly how she felt about the situation. Shelly had always been insecure about Miranda. She blamed Miranda for everything that went wrong in their marriage. She blamed her for William’s inability to love her, for his obsession with work, for his neglect of Sonia, and for his obsession with what she called ‘the lower classes’.
Shelly had grown up in a very privileged family. Her family was the richest in the country and she had inherited that huge fortune from her parents after they passed. She knew nothing about struggle except for the few lessons she got from her advisors and assistants on how to act when talking about or dealing with vulnerable communities. Over time she had become an Oscar worthy actress, so much so she would cry genuine unprompted tears just talking about the plight of the poor and the plans she was putting in place to meet their needs.
To the rest of the world, Shelly was the epitome of devotion, kindness, humility and selfless love. William knew better. He knew that she did not do any of these things for power or privilege. Her inheritance was enough to accord her those things and more. Everything else Shelly did, she did it for love. It was his love she longed to earn by going that extra mile, not the public’s. Without his prompting, Shelly had become his number one supporter, her devotion unwavering until it drove her to depression and self isolation. Her decision to leave him was not a selfish one, it was yet again one driven by her love for someone, only this time, it was that of her daughter. Sonia was the reason had forced her hand through her throat and vomited the pills she had swallowed the day before she made the decision to leave William.
“If someone else tells Shelly about Miranda before I do, that would be a disaster,” William thought out loud.
Crispin clapped his hands once and raised them in the air in a eureka moment. “Finally, we are on the same page,” he said.
William smiled, amazed by the man’s ability to assess a situation with unique eyes and mind. He needed to have a conversation with Shelly first, not because he owed her an explanation per se, but because it was better that she hear the information straight from him rather than a stranger. That way, she might perhaps respond in a manner that might not prove damaging to his career. He was glad he had made the decision to see Crispin. The old man always managed to put things into perspective for him.
William first met Crispin the when he visited the mayor’s mansion to give a quarterly report on all the farming activities. He was in charge of overseeing all of Victor’s eight farms. That day, William had spent the better part of the morning receiving his usual dose of punishment because he had yet again failed a class test. Usually, William took the beatings like a man, pretending like nothing had happened afterwards despite the visible bruises and broken legs.
However, ever since the arrival of the annoying little girl Miranda at the servant’s quarters, for some reason, William found the curiosity in the girls eyes whenever she saw him with the bruises both embarrassing and humiliating. That morning, after attempting to hide them with his mother’s makeup, which somehow always seemed to work for her but never for him, he wanted to get away from the mansion, and from his father. The first thing he spotted was Crispin’s truck parked in the front yard. William hid in the sheltered trailer and waited for Crispin to drive them out. Unbeknownst to him, someone had spotted him getting into the truck.
Miranda was waiting for the truck outside the gate. While Crispin was saying his goodbyes to Jonas the guard, Miranda sneaked into the truck. Thinking he had been busted by either Jonas or Crispin, William surreptitiously popped his head from his hiding place to check.
“You!” He whisper-shouted. “What are you doing here? She was like a parasite, always showing up wherever he was demanding his attention and asking him stupid questions. She said she was ten years old but she always regarded him as if she was the adult, with constant disapproval and disappointment. She made him feel like he had done something to offend her that he wasn’t even aware of.
“Shut up or they’ll catch us,” she commanded. She took the other corner and hid behind the pilled up empty wooden boxes of tomatoes.
They didn’t speak until Crispin got onto the high way, away from Jonas and the mansion. “To answer your question” Miranda was the first to speak. “I came here to stop you from doing something stupid.”
William couldn’t believe his ears, nor the girl’s audacity. “Stupid!?” He made sure to keep his voice low but stern.
“You’re running away from home aren’t you?” She asked.
“I’m not running away!” William said. “I’m just…taking a break. Anyway, what I do is none of your business. We don’t even know each other. Why are you always poking your nose in my business?”
“There would be no point of me poking my nose if you didn’t walk around looking like that,” she pointed to the bruises on his face. “Why do you let him do that to you? Do you want him to kill you?”
“Stay out of my business you nosey little twit. I’m getting off this thing before you get me in trouble with Aunt Julia. She will kill me before my dad does you know that!” He was about to knock on the truck to alert Crispin of their presence when Miranda jumped on him, one little hand on his mouth while the other pinned him down with the rest of her body.
“Didnt you say you want to take a break?” She asked him. William tried to speak but her hand was still on his mouth. “Let’s keep with the plan. I’ve been dying to get away from home since I came. My mother won’t let me go anywhere. She thinks I’ll get lost. But I’ve been sneaking out every now and then when she’s working and I’ve always made it back home safely. The wall fence behind our house is easy to climb.”
William tried to speak again but couldn’t. She noticed his struggle and moved her hand. But she remained where she was, on top of him. “Aren’t you going to get off?” William asked.
“Not until you promise to behave yourself….” She got off.
They spent the next hour bickering and before they knew it, Crispin came to a stop. They were trying to sneak out of the truck when they found Crispin patiently waiting outside.
“Hello trouble makers,” the man happily greeted them, much to their shock. “Did you think I didn’t know you were in my truck?” He looked from one to the other. There was no response. Just two terrified kids looking at him.
“I just have one question,” Crispin said. “How exactly where you planning on getting back home?”
“What if we weren’t planning on going back?” William finally found his tongue. Miranda raised her chin at the man in defiant solidarity.
“Look at these foolish kids,” Crispin said, looking from one to the other before settling on William. “You’ve never worked a day in your life and you think you can wake up one day and decide to run away from home? C’mon, get off my truck. You kids need to be taught a lesson.”
Crispin’s lesson was nothing like the two had anticipated. After introducing them to his eight wives, children, and workers, the man took them on a tour of the farms closest to each other, showing them the inner workings of a farm and putting them to task practicing what they saw. After the end of the tour, Crispin had asked them if they had any questions and the first thing William asked was, “why do you have so many wives and how come they get along so well?”
Crispin had laughed, but his response to that question had changed a boy’s perspective on life.
“I have that many wives because I can afford them,” Crispin said. “If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t dare. They live in harmony not because they’re afraid of me, they do it for themselves. All I’ve done is treat all of them equally, with love and care. And for that they trust me, so they stay, and they behave.”
“I want to have that many wives when I grow up,” William announced.
“No you won’t!” Miranda countered matter-of-factly.
Crispin laughed while William asked her why not.
“Because you don’t know how to protect a woman,” à fuming Miranda answered.
Crispin was listening to their banter with curious interest.
“What do you know about protecting women? You’re just a child!” William fired back.
When Miranda couldn’t come up with a smart retort, Crispin came to her rescue. “Whether young or old,” he said. “females understand that what they need most in this world is protection. Any man who can’t protect his women has no right claiming any as his own. In fact, he becomes the very thing that women need protection from.”
That day William met a man different from his father, a man who worked hard and earned his every penny, a man who loved and protected his family with every fibre of his being, and a man who cherished those around him and treated everyone as an equal, be they rich, poor, employees, or women.
And so whenever Crispin visited the mansion, William sought audience with him. On days in-between, he would skip school or lie about a school trip just to visit the farms again. And on rare days, Miranda would accompany him, despite the whooping she had received from her mother that first time she had been caught in her rebellion. Years later, when William came to the decision to pursue a political career on his own terms, it was Crispin he sought, and not his father.
“It’s already late,” William said to the old man. “I’ll give Shelly a call tomorrow. I also need to get that PR woman on board, what’s her name again?”
“You mean the Eris-Harmonia lady? She’s Mara Bwalya,” Crispin said. “She’s a good pick for such things. She’s got a good head on her shoulders, exactly what we need right now. I was truly impressed by what she did with that Congolese Scandal. Chanda is a lucky bastard for getting off that easily.”
“I heard about that from Alvin,” William said. Alvin Sitali was his best friend and confidant. ” He’s the one who recommended her firm. I suspect he has a soft spot for her, but I trust him enough to know he has our best interests at heart.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Crispin agreed.
“I know it’s late but I have to call her and reschedule our meeting. I was supposed to meet her after my date with Irvin, but I can meet her in the morning instead. Better start handling this before it gets out of hand. If Shelly finds out I’ve met Irvin already, she’ll think I’ve known about him all along and I was keeping it from her. If that happens, I’m screwed.”
“Whether you like it or not, when it comes to your ex-wife and Miranda, you’re forever screwed,” Crispin said, laughing. “How is she doing now?” William didn’t need to ask which of the two women he was asking about. The look in his eyes was telling.
“She still hates my guts,” William said. “Not that I can complain. I deserve it. She doesn’t trust me and she thinks I’ll try and use our situation to my advantage. She saw a lot of that growing up at the mayor’s mansion.”
“She’s quite a formidable force that one,” Crispin said proudly. ” And to think that she solely brought down a giant at the age of ten. She did what thousands of men failed to do for ages. That girl scares me.”
“Me too.” They both laughed. “But my dad deserved what he got. I’m just sorry that things had to go that far to bring about some peace in that house. I still haven’t forgiven myself for that. I don’t think she has too. I’ll forever be known as a coward in her book, which is true.”
Crispin patted him on the shoulder. “C’mon,” he encouraged. “You don’t need to keep punishing yourself for the mistakes you made as a boy. You’re a man now and I’ve watched you grow into an honorable man with my own eyes. This country is lucky to have a man of your calibre willing to serve it.”
“I wish that was enough to erase the past,” William said.
“You need to forgive yourself Will, otherwise you’ll keep hurting yourself and those around you. Regrets won’t change what happened. But moving on can change a great deal of what happens now and in future.”
William agreed with his mentor. If only it were that easy to let go of the past, especially now that it had come back on a much larger scale demanding its dues.
“She is good for you, you know that, right ? ” Crispin asked, watching him closely.
“Who? Miranda?” Crispin nodded. “Forget it,” William said. “With these elections, I have no time to commit myself to pursuing a woman like Miranda, especially given our past and how things ended. I need more time. I can work on earning her trust now as a father to our son, but not as a man. She deserves better than what I can give her right now. Maybe after the elections…who knows? “
“Ah, so you do still want her?”
“Was that ever a question?”
Crispin laughed. “You’re most likely to win these elections. You’re no doubt the people’s favorite. But these are politics we are talking about, so we can never be sure. Anything is possible. However, with a woman like Miranda by your side, your success would be guaranteed.”
“What are you trying to tell me old man?” William asked. “You can’t be telling me to use Miranda for my political career. You of all people should know how badly that worked out the first time around. I can’t hurt another woman like that, especially not Miranda.”
“Calm down,” the advisor said. “That’s not what I’m saying. I just meant to highlight the fact that Miranda has always been the right woman for you. She is good for you as a man and as a politician. Shelly was good for the latter, but never the former. Her weakness has always been her love. At some point, it stopped being love and turned into obsession…possession to be precise.
“You’re the only thing she’s never been able to possess, and now it’s hard to tell whether it’s your heart she’s after or the pride she thinks she lost by virtue of your rejection. So you need to tread carefully. You don’t need her as your enemy at this point in your life. Try and make her your ally, but without giving her any false hopes.”
“I’ve never ever given her false hope,” William said defensively.
“Maybe that’s the problem,” the old man said. “You should have at least given her a chance, before deciding that she wasn’t worth surrendering your heart to.”
“You know, you can be unnecessarily hurtful sometimes,” William said accussingly.
“And yet you keep seeking me out,” Crispin laughed.
“Get used to it old man, because you’re about to join politics full time,” William said, getting up from the seat. “Apologize to the aunties for me for taking you away from them this late in the night.”
“They like you, so they don’t mind. Just don’t make it a habit.”
“Then give them my apologies in advance, because things are going to get worse in the future.”
Both men laughed.