There are two kinds of Eros love; reciprocated love, and one sided love. At some point or another, the average human has experienced at least one of these. Those that are lucky have experienced both. For Shelly Manase, it had always been the latter.
Shelly first met William Mwanza when she was five years old. It was a day she would remember for the rest of her life because for the first time ever, she fell in love with a boy. Even at five years old, Shelly could tell that William was different from all the other boys she had ever met. He was the first one who looked displeased at being forced to hang out with her. The other kids always did it happily, even when she was not interested in being friends with them. It would take a few more years for the girl to understand why parents kept visiting her home and insisting that she play with their irritating kids, sometimes even when her own parents disapproved.
It was the magnetic Manase money.
That fateful day, William had accompanied his parents on a visit to the Manase home and the adults thought it such a neat idea to let the kids know each other and become friends. For Shelly, it was love at first sight. William just wanted his parents to finish whatever they were doing so he could get away from the annoying girl who hadn’t taken her eyes off him the moment he arrived. Unfortunately, luck was not on his side that day because his parents had followed him to the play room and announced that they would be picking him up at the end of the day. Shelly was ecstatic. William, livid. And for a while, their relationship would remain like that.
When Shelly realized that she could make friends and be people’s favorite without even trying, the game completely changed. She was already the most popular girl in her grade, the one everyone wanted to be best friends, the one with a home everyone wanted to visit, the one who got picked first in sports teams, and the one every boy wanted as a girlfriend. Well, everyone but William.As a boy, William was a recluse, never interested in making friends or accepting friendships.
As far as William could remember, his father had always been a mayor, and so had his grandfather. Even though he never got to spend much time with his grandfather before he died, the few encounters he had had with the man had all been horrible exoeriences. Both he and his son hated William’s mother and treated her like their little servant. They made it no secret that she was not welcome in their home, as was her bastard child.
When Victor senior died, William was six years old. The only person to ever treat him and accept him as a member of the elite family was his grandmother Ella. The old woman had absolutely no interest in politics and so she never felt the need for any pretenses. William always wondered why terrible men like his grandfather and father would be a people’s favorite in elections, until he watched and listened to his father’s impassioned speech during an interview with a news crew from a local television station that visited the mansion.
That day William saw a version of his father that was the complete opposite of the man he was to his family. Victor Mwanza had multiple personalities. It was a realization that changed the way William looked at people. Everyone was a fool. If they couldn’t see his family for what it really was, a fraud, they didn’t deserve his attention or friendship. Thus, he kept to himself much of the time, avoiding weird talk with others about what it was like being a mayor’s son, growing up in the popular mayor’s mansion, being on television all the time, and the one he dispised the most, being the boy every girl had a crush on.
“Hey Mwanza,” someone called out to William in the school hall right after assembly. Only teachers ever called him that, and yet this voice sounded like it belonged to a fellow student.
Everyone was rushing to class around them but William had been in no hurry. It’s not like there was a teacher or member of stuff around with big enough balls to punish the mayor’s son. It wasn’t like he was a bad student, he was just aware of his privilege and how he could lightly abuse it without incurring the absolute wrath of those who resented that same privilege.
William refused to acknowledge whichever fool had the audacity to address him in such a manner and kept walking. A few seconds later, he felt a hand press on his shoulder and he turned to find Alvin Sitali smiling at him.
“Loosen up dude, I’m just trying to have a conversation with you,” Alvin said.
“What makes you think I’m interested in having a conversation with you?” William asked as he resumed walking towards his class. Everyone else around them was quickly disappearing into their respective classes.
“Give Shelly to me, I want her,” Alvin said as he walked beside him.
William put one hand in the pocket of his school uniform pants while the other pulled at the strap on the side of his chest. “Take her,” he answered ever so nonchalantly and dismissively, this time he quickened his pace.
Alvin ran to keep up with him, forcifully yanking him around so they could face each other. William wondered whether the boy was just stupid or brave. He looked to be about his age, twelve. He knew who he was because his father had told him to be on the look out for him because his father belonged to the opposition party. William had come to learn that Alvin’s father was in fact the very vocal Secretary General of the NDFP who critised the mayor and his allies every chance he got.
In that moment, William thought that perhaps it might not be such a bad idea being friends with the kid. He was clearly brave to approach him in such a manner and ask him something so stupid when everyone walked on eggshells around him, ever begging to be in his good graces. More importantly, friendship with the boy would royally piss off his father, and that was a good enough reason to pursue it.
William gave the part of his body that had just been assaulted a disgruntled look before looking turning his gaze on Alvin. If it were any other boy, an apology would have followed such a glare, but this one just glared back, waiting for him to take the first punch. William was amused.
“Did you just laugh at me?” Alvin asked.
“And if I say I did?” William dared him.
“Look, I don’t wanna fight with you,” Alvin said. “I just wanted to talk to you man to man. You obviously don’t like the girl, so what’s wrong with surrendering her to me?”
“Because she isn’t mine to surrender you moron,” William said.
“She keeps telling everyone that she’s your girl.”
“Dude, she is eight.”
“I know,” Alvin said shamelessly. “She’s pretty, and I’m eleven, not so far apart.” He didn’t say he liked her because she was rich. William thought he wasn’t a bad kid after all.
“She’s not my girl,” William said. “I have no time for girls. They’re too annoying. You can have her or any other girl for all I care.”
“Are you being for real!” Alvin’s face was beaming with happiness.
William shrugged his shoulders and resumed walking. An excited Alvin ran after him. “Do you want to be friends?” He asked when he caught up to him.
Yet again, William shrugged his shoulders dismissively, only this time, there was a smile on his face. After that, the boys were inseparable. On a few occasions, William managed to orchestrate events that would allow his buddy to be in the company of Shelly. It was something he did for both his sake and Alvin’s. Perhaps if Shelly had a new interest, she would stop bothering him, and if their parents heard that she was interested in another boy from an affluent family, they would give up trying to force them together.
Unfortunately for both William and Alvin, Shelly had eyes for no one else. “He doesn’t even like you!” Alvin said to her during one of William’s orchestrated accidental meetings where Shelly was laying on thick her imagined relationship with his best friend.
“He is just waiting for me to grow up,” Shelly said confidently. “William is a gentleman.”
“You’re delusional,” Alvin said.
“And you’re ugly,” Shelly fired back. “My parents don’t even want me to hang out with you. Your family doesn’t match up to mine.”
“Have it your way then little Miss Delusional,” Alvin said, smiling. “And good luck with your growing up.” As he walked away, he burst out laughing.
Later that day during lunch, Shelly cornered William on the way to the school cafeteria and blew her head off at him for insisting on setting her up with his stupid friend. She was sobbing so much that the two attracted the attention of onlookers. Not sure what to do with a crying female, William just stood there, watching her sob and waiting for her to calm herself down before he could walk away.
Shelly took a break from her sobbing, looked up at him and was greeted with a blank expression. Without warning, she stumped her foot on his with all the strength she could master, causing him to jump and cry out in agony. “You’re a coward William Mwanza!”, She yelled before running off.
Alvin appeared next to him seconds later, the bemused expression on his face telling William that he had been audience to what had just happened. “And you couldn’t come to a mate’s rescue you bastard?” William chided him, still nursing his sore foot.
“That chick is gonna hound you until she succeeds in making you hers. Mark my words Will,” Alvin said. “I’m not sure whether to be envious of you, or feel sorry for you.”
“She’s just an infatuated kid, she’ll get over it,” William said.
A year later, Shelly was visiting the mayor’s mansion with her parents when she went in search of William who was nowhere in sight. She pulled aside one of the maids and asked about William’s whereabouts.
“I saw him walk towards the orchard a few minutes ago Miss,” the young lady clad in a maids uniform pointed in the direction of the orchard.
Shelly went in that direction, coming to a stop a few minutes later when she spotted him a short distance away sitting under an orange tree, on a brick next to a girl she couldn’t recognize from the distance. The two of them appeared to be very close. They were chatting animatedly and laughing every now and then, like the best of friends, or siblings. From that distance, Shelly could not make out the face of the girl. She must be some cousin or something, Shelly reasoned. William would never be that close to a girl unless he was related to her. Shelly surreptitiously approached them, coming to a stop à few feet away where she could clearly make out both their faces and listen in on their conversation.
“It’s your fault Will!” The girl was saying. Shelly couldn’t recognize her. She had never seen her before. From her dirty looking oversized floral dress to her dirty flip flops, Shelly doubted the girl was a relation to the mayor’s family. She looked more like a servant’s child. But what was William doing talking to the daughter of a servant?
“What do you mean it’s my fault?” William asked, his voice filled with laughter. “You’re the one who insisted on following me in the truck. You even jumped on me when I tried to get Uncle Crispin’s attention. You’re a beast. You deserved the whipping.”
“At least I only got ten,” the girl said. And then she did something that almost had Shelly coming out of hiding to put her in her place. She leaned her head back and pulled up William’s shirt. William jumped up. “What are you doing!?” He asked.
“I brought a new bandage for your wound,” she said, reaching into the pocket of her floral dress to take out said bandage.
“Where did you get those from?” William asked taking the package from her little hands.
“There’s this girl at my school, her name is Chipo,” she explained. “Her mother is a nurse. Chipo said that her mother always comes home with these packets and bottles of medicine. Sometimes she comes with these,” she motioned towards the bandages with her chin. “They’re a lot at her house. I asked her if she could get me some pain killers and that. Look, I have a whole bunch of them.”, She reached into her other pocket and took out a bigger plastic bag.
“Are you insane?” William asked, grabbing the plastic bag from her to examine the contents. “Jesus Christ Miranda, this is a whole pharmacy here.”
“You need the meds Will,” the Miranda girl said. “I’ve seen your father kick you in the head so many times. It’s not good for your brain. That’s why you have these headaches.”
“How does a ten year old know so much?” William asked, visibly amazed by what he was hearing and looking at. “You’re so nosey and such a know-it-all.”
“I have a friend in the village,” Miranda explained with the energy of an athlete on steroids. “Her parents are rich, but not rich like you guys. They always brought her these nice books that she would sneak out for me to read. They also have this big TV that we used to watch whenever her mother wasn’t at home. Every now and then my grandmother would let me spend time at Chipasha’s house. She said she wanted me to learn how to be a town girl from my friend so that I don’t disappoint my mother when she comes to take me.”
William sat back down, placing the packages on his laps. “That explains a lot,” William said. “You’re the first country bumpkin I’ve met whose smart and talks as much as you do. You even act like you’re smarter than me,” he laughed. “That’s because I am!” She said, still on her feet. “Can I take a look at your wound? It looked deep last time. I’ve seen on TV how to put a bandage.”
“I don’t doubt that,” William said, unbuttoning his shirt and taking it off.
A few feet away, Shelly gasped. Miranda walked round to his back and closely examined the wound like a pro. “Did you put the Dettol like I told you?”
“Yes doctor, I did,” William mocked.
She gave him a light smack in the back of his head which William laughed off. She grabbed a few things from the packages on his laps and got to cleaning the wounds. “Don’t worry, I already washed my hands,” she assured him.
“I didn’t say anything,” William said.
“Stupid,” Miranda said. They both laughed.
An hour later, Miranda was on the veranda at home pounding groundnuts for the vegetables meant for dinner as per her mother’s instruction when something in the distance caught her attention. She recognized the girl right away. She was the pretty daughter of the couple her mother had told her were the richest in the country. Miranda had seen the girl come in and out of William’s house twice so far and on both occasions, Miranda had wondered what life must be like for a girl who could have anything and everything she desired in life.
“She must be the happiest girl in the world, don’t you think mum?” Her mother had laughed and told her that “happiness is more than just having a lot of money Miranda.”
“How can you not be happy when you can have anything you want in the whole world?” Miranda had asked.
“Not everything that makes you happy can be bought with money,” her mother had said. “One day you’ll understand. You’re still a child, don’t worry about such things.”
Miranda stopped pounding and watched the girl get closer and closer. What was she doing here at the servant’s quarters? Miranda wondered. Was she lost? Did she want to be friends? Her mother had told her not to mingle with the rich people, and even though she disobeyed that order in regards to William, she did not feel guilty. William was nothing like other rich people. This girl who was now standing in front of her and looking at her like she smelled of pigs vomit was exactly like all the rich people her mother had warned her about.
“Stay away from William you servant girl,” The rich girl commanded. This is exactly what they say even in the movies, Miranda thought. Does this mean rich people are the same everywhere in the world?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Miranda feigned ignorance. It was either that or risk this thing blowing out and her mother finding out that she had been hanging out with her boss’ son. It would be instant dismisal for her mother. They would lose the house they’re living in.
“I saw you!” The girl screamed. “William is mine, we are going to get married when we finish school.”
“I understand,” Miranda said, looking around to check if any of their neighbours was listening to this conversation. “Please leave, you shouldn’t be here.”
“Ill leave after you promise to keep your filthy hands away from William,” the girl said.
“I promise,” Miranda whispered, her eyes still searching her surroundings. “Now leave, please.”
“I’ll tell my parents to tell the mayor about some servant girl leaching onto his son the next time I see you anywhere near Will.” With that, she turned and walked away.
The most recurring thought running through Miranda’s mind was the sort of trouble William would be in if his father discovered that he was playing with a servant’s kid. He would kill William for the embarrassment. And so for the days that followed, Miranda avoided William like a plague. Unfortunately for her, William refused to be ignored without reason.
June, 2019- Present Time
William found a feast waiting for him at Shelly’s house. The whole dining table was spread with assortments of all of his favorite foods. She had even topped it off with a bottle of his favorite wine, two glasses sat resolutely on either ends of the table. A sinking feeling ripped through William’s veins, running all the way down his spine to his toes. The conversation he had imagined having with her had just turned a hundred times more difficult than anticipated.
“I prepared a bit of all your favorites,” Shelly announced proudly.
“I can see that,” William said, approaching the table with caution. “You really didn’t have to do all this Shelly,” he added.
Shelly’s face dropped. “You don’t like it?” She asked.
William hated himself for dampening her spirits like that. “You know what, what the hell? Why not?” He took off his jacket and placed it around the chair before sitting down. The light went back into Shelly’s eyes.
“I’ve been eating food that tastes like restaurant food for the past year. It would do me some good to have some real authentic home cooked food. Thank you Shelly.
” Sit right there, I’ll bring you some warm water for your hands, ” Shelly said before rushing out of the room.
William took in the spread before him. It really was a king’s feast. When the two of them had gotten married, Shelly knew nothing about cooking. But right there before him was evidence of the length the woman had gone to become a fitting wife for him. The knot of guilt in his chest tightened. Once William had off-handedly complained about constantly eating out and the next day Shelly had hired a chef for the household. A few months later, she attended a women’s meeting and learnt that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. Days later, Shelly enrolled herself in a cooking class and has since been cooking.
Shelly returned in no time. William washed his hands and offered to help her wash too but she turned him down. “Already washed,” she said happily, setting aside the small basin and jar before sitting down. “I’m surprised you haven’t fired your chef yet,” she said. “I expected you to replace him with a more traditional one.”
“I did,” William said. “But the woman turned out to be an opportunist and nothing more.” He deliberately chose not to elaborate.
“She wanted to be Mrs. Mwanza, right?” Shelly smiled knowingly. It wouldn’t be the first time. She had seen that type come and go. Apart from his social and financial status, William was a very good looking man. She had been the envy of women, both young and old when she was Mrs Mwanza. Even now, she still was because she had something that would forever tie them together. Any woman would kill for such a chance.
“So, tell me about what you’ve been up to lately?” William said, completely avoiding the topic. His mission was to eat the food she had earnestly prepared for him in peace. He would tackle the much deeper conversations afterwards. Shelly was more than happy to fill him in on her recent activities. Before they knew it, most of the food was gone and the late lunch was over. They picked up their glasses of wine and moved to the living room.
“What is it you wanted to talk to me about,” Shelly asked excitedly. After the meal they had just shared and the great conversation, she was now convinced that her suspicions were right. He was considering them being a family again.
William nervously ran his finger around the rim of the glass. Shelly was watching him closely, the smile on her face widening. “Wow, whatever you have to say must be nerve wrecking,” she gestured towards the glass in his hand from across the room and William halted his actions. He sat up straight, placed the glass on the table and looked at her. “There’s something I need to tell you Shelly, but I don’t think you’re gonna like it,” William said. It was better to get to the point rather than drag this any further.
The smile evaporated from Shelly’s face. Her back, which had been leaning towards William since they sat down was now straightened, stretching the distance between them.”Now you’re scaring me,” She said.” What is it Will?”
“It’s about Miranda,” William said. “She’s back Shelly, but that’s not all.”
Shelly stood up, her head shaking. “Are the two of you back together? Is that what you’re here to tell me? Is that why you’re looking like that!? I should have known. She is the only woman who’s ever put you out of your element Will. What do you want from me, congratulations?”
William looked up at her.” Please, sit down Shelly, ” he implored.” It’s not what you think. Miranda and I aren’t back together. I also only found out a few days ago about her return.”
Shelly sat down. This time, she waited till William was done talking before reacting.
“She came to see me at the house the other day and she informed me that…that…we have a child together.”
One thick tear fell down Shelly’s cheeks, still she remained quiet.
“I haven’t met my son yet, but I have seen his photos. He will be turning twenty in a few months. I’m supposed to be meeting him tomorrow, but I thought it would be best if I talked to you first.”
“How do you know he’s yours?” Shelly finally spoke.
“He’s mine Shelly, I have no doubt about that. He is a spitting image of me. Irvin is mine. There’s no doubt about that.”
“It sounds like it’s you you’re trying to convince Will, not me.”
“Whats that supposed to mean?”
“Oh quit it already William!” Shelly snapped. “Do you think I didn’t know about the rumors?”
“About your father and Miranda. There were whispers. Just because no one came out and said anything doesn’t mean there was no truth to them. People were just afraid of your-“
It was William’s turn to stand. “Stop! Just stop it!” He yelled. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Are you sure?” Shelly asked.
“Miranda never had that sort of sick relationship with my father. Never. My father would have rather killed her, and then himself before he could even entertain touching her like that.”
“And the video tape?” Shelly asked. “I once heard your mother, during one of their heated arguments threaten to release the video to the public if he didn’t do as she said. I heard it with my own ears, Miranda’s name was mentioned.”
“Just because you heard Miranda’s name and heard my mother threaten my father doesn’t mean you know what went down back then,” William said. “Context, it’s all about context Shelly. I did not come here to argue paternity of my son with you. I came here out of respect for the relationship we shared all these years. Whether we like it or not, we are family, and I wanted you to know about Irvin first. “
” Don’t try to fool me my dear, ” Shelly said.” You might think me a fool if you thought I would buy this nonsense about respect and family. You’re only here because of your politics. At least admit it, you’re better than this.”
” You’re right, ” William said.” But that’s not the only reason I’m here. I genuinely would like for you to accept Irvin because I want my children to know each other.”
“I can see you’re full of jokes today,” Shelly said, getting to her feet. “There’s no way in hell I’m letting my daughter anywhere near your bastard son.”