For some parents, children are considered a blessing from some type of god. They’re meant to be loved and protected. Unfortunately for William Mwanza, his parents were not most people. His mother Joyce Chama had used a pregnancy to trap a millionaire’s son. The most motherly thing Joyce ever did for her young infant was shove a breast in the boys mouth a few minutes after he was born to shut him up. His father Victor Mwanza had used the product of that same pregnancy to exert revenge on the woman who had trapped him into a loveless marriage.
They say children learn by observing. That when they’re young, they have no filtering process. They soak in everything they see and hear and at an opportune time, they parrot that behaviour to a tee. William was only two days old when he first learnt how mothers are not supposed to behave towards their children. Since then, life lessons for the unwanted child of Victor Mwanza were always delivered in reversals. For William, there was never an opportunity to mimick observed behaviour for his young mind was intelligent enough to comprehend the pain generated by the initial behaviour for him to want to act it out for himself.
What William knew about love, he learnt from hate. What he knew about forgiveness, he learnt from unforgiveness. There was no tabula rasa for the boy whose parents had taken it upon themselves to fill his slate with content of their discontent with each other that had resulted in the creation of the mistake they would each come to call ‘son’.
The first time William experienced love, he had no framework upon which to identify such a unique thing. What he had was a vast knowledge of what love was not. And so when ten year old Miranda Kamanga offered herself up to be beaten in his stead, William’s instinctual reaction was one of shame, followed by bewilderment, and outwardly expressed by rejection.
Thus, when Williams biggest political opponent Milton Kapaso challenged him on a nation-wide televised political debate with the question “What do you know about suffering when you’ve never suffered a day in your life?” William had the frame of mind to respond, “what would you know about creating wealth for the masses when you’re such a novice in the field? You grew up in abject poverty Milton,” William said. “And yet somehow you knew you wanted a better life for yourself. What did you know about that better life that you desperately worked so hard to attain it? Did you perhaps have it, and then lost it? Because how can you want something so badly yet you have no experience what having it might feel like or do for your welfare?
“Don’t talk about my life as if you know anything about it!” Milton barked.
William chuckled. “I am only talking about your life because you talked about mine first,” he said. “You assume that just because I grew up in a privileged home, that I had a perfect life. I assumed that just because you grew up in a home where you couldn’t afford bread or butter, your words, not mine, you were living in abject poverty. Therefore, you had no business desiring to better your life. You should have been content in your poverty. Isn’t that your argument here? I’m rich so I know nothing about suffering. You’re poor, so you know nothing about creating wealth. You see, all of these things we know about each other’s lives are mere speculations based on a few inferences we’ve picked up here and there. But that’s not the whole story, is it? “
“All I know is that a rich man cannot fight the battles of the poor because he knows nothing about their suffering,” Milton countered.
How many times had William heard that line? It was starting to sound like a broken record now. It was time to shut it down once and for all. “I happen to think that I’m the best person to pursue such a battle because I was born from both worlds,” William said. “As you all know, my father was a rich man, and so where his parents, and two generations before them. The same cannot be said of my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother was a prostitute who got married to a somewhat middle class polygamous man and together they had my mother.”
William could picture his mother fuming from wherever she was watching the broadcast from. She would come for his neck the minute the debate was over. He was sure of that the same way he was sure of what happens to food once it was digested. He presently shared that predicament with food.
“After my grandmother’s divorce,” William continued. “She remarried a poor man in Kalingalinga were my mother was raised. My mother would later meet my dad and the two would end up married in order to avoid a Scandal. True, I never lived with any of these people, except my mother. So maybe you have some ground to argue that I know nothing about that life.
“But you see, whether I like it or not, I am a product of that life. I might have been born in a mansion but I was treated like a beggar…a servant in my own father’s house. His family never accepted my mother nor the bastard son she had forced onto them. I am not saying that I suffered like the poor out there on the streets, or living in broken shelters without an idea of where the next meal will come from. The only time I went to bed hungry was when I felt like it. It was a choice.
“My grandfather and father constantly reminded me of that fact every chance they got. Why do you think I wanted to join politics? Do you think I’m doing this for the money? I’m sure the whole country is aware that I have more money to my name than I’ll ever get to spend in this lifetime. So why do you think I’m allowing myself to be subjected to such debates and the constant public scrutiny into every facet of my life when I can easily sit back and enjoy my wealth in peace? “
William first looked into the audience to read their response to him before turning towards the camera to address those watching him behind the screen. “It’s because of my privilege,” he said. “Because I was once a little boy who was maltreated for my poor background by the rich people who were supposed to be my family. I watched day in and day out these people amass wealth for themselves while the rest of the country languished in poverty.
“I was not one of them, so it was easy to see things from a different perspective. So when the time came, I decided to use my previlege for something good. You keep asking me what a rich man can do for the poor, and the answer is definitely not give them money. Some people come to me and they expect me to give them hand-outs because they think that’s all it takes to be rich – for the rich to share their wealth with the poor.
“You see, that’s the one thing I know that only someone in my position would. And it is that access to money does not equal wealth. Neither does it solve all problems. In the short term, perhaps, but what about two years from now? What happens when you give money to someone who is hungry, has no place to sleep, has children to feed, school fees to pay? They spend the money paying bills. They don’t invest it. And even if they wanted to invest it, the conditions in the country aren’t favorable enough to sustain those kinds of investments. And that’s why I’m here, standing as a presidential candidate. To create an environment in which generations to come won’t have to worry about where to get bread. How do I know this is achievable? Because my family has done it for generations.”
“Yeah, they stole from poor people through their politics and monopolized markets at their expense,” Milton said.
“True,” William said. “What my family did was immoral, but it wasn’t illegal. Again, something someone in my position knows all too well. I have never believed that Zambia is a poor country. Never. But why are so many living below the poverty line? Greed and mismanagement of resources. I am sure you all know what I did with my family’s fortune and how I turned things around.
“I can do exactly that with this country. I have proved time and time again what can be achieved when leaders put service to the country above their personal interests. You have all seen it work. So, would you rather trust a man who still has a burning desire to become amass wealth for himself and his many relatives, or would you rather go for a man who is already wealthy, but has the desire to share, and to create that wealth with his people alive today, and generations to come?
Joyce was having her hair done at the salon when William’s debate was airing. When William touched on her upbringing, just like William had predicated, Joyce jumped from her seat, grabbed her purse and stormed out of the salon with half her hair rolled into rollers. She called William’s secretary to find out where his next appointment would be. He would find her waiting for her there.
“All his afternoon meetings for today are at his cabinet office ma’am,” Amber informed her.
“Fine, let him know I’ll be waiting for him there.” She cut the line.
When William received the update from his secretary after the broadcast, he pushed back the rest of his meetings by an hour, hoping to be rid of his mother by the time he got to the office. Luck was clearly not on his side because upon arrival, his secretary informed him his mother was still impatiently waiting for him.
“Where have you been?” Joyce launched her attack the moment William opened the door. Somewhere between her ride to the office and her waiting time, she had managed to remove the rollers and style her hair into something decent.
“And good afternoon to you too mother. ” William closed the door behind him and walked over to her as if to give her a hug but Joyce shoved him away. “Your broadcast finished an hour ago,” she said. “I’m sure your secretary informed you that I was waiting for you.”
William removed his jacket, placed it on the hanger and walked round to the side of his desk. “I was obviously trying to avoid this meeting,” William said unapologetically. “Clearly, that didn’t work. Why don’t you sit down mother?” He motioned to one of the two chairs in front of his desk before taking his own seat.
Joyce huffed in anger but still sat down. “How could you say those awful things about your own family Will?” Joyce asked. “We talked about this. You promised you would never ever bring up my past into your politics.”
“I made no such promise,” William said. “You made demands and then stormed out like you usually do. You never got to hear my response, which was an emphatic no.”
“That is my story!” Joyce said. “Only I get to decide when to tell it and how to tell it.”
“No mother, it stopped being just your story when you decided to introduce characters to it that would change the original plot. Don’t forget, you’re the one who made me the lead character of your own story. You used me and when you realized the other characters in the story would not allow you to manipulate them to do their bidding, I became worthless to you. So this is our story mother. I have just about every right to tell it the way I see fit as you do.”
“Do you have any idea how humiliating it was siting in that salon and everyone looking at me with those pitiful judgemental looks while my own son disgraced me on national television?”
“I didn’t disgrace you,” William said. “You are the only one in the world who thinks you somehow managed to erase your past just because you married up. I have news for you mother. Everyone remembers. Everytime you walk into a place and demand to be treated like a royalty, the people around you remember.
“Everytime you try to act like you’re better than everyone else in a room, they all remember. Those are the looks you see in their eyes and the whispers that make the hairs at the back of your neck stand. No one has forgotten. Not even you. But you like to pretend you have. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting in a few minutes. You need to leave.”
Joyce grabbed her purse and got up. “I have never understood why you hate me so much when everything I did was for your own good,” she muttered.
“For my own good?” William scoffed just as he got to his feet. “You stood by and watched while the man you claimed to love beat the living daylights out of me. You said nothing to defend me when he called me names and said he would never recognize me as his son. Was that all for me?”
“If I interfered, he would have killed us both! Besides, don’t stand there and play judge when you never once raised a finger to defend me from your father when he turned his anger on me. ” Joyce said.
“Why should I defend you!?” William yelled. “Who did you think you were that I should save you? You never once acted as a mother to me. Instead you used that role to force yourself into that family and to assert yourself to everyone that you belonged. But being an actual mother? That was never your concern. So tell me again, why should I have saved you? “
“And Miranda, what’s your excuse for not saving her?” Joyce asked.
“You have no right to talk to me about Miranda,” William said.
“Now that all that initial excitement about having her back is fading away, have you stopped to ask yourself why she chose to come back now of all times?”
Twenty years later and nothing had changed, William thought. His mother was still determined to antagonize whatever relationship he sought to have with Miranda. “She already told me why she came back,” William answered. “It’s not something I have to wonder about.”
“Did she also tell you that she’s forgiven you for your betrayal and for the sins of your parents against her and her mother?”
“What she and I talk about is none of your business.”
“So she hasn’t forgiven you,” Joyce said, a smile catching the corners of her mouth. “Well now, I can’t wait to see how this modern Shakespearean tale unfolds. No man has ever written tragedies as beautifully as he did. To this day, people still quote Hamlet’s suicide soliloquy as if it was the most beautiful scene in the world.
“If I were you mother, I wouldn’t trouble myself much with the tragedies of Shakespeare,” William said. “I would encourage you to read more of his comedies. Perhaps you can learn something about what happens after a midsummer night’s dream in some tent in the middle of nowhere. Maybe, just maybe you’ll learn that not all is well that ends well.
“I much prefer to face an ending I know is tragic and do everything in my power to change the after, ” William said. “…than to delude myself into believing I have achieved my happily ever after, only to realize I just turned what could have easily been a good romance into a tragedy, all thanks to my insatiable greed. Have a good day mother.”
Joyce slammed the door behind her. She got into her car and drove back to the salon to finish with her hair. Unfortunately for her, her son’s allegory about comedies and tragedies came to life and almost knocked the air out of her system when she found Miranda sitting in the same chair she had been occupying before she ran out of the salon.
Miranda first saw the woman’s reflection in the mirror before turning to confirm with certainty that her eyes weren’t deceiving her. Apart from a few wrinkles under her eyes and the color of her hair, very little else had changed about William’s mother. She still dressed and carried herself in manner of a character straight out of a scene in Downtown Abbey. She had her nose in the air as if seeking an unpolluted layer of oxygen that the rest of the commoners had no access to. Her purse was placed under her arm, her shoulders squared straight and she still had that constant disapproving look in her eyes, as if every earthling thing upon which her eyes had the misfortune of gazing were toxic to her pristine existence.
“Everyone leave,” Joyce commanded the room. “I would like to have a private conversation with this woman.” She pointed a dancing finger at Miranda’s seating figure.
When the protests Miranda expected to hear didn’t come, when all the women in the room unhappily started getting off their chairs, Miranda decided she had to put a stop to it. “No one is leaving this room,” she said loud enough for everyone to hear.
Turning to Joyce, Miranda said, “This is a place of business Joyce, not your living room. Have some respect for people who work hard to earn a living. Not everyone has a super vagina like you.” She then turned to the group of visibly stunned women holding their gasps in check. “Ladies,” she said. “Please, do sit down. The fair lady and I will take our conversation outside.” she got up and violently brushed past Joyce on her way out.
“How dare you talk to me like that!” Joyce wailed as she followed Miranda behind. Miranda didn’t bother with a response, instead, she kept moving until they reached the first turn in the section of the mall and she took it. It was a new section of the mall that was yet to be opened. They would be guaranteed some privacy here, unless someone nosy decided to follow them for a scoop.
“What is wrong with you?” Miranda turned to face her steaming nemesis. “Is your inferiority complex so high that you constantly feel the need to assert your imagined superiority everywhere you go? “
“I can see the American air added some more wind under your wings huh?” Joyce said. “Now you have the audacity to talk to me as if I were your equal. How ridiculous.”
“You would never ever be my equal Joyce,” Miranda. “Even at my most poorest, I never got to hit your kind of low.” Joyce raised her hand to slap her but Miranda caught it mid-air.
“Let go off my hand you embacile!” Joyce tried to break her arm free but Miranda had a deathly grip on it. “You mean the same hand that just tried to assault me?” Miranda asked, adding more strength to her grip and causing Joyce to wince in even more pain.
“I am not that little girl you used to threaten every chance you got,” Miranda said in her most threatening tone. “Next time you raise a hand at me, I’ll bash your face in so hard that not even your best pal Beelzebub would be able to recognize you when you sit down to discuss the knowledge of the goodness of my palm. Do I make myself clear?” when no response came from the determinedly stubborn Joyce, Miranda shoved her hand down, but not before giving it a last squeeze that had her yelping.
“Why did you come back to this country? No one wants you here,” Joyce said.
“I told you I would be back Joyce, or did you forget?” Miranda asked. “Did you think I was going to leave things just the way they ended?” She scoffed. “Vegeance brought me back. But you already knew that.”
“Does William know, that you’re using your own son in your wicked schemes?”
“Not everyone is like you,” Miranda said. “My son is just one of the reasons I’m here. My revenge is a whole other issue, and as you may have noticed, I’m not in a hurry. Sometimes nature has a way of equalizing things for humans. For instance, I heard you’ve taken a passionate liking to the bottle, Joyce,” she smiled. “That tells me your own liver is more angry at you than I’ll ever be. So why should I break à sweat fighting you when your own body parts are willing to do the work for free? Besides, you and I both know that you’re not the one I’m after. Of course you will be collateral damage, but that’s no biggie.”
“Victor is dead. There’s nothing you can do to him now. Count your losses and move on with your pathetic little life.”
Miranda laughed. “Ah, Joyce, you’re so funny,” she said. “But if you must know, I intend to bring your husband back to life and then kill him again with my bare hands. If you don’t think that’s possible, tell the men you have watching me to start following me closely. Because you will need a front row seat for the drama I’m going to unleash in this little kingdom of yours.”
With that, Miranda turned to walk away. “My son will never marry you!” Joyce shouted at her back.
Miranda kept walking as she shouted back, “I’m counting on that!” But then she stopped and turned back around. “And Joyce, please do watch your step on these premises. I might even suggest you take your business elsewhere. I own this land you’re stepping on.”
Instead of following Miranda behind, Joyce turned and walked in the opposite direction, every step she took pronouncing the impact of Miranda’s last announcement on her fragile little heart.