“Pay back a debt?” Alicia asked.
The server chose that particular moment to appear with their food.
“Thanks,” they said at once.
“Is there anything-“
“No thanks, we are fine.” Alicia quickly answered, anxious for her to leave so she could hear Dr Chileshe’s explanation.
The twenty something year old server got her cue to leave and immediately left them alone.
“You were saying….” Alicia prompted him again.
Kondwani laughed. “Relax,” he said. “I just meant that I owe you for the way I treated you when you first joined the hospital.”
“Ooh.” She said, her features suddenly relaxing.
“What did you think I meant?” There was still laughter in Kondwani’s voice.
Alicia shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I was just curious because of the way you phrased your statement.”
“I see.” Kondwani said. “Can I ask you something though…a personal question?” He was looking at her cautiously, wondering how she was going to take his line of questioning.
Alicia raised an eyebrow at him. “You are not going to talk about rescuing me again are you?”
Kondwani chuckled. “No,” he said. “I think you’ve made your point very clear on that one.”
“Good.” She said. “What did you want to ask me?”
“Have you ever been with anyone else apart from your late boyfriend?” Kondwani asked.
Alicia gawked at him in wonder, a whole lot of questions flashing across her face.
“Did I offend you?” Kondwani asked.
“I am trying to figure out whether it’s mere coincident or not….” Alicia said.
“What?” A confused Kondwani asked.
“You are not the first person to ask me that question today.” She said.
“I’m not?” No sooner had he asked than the answer came to him. “Kayombo?”
Alicia chuckled shyly. “How did you-?”
“I don’t believe that nothing is going on between the two of you.” He said. “I have seen the way he looks at you.”
“I think you and Dr Kayombo should really think about becoming best friends. He said the same thing about you.” Immediately the words came out, Alicia regretted having uttered them without thinking. She put her hand over her mouth but it was already too late.
Kondwani was looking at her suspiciously, a new kind of interest glowing in his eyes. “Dr Kayombo said something like that about me?”
Alicia grabbed her glass of water and gulped down the contents. How did their conversation get to that point? She wondered.
Kondwani was watching her closely. He could tell she was going to try and avoid his question but he had no intention whatsoever of letting her get away with it.
“Do you think these people would tell us if we asked them what sauce they used for the beef?” Alicia had put down her glass of water and was now forking her meat. “It’s very nice, never tasted anything like it before.”
Kondwani said nothing in return, he just kept staring at her and he could tell she could feel his eyes on her because she dared not raise her head or her eyes from whatever was going on on her plate.
Alicia was now fatuously trying to cut a piece off her steak but it appeared neither the meat nor the cutlery were in corporation mood.
“I’m still waiting.” Kondwani said, now knotting his hands together over the table and feigning a look of determined patience on his face.
Feeling cornered, Alicia laid down the knife and fork angrily, dipped the tip of her fingers in the bowl of water and went at her meat with her bare hands. “God put me in charge of the meat and not the other way round.” She said between clenched teeth as she tore a large piece and dropped it into her mouth.
Kondwani watched in amazement as she shameless chewed at her meat. “Are you kidding me?” He asked, looking both shocked and amazed at her behaviour.
Alicia tried to mouth the word ‘what’ at him but her mouth was too full for her to utter anything comprehensible.
“What do you see when you look at me Alicia?” Kondwani asked. He appeared to genuinely be in need of finding out the answer to his question. He was seriously examining his companion’s facial expressions. How could she not even try a play at cuteness around him?
Glad that she had managed to circumvent the other topic, Alicia quickly chewed her meat and swallowed hard. “I see a doctor.” Her answer finally came.
“Is that all you see?” He asked disappointedly.
“Is there something else I’m supposed to see?” She asked.
Kondwani felt a chunk off his pride drop to the floor. “Sometimes I wonder if you are putting on a perfect act of naivety or if you are simply just plain naïve. Isn’t there a part of you that finds me attractive as a man?”
The fork in Alicia’s hand dropped onto her plate causing the few heads in the restaurant to turn in their direction. Some of the sauce from her beef steak went splashing all over the front of her top. The bluntness of Doctor Chileshe’s question had completely caught her off guard and she wasn’t quite sure how she was supposed to respond.
It was a well-known fact that he was a very good looking man. There was no woman that looked at Kondwani Chileshe and failed to silently recognize that fact in her head. However, it was a whole other matter for one to be forced to utter that fact to the man’s face without wishing for the ground to open up and swallow them.
Kondwani appeared completely pleased by her reaction and the proud smirk on his face showed just how flattered he was by Alicia’s admission even though she had not uttered a single word in reply. Her glowing cheeks and blushing eyes were literally screaming her response at him.
“I am going to go to the bathroom!” Alicia’s was suddenly on her feet and off towards the direction of the toilets.
Kondwani literally laughed out loud. “I seriously think she lied about her age.” He said to himself.
The beautiful server that was in charge of their table tried to intercept Alicia along her way to the bathroom but Alicia was too embarrassed to stop and talk to her. She just shook her head and pointed towards the bathroom in urgency. Instead, the server went to Kondwani who was still busking in the aftermath of Alicia’s unintended confession.
It was not as if he was not aware of the fact that women find him good looking so why did he find himself utterly flattered by Alicia’s silent admission? He was a man used to having women throw themselves at him and do everything in their power to get his attention. So why did the silent confession of a simple-looking, naïve but beautiful nurse cause him to feel like he had just won gold at the Olympics?
“Is everything all right sir?” The concerned server asked Kondwani.
Kondwani lifted his head to look up at her, he was grinning from ear to ear. “Everything is absolutely fine!” He was almost shouting the words. “My day had started off on a crappy note but it’s suddenly brightened up. How about you give me the best wine you have in the house? The very best.”
Smiling, “yes sir,” replied the server before leaving for the bar.
By the time Alicia came out of the bathroom, the wine had already been served. She found two empty glasses set on the table and it appeared as if Doctor Chileshe was waiting for her before he could pour it into the glasses.
Kondwani looked at her and immediately realized she had utilized her time out very wisely. The sauce stains on her blouse were completely gone. “Sit,” he pointed to where she had been seated earlier.
“What’s this about?” She pointed to the red wine and the two glasses.
“We are going to celebrate the fact that you like me Alicia.” Kondwani said. Alicia’s eyes immediately went searching across the room to see if anyone had overheard his words. She wanted to reach out from across the table and put her hand over his smirking mouth.
She sat down and leaned towards him to whisper; “I never said I liked you.” She emphasized every word in the sentence. “Just because a woman thinks you are good looking does not mean that she likes you.”
Kondwani grinned some more. “Finally, she actually says the words.”
Right away, Alicia realized she had fallen flat into his trap.
Kondwani opened the bottle of wine and poured half a glass for her before pouring for himself.
“I don’t drink.” Alicia announced just as Kondwani set the glass before her.
He gaped at her. “You gotto be kidding me.” he said disappointedly.
“It’s getting dark outside,” she made a point of actually looking outside. “I still live with my parent’s so I need to get back home on time.”
“Why does a twenty-eight year old woman with a fully-functioning career still live with her parents?” Kondwani asked.
“Because this 28 year old woman needs to save money for something more important than her own life or freedom.”
“You mean your son?”
“What if I find you a good lawyer to help you get your son back?” Kondwani offered.
“Now why would you do that?” Alicia asked.
“I told you, I have a debt to pay.” He answered.
“I can’t afford that kind of lawyer right now and I think I would really feel uncomfortable receiving that kind of help from you. You don’t need to feel like you owe me anything for the way you treated me when we first met.
“You were just doing your job and I understand. You don’t need to do these kinds of things,” she was looking at the table set before them as she said the words. “You really don’t owe me anything…but thank you for offering anyway, it means a lot.”
“I thought you said you would do anything to get your son back.” Kondwani’s tone was suddenly serious. “If getting your son back is your prerogative, then isn’t a little discomfort on your part a small price to pay to achieving your goal?”
“Why are you doing this doctor?” For the first time since they sat down, she was looking directly at him. “Why do you care so much about what goes on in my life? It can’t just be because you feel bad about how rude you were to me. You are rude and smug with everyone at work, it’s not just me so…or do you follow up the others as well and offer to do them favours?”
“Why are you acting like I asked to bed you when all I want to do is help you get your son back?” Kondwani asked. “If you don’t want my help then fine!” He got up and walked over to the bar where their server was standing.
“The bill please.” He said.
She handed it to him., he quickly signed it and returned it to her. When he was done, he headed right out of the building instead of back to the table where Alicia was seated watching him walk out in disbelief.
She quickly got up, waved to the server and ran out after Doctor Chileshe.
She wanted to ask him what was wrong with him but something about his demeanour sent her straight into silence. She waited for him to get into the car and when she noticed he didn’t drive off without her but instead waited for her to get in; she quickly rushed to get in.
“I thought you were going to leave me behind.” She said but Kondwani said nothing in response. All the way to her place, there were no words exchanged between them. Alicia had no idea when it happened, but she found herself being gently shaken by Kondwani and she opened her eyes to find them parked in front of her gate.
“I figured you were tired, didn’t want to wake you.” Kondwani said. He was awkwardly avoiding looking at her.
“When did we get here?” Alicia asked, realizing from his words that they hadn’t just arrived.
“Does it matter?” Kondwani said flatly.
Alicia checked her wrist watch for the time and her mouth fell wide open. She went straight for the door so as not to keep him any longer but Kondwani surprised her by grabbing her hand.
“Wait,” he said, his voice soft and controlled.
Alicia’s gaze went straight to where their hands were touching before she sat back. Kondwani immediately released his hold on her.
“You like me, don’t you?” He asked.
“Huh?” Alicia said. Was it his mission to shock her to death with his random questions?
“Let me rephrase,” he said. “I know that you like me.”
“Is this some kind of joke or test?” Alicia asked.
“Maybe, you hate me?” He was now looking straight into her eyes.
“I don’t hate you, but neither do I like you.” Alicia stated matter-of-factly. “Where is all this coming from? I thought I told you-“
“Then why are you refusing my help?” Kondwani asked. “If you have no feelings whatsoever for me, why not just accept my help as something coming from a colleague who wants to be your friend?”
Alicia scoffed. “A friend?” She asked. “You and me?” She scoffed again. “You and I live in two different worlds Doctor Chileshe. You live in a castle and I live in my parent’s spare bedroom.
“We might work in the same hospital but the only reason I exist there is just so I can pass tools to you so you can effectively do your life-changing job. Only a fool would expect more from this kind of relationship. Besides, I almost lost my job because your fiancé misunderstood something between us so the last thing I-“
“So is it because of her?” Kondwani asked. “Is it because you think your job will be threatened that’s why you keep refusing my help?”
Alicia couldn’t believe Doctor Chileshe’s persistence. “I told you-“
“What if I ended my relationship with her?”
“What!?” Alicia couldn’t believe her ears. “Is something wrong with you Doctor?” She was genuinely examining him for symptoms of disorientation.
“Nothing is wrong with me.” He said. “I am perfectly fine so stop looking at me like that. I simply just what to help-“
“Why do you care so much?” Alicia asked.
“Does it really matter?” Kondwani asked. “Can’t you just accept my help, say thank you like a normal person would so that we can both continue with our lives?”
Alicia was glaring at him in disbelief. Why was he getting upset with her? She should be the one getting upset with him. “I told you, I don’t need your help.” She said sternly and stepped down from the vehicle.
Kondwani quickly stepped out as well. “Then you shouldn’t have allowed me to see you cry like a fool everywhere I went!” He shouted at her before she could open the gate.
Alicia turned to look at him in fury. His brutal reminder of those painful moments of vulnerability when she thought no one was watching brought tears straight into her eyes. “What, do I need permission from you to even cry?” She snapped. “I can cry whenever I feel like it but that doesn’t mean I need anyone to rescue me.” As she said the words, the tears streamed down her face, as if to prove a point to him.
“You are not asking to help me because you care,” She added. “You simply want to fulfil some private dark desire just so you can make yourself feel better. Yes, you are a good looking man I will give you that but don’t go around thinking every woman is out to get your heart or attention. I am not one of them.”
With that, she opened the gate, entered and flung it shut behind her with a bang.
“That didn’t go anywhere close to plan.” Kondwani said to himself. He got back into the car and called the person responsible for putting him in that kind of situation.
“Bro,” Chilufya answered his call.
“Meet me by Rhapsody’s in 30.” He said.
“It’s not working.” Kondwani complained to his twenty-five year old sister about an hour later.
“What’s not working?” Chilufya asked.
“What you asked me to do.” He said.
“What I asked you to do?” Chilufya appeared clueless. “I don’t remember-“
“That girl won’t give me the time of day.” Kondwani said. “I have tried everything possible to try and get close to her so I can help to make her life easy but she just won’t give me a chance.”
“She keeps asking me questions and frankly I have run out of lies. I have never had any problems telling a lie before but somehow…with this woman, nothing seems to work out. Every single time I look at her, the guilt just eats me up and-“
“Ooooh.” Chilufya finally got on the same page as her brother. “You are talking about the nurse, Ms Daka.”
“Of course,” Kondwani said. “Who else could I be talking about? What’s wrong with you today?”
“Hey, hey, don’t take your anger out on me.” Chilufya warned him. “I am not the one responsible for your current state of mind.”
“Do you think I would be feeling this frustrated if you hadn’t ask me that stupid question last time we talked?”
Chilufya laughed. “Since when have you ever listened to me…or to anyone for that matter?”
“This case is different.” Kondwani said.
“So what did you try to do for her?” Chilufya asked.
That question forced Kondwani to revisit his past and recent interaction with Alicia. He couldn’t help wincing in embarrassment.
“What? What happened?” Chilufya had never seen her brother look so abashed.
“Oooh, it’s too embarrassing. I can’t believe I did or said some of those things.” He covered his face with the palm of his hands. “I wish I could just drop dead to save myself from this embarrassment.”
“What did you do?” Chilufya was now dying from curiosity. She had never seen her brother look so mortified.
“Anyway!” Kondwani dropped his hands from his face. “I am done with all this drama.” He said. “I did what I could, I reached out to her, I offered to help and she flat out turned me down.”
“You offered her help? How?” Chilufya asked.
“I asked her if she wanted help getting her son back and she said she didn’t need my help. I even offered to get her the best lawyer in town. She still said no.”
“Oh my God, you didn’t.” Chilufya’s jaw dropped.
“What?” Kondwani asked.
“Are you and that woman friends?” she asked.
“Of course not, I’m her boss. She’s interning at my hospital.”
“Exactly!” Chilufya hit her hand against the table. “How can you offer someone you have no close relationship with that kind of help? Did you expect her to jump up in joy and wrap her arms around you in gratitude?”
“I also offered to be her companion…you know-“
“Her what?” Chilufya hang her head in shock and embarrassment. “You offered to be her what?” She slowly repeated her question.
“She cries quite a lot and very so easily,” Kondwani explained himself. “I thought, obviously it’s because she hasn’t gotten over her boyfriend so…you know….”
For the first time in her life, Chilufya realized just how human her big brother was. She had grown up believing that there was nothing her big brother could not do in the whole world. He was her hero, her mentor and she literally worshiped the ground he walked on. However, in that moment, looking at him and hearing him talk, she realized for the very first time that he was not perfect, and that there were certain things in the world that no amount of money or intelligence could buy.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” Kondwani asked his sister. He could read disappointment…and something else…could it be pity he was seeing in her eyes? No way.
And then suddenly, he saw tears.
Shocked by the sudden turn of events, Kondwani grabbed a napkin from the table and passed it to her. “Chilu, what’s wrong with you?” He asked, concern and shock written all over his face.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, his sister started sobbing, loud enough to attract the attention of everyone in the restaurant. And instead of hiding her face for dignity’s sake, Chilufya opened sobbed and sobbed with her mouth wide open.
“Shit.” Kondwani cussed under his breath as he went to sit next to her. “Woman, what’s all this about? Can’t you see everyone is looking at us?”
In response, Chilufya turned her body to fully face her brother. She lifted both her hands and rested them on either side of his face, all the while sobbing and shaking her head at the same time. “What have we done to you?” She cried.
“What do you mean what have you done to me?” He grabbed her hand and laid them down gently. “Here,” he took some more napkins brought to their table by a male server and handed it to her. When the server remained standing there, Kondwani felt the need to explain the situation to him…and everyone else looking at them strangely.
“She’s my baby sister,” he said. “She’s going through some issues so….”
The server nodded his head, apologized and quickly gave them the privacy they needed.
“See now people are looking at me strangely and thinking I have done some injustice to you.” Kondwani told his sister.
Chilufya dried her tears and after calming down, she took her brothers hand and held on to it for the duration of her speech.
“On behalf of mum and my siblings,” she started. “I want to take this opportunity to apologize to you for what we’ve done.” As she spoke, a fresh bolt of tears came streaming down her cheeks.
Kondwani could only stare at her blankly, completely lost from whatever was going on in her head. It was not as if he was not aware of his young sister’s bipolar personality. Chilufya’s moods shifted between night and day in a split second and sometimes it was hard to tell whether she was female or not since she woke up on certain days talking, walking and dressing like a boy and on other days she appeared as immaculate and impeccably dressed as a 15th century European medieval woman.
With Chilufya, there was just no knowing which side of the bed she would wake up on. She had the potential to shock even the most holy of men. Their mother had already gone through all the possible powerful pastors she could afford and all she could do now was wait upon new ones and new churches to be born so she could try them as well.
But as a medical doctor, Kondwani knew for a fact that what his sister needed was not holy water or holy blankets. As long as she continued with her medication and therapy, she would eventually get better. In fact, he was already seeing the change in her…even though she still wasn’t quite there yet.
“You were so busy taking care of us that you missed out on a lot of things.” Chilufya cried.
Kondwani finally understood where the water works were coming from and why. He simply laughed and wrapped his arms around his sister.
“I promise you I’m going to help you find a woman that you will truly truly love.” Chilufya promised, her arms too tightly wrapped around her brother.
“How can I desire any other woman when I have a baby sister that loves me like this?” Kondwani joked.
Chilufya suddenly let go of him. “I’m serious!” She sulked.
Kondwani laughed. “I know, so please, stop crying.” She picked up another napkin and this time around he wiped her tears himself. “Whatever man will win your heart will be the luckiest fella in the whole world, you know that right?”
Chilufya blushed, smiled, and nodded. “And my brother might not be perfect, but he is the best brother and doctor this country has ever seen!” She said.
“And for that, you deserve the best and most expensive meal on this menu.” Kondwani said, standing up to go back to his seat. He handed Chilufya the menu.
“So I can order everything I want here right?” She was beaming with excitement, her finger going over every item on the page she was closely scrutinizing.
Kondwani laughed. “Yes,” he said, silently thanking the heavens that she wasn’t a royal lady of the court that day worried about appearances and her weight. The silent Y chromosome in her was fully in charge for the moment.
He put down his menu and sat watching his sister give the server a list of items she wanted to eat, a bittersweet smile playing on his face as he desperately fought back tears.
That evening after Kondwani dropped her off at home, Alicia went straight to bed, turning down her father’s offer to join the family for dinner with the excuse of having eaten already. She had not told a lie but both her parents thought she was still upset over what had happened with her mother during the day.
Alicia’s mind was anywhere but home. Despite her high IQ, at the age of 28, she still had trouble discerning matters of the heart. Why was Doctor Chileshe acting like that with her? She kept asking herself but each time she couldn’t seem to come up with a concrete answer.
It can’t be because he likes me, she reasoned. He had said so himself. It has to be pity…that…that white knight syndrome. But why me? Why does he care so much?
But the time she realized it, it was thirty minutes passed midnight and she had the early morning shift. She switched off her bedside lamp and drowned into her beddings, forcefully willing her mind to focus on sleep only.
The next morning at work, Doctor Chileshe was back to being his old self; cold, rude, dismissive and disrespectful. It was as if the previous day had not happened. In her shelved nature, Alicia did her best to avoid running into him at all cost. She was always an easy target for anyone in a position of power…or just anyone.
Unfortunately, being the assisting surgical nurse, she had no means of completing staying out of Kondwani’s radar. However, she was fortunate enough to realize that he too was committed to ignoring her as much as she was. Except for those conversations that could not be avoided in the OR, the two of them stayed out of each other’s way, religiously.
The situation remained like that for days, until others like Dr Kayombo started to notice.
“So what’s going on between you and Dr Chileshe?” Samuel asked her one day when they were having lunch with two other interning nurses in the cafeteria.
“Are you planning on sitting with us every day?” A very uncomfortable Alicia asked. “Everyone is staring at us like we stole something from them.” She added as she scanned the room.
“That group of female doctors over there looks like they are ready for a fight.” Nurse Evans chipped in. he was one of the three male intern nurses in Alicia’s group.
“I don’t know, but I’m kind of enjoying all the hate and attention.” Nurse Caroline said.
Caroline had the shortest nursing uniform in the group and always got in trouble with Mrs Miti over her make-up and audacious appearance. The 25 year old had not hidden the fact that she only became a nurse in order to meet a rich old dying man so she could inherit his wealth. She was shameless as she was beautiful.
“Aren’t you going to answer my question?” Kayombo asked, completely ignoring her protests.
“I have no idea-“
“Where is that ungrateful murderer who killed my son?” Alicia heard a familiar voice behind her and froze. She didn’t need to turn to know who had rudely stormed into the cafeteria in such a fit of rage. What she didn’t know was what she could have done to arouse that kind of rage in her.
“Aunty?” Doctor Kondwani was already up on his feet.
Alicia quickly got up and turned in the direction of the pending doom. Before she could even stand up straight, Mrs Kabwe slapped her hard across the face and sent her straight to the floor.
“How can you do this to me?” Mary asked. She threw the pile of papers in her hands at her. Shocked and confused, Alicia picked up one of the papers, one word immediately stood out to her; custody.
She quickly read through the whole document.
“You killed my son and now you want to take away my grandchild?” Mary shouted.
“Aunt Mary,” Kayombo went over to the woman’s side to try and calm her down while Evans and Caroline tried to help Alicia up.
Unfortunately, Mary was not in a calming down mood. She flung at Alicia once again and pulled at her hair. “You are never taking him away from me!” She said as she pulled an unprotesting Alicia left, right and centre.
“How dare you threaten me with fancy lawyers?” Mary shouted. Kayombo and Evans tried to pull the woman away from Alicia but she was way too vicious for them.
“What the hell is going on here?” It was Kondwani, in all his angry glory. Kayombo and Evans immediately let go of Mrs Kabwe and for the first time Alicia made a move to escape the woman’s wrath.
“Doctor Chileshe?” Alicia said, fear written all over her face. She could hear her career run down the sewer drain. It was over for her.
“Don’t you have a mouth?” Kondwani asked. “Can’t you talk to defend yourself?”
Alicia appeared lost and confused.
“Who the hell are you?” Mary turned towards the doctor, completely unfazed by his domineering nature.
“I am the owner of this place…and also the person that hired someone to send you those documents.” He was looking at the papers on the floor.
It was not just Alicia and Mary that had asked that question, it was everyone else in the cafeteria, including Gwen who was standing right behind Kondwani.