Kondwani’s Debt of Love – Part 16

(Still in draft – to be edited tomorrow)

Before Kondwani and Chilufya could take full grasp of what had just happened, Claudia went down, her head hitting the floor with a loud thud. Kondwani felt time and the world around him spin in slow motion. He was aware of every sound and everything around the place where his mother had just fallen, including his sister’s shriek that threatened to bring the walls around them down.

Time seemed not on Kondwani’s side as he rushed breathlessly towards his mother’s lifeless body, lifted her head up first, shouting her name and checking her pulse.

“Out of the way” Kondwani shouted at his young brother who had appeared in the room from out of nowhere looking half asleep and half in shock. Gift quickly moved aside to let Kondwani who was carrying their mother in his arms pass. Kondwani carefully laid his mother on Chilufya’s bed and went straight into doctor mode.

“What’s wrong with mum?” A visibly confused Gift asked his sister, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “Is she dead?”

Chilufya gave him a killer look and quickly turned her attention back to Kondwani who was trying to get their mother to regain consciousness.

“Why isn’t she waking up?” Chilufya asked.

“Give her a second,” Kondwani said, sounding surprisingly calm. Chilufya recognized right in that moment that it wasn’t her brother she was looking at, it was Doctor Chileshe. In the space of a few minutes, she had seen him transition from a brother to a man in-love, and from a son to a doctor.

As if she had heard her son’s voice, Claudia slowly opened her eyes.

“Mum.” Chilufya sat down next to her, grabbing her hand.

“Bring some ice Gift.” Kondwani instructed the 17 year old who was now fully awake.

“For what?” Gift asked.

Chilufya shot her brother a warning look and pushed him to the side. “I will bring it.” She told Kondwani, and turning to Gift, “Get back to your room fool!” She spat. “Let me not find you here when I return.” And she rushed out of the room.

“Go to your room.” Kondwani instructed his brother and Gift left the room without hesitation.

“What you said…” Claudia stammered as she winced in pain from the concussion she had obviously suffered.

“Mum, mum,” Kondwani said, sitting down beside her. “Relax for now and let’s talk about that when your head calms down a bit. You are lucky Chilufya’s wig cushioned your fall a bit….” He pointed to the blonde weave on the floor that Chilufya wore during some of her crazy episodes. Claudia tried to follow the direction his hand was pointing but her head would not allow her to make any movement.

Kondwani held her and kept her from making any movement. “You need to stay put for now mum.” He repeated. “And what are you doing up this time anyway?”

“Stop avoiding my question.” Claudia said. “I heard what you were talking about.”

“What do you think you heard that made you fall like that?” Kondwani played it cool. Claudia seemed confused by her son’s nonchalance.

“You said…you said that….” She kept stuttering. “I heard you say that….”

“That I wasn’t ready to introduce my girlfriend yet because her fiancé died in a road accident and I didn’t want you to be reminded of that old accident?” Kondwani asked.

Claudia appeared even more confused now. “No,” she said. “That’s not what I heard…or is it? My head is spinning. I swear that’s….”

“What’s taking Chilufya so long?” Kondwani looked out the door and just then Chilufya appeared with a pack of ice in hand.

Kondwani stood up and Chilufya sat down in his place. “Where should I place it?” She asked.

Kondwani took the pack and laid it on the side of his mother’s head. “She fell on this side so let’s keep her from swelling.” He moved to stand aside once Chilufya took over from him.

“I think the fall was harder than I imagined.” Kondwani remarked casually. “I don’t know what she thinks she heard from our conversation.”

For a second Chilufya had the same look as the one her mother had had earlier but she quickly picked up her brother’s silent cue and caught on to what he was playing after.

“She overheard us talking about my girlfriend and her late boyfriend’s accident and her thoughts went wild.” Kondwani added.

“Oh, yeah…about the accident.” Chilufya nervously chipped in, not sure what to say or what scenario her brother had already given their mother.

Claudia turned her eyes towards her daughter. “You know about that accident too?” She asked.

In response, Chilufya turned pleading eyes towards her brother, still not sure how much their mother was allowed to know.

Kondwani moved closer to their mother, hands in pockets. “She knows about your accident.” He told her. “That’s why you overheard me talking to her about my girlfriend’s issue. I needed her advice on when would be the right time to introduce you two because I didn’t want you hearing her story about how she lost her fiancé and you feeling guilty about the past since the accidents where somewhat similar.”

“What do you mean similar?” Claudia asked. “You said that man died…and now you are talking about this other man…I am confused. Who died? I thought no one died that night but-”

Kondwani laughed. “That’s what you get for walking in on other people’s conversations.”

“But I heard what you said,” Claudia insisted. “If you had called paramedics…did that man die? I thought you said he was okay.”

The fear on Chilufya’s face was enough to give them away but Kondwani somehow still managed to keep his cool. “I was talking about my girlfriend mum. The concussion has really messed up your memory. Relax for now and you will feel better in a bit.

“I still think you need a thorough examination but I need to go for work now…and you need to lie down for a while before you can make any movements.” And turning to Chilufya, “bring her to the hospital after an hour or so.”

“Wait,” Claudia tried to get up to stop Kondwani leaving but Chilufya held her down.

“Mum don’t move.” Chilufya said sternly.

“I will see you later.” Kondwani said and exited the room.

“Is it true that’s what the two of you were talking about?” Claudia turned desperate perturbed eyes to her daughter.

“Of course mum.” Chilufya tried to stifle her nervousness by laughing. “Stop thinking too much so your headache can go away.”

“When…how did you know about the accident?” Claudia asked.

“Mum!” Chilufya chided her mother. “It was a long time ago, I overheard you and Wani talking.”

“Who is this girlfriend of his he’s worried about introducing to me?”

Chilufya froze. She had not covered that part with Kondwani. What was she supposed to tell Claudia about his relationship with Alicia? Knowing her mother so well, she was going to do everything in her power to fish out the woman that had turned the heart of her son and put pressure on her to make him settle down as soon as possible.

But that woman was Alicia. She was Alicia Daka, the fiancé to the man whose life was lost as a result of the accident she caused…the man who could have lived had Kondwani done the right thing…the man whose son was now living without a father…and the man whose woman was living her life in guilt thinking herself responsible for a death she had not caused.

That was the woman her son was in-love with.

Tears welled up Chilufya’s eyes as she looked at the innocence in her mother’s eyes.

“What’s wrong with you?” Claudia’s voice was filled with concern.

Chilufya quickly cleared her throat and smiled. “I was just thinking about how happy Kondwani is right now.” Chilufya said.

“Is he that much in love with her?” Her mother asked. “Who is this girl? What’s her name? Where’s she from?”

Chilufya laughed. “You are asking too many questions mum.” She said. “Just be patient and your son will tell you on his own everything you want to know.”

“But you know her so why not just tell me?” Claudia persisted.

“I need to call my boss first and tell her I will be coming in late.” Chilufya grabbed her phone from the dresser and rushed out of the room.

And that was how she kept evading her mother’s questions; escape until she delivered her safely in the hands of Kondwani later.
Despite the walls moving in closer around him, Kondwani could not keep himself from thinking about Alicia. He had seen her only a few hours ago but he was driving to work like a mad man desperate to lay his eyes on her. It was as if the realization that she could wreck his life and break his family apart made him desire her more and more. Like a curious man standing outside a door with the words ‘do not enter’ written on it, Kondwani’s curiosity and longing for the woman whose love was like a double-edged sword kind of love grew. But even with all the excitement within his heart, two questions burnt at his heart:

how was he to love her without hurting her or those he loved? And just how much pain would their love bring?

“Where are you?” Kondwani called Alicia on her cell the moment he stepped out of the vehicle and headed towards the hospital lobby to get on the lift.

“I just got in, taking the lift up to my office.” He said whilst pressing the floor to his office inside the lift. “Come there now.” He cut the line before she could ask any questions.

Until Mrs Miti the nursing supervisor greeted him, Kondwani had been oblivious to the four other people sharing the lift with him.

“I’m fine thanks Matron.” Kondwani answered in embarrassment, avoiding the older woman’s look of disapproval. “How are you?”

“You look rather distracted today doc.” The elderly woman said. “Is everything okay?” She was the only employee at the hospital that could talk to the doctor in such a casual manner and she didn’t care whether he liked it or not. Fortunately, it was common knowledge that Kondwani had a soft spot for her.

All through the banter, Kondwani’s eyes had not moved from the changing numbers on the wall of the lift. “A bug forced its way into my system and I’m rushing to nurse it right now Matron.” He said with a hint of laughter in his voice.

The three young nurses gave each other quizzical looks while the matron’s face broke into a knowing smile. Right then, the lift came to a stop and when the doors opened, Alicia was standing on the other side.

In her haste to respond to Kondwani’s urgent call, Alicia had forgotten about the possibility of him having company in the lift. The glacial stares she received from the three nurses standing behind Kondwani were enough to freeze hell over.

“Nurse Miti….” Alicia nervously greeted her supervisor from where she was standing.

“Alicia?” Mrs Miti acknowledged her with a knowing smile just as Kondwani stepped out and without warning grabbed Alicia’s hand and led her away.

Not wanting to be the topic of discussion around the hospital, Alicia tried to free her hand from Kondwani’s grasp as she looked back towards the lift to check if the others had seen what Kondwani had just done but she caught the doors of the lift just as they were shutting.

“Behave yourself or I will kiss you right here in the open.” Kondwani threatened her as he refused to release her arm. He flung open the door to his office, pulled her in, quickly shut the door behind her and drew her against it so that her back was now one with the door, one arm pinning her arms on top of her head.

“What-“ Alicia had started to ask but the rest of her question was drowned in Kondwani’s mouth as he went in for a deep kiss, like a very starved man suddenly served with a plate of his favourite meal.

No bone in Alicia’s anatomy was strong enough to stop Kondwani and her will was too faint to force reason from her mind. Alicia reluctantly succumbed to the pleasure, dropping her arms and wrapping them around his shoulders.

“It’s all worth the pain.” Kondwani muttered when he finally released her. He took her arm, led her to the front of his desk, scooped her from off the ground and sat her on top of the desk.

“What do you mean it’s all worth the pain?” A visibly perturbed and curious Alicia asked. “Did something happen?”

Kondwani realized he had said his thoughts out loud when he heard her question. “I missed you too much I thought I was going to go crazy.” He covered his slip.

Alicia gave him a huge smile as she tried to pull her uniform up to cover three quarters of her legs that were left exposed from how she was seated.

Kondwani mockingly raised his eyebrows at her. “Isn’t it a little too late for modesty right now?” He asked, deliberately pushing her skirt back up.

“You scared me on the phone earlier.” Alicia said, grabbing hold of his hands to stop him from running his fingers up and down her legs. “You sounded like-“

“What did I sound like?” Kondwani asked, a smile playing on his face.

“Serious,” Alicia replied. “You sounded very serious.”

Looking at Alicia sitting there in front of him, Kondwani silently wondered how she had the ability to drive all other thoughts out of his mind so that he could only think of her and him in the moment. He knew she would be the death of him and he was well aware of how much hurt he was causing her but losing her seemed to be the most paramount fear of them all. For years he had dedicated his whole life to taking care of his family and this was the only time his heart was taking a break so why should he be scared of losing this happiness even before he got to experience or indulge in it?

“Do you know that I love you with every fibre of my being Alicia Daka?” Kondwani asked as he looked directly into her eyes.

Alicia’s face turned red. “Is that the same look you have in your eyes when you tell women that?”

“What look?” He asked.

“That one.” She said.

“You mean this one?” Kondwani put his hand behind her neck and drew her close to his face, his eyes unflinchingly glued on hers.

As if possessed by some unknown spirit, Alicia surprised Kondwani when she grabbed the sides of his face and went straight for his lips.

“What was that for?” a very pleased Kondwani asked when she released him.

“You are a very beautiful man.” Alicia said, blushing profusely.

“And I thought you were a shy girl.”

“Me too.” She laughed.

“I like this feisty new you…but I also like the shy and timid Alicia. Remember how she desperately tried to hide her feelings for me?” He was busy searching every inch of her face as he talked. Alicia covered her face with her hands in embarrassment.

Kondwani took both her hands into his and drew them to his mouth and laid a kiss on them. “I think I have just lost my mind.”

“Who said there’s anything normal about falling in-love?” Alicia asked. “My mind has been telling me to run as far away from you as possible but look where I am right now?”

“Aren’t you scared I will hurt you?” Kondwani asked. “You know I have done nothing but break women’s hearts ever since I can remember.”

Alicia said nothing in response. Instead, her eyes spoke for her. She had lowered her gaze and fixed it on her hands as if to avoid looking at Kondwani.

“My gosh!” Kondwani said. “Do you actually think I would-“

“I think that there’s something you’re keeping from me.” Her sudden serious tone of voice and the deep look in her eyes caught Kondwani unawares. “Is there something you are not telling me?” the imploring look in her eyes was enough to drive Kondwani’s guilty mind into overdrive.

“What makes you think that?” A flustered Kondwani asked, his eyes looking everywhere but at her.

“See, even now.” Alicia said. “You are avoiding my gaze.”

Kondwani took a deep breath, shut is eyes for a few seconds and when he turned his head, he opened his eyes and was looking directly at her. “What if I said that there is something am keeping from you…and that it’s something I can’t talk to you about because am scared of losing you…what would you do Alicia?”

“Now you’re scaring me.” Alicia straightened her back and was looking at Kondwani with deeply perturbed eyes. “What are you keeping from me that could cause us to break apart?”

“It’s just a rhetoric question baby.” Kondwani said. “But, haven’t you ever kept something from someone because you are afraid of what it would do to them…and to you if the truth ever came out?”

“No.” She answered simply.

“Seriously?” He asked.

She shrugged her shoulders and repeated, “No.”

“What is a woman like you doing with someone like me?” Kondwani asked.

“Why do you make yourself sound like such a terrible person?” Alicia asked. “Of course you aren’t perfect but c’mon…no one on the face of the earth is perfect, including me.”

“Don’t ever think of me as an abnormal man Licia.” Kondwani said. “Just think of me as a man so foolish in-love he can’t think rationally…cause when the day comes when you realize just how imperfect I am…I will need you to remember just how abnormal I am and just how much you mean to me.

“When that time comes, please, I beg of you, you can hate me as much as you want…I won’t even ask for your forgiveness on that day but just please…don’t run away from me.”

“You do know that you’re freaking me out right now ah?” Alicia said. “I will keep imagining all sorts of things. Is Gwen’s child yours? Or are you married to someone else secretly? Do you have kids out there? Or, what else, perhaps, did you kill someone?”

Kondwani choked on his saliva from the unexpectedness of the question.

“Are you okay? Did I scare you that much?” She was trying to examine his face but Kondwani had his hand over his mouth to keep from spitting. “I was only joking. My gosh, I don’t even know why I asked something like that. Are you okay baby?”

“I’m okay.” Kondwani said. “You just caught me off-guard with your question.”

“I think I need to get back to work now.” Alicia tried to get away from him but Kondwani wrapped his arms around her waist.

“Not yet.” He said.

“I think everyone by now must have received the big news from the three big giant mouths in the elevator and they can’t wait to chew me out.” Alicia sighed heavily and dropped her head resignedly.

Kondwani laughed. “Now you’ve finally given them a reason to hate you.”

“Why do I get the feeling that you are enjoying my misery?” Alicia asked.

“Why would you even say something like that?” Kondwani tightened his grip around her. “I’m so thrilled that everyone knows you’re mine, finally!”

Alicia laughed. “What?”

“You think I don’t know about every guy, nurse, or doctor that’s been after you since you came? I know everything that goes on in this place. I own the place my love!”

“You are shamelessly such a brag Dr Chileshe you know that?” Alicia’s voice was filled with laughter.

“So I’ve been told.” Kondwani proudly said and lifted her up into the air.

***

Stephen Malambo took the stairs leading up to his room on campus two at a time, anxious to reach and eat something before his next class. He was about to bust the door open when he remembered that his roommate Damian had recently started dating Mwansa’s roommate Febby. The thought of Febby in his room brought Stephen’s adrenaline to a double zero.

What the hell was Damian thinking dating a blubber mouth like her? Stephen thought as he stood by the door. He could hear voices coming from inside and could tell right away who the owner of that frosty laugh was.

“What do you think Steve will do if he learns about Belinda’s pregnancy?” Stephen heard Damian ask Febby.

Pregnancy? Stephen wondered. Belinda is pregnant!

“What do you mean what will he do?” Stephen heard Febby ask. “You better not say anything to him otherwise Mwansa will kill me!”

“You mean Mwansa knows?” Damian asked.

“Of course not.” Febby answered. “And it should stay that way because the moment she discovers that I am the one behind the abortion news, I will be a corpse.”

Stephen flung the door open. “Abortion?”

Febby and Damian both sat up straight on the bed, both at a loss for words.

“What abortion are you talking about Febby?” Stephen asked. “Belinda isn’t that sort of girl why are you spreading such stories about her?”

“Hey mate relax.” Damian tried to calm his friend down. Stephen looked about ready to blow over.

“Don’t tell me to relax Damian.” Stephen snapped. “Why’s your girlfriend talking about my girl like that?”

“Your girl?” Febby raised both her eyebrows at him. “Did you just hear yourself? Your girl?”

Stephen realized his mistake a little too late. He sighed heavily and ran a hand through his head.

“Umhu.” Febby shot him a look. “I think you forgot that I am Mwansa, your girlfriend’s friend. Belinda is not your girl any more. She is your ex.”

“I know, I know.” Stephen said. “Just a slip of the tongue. But still, it doesn’t change how I feel about the things you were saying about her.”

“Nothing I said was a lie, well, at least I didn’t make it up.” Febby explained. “My cousin works as a receptionist at this fancy private hospital and she said she saw Belinda go in for a check-up some time back and-“

“Some time back?” Stephen asked. “When some time back?”

“When you two were-“ A very reluctant Febby was saying.

“That’s impossible. Belinda would have told me something like that. If your cousin is anything like you…which seems to be the obvious case.” Stephen added under his breath. “I think she mistook Belinda for someone else.”

“I don’t know,” Febby said. “Maybe. But why don’t you ask Belinda yourself?”

“Hey man, I don’t think that that’s such a good idea.” Damian said, getting up from thebed to stand next to him. “And if it turns out to be the truth, what are you going to do? I know you man….”

“Mwansa isn’t going to like that.” Febby reminded him.

“But I can’t just sit here and pretend as if I didn’t hear anything.” Stephen argued. “If there’s any truth to what you said, then there must be a reasonable explanation which means Belinda owes me an explanation. I’m going to see her right now.”

“No Steve!” Both Febby and Damian said at once as Damian tried to stop him by the door but Stephen pushed his hand aside and stormed out of the room.

“Aren’t you going to stop him?” Febby asked her boyfriend who was just standing there aimlessly.

“And after I stop him?” Damian asked. “You know Steve very well, he never changes his mind once it’s made up.”

“Oh am so dead.” Febby lamented as thoughts of what Mwansa was going to do to her played through her mind. She had just blown open a can of worms she had no means whatsoever of containing.
Stephen remembered Belinda’s timetable so well and he knew that she had no classes that day, meaning, if she was not in the library studying, she was at home with her family.

“Where are you?” Was the first question he asked the moment Belinda picked up his call.

“At home. Steve?” Belinda checked the name on her screen and put the phone back to her ear.

“Come outside the gate in thirty minutes. I’m on my way.” He said.

“What? You mean…hello?” Belinda hear the line cut before she could finish talking and checked the screen again. Stephen had indeed cut the line.

“Who was that?” Joseph had stopped watching whatever was showing on the History Channel and was looking at his daughter with suspicious interest.

“It’s nobody dad.” Belinda answered absent-mindedly, her mind playing all the possibilities behind Steve’s unexpected call and desperate tone. Completely oblivious to her father, Belinda stood up and went to her bedroom where she called her sister.

“Steve just called.” Belinda said.

“Haven’t you guys been chatting on and off lately?” Alicia asked. She was aware of her sister’s feelings towards her ex-boyfriend. Despite everything the two of them had been through, it appeared Belinda could not erase him from her heart.

“Yes, via text, on WhatsApp.” Belinda replied. “But he has never called me before! This is the first time. What do you think he wants to talk about sis? My heart is racing right now. I can’t think straight.”

Alicia laughed. “Relax Linda.” She said. “Maybe he just missed you, or there’s something related to school he wants to talk to you about. Or maybe, he had a fight with his girlfriend and just wants to vent to someone familiar.”

“So how should I act around him?” Belinda asked.

“Normal.” Alicia chuckled. “Just be yourself. I’m sure everything will be just fine. Relax. I gotto go sis, I think someone is looking for me. I’ll call you back.”

The moment she was done with the call, Belinda went outside to wait for Stephen who appeared twenty minutes later.

Without getting out of the car, he reached over and open the passenger door for her. “Get in.” He said to her.

Belinda looked confused but she still walked over to the car. “Where are we going?” She asked through the window. “Is everything okay? You look like-“

“There’s something you and I need to talk about and my natural guess is that you wouldn’t want us talking about it here.” He’s emphasis on the two words immediately alerted Belinda of exactly what he was there to talk about…and why he appeared so distraught. Without saying a word, she silently got into the car and Stephen drove off.

“Is it true what I heard?” Stephen asked the moment he found somewhere safe and private to park.

Belinda could not look at him, instead she kept her gaze lowered. “I don’t understand-“

“At first I thought it was just some big misunderstanding.” Stephen said. “But I saw the look in your eyes back there and it confirmed everything. I think I would feel much more insulted if you decided to keep me in the dark any further.”

Immediately, tears started pouring from Belinda’s eyes.

Stephen took that as confirmation of his worst fears. “My gosh Linda!” he banged his hand against the steering wheel.

“I didn’t know what else to do!” She cried.

“But abortion Linda?”

“I know.”

“Couldn’t you have at least-“

“How could I Steve!?” Belinda sobbed. “You changed so fast and I was still struggling when I discovered I was up. I did the only thing I thought was the best solution. Of course I regret it now….I was desperate, and foolish. I didn’t think. It all happened so fast.”

“My gosh Belinda…gosh.” He kept hitting the steering wheel. “You could have just told me.”

“What do you think you would have done Steve?” She asked. “You were suddenly all holy and you didn’t want to have anything to do with me. You made me feel like I was the devil himself…like you were afraid I would taint you with my evil ways or something.”

“C’mon Linda.” Ste[hen said.

“You know am saying the truth. If I came to you and told you I was pregnant, you would have just thought I was trying to tie you down…and my pride wouldn’t let me have you look at me like that.”

“But abortion sure? That’s one sin on top of a sin.” He said.

“See already? I can feel the judgement in your voice.” She said.

“It’s not that.” Stephen relaxed his tone. “I’m just saying that maybe if we had put our heads together, we could have avoided making a second mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I am as guilty of this as you are.

“If anything, I am the greater sinner here. I should have never out you in such a position in the first place…. To think that you went through all that alone…my God. I feel like my head is going to explode.”

“I’m so sorry Steve.” Belinda cried.

“I can’t believe am being such a jerk.” Stephen said, lifting up his head to look at her. “Come here….” He pull her closer to him and wrapped his arms around her. “I am so sorry Linda. Please forgive me for being such a jerk.”

Belinda could feel him pushing back the tears. “You don’t have to apologize,” she said. “You have the right to be upset.”

“No, not that.” Stephen quickly corrected her. “I’m sorry for not being there for you…for not loving you right and for disrespecting you as a woman. I should have protected you instead of hurting you like that.”

Belinda was at a loss for words, his comforting words catching her by surprise. She had expected him to make her feel ashamed and judged but his reaction was the complete opposite.

“Let’s get married.” Stephen said, still holding her in his arms.

Belinda leapt out of his embrace and starred at him. “What did you just say?”

“I said let’s get married.” He repeared.

“Are you kidding me? Why would you ask me such a thing?”

“What’s wrong with me asking you to marry me? I love you, I have never stopped loving you.”

“I don’t want you marrying me out of guilt.” Belinda said. “There’s no different between this and a man asking a girl he’s impregnated to marry him. It’s got nothing to do with love. I refuse to be some form of responsibility to you Steve, you don’t owe me anything.”

Stephen laughed. “Did you even hear what I said?” he asked. “I said I never stopped loving you silly.”

Belinda gaped at him. “What?”

“I am still in-love with you Belinda. My proposal has nothing to do with whatever sense of responsibility you are thinking about. I would have asked to marry you in future…only that this development has quickened things.”

“But you have a girlfriend.”

“I already broke up with Mwansa but she has refused to accept reality. I have already made my feelings known to her…maybe in due time she will accept things and move on.”

“Why did you break up with her?” Belinda asked.

“I can’t go into details but we fought all the time and she just couldn’t seem to trust me, no matter how much I tried. I even seen enemies get along well than she and I ever did. I realised I was grasping at straws after bumping into you at Aunt Mary’s place.

“I was like a mad man after that. I couldn’t stop thinking about you. You looked different, more beautiful…and very mature. There was no trace of the wild girl I used to pass out with or smoke weed behind the club with. I got curious about you…like I was meeting you for the very first time.”

“Steve-“ It was all Belinda could say in that moment.

“Don’t get me wrong, I loved Mwansa…but as you must know, sometimes you need more than love to make a relationship work.”

“I know that very well.” Belinda said. “Which is why am wondering why you would want us to get back together…let alone marry.”

“We were two very wrong people together back then and we had fun dating…so, how about we try doing things the right way this time around? We have both changed, a lot during the past months. I can’t see myself spending the rest of my life with anyone else but you.”

“What about our families?” Belinda asked. “We are already related through Buseko. Won’t that-“

“All am hearing is you thinking up all sorts of excuses why we can’t work. Can you leave me to deal with such trivialities?”

“This is all too sudden Steve….”

“I know.” He said. “But we are going to make this work Linda, I promise you.”
The hospital was buzzing with activity as Alicia took the lift down to the lobby. The message from the intercom said someone was looking for her downstairs so she kept wondering during the ride down who the unexpected guest could be. Only her father and Belinda had ever visited her at work since she started interning there and they always called before coming. More so, she was on the phone with Belinda when the announcement came through.

When the lift finally came to a stop and the doors opened, Alicia stepped out and was immediately accosted by a woman with a face she had seen many times before in Kondwani’s office.

The woman pulled her to the side, away from everyone’s eyes. “You must be Alicia right?” She asked, her eyes beaming with hope.

It was Mrs Chileshe, Kondwani’s mother.

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Kondwani’s Debt of Love – Part 14

Kondwani found Chilufya waiting for him in his living room.

“Finally,” she said the moment he appeared at the door. “What took you so long? You said you were on your way.”

Kondwani laid his bag on the sofa and went straight to the upright fridge in the living room to get a bottle of water to drink. Chilufya was right behind him, watching restlessly as he gulped down the contents of the bottle and followed him back into the living room where he went to plop himself on the sofa.

Chikufya sat next to him, her fully bulged eyes fixed on him and her lips ready to go.

“I said I was just leaving the hospital. I didn’t say I was already on the way.” Kondwani said.

“Isn’t that the same thing?”

“No, there’s a huge difference.”

“I didn’t come here to argue semantics with you bro, we have a problem on our hands.”

Kondwani raised his eyebrow. “Problem on our hands? This can only be about Mwansa or Gift. What did they do?”

“It’s Mwansa.” Chilifya said. “I don’t even know where to start. This is so messed up.”

“You can start at the beginning.” Kondwani said sarcastically and worn himself a glacial stare from his sister.

“Remember that accident lady, Alicia?” Chilifya asked.

“I work with her.” Kondwani said. “How can I forget her?”

“You know that she has a sister right?”

“Yes, step sister to be precise. I can’t remember her name. What about her? Don’t tell me you are here to try and talk me into doing something crazy for them are you?”

“Her name’s Belinda. Your baby sister Mwansa is dating Belinda’s ex-boyfriend.”

“So?” Kondwani asked. “Is there a law against that? Unless he’s seeing her at the same time as the other girl then there’s a problem.”

“What if that guy is related to the man that was killed in the accident?”

Kondwani gawked at her. “What do you mean related?”

“First cousins, his name is Stephen Malambo and-“

“How serious is that relationship?” Kondwani asked.

“Serious enough for Mwansa of all people to be considering marriage.” Chilufya replied.

Kondwani stood up and started pacing around the living room. “How can this be? What are the odds of something this ridiculous happening?”

“My thoughts exactly.” Chilufy said. “My blood froze when I realized the connection. What’s going to happen to Mwansa? She’s really fallen head over heels for this guy. To make matters worse, Nic…I mean the mother to the guy that died is the one sponsoring Stephen to school so she’s more of a mother than aunt to him. What’s going to happen to Mwansa when the truth comes out?”

“What truth?” Kondwani asked. “That Mary woman took the money that was offered to her so our family doesn’t owe her anything. And if you, me and mum keep our mouths shut, no one else will get to know the truth. I say Mwansa should date whoever she likes, enemy or not, that’s all up to her.”

“How can you say that?”

“What?” Kondwani quipped. “I am so sick and tired of that accident following us around every turn we make in life. No one set out that night planning to kill anybody. It was an accident, an accident Chilu.”

“Don’t get mad at me! Why are you getting upset with me?” Chilufya sulked.

“I’m sorry,” Kondwani said, coming to sit down next to her. “It’s just that this thing, sometimes I wish I could wake up and find that it was just a bad dream. I can’t move on with my life when am being confronted by it every single day.”

“Is this about the nurse?” Chilufya asked. “I’ve never heard you sound so defeated before. Did something happen at the hospital?”

“I need a drink.” Kondwani said and got up to walk to the fridge. “Want one?” He asked as he took out a bottle of Heineken and held the fridge open waiting for her response.

“You know very well I don’t drink.” She said.

Kondwani closed the fridge. “I guess some things really never change.” He went back to sit down, this time he took the sofa facing his sister. “How long has Mwansa being seeing this boy?”

“Don’t change the topic Kondwani.” Chilfya said. “What happened between you and the nurse?”

“Nothing happened.”

“You might as well talk to me about it. I know you don’t have any real friends you can talk to about such things.”

“Who told you I don’t have friends? I have plenty.”

“You mean the ones that like you for your money or the ones that you do business with?” Chilufya asked.

“Always a smart ass.” Kondwani said.

Chilufya laughed. “I took after you so it’s not my fault. Are her lips full, wide, thin or round?”

“Full. Wait, what?”

Chilufya laughed. “You are in-love with her aren’t you?”

“What are you talking about?” Kondwani shifted uncomfortably in the seat. “You just surprised me.”

“Exactly my point,” Chilufya said. “You think about her even when you don’t want to right? That’s called love.”

“Or attraction.” Kondwani argued.

“So you admit you are attracted to her.”

“She is a very beautiful woman…once you get to know her. But there’s nothing very outstanding about her, apart from her intelligence of course. She’s book smart, not street smart. Sometimes I hate her naivety and sometimes I find it attractive. She acts so bold with me, always answers back but when a real situation presents itself and she has to speak out, she disappears into her shell. She is so frustrating. ”

“Do you hear yourself?” Chilufya said. “I wish you could see the way you look when you talk about her. I think you and Mwansa are in the same boat that’s why you got all worked up when you heard about her situation.”

“I am not in-love with Alicia.” Kondwani insisted. “Unlike the Kabwe’s, I can’t help but feel guilt every time I look at her. I wish there was something I could do for her once and for all that would take away all the guilt but-“

“Doesn’t she like you? It’s hard for me to imagine a woman out there that’s not attracted to you. Didn’t she say she was in-love with you?”

“She did but then she said that’s not equivalent to her wanting to go out with me. The woman is a lot of work. Everything with her is a struggle.”

“And you are frustrated.”

“Of course am frustrated.”

“But if you are not in-love with her, then why are you frustrated?” Chilufya asked.

Kondwani chuckled. “You are on a roll today little sister.”

Chilufya laughed triumphantly. “I always am. What do you think is the one thing that she wants in life now that she has her son back?”

“A man.” Kondwani answered right away.

“And what do you desire the most right now?” She asked.

“Her, Alicia. I want her so bad sometimes I feel like am about to lose my mind. There, I said it.”

“See, it wasn’t that hard.” Chilufya said.

“Easy for you. I only want her physically, not emotionally or spiritually…whatever she might like, a real troublesome craving that refuses to go away. I have all these convictions in my head about what not to do with her but every time I see her, it’s like I lose my senses and I end up doing something stupid. I know very well that pursuing a relationship with her would end very badly for the both of us, especially her but-“

“But what?” Chilufya asked.

“I feel like if I don’t have her, am going to go crazy.” He said. Just then, they heard someone punch keys into his security system by the door and they both sat up.

“Are you expecting someone?” Chilufya asked.

“No.” He said.

“It can’t be Gwen right?” Chilufya said. “I thought you changed your password-“

The door opened and in walked their mother carrying two baskets of well packaged lunchboxes in both hands.

“Give me that.” Kondwani grabbed the food baskets from her and put them on the table. “What’s all this?”

“It’s food.” Claudia Chileshe said, sitting down next to her daughter. “You will know what’s inside once you open the lunch tins. What are you doing here Chilu? Even you Wani, aren’t you supposed to be at work?”

“So you still came here knowing full well that you wouldn’t find me? Who even gave you the code to my house?” Kondwani asked.

“I heard Chilu talking to you on the phone the day you changed your password and I wrote it down as well.” Claudia said. “You always give her the password and keep it from the rest of us.”

“That’s because she is the only person I trust in this world.” Kondwani said, sitting back down after putting the food in the fridge. “I forgot, some juice?” He asked his mother.

“Water, just give me water.” She answered.

Kondwani was about to stand up to go back to the freezer but Chilufya stopped him. “I’ll get it for her,” she offered.

“Just look at her,” Claudia said looking at her daughter. “She looks more at home here than she does in her own mother’s house.” Claudia said. “Now you Wani,” She turned to her son. “Are you saying that you don’t trust your own mother?”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you.” He said. “I just wouldn’t be comfortable knowing you have access to my house. I am a grown man mum and I have…you know…. I just need my privacy.”

“So who is this girl that’s going to make you go crazy if you don’t have her?” Claudia asked her son.

With a glass of water in hand, Chilufya starred at her mother in shock from behind her. “How did you-“ She started to ask.

“I heard voices coming from inside and I stopped to listen for a little bit. I came in the moment I recognized your voices.”

There was fear in Kondwani’s eyes when he asked; “How long had you been standing here?”

“Just about thirty seconds. How can I fail to recognize my own children’s voices. So who’s this girl that has my son’s heart?”

Chilufya came around and handed her the water but her eyes were on Kondwani, wondering what the hell he was going to tell his mother. She had the same look in her eyes as Kondwani did when he heard that their mother had been listening at the door.

“She’s no different than the usual mum.” Kondwani said dismissively. “You should have called me to let me know you would be coming.”

“Do I really need to make an appointment with my son before I can come over?”

“That’s not what I said. Anyway, how are you?”

“Don’t be clever Kondwani.” Claudia said. “Something in your eyes tells me that there’s more to this girl than you are letting on and I think your sister here knows something about it.”

Kondwani stood up. “I told you, it’s no one important.” He said. “Thank you for the food. I wish I could stay and chat with you guys but I have a lot of work to do upstairs.”

“Yes mum.” Chilufya quickly got up and started helping her mother to her feet. “I only came to see him because I needed his help with something relating to work. We should leave him to work now.”

“Why are the two of you acting so suspicious?” Claudia asked, looking from one child to the other.

“Stop thinking crazy thoughts, let’s go.” Chilufya said and started leading her towards the door.

“I’ll bring the lunch tins home when am done.” Kondwani said. Thanks for the food mum.”

Claudia stopped and looked at her son. “When are you going to stop avoiding me?” She asked.

Kondwani appeared confused. “Avoiding you?”

“I know you think I haven’t noticed just because you pass through home every now and then but a mother knows when her own child is avoiding her. Ever since that day…that rainy day years ago, you have never looked me in the eye.”

Chilufya who had her hands resting on her mother’s shoulders dropped them immediately and looked at her brother.

“Mum, what are you going on about?” Kondwani walked over to her, put his arm around her and started walking her out of the house. “I have no reason to avoid you, I have just been very busy. It’s not like you don’t know about it.”

Outside the house, Mrs Chileshe came to a stop and looked at her son in the eyes, taking his hand in hers. “You are not keeping any secrets from me are you? You would tell me if something was wrong right?”

“Yes mother, I would but right now there’s nothing so don’t worry about unnecessary things.” Kondwani said.

“Are you lonely?” His mother asked.

Chilufya laughed and Kondwani gasped in disbelief. “What?” He asked. “Why would you even think that?”

“Mrs Katongo, our old neighbour has a niece who will be coming to Lusaka next week from Namibia. She was studying economics at Unam and just graduated-“

“And why are you telling me about this?” Kondwani asked.

“I saw a picture of her on her graduation, a very beautiful girl. Should I set you up on a date with her?” Claudia asked.

“No!” Kondwani shouted. “Why would you do something like that? Do I look like someone who would have trouble getting his own dates?”

“I am starting to think that I will die without ever seeing my grandchildren from you Kondwani. You keep-“

“Mum, I really can’t have this conversation with you today.” Kondwani said. “I need to go back in and do some work. Both of you, drive carefully.”
If Chilufya thought they had escaped their mother’s curiosity, she was wrong. That night her mother came to her room and refused to leave until she spilled the beans on Kondwani’s love life.

“Your brother tells you everything,” Claudia said. “I know that you know something. I just want to know who the woman is that’s made him like that.”

“Made him what way mum?” Chilufya feigned ignorance.

“Who is Alicia?” Claudia asked.

Chilufya’s jaw dropped. “Where did you hear that name from?”

“I heard more than I let on.” She said, a proud smirk on her face.

Chilufya finally sat up straight on the bed. “What exactly did you hear mother?”

“I came when you were asking him what he desires the most and he mentioned her name. He sounded like he really likes her so why doesn’t he want to pursue her?”

“He has his reasons I guess. Look mum, I think only Wani can give you the answers you seek, when he’s ready. Right now he’s going through a lot at work, his research, managing the hospital and dealing with his ex-father in-law. Give him a break for now, please.”

Claudia got up from the bed. She knew when she was fighting a losing battle. If there was anyone among her children capable of holding her tongue firmly, it was Chilufya. No matter how much pressure she put on her, there was no way she was going to betray the trust of her beloved brother. If she wanted to find out the truth, she would have to go digging for the truth on her own.
* * *

Three weeks had passed since Alicia got Buseko back and in those three weeks Henrietta her mother had gone out of her way to make the boy feel at home in her house. The effort she was putting in was too much that it sometimes made everyone around her uncomfortable, especially Alicia. Henrietta had decorated the boy’s room with the latest of décor ideas suitable for boys his age and bought a whole new wardrobe for him. When Alicia saw the determination in her mother, she wasn’t sure how to react. She felt both pain and joy seeing the two of them together and seeing how much of her time her mother was sacrificing to tend to the boy.

One evening after an endless shift at work and after going through her usual push and pull with Kondwani, Alicia came home and found her mother sewing an outfit for Buseko on the machine she had bought when they were younger because she wanted to tailor-make her youngest daughter’s outfits for her ballet classes, the very classes that Alicia was not allowed to attend because they were too expensive and they couldn’t afford to pay for the both of them.

Alicia’s eyes welled up in tears as she looked at her mother’s happy back humming her favourite tune as she sewed.

“What are you doing?” Alicia was standing by the door of the project room, a room they used for all sorts of activities and she could see from the shape of the fabric under the machine that the pair of trousers was for someone of Buseko’s age. All the years Alicia had spent existing under the shadow of her step-sister came flooding down her memory. Even though she loved Belinda to pieces, there were still certain things, which even though where not her fault made Alicia want to resent her baby sister.

Henrietta paused and looked at her daughter with a nervous smile on her face. There was something about the look in Alicia’s eyes every time she looked at her that made her freeze up in fear. She didn’t need to ask to know exactly what her daughter felt about her.

“I thought I could make Buseko something. I was doing some cleaning up and I found this machine-“

“Why are you doing all this?” Alicia asked sternly.

“What do you mean?” Henrietta sat up straight.

Alicia entered the room, leaving the door open. “Do you think that doing all this will change the things you did to me?” She asked her mother.

Henrietta nervously stood up from her chair. “Alicia-“

“Why are you doing all this?” Alicia cried. “Tell me because I don’t understand how it’s so easy for you to do this now when you couldn’t get yourself to do it years ago.”

“Alicia-“ Henrietta always seemed to find herself at a loss for words whenever her daughter confronted her in such a direct manner. Could there ever be anything she would say that would excuse all the sins she had committed against her?

“Is it because now you feel safe that dad won’t leave you because he’s stayed with you all these years?”

“I just wanted to make Buseko something nice I saw on tv the other day. If you don’t like it, I’ll stop.”

Alicia dropped her handbag on the floor in hunger. “Don’t talk to me in that tone! Why do you make me sound like am the bad guy here? I see you every day running about like a headless chicken ever since Buseko came and I get so pissed.

“Why should I feel so dirty…so mad upon seeing my own mother dot on her grandson? Why do I feel like this? What was so hard about you doing these things for me ten years ago? My have you turned me into the bad guy in this house?” Alicia sobbed.

“I know that I made a lot of mistakes with you my daughter-“

“Don’t call me that! I am not your daughter! I have always wondered if I was truly your biological daughter.”

“Alicia,” Joseph Daka entered the room, Belinda closely following her behind. “Don’t talk to your mother like that.”

No dad, let me talk to her how ever I want today.” Alicia said. “I have kept quiet for so long I feel like I am going to lose my mind.”

Belinda went to stand next to her sister and put her hand over her shoulder. “Alicia, you look very upset right now. I don’t know what happened but how about you and mum talk when you’ve calmed down?”

Alicia turned on her sister. “You too are on her side right? Everyone in this house is on her side. I am always the villain,”

“You know that’s not true Alicia.” Henrietta said, tears welling up in her eyes now.

“I have always been the third wheel in this family! If you had a way you would have given me up just so you could protect your lovely new family.”

“Alicia.” Joseph sent her a warning shot.

“It’s okay honey,” Henrietta said. “Let her talk. She has every right to be angry.”

“It’s that tone, I hate that pretentious tone of yours!”

When her father’s slap came, Alicia did not see it coming because she had shut her eyes for a few seconds.

“Honey!” Henrietta grabbed her husband’s arm. “What have you done?”

Alicia touched her cheek and glared at her father in shock, tears streaming down her eyes while Belinda watched with wide open eyes from the side. Alicia picked up her handbag from the floor and stormed out of the room.

“Why did you slap her!?” Belinda asked her father, her voice shaking from fighting off the urge to cry.

“She was being disrespectful to her mother.” Joseph said. “Can’t she see that her mother is trying very hard to make things up to her?”

“Don’t you know why she’s like that today?” Belinda asked.

The moment Belinda asked the question, realization dawned on Henrietta. “Oh no….” she said, her hand covering her mouth.

“What is it?” Joseph asked.

“It’s her birthday today.” Henrietta said.

“Wait, isn’t it supposed to be a few days from now? Don’t the two of you share a birthday?” Joseph asked his youngest daughter.

“Don’t you know?” Belinda gave her father a blank look.

“Alicia’s birthday is actually on the 15th but I moved it to 18th because I wanted to avoid the hustle of preparing for two birthdays when hers and Belinda were so close to each other.”

Joseph couldn’t hide the shock. “Since when did you decide that and how come I wasn’t aware of it all these years?”

“I had asked her to keep it a secret because I didn’t want her to burden you.” Henrietta explained. “I knew that you would have wanted her to celebrate her birthday on her own but we weren’t doing so well back then and we needed to save on-“

“Did I just hear you use the word burden?” Joseph asked. “No wonder that child is this bitter. Why didn’t you tell me the truth all these years!? Dear heaven what have I done?” He ran out to find Alicia but she was neither in her room or anywhere else in the house.

“Her phone is off.” Belinda informed her parents in the living room.

“Have you called any of her friends?” Her father asked.

“Yes, they all said they are not with her.” Belinda said.

Henrietta dropped into the couch, her hand over her forehead.

“And why didn’t you tell me that your sister had a different birthday? Did you like sharing your birthday that much?” Joseph turned on his daughter.

“I also only found out three years ago, by accident.” Belinda said. She had asked me to photocopy her NRC and I saw the date. I asked her about it and she made me promise not to tell you because it’s something that mum wanted to keep a secret.”

Joseph glared at his wife. “Why honey?” he asked her.

“I don’t know,” Henrietta answered. “I was so desperate back then I made some dumb decisions and never thought about how they affected her. She never complained back then so I thought she was okay with it. I really don’t know what I was thinking.”

Turning to his daughter; “Where does she go when she wants to be alone?” Joseph asked.

“Kafue mostly but this time?” Belinda answered. “It’s very late and I’ve seen your car still parked outside meaning she went on foot.”

“What if she never comes back?” Henrietta cried.

“She left Buseko sleeping upstairs so she’s definitely coming back.” Belinda said. “I think she just needs some alone.”

Just as Alicia was dropped off by the cab outside Kondwani’s house, another vehicle came to park next to them; a white Range Rover with a private number plate. The girl looked about twenty-four, tall, slender and of a very light complexion. She had a gigantic mass of synthetic afro hair on her head, black knee high boots on a white mini-skirt with a matching white crop top.

As the cab driver drove away and Alicia remained standing with the strange girl, she couldn’t help feeling more desperate and foolish in her predicament. She still had tears in her eyes and all over her face from bawling her eyes out on the drive there and she was wearing the same clothes she had been sleeping on for the past two days after working three straight shifts at the hospital. She looked every part of her feelings.

Kondwani had heard the cars and had come out to check who had come to visit unannounced. He gawked at the two women in front of his house and wasn’t quite sure what to say in that surprising situation.

“Alicia?” His mouth managed to form the words.

“Hi Kondwani!” The thinly clad girl excitedly greeted Kondwani and ran to give him a hug.

“Did the two of you come together?” Kondwani asked, quickly peeling the girl from his body. His eyes had not left Alicia who was looking like she could will the ground to open up and swallow her.

“No, I don’t know her.” The girl said. “Is she someone you know?”

Finally, Kondwani turned to the girl. “You must be Mary-Ann right?” He asked.

“I look exactly as in the pictures I sent you right?” The female quipped. “You don’t look so bad yourself.” She added, scanning him from head to toe. “I asked Aunt Claudia for your address and I thought I could surprise you a little-“

“Listen, Mary-Ann, I appreciate that you came all the way but as you can see,” he was turning away from her to go to Alicia as he spoke. “I already have plans with the very distraught woman behind you. She happens to be my girlfriend and I need to take care of her asap.”

“You have a girlfriend?” Mary-Ann asked, giving Alicia a nefarious eye. “Your mother told me that-“

“My mother doesn’t know everything about me so I hope that you will take this as official notification and cancel out whatever stuff you thought would happen between us.” And he left her standing there and went to where Alicia was standing.

As if he could read her mind, he stood in front of her with arms stretched wide and she went straight into them, wrapping her arms around him very tightly as if to make up for all the days she had restrained herself.

Kondwani was dying to pass a funny comment about the situation but when he heard her sobbing against him, he held her tightly and said nothing.

By the time he looked up, Mary-Ann had already left.

“Hey,” Kondwani said to Alicia after a while. “Are you okay?” he was searching her face.

“Is there someone else in the house” Alicia asked.

“Huh?” Kondwani said.

“Why haven’t you invited me in yet?”

Kondwani laughed. “Oh, my bad.” He said, took her hand and led her into the house.

“I’m sleeping here today.” Alicia announced, quickly making herself comfortable on the sofa.

“I feel like I should pinch myself just to confirm whether this is real or a dream.” Kondwani said. “What are you doing here Alicia?”

“Am I not welcome here?” She asked. “Fine, then I’ll leave.” She got up to go but Kondwani quickly stood in front of her.

“What happened?” He asked.

“Don’t you have a spare bedroom here?” Alicia asked.

“Spare bedroom?” He asked. “I thought you were aiming for my bedroom. I think am getting mixed signals here.”

“Don’t even think about it.” Alicia warned. “It was either here or Doctor Kayombo’s place since Carolyn is out of town and I don’t have any friends I can go to at such-“

“Are you and me that close Alicia?” Kondwani asked. “You’ve spent the past few weeks avoiding me like a plague and now you are here in my house, crying and telling me you are sleeping here. You are confusing me.”

“I know.” Alicia said. “I know very well I shouldn’t be here but I am too angry to go back home. I am trying my best to pretend as if me being here is all cool but am dying inside because am too embarrassed.”

“Did something happen at home?”

“I don’t wanna talk about it.”

Kondwani sat down facing her. “Then what should we talk about? I am dying of curiosity right now because you’ve surprised me.”

“Who was that kid I met outside?” Alicia asked.

“What kid? Oh, you mean Mary-Ann. She is someone my mother is considering to turn into my wife.”

“I see.” Alicia said, almost in a whisper.

“What’s that?” Kondwani asked. “Jealous?” he laughed.

“Isn’t she too young for you?” she asked.

“Don’t you know that the younger they are, the more joy they bring to men?” He said teasingly.

Alicia angrily stood up. “Show me to the bedroom. I need to sleep.”

Kondwani walked over to her. “Are you upset?” He asked.

“Why would I be upset?” Alicia asked and turned her back to him. “Is it this way?” She pointed up the stairs.

Kondwani brought himself in front of her. “Why did you come here Alicia?”

“I came to forget.” She answered.

“To forget?” Kondwani asked. “How?”

“When am with you, I tend to forget everything, including my pride and morals. So I came here to forget about everything.” She said.

“Is it working so far, you being here?”

“No.”

“And do you know why?”

“Because you keep asking me questions about it.”

“Wrong. Because you are doing it on your own.”

And without warning, he went straight for her lips.

An Untimely Love – Part 6

The next time Alex and Anton met was at the school bar where their crew usually hang after their Friday classes. The two of them had not spoken to each other since their last encounter at the house they shared.

Alex had completely absorbed herself in her school work trying to catch up and meet all her final year requirements before graduation. She had kept her phone off and stayed away from any kind of social media in a bid to keep her sanity.

“What’s up with you?” Anton asked her the moment he joined them at the far end of the bar. “I have been trying to get in touch with you all week. Are you still mad at me?” He grabbed a bottle of beer that had already been ordered for him and took a long sip from it. “Ah,” he heaved a sigh of relief, “I really needed this. This week has been dead crazy.” He said, finally taking a seat next to Alex.

“At least you managed to attend all your classes this week, strangely.” George remarked. The two friends collaborated on most of their school projects. George never complained of Anton’s lack of commitment when it came to attending lectures as he was always willing to cover that part for him knowing he would also require the use of his genius when the time came.

“Shut up George,” Anton told his buddy. “But serious Lexie,” he went back to her. “Are you still mad at me because of what happened last time?”

Alex forced a smile. “why would I be mad at you?”

“You know, about me not telling you about Cathy moving in and all…. I wanted to tell you, but….”

“It’s fine Tony, don’t worry about it,” she said nonchalantly. “It’s your house too after all, you can do whatever you want…I totally don’t mind.”

The two girls Cassey and Paulina were looking at her searchingly the whole time she was talking. The boys might have bought her lies but the girls could see right through it. All week they had tried to get her to talk about it but she had avoided the topic at all cost.

“Oh thank God!” Anton shouted, happy that there was no beef between them. The last person he wanted to upset was Alex. His life somehow always seemed out of sync whenever the two of them fought or had a misunderstanding. He gulped down the rest of the contents of his bottle and grabbed another one. ”I really thought you were never going to speak to me ever again after the way you left.” He said. “Cathy also felt bad when she saw your reaction and offered to come by so the two of you can get to know each other as adults.”

“Are you kidding me?” Cassey was the first to protest. “I thought we promised that this Friday hangout is just for the six of us; no boyfriend or girlfriend is allowed to join.”

“I think it’s cool to make an exception this once,” Duncan said, winning himself scornful stares from the other four. “Cathy is really a freak you girls are gonna love her!” He added excitedly, thinking about the last time the guys had danced and drunk themselves into stupors all through the night thanks to Cathy who kept challenging then and urging them on. She was the first of Anton’s many flames to get along so well and freely with them.

Cassey gave him a contemptious look and shaking her head she said, “You really have no idea, do you?”

“What do you mean by that?” Duncan innocently asked.

Being the most insightful among the men in the group, George pleaded the fifth. “I’m not going to be part of that discussion,” he said, turning his whole body the other way to sip on his beer and watch the game on the screen above.

Anton had this blank expression on his face, obviously without a clue of what was going on.

“I’m going to the bathroom for a bit.” Alex excused herself quickly and walked away. Cassey tried to go after her but Paulina placed a hand on her and motioned for her to sit back down.

The two girls shared a knowing look and turned to Anton. “Tsk tsk tsk,” they said at once.

“Why are you girls giving me that look, seriously?” Anton turned from the girls to the boys. Duncan simply shrugged his shoulders while George got up from his chair, walked over to where Anton was, gave him a smack in the back of head and went back to his seat, his attention back on the tele.

“Ouch!” Anton protested the treatment he had just received whilst nursing the affected area with his hand. “What did I do?” His pleading eyes searched the girls for an answer but Cassey and Paulina just looked at him wryly.

“Just drink your beer silly,” Paulina said, handing him a new bottle.

Anton remained in the dark as to what was going on but he suspected his friends reaction had something to do with the amount of time he seemed to be spending with his new girlfriend instead of them.

He had desperately tried to contact Alex during the week to make it up to her but he could not reach her through her cell or social media. A couple of times he had approached her just after her classes but she had been so busy they could barely hold a serious conversation in the kind of hurry she was in every time.

In the evenings when he thought she would be home, he had called the land line several times but Ben the butler kept telling him she was not around. His father had not been of much help either, refusing to take his son’s calls after instructing him to get his act together and not make life difficult for Alex.

There was no doubt whose side his father was on. Anton was aware of the soft spot that Alex occupied in his father’s heart and he could not blame him for it. There was something about Alex that made any man she encountered want to protect her. It was for that very reason he had vowed to be the big brother she had always hoped to have and to protect her so that she never feels abandoned ever again.

Anton understood very well the implication of Cathy’s presence in his life and the kind of strain it would put on his friendship with Alex. But it was the first time he had ever felt such strong emotions for any girl and he hoped he would never have to be in a position where he had to choose between the two girls; one was his best friend while the other was the woman he hoped to spend the rest of his life with. He hoped that his father would always be by Alex’s side just in case he ever found himself in a position where he had to make a choice.

Alone in the bathroom, Alex leaned over the sink and washed her face. She paused to look at her reflection in the mirror, her hands pressed down on the sink. Despite the water covering her face, there was no missing the teary filled eyes. Using one hand, she tried wiping her eyes but the desperate image of the girl starring back at her from the mirror made her feel even more worse and she succumbed to the tears.

When a group of girls busted into the ladies room, Alex rushed into one of the stalls to get some privacy and save herself some embarrassment. She had been sitting in there for some minutes when she looked around and realised the pathetic situation she was in. For the first time in her life, Alex took a chance and reached out to someone.

She took out her phone and speed dialled the second contact in her phone. “Please,” she said through the phone as she tried to stifle her sobs. She could still hear the girls tending to their looks on the other side. “Can you get me out of here?” She begged the person on the other end of the line.

A few minutes later, Alex joined her group looking all sobered up with a strained smile on her face. “I am sorry guys,” she announced, picking up her coat and handbag from the chair. “I have to go,” she said, speaking slowly and steady to keep her shaky voice from betraying her.

“Why so early?” A concerned Anton asked.

Alex managed a little grin before responding. “Because of the time I took off school, I have a lot of work to catch up on. You guys go ahead and have a good time, don’t mind me. I will see you later, night.” She had already turned her back and was leaving but Paulina ran after her and caught up at the door.

Placing her hands on Alex’s shoulders, Paulina asked her friend, “Are you okay sweetie?” There was no way her little act bravery was going to fool her. Up close, there was no missing the huge bags under her eyes. It was obvious she had been crying.

“I just need to be alone,” Alex sounded desperate. “For now, I beg you, please don’t ask me anything, okay?”

Paulina searched her friend’s face for a moment before nodding and letting her go. “Call me if you are ready to talk, okay? Promise?”

“Um,” Alex replied. “I Promise.” She said, opened the door and walked out into the cool air.

It was already dark outside but Alex braved herself and started off for home. She had just walked a short distance when a car pulled over beside her. It was Oliver.

He was ready to get out of the car to get to her but Alex ran over to the car the moment she recognized it and was already opening the front passenger door before Oliver could fully get out.

“I am sorry for calling you out like this.” Alex apologized the moment she was seated. “For some strange reason you are the only person I could think of whom I could vent on freely. I hope I didn’t disturb you.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Oliver lied. He had been going through the script for the new movie he would be directing in a few weeks when she called him. “You can vent now, take it all out. I am all yours tonight.” He encouraged her.

“I thought I was okay,” Alex started. “I told myself that as long as I try to see things from his point of view and try to understand…I thought,” she paused to steady her shaky voice. “I thought…I thought that I wouldn’t feel the pain anymore. I was wrong.” She sobbed.

“Did something happen?” Oliver asked.

“I feel so stupid,” she said. “I don’t know why the tears just keep coming. I have never been the crying type you know. I am stronger than this.”

“I know,” Oliver placed his hand on her lap, gently patting her. “You just need time to adjust to everything. Did Anton bring his girlfriend to your hangout?”

“He said she will be coming. I just lost it after hearing that. What’s worse is that he really has no clue….” Alex battled to keep it together but something about Oliver’s presence made her feel right at home and free to pour out the hurt that was clogging her up inside.

Oliver parked the car to the side of the road. “Why don’t you just rest for a while,” he said, tilting her seat back to get her comfortable.

He then turned on the stereo and some relaxing music came on. “You can get some sleep while I drive us to a cool place for some fresh air.”

“Don’t you have those weird people following you around tonight?” Alex asked.

Oliver laughed. “I always have weird people following me around Alex. If I keep thinking about them every time I want to do something, then my life will come to an end. Besides, who out there doesn’t know about our relationship? Relax…get some sleep.”

Without saying a word in return, Alex closed her eyes and allowed the music to be the only thing on her mind. Before she knew it, she was fast asleep.

Oliver smiled as he looked over at her whilst driving. He found it amazing how her character would change from that of a child in one minute to that of an adult in the next. There were times when she would act or say something way beyond her years and Oliver would worry about whether her experiences in life had forced her to grow up faster than kids her age. But then there were times like these, when all she could do instead of rebelling or acting out was cry for days on end.

Oliver drove them to the lake side on the other side of the mansion.

It was the place he came to whenever he needed to do some thinking. Alex was the second woman after his wife that Oliver had brought along to his secret hiding place. He loved the cool breeze and the sound of the waves from the small lake.
Oliver parked and stepped out of the vehicle, he walked over to Alex’s side, opened her door to allow the cool air to wash over her “Alex,” he whispered her name. She shifted slightly but her eyes remained closed. “We are here.” He said, gently shaking her to force her awake. Alex mumbled some words under her breath with her eyes still closed and turned to her side, away from Oliver and continued sleeping.

Oliver laughed. She must really be drink. He thought as he moved over her to unbuckle her from the other side. Alex shifted slightly and when she felt him over her and quickly turned and opened her eyes only to find her face a few inches away from Oliver’s.

With eyes wide open, Alex froze and the tears that had accumulated in her eyes right before she fell asleep came pouring out. Not sure what to do, Oliver too froze in his position, one hand touching the buckle of the seatbelt.

“Your eyes….” Alex said absent-mindedly looking into Oliver’s eyes. “They are so blue.”

As if suddenly struck by lightning, Oliver raised his head away from her only to hit himself hard against the roof of the car.

“Ouch.” He cried, touching his head and carefully leading his upper body out of the car.

Alex found the whole thing amusing. “Are you alright?” She asked, her voice full of laugher despite the tears on her face.

“I think that sometimes you forget that I am a man young lady.” Oliver complained, still nursing his head.

“I think so too.” Alex said as she unbuckled herself and stepped out. “The lake?” She asked when she saw the water in front of them.

“Yes, I thought you could use some fresh air.” Oliver said.

Alex’s smile did not reach her eyes when she thanked him and turned her back from the water to look at him instead. Oliver did not miss the sadness in her eyes.

“I always knew you were a good looking man but I have never bothered to look at you closely…until now.” She said, locking her gaze with Oliver’s now shifty eyes.

“How I wish I had fallen for you instead of that stupid son of yours.” Alex said.

Oliver Laughed. “I am old enough to be your father.” He said and quickly moved to lean his back against the car, his gaze back on the water ahead.

Alex closed the distance between them, her back still to the water and she stopped right in front of him. Oliver was blinking hard now, not sure what to do or what to think of Alex’s strange behaviour.

“They say that love is not limited by age, so who knows?” Alex said. “Besides, you look nothing like any of the father’s to girls my age out there. You and Anton look more like brothers instead of father and son.”

“That’s cause Sophia and I had him very young. But wait, are you trying to pick me up Alex?” He was looking daringly at her.

Alex blushed profusely before him, her hands moving quickly to cover her shocked face. “Oh my God I’ve been found out!” She said, and laughing, she turned and ran towards the lake before Oliver could react.

Seeing that he had just been played, Oliver laughed. “This kid,” he said, shaking his head and running after her. “Wait right there!” He shouted but Alex was already gone, her arms waving wildly in the air and laughing all the way into the way.

“What?” Oliver stopped and gaped at her in disbelief. “That water is freezing cold! Alex!”

As if possessed, Alex swam deeper into the water, paying no heed to Oliver’s protests.

Oliver watched in awe as Alex’s body disappeared under the water and when two minutes passed and she wasn’t coming up, panic gripped him. For some strange reason, his mind replayed the moment right before she turned to run. Where those tears he had seen in her eyes?

“Dammit!” Oliver cussed and ran after her into the lake. How could he have forgotten Alex’s water phobia? From the time he knew her, Alex steered clear of swimming pools and other such large bodies of water like a plague. Wasn’t it only recently when he discovered the reason behind her fear? How could he have forgotten that? Oliver chastised himself as he breathlessly searched for Alex’s body deep into the water.

What was he thinking bringing her here? Oliver spotted her limp body a few meters away and he swam like a mad man towards her. Seconds later, he came up with her in his arms. He laid her flat on the cold ground and desperately did everything possible to resuscitate her.

When Alex finally came to, Oliver dropped on his back next to her, laughing like the mad man he turned into. Realizing that he had left Alex on the ground, he quickly got up and slowly lifted her up into a seating position. He got up and then helped her to her feet as well.

“Let’s take you inside the car and warm you up quickly.” Oliver said as he led her towards the car.

“Why did you jump in?” Alex asked him.

“Let’s not even talk about what you just tried to do right now Alex.” Oliver said sternly. “I am the one that made the mistake of bringing you hear so I won’t even get mad at you. I am mad at myself for being such a fool. How could I-“

Alex yanked herself away from him. “You should have just left me in there!” She cried. “Why did you come after me? Why bother saving me when you will end up abandoning me just like everyone else!? Why did you stop me? Why?”

Oliver could do nothing but put his arms around her and let her cry on his shoulder. Tell me,” he said. “What should I do to make you believe that I am never going to leave your side? Tell me and I will do it.”

For a moment, Alex stopped crying. She leaned slightly away from him to look at his face and said; “Don’t ever get married.” She said.

“What?” Oliver asked bemusedly.

“See, you laugh.” She tried to pull herself away form him but Oliver pulled her back into his arms.

“I have never had plans of remarrying Alex.” He said. “I thought you knew that already.”

This time, Alex did not pull away from him immediately, but she did after a minute. “People change, like Anton.” She said. “He also thought he might never fall in-love but look at him now.

“When another woman enters your life Mr C, you too will forget about me and I will completely have no family in this world. I know that I am being selfish when I ask something like this of you…but I can’t help it.” She was about to start crying again.

“C’mon,” Oliver took her by the hand. “Let’s get you warm.”
An hour later, Alex was lying in bed after a warm bath and Oliver came to check on her before retiring to bed.

“How are you feeling now?” He asked, sitting down on the bed to closely examine her. “I can some colour is back now.”

“I am sorry I did what I did back there.” Alex said. “I don’t know what came over me there but….I must have stopped thinking for a moment and just gave in to some strange voice in me. You know very well that I have never been a suicidal person, right?” She was searching Oliver’s face to read the truth about what he thought of her in his eyes and not from the words he was going to say.

Alex saw both fear and disappointment in his eyes.

“You are disappointed in me aren’t you?” She asked him.

“I am not disappointed in you Alex.” Oliver lied. “It’s just that-“

“It’s just that what?” She asked.

“I don’t know…I really don’t know.” He said.

Minutes went by and the two of them just sat there, each lost in his or her own thoughts.

“Just promise me that you will never try something like that again.” Oliver said as he looked her in the eye. “Promise me Alex.”

“I promise.” Alex said.

“What you did back there,” Oliver paused and shut his eyes. “You have no idea how much you scared me out there.” When he opened his eyes again, there were tears welled up in them.

“Mr C.” Alex said, a little taken aback by Oliver’s show of emotion. When he was not acting in front of a camera, Oliver was a man that guarded his emotions very well.

Oliver got up and announced his goodnight. He needed to make an escape before he lost it in front of her. He was very upset with her but he knew he could not lash out at her right then when her emotions were still raw. There was no excuse for what she just tried to do and he wished for nothing but to never have a repeat of such a situation.

“It’s late now. You should sleep.” He said with his back half turned to her. “Goodnight.” He turned and walked towards the door.

Out of nowhere, he felt Alex’s arms around him from behind. Oliver froze.

“If you won’t marry any other woman, then marry me.” Alex said to his back.

Oliver quickly turned to look at her, incredulity written all over his face. “What did you just say?”

Alex starred squarely at him, her eyes filled with tears. “Just marry me, please.” She begged him.

“Alex,” Oliver reached out to feel her temperature on her forehead. “I think you are coming up with a fever.” He said resolutely. “I will go downstairs and bring you some-“

“I am not saying this because I am sick.” She forced him to come to a stop just as he was about to open the door. She moved to stand in front of him, he back pressed against the door due to lack of space.

“I know you think that I don’t know what am talking about but I have thought about it long and hard.” She said.

“You thought about it long and hard, when?” Oliver asked.

“When I was in the shower.” She answered.

Oliver scoffed. “If you are not sick, then I want to believe that you are still drunk. Where is all this coming from Alex?”

“I have already lost Alex Mr Oliver; I don’t want to lose you as well.” Alex cried. “I know you think that you will never marry again but a woman will come along and move your heart and you won’t see reason any more.

“So instead of waiting for such a time to come, why don’t you just marry me? I promise you that I will love you enough for the both of us and I will be a good wife. I promise.”

“Alex,” Oliver placed his hands on her shoulders. “Are you in-love with me?”

There was no response on Alex’s end for a few seconds and then, “No.” she answered. “I am not yet in-love with you but I am sure I will once I put my mind to it. I already like you and you are a very handsome man Mr C so-“

“Just listen to yourself.” Oliver said, dropping his hands from her shoulders resignedly. “I understand very well what your fears are but this…this is madness Alex.”

“I thought you said that you would do anything I asked. It was just a few minutes ago and you are already changing your mind. See what I mean.”

Oliver laughed, but not in a humour kind of sense…but in a ‘Lord how did I get myself into this mess’ kind of sense.

“Why are you giving up on yourself so quickly?” Oliver asked her. “You are so young and yet somehow you’ve made yourself believe that there’s no possibility of you finding a man that will love you like crazy and you will also fall in-love with him the same way.

“Just because Anton broke your heart doesn’t mean that’s how all men will turn out. I love you Alex, but only as a daughter and I believe your feelings for me are in those lines as well. Don’t ruin your life but settling for less simply because you are afraid of the unknown future. For your information, no one out there knows what the future holds.

“We all take risks and work and pray that it all turns out fine. Just because you’ve had a tougher life than most of us doesn’t mean you are different. We all love and fear the same way. Don’t let the past and the wrongs committed against you dictate how you live the rest of your life. If anything, why not show those people that have treated you thus that you are stronger and better than them. Make your parents, or whoever it was that gave birth to you regret giving you up. Show them exactly what you are made of, don’t settle for less.”

“I don’t think me getting married to you would be settling for less.” Alex countered. “You are extremely handsome, super rich, talented, and you are a very kind man. Why would anyone think that I settled for less?”

“They might all believe that you did well but deep down your heart, you will know that you settled. Marriage is way more than just what’s on display for the world to see. The bottom line is; do you love the person you are married to?”

“I think I can fall in-love with you easily.” She said.

“And that’s not the right answer to give.” Oliver said. “You might love the person you think I am but that’s very different from actually being in-love with me. I want you to think long and hard…no wait, In fact, I don’t want you to think about this anymore.

“Just focus on finishing yours studies for now and forget about Anton and that Cathy girl, forget also all those crazy ideas you have about us. It’s never gonna happen because I love you too much to let you go down a path you will live to regret the rest of your life. Sleep tight and sweet dreams.” He kissed her on the forehead and quickly left the room.

Just two minutes after entering his room, Oliver had taken off his t-shirt and was about to take off his pair of trousers to get ready for bed when Alex came bursting through the door.

“Ale-“

Before he could finish, Alex was standing on her toes, she put her arms around his neck and pulled him towards her, her lips landing squarely on his as she forced her tongue deep inside him.

Oliver struggled to peel her off of him for a while as her determination proved stronger than expected. Fortunately, she was no match for his level of determination to protect her even from herself and so he managed to separate them in time.

He held her by the side of her arms, lifted her from the floor and threw her on the bed. He proceeded to push her back onto the bed and he positioned himself on top of her, his eyes burning sulphur and titanium.

“Is this what you want?” He thundered from on top of her, his naked broad chest exposed openly to her. She could see his heart beating fast and the drops of sweat on his forehead made him appear even more menacing than she had ever imagined him to be.

The moment he saw the fear in her eyes, Oliver removed himself from above her. He managed to drive his point home. “Go back to your room.” He commanded her.

Like an obedient child, Alex picked herself up from the bed and made for the door.

“This thing,” Oliver said to her. “It never happened.”

Alex stopped by the door.

“Tonight you were simply drunk and high on a fever.” Oliver said. “You will make me breakfast in the morning as usual, we will eat together, chat, and laugh, you will go to school and I will go for work as usual. Tonight never happened, is that clear?”

With tears streaming down her eyes, Alex said; “Yes.” And she opened the door and left.

Alone in his room, Oliver rushed to lock the door behind her and he dropped to the floor in helplessness, his hand placed over his fast beating heart.

“Does this child think I’m made of marble?” He asked himself. “Jesus Christ, almost gave me a heart attack.”

When morning came, Alex did exactly as Oliver had instructed her. She was back to her usual chirpier self so much that Oliver begun to question his own sanity and his experience in acting. Alex was too natural about her activities that there was no awkwardness at all.

Even though he was the one that had given the instruction, he had not for the life of him forgotten about the events of the previous night. In fact, he had not slept a wink at all because the feel of Alex’s lips against his could not leave him be.

He had tried to convince himself that the only reason he was thinking about it was because it had been too long a dame time since he had been physical with a woman but seeing how well Alex had gotten over everything, he started to question whether there could be more to his failure to get over a random kiss from a girl he had considered his daughter all those years.

Am I a pervert? Oliver asked himself as he watched Alex clear away the table after breakfast and humming a song whose tune he could not catch no matter how hard he tried to listen.

“Just leave those for Bernard to take care of.” Oliver said. “If you continue at this pace, you will put both the chef and the butler out of employment.

Alex laughed. “I guess you are right.” She said. “I never really thought about it like that.”

“Do you want me to drop you off at school or you will use your car?” Oliver asked.

“I’ll use my car.” She said. “I have a few errands I need to run during the day so I need to be very much mobile. You can drop me off tomorrow. I have to go now.” She rushed into the kitchen to get her backpack.

“Be careful on the road,” Oliver said and followed her into the lounge as she rushed to the door.

When she got to the door, Alex paused and starred for a very long time at the wet shoes they had left by the door in the night.

“Bernard should have gotten rid of those by now.” Oliver said from where he was standing. “Just where is that man when you need him?”

“These are my shoes, isn’t it?” Alex pointed to the white and yellow sneakers she had been wearing the previous day.

Oliver laughed. “Of course they are. Are they that dirty that you can’t recognize them?”

“How did they get like this?” Alex had turned and was now looking at him for answers. “Did it rain last night? Did we get soaked? How? Didn’t you pick me up in your car from the club last night?”

“Alex, what are you talking about?” Oliver asked. “It didn’t rain-“ And then he stopped himself from speaking any further, great fear sweeping over him so suddenly.

No way. Oliver debated within himself. “Alex,” he walked to where she was and stood in front of her. “What do you remember about last night, I mean, after I picked you up from the club?”

“You picked me up, I cried over Anton, then I slept and I found myself in bed this morning. Did you change my clothes?” She was smiling at him mischievously. “You do know I am not a little girl anymore right?”

“Alex-“ Oliver wanted to shake her up and tell her that she didn’t need to pretend to forget to such extremes but something about her eyes and her whole demeanour told him that she wasn’t pretending at all. From the moment they met that morning, there had not been any form of pretence or acting on her part. He should have known, Alex was a terrible actor. He once tried to memorize lines with her and she had sucked all the way. Alex could not act to save her soul from eternal damnation.

In a strange turn of events, he had been the one doing all the acting all through their interaction.

“I have to go Mr C, am going to be late for class!” She jumped to plant a kiss on his cheek and just like that she bolted out of the house.

“No way.” Oliver remained talking to himself. “No way,” he kept repeating as he walked across the room to make a call to Dr Sanjay.

“I need to see you, right now.” He said.

An Untimely Love – Part 5

(This one is for those who said they couldn’t access the story on the first website it was posted.) Enjoy!

“The Russell’s only have one child, Cathy,” Gilbert reported once he was seated. “She is indeed the child that gone missing and was found all those years ago. Their records indicate that they had adopted a child after the disappearance of their daughter but that they had to return the child because they were no longer financially able to take care of two children after their daughter returned.”

“Is that the only reason they gave?” Oliver asked, looking very disappointed.

“On paper yes, but not on word of mouth,” Gilbert said. “We interviewed most of their neighbours from that first house where the incident took place as well as the second home they moved to after…. Their close friends are aware of some traumatic incident Cathy underwent other than her disappearance which required her to have therapy most of her childhood but none of them know the actual details. It’s like the Russell’s really wanted to keep that part of their life connected to Alex a secret.”

“Did that daughter of theirs approach my son deliberately?” Oliver asked.

“I highly doubt that,” Gilbert replied. “I do not even think that family had any idea who Alex was despite her public association with your family until that day the professor met her on campus. And besides, your son and the girl had met before Alex’s encounter with the professor. If she had not reacted the way she did that day, they probably would have never found out.”

“Except now they do.” Oliver countered.

Gilbert nodded, sadly. “Chances are that they will try to refute any claims Alex has against them in a bit to get in your good graces since their daughter appears to be …obsessed…if I may say so… about your son.”

During his investigations, Gilbert couldn’t help noticing the frequency with which Cathy updating her social media feeds with everything concerning her relationship with the young heir.

Oliver was up on his feet again. With his hands in his pockets, he went to stand by the window, staring blankly at the landscaper busy at work and oblivious to the fact that he now had an audience.

“If that girl is now aware of her connection to Alex and us,” Oliver was saying, his back to Gilbert. “Shouldn’t she have left Anton knowing his relationship with Alex?”

Gilbert laughed, “You are assuming that the family took responsibility for whatever happened that fateful day day…what if you are wrong?” he asked. “If according to what you told me last time, they really did what your girl claimed they did, then they aren’t the type to admit to anyone that they committed such an atrocious crime against a child. That girl Cathy leaving your son would mean she feels some sort of guilt towards Alex but as you can see, she is still very much in the picture and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere soon.”

Oliver pondered the PI’s words for a while. He had to admit the old man might be right. No matter how this story was to turn out, there was only going to be one person getting hurt; Alex. He wasn’t going to let that happen.

“Did you find out anything that might help corroborate Alex’s story?” Oliver had turned around, his demeanour reeked of new conviction. There has to be something or someone out there that would help in finding out the story. He didn’t care what anybody else said, everything that Alex told him was the truth. She had no reason to lie to him or anyone. She could have easily made excuses for her actions back then and would still have gotten away with it because she was just a kid desperate to find herself a place to call home. And most importantly, she would never lie to him.

“We have a very promising lead,” Gilbert said proudly. “I sent Felix to look into it and am hoping to hear from him soon.”

“What kind of lead is it?” Oliver asked, very interested.

“In the old neighbourhood where they lived, we found out that one of the neighbours had relocated not long after the Russell’s did. His name is Donald Wartburg. He should have been twenty-five at that time. He was known in the neighbourhood as a perv because he loved walking around with his camera everywhere he went and got pictures of things that interested him…most of these things where women and children. One of the neighbours believes he had a telescope and god knows what else in his house which he used to spy on people mostly instead of stars. The neighbour thinks that Donald might have witnessed whatever went on in the Russell household.”

“And his whereabouts?” Oliver asked.

“That’s what we are still working on. One place seemed more promising and that’s where Felix is as we speak.”

The moment Gilbert had left, Oliver had rushed to Alex’s bedroom. He found her still working on her research paper.

“Come over here,” Oliver patted the space next to him on Alex’s bed. “There’s something important I need to talk to you about.”

Alex was perturbed. “You are scaring me Mr C.,” she had stopped whatever she was doing and was now looking at Oliver from across the room.

Oliver patted the spot again and Alex moved to sit next to him. “Did something happen?” she anxiously asked. “You don’t look so good Mr Cooper,” she stated. “Did something happen to Anton?”

For a moment, all that Oliver could do was stare at her, hoping and praying that she could not read any of the fears on his mind. Then he took her hand into his. “Alex,” he said softly.

Alex blinked, three times.

“I am going to tell you something,” Oliver continued, “you might not like it…but promise me that you will trust me to take care of everything for you? Can you promise me that?” he was looking her in the eyes.

Alex nodded profusely, completely scared by now and not trusting that her voice was still functioning.

Oliver could feel her whole body tense through her hand. Did she really need to know the truth this time? He silently tried to talk himself out of it.

“It’s about your sister…I mean, the daughter to the first couple that had adopted you….”

“What about them…what about her?” Alex asked, her voice shaking.

“What would you say if I told you that she is the same Cathy that is dating Anton?” Oliver shut his eyes for a second before opening them to watch her reaction, his whole face twisting in anticipation of the worst.

Alex pulled her hand away from his grasp and stood up from the bed. She did not know the full name of the girl Anton was dating but he had mentioned she was Cathy. How can she forget? She had only recently discovered why she had initially hated hearing the name. at first she had thought it was only jealous but now….

“You can’t mean that they are actually the same person can you? Maybe it’s just the name….” Alex desperately hoped Oliver would set her heart at ease and tell her what she wanted to hear.

Oliver got up and tried to approach her but Alex held her hand out to keep him at bay. “Don’t,” she warned.  “Please don’t,” she repeated. “Just tell me it’s just the name.”

Oliver was shaking his head, feeling sorry he couldn’t tell her what she wanted to hear. “I am so sorry Lex….”

The tears started pouring the moment she heard his apologetic tone. Why was this happening to her?

She was crying and almost falling to the floor when Oliver jumped in to hold her up. He helped her up and held her in his arms while she continued crying. For close to five minutes he let her cry in his arms and Oliver couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so helpless.

But then suddenly, she yanked herself out of the embrace and threw him a very puzzled look. “Does Anton know?” she asked. “Does he know who she is?” She asked again.

Oliver was not sure what Anton knew and did not know. As far as he knew he had not spoken to him about Alex’s recovered memory and neither had Alex.

“Only if she told him herself,” Oliver answered honestly. “I also only found about the connection a few minutes ago.”

“I need to know,” Alex grabbed her bag and brushed past Oliver as she ran out of the room.

“Where are you going Alex?” Oliver ran after her down the stairs. “Alex!” he called out but she never stopped.

She was running so fast that she tripped on the last three stairs and fell to the floor. She tried to get up immediately but the instant pain warned her of some internal damage the fall must have caused.

“Are you alright?” Oliver was by her side in no time, frantically checking her legs for any possible damages. “I think you twisted it a bit,” he said as he visually examined her ankle. “Can you get up?”

Alex nodded, “I think I can now,” she said, holding on to him as she tried to get up.

“C’mon, let’s get to the hospital and….”

“I am going to my place to see Anton Mr C.,” Alex tried to wiggle herself free from Oliver but he wasn’t going to let her go that easily. “You know very well how stubborn I am so don’t even try to talk me out of it, it wont work,” she insisted.

“Okay, how about I get you some ice in the meantime so you can nurse it while I drive you there…and then we can pass through the hospital from there?” Oliver tried to negotiate.

“Yeah,” Alex answered, non-committedly. “Let’s go,” she started to lead the way, limping with one hand holding on to Oliver for support.

There was silence in the car during the ride to Anton and Alex’s residence, each consumed in their own thoughts.
The presence of Anton’s car and another one immediately informed them that he had a guest. It was not a familiar car to either of them and they immediately knew which guest was keeping him company.

“Please don’t come in Mr C.,” Alex told Oliver who was almost getting out of the car.

Oliver paused, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to go in there alone Alex,” he tried to reason with her.

“Let me take care of this one on my own,” Alex pleaded. “You have done more than enough to shield me from getting hurt…I think this is a kind of pain I have to confront myself.”

“But your leg…” Oliver started to say.

“It feels a lot better now after the ice. I can make it to the house don’t worry.”

Without waiting for a response, she limped away towards the house.

Oliver watched her from a distance, debating whether to follow her or not.

Alex slowly opened the door and had to pause when she heard laughter coming from the lounge. She didn’t need to see it to know exactly what was going on. She entered and quietly closed the door behind her.

“Stop it…don’t do that babe….” Alex could see the back of a blonde haired woman from the top of the couch. She could hear Anton’s voice but couldn’t see him, she figured he was exactly where she wanted him to be, under her.

“hmm hmmm,” Alex deliberately cleared her throat to get their attention. The girl was the first one to see her before Anton’s head popped up the sofa.

“Alex,” Anton said, quickly moving his guest from his laps and getting up on his feet. “What are you doing here?” he said as he walked over to where she was.  “What happened?” HE was looking at her feet, her weight resting on one leg. “Did you hurt yourself?” he was down on his knees trying to check her leg but Alex surprised him when she pulled away from him.

“I knew this day would eventually come,” said the blonde in her tight little bum shorts and a braless, small but loose top hanging from her boobs.  “Karla McKenzie…or is it Alex? I hear that’s what they call you these days?” by the time she had finished talking, she was standing a few feet away from Alex, giving her a sweeping look from head to toe.

Alex took in the image of the conniving little girl she had met all those years ago. Despite the years, nothing much seemed to have changed on the part of her nemesis. She still had the same bob haircut and the same attitude except all that was packaged in a grown woman this time around.

“Cathy,” Anton shot her a warning look. It was all Alex needed to know what she had come all the way to find out.

Upon hearing the name, Alex turned from Cathy to Anton, “you knew?” she asked, tears welling up in her eyes.

“About what happened between you guys when you were kids?” Anton asked. “Of course I know, Cathy already told me.” he said nonchalantly.

Alex could barely hide the shock. “You knew?” she repeated. “And you didn’t feel the need to talk to me about it?”

“Hey, c’mon Lexie,” he didn’t look like someone who was on the same page as her. Alex wasn’t sure what she found more upsetting, his nonchalant demeanour or the fact that he had found out something about her and never bothered to talk to her about it. “Why you getting all serious? That stuff happened when you were little. Cathy said her family has already forgiven you and moved on.”

“Forgiven me?” Alex looked from Anton to Cathy. “Forgiven me?” She was addressing Cathy this time. “Your family forgave me, for what?” Alex asked.

Cathy simply shrugged her shoulders. “For what you tried to do to me,” she replied impudently.

“Just what exactly did she tell you I did that requires forgiveness, from her?” Alex asked Anton, her hands crossed over her chest.

“Are you sure you wanna talk about this right now?” Anton asked.

“Yes,” Alex answered defiantly.

During the whole exchange, Cathy had moved to Anton’s side and put her arm in his with a smirk playing on her lips as she looked Alex down from head to toe.

Anton had to look at Cathy before responding as if to seek her permission before uttering anything concerning the incident under discussion. Cathy simply shrugged her shoulders to give him a go-ahead. Clearly, she didn’t care much about it anymore.

“Cathy told me about how you…about how you guys…you know?” Anton stuttered.

“About how I what?” Alex insisted on asking. She needed to know exactly what he had been told even though it already looked like the odds weren’t in her favour either way.

Anton brushed his hand against his hair in frustration, afraid to say the words knowing how much his friend would be hurt from being reminded of such a cruel past.

“The drowning….” Anton finally said. “I heard about how you tried to drown Cathy when you were kids. I don’t want you to feel bad about it Lex….”

“Stop it!” Anton was speaking so fast that Alex had to shout to get him to stop taking. “Stop it,” Alex repeated, waving her hand in the air in surrender. “I don’t need to hear any more.”

“Alex….” Anton tried to go to her but Cathy held him back.

Alex never missed the small but loud move by Cathy. With tears in her eyes, she looked at their hands held together so tightly. She was the odd one out. Even if she tried to reason with Anton, would he even listen to her?”

“Did you ever think that her version of events might not be what actually happened?” Alex asked, letting the tears fall without interruption.
“What are you trying to say Alex?” Anton asked.

Alex could see no such thoughts had crossed his mind in the first place. She had never felt so disappointed in anyone than in Anton at that particular moment.

“It’s fine,” Alex said dismissingly. Really, what was the point in trying? “I only asked because I wanted to know where we stood as friends…I can see it’s already too late.” She wiped the tears from her face with both hands before turning around to go.

This time, Anton removed Cathy’s hold on his arm using his free hand before running to block Alex from opening the door.

Alex stopped and looked at her best friend from childhood. With so much tears welling up in her eyes, she could barely recognize him.

“What do you mean it’s too late?” Anton asked, trying to hold her hand but Alex flinched, forcing him to withdraw his hands. “I know that stuff happened a long time ago,” he said. “I am sure you had your own reasons for doing what you did but I know for a fact you are not like that anymore.”

Alex could only scoff, not believing her own ears.

“I know it might be a little awkward for the two of you in the beginning,” Anton continued, “but since Cathy doesn’t seem to mind so much, we can all just get along and forget about the past. What do you think?” he was looking from Alex to Cathy seeking both women’s sign of approval but getting none in return.

Alex sighed heavily. “I just have one more question to ask and I will leave,” she addressed Anton.

“Um,” Anton replied.

“After Cathy told you about our relationship, why didn’t you come to me to hear my side as well? After all, we have been friends for a much longer time than your relationship with her.”

“I didn’t think Cathy or her mother had any reason to lie to me,” Anton answered.

“Her mother?” Alex asked, surprised.

“Yes,” Anton replied nonchalantly. “I had gone to pick up Cathy from her place and I met her. Even though Cathy doesn’t remember all the details, her mother does. She even asked me to invite you over to their house whenever you have time. The only reason why I didn’t want to tell you about it yet was because of everything that’s been going on lately with you. I thought you needed to get some rest before I could talk to you about all this. I know that my relationship with Cathy would have surprised you…I didn’t want to stress you any further.”

“I see,” Alex muttered. “I have to go now,” and she made a move to open the door before Cathy’s words brought her to a pause;

“I hope we can all get along fine,” she shouted from behind, her hands proudly crossed over her chest. “We will be living together after all.”

Alex turned around and looked at Anton questioningly. “What does she mean?” she asked.

“Oh my, you never told her babe?” Cathy walked over to where a visibly astonished Anton was standing. He could only scratch his head in response.

“I moved in here a few days ago,” Cathy was more than eager to share the news. “You don’t mind, do you?”

It was not so much a question as it was a challenge, Alex observed. “I will see you later,” was all Alex could manage to say in response before opening the door and walking out.

“Did you see the look on her face when I told her the news?” Cathy asked Anton who had his hands in his pockets and feeling a little perturbed by Alex’s behaviour. “She looked like a jilted lover!” Cathy said, looking like she had just unlocked a thousand year old puzzle.

“What do you mean by that?” Anton asked.

Cathy was looking at him and shaking her head in disappointment. “You really have no clue don’t you?” she said. “I told you that she doesn’t just think of you as a friend. I am a woman…I know what goes on in the mind of women and that girl over there is seriously in-love with you.”

“You don’t know her like I do so don’t say such things, okay?” again, he removed her hand and headed upstairs. “I need to lie down for a bit,” he said with his back to her as he approached the stairs.

As he walked away, he missed the triumphant look in Cathy’s eye with her lips pursed tightly.
Outside the door, Alex held on to her knees as gravity threatened to pull her under. She could not move. It was in that position that Oliver looked up from where he had been standing anxiously waiting for her. He quickly ran to her and pulled her up gently, taking her into his arms as she silently sobbed against his lean chest.

“What happened in there Alex?” he was stroking her hair gently. “I should go in there and deal with this boy….” He was almost turning around to open the door when Alex put her arms around his waist to keep him where he was.

“Don’t,” she whispered, her head still buried in his chest.

Knowing his son too well, Oliver could only imagine what must have taken place inside. With those thoughts running through his mind, he drew Alex even closer to him, holding her tightly in his embrace. They remained like that for close to three minutes until Alex calmed down and broke away from him, leading the way back to the car.

Oliver had driven for a couple of minutes when Alex started laughing. She started slowly but gradually developed into full blown hysterics.
Not sure what to do or say, Oliver could only look at her surreptitiously and in bewilderment.

“What did I expect, honestly?” Alex made a 360 degrees turn. She was sombre and resolute in whatever conclusions she had come up with in her head.

“What do you….” Oliver was asking.

“I mean, I always knew at the back of my head that I would never be anything more than a friend to him,” Alex had cut him off. “I just didn’t…I didn’t….” she desperately tried to push back the tears back they came pouring out. “Just drive, don’t stop…don’t even look at me.” She warned Oliver who had almost slowed down to a stop while motioning for him to keep forward.

Oliver removed some tissue from the car and handed them to her, trying hard not to look at her whilst doing so. Alex took the tissue and cleared both her face and nose, pretending to be oblivious to Oliver who had to stifle a chuckle at the level of comfort Alex seemed to be despite his presence. She was the only woman to dare pull off something like that and still get that kind of reaction from him.

A part of Oliver was forced to recognize the possibility that Alex’s behaviour around his son had a lot to do with why he never thought of her as anything more than friends. She was too comfortable around the both of them and treated them like her family. There had never been a time she had actively portrayed any of intimate emotion towards Anton…well, at least not around him. Who knew what happened between them at the house?

“I need to find a place to stay,” Alex said, as if she had read Oliver’s line of thought.

“Did Anton ask you to move out?” Oliver asked, sounding like a man ready to pounce on something.

“Of course he didn’t….”

“Then why would you say something like that?” he asked. “Have you forgotten that the only reason Anton is able to live in that house is because of you?”

“I know,” Alex answered. “Which is why I don’t want you to threaten him into moving back to the mansion. The two of them have been living together since I left. Even though I Anton might be okay with me living there, it’s only because he doesn’t really know the truth. Besides, even if I have to live out on the streets, there is no way I am going to live under the same roof as that girl. You would think that seventeen years is enough to change a person but she is still the same; very smug and thinks the world revolves around her.”

“I also do not expect the two of you to live together and in my house.” Oliver said sternly. “Anton will just have to do as I say and if he doesn’t, he can move out and continue his dating elsewhere. I will not let you move out of that house Alex, never.”

“You see, that’s what I don’t want,” Alex said. “The last thing I need is coming between the two of you. How will people look at me when they find out that I am the reason behind you two fighting?”

“There is no one out there who doesn’t know about Anton’s antics,” Oliver countered. “And there is no way in hell will I let that manipulative girl into my son’s life….”

With her face completely devoid of tears except for her swollen eyes, Alex sat straight up in the passenger seat and turned to look at Oliver. “I also don’t like the fact that Anton is with that girl Mr C.,” she tried to reason with now visibly upset Oliver. “However, if there is something I know about Anton and people around that age in general, it is that the telling them not to do something has the direct opposite effect of the outcome you desire.”

Oliver removed his eyes from the road for a few seconds to look at Alex. “Are you asking me to just seat back and watch my son ruin his life?” Then he looked back to the road ahead, shaking his head.

“Anton is a big boy Mr C. he can take care of himself. He is not as irresponsible as you think him to be. Even when he is doing something wrong, he knows very well at the back of his mind exactly what the repercussions will be. Let’s just…for now…give him the space he needs. Right now even if I tried to tell him my side of the story, he will just push me aside because it is better for him to believe the woman he loves than someone who is just a friend.”

Oliver seemed to have calmed down a bit somewhere in-between Alex’s speech.

“I guess you are right,” he relented. “But only because I trust you and not all that stuff you said about Tony. It’s amazing how you are still able to defend him even in this instance.” He slowly managed a grin.

“I have always been good at accepting certain outcomes,” Alex replied. “Growing up the way I did, I somehow trained my brain to always expect and prepare myself for the worst case scenario. My relationship with you and Oliver has been the longest blessing ever in my life…so I am not surprised that eventually something like this is happening…I somehow knew it was bound to happen, just didn’t think it would take this long.”

“Just so you know, I will always take your side no matter what girl Anton introduces to me,” they both chuckled. “I mean it,” Oliver insisted.

“I have never been Anton’s girl before Mr C.,” Alex corrected him. “I have only been his closest buddy. And now that this has happened, I have to get over him real quick.” She put both her hands over her thighs and moved them up and down as if to comfort herself.

Another awkward silence filled the car for the rest of the way to Oliver’s mansion.

An Untimely Love – Part 4

After Alex was discharged from the hospital, Oliver could not risk taking her out of his sight. He called the dean directly and got two weeks of rest for her. He then instructed Anton to pack some of his and her clothes and move to the mansion. He was not going to rest until he got to the bottom of it all.

That first night after the university incident, Oliver could not get any sleep. He called the two PI’s that had done the initial background check on Alex and asked them for a new favour;

“Look into a drowning incident that happened in the Russel household seventeen years ago. Turn everything upside down and inside out.” He instructed them. “Talk to the neighbours and if they moved, find them. Check for any CCTV footage, black boxes and things like that. One week, you have only one week to do this.”
Early the next morning, Oliver drove to Doctor Sanjay’s house, the doctor in charge of Alex’s therapy since she was thirteen years old. Therapy was something Oliver had sensed Alex needed just after a few interactions with her after their first meeting at the book store. If she was to grow up as a normal child, she needed to have all the damage done to her as a kid completely fixed lest it developed to interfere with her adult life.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit from the world’s most eligible bachelor at this hour of the day?” Doctor Sanjay greeted Oliver at the door.

“Are you going to let me in or should I just start talking from here?” Oliver croaked.

The doctor immediately moved aside. “I see we are in a very good mood this morning,” she said sarcastically as she closed the door behind Oliver.

Oliver showed himself to the living room and offered himself a seat. “Sit,” he told the doctor.

“Oh well, thank you very much. I thought I would have to stand the whole day…in my own house.” The doctor was on a sarcastic roll that morning.

“During the therapy sessions you had with Alex years ago,” Oliver went straight into business. “Did she ever talk about a drowning incident?”

“No,” Doctor Sanjay replied. “I remember Alex’s case very well. She never mentioned anything of that sort. However, Alex has what we psychologists love to call dissociative amnesia. I think I’ve had this conversation with you a hundred times before.”

“Just take me through it again,” Oliver said. “Humour me.”

And the doctor did just that. “Like I mentioned before, Alex’s case is a peculiar one. In as much as I would have loved to simply diagnose her case as repression, I had very little case evidence as well as scientific evidence to satisfy that case. Despite the many efforts I made during therapy to help her try and recover the memories…except for hypnosis of course which you wouldn’t let me perform on her,” Doctor Sanjay added, deliberately throwing shade at Oliver.

“She was still completely blocked.” The good doctor explained. “However, rather than selective dissociative amnesia, the symptoms Alex exhibited indicated she had localized dissociative amnesia. While she could remember most of the things that transpired in the Russell household, she was missing a particular period of time in that house, months at most and she completely has no idea what might have happened during that time frame.

“I had concluded that perhaps a stressor…something from her past could help her recover the memories and after a series of other tests, I was confident she had dissociative amnesia. Afterwards, I tried to look for the parents that had returned her to the orphanage hoping they could help fill in the blanks that might help her to recover but they had disappeared without leaving a single trace behind.”

“Did you ever consider the possible traumas she might have gone through?” Oliver asked.

“Of course I did,” said the doctor. “During our sessions, Alex had mentioned to me that she was afraid of large bodies of water like rivers, lakes, swimming pools, Jacuzzi’s, and even a bath tab filled with water. That is why I suspect that water has a high chance to do with her trauma. Did something happen with Alex?”

Sighing heavily and completely ignoring his question, Oliver asked, “What are the chances of a recovered memory turning out to either be a false memory or a distorted one?”

“Chances are fifty-fifty,” the doctor answered. “Studies are still being conducted to show whether it is possible or not to distinguish false memories from recovered memories and that is where the need for corroborative evidence comes in. You also need to rule out the possibility that such a memory could have been a product of a therapist’s suggestion…perhaps he or she said something that planted an idea on the patients mind…which I never tried to do. ” he added for Oliver’s benefit.

Oliver pondered the doctor’s words. Alex’s memory recall had not been induced by a therapist. It was Professor Saunders that had triggered it and it was definitely not possible for Alex to have come up with such a heavy story. Her fear was real, that he was sure of beyond reasonable doubt. He just needed to get to the bottom of it all and deal with whoever was responsible for inflicting such pain on her.

If the Russell’s were truly responsible for doing that to a child, then there was no telling what they might try to do to her now to keep her from revealing the truth.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, “and how or where can you find this corroborative evidence?” Oliver asked.

“By analysing the credibility of the source of information,” she answered. “You can do that by looking into both the lives of the accuser, if it’s a case of abuse, and that of the accused. There could be witnesses as well if you are lucky, things like police reports, trips to the ER, calls to the emergency services, neighbours, friends, pastors, and so on. Did Alex recover her memories Oliver?” Doctor Sanjay asked again.

“It seems all that money I have been paying you all these years has been worth it doc,” Oliver said. “You were right; the trauma does have something to do with water, a swimming pool to be more specific.”

The doctor sat up, looking very interested. “Did Alex tell you what she remembers?”

Oliver nodded. “She encountered someone yesterday morning that triggered her memory. She ended up fainting, twice, in the process and had to be hospitalized for a couple of hours. That’s why I am here doc.”

Oliver went on to tell Doctor Sanjay what had happened.

“I couldn’t pressure her into telling more,” Oliver later said. “She was so shaken up by the recovery…I was afraid something more terrible might happen to her if I pushed her. That’s why I came to see you. Perhaps it would be better if she was in a more controlled environment.

“I wanted to help her through it all but I just wasn’t sure…I don’t know the right things to say to her in such a situation and I think it would be better if she was able to remember other things that happened prior to the drowning incident.”

Oliver paused to scratch his scalp a bit, knowing very well the things he was about to say might surprise the doctor. “She needs to know, I need to know too…why anyone would do such a thing to her. And that is why… I need you to…to hypnotize her.” He finally managed to say the magic words.

Doctor Sanjay was smiling at Oliver triumphantly. It’s been a long time coming, is what she was thinking. She had always wanted to put Alex under hypnosis to help recover her memory but Oliver had always been against it. She was glad he was the one finally suggesting it.

“So when do we start?” The doctor asked enthusiastically.

***
For the next week that followed, Oliver drove Alex to and from Doctor Sanjay’s hospital. Alex had not yet had the opportunity to inform Anton about what was happening in her life because he was too busy dating and attending classes whenever he remembered.

“So when do you plan on telling Anton about what’s going on?” Oliver had asked her once while he drove them back to his place.

He was no fool, he could tell how desperately Alex wanted her best friend around but it seemed this new girl of his was really taking up all of his time. The girl sure did choose the right time to come into his son’s life. And who the hell was she anyway? He should remember to ask Gilbert or Felix to do some digging for him when he gets home. He thought.

“I don’t want to disturb his studies,” Alex answered, looking down at her hands. “He’s got projects coming up and all….”

“When was the last time you checked your social media or watched television Alex?” Oliver asked.

Alex tried to remember. “It’s been over a week now I think,” she said. “I have had a lot on my mind lately and focusing on my research is the only thing I can do right now to forget about…certain things. However, I won’t lie to you…Anton is one of the reasons I have stayed away from any kind of news.

“I think the girl this time is different. He is serious about her…serious enough to not notice on his own what’s going on with me. Men tend to do that when they fall in-love.” She was smiling nervously, not wanting to look disappointed or heartbroken.

Oliver could only imagine what she must have been going through. She was gaining her memories of the most traumatic event of her life and at the same time losing the person she was in-love with.

Oliver was not sure about whether to applaud or scold Alex for trying so hard to look jovial and act like her usual chirpier self when she was obviously hurting deeply. How long has she silently suffered like this? Where those memories creeping up on her in the night and keeping her from sleeping? Who did she turn to when that happened while Anton was out having a good time?

He reached out and held her hand. It was all he could think of doing in that moment. Despite being a musician, Oliver had never been good with words; even his wife had come to accept that about him. Fortunately, he was always there to take care of the ones he loved.

Alex looked at their locked hands and smiled. She was glad that at least one person was there to hold her hand through it all. “Do you want me to tell you what I have remembered so far?” She asked. She knew he had been dying for days to know what was going on but she also knew he was a man of great self-restraint.

“Only if you are ready to talk about it Alex,” Oliver said. “I don’t want you to feel obliged to….”

Alex gave his hand a little squeeze before letting go. “I know,” she said softly. “I want to tell you.”

Once they were home, Oliver asked all the workers to leave the house for a while. He wanted all the privacy he could get with Alex.

“Did you manage to recover all the memories you had lost or just some of it?” Oliver asked once they were seated in the living room on the second floor.

“I remember most of it, just not all the details.” Alex answered. “After hearing my story, Doctor Sanjay went in search of some of the people I could remember from around that time, including some of the Russell’s friends to corroborate a few things. So, I think I have a pretty good idea of what happened seventeen years.”

When Alex started speaking, Oliver listened intently without interrupting her

“I was five years old when they adopted me.” Alex was saying. “I was excited to finally have a place I could call home and people to call mum and dad.” Alex recalled the feeling of walking into the well-furnished house as if it had happened only yesterday. She remembered the clean paint on the walls, the curved stairs leading to the second storey; she even remembered the smell of fresh bread from the small bakery across the street when she opened the back window of her bedroom.

How many times had she dreamt about living in such a fancy house? Even as she went from room to room touching the walls and feeling everything around, she couldn’t help imagining the possibility of losing it. As she talked, Alex would close and open her eyes at will. One moment she would be right there in the past experiencing everything as it happened and the next she would be looking at Oliver, narrating to him her feelings and whatever was going on in that period in time.

“It was the first time ever that something good was happening to me,” Alex said to Oliver. “But I can remember the fear…you know that thing you get when you’ve had too many bad things happen to you and then suddenly something good happens?” she was looking at Oliver expectantly but he was just staring at her blankly.

“Oh,” Alex murmured. “I forgot for a second who I was talking to.” she laughed.

Oliver shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I have had bad…no, terrible things happen to me before Alex,” he quickly defended himself. “I haven’t always lived a luxurious life and my life certainly hasn’t been pain-free.”

“Oh yeah….” Oliver’s late wife came to Alex’s mind. “Anyway, you know what I meant Mr C.” she said.

Oliver nodded. “I do.” He said.

“Sadly,” Alex went on narrating “No sooner had I resigned myself to living my new life than I was awakened to a harsh reality. I learnt that I had only been brought into the house as a replacement for their child who had been missing for three years. Her name was Cathy…Cathy Russell.

“I had seen from her pictures on almost every wall in the house that she was a very beautiful girl. She was very elegant even for her age unlike the way I looked back then.” Alex smiled bitter-sweetly. “Well,” she added, giving herself a visual scan. “I am still no hottie but I can be as sexy as hell if I chose to. I just happen to have other priorities.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Oliver said. “I think that you are a very attractive woman…not just physically, intellectually too. I happen to find intelligent women more beautiful than any other kind of women.”

Alex’s face flushed red. There was a strange and awkward silence that followed Oliver’s remarks. Alex had never before seen the look that was in Oliver’s eyes as he said the words to her. She was not sure what she was supposed to feel or say. All she knew was that there was a part of her that loved hearing him talk to her like that.

“I can literally see you thinking about what I just said.” Oliver chuckled. “Learn to take a compliment Miss Saunders; it makes a woman even more attractive. Now, you were saying….” He prompted her to continue.

Alex blinked profusely, a little embarrassed by her reaction. Could it be because it was the first time Oliver had actually called her a woman? She had always been his little sunshine and never a woman. She suddenly understood why almost the whole world craved him as the most eligible bachelor they would love to have…even if for just a few hours.

Immediately after that realisation, Alex had to admit to herself that she had never before looked at Oliver as anything more than her best friend’s father, mentor and guardian. He too was a man, a very good looking one at that.

“For the first few months, “Alex quickly tried to clear away her strange thoughts. “Mrs Russell was convinced that I was the daughter she had lost. She wouldn’t let me leave her sight. There were also days when she would hold my hand, or when we were bathing when she would notice my rough skin and scars and hold me so tight in her arms, crying over the abuse I must have gone through while she wasn’t by my side.

“Then again there were also days when she would notice the same things but instead she would push me away, harder, yelling that I was an imposter. I remember thinking that something was wrong with her. Mr Russell thought the same thing sometimes.

“Mr Russel would give her some pills to calm her down. She would sleep and when she woke up the next day, I was her daughter again. These episodes kept happening every now and then for about a year and when the unexpected happened, I was not prepared. None of us in the house were.”

Alex closed her eyes again and took herself back in time. “I answered the doorbell one day and found Cathy on the other side.” She narrated.

Alex could picture a girl slightly taller than her with long blonde hair tied in three pigtails sticking out from all sides of her head. Despite the years, there was no mistaking who she was.

“She had this confused and scared look in her eyes.” Alex recalled. “Mrs Russell was half-way through the stairs coming down from her bedroom when she saw Cathy standing outside by the door. She ran to the door, pushed me out of the way and stood in front of Cathy. I think Cathy immediately recognized her mother because she started sobbing. Mrs Russell collapsed from the shock of it before the hand she was reaching out even touched her daughter.

“It was later discovered that a woman who had lost both her husband and daughter in an accident had ended up taking Cathy while her mother was picking out groceries at the neighbourhood store and had taken her eyes off her daughter for just a few seconds. When the woman’s mother finally located her daughter from where she was hiding, she had recognized Cathy from all the leaflets and television coverage. So she brought Cathy back to her parents.

“My new parents were ecstatic.” Alex opened her eyes and pressed on, tears from the memory soaking her face wet. Oliver reached into his pocket and handed her a handkerchief.

“They finally had their daughter back but then there was me.” Alex cried. “I remember very well staying awake because I was scared someone might come into the bedroom to say they were taking me away. They didn’t have any more use for me. I don’t think Cathy liked me either. Or maybe I was the one that didn’t like her….” Alex thought for a moment as images flashed through her mind.

“I can only remember us fighting, sometimes she is the one crying, sometimes I am the one crying…but most of the times I am alone crying in my room.” She said.

“One day, I am not sure when it actually happened,” Alex continued, “but I remember hearing the Russel’s talking about taking me back to the orphanage but Mr Russell always refused, insisting that it was unfair to do that to me because I was also their child and not a commodity they could just return to the store. Return to the store…” Alex repeated the words and scoffed.

“I remember those words very clearly,” she said. “I might have been a kid but I cried for almost the whole day that day because my feelings were hurt. I didn’t like the feeling that I wasn’t their child like Cathy was.”

“Mrs Russell was not happy of course.” Alex cleared her nose. “Unfortunately, an opportunity finally presented itself to Mrs Russell to finally get rid of me…. I think it was months later after Cathy’s return. I was in the bedroom reading Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I remember because I had read that book so many times but always found it disappointing. Most of the kids my age seemed to love it but I never did, I still don’t. There was something about Snow White that never made sense to me. How can a princess be so dumb?”

Oliver could imagine the puzzled and bemused reaction Alex must have had seventeen years ago because she was looking exactly like that right then.

“I was busy screaming at Snow White not to listen to her evil step mother again when I heard someone screaming from outside.” Alex was saying. “I looked out the window and saw Cathy almost drowning in the pool. I saw Mrs Russell sitting by the pool side.”

Alex closed her eyes again, the memories in her head playing themselves in real time. “At first I thought it was a game they were playing because Mrs Russel didn’t look worried. But then I noticed that she had these huge headsets in her ears with a book lying on her chest. She must have dozed off whilst reading I think. Before running out of the house, I kept banging on the window loudly to get her attention but she still couldn’t hear me.”

She opened her eyes and continued, “I had learnt how to swim from that stream at the orphanage so I trusted my excellent swimming skills. Unfortunately, I had miscalculated my own strength.” Alex said.

“Cathy was way down the water and I didn’t have the strength to pull her out of the pool on my own. And so, with one hand holding on to her to keep her above water, I kept screaming and splashing water at Mrs Russel hoping to wake her up but she was far from where we were and the water getting to her was more like showers. Fortunately, she woke up after a few seconds of my screaming and splashing and immediately jumped into the pool the moment she saw the state her daughter was in. Mrs Russell was desperately giving Cathy mouth-to-mouth and screaming at me to call 911 when Mr Russell came to the pool.

“I was very scared watching the two of them desperately trying to bring Cathy back to life…I thought she was going to die. Then I heard the sirens in the distance and just then Cathy coughed. Once Mrs Russell’s excitement over Cathy’s resuscitation had dulled down a bit, she said something to Cathy and I saw Cathy pointing at me. And then I heard Mr Russell saying, ‘I should have listened to you and gotten rid of her before all this happened.’”

Alex could see the angry face starring hard at her. She had never felt so afraid in her life. As a cold rush went through her veins, she could tell she was in very deep trouble. She just didn’t know why. But she didn’t have long to wait before she found out. Mrs Russell came running at her and before she knew it, she was being hit from left, right and centre.

She was desperately trying to block the hits and screaming for help from Mr Russell, but the man just stood there, holding on to his daughter and shielding her from the damage that her mother was inflicting on her adopted sister.

“The next thing I remember is Mrs Russell dragging me into the pool and forcing me under the water while I begged her incessantly to let me go. All those times when Mrs Russell would abuse me after Cathy’s return, it was Mr Russell that always came to my rescue. On some days, he would secretly take me out for ice-cream and made me promise not to tell anyone.

“He was like the father I had always dreamt of having…but that day…that day he was someone I could not recognize…someone I never wanted to know. He just stood there watching the whole thing and despite my begging and panting, he never lifted a finger to help me. I am still not sure if he is the reason I could not remember anything related to that day or if it was because of the actual drowning incident by his wife. Doctor Sanjay is still trying to work that out with me. I hope I won’t have to spend the rest of my life in therapy,” Alex sighed.

Oliver tentatively put his hand on her. “No you won’t,” he murmured. “You will get better soon…I know you will.” He patted her hand.

Oliver’s show of concern for her reminded her of Anton. Back when they were kids, he was always the one by her side whenever she was crying over the treatment she was receiving from the Saunders’s family or whenever someone tried to bully her at school…he was always the one promising her that things would get better and she always believed him because they did.

As she looked down at Oliver’s strong hand trying to comfort her, she did not notice the tears streaming down her eyes until she saw them drop onto his hand. She quickly removed her hand from his and wiped the tears away.

“I am sorry….” Alex started to say but Oliver surprised her by taking both her hands from her face and holding on to them with one hand. He used his other hand to wipe away her tears instead. The moment her face was clear, he stood up, removed another handkerchief from his back pocket and placed it in her hand. “I always carry these around since I deal with actors 24/7.” He said and turned to leave the room to give her some privacy.

“Thank you,” Alex said out of the blue from behind him, taking Oliver by surprise.

He slowly turned back around. “For what?” he asked.

Instead of words, Alex stood up and put her arms around Oliver, again, catching him by surprise. She was crying, although not loudly, but he could feel it. not sure what to do, he simply hugged her back, tightly.

“From the moment we met,” Alex spoke in a shaky voice. “You have always been there for me Mr C. I know you think of yourself as my guardian…like the father I have never had…but most of the times you are like a big brother. I can talk to you about things I know no daughter out there would dare tell her father. Instead of treating me like some kid you picked off the streets, you’ve always made me feel special, wanted…like I’m part of the family.”

Oliver held her by the shoulders away from him and looking into her eyes he said, “You are part of this family silly,” he assured her. “Besides, your uncanny resemblance to Sophia my wife…late wife,” he quickly corrected himself. “…sometimes makes me believe that we were truly fated to meet…like the daughter she and I never got to have.” He said.

Alex smiled, her arms limply resting on either side of her body with the back slightly tilted back, away from Oliver. If Oliver released her unexpectedly, she was going to fall flat on her back standing like that.

“Maybe you and I should get married so I can become Anton’s mother and drive away all those filthy girls attaching themselves to him.” She was laughing so heartily from the imagination that she did not feel herself tilting further back. Oliver made strengthened his grip and forced her straight on her feet.

He flicked her forehead and let go of her. Smiling, he said, “I can smell the old chirpier Alex from somewhere inside that laughter. Glad to have you back my Sunshine,” he said before heading upstairs to his room.

Alex smiled as she watched his retreating figure. She was grateful to him beyond words. How was she ever going to repay him for his kindness?
Oliver could hear the sound of his bedside phone ringing even before he opened the door.

“Yes,” was his usual telephone greeting.

“We need to talk, in person.” Said a throaty and masculine voice said. It was Gilbert, one of his PI’s.

“I have a lot of work to do Gilbert, why don’t you come through to my home instead?” Oliver suggested. He hadn’t had a lot of work done for the past week because he was too concerned about Alex’s to fully focus on anything. Seeing that she was slowly recovering, he hoped he would get a move on the latest production he was planning on investing in.

Oliver had three major business interests; music, real estate, and very recently he had added movie production to his resume. The first movie he had tried his hand at directing had become a box office hit. Although many people had expected him to excel in the movie industry given his experience in the music industry, Oliver was still taken by surprise when his first movie did so well than he had expected. It was amazing how he was still unfamiliar with the power of his own name as a brand.

It had been three years now since and the offers to direct and produce new movies were too many for Oliver to comprehend. Before he knew it, he had added successful film director and producer to his already long resume.

After retiring as a performer at age thirty, Oliver had fully taken over the music production company he had started when he was twenty-five years old. He had managed to successfully set himself up as the leading music producer in the industry and had a long list of successful clients signed with him. For all those wishing to become musicians, their first choice of producer was always Oliver.
“I think we have a little problem on our hands boss,” Gilbert had finally found his way to Oliver’s mansion. For a man with such a firm and masculine tone of voice, his small and thin stature made everyone that looked at him once look at him a second time…and third. Sitting on the other side of the table in Oliver’s home office upstairs, Gilbert waited for the business mogul to finish typing whatever he was working on.

“And why would we have a little problem my good friend?” Oliver asked the sixty year old PI. Gilbert Matthews was well known and respected in his line of work and had been working for Oliver for more than twenty years. Over the years, Oliver had found the man, together with his assistant Felix Hamilton to be trustworthy and reliable.

Gilbert opened his bag and took out an envelope. He placed it on the table in front of Oliver and the latter proceeded to open it. Inside, he found a bunch of pictures taken of Anton and his latest girlfriend Cathy.

“We did the usual background check on the girl as you instructed, followed her and her family around to know what kind of folks they are….”

“I see you are just as prompt as always,” Oliver said whilst flipping through the images. “I will give it to her, she is very beautiful” Oliver was saying while looking at a picture taken of Cathy alone while she was smiling. “But that’s her only good quality,” he added. “For some strange reason, there is something about her I don’t like…I just can’t put my finger on it.” He was shaking his head, this way and that way as he tried to understand his scepticism.

Oliver flipped through more pictures and paused when he came across one of Cathy with her parents. “I presume these are her parents,” he showed the picture to Gilbert who in return nodded.

“Earlier, you had asked us to investigate Professor Russell,” Gilbert was saying. “At first I didn’t want to make any reports until we found something solid in connection to the drowning incident….”

“Yes, you told me that,” Oliver noted.

“Well, it turns out that that first assignment is directly connected to this one Oliver,” the PI announced.

Oliver looked puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“Those two parents in that photo are Mr and Mrs Russell…and Cathy, who is currently dating your son, is their daughter,”

“That’s absurd,” Oliver scoffed. “How can that be?” He asked dismissively as he quickly flipped through the rest of the photos. He stopped when he found one of Professor Russell standing outside the university hospital. “This can’t be….” He said, more to himself than anyone else.

“Does Anton know about this?” Oliver asked, and then something suddenly dawned on him, “Alex…oh my gosh, Alex….” He was up on his feet ready to run to Alex’s room but Gilbert quickly got up and blocked his way.

“What are you going to tell that girl if you rush to her in this state?” Gilbert tried to reason with his client. “Calm down and hear the rest of what I have to tell you and then you can decide on what to do next after you’ve been thoroughly informed.”

After slight hesitation, Oliver sat back down.

Kondwani’s Debt of Love – Part 11

Using all her strength and might, Alicia managed to break away from Kondwani. Shooting daggers at him through her eyes, she roared. “What do you think you are doing?”

Kondwani was slowly running his thumb over his lips where her lips had just been. “To be honest with you,” he said, his gazed fixed on her lips. “I really don’t know.”

I’m leaving.” Alicia announced, picking up her bag and heading straight for the door. Kondwani grabbed her hand as she tried to walk past him.

“Wait,” he said, turning her so they were facing each other.

“I should have known better than to come here.” Alicia said.

“It was my mistake,” Kondwani admitted. “You were only doing your job and I shouldn’t have taken advantage of you. But honestly Alicia,” he said as he placed both his hands on her shoulders. “Look me in the eye and tell me that you didn’t enjoy the kiss.”

Instead of answering him, Alicia grabbed his wrists and forced his hands from her shoulders. “I am going back to work Sir.” She deliberately turned formal on him.

“I know you won’t admit it but your eyes and your heartbeat can’t lie to me Licia.” Kondwani shouted from behind her.

“The door.” Alicia commanded from where she was standing, not bothering to turn around to look at him. She needed him to key in his security code before she could be let out of the house.

Kondwani walked over to where she was and stopped right behind her, his left hand raised above her head and resting on top of the security code panel where he had to key in the code. She tried to move away from him but Kondwani raised his knee to hold her in place.

“How can you get over your feelings for me if you keep breathing like this every time I come near you?” Kondwani whispered into her ear.

Not trusting her voice, Alicia cleared her throat before she could say something to him. “Please, open the door for me.” She said in a very shaky voice. “I need to get back to work.” She felt helpless standing before him like that when her heart refused to listen to her.

“I will only open the door if you answer my question.” He said. “How do you-“

Without warning, Alicia turned around to face him, their bodies literally stuck together within the short space that Kondwani had created for them.

“Look me in the eye and tell me exactly what you want from me?” She asked him, her eyes glued to his unflinchingly.

It was the third time since he met her that she was catching him off guard. How did she always manage to turn tables on him so suddenly and without warning?

With everyone else, Alicia was a timid little girl that would rather hide in a corner than defend herself and yet every time she stood before him, it was as if she grew secret wings that gave her the strength to face him off.

For the first time in his life, Kondwani was at a loss for words, slowly drowning in Alicia’s big brown eyes. Her gaze had the power to put him in a trance. When she looked at him like that, no amount of air in the world was enough to give him the Oxygen necessary to stabilize his breath. Just where did she get the courage to stare him down like that? Why was he such an easy target for her?

Not even Gwen with her mightier than thou attitude had the nerve to stare him down like that. He had seen Alicia cower before her fellow interns…yet why was she so aggressive with him? Where did all that confidence come from and where did it go when she needed to use it on other people?

Kondwani could feel his lips moving but no sound came out.

“What do you want from me Doctor Chileshe?” Alicia repeated her question, her gaze still fixed on him. She had to raise her head up fully to lock eyes with the taller Kondwani and yet it was he that felt at a disadvantage.

What did he want from her? Kondwani asked himself the same question. The answer came to him right away; he had no idea what he wanted from her. One minute he wanted her gone from his life and the next, she was all he longed for. Seeing her with Kayombo earlier that day had added more years to his already aged young life. He felt like he was losing his mind. Gosh, how he hated things that made him feel out of control. Just why did she appear in his life and make his already complicated life even more complicated? Was she his karma?

Was Alicia his karma? That was the question going through Kondwani’s head as he looked back into Alicia’s fierce eyes.

“If I say that I need you, both of us will end up getting hurt,” He said in a low and controlled tone. “And,” he added, “If I say that I want you out of my life, I think that it’s I that shall suffer even more. Either way…with or without you in my life, I am doomed.”

Even though Alicia appeared more and more confused with every word Kondwani uttered, her heart wouldn’t stop pounding. Fearing it might drop from its place, she peeled herself away from him, putting a decent and safe distance between them.

But still, her eyes never left his. Something magnetizing kept her from looking away. “What do you mean by that?” She asked.

Kondwani chuckled lightly. “I mean that if you don’t want to be hurt by a jerk like me, leave now. I am the worst thing that could ever happen to you Alicia.”

There was something about his tone and the look in his eyes that made Alicia believe every word he said bust instead of sealing her conviction to walk away, it only made her waver in her resolve. What exactly did he mean when he said he would hurt her? Was he talking about his commitment to Gwen? She asked herself. Did he think that she expected him to leave Gwen for her? Is that what he was sorry about?

Not one to grapple over matters of the heart, Alicia gave up trying to understand whatever was going on between her and Kondwani. She had no intentions of taking another woman’s man and she certainly had no desire to pursue an intimate relationship with anyone…even if that man made her heart beat in ways it had never done before. The only person she needed to concern herself with and worry about was Buseko her son. As long as she had him back, her life would be complete.

“Please get the door for me.” Alicia asked of Kondwani. Without arguing, he entered his code and opened the door.

“Goodbye Dr Chileshe,” she said and left. Not once did she turn to look back at the man who was standing by the door watching her retreating figure. The moment she exited the gate, Kondwani closed the door and went upstairs to his room to sleep. He was no longer in the mood to work or think about anything. He just wanted the world to stop spinning so fast and so out of control…if only for a few hours.

That afternoon, or any other afternoon or night after, sleep eluded Kondwani.
***

“Are you ready sis?” Belinda stopped by her elder sister’s door, all dressed up in a black and white bodycon dress.

“Black and white?” Alicia asked from her dressing table where she was styling her braids. “You look like you are going for a business meeting.”

Belinda laughed. “It’s deliberate,” she answered. “Black symbolises Aunt Mary’s demise and white is for the new beginning we are going to have with Buseko.”

“Belinda!” Alicia chided her.

Belinda chuckled. “I’m just saying.” She said, shrugging her shoulders innocently. “Today we all need to look on point, it’s all about business.” She said, coming into the room to stand behind Alicia. She shoved her sister’s hands from her hair and took over styling it.

“Even on a beautiful day like this, why do you want to dress up like a nun?” Belinda asked. “It’s not every day that a woman pulls one over her wicked mother in-law. You need to look hot and classed up as you collect your trophy!”

Alicia smiled and sat back in the chair, leaving Belinda to do as she pleased with her hair and make-up. “I can only imagine what Mrs Kabwe must be feeling right now.”

“There you go again,” Belinda said. “This is no time for you to feel pity for that woman. She’s treated you like scum for over five years now and she took your son from you. Why should you feel guilty about taking him back? Did Buseko come from her womb?”

“He’s all she’s got left of Nicolas Linda.” Alicia said. “I know that she’s done and said some awful stuff but I kind of understand her pain and anger. I am a mother too…I don’t know what I would do if something-“

“This is a happy day Licia, let’s not dampen it with your melancholic sad tales neh.” She finished styling the braids and set Alicia’s head straight before the mirror. “What do you think?” She asked, looking at her sister’s reflection.

Alicia gasped. “How did you do it? This is exactly what I have been trying to do for the past forty minutes.

Belinda laughed. “I like that you are feeling ambitious today sis but some of these things, let us, the professionals do them for you. Turn,” she moved Alicia in her chair so she could face her. “Time for your make-up now.” She said as she pulled the make-up kit on the far end of the dressing table towards them.

“She was about to start attending to Alicia’s eyebrows when she paused. “Are you seriously going to wear that dress Alicia?”

Alicia looked at the African print maxi dress she had on. “What’s wrong with my dress?” She asked.

“Huh??” incredulity gripped Belinda’s face, her hands resting on her waist. “I have seen people displayed for body viewing look better than you do right now.” She then walked over to the wardrobe and started searching for a new outfit for Alicia.

“This one!” She finally settled for a short yellow and white striped flared dress.

“Noo!” Alicia screamed.

“Yesss.” Belinda countered. “Change now, we will be late.” She threw the dress at her.

“You only picked this because you bought it for me.” Alicia said.

Belinda chuckled guiltily. “So you know.” She said.

“Do we really need to go through all this?” Alicia asked as she started changing. “We are only going to pick up my boy, and dad is coming with us so we don’t need to worry about what Mrs Kabwe will do.”

Belinda plopped herself onto the bed. “We need to teach that woman a lesson.” She said. “She thinks this family is scared of her just because we allowed her to raise Buseko without a fight. Unfortunately for her, it seems the God you worship really listens to your prayers.

“Out of nowhere you got this grand lawyer and you have your child back without even having to fight it out in court. And there is nothing the evil witch can do to reverse that.” She then broke out into triumphant laughter.

“You can’t celebrate like that over someone else’s misfortune Linda.” Alicia cautioned her young sister.

“Miss goody two shoes,” Belinda said, rolling her eyes. “Don’t act like you are not happy. I can see all your enzymes partying up a storm inside there through your eyes. Just admit it, you are just as happy and excited as I am…perhaps even more.”

Alicia turned to give Belinda her back, her hand patting her back from over her shoulder so that she could help her zip up. Belinda caught the message fast and went to zip her up.

“Sit down now so I can do your face.” Belinda instructed and Alicia sat down.

“Don’t put too much.” Alicia warned her. “Put that one you put that time you went to that braii.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Belinda laughed. “Nude it is. Rest your head back.”

Alicia did as instructed again, not putting up much of a fight compared to other days when she would not let her sister anywhere near her face with the make-up tools she was holding in her hands.

“When are you planning on telling me about the famous Doctor Chileshe, our hero.” Belinda asked as she attended to Alicia’s eyebrows, her own perfectly arched brows dancing mischievously.

“How did you-“ Alicia started to ask.

“How did I know about him?” Belinda finished for her. “It’s all thanks to your former mother in-law.” She said.

“Buseko’s grandma?” Alicia asked.

“Yes,” Belinda answered. “Didn’t mum tell you about what she said and did when she came here?”

Alicia grabbed Belinda’s hand to stop her from working on her face. She looked up at her with a puzzled expression on her face. “Mrs Kabwe came here?”

Belinda nodded.

“When? Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Alicia asked.

“I thought mum told you.”

“That woman doesn’t talk to me unless I talk to her first.” Alicia said.

“Seriously?” Belinda rolled her eyes again, moving to lean her back against the dressing table. She crossed one leg over the other and crossed her arms over her chest. “That woman?” Belinda chided her.

“What do you want me to call her?” Alicia asked. “Anyway, she’s not the point right now. When did Mrs Kabwe come and what exactly did she do and say?”

“You know you are this big staunch Christian 24/7 but when it comes to your own mother-“

“Linda,” Alicia gave her sister a stern look. “If you are also not going to tell me what happened then let’s not bother about it. Finish up my face so we can leave. I’m sure dad is tired of waiting for us.”

Belinda went back to put finishing touches on her face. “Before we change the subject,” she said. “Let me just say one thing; You can’t give up on people you claim to love Licia. For once, try to see things from mum’s point of view and ask yourself what you would do if you were in her position.”

Angry, Alicia stood up abruptly, causing Belinda to spill the concealer in her hands onto her yellow dress. She started walking towards the door but Belinda ran after her and stopped her by blocking the door with her body and spreading her arms apart.

“I’m sorry.” Belinda apologized. “I didn’t mean to spoil the mood, I just hate seeing the way things are between you and mum. Can we go back to sit so I can finish on the other eye?”

“Promise you won’t bring up that kind of topic again?” Alicia said.

“I promise.” Belinda said and took her hand to lead her back to the dressing table. Alicia sat back down.

“Does that doctor like you?” Belinda quickly returned to their previous conversation.

“So you are not going to tell me what happened with Mrs Kabwe?” Alicia said, looking very disappointed.

Belinda wanted to tell her sister that she too was not there when the woman visited, that she only heard the story from her mother…but she stopped herself. If Alicia knew that their mother talked to her about a matter that concerned her and her son and kept that information to Alicia herself, she might just end up feeling justified in her anger and resentment towards their mother.

“I also wasn’t there when she came.” Belinda answered. “I just heard the story from the maid.” She lied. “That woman came to make noise for mum and dad but she only managed to find mum when she came.

“She made threats and said something about you being an ungrateful something…that you are finally showing your true colours now that you have a bit of money. She asked mum to raise you right instead of allowing you to be sleeping with a man who’s committed to someone else.”

“What?” Alicia asked. “Did mum believe her?”

Belinda smiled, silently observing the fact that Alicia had just addressed their mother as mum and that she cared about what the woman she claimed hated her thought about her.

“Of course she didn’t.” Belinda replied. “She told Mrs Kabwe off to her face, said she could say whatever she wanted to say about you but she should leave out questioning your moral standards.”

“So she didn’t believe her?”

“What did I just say?” Belinda said.

“What else happened?” Alicia asked.

“You also know how mum is, she doesn’t talk much.” Belinda said. “She just told her a few things in return and Mrs Kabwe was the only one shouting on top of her voice most of the time. I can only imagine what went down.

“Fighting a war of words with mum is like digging a deep hole hopping to bury your enemy only to realize that you’ve dug your own self deeper and only she can pull you back up. She doesn’t talk much but the look she gives you when you are done running your mouth is enough to make you regret all the past years of your life.”

“Why wouldn’t she tell me about something so important?” Alicia wondered.

“What difference was it going to make?” Belinda asked. “I’m sure she thought there was no need for you to know. It would have only worried you…just like you are doing right now. Anyway, after I heard the story I went and googled the doctor since Mrs Kabwe indicated he was a very rich guy and boy is he appetizing! How come you never said you have such a hot boss?”

“I naturally assumed you knew of him since he’s well known.” Alicia answered.

“So you admit that he’s good looking right!?” Belinda asked, her eyes dancing about excitedly.

“My eyes are working perfectly fine Linda.” Alicia said. “I know he is good looking but I didn’t see any reason why I should mention that particular fact to you, so that you do what?”

Belinda was shaking her head and looking at her sister with a pitiful look on her face. “Tsk tsk tsk,” she said. “Talking to you about boys is like talking to a donkey and expecting it to give you milk. Do you even have any lipstick in this room?” Her eyes were already searching the table.

“Linda,” Alicia sighed heavily. “I am just going to pick up my son. What do I need lipstick for?”

“We are already past the point of you complaining,” Belinda said. “Let’s go to my room I pick out a dress for you as well, this one is-“ she looked at the stained spot and simply shook her head.

The moment the two girls came out of the bedroom, their father appeared. “Can we go now?” Mr Daka asked, anxiously looking at his wrist watch.

Alicia had a look of surprise on her face when she saw him also dressed up in a suit with very polished shoes on. “Even you dad?” She asked.

Joseph Daka laughed. “Belinda prepared this for me yesterday.” He said. “You know very well that when this one sets her mind to something, no one can escape her machinations.”

“Five more minutes dad.” Belinda grabbed Alicia’s hand and quickly led her away.

Joseph remained smiling as he watched them disappear. He went back to his own room. “You should see our girls Rita,” He proudly told his wife. “They both look so beautiful…I can’t remember the last time I saw Alicia all dressed up like that.”

“So she too didn’t escape Linda’s clatches?” Henrietta chuckled. “I’m going to take a picture of the three of you before you leave.” She opened the top drawer to the left side of the dressing table and took out the camera. “This will be a very memorable day in our lives. Perhaps now Alicia can start living her life freely.”

Joseph approached the bed and carefully sat down so as not to wrinkle his perfectly laundered suit. “That’s exactly what I was thinking about.” He said.

Henrietta too sat down on the chair by the dressing table. “You know,” she said. “I have been thinking about that man Mary kept mentioning when she came here.”

“The doctor that made all this possible?” Joseph asked. “I have also been asking myself questions but if there’s anything I am sure about, it is that nothing is going on between him and our Licia. I know my daughter well enough to know she wouldn’t go after another woman’s man. You are with me on this one, right?”

Henrietta gave her husband a chiding look. “Bashi Linda sure?” She said. “I know that she and I are not close but she is still my daughter you know.”

“Still, I am curious about this fella honey.” He said. “Why would he interfere in Alicia’s life like this? I know the schemes these men play; he probably saw how innocent she is and he thinks he can fool her into being his mistress or something. Even though I am grateful for what he’s done, I am still going to talk to him.”

Henrietta stared at him wide-eyed. “What are you going to say to him?” She asked.

“I am going to ask him what sort of payment he wants.” Joseph replied. “There’s no way he can do something like this and not expect any form of payment. The way I know Alicia, she might feel obliged to do his bidding if he asks it of her simply because she’s grateful. She’s a good girl and all but her personality can work against her this time around.”

“I know what you mean.” Henrietta said. “But honey,” she added. “Try to keep your cool when you talk to him. Remember he’s her boss and she’s still not confirmed at work. I looked the doctor up on the internet and he seems very influential. We don’t want to rub him off the wrong way.”

“I know.” Joseph agreed. “While I’m at it, I will look around the hospital to see if there are any potential suitors for her. With her kind of job, she has no time to have a social life so we can’t expect a man to come by easily…might as well help her find one at the place where she spends most her time.”

“And he better be a real Christian.” Henrietta chipped in.

Joseph laughed. “Definitely.” He said. “At times like these, I wish Alicia could see the look in your eyes when you worry about her.”

“Maybe it’s too late for her and me,” Henrietta said. “But I can’t help myself worrying about her life. Nicolas’ death made the situation between us even worse. She completely closed off and-“

“I know we both made grave mistakes with her but,” Joseph said. “It’s never too late with family. Just look at us today,” he looked at his reflection on the mirror again. “Who knew that a day like this would come so soon?

“I kept myself from interfering with Buseko’s situation all these years because I felt that that’s what Alicia wanted; to feel the pain of losing her own child as a way of easing her guilt over Nicolas’ death. But, I don’t think she ever imagined the pain of losing her own child would be greater than the guilt she was feeling inside.”

“It took everything in me not to pour hot water on that woman when she came here making all that noise.” Henrietta said, referring to Mary’s visit a couple of days ago. “I can hear movement out there. I think the girls are done.”

They both got up. “Finally,” Joseph said. And then looking at his wife; “Are you sure you don’t want to come with us?”

“Just go.” Henrietta started pushing her husband out of the room. “You will find a feast prepared in celebration by the time you get back.”

“You do know that if you want to mend your relationship with Alicia you are going to have to do things that are uncomfortable for you right?” Joseph asked, forcing them both to come to a stop by the door. He then turned around to look at his wife.

“You can’t keep avoiding being in the same space with her Rita, she is your daughter. What are you so afraid of?”

Henrietta dropped her head in regret. “It’s the look in her eyes.” She stated simply.

“And as long as you keep avoiding her, that look will always be there.” He said. “Think about what I’ve just said while we are gone. I want the two of you to sit opposite each other at the table today so you can’t avoid looking at each other.”

“Bashi Linda!” Henrietta protested.

“You heard what I said woman. Just do it.” Joseph said and opened the door to leave.

Joseph Daka capitalized on the one hour drive to Mary’s house by using it as an opportunity to quiz Alicia about Doctor Chileshe.

“Why would you ask me that dad?” Alicia asked. “Don’t tell me-“

Joseph laughed. “Not at all, you are my daughter after all, and I want to believe that I raised you right. I am just curious about our generous benefactor. Since you work with him, I figured you might have gotten to know him a little.”

“I am dying to know about him as well!” Belinda shouted from the back seat of the car. “But this girl refuses to divulge any info.”

“Has he shown any sort of interest…other than work in you?” Joseph was not a man to beat around the bush.

Alicia blushed and looked out the side of her window to avoid being discovered.

“I take it he has.” Joseph concluded upon observation.

“OMG!” Belinda exclaimed. “I knew it! Does he plan on leaving his fiancé?”

“Linda!” Joseph chastised his daughter. “You can’t wish something like that on another person and expect to find happiness. What did you tell him?” He asked Alicia.

“You’ve both misunderstood something,” Alicia turned to look at her father and sibling. “He is not the one interested in me.” She stated.

“What?” Belinda asked, coming through the space between the front two seats so she could take a closer look at her sister. Joseph too had the same expression on his face.

“I am the one that likes him.” Alicia confessed.

“Oh dear.” The words escaped Joseph’s lips.

“Calm down,” Alicia said. “I am not after him.” She quickly assured them. “I just like him. I don’t know why I like him…or when I started liking him…but I just do. However, I have no intentions whatsoever of being with him, not just because he is committed to someone else, but because I understand perfectly well what my feelings towards him are.”

“And what are your feelings Alicia?” Joseph asked.

“He just surprised me, that’s all.” Alicia answered nonchalantly. “One minute he’s hot and the next he’s cold. I unconsciously found myself wanting to please him…to be noticed by him as my boss. He has a superiority complex and he rubbed me off the wrong way from the moment we met.”

“You?” Belinda asked. “Someone rubbed you Alicia the wrong way? How is that even possible? You always chicken in front of people and you’ve never cared about what anyone thinks as long as your conscience is clear.” She quoted her sister’s word.

“I know,” Alicia admitted. “But a lot stuff happened and it somehow led to that.”

“Does he know how you feel about him?” Joseph asked.

“Yes, I told him.” She innocently revealed the truth.

“Oh dear.” Joseph said again.

“OMG.” An excited Belinda said. “I never imagined a day would come when I would derive pleasure from listening to events in your life sis.”

“What?” Alicia looked at the both of them, confused by their reactions. “Did I do something wrong?”

“You can’t tell a man your feelings just like that Licia, worse, one who’s already taken.” Joseph educated his naïve girl.

“But I wanted to warn him to stay away from me. I ended up liking him even when he never did anything to impress me. I wanted him to be careful around me just in case…you know. I Know that I am inexperienced in this love thing but I only told him because I was looking out for him.

“I thought that if I warned him, he would stop approaching me so carelessly because sometimes his actions confuse me. I was simply looking out for him. Did I do something wrong.”

“Technically, no.” Joseph said. “Your intentions were honourable but that’s not how things work in this world Alicia.”

Belinda was looking at her elder sister in awe, slowly shaking her head. “I think I need to sit you down my dear sister and educate you some about the wicked ways of men these days.”

“You are just a child,” Joseph said. “What can you tell her?”

“I have more experience in this field dad so obviously I am older than her in that respect.” Belinda argued.

“More experience?” Joseph gave her a look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Belinda realized a little too late that she set herself up for a thorough scolding. As far as her parents were concerned, she was a baby trying to make it through her third year at university; she was too young for boys and she certainly didn’t have time for them. Now why did she have to open her mouth and blow her own cover like that?

“I just meant that I have read enough books and watched enough movies to know certain things.” Belinda quickly ran for damage control.

“Oh,” Joseph heaved a sigh of relief. “But still, you can’t learn about love from those things.”

“What did you think I was talking about dad?” Belinda feigned innocence.

“Was I wrong in cautioning him to stay away from me?” Alicia drove them back to the point at hand. She was visibly shaken by the revelations her family had awakened her to.

“I think you and I need to have one of our long talks Alicia.” Joseph said. “Let’s chat about this tonight after all the celebrations are done.”

“How can we stop talking about this now when you’ve already made me feel like this?” Alicia complained. “How am I supposed to face the doctor from now on?” She covered her face in embarrassment and kicked her legs in frustration.

Both Joseph and Belinda laughed as they watched her.

Thirty minutes later, they had arrived at Mary Kabwe’s house. Alicia stepped down first to get the gate but Belinda came out as well.

“I will get it,” Alicia told her sister as she walked to the gate.

“That crazy woman might be waiting for you on the other side with a panga.” Belinda said and rushed ahead of her to pull the gate open. Alicia laughed and stood back to watch her open it instead. The moment the gate came open, Buseko came running from the house after his mother.

“Mum!” He shouted as he ran to her. Alicia ran towards the boy and met him half-way into the yard. She scooped him up into her arms and laid kisses on him, tears filling her eyes. She felt it in every muscle in her body; this was a reunion different from the ones in the past. He was completely hers now. She finally had him back.

“You little rascal!” Stephen said when he came out of the house, walking towards the guests and pointing an accusing finger at Buseko.

“Steve?” Belinda stared wide-eyed at the guy approaching them.

“Linda?” Stephen said, mirroring her shocked expression. “What are you doing here?” He asked.

“I should be asking you the same question.” Belinda said.

“You guys know each other?” Alicia asked.

Stephen laughed. “Know each other?” He said. “She is my ex.”

Belinda rushed to cover Stephen’s mouth, her eyes going straight towards her father who was driving in to check if he had heard anything. She released her breath when she realised the windows were still closed.

“Whaat?” An amused Stephen asked as he removed her hand from covering his mouth.

“The two of you?” Alicia pointed from one to the other in disbelief. “How?”

Belinda ran to her sister’s side and whispered, “It’s a long story. Let’s talk about it some other time shall we? The General is approaching.” She pointed to their father who had just stepped down from the car.

Just then, Mary Kabwe appeared by the door, looking like an army commander ready for battle. Alicia felt a cold chill run down her spine, her eyes instinctively going towards her father, silently begging him to come to their rescue.

Joseph looked over at his daughter and smiled, his eyes literally telling her; it will all be fine my child.

Her father’s smile was all Alicia needed to stop her legs from shaking so much. In that single moment, she came to understand why he had insisted on coming with them the previous night.

Silently, she said a prayer to the heavens; “Thank you Jehovah.”