There was a sudden chill in the air.
Something must have moved from behind her. Sibusiswe nervously searched around her for the source of the noise. The only movements around her were that of leaves trembling against the July cold wind.
The uniformly clear blue sky with hints of the sun setting in the distance made the evening feel even chillier than was supposed to be. Apart from the hundreds or thousands of sleeping souls surrounding her, there was no one else in sight that evening in Memorial Park…at least to the best of her knowledge. Ever since she was a little girl, there was something about grave yards that made Sibusiswe’s heart pound faster than usual.
“It must have been lonely for you all this while mother,” Sibusiswe greeted her mother. A year had passed since she had last visited her.
She began dusting the dirt off her mother’s tomb, removing a few weeds around the stone here and there. “On days like this Ma, you are the only person I can talk that understands this feeling I have deep inside me.” She had rolled her hand into a fist and was hitting her it against her chest. There was something heart breaking about her voice, it was heavy, weary, tired and reluctant as if something was forcing her to speak.
“I know I have no right to be here, but….” She held her head up to stop the tears from coming.
Clearing her throat, she bent down and continued removing the weeds. “I just dropped off Jacob at his fathers….” She continued her chat with her mother.
“I am trying…I am doing my best to keep my sanity but nothing seems to be going the way I want it to.” Her voice was starting to shake. “It’s been four years already…but.it’s.still.so.dame.hard ma….”
She took a deep breath and held it in for a few more seconds before finally letting it out, two thick drops of tears hitting either side of her cheeks.
And very suddenly, she let out a soft laugh. “But I am not complaining!” she mussed. “You must be shocked…what has happened to your usually strong daughter?” the more she wiped at her tears, the more they came pouring.
“I am not even mad at him any more Ma,” Sibu mourned. “I don’t even know why these dame tears keep bothering me…it doesn’t make sense.” She grabbed a piece of the poncho she had wrapped around her and used it to dry her eyes and face.
“I have become such a cry baby since you left…I guess it can’t be helped eh.” Her lips were literally shuddering from trying to keep herself from crying.
“I am not crying because I miss him, what is really there to miss? I was never hurt by the fact that he had other women in his life…but his smile mother…that smile…I can’t stop thinking about it to this day. It hurts my pride and it keeps tearing me apart even though there are no more pieces left in me to break. To this day I still see his face and how he looked at her. I cannot remember the last time he had looked at me like that Ma. That first time I lost it…when I silently cried my heart out in the bathroom at home…I cried not because I had seen him kiss another woman…I always knew there were other women. I cried…I cried because I couldn’t take having to look my son in the eye and pretend that everything was alright…when my heart was breaking into countless pieces. When I saw him and that woman today, leaving my son with them…everything just kept coming back. Everything just came back, my pain, you, him, my son…. I have fought hard these past four years to move on and not let anything get to me…I have really tried mother.”
Sibusiswe paused and let the tears pour uninterrupted, a faraway look gracing her eyes as she thought;
Long before even he knew it, I had already seen it coming.
Long before he even said the words, I knew I had already lost him.
I left, not because he broke my heart when he cheated…but because I had enabled him to do to me all the things he thought he could get away with .
I left, not because I was hurt…but because that sort of happiness wasn’t mine to begin with.
Summer of 2004
“And how old did you say you are Miss…” the handsome looking guy who had introduced himself as Martin Mwewa and appeared to be in his early or mid-twenties asked, scanning the document up and down in search of a name. It was hard for anyone to not look at him in his well-fitting suit and painfully handsome face.
“Miss Hangaala, Sibusiswe Hangaala,” the very confident young girl seated in front of the interviewing panel of three volunteered the information enthusiastically.
Martin looked up at her, loving the confident sound of her voice. There was no need to ask who the boss in the room was. Sibusiswe took the opportunity to look him in the eye and smiled. Despite his arrogant demeanour, the man smiled back at her. She had him hooked.
“How old are you Miss Hangaala?” He asked.
“I am eighteen years old.”
“You look eighteen quite alright…but there’s a certain maturity…and elegance about you that I like,” the handsome one said. “However, we need someone with experience for this kind of position.”
“Aren’t you straight from high school young lady?” Asked the elderly woman who had earlier introduced herself as Mrs Silungwe, head of HR. She appeared to be in her early fifties, had a calm and collected demeanour that allowed Sibu to feel a little less nervous.
Sibusiswe nodded, “Yes, I graduated about six months ago. However, I do have experience for this position,” she quickly added. “For the past three years, I have been working as a receptionist at NemKa Dental clinic. It’s all there in my CV,” she said, pointing at the documents in front of them. “When I was still in school, I would only work during holidays and weekends but since graduating, I have been working normal hours and days.”
“Do you think the kind of environment you worked under over there is enough for you to manage a large and busy organization like this one?” asked the other man in the room seated on the far left dressed in purple shirt with a matching tie. He had introduced himself as Ted Zulu. He looked slightly older and mature than the guy in the blue suit. He too was good looking, but did not exude the same amount of sexiness as his colleague seated on the other end of the table. While the one was deliberately splashing his charisma to every corner of the room, the other seemed content with just sitting there and letting his personality do all the work for him.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” Sibu replied. “I don’t think the two environments can even be compared. But,” she raised her finger for emphasis. “I believe that the basic experience I gained over there is enough to help me to quickly grasp the responsibilities that come with this position. On top of that, I am a fast learner! I pick up things pretty easily and I can work under minimum supervision. You can ask my boss at the Dental Clinic.”
“You seem too confident for someone your age,” the middle-aged woman commented. “I take it this isn’t your first interview?”
Sibusiwe grinned from ear to ear. “This is actually my very first interview. I am just taking in things as they come. I have no idea if I am saying or doing the right things,” she laughed, and so did the panel.
“And you have a great sense of humour,” the man in the suit added.
“You need someone like me to be manning your front desk and taking care of everyone around the office.” Sibusiswe excitedly tried to persuade the panel.
“I think I like you already,” the man named Ted said. “You have a great energy about you…we just need to see if you are the right person to manage the front desk for such a large organization.”
“I agree with you Ted,” the head of HR said. “I am a little bit sceptical about her age….”
“This is a law office and the kind of clientele we receive is somewhere waaay up there.” Martin added, raising his hand in the air. “They have huge egos with matching bank accounts and with an attitude to go with it all.”
Much like you, you mean? Sibu silently said to herself.
“On top of that,” he continued. “The scope of the job is quite demanding. I think you are too young to handle that kind of pressure.”
Sibusiswe sat right up, making sure her shoulders were high enough to match the argument she was trying to put across. “You are assuming that my age has something to do with my capability to handle the pressure that comes with the job yet,…yet you have no idea how much I have had to deal with in my life to get where I am today.” Sibu la!d her case. “I cannot get into the details of all that obviously and in as much as I understand your scepticism, I wish you can put aside your prejudice over my age and give me a chance to prove myself. I am not the type of person to shy away from a challenge simply because I feel I am too young. That’s not a good enough reason in my books.”
“I wonder who the lawyers in this room are,” said Ted, looking at his colleague at the other end of the table.
“It is not just your age that concerns me,” Mrs Silungwe said. “We need someone to work on a long term basis and you seem like a very ambitious girl to me…obviously, you have plans of going to college soon, don’t you?”
That question knocked Sibu out. “To be honest,” she swallowed hard. “Yes, I have plans of going to university,” she admitted. “But I was thinking that I could work for like a year or so to raise money before applying because…even if I qualify for a bursary, the money will not be enough for me to survive my undergrad years.”
“You mean to tell me that you intend to take care of your own school bills?” The fifty-something year old woman asked, her motherly instincts quickly jumping in.
Sibu nodded. “You don’t need to look at me like that,” she assured her. “It’s been three years now since I lost my mother and I am doing just fine. If you are going to hire me, I would like it to be on the basis of merit and not pity. There are people out there is far worse situations than I.”
“I can tell you this for sure Miss Hangaala, it’s going to be very hard for all of us here to overlook that bit of information you just let loose.” Martin said.
“I see,” Sibu said resignedly, dropping her shoulders in the process.
“Most people would be glad to have a pity card to use in such situations,” Mrs Silungwe looked surprised. “Why do you look disappointed?”
“I am curious about that as well,” Martin seconded her.
“Me too,” Ted also chipped in.
“Because I don’t deserve your pity,” Sibu stated matter-of-factly. “I don’t know how this is going to make me sound,” she straightened her back, “…and I am begging that you don’t make me lose whatever little points I might have already scored; however, I feel that this is a very personal issue and I would like it if you didn’t ask me any more questions about it.”
Looking at the group of people seated in front of her, her eyes moving from one to the other, Sibu knew that the damage had already been done. Without meaning to, she had opened the door to something she would have rather kept hidden for the rest of her life. The idea that she might benefit from such a disclosure made her feel even more uneasy.
Sibusiswe was not surprised when she received a call a few days later informing her that she had passed the interviews and was to be hired as a Receptionist for one of the largest Law Firms in the country.
Mrs Silungwe was taken aback by Sibu’s lack of enthusiasm upon receiving such wonderful news and she wasted no time in finding out.
“It’s not that Mrs Silungwe,” Sibu had said over the phone. “I am very grateful for such an opportunity…I guess I am just in shock that’s all.” She lied. “Thank you so much for giving me a chance.”
“It’s okay dear, I understand,” the soft spoken woman said. “You are expected to report for work on Monday next week. Will you be available?”
“Yes I will,” Sibu answered. “My boss at the Dental clinic already knows that I applied for this job. She is even the one that showed me the advertisement in the paper. Don’t worry; I will be there on time on Monday.”
“There is something about the night that makes women glow and look extra special, don’t you think so Ted?” Martin Mwewa said as he scanned the room at Times Arcades for potential mates for the night.
“Is it the night or the beer that makes them appear like that?” The ever objective Ted Zulu asked.
Martin laughed, “both I guess!” he said, taking a long time from his Castle Lite.
Martin and Ted had been buddies since junior high school. Both coming from very well-to-do families, it was only natural that they move in the same circles. Whether they liked it or not, the two of them were going to keep bumping into each other everywhere they went. Thus, despite the obvious rivalry that existed between them when it came to academics, ambitions as well as women, Martin and Ted were by all standards the best of buddies.
“So when are you two going back to the UK?” Conrad Manda asked. Conrad had met Martin through Ted whom he had met during a JETS competition back in senior high school.
“In a month’s time,” Martin replied. “Our break is almost coming to an end.”
“I really envy you guys,” Conrad said. It was no secret that his circumstances were a far cry from those of his two rich friends. “Even though we went into Law school at the same time, you guys will be done with yours way before I even go to ZIALE,” he lamented. “With the constant riots and closures at UNZA, I will be forty by the time I graduate.”
“Don’t exaggerate like that man,” Ted laughed. “Lately there hasn’t been any drama going on so you are safe…for now at least.”
“For now I guess,” Conrad agreed. “How’s the interning going at your father’s firm?”
Martin and Ted shared a knowing and smiled mischievously at each other.
“Don’t even think about it, I had dibs on her first.” Martin warned his friend and colleague.
“What do you mean you had dibs on her first?” Ted protested.
“What are the two of you talking about?” Conrad was starting to feel like a third wheel, something that was constant occurrence whenever he was in the company of the two.
“We hired this cute new receptionist,” Ted explained.
“Cute?” Martin glared at his friend? “Is that the best you can do my friend?”
Ted smiled, “Okay, she is f—–g beautiful! She is very hot…the kind of sexy that makes you feel guilty just looking at her…because she is very young.” He was shaking his head, his eyes closed as if to awaken the image he had safely saved in his head.
“She might be young but she is very legal for the taking,” Martin quickly corrected his friend.
“I guess there are perks to being the son of the owner of a company.” Conrad was forced to admit. “Despite being interns, you guys are allowed to sit on the recruitment panel….”
“That’s why we told you to join us but your stubborn a-s insisted on working for a rival law firm,” Martin said.
“Your offer came a little late,” Conrad replied. “I had already committed myself there. I am not in any position to make enemies with such a big law firm.”
“You made the right decision Conrad,” Ted said. “Unfortunately for me, I have been put in the same boat as this fool here,” he was looking at Martin. “Just over two weeks there and everyone already hates his arrogant a-s…well, everyone except the ladies.”
Martin grinned proudly. “I am taking down all their names,” he said. “Once I take over the firm, there will be hell to pay for those that have been giving me attitude.”
“So what’s this about the cute receptionist?” Conrad quickly changed the subject, not wanting to listen any more to any of Martin’s pompous ramblings. “How old is she?”
“Eighteen,” they both supplied.
“She just graduated high school so she is very fresh like that,” Martin added.
“That’s the thing, she is too young and innocent for your likes,” Ted said.
“What do you mean for my likes?”
“You very well know what I mean.”
“Just because I am popular with the female folk doesn’t mean I am a playa,” Martin defended his virtue. “On my own I do just fine…it’s the women themselves that keep throwing themselves at me.”
“Ever heard of something called self-restraint?” Ted asked sarcastically.
“If the Lord called me to this earth to please women, who am I to disobey him?” Martin said smugly.
Both Ted and Conrad looked unimpressed by their friend’s attitude.
“I am just saying…don’t play with this one if you are not going to be serious about her. You heard her for yourself; she already has a lot of s–t going on in her life. She doesn’t need you adding more stress to it. If anything, she is more pitiful than sexy.”
“Exactly why I should make her mine,” Martin countered. “Can you imagine how better her life would become if she was my girl?”
“I don’t doubt you can make her life better but for how long? You will date her for a couple of weeks and then threw her aside once you are done, leaving her heartbroken and alone when she could have been better if you had left her alone in the first place.” Ted had no time for jokes. He meant every word he spoke and Martin never missed a point.
“You hardly know this girl yet you are coming off so strongly,” Martin said. “Don’t tell me you’ve already fallen hard for her?”
Ted remained silent.
“You have, haven’t you?” Martin was obviously having a good time. He was laughing at pointing at his visibly embarrassed friend.
“Stop it man,” Ted pushed away his hand from his face. “You need to grow up.” He admonished his friend.
“I am not even going to get offended by that remark,” Martin lowered his hand and took another sip from his beer. “You are just mad because you know she is gonna pick me over you. They always do. Your father might be a popular government official but my father is one of the richest men in this country. No woman on the face of this earth hates money.”
“Don’t bring my father into this,” Ted said sternly. “And not every woman is so vain. If Sibusiswe is that kind of woman, then I will gladly step back and leave you two alone. I happen to have a higher standard when it comes to women I date.”
“Her name is Sibusiswe?” Conrad asked. “What tribe is that? It doesn’t sound Zambian.”
“Have no idea,” Martin answered. “…although her last name is very Zambian – Hangaala.” He provided.
“Ah, she’s Tonga,” Conrad said. “Could be her mother is the one who isn’t Zambian.”
“Her mother is late,” Ted said, gulping down the rest of his Heineken.
“She hasn’t even started work yet and you already know all that about her?” Conrad commented.
“It came up during the interview,” Martin explained. “She didn’t mean to share but you know how interviews go sometimes….”
“I can imagine,” Conrad said. “What are you thinking about looking like that?” He was looking at Ted who had a very serious expression on his face, appearing to be deep in thought.
Ted awakened from his reverie. “There was something the girl said about her mother that keeps bothering me….”
“Problem with you is that you think too much,” Martin said, opening a new bottle of Heineken and placing it in front of his friend.
“Thanks,” Ted said, taking the beer and drinking from it.
“You are always overanalysing stuff that’s why you’ve been single for such a bloody long time.” Martin pointed an accusing finger at his buddy.
“I have been single because I have no time to date. Unlike some people, I like committing myself 100% in relationships and right now school won’t allow me such luxury. I might just end up breaking the heart of someone’s daughter.”
“Always the upright man,” Martin teased. “Cheers to all upright men in the world!” He raised his bottle and the three friends toasted.
When Monday finally came, Sibusiswe had woken up two hours earlier than usual to prepare for her first day at the law firm. Her housemate Sibeso Mubiana was up too excitedly helping her friend get ready.
“Should I just tie my hair in a puff or I wear that wig that makes me look ten years older?” Sibu asked as she stared at her reflection in the dressing mirror.
Sibeso got up from the bed and went to stand behind her friend. “I really hate you people with long hair,” she said, looking at Sibu through the mirror. “You have so many options on how to style your hair but you always go for the boring ones. Do this,” she grabbed the comb from Sibu’s hands and started styling her hair. “Is that thing on?” She gestured towards the hair toning machine sitting on the other side of the dressing table.
“Not yet,” Sibu reached out her hand and switched it on. “What do you want to do?”
“Just sit still my friend and watch me turn you into a professional,” her housemate assured her. “I am going to do one of your usual boring styles, but with a twist. You don’t want to stand out with some over styled girly hairstyle and you also don’t want to look too plain…although I doubt if there’s any part of your body that looks plain.”
“Okay, I trust you.” Sibusiswe relaxed back and let her friend do as she pleased.
“I still can’t believe you get to see the infamous Junior every day of the week,” Sibeso kept the conversation going whilst attending to the hair. “I have been stalking that guy for such a long time but he always sticks to a certain type…has no time for the likes of us. You should really take this opportunity and make him yours sweeties. Who knows, maybe I too can find myself a billions son whilst chilling with that crowd.”
“Stop getting all worked up, you are pulling my hair you crazy freak,” Sibisiswe nudged her roommate into behaving. “You know I am not a fan of popular boys. I didn’t even know who he was until you mentioned it to me. I didn’t like his looks very much. He looked arrogant and smug…like he knows he’s good looking. I hate guys that are so sure of themselves.”
“So you want him to pretend he’s not good looking when the fact is clear for everyone to see?”
“That’s not what I mean. I just mean he’s too arrogant and looks like the type that thinks he’s God’s answer to every woman’s prayer. He behaves as if he takes in Nitrogen and breathes out Oxygen while the rest of humanity is piped down on Carbon Monoxide.”
Sibeso laughed. “I guess that’s what men also think when they look at you.”
“What do you mean?” Sibu was genuinely puzzled.
“You are also ridiculously beautiful and yet you carry yourself like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. You need to start getting la!d or cobwebs will fill up all over down there.” Sibeso was rubbing against the body part in question, deliberately spreading her legs for emphasis.