Kanua Village, Zambia; January, 1991
There was a murderous glow in the eyes of the ten year old Luyando Chimeko as she stood watch over her drunk and passed out father snoring away on the mat inside the tent that a good Samaritan had lent to them which they had come to regard as their home for the past one week.
Luyando had had enough of living like a destitute at the hands of her vagabond father whose own life seemed to be rotting away ever since the untimely demise of his wife a year ago. On that day, the ten year old had not just lost her mother, she had lost her father as well. The man she was now looking at was only a shell of the man she once called dad…and she had had enough of watching him waste his and her life away like someone who no longer had anything more to live for.
Luyando wiped away her tears with a rage that was beyond her years, her gaze still fixed disapprovingly on her father.
“What about me!” Luyando cried, her hand hitting her chest. “Am I not a good enough reason for you to want to live?”
As if in response, Bernard Chimeko stretched in his sleep and wiped at his drool before turning to face the other way. Luyando took in every piece of his being; the dirty sandals on his feet with enough holes in them that defeated the manufacturers original purpose of production, the tone jeans and the oversized sweater with a colour she was convinced could not be traced on the colour wheel.
“Every single day….” the ten year old cried harder, no sound, just barrels of tears streaming down her cheeks.
“Over here mum!”
Luyando heard a boy shout from outside the tent. She turned away from her father to slightly open the tent so she could peep outside. Not far from their tent was a family of three; father, mother and son.
Right away Luyando could tell they didn’t belong to that compound. It was the first time she was seeing such immaculately dressed people in the market and all the people crowding around them trying to sell things to them told her everything she needed to know about the kind of people they were.
Luyando’s eyes rested on the boy who appeared to be her age as he cheerfully pointed to the things he wanted his parents to buy for him.
“This one too mum…and this one…ooooh look at this dad?” the boy was pointing at items that ranged from foodstuffs to boys wear.
His parents watched on the side as their boy tried on different hats and not seeming to find one that pleased his eye.
What if that was my family? I wouldn’t be suffering here like this. Luyando thought.
If Bernard could see the envy glowing in his daughters eyes, he would have picked himself up and gone out to do whatever it takes to give her the kind of life that she most desires.
Luyando moved to the other side of the tent so she could take a look at what was happening behind and she found exactly what she was looking for; the fancy car of the rich family was parked in the distance under the oak tree on the side of the main road.
Closing the tent, Luyando’s gaze immediately focused on her father who was still snoring away his life, oblivious to whatever was happening around him. With a sudden conviction registering in her eyes, Luyando grabbed her dirty backpack and started throwing some things in there; some of her clothes and a few text books that had been lying on the ground in the corner.
When she was done packing, she started her search for something else that she couldn’t seem to find but just when she thought all hope was lost, her father moved his leg in his sleep and down where his leg had been she saw the knife she had been desperately searching for. Luyando grabbed it and stared at it for close to a minute as she contemplated what to do with it, her eyes shifting from the knife to the figure of her father lying there before her.
Very suddenly, Luyando raised the knife into the air, closed her eyes shut and brought the knife down to her wrist, leaving a deep cut across. She winced in pain and covered the wound with her other hand, quietly jumping up and down in an effort to numb the pain.
And again, she raised the knife and passed it across her skin, this time making another deep cut slightly above the first cut.
Using the blood flowing from her cuts, Luyando rubbed her hand over specific parts of her face leaving red vivid spots there. She then grabbed her bag, put it on her back…all the while wincing in pain and taking one last angry look at her father, she ran out of the tent from the back.
Once their shopping was done, the Mulenga’s settled back into their car and Mr Mulenga was ready to drive off when something…someone…a little girl covered in blood and bruises jumped in front of their vehicle and was waving her arms about to grab their attention.
“It’s a girl dad.” Tulani was peering in-between his parents from the back seat, his eyes staring shockingly at the desperate state of the girl crying in front of their vehicle.
“Stop Bashi Tula,” Mrs Mulenga told her husband and he immediately put the car back in Park mode. “Who has done that to that poor child?” She said as she got out of the vehicle but the girl came panting at her side before she could even step out of the vehicle.
“Please take me away from here before he kills me. I beg you, take me with you and just leave me anywhere far away from here.” Luyando’s face was covered in tears, mud and blood and her desperation was believable since she kept looking around for whoever who was coming after her.
“Who did this to you young lady?” Ayanda Dumisani Mulenga asked.
In a move that caught everyone in the car by surprise, Luyando grasped Mrs Mulenga’s wrist and went down on her knees.
“Please take me away from here, please, please…take me away before he finds me.”
“Who is after you?” Joshua Mulenga asked. “Isn’t there a police station or a hospital around here?” He said, looking at the bruises on her arms and face. “You look like you’ve lost a lot of blood. Whoever did this to you needs to be arrested.”
Luyando was writhing on the dusty ground with her hand still holding on to Mrs Mulenga.
“You can’t take me there!” She cried. “He…he…he….” And she blacked out before she could finish her sentence. She was about to hit her head on the ground when Mrs Mulenga grabbed hold of her arm and raised her.
Mr Mulenga rushed out of the vehicle to help his wife get the collapsed girl into the backseat.
“Go and sit in front,” she instructed her son.
“Put your seatbelt on son.” Mr Mulenga told his son as he got the car back on the road.
“Where are we going?” His wife asked from the back seat, Luyando’s head resting on her laps.
“To the hospital first of course.” He replied.
“You heard what she said; what if whoever did to her comes searching for her? Besides, this is a small town, do they even have any hospitals here?”
“You are right,” he said. “What are we going to do with her then?”
“Why don’t we just take her home with us mum?” Tulani asked.
“What the hell are you talking about young man?” His father said.
“Mum said she wanted a girl and since she can’t have any more children now, why can’t she keep this one? She looks like she’s the same age as me even…maybe this is the miracle Pastor Kennedy was talking about.”
Both parents kept quiet, Mr Mulenga’s eyes fixed on the road ahead while his wife looked at the new hope resting comfortably on her laps, her mind replaying the innocent words of her ten year old son;
Maybe this is the miracle Pastor Kennedy was talking about.
Feeling the soft hand of Mrs Mulenga as she stroked her hair, Luyando moved her toes in excitement, silently thanking the stars for her new kind of fate.
Bernard Chimeko woke up a few minutes passed 10 the next morning only to find no signs of his daughter anywhere. Thinking that she had disappeared on her usual escapades, he dusted himself off and went out drinking again.
When two days had gone by and he had not seen any signs of his daughter, worry and fear started getting to him.
“Did you see my girl anywhere?” He asked everyone he came across in the market but they all said they hadn’t seen her in the past two days.
“You drink too much Chimeko, what if you lost your daughter while you were passed out?” One of the marketeers he used to drink with said.
In a state of panic, Bernard rushed back into his tent and immediately noticed what his eyes in their drunken state had failed to notice the past two days; most of his daughter’s belongings were gone.
“Oh no,” he kept saying as he turned everything in the tent upside down. “What have I done? What have I done to our daughter Tasi?” He then dropped to his knees and started sobbing.
“How can I face you in heaven like this?” Bernard asked the skies later than evening as he stood on top of the hill overlooking the river.
“I am so sorry I lost our daughter my darling Tasila…I lost our little Luyando.” He broke down in tears again.
With an expression that could only mirror the one his daughter had right before she ran away two days ago, Bernard stood up and faced the breathing water below.
Not wanting to give his mind a chance to change, the desperate father leaped forward and went plunging into the river.
Martha Kondwani, a mother of one was drying herself behind a rock after a cold bath in the river when she heard the heavy splash. She quickly put her clothes back on and went to search for the source.
In the two years since Martha had moved to Kanua, there had only been two instances when she caught a group of boys lurking behind the rocks on the hill trying to peep on naked women bathing. Sometimes they just quietly watched and sometimes they threw stones into the water just to make the women uncomfortable.
It was with that mind-set that Martha came out from behind the rock to investigate, expecting to see a huge stone or a group of boys running away. Instead, what she found to her horror was the head of a man peering on the waters of the river.
“Is he dead?” She moved closer to the water to take a closer look at the limp body. She thought she saw him gasp for air and she immediately threw caution to the wind and jumped into the water to rescue the man who appeared to be drowning now.
A few minutes later, Martha came up the waters holding Bernard with one arm and using the other to navigate her way out of the water.
“Let me go!” Bernard had started kicking and throwing his arms about, obviously catching Martha by surprise.
“What do you think you are doing?” Martha yelled. “I am trying to rescue you for God’s sake.”
“Who asked you to do such a dumb thing?” He asked, still kicking to free himself from her grasp but Martha’s strength was no match for his puny malnourished self that had been subjected to only alcohol for the past year. “Let me die in here! I have no right to live…let me go!”
“You stupid man,” Martha snapped, only now realizing that the man was on a suicide mission. The man’s kicking and waving was making it extremely difficult for her to keep moving forward and out of the water.
Martha figured that the only way to safely get them both out of the cold water was if she incapacitated him.
Bernard did not see the punch coming and it landed loud and heavy on the side of his face, knocking him out immediately.
He came to minutes later only to find himself lying on a mat in an unfamiliar room. He tried to get up but his head was still ringing and throbbing from the blow. He was wincing in pain when he felt someone’s soft hands on him as the person slowly helped him up.
“I am sorry about that…punching you I mean.” It was the thirty year old Martha Kondwani whose punch had rendered him unconscious not so long ago.
“What kind of woman has such a strong punch?” The thirty-five year old man asked, still nursing his bruised head and ego. He then noticed he wasn’t wearing the same clothes he had on when he went to the river.
He could tell right away whose clothes he had on and he threw her an angry look.
“What’s this?” He was touching the cream white trousers that barely covered half of his leg and the purple silk blouse that was screaming the desperate situation he had found himself in.
Martha started laughing.
Bernard gave her a stern disapproving look and made a move to take off the blouse but Martha jumped and held his hand.
“What do you think you’re doing?” She asked him.
“You don’t expect me to keep these on even when am conscious do you?”
She laughed again. “I threw away those things you had on…I don’t even know what to call them because they don’t fall in the category of clothes anymore.”
“Who changed me?” The thought finally occurred to him.
“I did,” Martha answered nonchalantly causing Bernard to almost jump from the mat.
“Calm down,” she told him, getting up to check something in the other room and then coming back to look at him. “I am a nurse.” She added. “A man’s nakedness has no impact on me whatsoever. They are just body parts…nothing special.”
“You are a nurse? You work for that clinic in the next town?”
“Is that where they taught you how to punch like that?”
There was silence, and then, “It’s something I had to learn to protect myself.” She said in a very serious tone.
“You learnt how to fight?”
“Martial arts, not just any kind of fighting. It was out of necessity and not….”
While Martha was talking, something behind her appeared to have caught Bernard’s attention and she turned to check what the man was gaping at.
“Tasha.” Martha rushed to her five year old daughter whose gaze was fixed on the stranger in the room.
“Is he my daddy?” The five year old Natasha asked.
Bernard and Martha stared at each other in disbelief, both of them more than ready to set the record straight.
“Now why were you trying to kill yourself?” Martha later asked Bernard that night after putting Natasha to sleep.
* * *
Lusaka, Zambia; December, 2015.
Natasha Thompson drove her brand new Chevy into Tulani Media House which was popularly known as TMH and went searching for a free spot in the parking lot. TMH was the leading independent and private media firm in the country and Natasha was more than excited to start her first day…her first job in Zambia since returning from the States a month ago.
After moving around in circles for close to five minutes without finding a free parking spot, Natasha was about to lose hope when she saw a vehicle move out of a spot a short distance from where she was.
She rushed over there before anyone else got the spot and was just about to get into the spot when she heard someone hooting ruthlessly behind her. She looked back to find the very car that had just moved out and a lady came out, belligerently waving her arms about in the air as she walked towards Natasha.
Wondering what the hell was going on, Natasha waited for the angry lady to come to her, afraid to come out without knowing what had upset her so much.
The lady started banging aggressively on Natasha’s window and fearing that her new car might suffer damage, she rolled down the window to hear what the lady was going on about.
“Is something the matter?” Natasha asked the angry but beautiful lady glaring at her through the window.
“This is a reserved spot,” the lady said. “You can’t park here. Can’t you see the sign over there?” She pointed to the bold sign right on the wall ahead that Natasha seemed to have missed in her hurry to secure the spot.
“Are you the Chief Financial Officer?” Natasha asked.
“Don’t you know who I am?” the lady asked, obviously expecting her identity to be common knowledge.
Natasha shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly in response, an act that seemed to peeve the lady even more.
“What the hell are you doing driving into TMH when you have no idea who the hell I am?”
“Look lady,” Natasha opened the door and came out of the vehicle to properly address the strange woman.
“This is my first day here so forgive me if I cannot remember all the faces I saw online of the high officials here.”
“The accent,” the angry lady remarked. “Did you apply for a job here?”
“I got offered a position here.” Natasha deliberately stressed every word in the sentence.
“My name is Luyando Mulenga,” the lady removed a stash of her business cards and handed one to Natasha. “You might wanna know who I am if you are going to be working here. My family owns this whole place and I am the CFO. You need to remove your vehicle from my spot before it gets towed right away.”
Natasha finally understood the arrogant airs she had detected from the lady the moment she had laid eyes on her.
“Luyando Mulenga….” Natasha said as she examined the business card. “I might not have been raised in Zambia but, isn’t this a weird name combination? Could it be a Tonga mother and a Bemba father…except, I heard your mother is originally Zimbabwean…?”
Luyanda grabbed the card from Natasha. “If you must know, I was named after the nurse that helped my mother deliver me.” She said.
Natasha laughed. “Forgive me, you don’t owe me any explanation whatsoever. I am just happy to meet someone with a complicated family history as I.”
“I was not explaining anything; I was simply stating a fact. I don’t care about your family history and I can assure you that there is nothing complicated about my family. What is your name by the way?”
“Natasha…Natasha Thompson…funny story, I know…but sometimes it isn’t that easy to get rid of your ex’s name. May I go now ma’am? I need to find another parking spot before am late for my meeting with the CEO.”
“Natasha,” Luyando mulled over the name. “I will certainly keep my eye on you.” She pranced back to her car.
Natasha went back into her car and waited for Luyando to drive away before she could move her car.
“Natasha….” Luyando said whilst looking at Natasha through the interior rear view mirror. “Let’s see how long you will last here with that kind of attitude.” And she hit the accelerator and sped out of the parking lot like she owned the whole building.
Natasha walked over to the reception and greeted the young beautiful girl standing behind the front desk.
“Gosh, getting into this place is worse than getting into a military camp site. Is all that security really necessary?” she was looking behind at the two security guards mounted at the third security entry point; the first one being a group of two security guards asking for identification and then grilling questions before subjecting you to a body scan before handing you a visitor’s card to swipe and be let through to the second phase of security once confirmation of appointment was made.
At the second security point, Natasha had to insert the visitors card she had been given before she could be allowed through to the last phase of security where two security guards held the doors open for her and directed her to the reception desk.
“There’s a television station, a newspaper, and a radio station under one roof here,” the receptionist explained. “You have no idea how many people want access to those services and what some of them would be willing to do to be heard. You must be Mrs Thompson.”
Natasha laughed. “Ms actually, divorced.” She raised her hand to show the girl her fingers.
“Mr Mulenga is waiting for you in his office on the fourth floor, East Wing.”
“East Wing?” Natasha asked.
“Those two lifts over there will take you to the East Wing which is where T-Tv is located. The ground floor is for the radio station only and the West Wing is for the Newspaper. Only those in top management have access to all wings of the building.”
“I see,” Natasha said. “Thanks.”
“Mr Mulenga’s office is the only one on the fourth floor so it won’t be hard to find.”
“Figures,” Natasha said and walked to the lift.
Even though she could not remember much of her childhood days in Zambia, Natasha had heard some things about her mother country from some friends she had made online and none of them had painted the county in bright lights.
But for the one month she had been back, she had seen levels of development far beyond her expectations and she couldn’t help but be impressed. The TMH building was one of those things that had blown her breath away the moment she had laid her eyes on it and feasted on its architectural beauty.
The building was a wonder to behold and it’s expensive quality was not surprising considering that the major shareholders where right at the top of the financial food chain.
“I’m here for Mr Mulenga.” Natasha announced to the CEO’s PA.
“Come through,” she said as she got up to guide her to the office. “He’s expecting you.”
“Ms Thompson is here Sir.” The PA peeped through the door to announce the visitor.
“Let her in,” Natasha heard a man say. She smiled, thinking how he still sounded the same even after four years.
The PA stepped aside and held the door wide open for her to get in.
“Thanks,” Natasha said.
“Look what we have here!” Tulani Mulenga exclaimed the moment he laid eyes on Natasha. “Come here!” He grabbed her and wrapped his arms around her.
“Hmm Hmm,” the PA cleared her thought to announce that she was still there. “Coffee, tea or juice for the guest?” She asked.
“Tea please,” Natasha answered, separating herself from Tulani who appeared to be enjoying having his arms around her a little too much.
“The usual for you Sir?”
“Yes Claudia, the usual.”
“You have a lovely office Tula,” Natasha said, walking around the large room and touching things here and there.
“You look way too sexy than the last time I saw you.”
“I think that is considered sexual harassment in this kind of situation don’t you think?” She took one of the seats in front of his desk.
“You haven’t signed the contract yet so I can say whatever I want to say in the meantime.” The thirty-four year old said, a mischievous smile playing at the corners of his mouth.
Natasha laughed. “I see nothing has changed over the years. Last time we spoke on the phone, you sounded a little mature and grounded and I had this hope that perhaps…perhaps you’ve grown a little now.”
Tulani busted out in laughter. “You are the only woman in this world who thinks am childish. Every other woman out there wants to have my child.”
“That could be because you bring out motherly instincts in them.”
“Ouch!” Tulani held his hand to his heart mimicking a heart attack.
“Besides,” Tulani added once he was seated. “I had no choice but to sound all mature the last time we talked since you were crying. I couldn’t say this at that time but I am glad you divorced the b—–d. He didn’t deserve you.”
“Wow, thanks Tula, that makes me feel so much better.” She said.
“Sarcasm I see,” he remarked. “I can’t seem to catch a break with you Tasha…could be why I haven’t been able to get you off my mind from the moment I met you. I can’t believe it’s been four years already.”
Tulani’s Personal Assistant came in with the beverages and left after serving them.
Natasha couldn’t help admitting that despite his childishness, there was nothing about Tulani’s physical stature that suggested he was a boy. At thirty-four years old, he was made of stuff found in women’s dreams; tall, well-built, and with looks that broke the hearts of all those that couldn’t be with him. He was a natural charmer and he knew exactly what to say and what not to say to please the ear of a woman.
“Let’s catch up another time Tulani. I am here to talk about work.” She reminded him, her serious tone suggesting that she was not open to any more personal discussions.
“I know what you’re trying to do…but I totally understand.” He said.
“I am not very sure about the position,” she said. “But I figured it’ll be in my field of expertise so….”
“Yes of course the position is right in your alley; Lead News Anchor and you are at liberty to come up with a maximum of two programs to be sponsored by our partners of course…and as usual, the two important words are; relevance and ratings…you know the drill.”
“I do,” she said. “But what about the person who previously held that position, what happened to them?”
“Nalukwi quit a month ago because she had to follow her husband to Ndola. He works for Barclays and you know how those people transfer their stuff. Nalukwi was pregnant so you know…. Don’t think for a moment that you got this job through nepotism.
“To this day I still remember how impressive your work back in the US was and I want that kind of quality for my station. When I heard you would be coming to Zambia, I was ecited like a little boy! It was like a dream come true.”
“Thank you for telling me that Mr Mulenga, I was afraid people might think I am underqualified for whatever position you gave me since I came through the back door.
Tulani was laughing. “Please, whatever you do, don’t ever call me Mr Mulenga. You and I have been friends for over four years now and even the Lord knows we are beyond the friendship zone.” He was smiling mischievously at her.
“But this is work.” Natasha argued. “I don’t want to give anyone any ideas.”
“What ideas?” Tulani asked. “That you and I are more than friends?” He laughed.
“Tulani!” She protested.
“Look how natural my name falls from your lips. I can’t have you calling me Mr Mulenga, that’s just bloody uncomfortable and you know it.”
“Can I see the contract?” She quickly changed the topic.
Tulani opened the top left drawer and removed a folder which he handed to her. Natasha opened it and skimmed through the contents while Tulani made a call to his PA.
“Claudia, get me Tamara in here.”
“Who’s Tamara?” Natasha asked.
“Tamara Banda is the head of broadcasting. You will be reporting to her.” He answered.
“How old is she?”
“Does the age of your boss matter?” Tulani laughed. “She should be in her early fifties.”
“Perfect,” Natasha said. “I would hate to be reporting to someone my age. Women have a way of establishing rivalries that are not even there. That reminds me, I met your sister down in the parking lot earlier. She is as tough as you described her to be.”
“You met Luyando? What did she say? Did you tell her you and I are friends?”
Natasha chuckled. “The circumstances under which we met made it impossible for us to get off on friendly terms. I know she is your sister but she is way too bossy and arrogant. How can siblings be so different?”
“Our parents say she takes after our grandfather, but she’s really a good person. The two of you might actually hit it off once you get to know each other a little more.”
“I doubt that,” Natasha said. “I don’t look like her type…and neither does she.”
“If you are going to be my wife, you will have no choice but to get along with your sister in-law.”
“Try to be serious for once Tulani, why don’t you ever take anything I say seriously? You know very well that marriage is the last thing on my mind. I don’t appreciate that you can joke about it right now.”
Tulani moved from behind his desk to stand in front of her. He pulled her chair back, laid his arms on her sides and pulled her up.
“Did I stammer when I said I wanted to make you my wife?” He asked, looking her straight in the eye.
“The problem is not about what I said Tasha,” he continued. “It’s about what you choose to believe. You know that the moment you start taking me seriously, you will be forced to make a decision and you are afraid to confront your feelings.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Natasha tried to move away from him but he kept her right where he needed her to be.
“Ar ah, don’t look away from me,” he turned her face by the chin and forced her to keep looking at him. “My feelings from four years ago haven’t changed, if anything, they have grown stronger.
“I respected your decision to go back to your husband after your separation but that didn’t mean I had given up on you. I never gave up Tasha. I still love you.”
“What’s going on in here?” A voice asked from the door. Natasha yanked herself away from Tulani and turned to look at the intruder.
It was Luyando, looking as gruesomely angry as ever.
Did she ever smile? Natasha wondered.
“Hey sis,” Tulani greeted her. “I thought you had a meeting in town this morning?” he walked back to his seat behind his desk and sat down.
“The director’s wife suffered a heart attack and his secretary called me to cancel right as I was driving out of here. Do the two of you know each other?” She was looking from Natasha to Tulani.
“Ah, I heard the two of you met,” he said. “But let me make the official introductions,” he got up. “This beautiful lady standing here is Natasha Thompson, our new lead News Anchor. Natasha, this is my sister and the CFO of TMH Television.”
“It’s nice to meet you once again.” Natasha reached out her hand but Luyando only stared at it with a repugnant expression on her face.
“Do you make it a habit to sleep your way to the top Ms Thompson?” Luyando asked and won herself a look of chagrin from her brother.
“Excuse me?” Natasha said, finding it hard to believe what her perfectly working ears had just heard.
“There’s no need for you to be that harsh Lu,” Tulani said. “Natasha and I have been friends for over four years now.”
A knock on the door is exactly what the three of them needed to calm the icy atmosphere in the room.
“Mrs Banda is here sir,” the PA announced.
“Let her in Claudia, let her in.” He said, and then turning to his sister, “is there anything you needed sis? I need to talk to the two about Ms Thompson’s appointment.”
“I will come back later,” she said in an icy tone and left, completely ignoring Tamara’s greeting as they passed each other on the door.
“Mrs Banda, come in.” Tulani said. “Sit down Ms Thompson, you too Tamara.”
Even though Natasha’s first day at work had not gone as bad as she had expected it go, there was something that kept bothering her. She couldn’t seem to get over the cold reception she had received from Tulani’s sister and she kept wondering why the woman was giving her such a cold attitude.
During lunch break with some of her new colleagues, Natasha found an opportunity to probe a little about Luyando and her counterparts where more than glad to update her on the office gossip.
Kanua Village, Zambia; January, 1991