Story: Promise in the Dark

    Episode 01

    The atmosphere was icy. A mother, her son, and a woman silently wishing to be anywhere else
    but squared off in a living room that was starting to feel fifteen times smaller than its actual size.
    Higher up on the wall at the far end of the room hang a huge golden clock; tick, tock, tick, tock it
    chimed away, possibly the only sound in the room other than the uncomfortable sounds coming
    from the mother’s hyperventilation.
    Jackson Chibamba was desperately trying to hold his own against his mother’s intimidating and
    frozen glare. He nervously wiped off the sweat on his forehead with the back of his hand, silently
    wishing his mother’s hot acid tone could melt the ice looming over them when she thundered;
    “Get her out of my house.”
    Beauty Kabalo was the mother’s name, a woman known more for her viciousness than her
    virtue…if at all she had any. She was known as a legend around the community for allegedly
    shouting at a neighbours dog for messing up her lawn that the dog ended up committing suicide a
    few minutes later. Contrary to her name, there was nothing remotely beautiful about Beauty, not in
    physical form or character. Perhaps she might have had some beautiful physical features, but her
    icy demeanour always clouded people’s vision around her, including her only son.
    Jackson had saved his mother as ‘Beauhazia’ in his phone and allocated her a specific ringtone,
    the chorus of the The Bee Gees’ song ‘Staying Alive’ as a reminder to take a deep breath before
    answering her calls.
    “I bet your parent’s are turning in their grave right now looking at how you never grew into your
    name.” Jackson had once heard his late father say to his mother after one of their usual heated
    fights. Jackson had always been on his father’s side, and so was everyone else in their old
    community.
    The woman Beauty was chasing out of her house was Juliet, Jackson’s fiancée. Juliet Mwansa
    and Jackson Chibamba had been dating for past three years. He had finally decided to lay aside
    all his fears and reservations and took a bold step to introduce the two women responsible for
    shaping his life in such profound yet parallel ways. On that day, Jackson discovered that it was
    possible for one to have predications that equalled heavenly accuracy; everything was turning out
    exactly as he had imagined it to be…except for the part where he had imagined smoke coming out
    of his mother’s ears and nose. Instead of that, Beauty had opted to channel all manner of Oxygen
    in the room towards herself, leaving the rest to start wishing death upon themselves.
    “I think it’s best for me to leave.” Juliet said, almost getting up but Jackson put his hand hard on
    her shoulder and forced her back down.
    “You’re not going anywhere.” He said sternly.
    “Then I will be the one leaving.” Beauty thundered, already up on her feet.
    “Please mum, it is not in your nature to leave your natural habitat even if it’s to get away from
    someone you consider an enemy.” Her son said defiantly.
    “You’re right,” she returned. “My nature would be to set the house on fire and then leave, locking
    the enemy inside and making sure there is no way out for him.”
    Jackson didn’t need to ask who the enemy was. He knew he had become her enemy the moment
    he decided to date Juliet and he sealed his fate the very moment he allowed the two women to
    meet.
    For a son who didn’t have a lot of good things to say about his mother and justifiably so, this was
    the one case in his entire life that he understood her anger and pain. Beauty had every right to
    oppose his marriage to Juliet and she had every right to be angry at him. And what was worse
    was, Juliet too understood.
    “I should just leave.” Juliet said, this time standing up quickly before Jackson could stop her.
    “Yes, leave before I make you regret crossing paths with my son.” Beauty spat, rushing to the door
    and holding it open for her.
    “You’re just impossible mother.” Jackson said, getting up to get to the door before his fiancée. “Do
    you know what it took for me to come here with her?” He squared off with her at the door as Juliet
    stopped dead in her tracks.
    “Have you lost your mind, or have you lost your memory?” Beauty asked her son. “Have you
    forgotten what these people did to you son, how her family treated you, us, your family?”
    “Of course I haven’t forgotten mum, how can I?” The thirty-five year old said, deliberately avoiding
    looking at Juliet who was silently wishing for the ground to open up and swallow her.
    “Then why have you brought this girl to this house?”
    “Because I love her mother.” Jackson answered. “And because she is different from the rest of her
    family.”
    “What do you mean she’s different?” His mother asked, throwing Juliet a disgusted look. “Where
    was she when her family humiliated us, when her sister made a spectacle of you in front of the
    whole school? Where was she?”
    Jackson hang his head resignedly. “Mum,” he said in a very low tone. “That was ages ago can’t
    you just forget the past, please!”
    Beauty snickered. “You want me to forget like you’ve forgotten that you dated that same evil sister
    of hers?”
    The look that Juliet sent him sent shivers down his spine. “I never dated that girl!” he shouted.
    His mother cackled. “Aaarh, so you just ran around like a headless chicken doing favors for her
    that had you spending three nights in jail in exchange for sex?” She asked sarcastically.
    “Mum!” Jackson roared.
    “What, I heard you tell your friend that she promised to sleep with you if you stole clothes for her
    from Pep. Isn’t that why you got arrested?”
    “I was only a kid back then,” Jackson said. “I was fifteen for Pete’s sake and things didn’t happen
    as you are making them sound. I can’t believe you’re doing this. I am the fool for bringing Juliet
    here.”
    “You think?” Beauty asked, noisily tapping her foot against the carpeted floor, a smug look on her
    face as she busked in glory over her Juliet’s defeated demeanour.
    “I have to leave.” Juliet said, forcing her way between the mother and son.
    “Juliet, wait!” Jackson ran after her outside, his mother watching them from the door with the same
    triumphant look on her face.
    Juliet suddenly stopped and turned around.
    “You slept with her?” She said, tears streaming down her cheeks.

    Episode 02

    In what proved to be the longest drive they had ever taken together, Jackson dropped off Juliet
    outside her apartment in Avondale. Before he could get his door open to run round to get hers for
    her, Juliet had opened it for herself and was out, banging the door behind her with the force of an
    army general. No word had been spoken between them the whole way home and the situation
    remained like that when she opened her gate, got inside and locked it behind her while a shellshocked
    Jackson watched by the car in dismay.
    “So you left the situation hanging just like that?” Jackson’s best friend and housemate Greg asked
    when he finally got home and the two sat to watch the Manchester United Vs Chelsea game
    showing that night.
    Jackson opened his third Castle Lite, spread his leg onto the table and leaned back into the couch.
    “I Know Julie,” he said. “She wasn’t going to listen or believe a single thing I said when she’s that
    upset.”
    “And you think keeping quiet helped your case!?” Greg was looking at his friend in incredulity,
    shaking his head slowly. “Man you really don’t know women do you?”
    Jackson gave him a blank look.
    “For women, even silence is a response!” Jackson enlightened his unperceptive pal. “You my
    friend have already admitted guilt in this case. You’re done.”
    “What do you mean?” A deeply perplexed Jackson asked. “Juliet trusts me,” he added but it was
    clear not even he was sure of his own words. “There’s no way she would think that I-“ the
    disparaging look on Greg brought Jackson’s speech to a halt. “What?” Jackson asked angrily.
    Greg put his bottle of beer down and sat up straight to address his friend properly. “You told me
    yourself that you liked her older sister when you were kids.”
    “So?” Jackson asked. “It’s not like I was in-love with her.”
    “Dude, you went to jail for her.” Greg reminded his seemingly forgetful mate.
    “I was young and stupid,” Jackson defended himself. “And that happened like what, twenty years
    ago? Why is everyone suddenly making everything seem like it happened two weeks ago?”
    “Maybe it’s because you’ve fallen in-love with a woman you had no business falling for in the first
    place.”
    Jackson dropped his feet back on the floor and sat up. He had already drained the contents in the
    bottle and he put it on the table with the rest of the empty bottles.
    “Juliet is the only good thing that came out of my past and she is the only good thing that has ever
    happened to me.” He said.
    “Coming to think of it,” Greg said. “You never did tell me what actually happened back then…as in
    why the two families, yours and Juliet’s hate each other. Did Juliet finally tell her parents about
    your relationship?”
    “She did,” Jackson answered. “That’s why she’s been staying alone for the past one month.
    “They kicked her out?” Greg asked.
    Jackson nodded.
    “Wow, you guys are truly the Romeo and Juliet of Zambia…oh wait,” A dubious smile appeared on
    Greg’s face. “She is actually Juliet, holy-cannoli this is some crazy shit! Why didn’t I-“
    Jackson’s pugnacious glare forced Greg to sober down immediately.
    “Apologies,” the thirty year old raised his hands in contrition. “My bad, I shouldn’t be laughing right
    now. How about telling me what really happened in the past with you guys?” He asked in a very
    staid tone.
    “You know I hate going back there so forget it.” Jackson stated dismissively.
    “So how do you honestly expect me to help you sort out this mess if I don’t know everything?”
    Greg argued. “Or maybe you are already thinking about giving up-“
    “Hell NO!” Jackson growled.
    “Well then-“ Greg gestured for his pal to start talking.
    “It all started some thirty or so years ago….” Jackson narrated.

    My father used to work as a diplomat and he was stationed in Kenya for four years. After the
    change of government, the family had to return to Zambia and my father bought us a house in
    Kabulonga. It was a very posh neighbourhood where only the rich folks lived so we were all very
    happy. Unfortunately, buying that house meant dad had to use all his savings and since he was
    out of a job, we had no income coming in. He was very hopeful that the new government might
    consider him for a position but as it always happens in politics, every leader has his own people.
    My father eventually lost hope and he resorted to drinking.
    Our relatives eventually got tired of helping us out and advised that my parents sell the house so
    we can get something affordable and use the rest of the money to start some kind of business but
    my mother, of course refused to sell the house. In the two years we had been in that
    neighbourhood she managed to make a reputation for herself and it wasn’t anything admirable.
    She refused to leave because she couldn’t stand people laughing at her and so we continued
    going to the same expensive schools and living a life beyond our means. For a while we managed
    to fool everyone but that could only happen for a while and soon enough everyone discovered how
    poor we really were and so the taunting and bullying started.
    My little sister Happy was only ten years old then and you can’t imagine the days and nights she
    spend crying, wishing she could just quit school and disappear to a place where no one knew her.
    I was fourteen at that time and I was wishing the same thing too. Unfortunately for me, unlike my
    baby sister, I had two majot things working against me; my family and my hormones. That’s where
    Juliet’s family comes in.
    When we just moved into that neighbourhood, I didn’t even notice Juliet. The person I noticed was
    her elder sister Alice. She was sixteen years old, a queen in the neighbourhood and a queen at
    school. Everyone treated her like royalty and every boy wanted her. She was the daughter of
    some top government official…although no one knew exactly what position her father held or who
    he was. No one ever saw him in the neighbourhood but everyone knew the wife. She was very
    vocal and she always made sure her weight was felt everywhere she went, especially during the
    Parent-Teacher meetings. It was during one of those very PTA meetings that things started going
    south. I am not very sure what exactly happened there but this is what I heard took place:
    “There is no way we can have the same person chairing these meetings for the past four years,
    change has to take place, this isn’t a dictatorship.” My mother said.
    She had been eyeing that position from the moment Happy and I joined that school and she had
    vowed to do everything possible to remove Mrs Astridah Mwansa from the position she had
    monopolized for herself.
    Mrs Mwansa laughed. “Calm down Beauty,” she said in her usual calm, controlled and elegant
    tone. “Ask everyone here if there’s ever been a day I commanded them to vote for me. Ask.”
    Of course my mother couldn’t ask because it was the truth that Mrs Mwansa never asked or
    commanded anyone to vote for her. If anything, people always put her name down while she sat
    back and watched. Everyone needed her to hold that position of power for their own selfish
    reasons. Being a rich woman, she made a lot of donations and always offered to pay for things
    needed by the school. During inter-school events, she always made sure the teachers and parents
    from our school had the best seats at the events and they all wanted that to go on forever. There
    was no way they were going to let some nobody take over from her and my mother despised them
    for that. She knew all that and still she pushed to the very end.
    “See, you can’t ask because you know the truth.” Mrs Mwansa said proudly. “However, to be fair, I
    also don’t like it if the people am supposed to be leading do not like me so I think Mrs Chibamba
    here is right,” the elegant woman addressed the meeting. “I will decline your offer to have my
    name up there and I will not serve as the chair this year. Let us give Mrs Chibamba a chance. She
    is a new parent and she has obviously shown great enthusiasm to represent us so why not give
    her the chance?”
    It was clear for everyone that my mother was being set up for a fall but she refused to see things
    for what they really were. She actually thought Mrs Mwansa had stepped down out of fear of her
    and she was very proud of herself for standing up to her. From that time on, life for Happy and I
    got from bad to worse. Everyone hated us at school, the teachers picked on us and they couldn’t
    pass up a chance to punish us. I spent most of my high school days digging pits than in class
    learning. And to make matters worse, I fell for Alice.
    I knew she was way out of my league but I was a very ambitious boy. I didn’t want to let the status
    of my family or the drama between our parents get in the way and so one day after class I pulled
    Alice to the side and told her how I felt. I guess there was still a part of me that thought I was that
    rich and confident kid everyone knew me to be back in Kenya but I didn’t realize just how quick
    things had changed back here in Zambia. Back then, most kids confessed to the girls they liked
    via letters but I was bold enough to tell her my feelings to her face.
    Alice had this puzzled expression on her face when she heard my confession. I wasn’t quite sure
    what to think of it until she spoke.
    “Wow, I don’t know whether to laugh at you or applaud you for your audacity.” She said. “You are
    either very confident…maybe a little too over-confident, or you are stupid, very very stupid.”
    “You can just say yes or no.” I said boldly.
    She chuckled, her hand over her mouth. At that point I could tell she didn’t hate me that much
    because she was smiling like she did when she was in the company of some good looking boys
    within her class.
    “You are special,” she said, scanning me from head to toe. “Poor, but special. You know you can’t
    just tell me you like me and expect us to date right?”
    “What do you want me to do?” I asked.
    “Aarh, you catch on quick too. I like you already.” She said. “There are a lot of guys at this school
    and everywhere else that want me so what makes you think I should choose you out of all of
    them? You are not even my type and I’m way out of your league.”
    It stung to hear those words from her but somehow I had expected to hear them and I had
    prepared myself mentally. I didn’t let them get to me. “I will prove to you that I am the one that
    loves you best.” I said confidently.
    She laughed. “Can you do anything I ask you to?” She asked.
    I quickly nodded. “Yes, anything.” I said.
    From that day forward I was the one doing her homework and doing her punishments at school
    whenever she got in trouble. I was like her slave and I didn’t mind because I had her attention. We
    were neighbours back at home and she would run to my place every now and then whenever she
    got in trouble with her parents and I would hide her. I would have done anything for her and she
    knew it. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for her mother to find out that the two of us were hanging
    out together and her idea of sorting me out was to come to the school in broad daylight and drag
    me out of my Chemistry class by my ear.
    “You should stay away from my daughter you filthy rag!” She was yelling and kicking me in all
    directions while the entire school watched.
    One of the teachers couldn’t take the sight any longer so she rushed over and tried to pull away
    Mrs Mwansa. “This is enough.” The teacher said sternly. She was very new at the school so she
    didn’t care much about Mrs Mwansa’s influence over everyone.
    Alice’s mother turned on her. “Who the hell are you? Don’t you know who I am?”
    “My name is Ms Pumulo and I know exactly who you are but that doesn’t give you the right to beat
    up someone’s son like this.” The teacher said defiantly, grabbing my hand and pulling me up from
    the ground.
    “This someone’s son you say stole something from my home.” She said. “Is that what you’re
    teaching the kids here these days, to steal?”
    “I didn’t steal anything from your home! I would never steal, I am not a thief!” I protested. I was
    looking over at Alice who was watching everything from the side lines with a bemused look on her
    face and I knew then that she wasn’t going to come to my rescue.
    She had followed me to my place two nights ago and said we could hang at her place because her
    parents were out of town. It was something she had never done before and rather than question
    her motives, I just thought we were making progress. But it all finally made sense.
    “The watch that my husband bought for me for our anniversary is missing!” Mrs Mwansa yelled.
    “Alice said you sneaked into our house a few nights ago while we were away to try and talk to her
    and you must have seen the watch on my dresser because the door to my bedroom was open.”
    She was right, I had seen the watch but it wasn’t from her bedroom that I saw it, it was in Alice’s
    bedroom, on her dresser. In fact, I wouldn’t even have seen the watch had she not picked it up
    herself and showed it to me.
    “Isn’t this a beauty?” Is what she had asked me when she held it up for me to see.
    “It is,” I said dismissively. Honestly, I didn’t care about the watch, I just wanted us to get straight
    into business. Wasn’t that why she had called me over?
    “How much do you think it costed?” She had asked.
    “I don’t know, it was probably very expensive.” I had said.
    “Okay,” she said and got up from the bed. “I’m bored, let’s go back to your place and eat your
    mother’s tomatoes.”
    “What?” I asked. It wasn’t that I couldn’t believe what she had just said, well, maybe a little
    because I had certain hopes in mind that came crushing down unceremoniously. However, I knew
    that she loved eating fresh tomatoes and she had gotten us into a habit of harvesting the ones my
    mother had planted in the back yard before their time and eating them with salt. I didn’t like doing it
    but since she seemed to enjoy it so much, I started to look forward to it as well. Of course it made
    my mother ballistic, trying to figure out who was stealing her crop but she never suspected any of
    us so we continued eating them.
    Alice had grabbed my hand and ran out of the house with me. I had not touched the watch.
    “Answer me boy, didn’t you see my watch when you sneaked into my house?” Mrs Mwansa was
    towering over me like a hungry lion.
    “I did,” I said resignedly. I was done for. There was nothing I was going to say in that moment or
    ever that could have proven my innocence. Alice had set me up and when it came down to her
    word against mine, I didn’t stand a chance.
    I could see the confidence that was in Ms Pumulo’s eyes a few minutes ago disappear. “Jackson,
    did you take the woman’s watch?” She asked.
    I couldn’t answer. The fool that I was still wanted to protect Alice because I knew she had sold that
    watch. I had promised her that I would do anything for her and she was expecting me to prove it.
    Saying no would make me lose her favour and saying yes would make me a thief before the entire
    school.
    “I took the watch.” A small voice said from behind me. I quickly turned to look. It was a familiar
    face, I couldn’t immediately remember exactly where I had seen it but as she spoke further, I
    remembered.
    “I ran out of my allowance money and I wanted to buy a birthday present for a friend so I took the
    watch mum. It’s old and you haven’t worn it in ages so…I am sorry.” The little girl confessed, very
    boldly so.
    “Juliet!” Her mother went at her.
    The look on Alice’s face told me she too had not expected this twist in her well-orchestrated plot.

    Episode 03

    That was the day I was officially introduced to Juliet Mwansa, a ten year old kid with big round
    piercing brown eyes. She stood there looking from her mother, her sister Alice and then me,
    daring any one of us to go against her and the coward that I was before Alice had no chance
    against a kid that appeared to know exactly what she wanted and went for it.
    I am not sure whether Juliet was aware of it or not but that day she brought shame and
    embarrassment upon her mother. The woman had been so convinced I was guilty of a crime and
    was more than ready to publicly shame me for it only to have her own daughter throw her a curve
    ball. She went ballistic! She pulled Julie by the ear like she had done to me and led her out of
    campus like that. The little girl followed her mother without protest but I knew exactly the kind of
    pain she was going through because I had experienced the wrath of her mother’s hand on my ear
    not so long ago. As I stood there watching, I felt a huge pang of shame and something else I could
    not place my hand on at that time.
    “I see you got yourself a little fan my dear Jackson.” It was Alice, she was now standing next to
    me, her hands crossed over her chest as she too stood watching in mocked amusement the
    disappearing figures of her mother and sister. She was taunting me.
    I sent her a repugnant look and without saying a word walked back into class.
    That evening after getting back from prep, I stood at the kitchen door that overlooked the small
    wall fence separating our home from the Mwansa’s. From where I was standing, I was able to see
    almost all the activities going on in the next yard. The whole design of the fence made me believe
    that whoever had lived in our house before us must have been very good friends with their
    neighbours, a design the remaining neighbours very obviously came to regret seeing how they
    had already started works on raising the height of the fence. I didn’t blame them.
    Fortunately, the construction had not yet started and that’s how I was able to spot Juliet come out
    of the house with a small basket in hand, she put on her shoes and started walking towards the
    gate. I knew exactly where she was headed so I ran ahead of her and waiting for her a short
    distance away, safe from the prying eyes of everyone at home. She came to a sudden halt the
    moment she spotted me standing by the road side a few feet away from her. She didn’t look at all
    pleased to see me and she went ahead and proved it by resuming her walk and moving passed
    me without so much as a glace in my direction or a hello.
    I was about to follow her and give her a piece of my mind when she surprised me by suddenly
    stopping and walking back to where I was. She stopped right in front of me, barely any breathing
    space separating us, her head raised all the way up so she could have complete access to my
    face and the look she had about her had no business being on the face of a ten year old kid. Who
    was this kid?
    “Do you like her that much?” She asked me, more like judging me if am being honest. I felt
    stripped and condemned, by a ten year old.
    “What?” I asked, completely taken aback by her attitude and line of questioning.
    “I said do you like my sister that much you fool?” She said.
    I scoffed and scowled, unable to fathom her audacity. “That’s none of your business.” I hollered.
    Honestly, I was just ashamed of the depth of my foolishness, and mostly because even a kid her
    age could make that diagnosis.
    “Why did you lie to your mother?” I quickly changed the topic.
    “It’s none of your business what I say to my parents.” She used my own line against me and
    resumed her walk to the market.
    I ran after her. “It’s my business because I was the one accused and we both know who actually
    stole that watch. So why did you lie for me?”
    She stopped and turned to look at me. “What makes you think I did it for you?”
    Yeah, what made me think that?
    “I did it because I am just tired of watching my sister get her way.” She said. “It’s got nothing to do
    with you. If you know what’s good for you, you should stay away from Alice. She will never accept
    you as a boyfriend, don’t you know that? Are you that dumb?”
    The mouth on her. I hated the kid more with every word that fell out of her mouth. She was the kid
    and yet she was chastising me like I was the kid! I was five years her senior!
    “Why are you angry at me?” I asked her. She was acting like I had done something wrong to her.
    What business was it of hers if I liked her sister and she didn’t like me back?
    In what would be one of the first defining moments of our lives, the kid gave me this look, it was so
    intense and then she started shaking her head slowly, like you would if you were looking at
    someone doing something utterly stupid. She was giving me that very look and in what was
    becoming her fashion, she confirmed her unspoken thoughts with words; “
    “Fool.” She spat and started walking again.
    I felt like running after her and kicking her right in the heel so she would fall flat on her belly but I
    was so angry I was scared of what I might actually end up doing to her so I walked back home.
    But that would not be the last time I would be seeing her.
    Back at home the situation between my parents seemed to be getting worse by the day. Not a day
    went by that the two did not fight. At first it was all verbal, with a few things thrown about here and
    there but it was never physical…that was until the night of my almost humiliation at school by Mrs
    Mwansa. As usual, dad came home late, passed midnight and heavily drunk. My mother had
    heard about what had happened to me and she had gone straight to Mrs Mwansa’s house earlier
    that day but unfortunately for her, Mrs Mwansa had travelled right after the school incident for a
    relative’s funeral in Choma. My mother had not had her release so she needed someone to take it
    all out on and my father happened to throw himself right into her venomous path.
    I first heard the pots and pans flying about while I was in my bedroom and because they were
    sounds I had become accustomed to, I simply pulled the blankets over my head and pretended to
    fall asleep. I could hear voices shouting, my mother’s mostly but over the past months I had
    mentally devised ways of drowning everything out. Unfortunately, that night proved to be different
    from the others because the fight seemed to go on and on and the next thing I heard was my
    mother wailing at the top of her voice. I got out of bed and rushed to the kitchen where I found my
    parents engaged in a heated physical fight. My father was obviously the strongest despite his
    drunken state but my mother’s fighting spirit was all over the place, daring him to do more harm.
    Happy was standing behind me, sobbing. “Do something!” She begged me, her tiny hand tagging
    at my sleeve.
    “Go back into your room and close the door.” I told her. And when she hesitated, I put my hands
    over her shoulders and led her back to her room, pushed her inside and asked her to lock the door
    behind her. “Stay in there!” I commanded her. “Don’t come out no matter what, you hear me?”
    “Are you going to make them stop?” Her terrified voice asked me.
    “Yes kiddo,” I told her. “I will but promise me you will stay put in here, deal?”
    “Okay.” She relented.
    What had started off as World War three had now turned into seven when I went back into the
    kitchen. There was blood on the floor and my mother was trying to even the scores with my father.
    For my father who was ex military, he was in familiar territory and in his drunken state, he didn’t
    care who the enemy was. I had never before seen him hit my mother but from the way they were
    going at it, it looked like each one of them had something huge against the other and they picked
    that night to unleash their birse.
    I jumped in between them and tried to separate them and I think it’s at that moment that my father
    came to his senses. He stepped back, away from mother and me but my mother kept coming at
    him, calling him names that still haunt me to this day and I will never forget the look in my father’s
    eyes. She hated him for being jobless and over the years he too had started to hate himself for his
    inability to be the kind of man she expected him to be.
    I was determined to put a stop to the fighting and unfortunately, whilst pushing my mother away,
    she hit her head against the cabinet behind her and she went at me like I was her target. She
    didn’t care who was in her path and it took a while for me to realize she too was drunk until it was
    too late. She hit me with something in the back of my head and I instantly fell bleeding to the floor.
    My father tried to come to my aid but my mother wouldn’t have any of it.
    “He is exactly like you Richard!” She yelled. “He will not amount to anything as well that’s why he’s
    busy trying to get into the pants of my enemy’s daughter. You all hate me in this house! Everyone
    hates me and yet I am the one putting food on the table. I am the man in this house and all of you
    are useless.”
    And then she came for me, yanked me from off the floor by my collar and forced me to stand up
    straight. “Look at your father Jackson, look at him!” She forced my head up by my chin and made
    me look at dad. He was covered in his own blood everywhere and even though the fighting had
    sobered him up a little, he didn’t look like the perfect picture of a father any son would be proud of.
    And yet for some strange reason, I was still proud of him.
    “We wouldn’t be going through all this if you had just listened to dad!” I yelled at my mother and
    that seemed to catch her off guard.
    Shock registered all over her face. My words hit her like a dose of betrayal and I could smell hell
    from her flaming eyes.
    She was ready to fire more rounds my way but I bolted out the door before she could even raise
    her hand. I did not feel safe being in the same room as her, not because I was afraid of her, but
    because I was afraid of what I could do to her.
    I was a teenager, a very frustrated one at that and I had at lot of energy I was yet to put to good
    use.
    It was very dark outside, I had never been out that late and I had stormed out of the house without
    thinking. As I stepped outside the gate, I hesitated a bit, not quiet sure where to go and secondguessing
    my decision to walk away when I heard the gate next door open.
    “Come.” It was Juliet, the ten year old smart mouth.
    “What are you doing out this late?” I asked, my hand place over the wound at the back of my
    head. I could feel everything around me slowly start to spin.
    “I think the whole neighbourhood is awake by now.” She said. Even though she didn’t actually say
    the words, I knew exactly what she meant.
    “There’s no way am coming to your place so you people can accuse me of stealing again.” I said.
    “There’s no one else around. My parents are in Choma and Alice went off with Chisanga. She’s
    not coming back until my parents get on their way back.” I was candidly informed.
    I knew who Chisanga was, everyone knew who he was. He was the head boy at our school so it
    was natural that the head boy and head girl hang out. My ego was dealt a blow…and it hurt even
    more because the little girl standing before me was vividly aware of that fact as well.
    “They left you alone in this big house!” I asked.
    She laughed. “It’s not like it’s the first time.” She said. “Besides, am not a kid. I don’t need a baby
    sitter.”
    I could tell she really believed her own words. And I was starting to believe them too. There was
    nothing childish or child-like about the kid. Absolutely nothing. To this day I am convinced there
    was an old woman living inside her soul.
    “You’re going to fall, idiot.” I felt small hands grab me steady and I realized I was slowly zoning
    out.
    “You’re bleeding.” I heard her say, her voice sounded somewhat distant, everything was slowly
    fading away.
    “This fool will die here.” I heard her little voice again. She had absolutely nothing kind to say about
    me. I was the smartest student at school and yet somehow in the eyes of this girl I was always a
    fool.
    “I’ll get the first aid box.” I heard her say.
    In my delirium, I forced some energy into my system and with her help we were inside her parent’s
    living room. I had no doubt she knew exactly what to do to stop my bleeding.
    “I will protect you.” I think I heard her say. I was in and out of consciousness. I could feel her tying
    something around my head but I couldn’t make out her words. She just kept talking throughout. I
    have asked her several times what exactly she said to me that night and she’s refused to tell me.
    That night changed everything in my life and it changed the way I started to relate with Juliet.
    We were finally friends.
    But both our families were starting to fall apart, each in its own way. Like a fire that cannot be
    escaped, we the kids became engulfed in the flames raging from our parents messed-up lives,
    paying the price decisions they made or didn’t make… and the events that would follow would alter
    the cause of our lives forever.
    Things would never be the same again

    Episode 04

    I woke up the next morning and found myself covered in blankets and my head on a pillow. I was
    in Mrs Mwansa’s living room.
    “You’re finally up.” Juliet was towering over me, her small legs spread apart and my body lying inbetween
    them. I quickly sat up, memories of the previous night coming back to me at record
    speed. I winced in pain; my brain was obviously trying to adjust to the reality before me.
    Juliet stepped aside and stood watching me in what I can only assume was bewilderment. “I
    thought you had died.” She said, the cryptic smile on her face sent a shiver down my spine. The
    kid could be scary sometimes.
    “Did you try to kill me?” I asked her, getting up from the beddings to sit on the couch. She went
    straight to folding the beddings. “I can do that,” I said, trying to grab them from her.
    “It’s fine just sit.” She said determinedly and continued about her business. I sat back and watched
    her.
    “I am the one that saved you,” she added. “Your mother is the one that tried to kill you.”
    “She has her crazy days too.” I said apologetically. I was used to people calling my mother names
    and judging her so it became a habit of mine to ease people into such conversations.
    “She does yes but I don’t think she’s a bad person.” The ten year old surprised me. It was the first
    time I was hearing someone say something nice about my mother. Not even my mother’s mother
    had anything nice to say about her own daughter so this was a first. I heard from the relatives from
    mum’s side that the nicest thing grandma had ever done or said to her daughter was the day she
    named her Beauty.
    “My mother isn’t a nice person so don’t try to patronize me.” I went straight on the defensive.
    “Whatever you say.” She said. She didn’t even bother correcting me. I knew she was just trying to
    be kind. “I made some sandwiches in the kitchen, with egg.” She candidly informed me.
    I gaped at her. “You made egg sandwiches?” I asked. “Aren’t you like four? You can cook?”
    She looked offended. “I am ten.” She said between clenched teeth. “I have told you I am not a kid.”
    She added sternly. “If you don’t want to eat you can leave I don’t care.” She put the folded
    beddings and the pillow on the couch and proceeded to the kitchen. I followed her. I set my pride
    aside because I knew I was going to regret not eating once I got home. There was absolutely no
    food at home.
    “I can pack these and eat later right?” I asked Juliet just after finishing the first one.
    “I made them all for you.” She said as she sat back and watched. I didn’t even bother to ask why
    she was not eating and just watching me because I needed to pack some food for Happy. Even
    though I went straight to packing the food, her quick response kind of tagged at me, it was as if
    she had expected me to pack some of the food. That’s why she had made so much and didn’t eat
    any of it. I didn’t know whether to like her or hate her for making assumptions so accurately.
    “Thanks for the first aid and for the food.” I told her as I stood by the door, ready to leave. I needed
    to hurry home and feed my baby sister who most definitely had cried herself to sleep.
    “You need to go to the hospital you know that right?” She said to my retreating back.
    She was right but where the devil was I supposed to find money to go to the hospital. Such things
    were a luxury to people like us. Nature was going to take care of the wound or I would just die.
    Either was okay with me.
    For the days and months that followed, Juliet packed breakfast and lunch for Happy and me. On
    days that she couldn’t cook without her mother or sister knowing, she gave happy her allowance
    money rather than give to me because she knew my pride wouldn’t allow me to accept money
    from a girl. Every bone in my body wanted to reject her charity but we were so deep in poverty
    there was no room for pride. I soon started saving the money she was giving us, bought some
    flour, yeast, cooking oil and sugar and started making doughnuts to sell at the market in the next
    neighbourhood where nobody knew who I was.
    That was how I was able to put food on the table and pay our school fees because after that
    fateful night of fighting, my mother had completely given up on taking care of us. Whatever money
    she made from whatever business venture she was engaged in, she kept it for herself. She
    completely changed and it was as if she had reached a point of no return. Once she turned black,
    she soaked all parts of her into her web of darkness. She openly had affairs and lost all manner of
    respect for my dad who kept drowning deeper and deeper in alcohol.
    Juliet of course came to discover where I spent all my evenings after school and weekends thanks
    to Happy with whom they had gotten close over the past year and she decided to join me. I tried to
    talk her out of the crazy idea because I didn’t want anyone finding out about my business and
    worse telling Mrs Mwansa about it. However, my determination to stop her was no match for hers
    to help me and in the end it was decided that she could set up a stand inside the market where it
    was more private and I would remain outside, closer to the busy roadside. And so Juliet and
    Happy joined me in my small business venture.
    Three months down the line, my worst fears came to reality when I saw a vehicle park on the other
    side of the road from where I was stationed and immediately I recognized the vehicle…and the
    woman behind the wheel. Mrs Mwansa stepped down from her car and came after me in wild fury.
    “Where is my daughter!?” She was grabbing me by my collar and shaking me with all her might.
    “I don’t know where she is.” I played innocent. As long as I kept my mouth shut, she had no way of
    knowing the truth and since Juliet was safe inside the market, I figured we could all get away if I
    played dumb. I could have easily admitted the truth and told her where her daughter was, I was
    not afraid of what the woman might do to me, I most afraid of what she might do to her daughter
    for disgracing her.
    Mrs Mwansa had obviously heard something about where Juliet could be found and so she started
    dragging me into the market to search for her daughter. Fortunately, Juliet spotted us immediately
    the moment we appeared through the entrance and she grabbed Happy and their dishes and off
    they went. Mrs Mwansa went back home that evening and found Juliet fast asleep in bed.
    “So where did you tell her you were when she asked?” I asked Juliet the following day at school.
    “That I was in the library,” She said nonchalantly.
    “And she believed you?” I asked.
    “How could she not?” The brazen twelve year old asked. “She knows am anti-social and I am
    always reading something so it wasn’t hard to believe.”
    “How did she know about…about the market?” I asked.
    “Some woman saw me and mentioned it to her.” Juliet replied. “I told her she must have seen
    wrong and that I wouldn’t even dream of helping you out because I don’t like you.”
    “What?”
    She laughed. “I had to be convincing!” She said.
    “I was about to get offended.” I said. “I thought we were friends.”
    We both laughed.
    Juliet and I were more than just friends at this point. She knew everything about my life and I had
    come to know everything about her family. Between me, Happy and her, we had our own happy
    little family.
    Of the things I got to learn about Juliet’s family, the most shocking was that Mrs Mwansa was not
    actually Mrs but Ms. She was not married to Mr Mwansa the mysterious and elusive special
    government officer. Mr Mwansa was married to another woman and together they had six children
    and Ms Mildred Soko aka Mrs Mwansa was simply his long term mistress. Nobody except me in
    the whole neighbourhood knew about this shocking news and I could not risk telling a soul
    because I had promised Juliet to keep her secret. Her revealing that detail about her life was her
    way of letting me know I could trust her and I had no intentions whatsoever of breaking her trust,
    even if her mother often pushed me to the very edge of temptation.
    “Did you finally ask Cynthia out?” Juliet asked me.
    Cynthia was a classmate of mine, a grade twelve and someone who seemed to have caught my
    eye after Alice graduated from our school and left my sight. I had not spoken to Alice in over a
    year which wasn’t surprising considering that she had travelled to Uganda to visit some relatives of
    theirs there after her graduation.
    Cynthia was like the younger version of Alice, she was sassy, loud and stylish. There was nothing
    attractive about her character but everything about her physical beauty spoke to the younger man
    in me in ways I could not explain. I doubt if there was a boy at school that didn’t dream about her
    huge breasts and big bottom because that was all she had going for her; her physical beauty. Like
    the fool that I was, I was enchanted and I fell for me. It is indeed the curse of the poor man to
    always fall for the one woman that’s completely out of his league, as if he needs another reminder
    of his sorry state of affairs other than the conditions already surrounding him at home and around
    him.
    Fortunately, despite my poor social status, I had one thing going for me, my pride and my grades. I
    was the sharpest pupil at my school and in all the schools in the country put together. I had
    managed to gain myself a good reputation in my senior years in sport and in academic projects
    and I think that was the only reason Cynthia seemed to have taken a liking to me. I was popular
    and she craved everything popular.
    “I did.” I informed Juliet who didn’t seem to take the news well. “Why are you looking at me like
    that?” I asked her. “I thought you would be happy for me?”
    She chuckled a bit. “Of course am happy for you,” she said. “I am just surprised that’s all. Didn’t
    think you would ask her out so soon.”
    I had this proud smile on my face. “I am not fifteen any more you know.”
    “I can see that.” She said, that same sad look in her eyes. “Anyway, I have to go to the library.
    There’s a book am dying to finish.” She got up and started walking away before I could even say
    goodbye.
    For the first couple of months my relationship with Cynthia blossomed, I was in-love and for the
    first time the girl loved me back just as much. Unfortunately, like most relationships, my friendship
    with Juliet slowly became strained as a result of my new romance. I no longer had enough time to
    hang out with her even though she continued helping me out with my small business whenever
    her mother was out of town. Unlike the many people I considered my friends at that time, including
    my own girlfriend, Juliet appeared to be the only constant in my life, the one friend I could point at
    without doubt and say she would always have my back.
    And that fact never changed, even after her sister Alice returned with a determination to turn my
    already spiralling life upside down.
    Alice was my Achilles heel. I knew it, she knew it and so did everyone else. For a while with
    Cynthia in the picture I thought I had gotten over my crush but Alice’s return from her vacation
    broughta whole new wind of change. She suddenly had this deep severe interest in me. Whereas
    before I did all the chasing, this time around she was the one doing the chasing. She sneaked into
    my bedroom in the middle of the night and she followed me at school in the middle of the day. At
    first I was suspicious so it was easy to brush her off and ignore her but as time went by and she
    still persisted, I found myself thinking about her more and more and wondering if her feelings for
    me where genuine. I hoped they were.
    And the more I thought about that, the more I entertained ideas of what it would actually be like if I
    had her. It was a huge boost to my once broken ego to finally have the attention of the girl that had
    constantly rejected and humiliated me.
    And like the fool that I was, I dumped Cynthia and started dating Alice.
    “She will only break your heart you fool.” Juliet went at me the day I told her about my breakup
    with Cynthia for her sister. By now I had grown accustomed to her calling me a fool.
    “She’s changed Juliet,” I told her. “You should give her a chance, she’s your sister.”
    “If only you knew.” She said and turned around to walk away, something that had become a bit of
    a habit of hers in the past months.
    I ran after her. “What do you mean if only I knew?” I asked when I got up to her and walked side
    by side with her.
    “Nothing, forget I said anything.” She said dismissively. “Just don’t come crying to me when she
    breaks your heart, which she will very soon.” And then she gave me a sweep over glare and
    concluded with; “Fool.” She increased her paced and left me standing behind to mull over her
    words.
    True to prophesy, Alice did not delay to deliver on her true character.
    I remember that day as if it was only yesterday. It was a Saturday afternoon, I had taken a day off
    the market…something I had been doing a lot since Alice came back into my life and we decided,
    or rather, she decided that we head to the mall and do some window shopping for fun. Naturally, I
    felt the need to carry some cash with me just in case Alice loved something and I wanted to
    impress her and show her that I was a man now. Unfortunately, true to her character, Alice fell inlove
    with a dress in Pep Stores that was somewhat beyond my budget.
    “I don’t think I can afford this one right now Alice.” I told her as we stood in one of the aisles just
    next to the dress in question. It was an embarrassing moment for me, a loud reminder that I was
    aiming for a fruit that was way beyond my reach. My pride was rendered bruised.
    To my surprise, Alice was smiling, not a reaction I was expecting from a diva like her. She leaned
    in closer to me and whispered into my ear; “you can just get the dress and walk out of here as if
    nothing happened.” She said.
    I gasped. “You mean steal!?”
    She quickly put her hand over my mouth. “Don’t shout silly!”
    “I’m not doing it!” I said sternly.
    “Why are you being such a wimp?” She challenged me. “My friends and I always do it for fun and
    we’ve never gotten in trouble before.”
    “There are cameras everywhere!” I pointed out to her.
    She chuckled. “It’s not like they work.” She said
    “They don’t?” I asked. It was my first time actually stepping into the store. The most I had done
    before was walked passed and admire the things inside from the windows. I had to take her word
    for it.
    “And if you do this for me, you know what reward you will be getting tonight right?” She leaned
    forward again and whispered; “That thing we’ve been putting off for so long.” The thing she was
    referring to was her withdrawing sex from me. It was not something WE had been putting off, it
    was something SHE had been denying me despite pushing me to the edge. She was sneaking
    into my bedroom almost every night and doing all sorts of things to my poor soul except actual
    intercourse. It had always been easier with Cynthia but Alice was hard to break. She thrived on
    being desired and she was determined to keep pushing until she could no longer hold it in herself.
    It was as if she knew that the more she kept me off, the more I would want her…and it was
    working.
    And that was how I ended up spending the night in jail and the days that followed. I had not seen
    or heard from Alice since I was taken away. Like a wind she came and disappeared into the
    distance. As I sat in the corner in the cramped cell that night, Juliet’s words rang in my ears;
    She will break your heart.
    For the first time since I could remember, I cried that night.

    Episode 05

    There was only a week remaining to my grade twelve final exams and the thought of spending the
    rest of my life behind bars made me feel like I was losing my mind. I wondered how my baby sister
    Happy would fair out there in the world alone with two parents that didn’t care about her existence;
    a drunkard father and a talkative lethal promiscuous mother. I was the only one Happy had, the
    only one she could count on and just like everyone else, I too had let her down.
    I was not surprised to see Juliet come to see me with some food the next morning. She had come
    with a gentleman we had befriended and gotten close to from the market. He sold freezits and ice
    blocks on the stand next to mine. His name was Makasa, a very humble and friendly guy with a
    background no different from mine. We clicked the very first day we met and he helped me secure
    my spot in the market.
    Juliet couldn’t stop crying when she saw me behind bars and for the first time I saw her for the
    child that she really was. All these years she had been acting like an adult and I had grown
    accustomed to thinking of her as one but that morning I saw her for the twelve year old that she
    was. Makasa put his arm around her shoulder and tried to calm her down. I was desperately
    fighting back my own tears because I was ashamed and disappointed in myself.
    “Hey kiddo,” I passed my hand through the bars and raffled it through her kinky short hair, my
    bravest face on as I silently choked on my unshed tears.
    “Are you okay?” She asked me.
    “Of course am fine.” I lied. The place smelled like something out of a pig’s bottom, there were
    blood thirsty mosquitoes everywhere and I hadn’t slept a wink, not that I could if I wanted to, there
    was hardly enough room for one to stretch his leg or hand.
    “I will get you out of here?” Juliet stated with such conviction for a twelve year old. The kid was
    very ambitious, always acting like an adult even when it was understandable for her to act her age.
    I think somewhere in that small twisted head of hers she actually believed she was my keeper.
    She should have been born a man because she certainly had firmer balls on her than I could ever
    have.
    “How?” I asked, looking down to avoid her seeing my broken state.
    There was no hope for me. There was no one who was going to get me out of that dump. It was
    the curse of the poor folk, convicted or not, I was done for. There was no adult that was going to
    fight for me, even if it was my very first crime. I really felt like breaking down in that moment but
    somehow I managed to hold it together.
    “Just trust me, okay?” Juliet said in her usual no-nonsense tone.
    I didn’t want to argue with her. Those were the only words of encouragement I was ever going to
    hear from anyone and I was ready to accept them even if I knew they would not bear fruit.
    Four days later, I was surprised to see Juliet come through with a man I had never seen before.
    “Is this the young man?” The officer that had escorted them in asked the man.
    The man looked at Juliet for confirmation. She nodded.
    “Yes my good officer, this is my dear nephew.” The man said.
    The officer quickly unlocked the cell and told me to get out. “You are free to go Sir!” He said,
    saluting to me. Sir? What was happening?
    Juliet threw her arms around me before I could ask any questions and the man turned and started
    walking out of the police station.
    “Who is he?” I whispered to Juliet.
    “My father.” She said.
    “Huh?” I had never seen her father before. I don’t think anyone in the neighbourhood had ever
    seen the man. He was a giant man with a deep menacing voice that spoke of man used to
    throwing about commands. Everything about him looked untouchable.
    “Get in,” the man held the door open for Juliet the moment we were outside and motioned for me
    to get in the back. “I will drop you off at the taxi rank and you can get a taxi home.” He said as he
    got behind the wheel and drove off.
    “Yes,” Came Juliet’s short response. She had that innocent timid look about her that appeared
    foreign to me. Was she that afraid of her own dad? I had never once heard her talk about him and
    every time I tried to bring up the subject, she quickly changed it. It soon became clear he was not
    a topic she wanted to discuss and so I stopped asking.
    “Remember your promise Juliet, not a word of this to your mother. She will kill us both.” The man
    said.
    “Yes.” Another auto pilot response from Juliet.
    Juliet’s father removed a stash of cash from his pocket and handed it to Juliet when we arrived at
    the taxi rank. Juliet took it without saying a word of gratitude, something that again seemed out of
    character.
    “I will see you next week.” He said to her and then turned to me, “Young man, you better stay out
    of trouble.” He said. “You have no idea what my girl here sacrificed to get you out of there.”
    What did he mean sacrificed? I was looking at Juliet with a puzzled expression on my face but she
    quickly got out of the car and went to sit the first available cab at the rank.
    “Thank you very much sir.” I said to the man. “I promise not to get in trouble again. Thank you for
    getting me out of there.”
    “Don’t thank me, thank her.” Juliet’s father said with a cryptic smile on his face that made me feel
    all kinds of uncomfortable.
    “What’s going on Juliet?” I asked her as we sat in the back of the taxi heading home. She had this
    faraway look in her eyes and she appeared tired and withdrawn.
    “Just promise me that you won’t do anything stupid again Jack.” She said, crying.
    “I am sorry Juliet.” It was all I could say. “I am very sorry.”
    She was silent the whole way home. When we arrived, she stepped out first and I had to rush to
    catch up to her by the gate. She stopped, removed the whole bundle of cash her father had given
    her and put it in my hand. I was about to say something but she gave me a look that froze me into
    silence.
    “Buy some food and everything else you need to prepare for the exam.” She said. “I gave Happy
    some past papers and books for you to go through, Mrs Bangweta said those things are likely to
    come in the exam.”
    She opened the gate and left before I could say anything. I had a billion questions running through
    my mind and Juliet’s strange behaviour was not helping things at all.
    I was about to turn and head home when the gate suddenly opened again and Juliet’s head
    popped out. A huge smile on her face that instantly took me aback.
    “Don’t get all crazy ideas running through your head fool.” She said. It was as if she had read my
    mind. “I am just a little mad at you…well, maybe not a little,” she laughed like her usual old self.
    “You know you are a fool right?” She asked.
    I was the one laughing now. “Yes, I know.” I said without shame.
    “Good you know now go and study and stop thinking about stuff that has nothing to do with
    school.” She said and went back inside.
    I could finally breathe properly. I felt like I was suffocating there for a while.
    I managed to write all my exam papers without a hitch thanks to Juliet. I was so grateful to her that
    immediately after my last paper, I went straight to her home and knocked on the front door,
    something I had never dared to do before. I wanted to take her out to the mall and buy her
    whatever she wanted just to say thank you to her. I had kept aside some of the money she had
    last given me and paid Happy’s fess with the rest. Even though it would be her own money buying
    whatever she wanted, at least she was still getting something because I had not seen her buy
    anything for herself ever since we became close. Any money she got from her folks she gave to
    either me or Happy while her other rich kids bought all sorts of girly things for themselves.
    “What do you want?” It was Alice that answered the door.
    We had neither spoken nor seen each other ever since the incident at the store and I had vowed
    to never speak to her again. I was done being her puppet.
    “Is Juliet around?” I asked.
    “She’s studying,” she said in a very rude and dismissive tone.
    “Just tell her it will only take a sec,” I said.
    “You couldn’t bang the sister so now you are on to the younger one ah?” She said.
    I didn’t even want to qualify her stupidity with a response.
    “Do you even know what she had to do to get you out of there?” She asked to fill the silence,
    seeing as I was not in the least bit interested in having a conversation with her.
    She finally won my attention. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.
    “Tsk tsk tsk,” she pursed her lips in disgust. “Ask yourself why a girl that fears her father like the
    pits of hell would suddenly run to him for help. What do you think she had to sacrifice to get him to
    help you?” She slammed the door shut and walked back into the house.
    I wasn’t sure whether to leave or not. Couldn’t tell if she went and informed Juliet of my presence
    or not. It appeared she did because Juliet opened the door a few minutes later.
    “Jack, what are you doing here?” She was looking behind her, obviously to check if her mother
    was in sight. She quickly stepped out of the house and carefully shut the door behind her.
    “We need to talk.” I took her hand and led her out of the yard to our usual hanging out spot not far
    from home.
    “What’s going on?” She asked me for the umpteenth time.
    “You tell me.” I said.
    “What do you mean?”
    “Your dad.”
    “What about my dad?”
    “Your sister told me that the two of you are not close.”
    That seemed to surprise her. “Why would Alice tell you that? What else did she tell you?”
    I went out on a limp and said something I had been suspecting ever since meeting the man in
    question. “That he is not your real father.”
    The fear that instantly spread all over Juliet’s face told me everything I needed to know. I was
    right.
    “Why would Alice tell you that?” She was on the verge of crying, obviously hurt by the betrayal.
    “To be honest, she didn’t.” I confessed. “You just did, your reaction.”
    She was ready to run away but I caught her hand before she could see herself through her
    thoughts. “What’s going on Juliet? I saw how terrified you were of him. Why are you so afraid of
    him?”
    “Who said am afraid of him? I can protect myself.” She said without thinking and immediately
    regretted it. “I meant-“
    “What do you mean you can protect yourself?” I asked, growing more concerned now.
    “I didn’t mean it like that-“
    “Does he abuse you Juliet?” I asked.
    Her face instantly flashed red. “Of course not!” She answered a little too quickly. “Just because he
    isn’t my biological father doesn’t mean he abuses me. He is Alice’s father and my mother had me
    with another man behind his back so am not exactly his favourite kid.”
    “Is that all?”
    “Of course.”
    “Why aren’t you being honest with me? What did you have to do to make him help you out with my
    issue?”
    “Why do you care about all that when it’s all in the past?” She asked. “Aren’t you happy you are
    out? Would you have rather been there forever?”
    “You know that’s not what I mean please don’t try to change the subject.”
    “I’m not changing the subject. You’re the one who’s insisting on talking about things that no longer
    matter.” She was desperately avoiding eye contact and acting all fidgety all of a sudden. She was
    shaking and sweating.
    It finally hit me.
    To this day, that moment of realization stands as the worst day of my life. How could I not have
    seen it? Dear God how could I not have seen it?
    “He’s sexually abusing you isn’t he?” My hands where placed hard on Juliet’s shoulders forcing
    her to maintain contact with me. I needed her to look me in the eye and tell me I was just being
    paranoid. I had to be wrong. There was no way…I just had to be wrong.
    “Juliet!” I cried out.
    She said nothing in return, just kept shaking her head slowly as tears rolled down her eyes.
    Heavens what have I done? What did I do? How could I not have seen it?

    Episode 06

    I begged and begged Juliet to tell me the truth but she refused.
    “Why can’t you just say thank you like normal people do and forget about it? It’s all in the past
    now.” She told me for the hundredth time, her whole face covered in tears.
    “What do you take me for?” I asked her, growing agitated by the second. I was her best friend; I
    didn’t understand why she hadn’t spoken to me about the abuse she was going through. She
    knew every little dirty detail about me and my family and there I was feeling like I knew nothing
    about her struggles.
    “Do you think I’m the type of friend to just use your money and turn a blind eye when I know for a
    fact what you went through…and possibly are still going through as a consequence?” I asked. I
    didn’t mean to add to her list of problems but right then I could read the guilt in her eyes.
    She resignedly sat down on the grass and I sat right next to her. “Please Julie, just tell me. I
    promise I won’t get angry or do something stupid. I promise.”
    “I know you Jack,” she said, her face scanning me for the usual indicators she was familiar with. I
    had no intentions whatsoever of keeping my word because I somehow already knew what she
    was going to say even though every part of me kept wishing I was wrong.
    “You are going to get upset and then make everything worse for me.” Juliet said.
    Her words forced me to re-evaluate my next course of action and so I promised to behave myself
    and I really meant it this time around.
    “He isn’t my biological father, you already know that.” Juliet started.
    I nodded, not trusting my mouth to utter anything that would help the situation, that or I was just
    simply at a loss for words.
    “He is Alice’s real dad and I have no idea who my father is but I always considered Dominic as my
    father too at least that’s what my mother told me to.”
    “Dominic?” I asked.
    “That’s his name,” she said. “Dominic Mwansa. He is a very rich man and my mother loves him
    because of that, he knows it too and he takes advantage of that.”
    “Does your mother know about…the…aarhhh…abuse?” I couldn’t wait any longer. My anger was
    getting the better of me.
    “I never said anything about abuse Jack.” Juliet said, her voice a little bit in control now. Her tears
    where slowly drying too.
    “Juliet?” I threw her a reprobative glance.
    “Yes,” she finally capitulated. “He’s been molesting me since I was three years old. It first started
    as a joke. I didn’t think it was a big deal at first…I was very young then but I remember everything
    vividly because even as it was happening, I knew that something was wrong with what he was
    doing to me.
    “At first it was the usual petting, rubbing here and there until he finally went all out when mum left
    me alone with him one night. He told me that he would stop taking care of us if I said anything, that
    my mother would kill herself if that happened because she loves money too much. He asked me if
    I wanted my mother’s blood on my hands and I said no. The rest is history.”
    Suffice to say, I was livid, I could not believe what I was hearing. The funny thing however was,
    more than being angry at Juliet’s step father, I was angry at myself…for not seeing her pain all
    along. How many times had she said to me that she was not a little girl and how many times had
    she made promises to take care of me and Happy? She was just a little girl who had no business
    uttering such words or let alone making such promises. Every time she said something in those
    lines, I would quickly brush off her words as childish talk or simply her pity talking. How was I to
    know that she meant every word of it?
    Juliet was a girl who thought she was responsible for the happiness and well-being of her family. A
    very stupid man had made her believe that she grew up believing she was responsible for
    everyone. She had put me and my sister in that bracket as well. And that made me feel sick to my
    stomach.
    Unable to contain the repugnant feelings filling up my system, my mouth finally gave way and
    turned to the side to throw up everything I had eaten in the past three days.
    “Are you okay?” Juliet was softly running her hand over my back as I leaned forward and without
    meaning to I pushed her aside. She simply stood to the side and watched as I finished throwing
    up.
    “Does your mother know?” I asked her after a little while, one hand cleaning my mouth.
    I don’t even know why I asked when I already knew the answer. Mrs Mwansa was the type of
    woman capable of telling her daughter to keep quiet and behave while her boyfriend molested her
    own daughter right in front of her.
    “She knows, Alice too.” Juliet said.
    “Alice knows?” what had I expected really?
    Juliet nodded. “Sometimes the two of them would deliberately leave me alone at home just so
    Dominic can could come and do…whatever he wanted.”
    “And you just stay and let him do whatever he wants to you!?” I didn’t mean to be mad at her but I
    still didn’t understand why an intelligent girl like her would not fight to protect herself from such
    abuse.
    “I live right next door to you Julie!” I shouted. “How come you never came to me to-“
    “To do what Jackson?” She was glaring me down. “What can you do to protect me against such a
    powerful man? Do you have any idea what he might do to you and your family if you ever
    interfered? Don’t you think I have thought about confiding in you? So many time, so so many times
    I wanted to tell you….” she was crying again.
    I understood her line of reasoning. There was nothing I could say to dispute that. She was right,
    what really could I do to protect her? I could hardly protect my own sister and family and every
    single day we seemed to be drowning deeper and deeper in problems. Interfering would only
    make things worse for Juliet and for everyone else involved.
    But still, something had to be done because there was no way I was going to let that man continue
    abusing her since now I knew what was going on.
    Three days later I came back home from the market and found my father dead in his couch in the
    living room. He had overdosed on pills and drunk his life away. the scene I walked onto that late
    night was a scene I had imagined one too many times in my head before but still, the excruciating
    pain I felt of seeing that imagination turn to life is something I cannot explain. I dropped on my
    knees before my father and cried my heart out. I knew that Happy was sleeping in her bedroom
    and I didn’t want her to come and see dad in that shape so I quickly toned down but I still could not
    get myself to stop crying.
    My mother came home a week later and found we had already buried dad. I never saw her cry. To
    this day I remember the loo of relief on her face when I gave her the news. She was finally free.
    That night I knew I could not continue living with her without wanting to kill her and I started
    preparing myself to walk out of her life and take Happy away from such a destructive environment.
    The moment I got my results for my grade 12 exams, I started applying for scholarships abroad.
    “But you can’t go with your sister or Julie to America.” Makasa said to me once when we sat
    chatting at his new home. He had gotten married a few months ago and his new bride was
    expecting their first child.
    “I know,” I said. “That’s why I wanted to talk to you.” before I could even voice my thoughts, the
    look in his eyes told me he already knew what I was about to say.
    “No way man!” He exclaimed, almost falling off his stool. “You know my situation very well.”
    “Yes I know and I wouldn’t ask something like this of you if I wasn’t so desperate and didn’t have a
    plan.”
    “I don’t think Violet will like this.” He was shaking his head. Violet was his wife.
    “I know but Makasa, you are the only one I can count on. I have done some research and
    someone told me that they give some kind of salary for scholarship students for their upkeep every
    semester and I want to use that money to take care of Juliet and Happy’s school and upkeep. You
    won’t have to spend a penny on them I promise you. I will get a job once am there and I will keep
    sending money to you. the only thing you have to do is protect them for me and give them a roof
    over their heads, please.”
    He was quiet for a while, obviously thinking about my offer.
    “What if you don’t get any scholarship?” He asked me.
    “Mr Hibajene, the science teacher who always helped me out with my JETS projects has been
    helping me apply for the past five months. He says he’s very hopeful at least one or two
    universities will accept me. He has a friend at social work who has contacts abroad…so, am
    hopeful. Something just has to pen out. It just has to.”
    “But how do you plan on getting Juliet away from her mother?” Makasa asked. “You know she will
    never allow you to do something that crazy. That girl is like their meal ticket and you taking her
    means the end of the good life for all of them you know that right? No way in hell will she let you
    get away with taking her daughter from her.”
    I had already thought long and hard about everything Makasa was pointing out. It was not going to
    be easy to carry out my plans given the enemies I was fighting.
    “I just need to make sure the scholarship is secured and my visa is ready then I will report
    everything that that man has done to Juliet.” I said. “Mrs Mwansa or whatever her name is doesn’t
    care about Juliet. Once the truth is out, she will no longer have any use for Juliet and her
    disappearing from her life would be good riddance.”
    “Have you forgotten the man you are dealing with has authority over the police?” Makasa
    reminded me.
    How could I possibly forget? Didn’t he use that very power to get me out of jail that time?
    “I know,” I said. “But who said anything about reporting him to the police?”
    I got the exact look I was expecting from Makasa. I laughed. “I am going to use the media to
    expose him. I discovered that he is the head of one of the big banks in the country and he is the
    main financier of the ruling party. He likes to keep his life under the radar due to his many shady
    dealings but a scandal like this one will bring him right onto the front pages and who better than
    the public to render judgement on him when the police are in no position to do so?”
    “If he really is who you say he is, then I think you have more issues to worry about than just getting
    Juliet out of her bad situation.” Maksa said. “This is the government you are talking about, and the
    man is a billionaire. These people control the media and they will twist everything to suit
    themselves. What’s worse is, you won’t even be here to protect Juliet when everything starts going
    down. I don’t think you’ve thought through this correctly. You need another plan.”
    “Haven’t you read the news lately Makasa?” I asked my worried friend.
    “What’s there to read?” He asked. “They’re always writing about the same things; politics, politics
    every single day.”
    “Exactly my point!” I said enthusiastically. “Zambians are frustrated right now with the government
    and the opposition is gaining momentum by the day. If this story is given to the right people,
    imagine what they can do with it? Mwansa right now is the backbone of the ruling party, the only
    thing the opposition needs to do is get him out of the way and paint the government black and
    their fate is sealed. Who doesn’t know that everyone wants to see change in this country?”
    Makasa was looking at me like he would a stranger. “Why are you looking at me like that?” I
    asked.
    He laughed. “Since when did you become so ambitious?”
    “Poverty has a way of bringing out the best and worst in all of us.” I said.
    “So who’s back are you planning to climb to get on to push your agenda?” Makasa asked.
    “It’s best you don’t know.” I said. “I have no plans whatsoever of getting you involved in this?”
    He was giving me the are-you-kidding-me look.
    I laughed. “I mean not all the way.” I said.
    Four months later, despite everything sort of going my way, the unexpected happened. The
    people I was dealing with on the political end where so excited to get the news out that they sent a
    group of journalist to Juliet’s place to film her without talking to me about it or giving me enough
    time to warn her. In as much as she was aware her story was going to be out, she was still very
    young and wanted by all means to keep her identity protected. I had hoped that her interview
    would be done privately, away from her home and it was scheduled to take place in two weeks
    time and yet the reporters showed up the very next day after I delivered the actual identities of the
    people involved to my political attaché.
    Juliet’s mother locked her away and refused to address the journalists. That meant I too would not
    have access to her. I was only left with four days before leaving for America and I couldn’t leave
    when everything was so messed up. Three days went by and still Juliet had not come out of the
    house and since the wall fence was fully raised now, there was no way I could see what was going
    on on the other side of the fence. I was completely in the dark.
    On the day before I was to travel, around 5 o’clock I heard a commotion and went outside to find it
    was coming from Juliet’s house. I ran to the gate and I found Mrs Mwansa, Alice and Juliet being
    dragged out of their house into a white Mitsubishi parked right in front of their house. I needed to
    talk to Juliet, by all means but all the windows were closed and they were heavily tinted. I had
    seen which side Juliet was seated and so I quickly picked up a stone and ran to the vehicle just as
    the driver was driving off.
    “Juliet move your head!” I shouted, not caring whether she head me or not. I jumped on Juliet’s
    side and hit the stone against the window. The driver hit the brakes suddenly and the car almost
    threw me off but I was now holding on to the door through the broken glass. I didn’t care about the
    blood on my hands. I just needed to talk to Juliet. I was desperately trying to get the door unlocked
    when the other man on the front passenger seat came for me and started pulling me off.
    “Juliet!” I was screaming like a mad boy.
    “You are bleeding!” Juliet cried. Somehow I was still holding on to the door.
    “Where are they taking you?” I asked.
    “I don’t know.” Juliet sobbed.
    “This is all your fault you know that!?” Mrs Mwansa hissed.
    “Who the hell do you think you are?” Alice asked, the look in her eyes made the hairs at the back
    of my head stand up.
    By now the driver had come out as well and together they peeled me off the car and threw me
    hard on the ground.
    I saw Juliet’s head pop out through the broken window. “I will be okay Jack. You are leaving for
    school tomorrow so please leave before these men hurt you.” she begged me.
    I was pumped with adrenaline so I ran back to the car but the driver was too fast this time I
    couldn’t jump on it on time.
    “I will wait for you Jack!” Juliet shouted through the window. “I Promise. Take care of yourself!”
    I chased that car for what felt like forever until it finally got onto the highway and I lost sight of it.
    Almost nine years would have to pass before Juliet and I reunited.

    Episode 07

    Continues
    “So how did you and Juliet meet again?” Greg asked Jackson after he finished telling him the story
    about his past with Juliet.
    “I wrote to Juliet almost every day of the week during my undergrad studies and sent the emails
    through Makasa hoping he would run into her one day but nothing like that happened.” Jackson
    said. “Makasa searched and searched but couldn’t find any trace of Juliet or her family. It was as if
    they had been wiped off the face of the earth.
    “I came back home immediately after my graduation and tried to do my own search but still, I
    couldn’t find her. I had to travel to Florida for an internship so I didn’t have much time. Fortunately
    we had social media now so I randomly searched for Juliet’s name but only came across her sister
    Alice’s profile. Her profile said she lived here in Lusaka, I was ecstatic!”
    “Don’t tell me you contacted that evil witch first?” Greg asked.
    “I did,” Jackson said. “I had no choice. She was the only link I had to Juliet.”
    “God you’re such a fool.” His friend said.
    “What did you expect me to do?” Jackson asked. “Desperate situations call for desperate
    measures. I had no choice. I messaged Alice asking her about Juliet’s whereabouts and to my
    surprise, she responded seconds later. She said she heard I was studying abroad and wanted us
    to link up but she didn’t answer my question about her sister. She asked for my number, said it
    was better to call and I gave her.”
    “Sucker.” Greg muttered.
    “She called right away and suggested we meet at Mandahill. I insisted that I only contacted her
    because I wanted to find out where Juliet was and she said something in the lines of ‘it’s better if
    we meet in person…I can’t tell you over the phone.’ Of course my heart started racing after
    hearing that and I asked her if something had happened to Juliet, I mean, there were no signs of
    her anywhere!
    “Alice ignored my question and said she would meet me at Mandahill in the next hour. I drove
    straight there like a mad man. I found her sitting outside Debonairness. I recognized her right
    away. She looked exactly like I expected her to look; very beautiful and uncomfortably underdressed
    for anyone humanly aware that they would be stepping outside their house.”
    Greg made noses with his throat.
    Jackson stopped talking and threw him a cold stare. “What’s wrong with you?”
    “Nothing,” Greg lied, a mischievous smile on his face. “I didn’t say nothin.” He said.
    “Get your mind off the gutter man. I don’t feel like that about her anymore. Remember, I know her
    beyond her beautiful exterior. It was her sister I was interested in and if she didn’t hold the keys to
    me finding her, I wouldn’t have met her in the first place.”
    “If you say so.” Grey mumbled, his whole body said he didn’t believe a word his friend had just
    said.
    “Forget it.” Jackson snapped. “I see no point in telling you this story if you insist on believing
    whatever versions you cook up in your head.” He was up on his feet.
    Greg ran over to him and forced him back down onto the sofa. “I’m sorry man, I was just pulling
    your leg. I want to hear the rest of the story, like, did she tell you where to find her sister?”
    “No chance,” Jackson said. “She told me some story about how Juliet married at a young age
    because she loved money so much she wanted to get away from her family. Then she told me
    Juliet had four kids now and was living happily in Malawi and that I shouldn’t disturb her happy
    home.”
    “The hell?” Greg said.
    “I know right.” Jackson said. “I didn’t believe a word she was saying. I was not yet the
    businessman that I am today back then. I had just finished undergrad but still she could tell there
    was something different about me. I could see the excitement on her face, she obviously hoped I
    still had the hots for her and thought she had a chance with me and I hated that about her. I hated
    how sure she was that I would fall for her. She still thought of me as that little infatuated poor boy. I
    knew Juliet would never marry anyone for money and-“
    “People change dude.” Greg said. “You hadn’t seen her in eight long years. Look at yourself, you
    are not the same guy they used to know. You are a millionaire now, two great companies under
    your name and everyone bows wherever you go. Who knew that poor little boy selling fritters in
    the market would turn out like this? People change man.”
    “Yes, maybe people change but in my case that’s not it. My circumstances are the ones that
    changed, I didn’t. And I believed the same would be the case with Juliet. She had made a promise
    to me and I believed her. She always kept her word to me and I had no reason whatsoever to
    doubt her.
    “If truly Juliet had gotten married, then it would have been for love and not for the reasons Alice
    had given me but still, even if it was love, I wasn’t ready to accept something like that. I didn’t want
    to imagine her with some other guy. I couldn’t.”
    “You didn’t even know her as a woman.” Greg reminded him. “She was just a little girl when you
    last saw her.”
    “I know.” Jackson said. “Even as a little girl I knew she would one day turn into one hell of a
    woman. I had not stopped thinking about her all those years. She was the reason I was able to
    finish school and even get a scholarship. I owed her my life and I wanted to repay her. I didn’t
    want to picture some other guy making her happy while I continued with my life like nothing ever
    happened.”
    True to his words, Jackson had spent the weeks that followed his meeting with Alice still searching
    for Juliet until he finally found an old classmate of hers who gave him an update and exact
    location.
    “She should be back home for holidays in a couple of weeks” Nancy informed him.
    “When did she go to Namibia?” Jackson asked.
    They were standing outside Nancy’s home in Chelstone. He had just managed to chance her as
    she arrived home from work.
    “Last year.” Nancy replied. “She’s still in her first year.”
    “Where was she all this time?”
    “Home.”
    “Home? Why?”
    “After that incident at her place eight years ago, her family really fell from grace.” Nancy said.
    “Alice’s father dumped them in some village and stopped supporting them. It was only after her
    sister Alice got married to some lawyer that they came back to Lusaka. Unfortunately, both Mrs
    Mwansa and Alice blamed her for what had happened to them and so they didn’t send her back to
    school. Juliet had to sell fritters at the market to raise money to go back to school. It was such a
    struggle at first but she finally managed to get back to school after three years.
    “Her sister Alice didn’t stay long in her marriage. She partied hard and openly embarrassed and
    disrespected her husband. He divorced her just after a year and sent all of them packing from his
    house. Fortunately, she was clever enough to get half his money and that’s how the three of them
    survived. Juliet graduated and got a scholarship to study at the University of Namibia a year after
    finishing high school and that’s where she is now. I spoke to her two days ago and she said they
    would be closing in two weeks.”
    “What is she studying there?” He asked.
    “Economics.”
    “I see. I need to see her as soon as possible before I travel back to the States. Do you mind giving
    me her number?”
    Nancy gave him the number and the following day Jackson travelled to Namibia to see Juliet. He
    had not called her until he arrived on campus hoping to surprise her. Using information given to
    him by Nancy, Jackson waited for Juliet to appear from the Library.
    “Juliet.” He called out to her when she walked passed him. She had not even turned to look his
    direction.
    Juliet stopped and looked back to where he was standing. “Yes-“ she paused, immediately
    recognizing him. “Jack!?”
    Jackson grinned from ear to ear. He had seen her pictures from Nancy’s phone and he had
    thought she looked beautiful. But now that he was seeing her in person, she looked way more
    beautiful than he would have imagined. He had always known she would turn out to be a fine
    young lady but seeing her as a woman after so many years, something inside him came to life.
    “My God, Juliet.” He said, not sure whether to scoop her up into his arms or to just stand back and
    take in the sight of her. Either way, he was completely at a loss, the true definition of a man
    smitten to the ground.
    Juliet saved him by throwing herself into his arms instead, attracting the attention of passers-by.
    Jackson had to steady his feet on the ground to hold her. “You’re definitely not ten years old
    anymore little Miss Know-it-all.”
    Juliet laughed, dropping her arms from around him to look at him properly. “I was thirteen when we
    last saw each other.” She said.
    “And now you’re a full grown woman, a beautiful one at that.” Jackson said.
    “How did you even find me?” Juliet asked.
    “Is there any place we can go and chat?” He was feeling unease by the attention they were
    receiving from where they were standing.
    “Let’s go to my room.” Juliet offered. “My roommate is inside studying so it will be a while before
    she returns.
    She led him to her room.
    “Not bad.” Jackson said as she ushered him inside. She pulled out a chair for him from the study
    tablein the corner and she sat down on the bed.
    “I only have tea so I can’t offer you anything else.” She said.
    “No am fine, don’t worry about that.” Jackson said.
    “When did you come back?” Juliet asked.
    “A few weeks ago.” He said. “And I have been searching for you since.”
    “How did you find me?”
    “Nancy,” he said. “I remembered she used to be one of your closest friends at school. I searched
    for her online and she led me here.”
    “I just spoke to her a few min…wait, she is the one that told you where to find me right?”
    Jackson laughed. “I told her to keep it a secret. I wanted to surprise you.”
    “Well, you’ve succeeded.”
    “I am hoping it’s not a bad kind of surprise.” Jackson said.
    “Of course not!” She said. “Why would you even think that?”
    “Because you knew where to find my contacts but you never once made an effort to reach out to
    me.” He said.
    “Oh.” She said.
    “Oh? Is that all you’re going to say Juliet? I have been searching for you for eight whole years.”
    `”I know.”
    “You know?”
    “I mean, I knew you would be looking for me.” she said.
    “Then why did you make it so hard for me to find you?” He asked. “I thought we had an
    agreement. You made me a promise Juliet…unless you’ve forgotten.”
    “How can I forget?” She said, her voice just a few notches from whispering
    “Then why?”
    “Do we really need to talk about this now Jackson?” She asked. “We just met, after like…eight
    years.”
    Despite the years Jackson still knew her better. “What’s going on Julie?”
    “What do you mean?” She was shifting uncomfortably on the bed. “Nothing is going on, you’re just
    thinking too much.”
    “Is it because of what happed that day? Do you blame me? I would understand if you hated me
    but still, I would appreciate it if we at least spoke about it first.”
    “Why would you think I blame you for what happened?” She asked. “You were just trying to help
    me out and it wasn’t your fault things didn’t go as planned. I have never once blamed you for that,
    never.”
    “Then why won’t you tell me what’s really going on? Why have you been avoiding me?”
    Juliet dropped her head into her laps and sighed heavily. She sat up straight after a few seconds
    and looked at Jackson. “Things have changed, Jackson.” She said. There were unshed tears in
    her eyes. “We have both changed, a lot has changed. I am grateful that you kept your promise to
    me but…I would rather we didn’t see each other again.”
    Jackson had left some room for disappointment but still, having her actually say the words out loud
    to him caused him more pain that he had anticipated. Her words pierced him straight to the heart.
    What exactly had he hoped for?
    “Could what your sister said be true? Are you married?” He couldn’t believe he had said the words
    out loud but he didn’t regret asking.
    “Married? What are you talking about?” Juliet asked.
    “I spoke to your sister first before finding Nancy. She said that you married young and have four
    kids. Of course I didn’t believe her but-“
    “But now you’re thinking that she must have been telling you the truth?” She finished for him. Her
    tone was draped in absolute disappointment that her face could not hide.
    “I am just trying to make sense of what’s going on.” Jackson said.
    “And I thought you knew me better than that.” She said. “I made you a promise and I kept it. Yes I
    might have avoided meeting you but still, I was going to meet you when I was ready. I just didn’t
    want it to be now.”
    “Why not now? What changes?” He asked.
    “I knew that if you met me now…when the situation is still like this, you might blame yourself for
    what happened.”
    “So what, you wanted to finish school and become some rich madam that’s when you were going
    to contact me? You just accused me of not knowing you better and yet here you are doing the
    same thing. Do you think any of that matters to me?”
    “It matters to me!” She cried, getting up from the bed.
    Jackson stood up as well. “Why does it matter so much to you?”
    “Because I am ashamed.” She said.
    Jackson’s jaw dropped to the ground. “Ashamed of what?”
    “We are grown-ups now Jackson,” she said. “Things are different now than they were eight years
    ago. I love the fact that we both stood by each other during the most trying times of our lives but
    for me…right now…all I remember are the shameful things that happened to me. Just knowing
    that you know all those details about me, and about my family…what they did to me, to you, and
    what they did to your family…how can I possibly pretend none of that ever happened?”
    “Who asked you to forget anything Julie?” He said. “I don’t care about any of those things right
    now. All I care about is that you’re here and am here. We survived what most people wouldn’t and
    we are standing here, alive.”
    “Yeah, just because we are alive does not mean we are automatically happy.” She said.
    When did she become such a pessimist? Jackson wondered.
    “Are you saying that you are not happy Julie?”
    “Is there anything about my life that should make me happy Jack, huh?”
    “How about the fact that we are seeing each other after such a long time? Doesn’t that make you
    happy?”
    “Of course it does but for how long?” She said. “You can afford to be happy yourself because your
    life has improved, but you have no idea what I’ve been through to get where I am today. You have
    no idea how many times I have thought about ending my own life just so I can get some peace.
    Sometimes I get so tired I just want to sleep and never wake up again.
    “That’s the kind of person I’ve become Jack; sad, cold, lonely and suicidal. Obviously that’s not the
    Juliet you remember but unfortunately that’s who I am now.” She said. “In as much as I love
    seeing you, I hate the fact that you are a reminder of how bad things really are in my life and how
    far apart you and I have grown.”
    Jackson wanted desperately to plead with her but the look in her eyes told him she had already
    made up her mind. She no longer needed him in her life. For a very long time he had hoped that
    they would be each other’s source of happiness on earth, that they would face the odds together
    like they did back then but hearing her say that he reminded her of such pain and nothing else tore
    him to pieces.
    Jackson got on a bus back to Zambia in tears. The last time he had cried like that was when he
    had seen the vehicle carrying Juliet’s family disappear into the distance.
    “How did you finally get her to agree to go out with you?” Greg asked Jackson.
    Between them, they had emptied twelve bottles of beer since Jackson came back home from
    dropping off Juliet after the fateful encounter with his mother.
    “It would take eight more years for us to meet again but this time around, I was determined to win
    her over. At any cost.” Jackson said.

    Episode 08

    Continues
    For the eight years that followed his meeting with Juliet, Jackson was haunted by their last exchange.
    “So just like that ah, you expect me to be gone from your life?” Jackson had said.
    “Do you even love me Jack?” Juliet had asked him. “You keep talking about promises and all am getting is your sense of responsibility…and guilt. You want to return a favor and what woman wants to be with a man who says he wants to take responsibility of her? That’s not love Jack.”
    “I know it’s not love but I really like you Juliet, I always have and all I am asking is that you give us a chance to get to know each other more. I don’t know about you but every single time I think about who am gonna spend the rest of my life with, it’s your name that pops up, it’s your face I see. Maybe that’s not love but hell I know I like the feeling I get when I imagine us having a life together. Be honest with me Juliet, can you imagine spending the rest of your life with someone else other than me? Or better yet, can you handle me being with someone else?”
    Juliet quickly looked away and said, “I can. It’s not like leaving without certain things in my life
    would be something new.”
    Jackson went over to her and stood right behind her. He placed his hands on her shoulders and
    gently turned her body around to face him.
    “Say the words straight to my face.” He said. “Tell me Jackson, I don’t love you.”
    “I can’t say that.” She said.
    “That’s settled then.” He said. “You are obviously going through some things right now that you
    might not want me knowing about but you see that’s okay. I understand because I know you and
    because I am willing to wait for you until you are ready and can trust me enough to let me into your
    life. I am leaving tomorrow but I have your number now and I know where to find me. All am
    asking for now is that you don’t push me away. I promise I will try not to be too much of a bother
    but Juliet, there is no way in hell am going to disappear from your life. That’s just not gonna happen.”
    In as much as Jackson drew strength from his own determination, he knew that the journey he had
    just embarked on was not going to be an easy one. If Juliet was anything like she was eight years
    ago…and chances were highly that she still was, then her determination and stubbornness was
    something Jackson needed to worry about. It was not going to be easy loving a woman that has
    gotten too accustomed to being alone and independent. Everyone she had ever counted on and
    expected to depend on had let her down, including himself.
    When a whole week went by and Juliet did not hear from Jackson, she started to panic.
    “Do you think I was too harsh on him?” She asked her friend Nancy over the phone.
    “You think?” Nancy said sarcastically.
    “What if he never calls me? I keep checking my phone every second hoping to get a call from him.
    I think am going to lose my mind.”
    Nancy laughed. “I think he’s trying to give you a taste of your own medicine stubborn gal.” She
    said. “He hasn’t been online since he left as well, I have been checking his Facebook profile.”
    “I wish I could stalk him like that too.” Juliet said.
    “Then why not set up an account now?” Nancy asked. “I mean, this whole time you said you didn’t
    want Jackson finding you and he has so, it’s about time you embraced civilization my friend.”
    “Even if I set up the account, it’s not like I can just send him a friend request. It will be too
    embarrassing after everything I said to him.”
    “So you know.” Her friend said. “Why did you even say all those things to him? Poor guy.”
    “I don’t know.” Juliet sighed. “I was embarrassed…and intimidated, insecure even. You saw the
    way he looks now-“
    “Oh yeah, that’s one fine looking brother.” Nancy said. “I could barely look him in the eye when
    talking to him. I just wanted to squirm in excitement. I walked into the house and found Chisha in
    his boxers with his scrawny tuma legs sprawled out on the couch chewing raw cassava like it
    committed a crime against his ancestors. I almost told him to pack his things and scram from my
    house. And you, you have a hotshot like that travelling thousands of miles just to see you and
    you’re busy skirting. My friend, is the air in Namibia messing with your head?”
    Juliet chuckled. “What will a girl like me be doing with a guy like that Nancy?”
    “And what’s wrong with you?”
    “Like you don’t know.”
    “All I know is that you’re a very beautiful woman inside and out and you just happen to have gone
    through things in life that most people don’t. That shouldn’t be something to be embarrassed
    about. You should be proud that you rose above all those things when the easiest thing to do
    would have been to give up. You’re a survivor gal and any man would be lucky to have you.”
    “You think so?” Juliet asked.
    “I know so. Now get on Facebook and create that account. I better be the first one you sent a
    request to! You will find all our mutual friends on my profile.”
    “Should I send Alice a request too?” Juliet asked.
    Nancy almost choked on her saliva. “For what!?” She spat.
    “She’s my sister.” Juliet said.
    “The same sister who told your man that you married young for money and have four kids. Juliet
    please, stop being so naïve. That girl is no good for you. Besides, she’s not even your real sister.”
    “It’s not that I am naïve,” Juliet countered. “I know exactly what sort of person she is and I am
    going to talk to her about what she said to Jack but still, she’s family. I can’t hate her even if I
    wanted to.”
    “Why not? She hates you just fine herself.” Nancy said.
    “Fine, I won’t send her a request.” Juliet said.
    “Good girl!” Nancy said. “Now let me go and feed my skinny boyfriend before he disappears into
    thin air.”
    “Pass my regards to him.” Juliet said and ended the call.
    She created her Facebook account right away and as instructed sent a request to Nancy. She
    then searched for Jackson but apart from his profile pictures, she could not see anything else on
    him. She needed to send him a request and become his friend…something she was not yet ready
    to do.
    Jackson called her three days later at 3 in the morning.
    “Did I wake you up? I did right?” He said.
    “I just woke up some five minutes ago to study. Are you watching me or something?”
    He laughed. “I wish. Am sorry for calling you so early but I just managed to get a new phone now. I
    had to be in Seattle for a training and I dropped my phone somewhere, didn’t have time to leave
    the hotel. It was like boot camp, except there was fancy food and a lot of fancy people.” He
    laughed.
    “It’s fine.” She said.
    “It’s fine? I was hoping you would be worried or something, you know.”
    Juliet chuckled. “I worried, a bit.” She said. “You’re the one who said you would call but….”
    “I know, am very sorry but you’re the first person I’ve called on this phone.”
    “You’re lying. You called Happy first.”
    Jackson laughed. “Shit, you know me too well woman.”
    “How is she? Happy, I mean.”
    “She’s okay, all grown now and naughty.”
    “I miss her.”
    And just like that their conversation carried on. At the end of that call, Juliet had to accept the fact
    that Jackson was the person she had the easiest time communicating with. It was as if not a day
    had passed since their unfortunate parting. The years that followed allowed the two to reconnect
    more as friends than lovers as Juliet insisted on playing things safe, and Jackson never pushed
    her. After eight years of chatting on Skype and phone, Jackson finally returned home for good.
    “You still haven’t told me how you won over her heart.” Greg said to Jackson.
    Jackson laughed. “I kissed her.” He stated simply.
    “Huh?” Greg said.
    Jackson laughed again. “Juliet is a bit old-fashioned but I had no doubt she was in-love with me.
    She was going to keep playing hard-to-get if I didn’t take drastic action.”
    The both of them laughed, with Greg getting up to shake his friend’s hand. “You’re the man Jack.”
    Greg said.
    “She was waiting for Happy and I at the airport and the moment I spotted her I ran to her, scooped
    her into my arms and went straight for her lips. She didn’t stand a chance.” Jackson said proudly.
    Jackson’s phone rang from the other end of the sofa where he was seated.
    “Is that Juliet?” Greg asked.
    Jackson reluctantly reached for the phone. “No way.” He said before checking the phone.
    Suddenly, the expression on his face turned sour.
    “Who is it?” A visibly concerned Greg asked.
    “Alice.” Jackson said.
    Greg jumped over the table to where Jackson was and grabbed the phone from him. “No way in
    hell you’re taking this call.” He said. “What the devil does this wench want from you?”
    “Who said I was going to answer it?” Jackson said. “I always ignore her calls…unless she calls on
    some strange line.”
    “You need to block her. How long has this been going on?” Greg asked.
    “Since my interview on BBC Africa six months ago.”
    Greg was giving him a what-the-hell look.
    “Yeah, she’s shameless like that. She even came to the office the very next day after she saw the
    interview.”
    “How come you never told me about this?” Greg asked.
    “Because it wasn’t important.” Jackson said. “She came in her usual seductive tone and said she
    had no idea I was the owner of JC Pharmaceuticals and JC Consultancy. Her actual words were
    ‘oh my gosh I can’t believe you’re the JC I have been hearing about all along oh my gosh.’” He
    mimicked her voice.
    “She didn’t know about you and her sister?” Greg asked.
    “No, Juliet likes to keep a low profile and we both decided it was best to keep our relationship off
    social media. At least I try to post pictures of us every now and then but only the ones where her
    face isn’t showing. She never posts anything about us…which isn’t surprising because she’s not
    even that active online. Alice only learnt about us when I told her that day.”
    “And what did she say?” Greg asked.
    Jackson laughed, thinking back to the day that gave him so much satisfaction. It was as if he had
    been finally vindicated for some crime he had been wrongfully accused of for a very long time.
    “I appreciate you coming all the way to congratulate me on my success Alice but there was really
    no need to.” Jackson had said to Alice.
    Even though he appeared to be looking at her as he addressed her, his mind was elsewhere. Her
    voluptuous bosom was screaming at him for attention, threatening to erupt from the tiny piece of
    fabric that was supposed to be holding them together. Her fake wing-like lashes were so long he
    wondered how she was still able to see under them. She was lucky it was not windy that day
    otherwise those wings would have sent her flying off into the air.
    “I just thought that since we grew up together, I should pass through to show some support.” Alive
    said.
    Jackson stood up from his cozy leather chair, hands tucked in pockets and a bemused expression
    on his face. “Let me upfront with you before it’s too late.” He said. “I am not going to pretend that I
    don’t know why you’re here. I do and I would like it if you didn’t come here again. I might have
    forgiven the past but I haven’t forgotten. You only want us to be friends because you think there is
    something to gain. And quiet honestly, I have no desire whatsoever to pursue you like that not just
    because I have a girlfriend, but also because I have no interest in you.”
    To Jackson’s surprise, Alice appeared unperturbed by his declarations. She was actually smiling.
    “Who is she? Your girlfriend I mean.”
    “It’s your sister, Juliet. We’ve been seeing each other for close to three years now.”
    For a split second Jackson entertained the idea of holding a camera in his hands and flashing it to
    capture the shocked expression on Alice’s face.
    “Juliet? How…I mean, since when?”
    “I just said three years, but we had been in touch for years before I came back to Zambia.”
    “She never said anything.” Alice said, a very stoic expression on her face.
    Jackson immediately regretted having spilled the beans. The look on Alice’s face was exactly the
    reason Juliet desperately wanted to wait a bit longer before telling their families about their
    relationship. Alice looked like she was going to kill her sister the moment she laid eyes on her.
    “She isn’t yet ready to face the drama that comes with our relationship.” Jackson said. “I am very
    sorry to have to say this to you but I really should get back to my work.”
    “Oh,” Alice said in a disappointed tone, getting up from the chair. “I was just about to leave
    anyway.” Her face was spilling embarrassment all over the floor.
    Jackson held the door open for her and Alice rudely brushed past him.
    “I danced around my office like a fool after she left.” Jackson said to Greg. “I’m even embarrassed
    of myself just thinking about it…but still, it was very satisfying to put her in her place.”
    “And yet somehow she still managed to call you after that.” Greg remarked.
    “That’s because the woman is shameless and determined like a fox. She scares me sometimes.”
    Jackson said.
    “Does Juliet know that her sister is after you?”
    “How can she not know?” Jackson said. “Alice is very aware of Juliet’s insecurities and she
    capitalizes on them. And the sad part is Juliet always takes the bait every single time. Just the
    mention of my past with Alice had her treating me like am her enemy. If I don’t take the initiative to
    call her or visit her it’s possible a whole month could pass by without us talking to each other.”
    “You guys have a lot of issues going on.” Greg said.
    “You can say that again.” Jackson replied.
    Just then, a knock came through the door.
    “Are you expecting anyone?” Jackson asked Greg, grabbing a bottle of beer from the table and
    taking a long gulp from it.
    “No.” His friend said, walking over to the door.
    “Who is it?” Jackson asked Greg who was now smiling mysterious at whoever was on the other
    side of the door.
    “It’s Juliet.” Greg announced.
    Jackson chocked on his beer.

    Episode 09

    Continues
    Jackson rushed to the door. “Juliet?” He said.
    “Can we talk?” Juliet asked and turned to look at Greg.
    “Don’t mind me, am leaving.” He announced. He went back into the house, picked up his wallet and set on keys on the tea table by the sofa and walked passed the two at the door. “I’ll see you later Jack. Juliet, it was good to see you, take care.”
    “Where are you going this late in the night?” Jackson asked before Greg could get into his car. Greg smiled impishly. “The night is still young my friend.” He said and got into the car.
    Juliet sheepishly smiled and waved at him.
    “Come in.” Jackson stepped away from the door to let her through.
    Juliet entered but instead of sitting she remained standing, waiting for Jackson who had remaine behind locking the door.
    “Aren’t you going to sit down?” Jackson appeared by her side looking slightly confused. With Juliet, he could never really tell which direction the winds would blow and if he would be on the wrong end of it or not.
    “Thanks.” She said and sat down.
    Jackson sat right opposite her. “Are you still mad at me over what my mother said?”
    “No, on the contrary, I came to apologize.”
    “Huh?”
    “I overreacted.”
    “Huh?” Jackson couldn’t believe the shocking turn the events had suddenly taken. He was prepared to wait days before Juliet could pick up his calls or respond to his texts but he had not even done either yet and yet Juliet appeared before him.
    “You know how I get when it comes to issues to do with my family…my sister to be specific.” Juliet explained. “You know very well the kind of hell she’s put me through ever since she learnt about our relationship. I just couldn’t process the two of you being used in the sentence like that-“ She was fighting back tears.
    Jackson went to sit beside her and pulled her into his arms. “Silly girl.” He said as he embraced her. “How can you even entertain such wild ideas? Nothing physical ever happened between Alice and me.”
    “I know but-“
    “But you were jealous right?” He laughed.
    Juliet buried her face into his chest in embarrassment. Jackson laughed even more.
    “You’re crazy jealous and stubborn but I love you Ms Juliet Soko.” He pulled her slightly away from him and planted a kiss on her forehead.
    “Do you think am too insecure?” She asked.
    Jackson hesitated a bit before answering.
    “I am right?” Juliet was looking visibly disturbed.
    “No, it’s not that.” Jackson said.
    “You hesitated!” She pulled herself completely away from him. “You think am too insecure.”
    Jackson took her hand and wrapped it in-between his hands. “Yes, maybe you’re insecure when it comes to me but the thing is, I totally understand why you act the way you do. Yes I get frustrated ever now and then when you overreact to certain things but I have never thought of you as being too insecure.
    “It would be very abnormal if you weren’t like this after everything that you’ve been through Julie.
    Remember, I was there through most of it. I even find it amazing that you’re still self-assertive and confident in both your career and your love for me. You will never hear me complain because there is absolutely nothing to complain about.”
    “Are you sure?” She asked, fearing she might drive him away eventually if she didn’t get her act together.
    “I love you just the way you are, strengths and weaknesses. I cannot claim to be perfect myself, I also get jealous sometimes. Have you forgotten?”
    Juliet laughed. “I heard you told my supervisor to stop texting me on my off days. Isn’t that abusing your authority a bit sir getting involved in the private lives of your employees?”
    Juliet had been working as the Assisting Head of Finance at JC Pharmaceuticals immediately after finishing her masters. Jackson insisted on them working in the same environment as a way of making up for all the years they had lived apart.
    “Not when that employee is my woman. And if I see him tagging you in one of his stupid memes on Facebook again, I will fire him.” Jackson threatened.
    “Does he still tag me?” Juliet asked.
    “When was the last time you went online?”
    “Check your Facebook.” She was smiling suspiciously.
    “What’s that smile about?” Jackson asked.
    “Just check, you’ll see.” She said.
    Jackson grabbed his phone and went online. The first thing he saw was a relationship request notification from Juliet.
    “Oh my God!” He jumped from the sofa. “When did you send this?”
    “A few minutes ago, when I was seated by the doorstep outside.” She pointed outside.
    “When did you come?” Jackson asked.
    “Let’s just say I overheard a good part of your chat with Greg. I just didn’t have the courage to knock. I was too ashamed.”
    “I have accepted it! Finally! Does this mean am free to post whatever I want now?”
    Juliet chuckled. “Of course, but don’t be too mushy…I don’t like mushy stuff in public. Save some of it just for the two of us.”
    “Aye captain.” He said and went to lift her up from the sofa and into his arms, kissing her for a very long time.
    Alice was watching a late night movie with her mother when her phone rang.
    “Who died?” She asked. “Claudia calling me at this hour can only mean there’s some hot gossip
    she couldn’t wait for me to hear. Spill.”
    “I hope you’re sitting down for this one my love because it’s huge!” Claudia said.
    “Yeah, am seated and cut to the chase idiot.” Alice spat.
    “Who is it?” Mildred’s interest was piqued.
    “It’s Claudia,” Alice answered.
    “Is that your mum?” Claudia asked from the other end of the line.
    “Why did you call silly?” Alice said.
    “Check your Facebook.” She said. “Something huge is trending. In a few minutes it will be all over the media.”
    “My phone is by my ear right now so how do you expect me to check whats happening online? I can’t put you on speaker, what if you say something crazy and mother is listening to this conversation like am one of the DSTV channels she’s addicted to. Just tell me or hang up so I can check.”
    “But call me right back when you check.” Claudia said.
    Mildred was still unashamedly focused on her daughter, question marks written all over her face and looking very frustrated for being in the dark.
    “What’s going on?” Mildred asked her daughter who was busy on her phone.
    “That’s what am about to find-what the hell?”
    Mildred stood and went to look at what had her daughter looking like she was about ready to burst open.
    “So they’ve decided to make their relationship public huh?” Mildred said, furry registering all over her face.
    “I’m not ready for your drama mum am going to my room.” Alice was back on the line with Claudia before she could even get to her bedroom door.
    “You have seen right?” Claudia asked.
    “Yeah, I didn’t think she would ever agree to make things so public when she acts all so innocent and what not.”
    “I thought you were making progress with him Alice, what happened?” Claudia asked. “Now that they’re relationship is out there, people will say that you stole him from her.”
    “Who is going to believe that?” Alice asked. “Who in our circles doesn’t know about how that guy used to chase after me and how he spent a whole week in jail for me? If anything stole something here, it’s Juliet.”
    “So what are you going to do now?”
    “I will just play the weakest link seeing how Jackson has refused to give me the time of day. His pride won’t allow him to accept me that easily but given the right circumstances, I can make him available for grabs without having to say a word to him.”
    “What do you mean play the weakest link?” Claudia asked.
    “Juliet.” She answered simply.
    “Juliet?”
    “I know just what buttons to press to make her move out of the way on her own. She is the weakest link.
    “You’re evil Alice.” Claudia laughed.
    “You won’t be saying that when I become a billionaire’s wife and am taking you shopping in
    Dubai.”
    They both laughed.
    “Are you going to tell your mother about your plans?” Claudia asked.
    “Of course I can’t pull this off easily without her help.” Alice said. “She hates Jackson’s guts but she doesn’t feel that way about his money. With me in the picture, she can have whatever amount she desires but with Juliet there, there’s no chance for the both of us. I happen to like both the man and his money so it will be a win-win situation for me.”
    “But do you think Juliet will easily step aside now that she’s gotten the courage to go public with the relationship?” Claudia asked.
    “I know my sister better than she knows herself. I will tune her up thoroughly she won’t even know what hit her.”
    “You never did tell me why you hate your sister so much.” Claudia said.
    “It’s late now Claudia I have to go. Night.” Alice cut the line before her friend could say another word.
    Alice threw the phone to the side and dropped her back onto the bed as her mind took her back to the incident that changed everything in their home.
    It was a cold July night and the nanny had just finished tucking in the seven year old Alice when they heard the living room door open. Sensing it was her mother back from one of her usual long trips, Alice jumped out of bed and ran to meet her mother. She found her standing alone in the middle of the living room glaring at the tiny three year old crying on the floor.
    “Who is she?” Alice had asked her mother.
    “She is…your sister.” Her mother had answered.
    “My sister? Where did she come from?” The seven year old asked.
    “I don’t know and I don’t care. Ba Maureen,” she had turned to the nanny. “Shut her up, give her a bath and find her some clothes from Alice’s closet that will fit her. I’m going to be now and no one should disturb me.”
    “Mum!” Alice had run after her mother but one angry scream sent her taking steps back and watching her disappear into her bedroom, loudly locking the door behind her.
    Two days later a strange looking man came knocking at their door early morning and Alice hid behind the sofa to listen in on their conversation.
    “Nothing like this would have happened if you didn’t keep pushing my wife.” The furious man was telling her mother.
    “Don’t act like this is all my fault Donald!” Mildred screamed back. “If you were not this weak and lazy we both wouldn’t be in this situation. You are the reason why I approached Dominic in the first place! I was young, desperate and with no one to turn to. You were supposed to protect me, like a normal man should but you were too busy being poor that I had to sell myself to the highest bidder. You are the one who couldn’t protect me so don’t treat me like am scum. You made me
    who I am today.”
    “Are you seriously going to pin all this on me?” The man named Donald asked. He was a very tall and thin man with long kinky hair. He looked like the man that cleaned their yard and took care of their garden.
    What was her mother doing letting such a man into their home? Alice had wondered. He was too filthy.
    “I asked you to give me time but you couldn’t wait. You wanted to have things right away no matter the challenges you faced. You did it then and you are doing it now. ” He was saying. “Life doesn’t work like that. Some things take time. And here I thought you had matured.”
    “You wanted me to starve to death while you waited for time to present the perfect opportunity right?” Mildred asked.
    “What was I even thinking getting entangled with you like this?” He said, his voice slightly shaking.
    “I lost a good woman…my beautiful wife all because I allowed myself to get entangled in your
    schemes.”
    “And I have taken responsibility for my actions haven’t I?” Mildred said. “I took that child and am going to raise her like my own. Do you think it was an easy decision for me to make? What woman wants to be called mother by the child of the man she loves and his worthless weak wife? You are not the only one making sacrifices here Donald. I am too.”
    “I didn’t ask you to do any of this!” The man snapped. “My wife, my child….you’ve taken everything from me.”
    “First of all I didn’t kill that wife of yours.” She said. “She came after me and everything that happened after that was her fault. And the only reason I brought that child with me is because I know you can’t take care of her. Just look at you Donald, it’s six in the morning and yet you smell like you slept in a drum of chibuku. I don’t want anyone asking questions, I have to protect myself and you. Only God knows why the only man I ever fell in-love had to be someone like you. I am trying to protect both of us here and instead of cussing me out, you should be thanking me.”
    “I am going to come back for my daughter once I settle myself out.” Donald said. “I don’t want you to poison her with you vermin so she turns out like you. One of you in this world is enough of a curse to humanity.”
    “That’s if your cigarettes and beer don’t get to you first before you smarten up. In the meantime she stays here with me. I might be materialistic but at least I have a heart to be responsible for my actions. One of us has to….” She was looking at him disgustingly.
    A week later, Alice’s mother answered the land phone and a few seconds later she was wailing all over the house. It appeared the man named Donald had died.
    “My mother loved her father, she never loved me or my father. I was simply her meal ticket.” The thirty-seven year old answered the last question her friend Claudia had asked her.
    “She wants to love Juliet because she is the only piece of the man she loved still living but she can’t love her because she isn’t her own…and she feels guilt towards me.” Alice continued.
    “That is why I hate Juliet.” She said to herself. “She stole what was rightfully mine since we were young and she is doing the same now. I won’t let history repeat itself, never.”

    Episode 10 (Final)

    Continues
    The weekend that followed their public announcement of their relationship saw Alice popping up at
    Juliet’s door early in the morning unannounced.
    Juliet addressed her sister from the door, not moving an inch to let her in. “I wish I could say am
    surprised to see you visiting me for the very first time since I moved, but am not.” She said. “I expected something like this. I’m just curious how you knew my address.”
    “Aren’t you going to let your older sister in?” Alice said, feigning a huge smile on her face.
    Juliet reluctantly stepped aside and let her through. She closed the door behind her and went
    about making the living room a little decent for company. There were books everywhere, on the floor, sofas and table.
    “I am working on my PhD so…forgive the mess.” She said and patted the sofa where she had cleared for her sister to sit down. “Sit,” she said.
    Alice’s pernicious glare sent chills down Juliet’s spine. She took one last look around the room and sat down like someone had a gun to her head.
    “Did he pay for this apartment, Jack I mean?” Alice asked.
    “Why would he when I have a well-paying job?” Juliet said, sitting down on the other side of the room, facing her. It was always safe to keep a reasonable distance between her and her sister.
    “A job at his company. Isn’t that the same as him paying for everything?”
    “I am more than qualified for my position and I have earned every cent. Why are you even here?”
    “You said you were expecting me so why are you asking why am here?”
    “Alice, I have no time to get into some drama with you.” Juliet’s tone was cold and menacing. “Just state your business and leave. I have too much work to do.”
    “I see now you have yourself a man and you’ve grown wings. Since when are you this out-rightly rude to me?”
    “Since I decided never to let you interfere in any part of my life.”
    Alice scoffed. “I see you still have your insecurities when it comes to me. It’s not my fault that your man pined over me before he settled for an easy target. There’s no reason for you to think of me a threat.”
    Juliet closed her eyes and silently instructed her inner demons to calm down. She had expected this to happen. She had spoken about it with Jackson and they had agreed on what she needed to do.
    All I have to do in stay calm and in control, Juliet reminded herself.
    Juliet opened her eyes wide and sat up straight to look directly at her sister. “Are you in-love with my man Alice?” She asked.
    Alice choked on her saliva. This isn’t the way this conversation had played out in her head.
    “Excuse me?” She said.
    “You heard me.” Juliet said, her resolve unwavering. “When are you going to get over the past? Jackson was never in-love with you. So what if he had a crush on you? So a young boy liked you but the man that he is today is in-love with someone else. He is not an adolescent boy anymore.
    Besides, he isn’t the only guy that crushed on you so why aren’t you following those other guys around like you’re following my man? You just can’t deal with the fact that it is me he loves isn’t it?”
    Alice was chuckling uncomfortably, looking for the right words to say. She had known Juliet to be very outspoken with other people but whenever it came to her and her mother, the girl acted timid and always gave them the power over her. It was as if she was begging them to be loved…as if she somehow sensed she was really a real part of them. Why had she suddenly changed? Did she think she didn’t need them anymore now that she had a man by her side? Why was she so sure about Jackson’s love for her, enough to shame her so confidently?
    If there was one thing Alice was sure of, it was the power she had over men. There was no man out there that she had desired that did not want her back. Whether married or single, they all chased after her, desired her and spoiled her. She used them and discarded them the minute she ran out of use for them. Who the hell did Juliet think Jackson was? He was no different from other men out there. She had dealt with men that tried to play hard to get in the beginning but eventually they all curved and fell in line.
    So what if Juliet was beautiful, intelligent and successful in her career? At the end of the day men didn’t care about that. She was more beautiful than her and capable of fulfilling every man’s fantasy so what exactly did Juliet have that made her think she could hold on to her man forever?
    And just why did she keep referring to him as her man? They weren’t even married yet so that meant Jackson was still public property.
    I liked her better when she didn’t have anyone else in the world apart from mother and I. Alice thought as she continued glaring at Juliet.
    “You think you’re all that now don’t you?” Alice said.
    “Actually, YES.” Juliet replied.
    Alice laughed, hard, out loud, dropping her head on her laps and then sitting back up again. “I wonder if you would be this confident if you knew who your parents actually were.” Alice said, not caring anymore if her mother killed her for spilling the beans or not. She couldn’t stand the sight of Juliet acting all mighty before her. Her mother would one day thank her for getting rid of a pain in their bottoms.
    “Is that supposed to hurt me?” Juliet said, looking absolutely unperturbed.
    “Your dad was a drunk and a construction worker. He died from cheap alcohol poisoning and my mother brought you into our home because she somehow was in-love with him from way back.”
    “So what?” Juliet said dismissively.
    “Huh?” Alice said. That was not the reaction she had been hoping for.
    “Let me tell you a short story about a girl I once knew.” Juliet said. This girl lived in this home with someone she called her mother and another her sister. She always thought they were a real family even though she could not remember anything about her early childhood. But because the people she was living with told her that she was family, she had no reason to doubt them despite the
    wicked treatment they showed her day in and day out.
    “One day the woman she considered her mother left the house and her lover, who happened to be the sister’s father came into the night to ‘check’ on the children. When he entered the girl’s room, he locked the door behind her and told her to shut up and not make a single sound. When the girl later told her mother about the abuse, do you know what the mother said to her? ‘Don’t ever tell anyone about this you hear me?’ She told the little girl. ‘If you want to continue living in this house, you will do everything that daddy Dominic asks you to do.’
    “You see, despite being very young, the little girl knew that no real mother would ever ask her daughter to do such a thing or let alone allow her to be abused by a man in order to provide shelter for the family. That and the snide remarks constantly made the girl she considered her sister convinced the little girl that these people were not her real family. It would take a few more years for her to know for certain as she had to raise money so her friend in the US could have a DNA test done for her.
    “But you see, despite finding out the conclusive truth, the girl who was not so little anymore could not bare to separate herself from the people she had considered family all those years. Despite their ill-treatment of her, they were the only family she had ever known and certainly they were better than having no family at all. And so, this girl silently took in the abuse without complaining.
    She worked a thousand jobs from a young age to contribute something to the family hoping that the two people she was living with would not think about kicking her out since she was proving herself useful.
    “When she finally got a job as an intern during her college days, the first thing the girl did was to rent a house for her family. Her mother and sister are still living in that house that she’s paying for but you know what the funny story is sis? That girl was kicked out of the house because it was discovered she was in-love with a fella that her supposed older sister had a thing for! You would think that’s the funniest bit until you hear that the girl was commanded, am telling you, she was commanded, not asked ah-ah. She was commanded to continue paying rentals for that house despite being kicked out and the stupid girl did as commanded.
    “The girl kept praying and hoping that a day would come in the future when the family would grow to love and appreciate her but time and time again they kept proving her otherwise…until she woke up one day and decided, screw it! She didn’t need that kind of drama anymore. That family of hers was not worth it anymore. She had someone by her side who had embraced the darkest parts of her without asking for anything in return and if it ever happens that she loses that someone, God forbid, she would still forge on with life because despite everything, the girl had come to learn that her value did not lie in what people thought or expected of her but it was within herself; what she thought of herself and how she responded to the things happening around her.
    “Look at me sis.” Juliet said to Alice who appeared to be in some sort of trance now. “Do I look scared to you now?” She asked.
    Despite lifting her eyes to look at Juliet, Alice said nothing in return.
    “I might not be the brightest start out there and yes there are plenty of women out there better than me but guess what, am done comparing myself to others and wallowing in self-pity over a past I cannot go back and change. I finally got the help I desperately needed thanks to Jack and I have no plans of going back. I had to do something, not just for myself but because of the man I love. It was either I continued being that person that even I found repulsive or I took steps to become the kind of woman my man would be proud of.
    “I want to stand next to Jackson without feeling like I don’t deserve to be there. I want to be the best version of me and as long as I know I have done my part, it does not matter what misfortune befalls me because I will still pick myself and forge ahead. Every part of me wants to hate you and mum. I have thought about completely cutting ties with you guys but you know what? I don’t want to do that. You guys might have treated me like trash but at the end of the day you are still the only family I know whether I or you like it or not.
    “Because of the things you guys did to me and allowed to be done to me-“ Juliet paused to compose herself. There were now tears in her eyes. “Because of all that hate and abuse, I am where I am today. Like you said, who knows where I would be today had I stayed in that place where my real parents were? I was an orphan…yes, i did my own research…nevertheless, you guys allowed me to call you family. That’s enough for me. Now, it’s up to you and mum to decide whether you want to continue this war against me or not.
    “I have never understood why you both hated me so much but I guess you have your own reasons. If you want to continue treating me like an enemy, well and good. Go ahead but please bear in mind that I will not just sit still and watch you guys make moves that threaten my happiness. Right now Jack is all I have and if anyone dares to take him away from me, I cannot tell you to what lengths I would go to protect what’s rightfully mine. Do not put me in a position where I have to choose between you and him because you best believe I will choose him any day over you and mum. You need to leave now Alice. I am done talking.”
    Alice could only stare at her with her mouth wide open. She slowly got up from the sofa and showed herself to the door without uttering a single word.
    The moment the door closed behind her sister, Juliet ran over and locked it. she then dropped to the ground and heaved a sigh of relief. She was heavily breathing in and out to steady her breath.
    That whole rant had taken a dear toll on her. She was still in that position when a voice came from behind her and sent her falling off to the side.
    “You look like you could use a hug.” It was the thirty year old Happy standing behind her.
    “What time did you come in?” Juliet struggled a bit to get herself up until Happy offered a helping hand. “What time did you wake up even?”
    “A while ago.” She said. “I was standing behind that door listening intently to your conversation and just dying to find a reason to burst through and put that woman in her place. You held yourself firmly Juliet! Gosh, I never thought I would live to see the day you stood up against your family. I wish I had recorded that for Jack to see.”
    Juliet went to sit on the sofa. “I feel like I have lost 10 kilos from that experience.”
    “Let me get you a glass of water.” Happy offered.
    “Thanks.” Juliet said.
    Happy appeared a few minutes later with the glass of water.
    “Thanks.” Juliet took it from her.
    “If Alice Continues acting like a diva, then I will believe without a doubt this time around that she is Lucifer’s niece.” Happy said, sitting down next to Juliet. “That woman’s shamelessness is beyond comprehension. He scares me.”
    Juliet finished drinking and put the glass on the table. “Speaking of scary humans, don’t you think it’s time to go to your mum’s? I hate to imagine what she will do when she hears that her daughter has been in town for the past two days and hasn’t bothered to inform her or let alone visit her.
    Worse when she hears that you are at my place.”
    “Did you have to bring that woman up right when I was starting to feel at home right here?” Happy protested. She stretched herself onto the sofa, laying her legs on top of Juliet’s as she rested her head on a cushion.
    “You told Thomas that you were coming to visit your mother. How do you think he will feel when he hears you haven’t even been to see her?”
    Thomas was Happy’s husband of five years. He and Happy met in college and together they built a home for their family of four in the US. If not for Jackson her brother, Happy wouldn’t have bothered to visit Zambia after becoming a US resident.
    “I only said that because he wouldn’t have let me come if I told him the actual reason; that I was coming to help you smooth things over with mum so you can get her blessings.”
    “I am also against your reasons for coming sis.” Juliet said.
    Over the years, the two of them had grown very close so much so that Happy started introducing Juliet to her friends as her big sister. Juliet had no choice in the end but to accept the then little girl’s offering of sisterhood. Happy had turned out to be sister Juliet had never had. And the feeling was mutual for both women.
    “If I don’t do this, that woman will never let the two of you get married.” Happy said. “She will do whatever it takes to guilt Jackson into waiting for her blessings and we both know that will never come.”
    “Thing is, I don’t blame her.” Juliet said.
    “To hell with that!” Happy said, sitting up for effect. “She isn’t the only victim in this family feud.
    She was just as nasty to your mother and sister as they were to her. She suddenly feels she’s way above the grade now that her son is rich. She is doing this for selfish reasons. She doesn’t care about Jackson’s happiness. As far as Jack and I go, we are nothing but her ladder to the very top of the food chain. If not for Jack I wouldn’t even recognize her as my mother.”
    “But blackmailing her into giving Jack and me blessings Happy?” Juliet said.
    “That’s the only way to win with a woman like that.” Happy said. “The moment she hears that Jack and I will withdraw caring for her financially, she will behave herself. The truth is she doesn’t care about us being in her life. She only cares about our money. Take that money away and she has nothing.”
    “She won’t believe that Jack would agree to something like this.” Juliet said. “Jack forgave her a long time ago and is desperately trying to repair their relationship.”
    “Jack is a dreamer.” Happy said. “He is grasping at straws and sooner or later he will learn the hard way that our mother only cares about one person; herself. Besides, she doesn’t need to hear from Jack about this. Once I tell her that I intend to convince Jack to cut all ties, she will be very afraid. She knows the bond my brother and I have is way stronger than the umbilical code that once tied us to her.”
    “I don’t know Happy.”
    “Just leave everything to me sis.”
    “Okay.”
    Mildred and Alice were unwelcome guests at Jackson and Juliet’s wedding despite their presence at the high table. They could barely hide the fact that they wished to be anywhere else but there.
    However, they both couldn’t risk crossing the newly determined Juliet that had vowed to set them straight if they dared to do anything that threatened her happiness. And most importantly, Juliet was their only source of income and with Jackson in her life, they got to enjoy the benefits that came with being recognized as part of the rich family by the public.
    Beauty on the other hand put in zero effort to mask her disdain for the union. Even though Happy had succeeded in blackmailing her into giving Jackson her blessings, she could not get her to fake a smile at the wedding or keep her opinions to herself during her speak.
    “Can you imagine that this family used to be all that back then while my children and I suffered after my husband lost his job and this family humiliated us day in and day out?” Beauty said during her speech.
    Mildred was about to stand and provide a retort but Juliet gave her a stern look that had her daughter Alice grabbing her hand and pulling her back down.
    Beauty who was watching them the whole time broke into a high-pitched laugh. “Isn’t it amazing what money can do, huh?” She asked the guests. “She can’t even say anything because money talks and-“
    Happy appeared out of nowhere and grabbed the microphone from her mother. “Please do forgive my mother.” She said giving her mother a look that mirrored Juliet’s when she had to deal with her mother a few minutes ago.
    “She is obviously drunk and she seems to be having issues with her memory.” Happy continued.
    “You remember that conversation we had mother?”
    The semi-drunk Beauty waved her hands in the air in surrender and went back to sit.
    “I thought so.” Happy said under her breath. “Alright everybody, it’s time for the new couple in town to give us a dance as Mr and Mrs Chibamba!”
    The masterof ceremony standing on the other end of the podium appeared to have a different program in hand and tried to say something but Happy was already by Jackson and Juliet’s table, taking both their hands and leading them onto the dance floor.
    “DJ, do your thing!” Happy said into the microphone and then handed the microphone over to the master of ceremony as the couple’s song started playing.
    “I could kiss Happy right now.” A smiling Juliet whispered into her husband’s ear as they danced.
    “How about kissing me instead?” Jackson said.
    “Feeling possessive already are we?”
    “Maybe.” Jackson laughed and holding her head in place, he pulled her slightly back and kissed her on the lips…much to their friend’s amusement.
    “Thank you Juliet.” Jackson said as they resumed dancing.
    “For what?” Juliet asked.
    “For keeping your promise to me.” He said.
    “Promise?” She asked.
    “What you said to me when we were kids, back in your mother’s kitchen.” Jackson said. “My mother had hit me, I was bleeding badly but somehow I ended up in your arms. You were just a kid back then but you were like this tiny Miss Know-it-all. Do you remember what you said to me that night?”
    “No, I don’t.” Juliet answered a little too quickly.
    Jackson laughed. “I think you do.” He said.
    “I thought you said you couldn’t make sense of what I said because you were in and out of consciousness.” Juliet reminded him.
    “Aaah, so you do remember!” He chuckled. “I lied.” He said. “I remember everything you said, the promise you made to me.”
    “I was a kid, what does it matter?” Juliet tried to brush it aside.
    “It matters because it gave me hope.” Jackson said. “I know they were just ramblings of a little girl but in that darkest time of my life, your innocent words brought me back to life.” Jackson suddenly stopped dancing and took her hands into his.
    “That night as I left home, for the very first time I found myself contemplating death.” He said.
    “Jackson.” Juliet said, her eyes registering deep horror.
    “No, relax.” Jackson said. He could feel her shivering anger his touch. “It was only a fleeting thought because I stepped outside the gate and I found you there. I didn’t know where I was going to go that night but I just wanted to end everything.
    “You said to me, you might not even notice me but I will save us both.” He said. “I remembered those words later after I got back home and I remember laughing to myself. I thought; this kid, why does she always sound like an adult? I meant to brush it all aside but for some reason those words kept replaying in my head. Ever since my dad lost his job I kept praying for someone to come and save us but no one ever came.
    “But you appeared in my life and despite your age and everything you were going through, you always looked out for me and Happy. I always pictured a grown man or a super hero coming to save me and my sister and if someone told me that help was going to come in the form of a ten year old girl, I would have laughed in their face without shame.”
    “Jackson-“ Juliet removed her lace gloves and used her hands to wipe the tears off Jackson’s face. “What kind of groom cries at his wedding?” She joked. “Look, you’re making me cry as well.”
    Jackson wrapped his hand around her waist and pulled her to him, hugging her tightly as he waited for his nerves to calm down.
    “I love you Juliet, I really do. I really really love you.” Jackson said.
    “I love you too Jackson. I really really do love you.” She parroted him with a hint of a smile in her voice. “Now get a hold of yourself and let’s dance like we mean it!” She freed herself from his embrace and ran to the DJ’s booth. She whispered something into his ears and ran back to where her husband was standing.
    When P-Square’s remix of ‘Chop my Money’ filled the air, Jackson burst out laughing.
    Juliet leaned over to him and whispered; “This is my gift to my new mother in-law so let’s give her something to celebrate my love.”
    Jackson didn’t need any more encouragement.
    A few seconds later, every guest in the building was on their feet dancing, except for Beauty, Mildred and Alice.
    THE END.

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