Chief clears his throat, looks around him, then at the three men and a woman and clears his throat again.
Sam is getting irritably impatient. He feels like rushing to Chief and forcing the words out of his mouth. He looks around him and notices that no one is as eager as he is to hear what Chief has to say. Obviously, he’s the only person that’s in the dark. He turns to Kim and notices a glow in her eyes. Tears?
“Fate has a way of fiddling with our lives. It swings us back and forth, throwing joy and pain at us at whim. One moment you are happy, the next, you are in pain. One moment you are crying, the next you are laughing.
Years ago, I found myself crying. I cried and cried, before then, I had laughed but at times, the laughter was painful, painful because I was not allowed to live my life the way I wanted. My parents wanted to live my life for me. I made up my mind that my children would make their choices. I made up my mind that I would allow them make their mistakes,” Chief said.
He looks at his listeners. If looks could kill, Sam’s eyes would have dismembered Chief.
Suddenly, Chief stares at Sam intently and continues.
“The first day you stepped through that door, I knew something would change. The shock almost killed me. I thought I saw an apparition. You look so much like your father. But the ghost of that day came in a pair. I felt I was caught in a whirlwind. I thought I was having another issue with my heart. I thought I’d die. I prayed to God to preserve my life. Later, during my stay in the hospital, I thought about it all and made some discreet enquiries which led to more revelations.”
Chief looks around him again.
“Get me a glass of something strong,” he said to Val.
“No Chief. You need water, not alcohol. Get him water, please,” Dr. Jones said firmly.
“Doctor, an old man should know what’s good for him…but I give up. Will make do with the water. I’ll live my life the way I want once you step out of that door,” Chief said with a smile as he accepts a glass of water from Val.
He stares at Kim and she squirms in her seat. He looks up and down and rests his eyes on Sam again. By now, Sam is feeling hot and cold at the same time. Suddenly, he starts sweating in the air-conditioned living room.
“What an old man sees while sitting down, a young man will not see even if he climbs the tallest tree…” Chief said.
“Excuse me sir, I want to use the gents,” Sam said, standing up. He heads to the gents.
He fiddles with his fly as the urgency intensifies immediately he closes the door behind him. After peeing, he flushes and zips up carefully. As he washes his hands, his brow creases.
He leans against the door and wipes the sweat off his brow with his palm. The manner in which Val wraps his eyes endearingly around Kim unsettles him.
Could there be something between them? Could there be a discreet affair between them? Kim is intoxicated by wealth. She’s always telling him that it was a mistake she was born into a poor home. She told him that she usually had dreams of rich parentage when she was much younger. She egged him on to accept anything Chief offered them. It is a chance at improving their lot in life.
What if he has to leave the job suddenly? What if whatever Chief has to say makes him take a drastic decision there and then? Can he turn his back on the new job and all the goodies that comes with it? Will Kim accept him if he has to lose everything now? To think that he sold his personal vehicle just 48 hours ago! Kim had harassed him into selling the car.
“How do you feel when you park this wretched looking car beside this machine? Don’t you think that since our level has changed, everything should change with it?” Kim had gone on and on.
He had no choice. He had to sell his much loved Toyota Camry ‘Tiny light’.
Now, if he leaves Chief’s house without his official vehicle, he is ‘carless’ and he can bet with his mother’s head that Kim will not leave with him.
Kim! Kim and Val! He is yet to understand the affinity between them…
“Sam…Sam…Sam!!! Are you okay? You’ve been in there for rather too long.” It’s Val.
“Er…em…yeah…yes…I’m coming out now,” he replied, flushing the loo again and turning the tap off and on.
“Okay, dad said I should check on you,” Val said, his voice fading.
As Sam opens the door and steps into the living room, he panics again.
“A man dies only once,”he told himself and strides purposefully to the couch he left about 10 minutes earlier.
Chief looks him up and down.
“Young man, you have to pull yourself together. When I lost my first love, Val’s mother, I was devastated. I thought I was going to die. I took to drinking. At a point, I left for Bulgaria. I had a friend schooling in Sofia then and I just wanted to relax. I couldn’t cope with the weather, the cold was extreme. I took to alcohol like fish takes to water. After six months of being a layabout, I realised that my son needed me. I returned home. The young lady my parents got for me even before I finished school had moved into our house then. My parents got her to care for my son, Val. It was so easy to fall for her whims. She prepared and served my meals. I was still drinking. Most nights, my head was in the cloud. I didn’t know when I started going in to her. She got pregnant and my parents were ecstatic. It was a big wedding but I didn’t remember what transpired that day. I was drunk most of the day. My parents converted your father, Sam, to my personal driver.”
Sam’s head bobs. The others sit up in surprise. Clearly this is news to them all.
“Well, I lived with my wife in relative peace until we ran into an old neighbour of Val’s mother, Elsie. We’d stop by a stall to buy some fruits and vegetables.
“Immediately Elsie saw my pregnant wife, she screamed at me, ‘So, you sent this woman to come and kill the pregnant mother of your son so you could marry her, eh?’
“Your father had come down from the vehicle to open the car booth. On seeing him, Elsie shouted in astonishment, ‘Daniel!!!’
The effect of Chief’s word is electric. His audience literally jump from their seats, shocked.
“Dad, was my mum murdered?” Val asked, fear mixed with something indescribable in his voice.
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