C1 One: Her foolish heart
Sinikiwe stared at the offending paper in her hands, her mind refusing to comprehend what it was accusing her of. She had been standing in front of the large Mukwa desk for a good ten minutes. If she had stared any harder, it would have burnt up.
As she had left home earlier after a hurried attempt to look somewhat representable; discussing work, let alone being accused of industrial espionage had never even crossed her mind.
She had thought that finally, the man who her heart yearned for would confess his feelings for her. It had been the only ray of sunshine in the last two months.
As she had sat in the back of the taxi after having spent the last money on her, just to get here in time, nothing could have wiped the smile off her face, or so she had thought.
She had sat on the worn-out seats of the corolla daydreaming of how he was going to propose to her. Would he do it in the office? Or maybe he would take her to one of those fancy restaurants. Either way, it had not mattered as long as she had his love and him by her side.
It was going to be awkward. People would point fingers at them and even create malicious rumours. They would call her demeaning names and wonder which family had her brought up with no morals.
Bed hopping among family members in an African set up was unacceptable and frowned upon. But she couldn't say that she had bed hopped. Yes, she had dated Abel Mwango, Georges' cousin, but it was George, who her heart had belonged to.
Even now as he stood with his back to her, shoulders tense by the vast office windows, it was him her heart beat for.
"You should be grateful," his voice, cold and steely cut through the silence in the room and her foggy mind. He turned away to face her, disgust on his face. But that still did not stop her heart from beating any faster.
It was shameful. Pitiful even, but she couldn't help it. She loved him. He was every little bit the cliched C.E.O. Mean, distant and intimidating. The last part been true what with his height that towered almost over everyone.
He was mad. Fuming mad. His glare burnt her. She mentally flinched and looked down. She had never seen him this mad. Usually, he always treated her like one would an annoying relative. Tolerate and ignore at the most.
"You deserve nothing less than jail time," he continued, " If it was up to me, you wouldn't even be standing here. Be grateful that you once dated Abel. A scandal is the last thing I need."
They were planning to send her to jail.
"I don't understand," she finally said the prospect of jail time jolting her to life. It was a hard blow. From thinking this was going to be some sort of romantic escapade to only be discussing her freedom.
"Of course you are going to say that," he murmured dryly.
"There must be a mistake."
Her job was everything. Now more than ever. Two months back before her breakup with Abel, she had sent in her resignation letter which Abel had intercepted refusing to process it. At that moment nothing much had mattered except her breaking up with Abel to pursue her happiness. Her happiness which was with George. Her plan had been simple. Break up. Resign from her receptionist job. Pursue George.
But life had had other plans. Cruel, heartbreaking plans. In the blink of an eye, her life had turned upside down. For a moment she had forgotten that her life was not her own to mess around with.
But whilst secretly loving George, she had forgotten that. With him, she had wanted everything the heart could want. He had made her feel like a woman. He had made her heart beat.
When your life was not your own, pursuing your happiness did not exist. When you had bills and mouths to feed your happiness was not your own. And now this. It was laughable. What more was life going to throw her way?
She couldn't lose this job. The life of her son depended on her getting paid to pay the mounting hospital bills.
"There must be a mistake. I don't understand any of this," she said quietly rubbing at her temples. Feeling an onslaught of a headache. She had had little sleep over the last few weeks and this accusation of the heinous crime seemed to be the thing that would send her over the edge.
George reached for a lone white folder that lay on the gleaming dark brown desk and slid it towards her.
"What is this?"
George raised a pair of dark bushy eyebrows at her in mock amusement. Sinikiwe sighed and reached for it. Of course, she hadn't expected him to tell her. She grabbed the file and opened it. In it were photos. Different photos of her. What was consistent alongside her presence in the photos was a man. He was young, in his late twenties, stocky and a little taller than her. He spotted shoulder-length dreads, a full beard and wore casual clothes.
She didn't understand why he appeared in nearly all the two dozen photos, clearly taken over some time.
They looked like acquaintances from most if not all the photos while in others they might as well have been strangers. In one he had right across her in hospital cafeteria as she slid what appeared to be a USB towards him. His dark as night skin contrasting her lighter one. But what got her attention was the what was at the bottom of the folder. A bank statement in her name. Her eyes nearly bulged out in shock at the fingers. It couldn't be right.
But it was. Three, four, five zeros stared back at her. She had over four hundred thousand kwacha in her account. She had had that much deposited in her account just over a few weeks back. And another fifteen.
She had applied for a loan but had been turned down. That had prompted her to get a private from shark loans. Getting private loans was usually done at one's own risk. The interest was preposterous crazy but when one was desperate that did not matter? And to think at the very time, she had this much amount of money in her account. So much money that could have been used to shoulder the bills. Not that she would have touched the money, no.
The moment she would have been notified through the banks an electronic message that money had been deposited in her account, she would have gone over to the bank wanting a clarification. That amount was too large to ignore. Not even if it was by chance. But she hadn't because she was on SIM and has She hadn't used it for a while now as she had to sell her phone to cover some of her bills.
"Unbelievable," she murmured as it all began to fall in place. She had debt up to her neck and someone had thought it was okay to play such a cruel joke.
She counted the digits out again in disbelief. Her account which has never had more than three thousand kwacha, which was her monthly salary now had an excess of over four hundred thousand plus.
All the while, she could feel George's scorching glare. Sinikiwe mentally flinched. She closed the folder and placed it back on the desk.
"Go on now. I'm listening," he told her in a cold, dry mocking tone," It's not what it seems. Somebody set you up. You are innocent. You have no idea what's going on. Am I on the right track so far?"
Sinikiwe pulled the ends of the open grey Jersey that had seen one too many washes and was a step away from been ripped into pieces to make a mop or doormat, closer to her.
She closed her eyes and sighed. A moment of peace and clarity is all she needed.
"And if I said yes, would you believe me?"
"Yes. I didn't think so. But I don't care what you think you know or what the stupid folder says. I didn't do it."
How could he believe that of her? She was an exemplary employee. How could he think she could want to sell company secrets? She wouldn't risk jail time as well as the well being of her kids for a quick buck. Her dignity was not for sale.
If looks could annihilate, Sinikiwe was sure the deathly glare he gave her at the end of her sentence had just turned her to dust.
She cowered back and looked down.
"Have you no shame at all!? " He yelled, grabbed the folder and hurled it at her. She caught it mid-air before it could hit her face.
"You can yell and scream all you want. I did nothing."
He looked at her long and hard.
Sinikiwe desperately wanted him to believe her. So much had happened in the last few months that he had been away. She wasn't sure how much he was aware of.
"George- sir, please you have to believe me. I'm innocent," she pleaded her case quietly.
A shiver ran through her as the words of Easineya Mwango rang in her mind.
This is not the end of it you little slut. I will ruin you. You will regret having messed with my family.
The woman had been true to her words. Tears filled her eyes but she refused to cry.
Abel had ruined her life and now they were playing the victim on top of messing with her life.
"We last saw each other before you left for the airport," she began, shifting on her feet uncomfortably. That was the only thing that had gotten her through the ordeal of the past two months.
"Like seriously, are you going to bring that up now? Now? Seriously? You are unbelievable."
"What did...did your cousin say to you?"
"What do you think? He is too good a man to be blinded by your sick games."
She looked up at him hurt. This meant her confession of her love for him had meant nothing. The one time she had taken a risk on herself, it came back to bite her.
"What? Are you still hung up on that?"
"You kissed me back."
"Hey, You offered and I, I'm just a man," he told her with a chuckle. Sinikiwe looked down tears burning at the back of her eyes, "What, do you plan to seduce me to overlook your crimes. You could try... but it won't work."
"You know, I'm glad that Abel came to his senses and cut his loses before it was too late. Because you Sinikwe, under all that beauty of an angel, you are nothing but the devil's siren."
George had never been subtle in his dislike for their relationship, once he had even offered her a house and a monthly allowance for her to call off the relationship. Sinikiwe had taken it all in stride where she should have been hurt. But now, his words and disgust with her tore and broke her heart.
He was the man she loved and he knew that. Foolishly, she had confessed and kissed him as he was leaving for the airport. It was the one moment that had changed her life.
She rubbed at her aching heart as tears fell.
Oh her foolish heart. She ought to have known better, love was not for her. From the moment she had met George when Abel was trying to court her, she had fallen madly in love.
One cousin had courted her declaring his love and even offered her the world but her heart had chosen the wrong one.
It was not like Abel was any less attractive than George. Abel was a charmer. He was Gods gift to women, he liked to joke. He was very handsome with a well-toned body that made everything he wore, look the part.
He was nice. A charmer who could knock the pants off any woman. Any woman but her.
His money and status had not impressed her. Something he had failed to understand and accept.
But if Abel was Gods gift to women, George was the deity himself. Articulate, confident, accomplished and had a presence. She had fallen in love not only with his godly looks but his mysterious, valiant and captivating self.
"I want you out and gone by the next hour," he said," If I ever as so much catch you within breathing space of my family, you will be sorry Sinikiwe. I will not have mercy on you."
Sinikiwe scoffed at the threat. What was the worse that they could do? What was the worse that he could do apart from breaking her heart and stomping in her feelings?
She had no time to mourn over her broken heart nor pick up the pieces, her son lying in the hospital needed her. She could mourn over her broken heart in another lifetime.
She turned away with as much dignity that she could master to leave when the double doors to the office flew open.
A woman bearing a strong resemblance to George stood in the doorway. She had an elegant aristocratic look about her. She looked from George to Sinikiwe.
"Mum," George greeted her surprised," What are you doing here?"
"Is this her?"
George sighed and nodded. He thrust his hands in his pockets and went to stand by the window.
Mrs Elizabeth Njolomba moved from the door and walked over to Sinikiwe. She stood before her. She raised her hand and slapped her hard across the face. The slap stung and left a buzzing sound in her ear. The headache that had been creeping on her the past few days, came in full force.
"Wretched woman. Ingrate, that is what you are."
"Mrs Njolomba...," she began but was silenced by another slap on her other cheek.
"Don't you dare utter my name with that foul, disgusting, lying mouth of yours! I curse the day you walked into our lives. Do you know how much sweat and blood has gone into the well being of this company?"Sinikwe looked down. Elizabeth grabbed her by the chin squeezing her roughly," Poor Abel. He had to plead your case. That is the only reason my son is letting you off the light. If it was up to me, you would be rotting in jail."
She pushed her back roughly. Sinikiwe lost her balance and fell to the carpeted floor.
Elizabeth looked down at her with blazing anger in her brown eyes," Gabbage like you, cheap gold-digging sluts as you should never be allowed to go near decent people."
George continued to stare outside oblivious to them.
Sinikiwe looked up at Elizabeth defiantly.
"Arrogant and cocky till the end," Mrs Elizabeth said," But no more. Get out. I say, get out and run. Run as far away and fast as you can cause if I catch up with you, you cheap little slut, I will make your life miserable."
Elizabeth glared down at her as Sinikiwe fought back the tears.