Nellie wondered if telling Daniel that she was Ms Sengwe’s daughter would lift the burden on her heart, but when she thought about how her mother died, she found it even harder to entertain the thought without ruing the day she was born as if she had had a say in the matter.
Yes, she would have enjoyed Daniel’s favourable attention, with the pride of being the most influential workmate’s favourite. All that came to naught because being in Daniel’s orbit made her wallow in her secret embarrassment, which her experiences at Forthare University had driven to the peripheries of her mind.
Now that Daniel was within arm’s reach again, she knew that not divulging the secret to him would make the hell of her living days more excruciating than the hell of her afterlife if Divine mercy eluded her while reminding him of a past humiliation would possibly make him feel worse about himself.
Nellie was not her childhood name and Sengwe was only her mother’s maiden name, but for the longest time in her life, she was called Angela Sengwe till she had acquired proper birth registration papers. Angela was dead to her and had joined her mother in the spirit realm. She had had no reason to mourn the death of the girl she had been, but hardly had she started to enjoy the woman she had become, she found herself once more in Daniel’s shadow.
The reason why she was not married at the age of 26 was probably the reason why he was not married at the age of 33. As Angela, her life had ended hardly after it had begun; As Nellie Munhuwashe, she met Angela’s ghost in every corner she tried to manoeuvre.
Ten years before, when Daniel was doing his master’s degree at Africa University, and she was in form four, he had proposed love to her and the innocence of childhood had impelled her to tell her mother of his advances.
Her father had opted not to be the man in his family’s daily life, but the money in their everyday affairs. He had sought employment in the United Kingdom, and being gainfully employed there, he had never returned to his home country but made sure his family lived a flamboyant life.
Because of the strong attachment to her mother, Nellie sought her mother’s blessing in everything she did. She had also learnt to bless anything her mother did, and in most cases impulsively.
“You have said he loves you desperately?” Mrs Sengwe asked her daughter over their evening meal. “You don’t seem to know what desperately means.”
“Mother, when he speaks to me, he stumbles over his words, and you can actually feel his heart in every word he says.”
“Very exciting my daughter, but you don’t seem to know what you are saying.”
Mother and daughter sat side by side on a sofa, poring over the young man’s photos. They also went through the WhatsApp conversation Daniel had with Nellie.
“A misplaced romance! How would a University undergraduate lose sleep over a sixteen-year-old?” Mrs Sengwe had said.
“You are too young for the vow of his heart, and the madness that goes with it,” she continued.
Nellie nodded innocently, wondering how absurd it had been of her to allow Daniel to permeate her heart, how amoral it had been of her to host him in her dreams, how depraved it had been of her to spend half her night viewing his photos, and finally how distracting it had been to her to chat with the undergraduate even through her meals.
“Mother, you are the most wonderful person in my life. Now I know how foolish I had been, but it is not too late to mend my ways,” Nellie said.
Looking at her mother, who was twenty years older than her, her love for the woman seized her like a sudden fever. She felt passionate gratitude for the woman who had passed all her beauty to her and yet managed to preserve the same beauty for herself.
“Now I wish to teach that young man a lesson. Tell him you are indeed mad for him. I wish to surprise him.”
Nellie could not contain her excitement as her mother told her how she should invite Daniel to visit her at night, how Mrs Sengwe would occupy the outer bedroom of her house and he would come thinking that it was Nellie’s bedroom. That was the best way to embarrass a potential child abuser, Mrs Sengwe had said.
Nellie never thought things would go out of hand. Daniel had come the night her mother had set the romantic trap for him, but her mother never said anything to her about how she had taught Daniel a lesson. She lacked the courage to ask and her mother had the power to keep her sordid secret to herself. Daniel had spent the whole night at their house, and the gatekeeper congratulated Nellie on being such a heroine.
Nellie was infuriated when the gateman began to ask her for bedroom favours, hoping that he could possibly blackmail her. “Yes, you may be smart my dear, but I will report you to your mother should that young man come again,” he threatened, a malicious grin dancing on his face. “I left the gate to eavesdrop the night you let him sleep over. What a memorable night you had!”
“You never switched on your lights. I would have enjoyed a free movie that night. But you were careless enough to detain him till daylight, thanks to your mother who slept late,” the gateman continued.
The venom of hatred filled Nellie’s heart. She wanted to strangle the idiot, but suddenly the impotence of her anger made her begin to resent her mother. She had been intimate with her potential boyfriend! How could she do that to her own daughter?
“I could hear some kind of argument between you and him after I had left my surveillance post,” the gateman said, enjoying the girl’s fangless anger. “He did not look that happy when he left. At first, I thought he was going to tell me his secret worry.” The gateman was enjoying Nellie’s emotional agony.
From that experience, she began to despise her mother, but she was practically the only parent she had. That fact did not even make her emotional crisis slacken. Instead, it grew worse.
Interaction with her mother was now riddled with silence. As if that was not bad enough, Daniel sent her a one-word text message, “betrayer”, never to text again. She felt pity for him, but could not say what she felt for herself. Now she began to feel the embarrassment of the loss she had suffered. Her love for Daniel grew hotter than volcano lava, but there was no way she could bring him back into her life. She got into mood swings, and as if in response to that, her mother sent her to boarding school.
It was when she was in boarding school that she started having disturbing nocturnal visions. Fights between Daniel and her mother dominated her dreams. Each dream always ended with Daniel plunging a sharp object into her mother’s neck, a knife, a chisel, a screwdriver or a crocheting needle. Yes, her mother had lost Nellie’s esteem. From a role model, she had turned to a disgrace, something to be resented, yet she never desired her death.
Nellie’s emotional status plummeted into a passionate dreariness. Nothing would efface Daniel’s image from her imagination. He was truly the only man to whom she had surrendered her heart, but her nights were filled with a Daniel-turned-murderer.
In one of her dreams, she had shouted, “Daniel, why not me?” but he had responded with the deafness of the devil, as he planted a butcher’s knife into Ms Sengwe’s neck.
When her father decided to send her to the University of Forthare, she was intensely grateful, as if her father was the parent who had always been there. She felt like she was taking the long-awaited flight out of her mother’s life as she took the flight.
It was when she was in South Africa that she received the news that her mother had died a gruesome death. The details of her mother’s death infiltrated not only the mass media but also social media. She had been murdered by a boyfriend who was fifteen years younger than her!
Now back in Zimbabwe, she found herself working for the second-largest mobile network organisation in the country, Daniel being one of her workmates.
When she finally thought that Daniel’s excitement over her was waning, her employer asked her to accompany Daniel to a five-day workshop on corporate governance at Fairview Hotel.
They had more time to share their past experiences but leaving out the issues that kept them single for longer than expected. They would retire to their separate hotel rooms late in the night.
It was on their last night at the hotel that he finally mentioned his wish to marry her.
Nellie looked into the sky, and found the edifice in front of them collapsing, the ruble of the falling building burying her alive. She closed her eyes a split second and the large building was standing firm, staring ominously at workmates turned lovers.
“You do not know me,” she said calmly, an indescribable force within her telling her that it was time to make the confession.
“Who are you then,” Daniel asked puzzled.
“Angela Sengwe,” she said, expecting him to slap her in the face. But without knowing what was happening, she felt his arms around her.
“I have finally found my lost love! We have long stories for each other’s ear, my dear.”
She wanted to protest, but who knew the secret in every ideal relationship? He was the only man for her.