The people of Mseka Township were in mourning. One of their most influential residents had died. It was a sad day for all. Albert Banda had been a pillar of strength, someone the township could rely on. Not only was he one of the wealthiest people in the township, he was also one of the most generous. Some had even been thinking of asking him to stand as Member of Parliament for the area. Unfortunately, a fatal car accident had robbed them of their potential candidate.
“This is quite a turnout,” remarked Balaza, a tall, light-skinned man with a face that many thought resembled a rat’s. “It looks like everyone is here.”
“Yes, it certainly looks that way,” said the man sitting next to Balaza. His skin was coffee-brown and he had wrinkles on his forehead. A short, fat man with a potbelly, Chimbiya was Balaza’s best friend. “This is not good. Not good at all.”
Balaza was puzzled. “Why is it not good?”
“Because, my friend, a lot of people means a lot of food needs to be prepared. That will take time, and I have a schedule to keep. After I have eaten here, I am going to a wedding. I want to get there before they start eating.” Chimbiya’s tone was serious. “And there is another thing to worry about. With all these people here, there’s a chance that the food won’t be enough.”
Balaza was about to say something about his friend’s gluttony, but he stopped short. Something else had caught his attention.
In life, Albert Banda was an accomplished teacher and a very successful entrepreneur. Until his untimely death, he was happily married with five children. He was also a proud Christian, who almost never missed a Sunday service at church. But, like any other human being, Albert had his faults. And today, at his funeral, one of those faults had just walked through the compound’s front gate.
Almost everyone in the township knew about Albert Banda’s affair with Angelica, arguably the township’s most beautiful woman. Rumors were rife that even his wife knew. And Angelica herself never made any attempt at hiding it. Needless to say, showing up at her late benefactor’s funeral caused some tension. Murmurs of disapproval were heard coming from the women. Even some of the men had a few things to say. But the curvy, dark-skinned beauty walked past them, unperturbed, her ample behind swaying provocatively. She went straight to where the women were busy preparing meals for the large group of mourners.
“I smell trouble,” Balaza spoke, almost to himself.
Sure enough, a few minutes after Angelica’s arrival, a commotion erupted from behind the deceased’s house, where the women were cooking. Since it was the women’s department, the men did not move, letting the women sort it out amongst themselves. But, after ten minutes had passed and the loud voices and clanging of what seemed to be pans continued, they decided to intervene. They rushed over to the makeshift kitchen, just in time to restrain Angelica from charging at Janet, one of the deceased’s sister-in-laws, with a knife. Janet herself, a rather plump woman in her late twenties, was being restrained by four women.
“How dare you show your face here?! The man’s wife and children are right next door with their dead husband and father! And you disrespect them by showing up at his funeral?!” Janet seethed, struggling to get loose. Her chitenje was dirty and torn in places, beads of sweat on her face. Murmurs could be heard among the gathered crowd.
Angelica, with what seemed to be fresh scratches all over her face, tried to break free. “I have a right to be here! He was part of my life too! He said he was going to leave his wife and marry me! I am not going anywhere!”
More murmurs came from the people who now stood by, watching.
One of the township leaders tried to intervene. These two women were bringing shame and disgrace to the memory of the late Banda. He would have none of it and he said so. He then asked Angelica to leave and let the family grieve in peace. But Angelica remained unmoved and defiant.
“He was a part of my life too and I am not leaving, old man. Whatever he was getting from that skinny little wife of his, he also got from me. He might have got more from me, in fact. If you really want me to leave, then tell Albert’s widow to come here and tell me that herself,” said Angelica, the defiance in her eyes now complemented with a sneer.
The township elder, outraged, ordered some of the boys to drag Angelica out of the compound, if necessary. They were about to do so when a voice came from the house where the remains of the late Albert Banda lay.
“Leave her be. She is right. She should stay.” Agnes, the late Banda’s wife, was standing at the doorway, helped by one of her sisters. She slowly made her way towards the little gathering, her tiny frame dressed in black.
“It is no secret that my husband had an affair with you. I knew about it and so did most of the people in this township. It is only fair that you stay. But please, no more of this fighting. My husband was still a good man, in spite of his faults. I wish to mourn him in peace. That goes for you too, Janet,” said Agnes, now looking directly at her sister.
“See?! She gets it!” Angelica bellowed, shrugging off the people who were holding her. “She understands that her husband had needs. That, since she couldn’t satisfy him, he came to me. I was an important part of his life too. I gave him what she couldn’t. Now, please leave me be,” she said triumphantly, glaring at Janet who only glared back.
Upon hearing that, Agnes stopped, turned and looked Angelica straight in the eye.
“You are right. You gave him what I couldn’t. Which is why I feel sorry for you, Angelica. You may have slept with him but apart from that, you meant nothing to him. You’re proving it with your words.”
“I don’t care what you think, you little runt,” began Angelica. “The fact is…!”
“The fact is you know nothing about my husband,” interjected Agnes, her voice still calm. “Did you ever stop to think about why my husband came to you, or why I never did anything about it? I knew things about my husband that nobody else did. Not even you.”
“My husband tested positive for HIV,” Agnes continued. “His promiscuous nature caught up with him. But, thank goodness, I don’t have the virus. Albert had his faults but he was still a good man. It was because of that, and for the sake of the children, that I stayed with him even after he disclosed his status to me. But, he and I never slept together again after we got tested and I was found negative.”
Angelica stood still, dumbstruck, the edges of her mouth quivering.
“Like I said, Angelica, I am not worried. I knew my husband. I am safe. It is you I feel sorry for. He probably never told you. Actually, from the look on your face, I’m sure he never told you.” There was a look of genuine sadness on Agnes’ face. “I hope, for your sake, you used protection. Do not think for a minute that I am asking you to stay because I like you or agree with what you did. The truth is I really pity you. The woman my husband turned to when I refused to sleep with him.”
Angelica broke down. She cried, the defiant and arrogant human being now reduced to a grief-stricken wreck. She ran from the compound, not looking back. No one ran after her. They all went back to mourning their beloved benefactor, although people were a lot less sympathetic towards the lifeless man now. The little fiasco that had just taken place had somehow changed things a little. Agnes took one last look at the crowd which had gathered for her late husband’s funeral and went back in the house.
“That was different, eh, my friend?” Balaza spoke first, as he and Chimbiya sat back down. “At least you will not have to worry about that at my funeral. No woman in her right mind would dare claim me as her lover.” Chimbiya said nothing, looking glum.
“I say, that squabble caused quite a delay in the kitchen,” Balaza went on. “Won’t that affect your schedule?”
This time, he got a response from Chimbiya. “Shut up.”