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When The Crocodile Smiles: Chapter 15 - Patience Plays Her Hand

The British High Commissioner to Zungula is being unfaithful to his wife. There are reports that the Zungulan president is going mad. And poor Sam Phiri, who has just been promoted to high office, catches his wife in the most compromising of all situations in the office of a senior government minister.

Michael Wood's page-clicking novel of life in an imaginary 21st Century African country makes for compulsive reading.

For earlier chapters of this brilliant novel please click on When The Crocodile Smiles in the menu on this page.

Presses at M’Mara Printing Works in Kintyre were flat out on one job, all others set side. The President’s new air brushed portrait was leaving the premises in thousand-pack bundles and taken to a depot near the Carlsburg brewery off Chileka Road. There the packages were collected by an assortment of trusted delivery agents; drivers on the government’s payroll, responsible for the long haul to Dombe and initiating distribution in the capital; members of the Youth Brigade with unwritten powers to requisition mini-buses, even private motor cars, to help ensure that the precious cargo was carried to every corner of the country – including troubled Bakili and beyond. The process of replacing the old portrait was made all the easier by a pronouncement from the Minister of Presidential Affairs, appearing in newspapers, and broadcast widely on state controlled radio and television:

His Excellency President Elliot Joseph Chilembe, in keeping with his affection for all the people of Zungula, has renewed his official portrait as of today, the seventh anniversary of his accession. By law the new portrait must be displayed in all government offices and places of public interest, in shops and supermarkets, in business premises large and small, in places of entertainment such as night club, in stadia, hotels, guest houses, airports, bus terminals, bars and shebeen. All such establishment have one month from the date of this notice to comply with the law. Failure to do so will result in an initial fine of 10,000 Kwacha followed by imprisonment for subsequent inaction.

The President has said that the cost of producing the new portrait is being met from his personal finances.
Signed (1 August)
Honourable Namiyaya Michiru
Minister of Presidential Affairs

It was a simple tactic. Fear created pent up demand for the portrait. Indeed this was already so high that the Youth Brigade were able to extract substantial “Party contributions” from those desperate to avoid prosecution. In some towns the YB even withheld supply so that people’s willingness to pay, rose correspondingly. The young thugs may have been near illiterate, but they understood the basic principles of economics. Their extortion tactics were fully subscribed to by the President. He knew that they would cheat and pocket some of the money. Equally he depended on them – they were his eyes and ears. So long as they returned his expected percentage, he tolerated a “margin of error” and was broadly content to allow them carte blanche in the fund raising department.

He quietly applauded his latest profit making venture. First the cash he had appropriated from the grain sale to Kenya had few overheads, involving only painless payments to three others involved. From the proceeds he apportioned enough for reproduction of his picture; his own company (M’Mara Printing Works) could not be expected to do the work for nothing and would submit a bill to the Minister of Finance, payment of which would further fatten his bank balance.

The icing on the cake was that millions of Kwacha flowing in from his youthful supporters’ portrait distribution activities, could then be used to help consolidate his position in power. It was all so easy, especially when people were hungry. Those stupid foreigners might have their suspicions but they would never understand how he manipulated the system so completely to his own ends; how he had become so incredibly wealthy is so short a period of time. Even so, he thought, a little aggrieved, I am just a Small Boy compared to my counterpart in Kenya.

On the President’s occasional stage managed tours of the country, people in larger towns would be herded into football stadia; in the rural areas, perhaps into an open field where a marquee would be erected for the Big Man and his entourage. He would keep his audiences waiting for hours, but they would sit like cattle in the sun and show evident delight when finally he arrived. For they expected gifts from a man of such importance.

Now that imported maize was arriving courtesy of aid donors, it had been unproblematical for Chilembe’s henchmen, in tandem with corrupt GMB officials, to intercept a significant proportion of this before it reached Dombe’s grain stores. Some of it would be sold to Lebanese traders at a cost reflecting its scarcity, with cash received again accruing to the President. The maize would then appear in local markets at prices equivalent to a month’s wage for a ten kilogram sack. So it was hardly surprising that Elliot Joseph Chilembe felt worshipped when the smaller quantities which he kept aside for personal distribution to the poor, rolled up in government Isuzu trucks during his speaking engagements. At such gatherings touring comedians were employed to make audiences laugh with their antics, while always having a serious message to deliver:

“The country is suffering with the bad weather and a poor harvest. The foreigners, expecially our former Colonial Masters, are making life difficult by cutting off aid in our time of need. Now you can see that the President has come to our rescue!”

There would be roars of simple-minded approval. Chilembe, dressed in his immaculate Saville Row suits, would stand to accept the appreciative applause, waving his silver topped ndodo as teams of party workers handed out the stolen maize. The lucky recipients would flee the jamboree with their prizes; to boil their much needed nsima; to proudly display the free t-shirt bearing His Excellency’s image – the largest crocodile of them all. Yes, how simple it all was.

* * * * * *

The Weekly Chronicle: 3 August
BRITISH CUT MORE AID

At a press conference midday yesterday, the British Government announced that it was halting all aid to the Zungula Police Force. Their senior aid representative in Dombe made clear her government’s opinion that ZPF had been unwelcoming of essential structural and operational reforms. Miss Beauty Musajakawa, speaking at the Capital Hotel, implied that the Force was both outmoded and inefficient. In a thinly veiled criticism of the Commissioner of Police, the aid boss went on to suggest that those who held the most senior positions within the Force, were holding back younger, more progressive officers who better understood the need for change. Pressed on the suddenness of the Britain’s decision to cut aid, Miss Musajakawa denied this was directly connected to the recent death in custody of a British teacher, James Middleton, who was awaiting trial for alleged buggery of one of his pupils. However she emphasized her opinion that Middleton’s treatment had been “barbaric” and called for appropriate action (undefined) from the Office of the President. Britain has also suspended more substantial financial aid to Zungula following supposed irregularities in the handling of the nation’s grain reserves.

* * * * * *

The decision to cut aid to Chitambo’s Force of course had everything to do with Middleton’s murder and the Secretary of State’s insistence that early retribution was needed – particularly as no apology had been issued by the Zungula Government for the vile attack, nor any private message of condolence sent to Middleton’s family in England via the High Commission, as might have been expected from the authorities. Removal of police aid from Beauty Musajakawa’s portfolio would not constitute a cut in overall terms; the local press had failed to report her emphasis that the money would be thrown into the World Health Organization pot, to help pay for necessary meningitis vaccines.

* * * * * *

Sandy Mackelson pushed the Weekly Chronicle aside. He felt sure it was right to have given Chitambo a bloody nose. However he was conscious that withdrawal of police aid might now make his task of springing Noah Bamidele from Dedza prison, virtually impossible. But he suddenly realized he hadn’t been thinking clearly. The trader was not in police hands. He was under the jurisdiction of Henderson Suswe, the tiny Commissioner of Prisons with the ill-fitting uniform. Perhaps the wee man might feel obliged to be accommodating given his supervisory shortcomings in respect of Middleton. A conversation with him would be the first priority, not with the ogre Chitambo. He was about to lift the phone to ask for the call to be made, when it rang. He picked up the receiver.

“It’s the Vice President’s wife on the line,” – this from Heather, his secretary.

Sandy looked up to check that his office door was firmly closed. A week had passed since his steamy entanglement with Lucy in that special room of the Dombe Capital Hotel. She had called him twice already to reassure him that her husband was not a vengeful man and they could continue the affair. However Sandy Mackelson had been unconvinced and remained panic stricken. How on earth would he handle Kanyerere the next time they rubbed shoulders? If the VP already knew of the Briton’s passion for Lucy, could it be long before Madeleine and others also found out? What if he was put under some kind of pressure? Yet in spite of his alarm, and the obvious risks of continuing down the slippery slope he had embarked upon, he just couldn’t bring himself to tell Lucy that they must stop seeing each other. Not only was she very beautiful. She was also overwhelmingly hot in the sack. He was powerless to resist sampling more of her.

“Good morning High Commissioner,” she began. “I see you have disassociated yourself from Lawrence Chitambo. A good thing too. The man is an animal.”

“Something had to be done Lucy. However, I doubt if he’ll flinch an inch.”

“You had better warn Beauty to vary her route home in the evening. Who knows what sort of nastiness she might now suffer.”

“Are you serious?”

“Well, let’s say I know more about that man than you do, and it should be something you think about. Anyway, I hadn’t really called about your relations with the police. It was more those which you enjoy with me I was concerned about. Didn’t we have a good time before?” – this last sentence delivered in imploring, child-like tones.

“You know we did. It’s just......Well, I’m petrified, frankly. It’s not just your husband and Madeleine. You must realize there might be other consequences if this gets out?”

“Relax my darling. Think about us and what we did. I’m ready for some more entertainment. Aren’t you?”

“Perhaps I’ll call you when I have worked something out?”

“OK. Make it soon eh?”

The High Commissioner had to remain seated for a while before he could risk walking through to the adjoining office. Finally he was able to get up and asked Heather to make the call to Suswe. She put him through within minutes.

“Good day to you High Commissioner.” There was tension in the little man’s voice – hardly unexpected given the circumstances under which the two men had last spoken.

“Commissioner, you’ll have seen we have taken action to halt British assistance to the police. I want to make clear that even though James Middleton died in prison, I don’t hold you directly responsible. Lawrence Chitambo could easily have kept Middleton in a Dombe police cell, I am sure, but instead he chose to transport the man directly to Dedza, and throw him to the wolves, as it were.”

“I am very sorry for that Sah.”

“I picked up as much, Henderson, when we last met. I know that you are a man of conscience. To demonstrate that I harbour no ill-feelings, I wondered whether the Prison Service might welcome some assistance?”

“Oh, defeen-ate-ely so.”

“Good. You may be aware that I have some small project funds at my disposal. Perhaps we could meet to discuss how these might be used to help improve conditions at Dedza. It’s some time since the EC Human Rights team reported their findings. I know your Government didn’t accept all that they said, but I was hoping we could find a way of working together; to demonstrate that your side and mine are trying to find middle ground?”

“I think you are right on that wan Sah.”

“Very well. Do you think we could meet in Dedza, maybe tomorrow morning, to go over the possibilities?”

“Yes, please.”

“Excellent. I’ll need an hour to drive down. Will 10.00am be all right with you?”

“That is also a good wan for me.”

When the conversation had ended, Mackelson sat scheming for a moment, wondering if he could kill two birds with one stone. He dug out his mobile phone from the depths of his briefcase and searched for Lucy’s number.

“It’s me.”

“That was quick.”

“I’m planning a visit to Dedza tomorrow. I thought I might leave my driver in Dombe. Maybe we could see each other at the pottery restaurant? We could have a quiet lunch.”

“Is that all?”

“Well that depends. I could take you for a drive afterwards. There’s some lovely pine and eucalyptus forest quite close by.”

“Mmm. Reminds me of my teenage years. Sounds like I need to bring a blanket.”

“How perceptive you are.”

“All right my special man. I will see you at about noon tomorrow. I’ll expect an aperitif.”

* * * * * *

Oily Stainbury had been sitting alone in Chancery Registry, drafting a near verbatim report of a secret conversation he had had with a senior figure in the Zungula government. To help ensure an informant’s safety, MI6 operatives were under strict instruction never to make specific their sources when reporting back to London in writing – in case the Zungula authorities had the technology to intercept BHC signals. It was generally accepted within the High Commission that this level of sophistication was unlikely in Dombe, but in today’s world, nothing could be taken for granted.

Whoever Stainbury’s contact was, had implied that the President was suffering from mental illness. There had been nothing in Elliot Joseph Chilembe’s public demeanor to suggest he was unable to conduct state business. However, the source insisted the President’s “out of spotlight” behaviour was abnormal. He ranted at unknown people whom he swore were hiding in the palace walls. He insisted that extensive searches be conducted, but nothing out of the ordinary had been discovered, nor those whom he referred to as “stowaways”. The President had told house maids that rats inhabited his study. This was not impossible but the suggestion that these habitually dined on Chilembe’s feet was less plausible. The informant claimed the President now believed the spirit of his predecessor, Dr Victor Mpande, inhabited his bedroom and would not let him sleep. Chilembe had supposedly confided in the Chief of Staff, complaining that Mpande was observing his nocturnal cavorting – putting him off his stride. Stainbury wondered whether this curious information might constitute no more than mischievous gossip of the sort which sometimes followed powerful figures; however, he gambled that there was more than a grain of truth in it, and therefore e-mailed his report to Mackelson with a request that a copy go to London for information.

Having completed this work, Oily doodled for a time on the blotting pad which protected the leather in-lay on the old DFA desk. He was bored. What to do? He decided on a whim to enter an adjacent room – the only one in the entire complex which he alone held a key to, by virtue of his special position. He closed the door behind him and locked it, as was routine. He put on headphones which lay on the desk and connected to a random number displayed on a panel of instruments which looked as if they had been acquired from an ancient telephone exchange. He began to listen in. Not much of interest there, he thought. Just a lot of chatter between Heather and another secretary about a planned weekend party. He plugged into a more familiar number. This time, one of the voices he heard was not immediately recognisable:

“........if this gets out.”

“Relax my darling. Think about us and what we did. I’m ready for some more entertainment. Aren’t you?”

“Perhaps I can call you when I have worked something out?”

“OK. Make it soon eh?”

The conversation had ended abruptly. Oily had not been in time to pick up the start of it. Who was the woman? He thought her voice sounded vaguely familiar but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Even so, he knew he had stumbled across something potentially explosive. The High Commissioner was playing away from home. Stainbury knew from his grounding in London that all diplomats, let alone those leading a mission, were supposed to be beyond reproach. That included avoiding the sometimes tempting arena of extra-marital relations. Indeed, he realized, being caught with ones pants down, was one of the easiest routes to the sort of embarrassment and scandal which Her Majesty’s Government would not tolerate. Brazen politicians could get away with it, but not civil servants.

Oily spent the rest of the morning puzzling over the mystery female. Her accent was indeterminable; she was clearly well educated; sounded middle class. Who could it be? He decided to take a little more time to reflect, but determined he would be more proactive from now on, in attending to his duties in that grim little room. For the first time since his arrival in Zungula, the internal monitoring station – where he could listen to any of his colleagues’ phone discussions, and record them – was paying dividends.

* * * * * *

As soon as Sam Phiri mentioned his promotion to the tubby little secretary who had worked with him in Procurement and Sales, she was distracted from playing solitaire on the computer screen and listening simultaneously to a new reggae programme on Radio Zungula. The news about Sam soon began to percolate through the building.

He suddenly felt valued; that his hard work at Elliot Joseph Chilembe University had paid off not just adequately, but handsomely; that his father would have been proud if he had still been alive. Although he had promised himself that he would work particularly hard as the new MD, he knew there would be some perks to compensate for the additional responsibilities, the longer hours. He was pleased in particular, and felt confident Patience would be too, that he now had access to a brand new Toyota Prado; his seniority also justified a driver. This was important. Parking such a grand vehicle in Chabwele at night wouldn’t have been advisable. That would have constituted an open invitation for thieves to strip the car of its wheels – at the very least! Sometimes gangs would steal top of the range Japanese cars to order, whisking them over the border to Mozambique before the Zungula police woke up from their slumbers and could put their antiquated mode of investigation in train. If you were lucky and thieves only stole bits of your car, it would be quicker to buy these back – wing mirrors, wheel covers, trims and integrated bumpers – rather than rely on the vicissitudes of police action. Malangalanga Road, a thriving second hand, all things metal market – that was the place to go.

So from day one as the boss, Sam concluded he would make an arrangement with his driver to be taken home at night, and then have the man collect him the following morning at a pre-arranged time. He would insist the car was returned to the GMB compound each night for safekeeping.

The day passed in a blur. The only piece of additional business following Sam’s discussion with the President, was another with Beauty Musajakawa – this to liaise about the Bakili trip arrangements, and to find out more about what was likely to be involved. Then, with some help from Miss Tubby, who had been keen to view his new accommodation but paused for breath on every third step of the stairwell, Sam ferried belongings and essentials from his old ground floor office, to the top of the building. As he stood at the threshold of what had been Chihana’s territory, with the last heavy cardboard box full of miscellaneous possessions, Sam couldn’t help wonder if his former boss might suddenly reappear – back from an extended leave perhaps, which the President had forgotten about. Then how stupid would he look, standing there, believing he was Managing Director, when it had all been a mistake.

Sam had always associated his new office with something dark and unpleasant. Tomorrow he would set about changing around the furniture; reallocating the spare IBM computer still lying unused under its plastic cover; removing the second desk and getting rid of that ridiculously noisy fridge. He walked over to the ancient, gurgling Electrolux and pulled it open. Inside was a solitary can of Appletiser and a pack of six orange-flavoured Refresh. He broke open the can and savoured the cool liquid. It was late now. There wasn’t much more he could do to get organized today. Most of the staff had gone home. He looked at his watch. Maybe, he thought, he could still catch Patience at the Ministry. She would enjoy the ride home in the Toyota; he would tell her all about his latest piece of good fortune first, and only then announce that he had to go to the north for a few days. He lifted the phone on the large mahogany desk and dialed reception. There was no reply. He dialed Security. Someone answered as if waking from a deep sleep.

“Yeees,” the man said, drowsily. Sam could hear an unconcealed yawn and felt mildly irritated that the guard had not been taking his duties seriously. He decided he might as well start there and then to shake things up.

“This is Sam Phiri.”

“Ahheee.”

“I’d like you to note please, that I have taken over from Mr Chihana as of today.”

“You are Mr Chihana?”

Sam now visualized who he was talking to. There were three security guards who rotated through the day. One had recently been arrested, taken to court, and sentenced to two weeks imprisonment for stealing a white man’s bicycle . The other two were therefore having to work longer shifts as a consequence. Sam was addressing the short, fat one, whose shirt was always hanging out of his trousers.

“No. I am Phiri. The new Managing Director.”

“Where is Mr Chihana?”

“That needn’t concern you. What I would like to know is whether Mr Chihana’s driver is still here?”

“That man you say. He is working here.”

“Who?”

“Mr Chihana driver.”

“I know that. Is he in the building?”

“I am checking for you Sah.”

Sam heard the guard put the phone down. After a four or five minute delay the short, fat guard came back on the line.

“Hello? That man Sah. He is over by the driver hut.”

“Well did you tell him I want him?”

“He is quite far.”

“Did you ask him to come and speak to me?”

“Will I tell him that wan Sah?”

Sam was exasperated but kept his impatience in check.

“Please go and tell him to phone me on Extension 101 right away?”

“You are Phiri?”

“Yes, I told you that.”

“Why are you in Mr Chihana offici?”

It was torturous. Sam made a mental note that this lazy lunatic would have to go. He slammed the phone into the cradle, ran down the three flights of stairs and trotted towards the drivers’ hut at the far end of the compound, leaving the dozy guard still looking bewildered in the lobby.

He found two men asleep in the hut and Sam had to physically shake one of them to get any kind of reaction. Eventually they came around, as if from an anaesthetic. Sam wondered if all the support staff habitually spent their day asleep. Why hadn’t he noticed before, he thought to himself.

“Which one of you was Mr Chihana’s driver?”

“Ah. That one he has just gone home.”

“Is it! Where does he live?”

“I think he come from Chabwele.”

“Where is his car?”

“Chabwele.”

It took another ten minutes, but finally Sam persuaded the most alert of the remaining drivers to take him to the Ministry of Finance – in a less than glamorous, aging Ford Escort. Patience might be disappointed with the car, but at least it was better than a taxi-bus. The driver was instructed to wait.

Sam climbed the stairs, nimbly, two at a time, to the top floor. There were no lifts in Dombe government buildings. This was a relief to him personally, having once got stuck in a Kintyre elevator – with twenty others – for more than an hour during one of the regular power cuts. All had feared for their lives as the temperature rose and people imagined they were running out of air. Not an experience Sam cared to repeat. At this hour, the Ministry, like GMB, was devoid of staff, and he half expected that he would have missed his wife. Surely she would be on her way home already.

It was easy to find his way to her office. He simply followed the corridor signs marked “Minister”, each of which had a red arrow underneath. Sam noticed that there were no directions to anyone else’s offices. How on earth were people located in this building? Then he realized that the vast majority of civil servants in Dombe had no wish to be found. They were moonlighting or “gardening”, or attending donor financed workshops. Sam thought they were just as far removed from the harsh realities of rural life, as the politicians they served.

Joe Tembo’s door had a large sign on it. “MINISTER: ALL ENQUIRIES NEXT ROOM”. Sam obediently moved along a few metres and entered the adjacent office. He recognized Patience’s coat hanging up and oddly, he thought, her shoes had been kicked off under her desk. Her computer was on but there was no sign of her. Sam assumed she had gone off to the toilet, even if it seemed unlike her to wander about a place of work in bare feet. So he settled down in one of the visitors’ armchairs to wait.

Momentarily, he heard the familiar voice of his wife within the Minister’s office. Of course, he thought. She would be taking short-hand or discussing tomorrow’s diary. He didn’t want to intrude on a Minister’s business but he couldn’t resist straining his ears just a little to listen in, to glean something of the way his wife handled herself in the company of such an important man.

He was surprised to hear Patience giggle. The two were clearly enjoying a joke. It struck Sam that he and his dearest hadn’t enjoyed much fun together for quite some time. He blamed the pressures of work. The worries he had kept to himself during his reluctant participation in the grain sale to Kenya, not to mention the guilt he felt about having received $2,000 for services rendered. He reminded himself the money still needed transferring from his old ground floor office safe. Above all, he had still harboured fears that someone would find out he had spilled the beans to the British. However, now that he had had that conversation with the President and the offer of this latest appointment, he felt much of the weight had lifted off his shoulders. He determined he would do more now to lighten up. He would begin to enjoy life with Patience.

Sam was now hearing what he interpreted as little squeaks of delight from his wife next door but there was silence from Tembo. Then through the thin plywood partition came a subdued moan from Patience, followed by gasps, the sound of which entered a realm which surely bore no relation to the conduct of office business. There was no need for Sam to strain his hearing any longer, for his wife in particular had begun to chant “yes Master,” “push at me,” and “faster,” in quick succession. Tembo had also now joined the party with a few extraordinary sounds of his own. These could mean only one thing.

The penny had been slow to drop, so incredible to Sam, so unbelievable the evidence of what actually was going on. But drop it did. The appalling realization filled him with horror. On the other side of that wall, the woman whom he adored, who was soon to give birth to his child, appeared to be making love. On his feet now, he still held back. What if he entered the Minister’s office uninvited, and found there was another totally innocent explanation for the noises? What a fool he would look. He soon dispelled these thoughts as the intensification of his wife’s moaning and her eager encouragement of Tembo left nothing more to the imagination.

Sam burst into the room. His wife, so accustomed to lack of interruption, had carelessly left the door unlocked. Tembo and Patience were indeed locked together, him behind given her size, his hands clasped over her bulging belly to provide the necessary leverage, their clothes carelessly scattered on the floor. Shock waves rocked through Sam’s head at the sight of them. He stood aghast, frozen, unable now to react. It was as if he had been knocked senseless. He could say nothing. His mouth hung open, deep hurt and anguish written plainly on his face. He remembered clearly what his Patience had said to him not that long ago. “Now I am with child, you must not go with me. You can damage the baby so.” There was no concern for the baby now. What had he done to deserve his world collapsing so completely in front of his eyes?

The two had not behaved like normal cheating lovers caught in the act. On the contrary. They had been slow to uncouple. Their initial look of surprise and then indignation, was quickly replaced with brazenness. Encouraged by Sam’s silence and lack of action, by his look of defeated resignation, the lovers’ faces spelled defiance. Patience instinctively knew that this was a pivotal moment. She could either flee from the office in disgrace to later face a blazing row with Sam in that Chabwele hovel, or she would stand her ground now. She had long ago decided that if only the slightest chance was offered, she would opt for a life with Tembo. Her adultery having been discovered, she had nothing to lose. Tembo was rich and could provide for her every indulgence. She would now claim Tembo for herself, not as a mere lover, but she hoped as a future wife. The time had come to show her true affiliation. She would sacrifice her husband.

Tembo covered his groin and shuffled around behind his desk. He sat on the chair to obscure his fading erection. Patience lifted her dress from the floor to cover herself and walked to her lover’s side, resting a hand on his shoulder, a gesture which deepened Sam’s wounds.

“What have you done?” he shrieked, realizing too late how stupid the question had been. The lovers’ enjoyment of their situation, safe in the knowledge that there appeared to be no violence in Sam, began to look evident. They smiled at each other but muttered not a word to Sam. Each were evilly driven by knowledge of the power they exerted over the crestfallen husband. The fool would pay for interrupting their evening ritual.

Every cell in Sam Phiri’s body was compelling him to tear his wife away. But all he could feel was the strength drain from him. He could face this indignity no longer. Meekly, and without even the hint of a fight, he turned around and closed the door behind him. As he did so, he heard them laugh. They were mocking him in spite of his pain. If he hadn’t lost face enough, now they were rubbing his nose in it. He understood at that moment, the girl he had met in the Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary congregation, had completed a metamorphosis. She had become something conjured by the devil. Perhaps the devil was Tembo himself.

When Sam emerged into the fresh air, rising sobs and convulsions wracked his soul. It had begun to rain but he was so distracted that he hadn’t noticed. His driver had disobeyed his instruction to wait, and was gone. He began the long walk to Chabwele knowing that Patience would never be welcome at his house again; understanding too that in all probability, the child he had long desired, so soon to be born, was not his.

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