A short story by debut writer, Florina Dube
WEDDING bells started chiming loud and clear in the heads of people who received invitations to the pending wedding of the most eligible bachelor in Mshishi, Mufaro Ziko, and the irresistibly beautiful Ntombi Tonde.
Among the couple’s friends and family the pending wedding seemed as natural as day following night. Since Mafaro had started dating Ntombi a year ago, tongues hadn’t stopped wagging and speculation was rife that the couple would tie the knot sooner rather than later.
“It will be a match made in heaven,” commented those who knew Mafaro and Ntombi.
Some people expressed misgivings about how a seemingly mature, gentle and humble woman like Ntombi had fallen in love, let alone agreed to marry Mafaro who was renowned for his pompous display of vanity.
The wedding venue was to be the iconic Kingdom Hotel, situated in the leafy green suburb of Greendale where high fences, well-manicured lawns, well-tended shrubbery and colourful flowers were part of the suburb’s character, as much as the expensive cars parked in the driveways.
Those in the know said the guest list, which had been crafted by Ntombi and Mafaro, in between hugging and slobbering kisses, included hundreds of guests from abroad.
Consistent with Mafaro’s much talked about lavish lifestyle, the customised wedding invitations were embossed with the photograph of the couple kissing outside the glitz Kingdom Hotel. A caption below the photograph read: “don’t just buy presents, be present.”
On receiving the wedding invitations some old folks in Mshishi shook their heads and murmured: “Whatever happened to good old-fashioned humility and modesty?”
But that opinion wasn’t shared by the couple’s peers who were impressed by the uniquely styled wedding invitations and quickly dubbed the pending event as ‘the mother of all weddings’.
Since it was no secret in Mafaro’s social circles that he did not socialise with “the undesirables” as he was fond of reminding anyone within ear shot, people invited to the wedding saw it as an endorsement of the fact that they were part of the crème dela crème of Mshishi society.
When hobnobbing with people he perceived as being of higher social status, Mafaro, who had read in some fancy weekly tabloid that double barrelled names or surnames are a class signifier, was always quick to tell them that his name, translated into English meant: ‘pleasure-seeker’.
True to form, Mafaro spared nothing in planning a unique and unforgettable marriage proposal to Ntombi.
On a t-shirt weather day, Mafaro who lived his life as if he was on a television reality show, drove Ntombi in his yellow Ford Mustang to Matopos Hills, a picture-postcard place, with extremely attractive and romantic views.
On the smooth drive to Matopos, Ntombi who had no idea about the pending proposal sat quietly listening to jazz music blaring from one of Mafaro’s favourite CDs. She was intrigued that the usually talkative Mafaro was oddly quiet. Now and again, though he turned to her, smiled a knowing smile and patted her knee, otherwise he seemed content to concentrate on driving, occasionally nodding his head to the music.
Left to her own reflections, Ntombi was thinking: “Mafaro looks even more dapper in his trademark stonewashed Levi jeans and designer golf t-shirts than in the smart suits he wears when he is at work.”
Everything about Mafaro shouted ‘expensive’, starting from the car he drove, the Rolex watch on his wrist, his Sony Xperia mobile phone and his Ray-Ban sunglasses.
At heart Ntombi was a woman of integrity and did not like people who flaunted their wealth. She often wondered if she would be able to live with such ostentatiousness.
Inward though, she was desperately looking forward to the day when she would proudly say to herself, “you are married now; you can update your status online”.
Ntombi herself a well-educated woman, tall and slim at twenty years of age, was always smartly dressed. She was wearing blue denim shorts, a snow-white linen top and blue Nike trainers. She looked as she always did, drop dead gorgeous.
When they finally pulled up at a parking lot in Matopos Hills, they hurriedly got out of the car and donned their sunglasses. Holding hands, they started climbing the steep rock slanting at 30 degrees from the apex to the foothill.
In the sweltering heat of 42.4 degrees Ntombi found the climb a laborious and daunting exercise. But she persevered until she thought she had pushed herself outside her comfort zone. She was ready to make a U-turn and descend downhill, but Mafaro was having none of that. He urged her on saying: “Ntombi why do you want to behave like a decrepit woman who has lost the will to live?”
That remark stung her and she soldiered on until they reached the summit, known as Lovers Rock where to Ntombi’s surprise, she found both her friends and Mafaro’s friends waiting.
Ntombi froze for a moment which seemed like eternity to her. She was surprised to see all those happy faces, ladies dolled up and gentlemen in their smart casuals. Before she could fully recover from this trance, Mafaro knelt in front of her and said in his most seductive baritone voice: “Ntombi will you marry me?”
Dumbfounded, Ntombi started giggling uncontrollably. She slumped on the nearest rock and held her face in her hands as though she was grief stricken.
Sometimes Ntombi just didn’t know if Mafaro was serious or just pulling her leg.
Sensing doubt in Ntombi, Mafaro took out from his trouser pocket a nicely wrapped box containing an emerald cut diamond engagement ring.
Still on his knee, Mafaro repeated his proposal. “Ntombi will you marry me, will you be my lawfully wedded wife?”
Ntombi stared at Mafaro intensely then cast her eyes at their relatives and friends who had gathered to witness this memorable occasion. She felt a wave of pure undiluted joy sweeping all over her body.
Being a romanticist at heart, she blurted: “Yes, yes, yes. Where? When?” The crowd broke out in thunderous jubilation and ululation. Just then, a photographer appeared from nowhere and started clicking his camera.
Unbeknown to Ntombi who was by now sniffing and wiping away tears of joy from her bright vogue cheeks, Mafaro had also asked his friends to set up a picnic complete with cheese and wine.
This arrangement did not come as a surprise to those who knew Mafaro. It was his life motto, “carpe diem”, “seize the day”. He found scrimping socially limiting and oppressive, and he always said so.
Ntombi was bowled over by the marriage proposal and the attendant gesture from Mafaro who had kissed the finger on which he had put the ring on, until she thought he would either accidentally swallow the ring or her dainty finger would be permanently bruised.
When the party was over, Ntombi and Mafaro led their guests down the hill, singing, dancing laughing all the way to where their cars were parked.
With the marriage proposal out of the way arrangements were made for Ntombi and Mafaro’s families to meet for a wedding planning event at Ntombi’s parents’ spacious home.
It did not take long for everybody involved to discover that planning for a wedding was no easy task. The points under discussion seemed to stretch from Mshishi to Honolulu, with endless arguments and counter arguments over details and deadlines.
The list comprised the wedding budget, insurance, the bridal gown, the groom’s tuxedo suit, the officiant at the church service and at the reception, the bridal party, flowers and décor at the venue. It was endless and soon, disagreements arose and tensions heightened.
There was so much friction in the room, you could almost touch it. Mr and Mrs Tonde, Ntombi’s parents who were so averse to friction and raised voices, had looked at each other with talking eyes and Ntombi’s mother who was the voice of sanity in the family had spoken in a thoughtful low-pitched voice. She said: “I think a simple and affordable wedding would make this whole process more manageable and as stress free as possible.”
A few people nodded their heads in agreement. But most kept quiet, seemingly unable to make up their minds.
For a while the house was quiet as a grave, until Mafaro, always consumed by self-importance, broke the deafening silence and arrogantly said: “I will finance the whole wedding if people feel like our wishes and plans are causing them too much of a bother.”
Ntombi rebuked him. “Mafaro that is totally out of order,” she said. “I think you owe everyone an apology and some respect, please.”
“I don’t see why I need to apologise to anyone,” Mafaro said. “All I said is that I am prepared meet every cost of the wedding expenses.”
Mr Ziko, Mafaro’s father who had been quiet all along and listening intently was riled by his son’s arrogance. He shuffled in his chair, cleared his throat and rested his heavy rimmed glasses on the bridge of his nose and gave Mafaro a fixed stare.
Of late, Mr Ziko had noticed, that Mafaro had become increasingly difficult and self-indulgent. With a voice cracking with anger, Mr Ziko said: “From which bountiful tree do you pluck off all this money, Mafaro? Can you tell us so that we can all go and harvest some for ourselves?”
As a salesman, Mafaro was a fast thinking and fast-talking person. Sometimes he did not stop to think of the wider implications of what he said or the repercussions, if any. “Just in case some of you hadn’t noticed I work and I work hard too,” Mafaro said. “I also get paid a bonus if I exceed my sales target.”
“So are you telling me that, that big house of yours and that fancy car you drive, were all bought from your earnings this year?” Mr Ziko asked with a raised voice.
Mafaro shrugged his shoulders, smiled wryly and said. “Of course.”
Mr Ziko father picked up his brown Stetson hat which was decorated with a multi-floral feather on one side and placed it on his bald head. As he stood up, ready to storm out of the meeting, Mrs Ziko, his wife, gave him a severe look of reprimand. He sat down immediately thinking to himself, ‘if looks could kill, I should be dead by now.’
Realising that if the bickering was allowed to continue, relationships between her family and Mafaro’s family could be damaged immeasurably and possibly spoil their wedding plans, Ntombi said: “It’s been a long day and we are all tired. With everyone’s permission can we postpone this meeting until next Saturday, same time, and same place?”
Here and there, people nodded their heads in agreement, picked up their things, shook hands with those nearest to them and walked out of the room. Mafaro just sat there glaring at the departing family members as if he was puzzled by the fact that his insolence had caused the fraught mood in the room.
Typically, Mafaro, was unfazed. Indeed, he felt that he had shone and conquered. After all it was his wedding, and oh, that of Ntombi’s too, he told himself. Let them walk out! That wouldn’t change his wedding plans.
Ntombi’s father, Mr Tonde who always had dark suspicions about Mafaro’s lavish lifestyle was the last to leave the room. For a moment, he thought about confronting his future son in law by asking him directly where he had found the $24,000 to pay for the wedding. But one look from Ntombi was enough to convince Mr Tonde that now was not the right time to start an argument with Mafaro.
Mrs Tonde was also not convinced that a second-hand car salesman’s salary could allow Mafaro to fly to the moon and back, which is what Mafaro seemed to do all the time.
So, when her husband brought up the subject when they got home she said. “Something, somewhere does not add up right. I don’t see how a car salesman in this small town can live such a lavish lifestyle from his earnings.”
“I pray to God that Ntombi will not get into trouble when she finally marries Mafaro,” Mr Tonde said.
“But what can we do?” Mrs Tonde asked. “I know that our daughter is very excited about marrying Mafaro.”
“I know,” Mr Tonde replied. “You can see by just looking at Ntombi that she can’t wait to marry Mafaro. I hope my suspicions about him are wrong but I still need a lot of convincing about how a second hand car salesman can afford his lifestyle.”
Then again, Mr Tonde suddenly recalled a conversation he had overheard in a bank queue, in which two men spoke highly about Mafaro’s salesmanship skills. The first one had quipped, “Mafaro can sell you anything if you let him. He can sell sand to an Arab”.
The two young men had both chuckled heartily at this observation. Not to be outdone the second one said, “No, he can sell a glass of water to a drowning man.”
The two who were in front of Mr Tonde in the queue had not stopped laughing until the bank cashier called out, “next person please”.
Maybe or just maybe, Mr Tonde thought, Mafaro had earned his money honestly through hard work. Eyes heavy with sleep, Mr Tonde brought the subject to an inconclusive end and they both retired to bed. But sleep evaded them for much of the night. They tossed and turned, each fervently praying for Ntombi not to be legally yoked with an unsuitable husband.
Ntombi didn’t have much sleep herself that night. She kept tossing and turning until she got up and went to the kitchen to warm up some milk to drink.
Back in her bedroom, she sat on her bed and a flood of doubts about her pending wedding rushed into her head. Just as she was telling herself, “this feeling is disconcerting”, an ‘aha’ moment came with a sudden realisation that cracks in her relationship with Mafaro had started appearing on the day he had boastfully suggested he could meet all the wedding expenses himself.
She woke up with a heavy heart and and an unpleasant feeling – like a premonition that something bad was about to happen. She thought of her grandmother who had been bedridden for quite some time and whose life was fast ebbing away.
“It would be heart breaking if my dear grandmother died before my wedding”, Ntombi reflected in her thoughts.
She desperately wanted her grandmother to at least bless her wedding day from her death bed or at least get to see the wedding photographs before she died. To stop herself from getting into a rut she decided to go for a drive, get some fresh morning air and clear her head of all those unbecoming thoughts.
Picking up her car keys and her heavy Gucci handbag that seemed to contain the whole house and its contents in it, Ntombi told her parents she was going out for coffee with an unnamed friend.
As she unlocked her Mazda 323 which was metallic gold in colour and spanking new, she thought to herself that both her parents had looked battered and weary. This whole thing unnerved her even more.
She looked at herself in the rear-view mirror. She didn’t like what she saw. She looked a sight, like a rag doll that the cat had dragged indoors. Her face screamed back at her, “FATIGUE, WEARY BRAIN AND WEARY EYES”. She knew Mafaro would not approve of her driving around in such as state of dishevelment, but still she drove on towards his house.
The electric gate was wide open when she arrived at Mafaro’s palatial home. As she drove into the parking lot, she was dumbfounded to see Mafaro, standing next to his car in handcuffs. Next to him was a tall police officer who looked smart and dashing in his uniform.
Another officer was standing next to a dazzlingly beautiful young woman with a figure to die for. The woman didn’t look a day older than twenty-one years of age, was also in handcuffs. The officer who seemed to be breathing down her neck, was a swarthy figure of medium height. His face was puffed up and he had a squint eye.
Ntombi did not know what to make of the dramatic spectacle in front of her.
“What’s going on?” she asked as she stepped out of her car. “Mafaro why are you in handcuffs?”
The squint eyed officer brushed her question aside. Instead he said: “Are you one of Mafaro’s drug mules? Have you come to collect drugs or to deliver his ill-gotten money?”
For a moment, Ntombi stood there immobilized as her mind weighed the implications of what the officer had just said. Then she screamed at him. “What the hell are you talking about, officer? What do you mean by asking me if I am one of Mafaro’s drug mules? Whats going on here? Are you alright in your thick head?” She spat out these words, visibly showing contempt of the officer, both in manner and tone.
The officer smirked and said:“Young lady you have walked into a drugs raid. I want you to cooperate by emptying your handbag of all its contents, after which we shall search your car.”
Ntombi was now beside herself with rage, “Officer you are talking a lot of rubbish. Why don’t you chase after real criminals and stop harassing innocent people?”
She turned to Mafaro expecting him to say something to reassure her.
Mafaro chuckled with derision and said: “Ntombi do not believe a word of what these goons are saying, throwing unfounded allegations at people with impunity. Some jealous creep out there is trying to tarnish my good reputation.”
The woman in handcuffs, burst out like a pus-filled boil and screamed: “Don’t tell lies Mafaro! You have been sending me and several other ladies to deliver drugs to different people in South Africa. You even pay for our airline tickets.”
“Who are you? How do you know Mafaro?” Ntombi asked the woman.
“My name is Khwezi,” the girl said. “i am one of Mafaro’s drug mules. This morning I was caught at the airport with drugs to deliver to a Mr Van Nierkerk in Namibia. Am I lying Mafaro?”
Ntombi felt as though she would faint from shock. In a demonic rage, she turned to Mafaro and screamed. “I am calling our wedding off today! Do you hear me Mafaro Ziko?” She continued shouting and screaming and spewing a stream of expletives at him.
Her shrill screams brought neighbours out of their houses Some were straining their necks over the fence to get a full picture of what was going on in Mafaro’s garden. A couple of onlookers even brought out their mobile phones and started to take videos of the whole drama, with Mafaro screaming abuse at them.
The tall officer walked over to Ntombi and in a calm and low pitched voice gave her a detailed account of how Mafaro ran a drug dealing operation from his home, engaging young ladies as his drug mules and paying them for transporting packages to neighbouring countries where he had established a lucrative drug market.
He further explained how they had intercepted Khwezi with some drugs that she was taking to Namibia. On interrogation, Khwezi had revealed how she was recruited and how she had been smuggling drugs to different people outside the country.
She had even named some of the ladies she knew to be on Mafaro’s payroll. Of course the police already had a large dossier on Mafaro as they had been monitoring his movements and operations for the past two years.
“Fame and fortune come at a cost”, added the officer with a squint in a gruff voice. He looked at Mafaro with angry eyes, and said by way of winding up their visit, “Because your rewards have come so quickly ,you have not only taken the risks of living on the fast lane, but you have dragged and destroyed innocent young lives in the process”.
Ntombi suddenly slipped off her engagement ring from her finger and flung it at Mafaro. “You can have your ring back you heartless monster and forget about me marrying you. I am calling the wedding off today. And I am going to place a notice in The Evening newspaper, if you care to read it!”
A feeling of hopelessness overcame Mafaro. The thought of losing Ntombi was unbearable. He was about to speak but the tall officer quickly jumped in and addressing Ntombi, said: “We are sorry if this is causing you some distress. On the other hand you should count yourself lucky that Mafaro was caught before you married him. Pick yourself up young lady and move on, that’s my honest advice to you”.
On the drive home Ntombi began to take stock of the sad situation she found herself in. She knew that police had legitimate and verifiable evidence. They also had credible witnesses to provide testimonial evidence against Mafaro. Khwezi had already squealed and she was certain many more were going to do the same under the heavy handed arm of the law.
On the spur of the moment, she stopped the car on the side road under a tree and made a call to The Chronicle offices to place an announcement regarding the cancellation of her wedding to Mafaro.
The message she texted to the Advertising manager read:
‘It is with regret that I, Ntombi Tonde, have to inform you that the wedding between Ntombi Tonde and Mafaro Ziko which was scheduled for 21st November has been called off. I want to ask for your forgiveness for the trouble this has caused you and I sincerely apologise for bothering you with our wedding preparations.’
When she was satisfied that everything had gone according to plan and receipt of payment had been acknowledged via a text message on her mobile phone, she set on the dreaded drive home.
When she got home and saw her parents, she broke down in loud sobs as if the reality and the first shock of cancellation of their wedding had only just set in. She made an attempt at telling them that she had called the wedding off. Her lips moved, but no words came out. Her brain and mouth were not in sync. On the second attempt she incoherently said,” I… I… I…have…canc… cancelled…” She sobbed again. Her mother took her in her arms, petted her shaking shoulders and gave her a clean handkerchief to wipe her tears and blow her nose.
After what seemed like an endless wait for her parents, she broke the silence. “This may come as a surprise to both of you. I have called the wedding off. The notice of cancellation will appear in today’s evening paper.”
“What?!” her parents asked in unison. “Mafaro has been arrested”, she told them as a matter of fact. “What could he possibly have done to get himself arrested?” asked her dad who in all honesty, was not in the least surprised by news of Mafaro’s arrest.
Ntombi began to relate to them what she had witnessed at Mafaro’s house culminating in her decision to call the wedding off.
“This is a very sad situation,” Ntombi’s father said bringing his wife and Ntombi into a tight embrace. “On the other hand I thank God that Mafaro’s bad ways came to light before he married our only daughter. Ntombi, you have been rescued from the clutches of a lion’s jaws.”
Ntombi nodded understandingly but her eyes kept forming new tears
“You will make yourself ill if you go on crying like that,” her mother warned.
“Is there a more repugnant person in this country than Mafaro?” Ntombi asked of no one in particular. “Why didn’t I see the tell-tale signs of Mafaro’s well kept secrets and lies?”
“You are not the first person to be blinded by love,” Ntombi’s father said soothingly.
Deep down Ntombi told herself that going to Mafaro’s house was a God sent gift.
Although she felt like her epitaph had been written for her in indelible ink, she took comfort from the thought that Mafaro’s fate would be worse in his crowded flea infested prison cells where the devil would never give him a moment of peace. She hoped too that his selfish appeasement would gnaw at his conscience like a festering wound.
Even so, she kept asking herself again and again how she could have been taken in by such deceit. Could she ever recover from such betrayal? Could she ever trust another man or should she just consign herself to a nunnery? The End