Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
Sophie sat on a bench in the park overlooking the dam at Woodville and watched families enjoying their Sunday afternoon outing. The residents of Lavangwa had come out in full force to bask in the November sunshine, after a night of rain.
Children enjoyed boat rides on one side of the dam as adults raced in their kayaks and canoes. On the other side, the more adventurous zoomed past on their water skis holding on to tow ropes attached to boats that pulled them along the surface of the water.
She had retreated here to think and weigh her options after leaving Tony’s house. A group of young boys on her right kicked around a football under the watchful eye of their mothers who sat in a group, some cradling toddlers on their laps as they laughed and chatted.
A man of about 30 passed in front of her with his young son perched on his shoulders, small hands clutched in his father’s big strong hands. Sophie watched the pair as they stopped beside a young woman sitting on a khanga spread out on the grass, the remains of their picnic lunch beside her.
A pang of envy shot through her. This is what she had always dreamed of. A man by her side when she finally decided to start a family. She knew the pain of growing up without a father. Was she really going to put her child through the same ordeal? Then there was the money issue. Tony had made it clear that he wouldn’t support her financially.
Her plan had been to seek full time employment once she completed her six-month internship at the end of the month. By then she would be three months pregnant. Could she find an employer willing to hire a woman who would be going on maternity leave in six months? She doubted it.
Luke would have to support her financially until her baby was born and she found a job. Sophie was supposed to help her brother and mother raise her five younger siblings, not add to their financial burden. But could she really live with herself if she aborted this baby? What would she do about school?
Sophie wrestled with these questions for hours as she sat on the park bench. Dusk set in but she didn’t notice. Families packed up their picnic hampers and left the park one after the other until only Sophie was left. The scorching afternoon sun had given way to a warm and balmy evening. She walked barefoot on the soft grass deep in thought.
While beautiful by day, the park was spectacular at night. Antique lanterns along the paved walkways cast soft pools of light and pretty shadows over the grass, complementing the moonlight and leading the eye naturally down the path. Strategically positioned lights illuminated tree trunks and exotic plants, adding to the colour and texture of the foliage.
Lights concealed in overhead trees lit the benches and other seating areas, which created interesting patterns of light on the furniture and made for a cosy intimate feel. The waterfall at the pond was lit from below, creating a colourful water display as water cascaded over the rocks. Perimeter lights at several places on the pond created a mysterious and enchanting effect as fish swam in and out of the light.
Sophie sat on the edge of the pond as the night wrapped around her. The breeze rustling through the leaves, chirping crickets, croaking frogs and water bubbling over rocks provided a soothing sound track that finally eased her inner turmoil and allowed her to think clearly for the first time in three weeks.
She set aside her feelings for Tony and looked at the problem objectively. What do I really want? Does it make sense to keep this baby under these circumstances? Is getting an abortion the best solution? Finally, she accepted the painful truth. She couldn’t afford to keep this baby. She couldn’t let her daughter grow up without a father like she did.
And she couldn’t burden Luke and her mother with this problem. She wouldn’t even tell them. The abortion would remain her secret, a scar she would carry to her dying day. I’m sorry. Her right hand draped protectively over her belly as the tortured words left her lips. I’m so sorry. A single tear escaped her eye and slid slowly down her left cheek.
Tony watched her enter his office with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Hope that she had finally made a decision that would end the limbo they were in and fear that he wouldn’t like her choice. She wore the same clothes she had on the afternoon before. That meant she had come straight to his office after her night shift.
He noted the circles under her eyes as she sat down across the desk. She looked exhausted, like someone who hadn’t slept in days. But it was the look in those eyes that arrested his attention. Sophie’s eyes were her most expressive feature. No matter how much she tried to hide her emotions, her eyes always betrayed her.
They crinkled at the corners when she smiled with happiness, were narrow and piercing, flashing barbs at him when she got angry, downcast and thoughtful when she was sad, wide with dilated pupils when she got aroused. That fiery flame coated with innocence that first attracted him was gone.
Doused; like a bucket of ice water thrown over a fire. Her eyes were flat and dead. Hollow, as if someone had scooped all the emotion out of her and left a shell in its place. She looked defeated.
“I’ve decided to get the abortion.” A wave of relief flooded his body. He leaned forward and touched her hand which lay flat on the table. She flinched. Was it so horrendous, his touch? They’d found pleasure in each other’s arms, hours and hours of bliss. And now she recoiled from him?
“I need the number of that doctor you told me about,” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken. Like her eyes, her voice was flat with no trace of emotion. He picked up the telephone and dialled a number.
“Please connect me to Dr Kwame.” He waited for the call to be transferred, his eyes on Sophie who sat motionless, staring at the blank white wall across the room. “Dr Kwame, how are you? It’s Tony Karenga. I’m calling about the little problem we talked about some days ago. How soon can you slot us in?”
He waited as the doctor consulted his appointment book. “Tomorrow 10am is great. Does she need to do anything to prepare?” Tony listened for a few minutes and wrote on the notepad on his desk. “Thank you very much. We will see you tomorrow.” He hung up.
“I don’t want you there.”
Tony looked up with a frown. “The doctor said it’s important to have someone with you for support and to take you home after the procedure.”
“Then I’ll get someone else.”
“It’s not up for debate.” Her cold unrelenting gaze was a little unnerving. Even more so than her vacant stare a few minutes before. Tony briefed her on what the doctor had told him she should do before the abortion and what to expect. She listened quietly, not looking at him directly but rather at a spot above his shoulder.
“You need at least one full day of rest, maybe two depending on how you feel before you can come back to work.”
“I’ll get someone to cover my shift tomorrow night.”
“Ok. Let me know if there’s a problem and…”
“There won’t be.”
A frown of irritation crossed his face. What the hell! She was acting like a robot, not even letting him finish his sentences. He forced himself not to react. She had agreed to the abortion after all. He stood up and went to the safe concealed inside a cabinet on the far side of the room, took out some banknotes, closed the safe, walked back to the desk and handed her the cash.
“That should be enough for the doctor’s fee and prescription. I’ve added a little extra for a cab to take you home and anything else you might need.” Sophie didn’t bother counting the money. She opened the clasp of her maroon clutch and stuffed the notes inside. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?”
“Yes.” She stood up.
He looked up at her not knowing what else to say. Although happy that she had come round to his way of thinking, her lack of emotion bothered him. She had found him with another woman yesterday and walked out without saying a word.
Today she was calmly telling him she wanted the abortion. The sudden change of heart after the way she had fought him on the same issue didn’t make sense. But he decided not to delve too deeply into it.
“You’re doing the right thing,” he said, as she reached the door. She turned and stared at him for a long moment but said nothing. Then she opened the door and walked out, shutting it behind her with a soft click.
Daniel nodded politely as his boss George Hube, finished briefing him about the new schedule, but inside he was boiling. He and Bill had just finished the morning shift when he got the call asking him to see the Front Office Manager.
Sophie had resigned suddenly without giving notice, leaving the switchboard short staffed once more. He would have to work the night shift starting tonight, until Martin came back from leave the following week. Bill would now cover the morning shift alone while Paul continued with the afternoon shift.
What kind of person just upped and left with no warning? What a pity Martin wasn’t around so he could tell him what he thought of his protégé. She had fooled everyone but not him. He’d known she was flaky ever since she reported his absence from work to the assistant F&B Manager which resulted in a warning letter.
Thank goodness he wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore. He was still stewing at 1am when the phone rang. He answered it then sat up straighter in his chair when he recognised Tony’s voice. “Good evening sir. What can I do for you?”
“You’re on the night shift?”
“I started tonight.”
“Which shift is Sophie working?” Daniel hesitated. “Well?” Tony sounded impatient.
“Sir, she resigned this morning.” He heard Tony’s sharp intake of breath over the line.
“She already left?”
“Yes sir. She didn’t give notice.” He heard a click as the line went dead. Now that’s an interesting development. Why would the GM be calling Sophie at this time of night? It couldn’t be official business because the minute he’d discovered that Sophie wasn’t there, he’d hung up.
Daniel sat in his chair and ruminated on the strange phone call. Had she been indulging in some hanky panky with the boss? Did that have something to do with her sudden resignation? Daniel liked a good mystery and that phone call intrigued him. Like everyone else, he knew Tony’s reputation when it came to women. Had Sophie become his latest conquest?
Her preference for the night shift made sense now. All those late night hours. Plenty of time to canoodle with the boss while no one was looking. Is that what she was doing the night the boats got stolen? Sophie had always insisted that she fell asleep but something about her story didn’t ring true.
Even Martin, who always took her side had admitted he found it strange. Daniel suddenly laughed. That cheeky little minx. And she always looked so innocent. He couldn’t wait to tell Martin what his little princess had been up to. He rubbed his hands in glee looking forward to that conversation.
Tony stared at the receiver in his hand still trying to digest the bombshell that Daniel had dropped. He slowly replaced the phone in its cradle. Sophie had resigned? Why? He got out of bed and walked to the living room where he paced, deep in thought.
He last saw her two days ago in his office when she told him she was getting the abortion. Had she changed her mind? He looked at the clock and cursed. She had no phone at home so he had no way of reaching her this late at night.
He woke up early and drove to Ngairo. He arrived at the second floor apartment she shared with her brother at 8am and knocked on the door for several minutes with no response. Perhaps she was at college? Then he remembered that her classes were in the evening.
He decided to try and catch her later that night at the polytechnic. After a busy day at the hotel, he arrived at the parking lot some minutes after 8.30pm and leaned against his car watching the students stroll out of the gate.
“Hi Tony, long time.” He turned to see Josh walking towards him.
“Hi Josh. How are you?”
“I’m good.” The pair shook hands. “Are you looking for Sophie?”
“She hasn’t been in class this week. She’s visiting her mum in Kinyani and won’t be back for a few days. You didn’t know?”
Tony frowned at the news. “No, she didn’t say anything when I saw her on Monday.”
“Carol said it was an emergency. She probably didn’t get time to tell you.”
“When did you speak to Carol?”
“Yesterday afternoon, just before class.”
“Did she say anything else? Is Sophie okay?”
“Yes, as far as I know.”
“Ok. Thanks Josh. See you around.” He stood beside his car for a few minutes after Josh left. What was going on with Sophie? And what kind of family problem had sent her home so fast that she couldn’t even say goodbye? Is that why she resigned? Tony sighed.
His conversation with Josh had provided no answers. Just more questions. He needed to find Carol. He drove to the hostels where she resided and knocked on the door of her first floor room. “Hi Carol,” he greeted her with a smile as she opened the door. She wore acid-washed ripped jeans, a green crop top, her trademark multi-coloured bangles and blue slippers.
Long feather earrings skimmed her shoulders. A camel knit cap covered her waist length gold braids. Smokey eye makeup and bright red lipstick completed the outfit.
“Tony.” She didn’t seem surprised to see him. But if the cold greeting, pursed lips and frown were any indication, she wasn’t pleased by his visit.
“May I come in?” he finally asked when she made no move to invite him inside. She opened the door wider and silently waved him through. Tony guessed correctly from her frosty demeanour that Sophie had confided in her about their fight over her pregnancy.
“How are you?”
“How is school?”
His attempt to thaw her with small talk before asking about Sophie wasn’t working. Might as well get straight to the point. “Where is Sophie?”
Carol shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Josh said she went home. That there was some kind of crisis. She resigned with no notice. What’s going on?”
Carol stared at him for a long moment without speaking then walked to the small desk at the corner piled high with books and magazines. The dorm room had a simple wooden cupboard separating the two wooden beds with patchwork bedspreads and matching pillows.
Grey curtains were drawn across the small window directly opposite the door. Posters of George Michael, Jon Bon Jovi, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Duran Duran and Michael Jackson adorned the faded white walls, which had numerous holes and pieces of cellotape from pictures that had been hung and torn down over the years.
A naked bulb dangling from the ceiling bathed the room in a harsh yellow light. Carol removed a white envelope from a plastic folder perched precariously on the heap on the desk and handed it to Tony, then sat on the only chair in the room.
Tony who had remained standing, took the envelope and glanced at it. His name was on the front in Sophie’s small, neat handwriting. He sat on the bed next to the window, opened it and removed a single sheet of paper. He unfolded the note and read it then looked up at Carol, a quizzical look on his face. “This doesn’t say anything about Kinyani.”
“She didn’t go to see her mother.”
“Where is she?”
“I told you. I don’t know.”
“Why did you tell Josh she went to Kinyani?”
“Sophie asked me to.”
Talking to her was like trying to milk a stone. Tony stared down at the vinyl grey floor tiles and prayed for patience. “Why?”
Carol sighed then her shoulders relaxed a little. “She said she needed time alone, away from everyone. The story about going to see her mum is just a cover in case anyone asks.”
“And you have no idea where she is?” Carol shook her head. “Come on Carol, you’re her best friend. I really need to talk to her.”
“Why? What is there left to say?” A hostile look crept into her eyes.
“She told you about the abortion, didn’t she?”
“I went with her to the clinic. You made it clear that you didn’t want the baby. So why are you looking for her?”
“I just need to know that she’s alright.”
“She’s fine. Don’t worry about her. You’ve moved on. She’s just trying to do the same.”
“Who says I’ve moved on?”
“We saw you at Visions with Christine. Sophie found the two of you together at your house on Sunday. Honestly Tony, if you didn’t want her, you should have just broken up with her. Why humiliate her like that in front of her friends? Didn’t you care about her at all? Or respect her?”
“I did.” It came out as a fierce growl. Tony’s hackles rose at her words and the contempt in her voice.
“I see. That’s why you brought your side dish to the club where we always hang out. If that’s your idea of how to treat the person you’re dating with respect, it needs work.” Her eyes flashed daggers at him.
Tony decided he’d had enough of her attitude. “Look, this is none of your business. What happened is between me and Sophie. I’m not going to discuss it with you. I just want to know where she is.”
“I don’t know. She didn’t tell me. And no, I don’t know when she’s coming back. You can leave now.” Carol stood up and waved him towards the door. Their gazes clashed, hers set in anger and determination. Tony stood up. “And don’t ever come back here.” Her voice was a hiss of fury.
Tony walked slowly down the stairs and across the parking lot to his car. He entered the vehicle, unfolded the note that Carol had given him and re-read its contents under the yellow light of the street lamp.
I hope you’re well. I’m sorry to have left so suddenly with no notice. It just became very clear to me that we have no future together. With everything that has happened, it would have been too hard to continue working at the hotel, seeing you all the time. I wish you every happiness.
Tony put the key in the ignition and started the engine, then reversed out of the parking lot. He hadn’t meant to hurt her. But going by Carol’s reaction, the incident with Christine had wounded Sophie deeply. He regretted that. But he didn’t regret the abortion. Neither of them was ready for that kind of responsibility.
He felt an overwhelming sense of relief that she had finally seen sense and terminated the pregnancy. It was a pity that she had felt the need to run away and give up her job. But that wasn’t his fault. She was a good worker and would have no problem finding employment elsewhere.
Their affair had been great while it lasted. But it was over now. Time to move on. His lips twisted at the irony that he was thinking the same words Carol had thrown at him with such anger a few minutes before. She had made a good point though. Sophie was gone. Time to move on.