Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
Tony surprised her a week later with the news that he had enrolled the twins at Msingi Bora Kindergarten.
Sophie had put the boys down for their afternoon nap and gone to the kitchen, where Tony found her kneading dough to make mahamri, a coastal delicacy that she learnt to make while living with her aunt in Luzi. “They’re starting at DoD in June. I already paid the fees. Didn’t I mention it?” she asked him, puzzled.
“You did actually but maybe you can get a refund?” Tony replied.
“Because I got them into Msingi Bora.”
“I didn’t ask you to do that.”
“I know, but Msingi Bora is the best kindergarten in Lavangwa with a waiting list a mile long. It’s a miracle I managed to get them in at such short notice,” he said enthusiastically.
“I’m sure being a Karenga had something to do with it,” she retorted dryly.
He grinned ruefully. “You’re probably right. It’s great isn’t it?”
“My children already have a school – DoD.” She removed the dough from the plastic basin and dumped it on the counter, then continued kneading it with her hands.
“Are you saying DoD is better than Msingi Bora?” Tony stared at her in disbelief.
“No. I’m sure you’re right, Msingi Bora is the best kindergarten, but I can’t afford it. DoD on the other hand is in my price range,” Sophie replied.
“I’m the one paying for it,” Tony clarified.
“Again. I didn’t ask you to do that.”
“I’m offering,” he said with a big smile.
“That’s really generous but I can’t accept it,” she replied. She picked up a rolling pin and began to spread the dough with firm practiced movements.
“You’re kidding right? You’re going to pass up Msingi Bora for a kindergarten no one’s ever heard of?”
Sophie paused her movements briefly, then continued kneading faster. “It’s a good school Tony. Carol went there and she turned out fine.”
“I want our children to have the best education,” he argued.
“So do I, but as I said, I can’t afford Msingi Bora.”
“And you won’t accept my help?” Sophie didn’t answer. She continued working on the dough until it was a thin layer. “Why?”
She put down the rolling pin and turned to face him. “It’s not that I don’t want your help. I just don’t know how long it will last.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t want the kids to get used to your kind of lifestyle, with flashy clothes and fancy schools. It will be too hard on them when it all disappears. Then I’ll be left to pick up the pieces, be forced to downgrade schools, move them to a poorer neighbourhood. It’s cruel and unnecessary and I won’t put them through that.”
“Who says it’s going to disappear?”
“I’m just going by past experience.” She turned back to the dough, picked up a bread knife and began to divide it into small pieces. A long silence followed.
“I see. You think I’m going to abandon my own kids?” Bitterness laced his words.
“It wouldn’t be the first time.” Sophie’s voice was low and soft but the undercurrent of anger was obvious.
“Sophie look at me.” She continued working. “Please, look at me.” She finally turned and faced him, one hand tight around the handle of the bread knife, the other clenched into a fist at her side.
“I regret insisting that you get an abortion. But I’m here now. I’m stepping up. I want to be a father to our children, to support you and them in all the ways that I can. Please you have to believe me.” Her gaze never wavered, her stance stiff and aloof. Tony wondered how he was going to get through to her. “I won’t abandon my children.”
“I’m sure you have the best of intentions,” she said, then raised her hand when he tried to interrupt. “But what happens when the novelty wears off, when things get rough? Parenting isn’t all fun and games. It’s about doing whatever it takes to make sure your children are taken care of no matter how bad things get.”
“I’m up for that.”
“What happens when there’s another crisis in the business and your dad needs your full attention?” Tony flinched, remembering that he had used that as a reason when insisting on the abortion. “Or when you meet someone and it gets serious and she starts resenting the amount of time and money you’re spending on Kevin and Sean? And she asks you to choose between her and them, what then?” Sophie paused and took a deep breath.
“The kids won’t understand how someone can love and be there for them one day and gone the next. They don’t get how emotions can be switched on and off like a tap.”
“You think that’s what I did?” Tony felt a surge of outrage at the suggestion that he was flaky and shallow.
“My point is, I will do whatever it takes to protect my children from getting hurt.”
“I’m their father. I will always be their father. That means I will prioritise their needs no matter what happens in the business or my personal life,” he tried to reassure her.
“We’ll see. But they’re still going to DoD,” she told him firmly, not giving an inch.
“Sophie be reasonable. I’m offering them a much better option.”
“Interesting how you throw that statement around when you want to get your way. You said the same thing when I refused to get an abortion. ‘Sophie be reasonable. It’s the ideal solution.’ Remember that? If it had been up to you, they wouldn’t even be here.”
Tony felt his frustration mounting. “Are you going to keep throwing the abortion in my face? Didn’t we agree to bury the past and focus on what’s good for the kids?”
“And DoD isn’t?” she challenged him.
“I didn’t say that. I’m just offering a better alternative. You’re going to let money get in the way of our children getting the best education?”
“Yes, to protect them in the long run.”
“That makes no sense,” he raised his voice in exasperation.
“I don’t expect you to understand, but that’s ok.” She picked up a small plate, put some pieces of dough on it, walked across to the cooker and dropped the pieces in the hot oil simmering in the fryer.
“That’s it? I’m just supposed to accept it?”
“Well I don’t. Msingi Bora is an excellent school. That’s where they’re going,” he declared with finality.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Sophie snapped in fury. “I went through hell after I got pregnant. I didn’t know how I was going to survive and take care of two children but I managed somehow. With no help from you. And you think you can just waltz into our lives after three years and start making decisions for us?”
“As their father I have a say, whether you like it or not.”
“How convenient,” she shot back sarcastically. “Interesting how you don the fatherhood cap when it suits you. But I have news for you. Contributing DNA does not a father make. If you think playing daddy for two weeks gives you the right to overrule my decisions where the kids are concerned, think again.”
She turned back to the cooker and turned over the pieces of mahamri which had browned on one side.
“You kept them a secret. So if I’ve only been playing daddy for two weeks as you put it, that’s your fault not mine,” he bit back, stung by her words.
“Like hell it is. You could have been with us from day one, but instead you bailed, just like my father.”
“Dammit Sophie I am not your father,” Tony shouted, as a switch flipped on in his brain, angered by the realisation that she was punishing him not just for his mistakes, but her father’s as well.
“Actually, you’re worse!”
“What?” Tony stared at her in disbelief.
“At least he stuck around for a few years. At least I got to know him if only for a little while. You gave up on our kids before they were even born. Was it because I didn’t have the right pedigree? Is that why you insisted on an abortion? It wouldn’t be proper to have someone with my slum genes contaminating the Karenga gene pool. Was that it?”
Tony flinched, every word a body blow. He knew Sophie was angry about what happened three and a half years before, but the depth of her bitterness shocked him.
“We were doing fine without you. I can take care of my kids. I’ve been doing it for three years. I don’t need you telling me once again that I’m not good enough. That the school I’ve chosen for my children doesn’t measure up to the Karenga standards.” The words came in a torrent, her chest heaving. It was like a dam had burst and now all her emotions were laid bare. “Coming here was a mistake. We’re moving back to our house.”
“No you’re not. They’re still in danger. I won’t let you risk their lives,” Tony countered swiftly, fear rising inside him as he watched her chin set at that stubborn angle that he knew so well. How had the simple gesture of enrolling his kids in the best kindergarten in the city escalated into World War 3? He needed to get a handle on this situation fast, before she walked out of his life again, this time for good.
“The only reason they are in danger is because of this stupid feud your family has going on. Two tycoons fighting for money and power and now my children have been dragged into it. I won’t stand for it.”
She blinked back tears of anger then turned back to the cooker and started removing the cooked mahamri out of the fryer into a bowl lined with paper tissues. The pastry smelt heavenly and Tony was itching to try one. He kept silent, giving her time to calm down. She walked to the counter and got another batch of the dough pieces, which she deposited in the fryer.
“Sophie, I know how hard it was for you when your father walked out,” he began, speaking softly. “Are you really going to sentence our kids to the same fate by refusing to accept my help? You’re ready to watch them suffer, just to spite me? And yet I can give them everything your father never gave you.”
His words elicited something that sounded like a sob. She switched off the cooker and dashed out of the room. He followed her up the stairs to the bathroom. She slammed the door in his face and turned the lock.
Tony turned with a heavy sigh and walked back downstairs into the living room where he picked up a magazine and settled on the couch. He had given her something to think about. Now he just had to wait it out until she was ready to resume their discussion.
Sean came downstairs an hour later. “Hi buddy, did you have a good nap?” Tony put down the magazine, lifted the toddler into his lap and tickled his ribs. Sean however didn’t laugh. He looked at his father with a confused expression.
“Mummy pack our things.”
“What?” Tony glanced at the stairs uneasily, then turned back to his son.
“We go home,” he added. “You come too?” Sean looked at his father hopefully. Tony froze at his son’s words then cursed inwardly. He should have known better than to leave Sophie alone so long. Trust her to decide to run instead of having it out with him. He gently lifted Sean off his lap and sat him on the sofa beside him.
“Tell you what buddy, why don’t you watch cartoons while I talk to your mummy?” The toddler nodded and reached for the remote. Tony dashed up the stairs to the bedroom Sophie shared with the kids.
“Yes, you can carry all your new toys,” Sophie was telling Kevin as he walked in the door. She looked at him apprehensively. “Why don’t you go downstairs for a few minutes while I talk to your dad? I’ll finish packing the rest of your toys.” Kevin quickly got up and went downstairs to join his brother in front of the television.
“What are you doing?” Tony bit out the moment the toddler was out of earshot.
“What does it look like?” Sophie continued arranging the clothes she had removed from the wardrobe in two large bags on the bed.
“I make one little suggestion and your response is to run?” he asked incredulously.
“It wasn’t a little suggestion and I’m not getting into another argument with you. I just want to go home.” She got up and took more clothes out of the chest of drawers standing along one wall.
“Have you forgotten what the doctor said about uprooting the boys?”
“They’ll be fine.”
“No they won’t. Sean looked terrified when he came downstairs and he asked if I was coming too. This is a mistake.”
“I’m taking them back to the place they’ve called home for three years. I doubt even the doctor would have a problem with that,” she insisted.
“And if I do? Or doesn’t my opinion count for anything?”
“You can see them whenever you like,” Sophie assured him, stepping around him to pick up the toys scattered all over the floor.
“What’s this really about?” he asked sharply, panic building in him at the thought of the looming separation from his kids. He had really enjoyed having them in his home. And the thought of them living in the neighbourhood where they had been kidnapped would give him nightmares. “What about their safety?” he blurted out when she didn’t answer.
“The kidnapping made national headlines. I doubt your enemies would be stupid enough to try that again.”
“I’m not willing to take that risk,” he countered.
“Then provide security at Lango. But we are moving back home,” she reiterated firmly.
“Sophie please be…”
“Reasonable?” she finished for him, shaking her head knowingly. “Better go and say goodbye to the boys. I called a taxi. It should be here any minute.”
“You’re not taking the kids out of this house,” he declared.
“And how are you going to stop me?” she threw over her shoulder as she walked into the corridor. She retrieved toiletries from the bathroom and came back into the bedroom.
“If you leave, I’ll take you to court and sue for full custody.”
Sophie gasped in horror. The shampoo and shower gel in her hands dropped to the floor with a thud. She shook her head and stared at him in disbelief. “You wouldn’t.”
“No judge would give you custody. I’ve had the twins since they were born. You never even wanted them.”
“I’ll tell the judge it was momentary panic at the thought of being a father. Perfectly understandable under the circumstances. But now I’m more than willing to shoulder the responsibility. No prizes for guessing who between us can give the boys a better life. I think I have a real shot at winning. Is that a gamble you’re willing to take?”
“Tony please don’t do this,” Sophie pleaded, eyes swimming with tears. The false bravado was gone. She was shaking with fear at the thought of losing the twins.
For the first time today, Tony felt he was on a firm footing where Sophie was concerned. He had finally stumbled onto the only leverage he had in this situation, thanks to her brother. He remembered Luke’s words after Sophie fainted in his office. He just hoped she didn’t call his bluff. The truth was, he couldn’t do that to her or the boys.
He had contributed a fair share of the mistakes that resulted in this situation. He wouldn’t tear his kids away from the only parent they had known since birth. But he was tired of Sophie running. He would use every strategy he could dream up to stay close to his kids, even if it meant letting her believe he would do the unthinkable if he didn’t get his way.
“Better start unpacking. I’m going downstairs to give the boys a snack.” With that statement, he walked out of the room.
Tony watched Sophie with a growing sense of uneasiness. She had been subdued ever since their fight the week before. She spoke little and he noticed that she was cleaning obsessively, a sure sign that she was stressed.
One night he woke up at 3am to use the bathroom and hearing a noise outside, walked into the corridor to find Sophie on her knees scrubbing the bathroom she shared with the twins, her back to him. She was crying as she performed the task, sniffling and stopped to blow her nose with a tissue before she took the brush and scoured the tiles energetically.
He quietly stepped away from the door and went back to his room, filled with guilt at the sight of Sophie in so much pain. He scrutinised her face at breakfast, but there was no sign of her anguish the night before and he convinced himself that all was well. But she seemed to get more and more despondent as the days passed, so much so that her mood infected the entire household.
The boisterous twins were unusually quiet, which worried Tony. But Sophie worried him most of all. Something about her demeanour niggled at the edge of his consciousness but he couldn’t nail down the thought no matter how much he tried to focus. He decided to go and play a game of golf with his pals Isaiah and Freddo. That usually helped to clear his head when something was bugging him.
The game went well and he felt refreshed, ready to face Sophie and her silence. He passed through his office before going home to check if there was anything urgent that needed his attention and spent two hours with his PA tackling pending business matters. He signed the last memo and was packing up, getting ready to leave the office when Patrick walked in. “Got a minute?”
“Sure.” Tony urged him to sit down. Patrick stared at him uneasily across the width of the desk. Tony waited, but the other man seemed reluctant to speak. “Is there a problem at the hotel?” Patrick shook his head.
“How are things with you and Sophie?” he finally asked.
“No problems? The twins settling in okay?” Patrick prodded.
“Are you guys planning a trip abroad?”
Tony frowned. “No. Why do you ask?”
“I received a call from my friend at immigration. I don’t know what to make of it.”
“About what?” Tony’s voice was impatient, the hairs at the back of his neck prickling at his head of security’s statement.
“Sophie has applied for passports for herself and the twins. My friend told me a colleague of his is processing them and they’ll be ready in two days. He was wondering why I didn’t go through him like I usually do. Did you know anything about it?” He stared at his boss quizzically.
Tony’s eyes widened in surprise and his lips tightened. They both knew he hadn’t. Patrick handled applications for passports for the entire family and senior managers in their businesses through his contact at the immigration department. What was Sophie up to? Five seconds later everything clicked into place.
The look on her face that had bugged him all week. It was the same look he had seen in her eyes the last time he saw her here in this office, before she walked out of his life. He had defeated her once again by imposing his will on her and now history was repeating itself. She was preparing to take off.
Only this time she would be leaving with his kids. Twins that he had only known a few weeks but now loved more than his own life. For the first time since the ordeal began, Tony wept.
He didn’t hear Patrick leave the room and close the door softly behind him, or Makena enter it fifteen minutes later. All the emotions that he had bottled up over the last three years came rushing out, overwhelming him.
The pain of almost losing his father after the shooting. Makena getting sick because of the stress. Discovering his children had been kidnapped. The knowledge that the woman he still loved had kept them a secret. That she thought so little of him that she kept his kids away from him. Having lost her and searched for so long to find her only to realise that there was an ocean of bitterness between them. And now she was preparing to leave and take his children with her. Not just leave his house, but ship them out of the country.
Sophie was good at hiding. If she took off again, he would never find her. Never see Kevin and Sean again. Tony had never felt more alone in his life. The knowledge of what he stood to lose was a yawning pit of despair, drowning him.
“Tony.” Makena touched his shoulder.
“She hates me,” he whispered bleakly, his voice so haunted with pain it broke her heart.
“Tell me everything.” She took his hand in both of hers as he started speaking. She cupped his cheek gently when he finished. “You threatened her with a lawsuit?” She chuckled softly. “You know Tony, you’ve done some pretty dumb things, but this takes the cake.”
“I was bluffing,” he protested.
“I know that. But some things you never bluff about especially with someone with Sophie’s history,” Makena chided him gently.
“It was stupid,” Tony admitted. “I’m going to lose them Makena.”
“No you won’t. Will you take my advice?” Tony nodded. “You won’t like it but it’s the only way to solve this problem.”
“Does it involve grovelling?” he asked ruefully.
“Yeah probably,” she replied with a smile.
“You’re going to go home and tell Sophie that you’ve changed your mind and the kids can go to DoD Kindergarten. Then you’ll move out of the house and move back into the cottage.”
“Wait…what?” Tony frowned at her prescribed solution.
“Put yourself in her shoes for a minute. She’s looked after your children for three years alone, probably suffering untold hardships in the process. She’s used to being in the driver’s seat. Then one day, it’s all ripped away. The kids are kidnapped and she lands in this nightmare that’s become our life, which has nothing to do with her or the kids. To protect them, you move them into your house and now you’re insisting they go to a school of your choice. Sophie feels she has lost control. And the only way to get it back is to get away from you and this situation. Are you with me so far?”
Tony nodded. “You need to give her back control and that means showing her that you trust her judgement by accepting her choice of school for the kids.”
Tony started to object. Makena silenced him with a finger on his lips. “It may not be your first pick, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad school. Did you even look into it, visit the place to check out the facilities and talk to the teachers before you shot it down?” Tony shook his head. “Do it. It might surprise you. Whatever your opinion of it though, you have to let her win this one.”
“I know this is hard for you because you want your kids to have the best and you believe Msingi Bora is the best right?”
“Dad grew up poor. He never went to fancy private schools. But look where he is now.”
Tony’s protest died on his lips. Okay, she had him there. “But why am I moving out of my own house?” he asked in bewilderment, moving on to her second suggestion.
“There’s a lot of stuff you two need to work out and you need space away from each other while you do it. I agree with you that Sophie and the kids shouldn’t go back to Lango for safety reasons and also because Thatwa Ridge is a better environment for them. The best solution is for you to move out of the house. That way, Sophie and the boys will be safe while you work out your issues. It will show her how much you’re willing to sacrifice to make sure they’re happy and secure. If you move into the cottage, you’ll be close enough to spend a few hours with the twins every day. Sophie doesn’t trust you right now and I don’t blame her. You weren’t there for her when she needed you. You’ll have to earn her trust slowly without spooking her. That means no more threats of lawsuits. She has to feel safe around you before she can cede some control to you and let you share in the parenting decisions. Trust me on this.”
Tony conceded that she had made strong points. Bulldozing Sophie into accepting his role as father of the twins wasn’t working. “How did you get to be so wise?” He smiled and ruffled her short afro affectionately.
“Actually, what I’ve proposed is common sense.” He poked her in the ribs at the cheeky comment. “You’re too close to it, that’s why you couldn’t see what was happening.”
His expression became serious once more. “You really think this will keep her from running?” he asked with a worried frown.
“There’s only one way to find out,” she replied gently. “Bite the bullet Tony. Go and speak to her.”
He glanced at his watch and stood up. “I’ll drop you home first.”
“No need. Patrick will give me a ride. Go talk to Sophie.”
He stared at her, a glimmer of suspicion in his eyes. “Did Patrick send you in here?”
“He was worried about you and I’m so glad he did. You were digging yourself into a really big hole there. Now go.” She pushed him towards the door.
“Relax, I’m going.” Tony laughed. He suddenly bent and hugged her tight, then kissed her cheek. “Thanks.”
“Let me know how it goes,” she called as he left the room. He waved and vanished down the corridor.
Tony sat at the clubhouse bar chatting with Isaiah as they waited for Freddo to join them. They had planned to play golf that afternoon but the June cold had turned into a steady drizzle.
Freddo sauntered into the room five minutes later. “Hi dude,” Tony greeted him.
“I passed the twins on the road,” Freddo announced, perching on a stool. “I offered them a ride but the maid refused. Said they weren’t allowed to accept lifts.”
“What?” Tony stared at his friend in disbelief as he gestured to the barman.
“Give me the usual.” The barman nodded and picked a bottle of single malt scotch from the shelves behind the counter, where alcoholic drinks of every description stood in neat rows. “Kevin and Sean are walking home from school,” Freddo said.
“In this weather? Didn’t you get Sophie a car?” Isaiah asked, puzzled.
Tony’s frown deepened into a scowl at the comment. “I have to go.” He got off the stool without another word and marched out of the room.
Really, how stubborn could Sophie be? He walked to the parking lot where he had parked his car, fuming. After his talk with Makena, he went home to talk to Sophie as she advised. Turned out his meddlesome sister called Sophie’s brother from his office after he left. Luke showed up two hours later just in time for dinner. Tony hadn’t yet broached the subject, waiting until the twins had gone to bed.
“Makena called me. She said you needed reinforcements,” Luke told him, when Sophie went into the kitchen to get plates for serving food.
Trust Makena to take matters into her own hands. Clearly, she didn’t trust him not to botch it. Luke’s presence turned out to be a blessing. He was present when Tony told Sophie about his change of heart about the school and announced he was moving out. In exchange, he made two requests. No more running. If problems arose, they would work them out together. The second, that she allow him to spend a few hours with the boys every day.
Tony assured her he would work around her schedule. He could see that Sophie was sceptical about his motives and not inclined to take anything he said at face value. The threat of a lawsuit had clearly rattled her and made her extremely suspicious of him. She finally responded by saying she would think about it.
At that point Luke took her arm and pulled her into the kitchen where an argument ensued. Tony heard raised voices but couldn’t make out what the duo were saying. They came back into the living room after about ten minutes. Sophie looked angry; Luke determined.
“Ok. I accept your offer. We’ll stay here and you can see the kids as often as you like.” Tony felt like a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
He moved out the next day and visited the twins every day after that, arriving at the house late in the afternoon. They played football in the garden until bath time at 6pm. The boys loved water and bath time had become an extension of playtime.
Tony filled up the tub in the master bedroom and the twins splashed around, playing with their boats and singing ‘Row row row your boat, gently down the stream’, a nursery rhyme they had learned at their new school. He asked questions about their day and they told him all about the new friends they had made and what their teacher was like.
Tony then soaped a sponge and washed them thoroughly, rinsed and towelled them dry. After that was dinner time. The twins insisted on feeding themselves but they made such a mess with food flying everywhere that Sophie had them eat in the kitchen on a khanga spread on the floor under the watchful eye of Emily, the maid.
Afterwards, they joined their parents in the living room and watched cartoons for half an hour before bed time. Tony led them back to the bathroom and supervised as they brushed their teeth, then tucked them in before saying goodnight. He usually left Sophie reading them a bedtime story.
A few days before the twins started school, Tony presented Sophie with a Toyota Hilux double cabin pick up and driver for their use. Sophie rejected the gift on the spot.
“I want you to know that I heard you,” he told her, handing her the logbook. “It’s in your name. That means whatever happens between us, the car will always be yours and you don’t have to worry about the boys getting used to it and then it disappears.”
He made the last statement with a grin expecting her to see the humour but Sophie didn’t bite. “I’ll leave the car here. Just call Joram whenever you need to go somewhere,” he finally said with a sigh. Sophie could be so stubborn sometimes. She hadn’t yet used the car.
Makena told him to be patient. That she would soon realise how silly it was to walk to the main road daily to catch a matatu and yet she had a more convenient means of transport at her disposal. They had both clearly underestimated Sophie’s stubbornness. She could continue walking for all he cared, but he would be damned if his children got rained on when he had provided a car for them.
Tony stopped the car when he saw the kids. “Get in.”
“Daddy,” Kevin squealed in joy when he saw his father. They jumped into the backseat, followed by Emily who looked at him apprehensively but he didn’t say anything to her. It wasn’t her fault she had a hard headed employer who wouldn’t listen to reason.
Once at the house, the boys put down their back packs and turned to him hopefully. “Can we play footie?” Kevin asked.
Tony shook his head. “It’s too cold. How about a board game instead? Snakes and ladders or Ludo?”
“Snakes and ladders,” they both shouted in unison. Tony went to the sideboard and removed the game from a cabinet as Emily went into the kitchen to prepare a snack for the twins. Time flew as they played, chatting and laughing merrily. Soon it was bath time. Tony ushered the boys upstairs where he filled the tub with water. He had come to treasure this daily ritual with the boys.
He had spent so much time with them that he could now tell them apart easily. Sean had a slightly bigger forehead than his brother and his voice had a lower pitch. Their personalities were completely different. Kevin was the more outgoing of the two and liked to play rough. Sean loved to draw and could often be found in corners scribbling in his paint books, leaving scraps of paper all over the house.
By the time Sophie arrived home at 7pm, Tony had calmed down sufficiently to have a conversation with her without shouting. The boys always had that effect on him. No matter how rough his day had been, spending time with Kevin and Sean always restored his good humour.
He didn’t broach the subject of the boys walking home in the rain until after she came downstairs after tucking the twins in for the night. She paused in surprise at the doorway to the living room when she spotted him sitting on the sofa watching television. Normally, he left as soon as he said goodnight to the boys, leaving her to read to them.
She came further into the room, sat on one of the armchairs and looked at him warily. She knew he was upset. No doubt the boys had mentioned that he had given them a lift that afternoon.
“Why were Kevin and Sean walking home in the rain?” he began, keeping his voice even and steady.
“That was unfortunate. I instructed Emily to be taking a taxi when the weather is bad. When I spoke to her earlier, she explained she didn’t have enough money. I’ve told her to use my usual cab guy whenever she needs to and I’ll pay later so it won’t happen again,” Sophie assured him.
“There’s a perfectly good car parked outside. Why can’t you use it?” Sophie shrugged. “You have two options. Either use the car. Or starting tomorrow, I will drop the boys at school every morning and pick them up in the afternoon and bring them home.”
“Tony, there’s no need for…”
“Those are your choices. Pick one,” he snapped, losing patience with her. Enough was enough. He was determined to make life easier for the boys. Damn her and her pride. He’d had enough of her attitude. Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face because she suddenly stiffened and stared at him warily, as if expecting him to explode at any second.
“I’ll use the car,” she finally said in a low voice.
“Good. I’ll tell Joram to be here at 7am.” With that statement, he said goodnight and left. He was a little miffed that she had chosen to use the car instead of letting him chauffeur the boys to school and back. He thought they had been making progress but Sophie’s feelings for him clearly hadn’t changed.
He sighed. Baby steps. At least she had accepted the car. She was like an antelope out on the savannah. Any sudden moves and he would spook her, sending her running for the hills. And to think his brother James thought she was a gold digger.
Tony laughed ruefully as he reversed his car and drove away. His family had reacted in different ways when he moved back to the cottage. His father nodded in approval. Makena smiled in satisfaction, looking like a cat that had swallowed the canary. James frowned in disapproval.
“You’re giving her your house? What next, sign over the business? What hold does this woman have over you?” he asked, clearly bewildered.
“Actually, it was my idea,” Makena retorted before Tony could open his mouth. “Sophie was going to take the kids and leave behind all this wealth you believe she craves so much.”
“Really?” James looked sceptical.
“I forced her to stay in the house. She was determined to go back to Lango,” said Tony.
“What do you have against Sophie anyway? And why do you keep implying that she’s a gold digger when you barely know her?” Makena snapped in annoyance. “That woman has been through hell. You don’t have to like her but you need to respect her if for no other reason than the fact that she’s the mother of Tony’s children.”
James had the good grace to look ashamed, cringing under Makena’s scathing attack.
Joram arrived at the house early the next morning as agreed. Sophie greeted him cheerfully and bundled the kids into the backseat then got into the front passenger seat. Once at the kindergarten, she walked the boys to their class and returned to the car.
“Drop me off at the bus stage at Mokeba Hospital. I’ll take a matatu from there,” she instructed him. At the roundabout, instead of turning left, he continued straight ahead. “What are you doing?” Sophie turned to him in surprise.
“Tony asked me to take you to the farm,” he replied. Once they arrived, Joram parked the car and alighted. “Aren’t you going back to the hotel?” Sophie asked.
“I’ve been reassigned. From now on I’m at your disposal to take you and the children wherever you want to go.”
Sophie’s lips tightened in irritation as she walked to their offices. There he goes again, trying to run my life. Tony obviously hadn’t gotten the message. She would talk to him in the evening and make it clear that while she had no objection to the kids using the car, that didn’t mean she would be forced into it.
Two hours later Luke called. “I’m tied up Sophie and can’t bring that sack of rice bran and fertiliser that you wanted. Can you send Joram to pick them from the supplier?” he asked.
“We have enough to last till tomorrow. You can bring them then,” she replied.
“But Joram is right there. Why wait?” Luke asked, sounding puzzled.
Sophie took several deep breaths. “How did you know Joram was here?”
“Jess told me. I have to go into a meeting. Give Joram directions to the suppliers’ premises. I’ll call them and tell them to release the bags to him,” Luke said, then hung up.
Okay. This one time, she would use Joram, but that’s it. After picking up the fertiliser and rice bran, she instructed him to pick the kids from school and go home as she wouldn’t need him till the following day. Later that afternoon, Joram drove into the compound.
“Didn’t I tell you not to come back?” she asked him.
“Tony said I had to pick you up from work.”
Sophie sighed in defeat. She got home in record time. She hadn’t realised until now how much time she spent commuting to Kiseti and back every day, which involved taking two matatus and walking to and from the main road, a good 20 minutes’ walk. She actually had time to cook, something she had always enjoyed but lately had to delegate to Emily as she rarely got home before 7pm.
She arrived home to find the boys playing football with their father. They rushed into her arms, squealing in delight. She hugged them and turned to Tony.
“How was your day?” He looked wary, as if bracing for a fight.
Sophie smiled. “Good. I’ll go start dinner.” He nodded, looking relieved.
A month went by. Sophie had to admit that the car was a godsend, a really practical and thoughtful gift. Tony could have bought her a saloon car but instead he got a double cabin pick-up which was both a workhorse and useful for ferrying her children around. Tasks that used to take half the day were accomplished in an hour or two.
And it had saved her not just taxi money, but the money she occasionally used to hire commercial transporters to ferry things to and from the farm. The car had made their lives so much easier that she was ashamed of how she had acted, thrown the gift back in his face, when all he wanted to do was support her and the boys.
Luke was right. She had let pride and bitterness cloud her judgement, refusing to accept what was best for the kids because she resented the giver. It was time to let bygones be bygones. Tony had clearly stepped up. He loved the boys and wanted to be a real father to them. She wouldn’t stand in his way. Not anymore. It wasn’t fair to their kids.
Tony tucked in the kids and said goodnight as Sophie watched from the door. Instead of entering the room to read them a bedtime story, she stayed put, blocking his way.
“Would you like to stay for dinner?” He raised his brows in surprise, searched her eyes for long moments, wondering what she was up to and then smiled and nodded. “I’ll be down shortly.” She went into the room where the boys eagerly waited to hear the end of the current tale about how the tortoise cracked its shell.
“That was really good, thank you.” Tony leaned back satiated after the delicious meal. She had cooked chapati, a spicy beef stew, steamed cabbage and a salad of grated carrots, cubed pineapple and sultanas.
“You’re welcome,” Sophie replied with a smile. She took their empty plates into the kitchen. “There’s something I wanted to tell you,” she announced when she came back into the room.
Tony looked at her curiously from his position in the armchair adjacent to the sofa, where she perched on the edge as if nervous. “I’m listening.” He smiled hoping to put her at ease.
“I’m sorry for the way I acted when you gave me the car.” He waved a hand graciously to ward off the apology. “No. I need to say this.” He nodded, urging her to continue. “I know you were trying to help, but I let my anger over the past influence me and I’m really sorry about that. It’s a wonderful gift. Thank you.”
Tony smiled. “You’re welcome.” Hearing Sophie express her appreciation for his gift sent a warm fuzzy tingle down his spine.
“Although I wish you’d let me fuel it. Joram insists on using the fuel card you provided and yet we’re mostly using it for farm work. I should be the one fuelling it.”
Tony laughed. A deep throated laugh that came from deep in his belly and poured out uncontrollably. “You’ll never change.”
Sophie shrugged, arms raised. “I just think it makes sense…”
“Sophie, let it go,” he cut in firmly.
She smiled sheepishly. “Thanks again for the wonderful gift. It was really thoughtful of you to get me a pick-up.” He inclined his head accepting her compliment. “I need a favour.”
“As you know, Carol and Luke are getting married in December.” He nodded. “The final visit is this weekend. Her family is coming to Kinyani to the farm we bought for mum.”
“You moved your mother out of the slum?” he asked in surprise.
She nodded. “We got her two acres in Naka, a few kilometres outside the town.”
“Congrats. That’s a huge achievement. You and Luke should be really proud.”
Sophie’s smile lit up the room. “Thanks. We’re going down on Thursday to help mum prepare for the visit. I was wondering if you could take the kids for a few days until I get back on Sunday.”
Tony stared at her stunned. That was the last thing he expected to hear from her. She was actually willing to let him look after the kids for four days. That was a really big step for her. He felt like jumping up and down. Finally, he was making progress with her. For the first time since she came back into his life, he began to feel he had a real shot at regaining what they’d once had. “I’d love to.”
“Great. I’ll bring them by on Wednesday after school to help them get settled at your place. I was thinking if we spend the night at the cottage, hopefully they won’t freak out when I leave on Thursday. What do you think?”
“Sounds like a plan,” he agreed.
“Great. I really appreciate it.” She smiled.
“Don’t mention it.” They spoke for a few more minutes then he stood up to leave.
Sophie walked him to the door. “Goodnight. See you tomorrow.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed him softly on the cheek.
He left the house walking on air and drove to the cottage, still not believing the events of the evening. On Wednesday as agreed, Joram dropped them off at the cottage at 5pm. The boys immediately began to explore their new environment as Sophie went into the guest bedroom to unpack.
Sean came rushing into the room. “Mummy, our beds are here.” He pointed at the door of Tony’s bedroom. Curious, she followed her son into the other room. She stood stock still on seeing twin cots set up in his room, identical to the ones in the house he had vacated.
She stared at him in surprise. “How long have you had these?”
Tony smiled sheepishly. “I was sending a signal to the universe.”
“You know when you want something really badly you take active steps to prepare for it as if it’s already a done deal. I hoped you would let the boys come stay with me sometime.” They watched Kevin and Sean jump up and down on the cots. “I can sleep in the guestroom tonight if you prefer,” he hastily added.
“No need. This is your house. They’ll sleep here with you. I’ll take the guestroom.”
“Sure?” Sophie nodded. “Come on I’ll show you where the linens are.” He led the way back to the second bedroom and helped her make up the bed. Afterwards, he took the twins to the main house to say hello to Makena and the rest of the family. Sophie stayed behind to make dinner.
Makena and his parents were overjoyed to see the twins. They had only seen them a few times when Tony brought them by for short visits. Makena clapped her hands in glee when Tony told them he had the boys till Sunday.
“That’s fantastic. Does this mean things are better between you two?” she asked with a wink. Tony laughed and slapped her playfully on the shoulder. He watched with fatherly pride as Sean and Kevin chatted away animatedly, perched on the laps of their grandparents. Sean’s eyes widened and his mouth opened in surprise at something his grandfather was saying. Tony walked over and sat on a seat adjacent to Bola.
Sean turned to Tony excitedly. “Grandpa has many cows.” He held up a solitary finger. “Grammy has one.”
“Can you guess how many I have?” Bola asked with a laugh. Sean held up one hand, fingers spread. Bola shook his head. “More than that.” Sean held up both hands. “More.” Sean’s eyes widened further and he turned to stare at Tony, eyes shining.
“To him any more than ten might as well be a million,” Tony said with a laugh.
“Can we go see?” Sean pleaded.
“Not today,” Tony replied.
“But Tony…” Sean’s lips puckered up, ready to start bawling.
“Sean.” Tony used the firm tone that let his son know he meant business. “It’s getting late. You can see the cows after school tomorrow.”
“Scouts honour.” Tony crossed his chest. Sean’s face magically cleared, a big smile replacing the frown. “Come on we have to go now. Say bye to grandpa.”
“You won’t stay for dinner?” Isabella asked in disappointment as Kevin climbed off her lap and took Tony’s outstretched hand.
“Sophie is making supper at the cottage,” Tony replied.
“How about tomorrow?”
“It’s a date.” Tony led his sons out of the living room and they walked back to the cottage. After putting the boys to bed, Sophie and Tony stayed up late in the living room talking. “Is Joram taking you to Kinyani?”
“No. Luke and his friend are picking me up at noon tomorrow, after he passes by the farm to make sure they have everything they need until we get back. I decided to give Joram time off to go to shags and visit his family,” Sophie told him.
“Anything in particular you want me to do with the boys?”
She shook her head. “It’s up to you. This is your time with them. I won’t dictate how you spend it. Just don’t let them stay up too late watching cartoons otherwise getting them up for school will be a problem. They have a fitting on Saturday for their pageboy outfits for the wedding. The designer who is stitching them lives on Sobi Road. Let me get you her number, so you can get directions.”
She went into the guest room and came back a few minutes later with a business card which she handed to him. “Be there around 10am. It shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. Then you’re free to do whatever you please the rest of the weekend.”
The next morning the boys woke up early, got out of their cots and onto his bed, scrambling all over him, tickling him. “Good morning,” he greeted them in a sleepy voice.
He threw off the covers, got out of bed and led them into the kitchenette where he lifted them into highchairs at the counter and poured them each a cup of milk, after warming it in a sufuria on the cooker. “What do you want for breakfast? Cereal, eggs or French toast?”
“Toast,” said Kevin. Sean nodded in agreement. Tony placed a frying pan on the cooker and added a little oil. He retrieved a shallow bowl from a cupboard next to the cooker, broke three eggs into it, added a pinch of cinnamon, tablespoon of sugar, nutmeg, and milk and whisked all the ingredients with a fork.
He removed a loaf of bread from the fridge, took a slice, dipped it in the mixture and placed it on the frying pan. Once it browned, he flipped it over to cook the other side, then removed it from the pan and put it on a plate. After making four pieces, he served the boys, giving them two slices each after spreading them with a little honey. Sophie joined them ten minutes later.
“Why didn’t anyone wake me?” she asked with a yawn.
“You were tired and you’ve got a long trip ahead of you. I decided to let you rest,” Tony replied, placing three slices of toast in front of her. “Tea?” she nodded. He removed a mug from a cabinet, poured tea from the flask, added sugar and stirred.
She took a bite and looked up surprised. “Cinnamon? When did you learn how to cook?” she asked, digging into the rest of her breakfast.
“A while back. I got tired of eating out or always going to my parents’ house.”
“You never let on,” she admonished him with a mild voice, an undercurrent of laughter in her tone. “All those times I slaved away over the stove, you mean you could have helped?”
Tony laughed, switched off the cooker, brought the platter of French toast to the counter and took a seat across from her. “When you first came to my house you were really stressed out about the …” he glanced at the boys who were busy eating. “You know what. I knew keeping you busy would distract you, so I let you do all the cooking and cleaning.”
“And afterwards?” She raised a brow.
A mischievous smile curved his lips. “Let’s just say, I really enjoy your cooking.” Sophie shook her head and laughed. “Hurry up boys, you need to get dressed. Joram will be here any minute.”
He put a hand on her arm restraining her, when she started to get up. “I got this. Enjoy your breakfast.” Tony took the boys into the bedroom and helped them wash their faces, brush their teeth and get dressed. “Do they need a packed lunch or snack?” he asked, coming back into the kitchen.
“No. The school provides hot soup and a bun for break and hot lunch at noon,” Sophie replied.
After a brief scramble where the boys went back and forth between the bedroom and living room to ensure they had everything they needed in their backpacks, Tony led them outside where Joram stood waiting to take them to school. “I’ll pick you up after school,” Tony told them.
Sophie hugged each child tight. “I’ll miss you. Be good for daddy okay?” They nodded. “I’ll see you on Sunday.” Tony was pleased to see that there were no tears. He led her back into the house after Joram drove off.
Sophie poured herself another cup of tea. Tony resumed his seat at the counter across from her and dug into his own breakfast. Sophie glanced at the clock on the living room wall. “You won’t be late for work?”
Tony shrugged carelessly. “I’ll wait until Luke comes to pick you up.” The truth was he would miss her while she was gone. He wanted to extract every last minute of her company before she left for her trip. Sophie cleared the dishes they had used and piled them in the sink, then began washing them. “You don’t have to do that. Didn’t you say Emily is coming?”
Sophie smiled ruefully. “Habit. She’ll come for a few hours every day, clean the house, wash the clothes and cook dinner. Do you want her to come in early to make breakfast?”
“No, I can handle breakfast. We’ll be eating dinner at my parents’ tonight, so she doesn’t have to cook.”
“Okay. Just tell her what you want done,” Sophie told him.
“You’re driving back with Luke?”
“No, he’s coming back on Saturday with Carol. I’ll just jav,” Sophie replied.
“I’ll send a car to pick you up.” He walked to the living room, picked a notepad and pencil and brought it to the counter. “Draw a map.”
“That’s not necessary. I’ll be fine,” she assured him.
Her words didn’t surprise him. Getting Sophie to accept help was like pulling teeth. “I’m sending someone to pick you up and that’s final. Draw the map,” he insisted.
Sophie shook her head. Tony sighed. Here we go again. “Ask Luke to do it when he gets here. Giving directions is not my thing. The driver will end up driving around Kinyani for days looking for the farm,” she said.
Tony grinned at her cheeky response. “What time should he be there?”
“3pm or thereabouts.” She rinsed the last plate, stacked it on the rack, rinsed the sink and turned off the tap. She went to shower and dress leaving him in the living room going over work related documents. “Tony can I ask you a personal question?” she asked, coming back into the living room twenty minutes later.
He looked up and held his breath at the vision before him. She had donned a V-necked, sleeveless cream jumpsuit, cinched at the waist with a rope tie, the frilly folds at the bust emphasising her feminine curves. It clung softly to her hips and fell gracefully to her ankles, where brown sandals peeped out, displaying her red polished toe nails.
Her lips shone with bronze lip gloss and as she came further into the room, he got a whiff of her perfume, the light floral scent that always sent his desire for her skyrocketing. She perched on the arm of the chair adjacent to the sofa where he sat and crossed one leg over the other, which accentuated her curves even more.
“Sure.” He took a deep breath and forced his eyes back up to meet her thoughtful gaze. Did she even realise how beautiful and tempting she looked right now? That’s one of the things that attracted him from the start. How she seemed completely unconscious of the effect she had on men.
Sophie didn’t have the kind of beauty that immediately hit you when you first laid eyes on her. But a certain something that made one pause and take another look, wanting to unravel the mysteries behind those alluring almond shaped eyes.
“Remember all those plans you told me about, the real estate stuff?” He nodded. “Did you build them?”
Tony put down his pen and sat back on the sofa. “I never told dad about them.”
“Why?” She stared at him mystified. “You were so excited and they seemed really good, especially the one at the coast. What did you call it…?”
“That was like ages ago. What happened?” She raised her arms, bewildered.
“Dwanje happened,” he told her ruefully. “Seems like all I’ve been doing the last three years is fire fighting to make sure we don’t lose our companies.”
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t realise it was that bad.” A pang of guilt shot through him at the sympathy in her voice. His response wasn’t entirely true. He hadn’t worked up the courage to tell his father that his passion lay in real estate.
Perhaps it was time to seize the day and fight for what he really wanted. Not just at work but in his personal life too because looking at her, Tony realised he wanted Sophie at his side more than anything. Now he just had to convince her how right they were for each other.