Between taping and interviewing the farmers in the various provinces asking them how the government could help build their businesses, Zuba had very little time to chit chat. She had bumped into her boss once while going to the bathroom and all she could say was, “Hey, I got your text and I’m still working on the pilot.”
“Yes, and I’m counting on you to have something by the end of the month. Don’t disappoint!”
“I never do boss,” she added.
Mr. Gihu seemed preoccupied lately and Zuba was already having a hard time with her little project that didn’t look like it would takeoff anytime soon. Nonetheless, she made time to speak with one of the BNetwork technicians about the equipment that they would need for the pilot project. It was as though she had everything ready and yet nothing at the same time for the show. She had to think fast and come up with a plan B. What mother would accept to appear on TV with her estranged daughter to work things out in such a conservative country? It appears it was much easier to let other people assume and gossip about one’s family than it was to be the narrator of the story. On Friday she still had no clue what her proposal was going to look like other than the statistics and the research data she had gathered for the past couple of months. Butoyi and Zuba met up later that day for a couple of drinks at one of their favorite spots, the Kira Inyota Bar & Lounge downtown Bujumbura.
“Mabuja, how we doin’ today?”
“I really need to find people to cast for this show.”
“Why don’t you try meeting up with Kwezi like I suggested many moons ago?”
“I don’t know her! I am not just going to pop up at her house and bombard her with my stats and requests.”
“See, you might want to pay attention when I’m telling you things Zu”
“Oh f**ck off already B!”
“Why you gotta be a bitch all the time? Is it Mother Nature visiting?”
Zuba’s grip on her glass was a hint she would pour her whiskey on Butoyi in a second if he did not behave and stop trying her nerves.
“Aye, let’s not act like we from the streets, there might be potential investors and partners in this bar.”
“But you from the streets though B, so if anything, it’d be freeing.”
Judging by Butoyi’s open mouth, he was about to drag the dissing further and stopped himself.
“Kwezi is THE Kezi we know from the banquets BNetwork holds every year”
Zuba thought for a minute and suddenly remembered, “Oh yeah, the one who was Mr. Nkomezi’s plus one?”
“Yes, every year she is someone’s plus one. She must be good at whatever she does.”
“You know B I keep hoping that someday the holy spirit will cleanse your mind, body, and soul.”
The evening went by so quick, Zuba had to leave early as her cramps were getting worse by the hour and she had not carried her painkillers in her purse. By 10pm, Zuba was already in bed watching the latest episode of HTGAWM when she thought about what Butoyi had told her earlier. There was still some hope after all. Zuba scrolled through her phone as she remembered saving Kwezi’s number a few months ago when the two had met in the Women’s restroom at one of the BNetwork’s events. She remembered Kwezi loving her stud earrings while looking like a whole snack herself. If she could find her number, she would be able to call and perhaps ask if they could meet up for coffee. Unfortunately, she could not wrap her mind around what name she had save it under. The night was a great counsel, and in that moment, she could use some faith that things would work out eventually.
The whole Saturday morning she stayed indoors drinking hot tea, having some soup but also snacking in between meals to appease the sudden hunger that came with her periods. She thought once again about Kwezi and decided she could try one more time and perhaps press into her destiny. In an hour, she had gone from PJs and socks to a flare jumpsuit and sandals. Kwezi’s house was only half an hour away and she could drive while talking herself out of it. She had decided that if she made it to Kwezi’s gate without reversing once then she would know the universe was backing her up on this one. Zuba had been using this method of indirectly consulting the universe asking for its guidance without going full on prayer. Eventually, her car came to a halt in front of Kwezi’s house which was not hard to find as she lived next to the market. Zuba also remembered having been there one night when Mr. Gihu had decided to be a gentleman and dropped Kwezi off at the previous New Year’s Eve BNetwork gala.
Zuba got out of her car and dusted her outfit of any fear or nervousness that may ruin what could potentially be a game changer. She knocked on the gate with a little stone sitting near the phone pole as though the universe had placed it there waiting on her. In the middle of her thoughts, the gates opened and Kwezi was standing there in a two-piece red suit and slippers with a full makeup face. She was appeared ready for a little rendezvous. Great timing Zu, she thought to herself.
“Hi,” she started.
“Hey, Zuba right?” she asked.
“Yes,” she hesitantly replied.
How did Kwezi remember her name? A sign? Maybe? Zuba kept forgetting that she appeared at least twice a week on TV as part of her job hence most people knew who she was.
“Yes, I am Zuba. Would you happen to have a minute?” she asked.
“Sure, how can I help you?” she replied still standing behind the open gate.
“May I come in?” Zuba boldly asked.
Kwezi gave her a suspicious look before calling her housekeeper to watch Zuba’s car while she was indoors. Zuba was then escorted inside the bungalow after walking past an arrangement of flowers and small stones. Kwezi’s charming home décor included artifacts that were sold at the central market and mostly bought by expats, tourists, or the diaspora looking to bring a little bit of home in their newfound country. Zuba could learn a thing or two from Kwezi and maybe even more by Butoyi’s standards.
“You have such a beautiful home,” she said as she took in every décor inspiration for her own home improvement.
“Thanks. What would you like to drink?” Kwezi asked.
“Don’t be shy, I have a couple of fresh cold beers left.”
Right! Zuba remembered it was almost an insult to decline beer in a country where it is a symbol of fellowship.
Kwezi then left the room hence giving Zuba more time to absorb the little details from the ombre wine glassware to the faux fur rug onto which the finest wood table rested. The last thing Zuba expected from Kwezi’s home was a rustic & chic appeal.
“Here you go,” Kwezi said as she handed Zuba an Amstel bottle and a glass.
“You’ve got such a beautiful home Kwezi,” she said still in awe.
“Thanks, but let’s skip all the functions…why are you here?”
Zuba almost spilled her drink as she took the first sip. Talk about getting straight to the point!
“A few months ago I had this great project idea that I was going to pitch to the Network but then a few weeks ago I happened to be with Mr. Gihu and…”
“Happened to be…” Kwezi rolled her eyes and took a sip of her drink accusingly but Zuba chose to ignore that Kwezi somehow knew what was going on in her personal life. Zuba went on about the background of her project and briefly mentioned the interaction between herself and Mama Represantante.
“I was hoping that since she’s a role model for many that she would be willing to be my guest alongside her daughter for the country to see real family going through a storm together and hopefully emerging better on the other side.”
“I get all that, but what does that have to do with me?”
“Well, Mama Represantante is your mother. I swear I did not know the viral story of Kwezi was actually you this whole time since everybody calls you Kezi.”
“Surprise! So, you want me to meet with a woman I haven’t spoken to in ages on your show.”
“Well, your mom could not be convinced, and I thought that maybe if you were to agree first that she would follow along.
“I’ll pass, thanks.”
Where was the omens when Zuba needed them? Where was the light at the end of the tunnel? A couple of minutes passed before anyone spoke when Kwezi broke the silence,
“What was it about my relationship or lack thereof with my “mother” that made you want to interview us?”
“I could not understand why a mother would kick out an 18 year old daughter unless she was pregnant plus it was one of the first city gossips I heard.”
“You don’t even have your facts straight!” Kwezi said.
“How? I mean, even if I did, isn’t that the premise of the show?”
Kwezi starred long enough at the young woman in her living room whose dream was to explore her own trauma in hopes of some type of healing.
“My mother did not kick me out, I left and you’re right I was not pregnant my swallowing game is way too strong for that shit.”
Zuba was confused for a second and burst out laughing.
“Not that kind you silly! I meant birth control pills. Although I am not too bad at the other either.”
Zuba thought of Butoyi and how she wished he was there to finally meet his match on the feminine side. Kwezi was opening up and Zuba wanted to know what she meant so she asked,
“Why then did you leave?”
“I was asked to be silent about something that was haunting me every night and I just got tired and left.”
Kwezi had been molested by her drunkard uncle and her mother upon hearing after it had taken his side, which resulted in her parents’ divorce. Her mother had sworn her to secrecy.
“It got worse when she joined the Pentecostal church.”
“Every Wednesday night the women would gather at our house and one night they were talking about the rape epidemic in Burundi was mostly due to the way girls chose to wear revealing clothes. I snapped and gave them my two cents. I left and never looked back.”
“How old were you when that happened.”
“Sixteen but it never goes away. I am in my twenties and I still can’t get over that. It’s like a captured nightmare that can never fade.”
“What about your uncle?”
“I taught myself how to erase that time of my life and I like it that way.”
What was Zuba supposed to do with all that information. She couldn’t possibly share other people’s darkest secrets and haunting pasts on national TV. It felt like a safe space for herself to share bits of her life,
“I was left to be raised by my grandmother so that my mom could get married as I had been born out of wedlock and my father was only a fling. My mother used to visit on the weekends but then we moved to Burundi after being excommunicated by our church after they learned how I had come into this life. For a long time, I felt like a walking representation of sin and rebelled though my teens. My grandma thought coming to live in Burundi that the change would be good for me, but my behavior only got worse until she got sick. Reality hit and I started getting my shit together. My mother never came back for me as she promised except for my grandmother’s funeral.”
“Damn, our lives were eventful!” Kwezi commented. They both laughed and Zuba had not felt connected to another woman this much in so long.
“When people comment and say things like you hoed your way up, what do you tell them?” Zuba asked.
“I ask them how come I cannot see them at the top?” Kwezi said.
The two bursts into laughter once again. If all else were to fail, Zuba had gained a female friend that was sure to be one of those for a lifetime. Shared struggle was a foundation for so many great friendships that Zuba had witnessed.
“Now that we are minding each other’s business, what about you?”
“What about me?” Zuba asked confused.
“How do people feel about you casually situationshiping your way through life?” Kwezi added.
“Who said anything casual was going on in my life?”
“Look, I get it Mr. Gihu is fiiine and from what I hear, he’s generous in many ways”
Zuba blushed and did not wish to add a word.
“I gotta go, hoe life is calling me chiile. And by the way, don’t you think it’s hypocritical of you to cast other people for your show instead of setting the example by going through the process with your mother.”
“Nah…I don’t think I want to follow through with this project anymore but thanks.”
The two women hugged each other and promised to catch up later during the week. Zuba drove back to her house feeling guilty for being so obsessed with her idea of success that she forgot it would’ve been at the expense of other people’s lives and real stories. Deep down, Zuba knew that Butoyi was right in saying she was looking for a shortcut, that she hoped by watching mother-daughter relationships repair would somehow give her the answers she had been asking herself about her own mother and the peace she longed for. What really needed to happen was Zuba finding the strength to go back to Rwanda and meet her mother. That would probably take a lot more than a few months of preparation. For now, Zuba could be content with the feminine energy added to her small circle of friends.
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* Chapter Five *