BENEATH THE SURFACE

by K Cheryl Mwanza | Episode #8

Cynthia Mare  made herself a cup of tea but hardly touched it. She placed it gently on a glass dining room table then curled up into a ball on a sofa that directly faced the table. She looked around her dining room, it wasn’t bad for someone as old as she was, but it was bad by her standards. When she had accepted a job at the Harare Project Newspaper, she had expected to receive a salary that was to compensate for all her hard work in college. After all, it was the newspaper that had made Nashe Matinya both a star and a pretty wealthy woman.

But that wasn’t so with her. For many years, Cynthia was stuck behind the Aunt Letwin persona. Giving ridiculous love advice to even ridiculous requests. She had tried to show that her talents were being wasted this way, but to her surprise she was given a human interest column. Her job was to write and report on issues that affected the ordinary Zimbabwean, meaning half the time there was nothing scandalous or delicious about it. As a result, there was no pay raise for her.

She had stumbled on something that was going to make her a big shot in the industry, and she had been arrested for it. When she recalled the holding cells at Harare Central, she shuddered. This had been the first time she had been arrested and she hated the experience.

As if that was not enough, she had heard, through the grapevine of course, that a number of people thought she had planned this to derail Nashe’s career so that she, Cynthia, can take over Nashe’s job. When she had first heard it, she thought it was ridiculous. It was true, that there were times when she was very jealous of Nashe, but even she had enough sense in her brain to know the only way she could overtake Nashe was by working her butt off. However, the more she heard about it, the more disturbed she became.

Her train of thought was disturbed by a knock on her door. She answered it then quickly jumped to her feet. Her mind went blank, as Nashe sat on a sofa across from her.

“Nashe.”

“Hi. I’m glad, like, you are alright.”

“I’m not trying to take over your job. I mean, we were both there! I didn’t kill anyone. I didn’t pay anyone to do it either-“

“This, like, was the big break your career needed.” Nashe interrupted her, “Why take me, like, along for the ride?” She spoke with the calmness that made Cynthia weak.

Cynthia sank back into the sofa as she began to scratch her nails. “I believe-have always believed there is room for all of us at the top. I-I want to be as successful as you are. And I know to do that, I need help.” She looked down to her hands then added, “Who better to help me succeed than you?” She looked up, waited for Nashe to speak. When she didn’t, Cynthia continued. “Hiring a lawyer might have been a bad move. But I wanted to at least protect us. I mean, the detectives think I orchestrated-“

“They, like, don’t think you did it. They don’t think you are that smart.” She interrupted expressionless.

“What about you?”

“I don’t think, like, you are cold.”

“This. This was supposed to be my big break. And now I’m the topic of gossip and everything is going downhill.”

“I was shot at.” Nashe began all of a sudden. Cynthia looked at her with confusion, but Nashe continued like she hadn’t noticed a thing. “I was attacked. I have, like, been in those holding cells so much so, like, almost everyone at Harare Central knows me. I haven’t had it, like, easy.” She paused as she looked at her hands. “I, like, haven’t had it easy. But each step of the way I believed in what I was doing, and like, that got me through it. In the end, like, all of that craziness was worth it.” She looked at Cynthia then added. “If you still want me to help, like, I’m willing to.”

‘Really?” She asked rather skeptically.

“Of course. Someone, like, is terrorizing women and had picked you as an outlet. I want to, like, be a part of that ride.”

“Thank you.” She said with a flat voice. She cleared her voice as excitement popped into her eyes, “Thank you so much.” She thought for a way then with a loud jovial voice she added, “I’m feeling so excited already.”

“It’s not, like, going to be easy though.” Nashe began. “And if, like, I’m doing this with you then I have one or two things that, like, I want you to do.”

“Anything.”

“Get rid of your lawyer and, like, go back and talk to the detectives.”

“But-“

“And this case is, like, not about you. It’s about the girl who died.”

“They interrogated me like a criminal!” She yelled jumping up. “You just want me to hand myself to them just like that? Why?!”

“Because they don’t think you, like, are smart enough to have orchestrated this. Besides, you do, like, need me on your team or people are going to shred you.”

Cynthia didn’t answer. All she managed to do was throw herself back on the sofa.

 

Danai Chaurukwa paced around the conference room at Harare Central Police: Homicide department as reread the letter that has begun the murder mystery he and his friend, Celeste May, were now in the middle of. Celeste followed him with her eyes and their teacher Mr. Ngoni Mare followed both with his eyes.

The silence in the room was slowly getting to him. Unable to take it anymore, he cleared his throat and both kids simultaneously looked at him.

“Well?” He asked.

“There is something seriously bothering me about this letter?” Danai replied.

“What is it?” Ngoni asked.

“Until I’m sure, I don’t want to put it out there. You did say that we can hold on to the letter until Sunday right? Can I be the one holding on to it?”

“Sure.” Ngoni answered with suspicion.

“Mr. Mare,” Celeste began, “Can we go see your wife?”

“Why?” Both men answered at once.

“Well, she is as important to the story as the author himself. The bond the author shares with her has been dormant all this while, and he could go on without communicating with her. What changed?”

“I don’t follow.”

“We did say that something triggered the reactivation of the author’s relationship with your wife, right? Your wife is a journalist. Maybe there is something she reported on that links your killer to his past that is his mother, and her.”

“But you said he doesn’t see her as a journalist?”

“He doesn’t.” She answered. “But she must have done something that brought her back into his radar. And because she is a journalist, it makes sense that she might have written something that mirrored his past. That connected him to his mother and to her.”

“It has to be something recent.” Danai said thoughtfully. “In the last five months, what has been the focus of your wife’s reportage?”

“I can’t answer that truthfully. Of course, I have read almost everything my wife has written and she is a good writer. But she is always complaining and for me it takes away something from the article.” He exhaled loudly through his noise then said, “My wife is not in very good spirits today. She might be mean to you.” He said as he got out.

On their way out, they stopped by Chief Superintendent Lincoln Chigariro’s office. Ngoni felt obligated to tell the chief about them going with the letter, even though he had been given the green light on that, and about the kids talking to his wife.

 

Ngoni found his wife at her working desk in the kitchen corner. As usually, beef stew was cooking on the stove, a rack by the kitchen sink was filled with dishes and a dish with soaked dish towels was sitting at the center of a kitchen table.

Cynthia looked up, bit her tongue when she saw Ngoni was accompanied by two school children then smiled as she offered them seats. She offered them Mazoe Orange crush with loose biscuits.

“Mrs. Mare, we have a few questions we want to ask you. If you don’t mind.” Celeste began hardly touching the food she had been given.

“About what?”

Ngoni then explained the role these school children were playing in the case and why it was of great importance for her to talk to them. He felt he couldn’t stress that importance enough, and hoped his wife’s mood had gotten better. She nodded her head when her husband finished talking, and nodded for Celeste to ask away.

“We believe that whatever it is that triggered the author, occurred in the last five months-”

“So you want me to go back to every article that I wrote in that time?”

“If it’s too much to ask, then we will go through it, ma’am.” Danai said quickly. “It won’t be every article. Just those that focus on prostitution.”

Cynthia turned to her husband who was drumming his hands on the table. She looked back at the kids then said, “What about it?”

“At this moment we are not sure. But we want to focus on violence inflicted on them. From the way the letter reads, and how the woman met a violent demise at the author’s hands, we are thinking the object of the killer’s hate and desire met a rather violent end too.”

“So, we are thinking that maybe you might have written something along those lines, and that might have-“

“Give me up to Monday.” She said as she got up. “I have some work to do if you don’t mind.”

“Of course.” Danai answered then emptied his drink.

Soon afterwards the kids were on their way.

“A couple of school children. Really?” Cynthia snorted as he husband came back inside.

“The Homicide Unit thinks they are good enough.” He said calmly as he began clearing the table.

“Nashe was here.” Cynthia said. Her husband didn’t respond. She continued anyway. “She believes that I was wrong by hiring a lawyer.”

“So when she says it you listen.”

“Well, she had some pretty valid points.”

“And I didn’t? Telling you we can’t afford it is not valid?” HE asked with his back to her.

“Either way, I’m dropping the lawyer and I’m going to fully cooperate with the police. Now that I have Nashe on board, I can see myself conquering the world. Now the world is going to be forced to take notice.” She said with her smile mostly to herself.

Her husband didn’t notice. By now he knew when his wife was speaking to him, and when she was speaking to herself. Silence was best in moments like this one. After all, answering back, no matter how positive, was the surest way to incur her wrath.

When Cynthia made her trip to Harare Central the following morning, the whole idea of conquering the world was her driving force. It got her through the interviews, which lasted more than she was prepared for, and knowing what was at stake helped keep her head cool and her answers meek.

However after Laura Vanhuvangu, the murder victim,’s funeral she was suddenly conflicted. For the first time since coming into contact with the letter, she saw Laura as a human.

As she read through Laura’s diary, Laura’s mother had given it to her, she could not help but cry. Someone so young and so full of life had met such a violent end because someone somewhere had such a twisted mind. She too had been sucked into that twisted mind, having seen Laura as a story that was to catapult her to stardom and wealth rather than an innocent woman who had been preyed on and murdered.

Ngoni heard what he thought was muffled crying. At first he thought he’s mind was playing tricks on him. Cynthia didn’t cry and well, Cynthia didn’t cry. He tried drifting back to sleep, but couldn’t. He turned to look at his wife who was reading a journal by candle light. She never did that.

Not that she was a cold person, but she had never put his feelings into consideration before. Whenever she had something to read, she would turn on the lights and he would have to adjust to sleeping in the light.

“Are you alright?” He asked quietly

Startled, she quickly close the journal and the candle light went off. Ngoni got up, walked to the other end of the room then turned the light on and found Cynthia’s face soaked with tears.

“What happened?” He breathed out as he rushed to her side.

“Nothing.” She answered as fresh tears rolled down her cheeks. “Her mother gave me this at the funeral.” She said lifting the journal. “She was a person. She is not just a story.” She said as she began to sob out loud. “She was a person.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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