09 December 2009

A Dark Horizon by Janine Dube

On Monday morning Rachel called for a board meeting and informed everyone that she had managed to acquire a goodwill loan. She did not disclose the source but she knew that they guessed it was from Noel. Geoffrey had insisted on knowing the source but Rachel had emphasized on the source’s insistence on anonymity. She also proposed some changes and confidently answered their questions. They were obviously stunned by her new assertive attitude and she could sense that she had earned a grudging respect from them. She informed them that she did not intend to see this new money go to waste and would be keeping a close eye on their progress.

‘You sure came back with a bang Mrs. Nguni,’ Joseph said to her at lunchtime. ‘I particularly enjoyed the way you dealt with Geoff.’

‘Power suits me, I’ve decided,’ she smiled happily as she walked around her desk to stand next to him. ‘I think I’ve been too soft before. It’s time they knew who is boss.’ When she had first started working there all she had managed was to cut unnecessary costs and their salaries but that had not been enough to get them out of trouble. With the new money things were looking up and she would watch activities in the company like a hawk.

‘Does a certain Mr. Nguni have anything to do with this transformation?’

‘Partly. It’s mainly you Joe. You’ve been going on about how I should have balls of steel, so I’ve decided to take your advice.’

‘Good to hear. Can I take you out to lunch?’ They were sitting side by side on her desk and she was swinging her legs and staring unseeingly at her shoes.

‘That would be great.’

‘I’ll have to take you somewhere expensive though. It’s what you’ll be getting from now from the husband hey,’ he nudged her with his elbow making her laugh. They sat silently for a bit. ‘I missed you,’ he said and before she could respond the door opened after a brief knock.

‘Paul!’ Rachel quickly jumped off the desk. Suspicion was written all over his face. He had obviously got the wrong idea.

‘Did I interrupt something?’

‘No,’ she said too quickly and he raised an eyebrow. She tried to ignore that. ‘This is Joseph, Joe this is Noel’s son Paul.’ The two men briefly shook hands and Rachel could see from the throbbing in Paul’s temple that he was very angry. ‘What can I do for you?’

‘I wanted to take you out for lunch,’ he looked into her eyes and she would be damned if she would to look away first. She was not guilty of anything.

‘Joe had already –‘

‘It’s okay, maybe next time Rach,’ Joe said as he got on to his feet.

‘Why don’t we all go?’ Paul smiled at both of them. ‘Since we’ll all be working together we might as well get acquainted.’

The lunch hour was very uncomfortable because Paul was rude. He was not direct with it but instead he was charming. He smiled and joked but there was no mistaking the hostility and Joe even commented on it back at the office. It was to her great surprise then that evening when he was pleasant to her. She figured that he wanted to give Noel a different impression so as to make her feel paranoid. She spoke as little as she could through dinner but she was polite. If Noel noticed anything amiss he did not mention it. After supper Noel excused himself because he had some work he needed to do. Paul helped her clear up and stack the dishwasher. They worked in silence until he spoke.

‘I’m sorry about my behavior this afternoon.’ Rachel was stunned into silence because an apology was the last thing she had expected from him. He chuckled when he saw the expression on her face. ‘I was that bad huh?’


‘Could I take you to lunch again tomorrow as a peace offering?’ he asked but she just looked at him, unsure of what to say. ‘Maybe we could make a fresh start. I notice that I haven’t exactly been pleasant to you.’ Still, she did not say anything. ‘Meet me in the middle Rachel, I’m trying here,’ he smiled uncertainly. ‘I promise I’ll be good.’

‘Okay,’ she finally spoke. ‘You can take me out for lunch tomorrow and you better keep your word.’

He kept his word and the lunch hour went quicker than she had expected. He was fun and charming and Rachel found herself actually liking him.

‘Hello stranger,’ a voice interrupted their conversation. Rachel looked up and saw a tall and beautiful woman smiling at Paul.

‘Jess!’ Paul beamed at the new arrival; he quickly stood up and embraced her. ‘You are looking great,’ he said as he moved back to study her.

‘Thank you,’ Jess smiled as she twirled for him. They laughed together and Rachel felt like an intruder.

‘Please take a seat,’ Paul said as he pulled back another chair for her. ’It’s great to see you again.’

’You too Paul,’ Jess said as she sat down. ‘Ever the gentleman,’ she smiled at him and then turned to Rachel and put her hand out to her. ‘Hi, I’m Jessica.’

‘Rachel, it’s nice to meet you Jessica.’

‘I’m an old friend of Paul’s’

‘I’m his stepmother.’

‘Oh I saw the wedding in the paper. Congratulations,’ Jessica smiled. ‘Are they being good to you?

‘We’ve been good haven’t we Rachel?’ he smiled at her and Rachel smiled back.

‘How is business Paul?’ Jess asked. ‘I heard that you were moving to South Africa.’

‘I’ve formed a partnership in South Africa but I’m not moving there. What are you doing with yourself?’

‘I’ve been thinking about getting a job in Bulawayo.’

‘But you’ve never wanted to leave Harare; you refused to come with me.’

‘I wish I had. I was jilted at the altar, literally,’ Jess laughed. Rachel marveled at how she could still smile, she was obviously made of sterner stuff.

‘No!’ Paul looked horrified. He seemed to genuinely care for Jess, Rachel thought. ‘What fool would do that?’

‘I doubt if you know him. Anyway that’s why I’ve decided to get out of Harare and go somewhere a few people know me. Everyone is talking about it,’ she smiled. ‘I’m fine now but I don’t know why they can’t all be like you Paul.’

‘You weren’t so generous the last time we spoke.’

‘That’s because I didn’t know there were worse bastards out there. All you men are bastards but at least you were always straight with me.’ Paul threw his head back and laughed heartily. Jess laughed with him. ‘The saying, better the devil you know has never been truer,’ she said putting her hand on his. ‘It’s been hell but I’m glad to say that I’ve bounced back.’

‘Good for you; you’ve always been a tough cookie.’ They gazed at each other and Rachel began to feel like an invisible intruder again. She glanced at her wristwatch and realized that if she wanted to get back to work on time, she would have to leave promptly. Rachel sat there for a moment unsure how to excuse herself. She finally cleared her throat and took her handbag.

‘I have to leave now,’ Rachel said making Paul and Jess look up at her. She started to feel awkward.

‘Sorry Rachel, I got carried away.’ Paul managed to look embarrassed. There’s a first Rachel thought as she smiled at them. ‘I’ll give Jess my number and take you back.’

‘No please, don’t worry. You obviously have a lot of catching up to do. It’s been a pleasure meeting you Jess, I hope to see you again soon.’ With that Rachel quickly got up and walked away. She was surprised to find herself rather annoyed with Paul. There was no reason why she should be. No reason at all.

Thabiso Howard enjoyed her work as a freelance interior designer. It was more a hobby than a serious source of income because Matt’s job as an insurance broker brought more than enough money for the three of them. Thabi had left her steady job to become freelance after she had had Tanya who was four years old now. She wanted to raise her daughter herself. At that moment she was in her studio on the phone with a client and was absently watching Paul running around after Tanya in the garden. Paul was the only one who seemed to share her concerns about Rachel and it had not been difficult getting him to stay in Harare a bit longer so he could study Rachel to see if she was for real. Thabi felt that it was her duty to take care of her family since their mother had died seven years back. Her father’s sudden marriage to Rachel who was only a year older than her had upset her and she was wary of her. Things had been rushed and that was the main thing that worried Thabi. Rachel appeared to be very driven and smart and this left Thabi wondering what Rachel’s motives for rushing into marriage with her father was. It couldn’t be love, of that she was sure. From what she had heard through the grape vine, Thabi would confidently put her money on that Rachel had married her father to save her struggling company. She knew there was nothing she could do about it now but she would keep an eye on Rachel nevertheless.

When she had finished talking on the phone Thabi walked to the garden where Tanya and Paul were playing. She sat on the garden chairs and watched them. Paul saw her and after a while he walked towards where she was sitting and sat himself next to her.

‘I met Jess yesterday,’ he said.

‘Did she tell you about her disastrous wedding?’

‘So she was right,’ Paul said with a wry smile. ‘Everyone is talking about it.’

‘It’s not something that happens everyday.’

‘I can see why she decided to get away and get a job in Bulawayo. I wouldn’t want everyone feeling sorry for me,’ he said and Thabi nodded in agreement. ‘I could throttle whoever did this to her, she doesn’t deserve it,’ he said with feeling.

‘You haven’t exactly been Mr. Perfect with her yourself.’

‘I never promised her anything though. Not turning up for your own wedding has got to be the worst treatment of someone you claim to love.’

‘It’s better than marrying someone you don’t love just so you can gain something from them.’ Paul knew she was referring to Rachel. ‘Did you notice anything untoward?’

‘No,’ he lied. He had suspicions about Rachel’s relationship with Joseph. He had found their closeness a bit too much for platonic friends. The way they had been sitting next to each other on her desk and the way she had quickly jumped off with a guilty face when he had walked into her office was more than enough proof there was something going on. He had decided that he was not going to say anything to his sister because she would probably overreact and then alienate herself from their father. Without anything concrete there was really nothing they could do or say. Paul was just going to observe discreetly. ‘I had lunch with her and her marketing director on Monday, I’m sure there is nothing between them so whoever said there was, was mistaken.’

Thabi regarded her brother for a while and then said, ‘perhaps she is a good actress.’

‘Maybe, but I’m sure I would have seen something,’ Paul said. Thabi shrugged and thought that Paul was very observant and if there were anything to see he would have seen it. ‘I think you should try to be nicer to her. You’ll only be hurting Dad if you alienate her.’

‘I don’t trust her. I think she only married him for his money because I’ve just been researching on her company and it doesn’t look good.’ Thabi was glad that she had got her brother’s attention. ‘Her company is in so much financial trouble that the banks were going to recall their loans until some mysterious money turned up.’ Her husband Matt had reluctantly told her all this. She had continuously pestered him to get some information on Rachel’s financial background because he had connections in the financial sector. K&M Farm Supplies’ financial woes were not kept a secret but the source of the loan was. According to Matt even the company’s employees were kept in the dark. ‘They got the money a week after the wedding and one has to be really obtuse not to put two and two together and get four. It’s obvious that that money came from Dad.’

‘It’s an investment Thabi so he’s hardly losing out.’ Paul said.

‘But it just proves she is after his money. I can’t understand why Dad won’t see through her.’ Thabi was filled with frustration.

‘If there is anything to see he will see it himself. There is nothing you can do about it now that they are married.’

‘She is definitely a smart ass isn’t she?’ Thabi smiled sadly at her brother and hoped that she was wrong about Rachel for her father’s sake.

Later that evening Rachel sat alone in the dark. She was deep in thought and was very upset but she fought the tears. She had not expected a pleasant evening but it had actually turned out worse than she could ever have imagined. It was hard to believe how arrogant and insensitive some people could be. Noel had warned her before they had left for the dinner at his friends’ house that it was going to be difficult to get through. Several of their friends had come and there were probably a total of about twenty guests. It was their first formal outing since they had been married and she knew that his friends would be curious to meet her since there was a lot of speculation about her motives for marrying him. She had dressed in a demure black dress from Monica’s because she had wanted to make a good impression. Mrs. Hadebe had told her that Noel was held with the highest regard and his late wife had been very popular amongst their friends. Rachel had known she had an uphill struggle to impress anyone that night. Paul and Jessica had come too and she had hoped that she may be able to escape to them at some point but they kept well away from her. From the first time she had been introduced Rachel had felt that no one spoke to her but above or past her and she was regarded with cool tolerance. Noel had kept a protective arm on her back most of the time and Rachel could see that the situation was very uncomfortable for him as well. The first moment she had had to get away to the ladies room, she had decided to go outside to the garden and get herself together before getting back.

She sat on one of the free benches and the air outside was cool and it made her feel better.

‘It’s nice out here.’ She looked up and saw Paul standing beside her and he was smiling down at her. Rachel smiled back. ‘They are a nasty bunch aren’t they?’ he smiled knowingly and his sympathy seemed heartfelt. Rachel was surprised by it.

‘I was expecting it,’ she said feeling slightly uncomfortable that he had witnessed her humiliation. There were a few groups of people talking and at that moment they both heard one group of ladies talking about Noel and they instinctively stopped talking and listened.

‘Of course it’s money; why else would a young girl marry an old man like Noel. He is attractive of course but if he didn’t have that money and influence would she have noticed him at all?’ Rachel recognized the voice to be that of Judy Guta, the hostess. ‘He is old enough to be her father.’

‘Her grandfather even,’ put in another voice and they laughed. ‘She was trying so hard back in the house it was painful to watch. She should go back to the slums.’

‘I think its sour grapes ladies, she is hardly from the slums and you are being like this because you all find Noel attractive.’

‘Vera we all know it’s you who has been after him. We are just saying what you feel,’ Judy said and the group laughed again.

‘Speak for yourself ladies, I have no such feelings,’ Vera said. Noel had introduced Vera Mhere as the widow of a businessman who had owned a chain of stores in the capital city. Rachel had rather liked her because she had been one of the few people who had been pleasant to her. She was a vivacious woman.

‘He will soon see through her and she will be out of here before she even got in,’ Judy added and they all laughed again.

Rachel couldn’t listen to anymore of what they were saying and so she got up and walked towards the house. She did not realize she was crying until she had got to Noel who immediately took her arm and led her to a corner.

‘What’s happened Rachel?’ he took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped her tears away.

‘I’m sorry about all this. Can we go home?’ she asked trying to blink the tears away. Noel quickly signaled to Paul who had followed her into the house and they both walked with her to the car. After he had helped her into the car they walked a few paces away. He asked Paul if he was responsible for upsetting her. He had seen them talking in the garden and he knew that he and Thabi were finding it hard to accept her. Paul laughed at his father’s assumption.

‘I don’t see how making my wife cry can be a laughing matter.’

‘Dad your wife just overheard some very malicious gossip from some of your friends and that’s what’s upset her so much.’

‘What kind of gossip?’

‘The obvious things that are said when an old rich man marries a girl younger than his own children.’ Paul said and in his voice there was an undercurrent of anger. He had not realized just how his father’s remarriage had affected him as well. He had thought he was acting on Thabi’s anxieties and not his own. He turned and walked away without waiting for his father’s response. He really had no time for his father and problems that he had caused for himself.

Rachel was watching from the car and even if she could not hear what was being said she could see that there was an angry exchange between Noel and Paul. The guilty feelings that she had about the marriage were quadrupled because she could see that the issue was tearing the family apart. When Paul had walked away Noel had stood there for a few moments and then slowly walked towards the car. They did not talk much on their way home and as soon as they got in, Noel went straight to his room. She did not see him the next morning and this made Rachel feel worse than she had the night before. It was not like Noel to not want talk and straighten out an issue. He usually pestered her to talk about whatever troubled her and this new behavior troubled her very much. Paul was already at the table having breakfast and reading the newspaper. They ate in silence and it was very awkward for Rachel who was very self-conscious from what had happened the previous night. She got up to go as soon as she had eaten her fill.

‘Is there any truth in what was said yesterday?’ Paul asked before she was out of the dining room. She turned around and looked at him in dismay. ‘Don’t give me that look Rachel; it’s a fair enough question.’

‘It’s a very insensitive question.’

‘It’s not in my place to be sensitive to your feelings Rachel,’ he said and at that moment Rachel loathed him with her every being. ‘I’m sure you realize what you are doing to Dad. Last night has got to be the lowest he has ever been and that’s because of you. He is my father and I care about him very much so if I find out you are just making a fool of him you’ll hate me more than you do at this moment.’

‘Well I can’t imagine hating you more than how I do right now,’ she said and walked out. She was going to have a rotten day if this morning had anything to do with it. ‘What is it now?’ Rachel asked angrily when she noticed that he was following her.

‘Did Dad give you money for your company?’

‘What is to you?’ She stopped and turned to face him.

‘I want to hear it from you because you seem to be keeping a lot of secrets.’

‘You seem to know a lot about me already.’ She turned and walked to her car and turned back when she had opened the door. ‘I don’t care anymore what you think of me Paul. I know how much you despise me.’ Rachel got into the car and looked at him one last time. ‘I’ll understand if you decide not to work with me on the commercial.’ She was surprised when he burst out laughing. She looked at him with a frown until he stopped laughing.

‘You really are a tough nut Rachel. I bet you’re scary in the boardroom and I must say I’m pretty impressed.’ He continued to look amused and she just stared at him in amazement.

‘Does this mean we are still on?’ Rachel finally asked as she fastened her seatbelt.

‘You bet,’ Paul said thinking that he was probably going to enjoy their time more than he had anticipated. Rachel was full of contradictions, one minute she looked vulnerable and the next she looked as if she was going to bite someone’s head off. He could see what his father must have seen in her and he smiled to himself as he watched her drive off. He really was going to enjoy getting to know her.

A Dark Horizon was written by Janine Dube and is an excerpt from her d├ębut book, A Dark Horizon.

Copyright Janine Dube 2009.

Janine Dube was born in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe just after the country’s independence. She grew up in Bulawayo until the age of nine when she moved to Harare. She received her primary education at Nettleton Junior School and her secondary education until Advanced Level at St Francis of Assisi High School in Chivhu. In 2000 she moved to the United Kingdom where she has studied Fashion and Textiles at Thurrock and Basildon College and Anglia Ruskin University.

Janine has also had a chance to work with the Royal Opera House on their production of Sun and Heir where she did a short course on screenwriting and made headwear for some of the characters.

Being creative is a passion for Janine and when she is not writing she makes headwear and garments.


Myne Whitman said...

This is my type of story and writing. I can see some misses from the grammar check but will love to read the book.

Sarudzai Mubvakure said...

I love the element of suspense and surprise !!. Especially when Rachel said "I'm his step mom!" Great stuff. I plan to finish my review of your book soon and will post on my blog. Congratulations !!

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