By Lawrence Kadzitche
Phingo became rich the simplest way. His uncle, who owned a chain of stores and maize mills died and left all his wealth amounting to over a hundred million Kwacha to him. Phingo, hitherto a poor general duties clerk who could hardly support his family on his meagre salary, suddenly found himself swimming in money. He left the dilapidated one roomed house in which he lived with his family and moved into the mansion left by his uncle.
Phingo was a tall, powerfully built young man in unassailable good health. His wife was a pretty, discreet and reserved woman who kept her place. They were happily married and blessed with three children.
“Darling, we’re rich,” he told his wife. “We can now afford all the luxury the country can offer.”
But the money brought its own problems. Word quickly spread around the town that Phingo had struck it rich. A lot of new friends sprang up from nowhere. His wife could not understand how he had managed to make so many friends so swiftly.
But they were there- young men dressed in expensive suits accompanied by fancy-looking women in tight-fitting short dresses and high-heeled shoes. “They are my business contracts,” he explained doggedly to his puzzled wife.
Phingo had always came straight home after work and drank beer modestly during weekends only. Now he started coming home late and drunk. Dressing up in expensive threads, he started frequenting hotels and night clubs with his new friends. There, he found that he attracted the attention of amazingly beautiful women who didn’t even bother to hide that they fancied him rotten. He was stunned beyond reason by the attention the lovely ladies gave him. Unused to this, he felt like an all-conquering Ngoni Warrior chief.
It did not enter his mind that the women did not mind a tinker’s damn about him as a person but were only interested in his money. He stated attending parties thrown by his new friends. That is how he met Liz, a girl of surpassing beauty with a figure like something out of an erotic dream. They danced, her body moving sensuously against his…He didn’t know how it happened but when he woke up the next morning he found himself in Liz’s bed. And that was the beginning of it all. Wherever he went Liz seemed to be there too.
Phingo realized that as far as money and women were concerned, it could open doors in solid concrete walls. So, while Liz remained his number girlfriend, he started getting into affairs with all kinds of women, from school girls through married women to prostitutes.
His wife faded like black tea when you squeeze lemon juice into it. He continued to keep her simply because she was the mother of his three children. He left her in the mansion but he himself spent most of his time with his numerous mistress for whom he had rented flats and houses.
A week would pass without him seeing his wife. If she asked questions, she would be bluntly told that it was none of her business. “Don’t I give you everything you and the children want?” he would indignantly say to her. “I’ve enough problems running the business without having to cope with your nagging.”
“Just providing the necessities is not enough,” she would point out. “Children also need a father’s attention and love.”
But as time went on, he reduced his help so that his family would sometimes go without food for a day or two. He would even forget to pay water and electricity bulls until both were disconnected, and Nambewe, for that was his wife’s name, would come in a blind rage of money.
His old friends tried to advise him to change. “This life you’re leading will bring you nothing but grief. You know there is the terrible disease Aids these days so it is vital to stick to one partner.”
But Phingo just laughed contemptuously. “Aids is just like any other disease,” he chose to say “Dying of Aids or malaria is just the same. I don’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy myself just because of a stupid disease like Aids.”
Nambewe continued to be faithful to hi, hoping against hope that he would change one day. One day he was at Liz’s house when he suddenly felt his body freezing up on him. He collapsed to the floor, unconscious, blood spilling from his mouth. Liz rushed him to hospital. Tuberculosis was diagnosed. The disease was still in its early stages. He was admitted to the hospital. Liz decided not to tell Nambewe of her husband’s illness. She wanted to look after him. Although the TB was not serious, Phingo was attacked by malaria several days later. His condition grew worse.
Realizing that her boyfriend would be in the hospital for a long time, Liz decided to call it quits. She only wanted his money and knew that he wouldn’t dish it from his hospital bed. She phoned Phingo’s wife. “Your husband is admitted to Madalitso Hospital, ward 2C. Come and look after him,” Liz told her.
Nambewe was stunned. “Who are you?”
Liz let out a short harsh laugh. “My name doesn’t matter. Come and look after your stupid husband. If he lives he’s mine but if he dies he’s yours.”
The line went dead and Nambewe was left staring at the receiver. She angrily threw it down and made for the hospital. She found Phingo lying propped up in bed in Ward 2C. She hardly recognized him, he looked thinner and weak. His friends visited him only during the first few months but as the months wore on, they stopped coming altogether. Only his wife remained with him. As months dragged on, he began to suspect he was suffering from Aids. How else could he explain the various diseases that had kept him confined to the hospital for over seven months and reduced his body to more or less a skeleton covered with skin?
Now it occurred to him that he might actually die. He thought of the life he had led, the pain he had caused his wife and children and the pleasure he thought he had and wondered if it was worth it. He thought of all his actions and regretted them. He remembered the girl he had married so healthy and beautiful. Then he had got rich and lost his head. Now she was a worn out, tired woman looking after a dying man who had betrayed her. He felt guilty at what he had done to her. But now it was far too late to put things right.
The women he had thought loved him had discarded him like a rotten tomato. For the first time it struck him with all the force of revelation that they hadn’t loved him. All they cared about was the money he had. They were just shadows, beautiful empty headed nothings. And he had been daft enough to think they cared about him. Whatever pleasure he thought he had with women could not justify his current suffering. He had told himself that death was inevitable, that everybody would die, that Aids was just like any other disease. But now he realized that he had cheated himself. Yes, Aids was just like any other disease but the way you got it mattered tremendously.
It was a different thing to know that you had had got the disease through irresponsible sexual behavior. In Phingo’s case he felt that he would have avoided the disease if money hadn’t made him mad. And he knew that the result of his madness would definitely be a painful death.
That he would have died is certain for he lost all hope of ever recovering which worsened his condition. But his wife thought otherwise and brought him an evangelist who was reputed to possess healing powers.
“You’ll recover, brother,” the evangelist assured Phingo. “With God all things are possible.”
He began visiting Phingo every day praying for his recovery. His confidence instilled in Phingo hope that he might actually recover.
True to the evangelist’s words, Phingo gradually but certainly began to recover. He could sit up and eat and talk properly. Two months later he could even walk.
Now confident that he would recover, he began to think about what he would do once he was well. He would actually jump on the floor in his home with joy, giving release to his feelings. He would also go to church to thank God for healing him.
More importantly, he would also make peace with his family and be a good father and husband, He promised himself that he was through with drinking and sexual promiscuity. When he was discharged from the hospital months later, he did not jump on the floor or go to church or make peace with his wife as he had promised himself. It seemed very natural and normal to him that he had recovered from illness. Instead, his old friends turned up in droves when they heard that he had recovered. “Let’s throw a big party inviting everyone we know. Show them that you’re too tough to die,” one of his friends suggested.
It sounded a good idea and Phingo agreed. A week later they had the party, held at one of his friends’ house. Phingo’s wife was not invited. But Liz was there. She came purring up to Phingo all sweetness and telling him how glad she was that he had recovered.
When the party broke up at midnight, Phingo was very drunk. He staggered to his car hand in hand with Liz. They had agreed to spend the night together at her house. Phingo drove at an alarming speed. Two kilometers away, they slammed into stationery lorry. Phingo and Liz died on the spot. Now nothing could ever be changed in his life. He had missed a golden opportunity to reform.