“Mara is a beautiful name, just like the owner. ” Irvin said. “I bet you look even more beautiful when you smile. So, how about giving me your best smile beautiful Mara?” Mara’s insides turned to mash and the only thing she could do was pray that her face wasn’t leaking any of the wicked thoughts going through her mind. This man was clearly a shameless flirt. Unfortunately for her, before she could summon her senses to order, Irvin took three consecutive shots, a satisfied grin lighting up his handsome face as he looked through the pictures.
“You could have warned me you know,” Mara complained, feeling the heat on her face rise. I must look like an infatuated teenager in those pictures, she thought. “This is so embarrassing. I feel so stupid.”
“Why?” Irvin asked. “The photos look fantastic! You’re every photographer’s dream muse.”
“Are you a photographer?” Mara asked.
“No, far from it,” he answered. “But, I’m into photography as a hobby, although, most of my subjects never talk back to me.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Mara said. “You must know the effect you have on women. Look at me!”
Smiling, Irvin asked, “Can I tell you something?”
“You’re the first woman I’ve met who didn’t hide the fact I made her speechless,” he tittered. “Usually, they play it cool, but those first few seconds would have already done the damage. But you,” he was really trying to contain his laughter but failing epically. “You just stood there, starring.” This time, he let himself chortle without inhibition. Mara watched him in both wonder and amusement before joining him, and when they had both sobered up a bit, she sarcastically asked, “are you done?”
Irvin took a swipe at his nearly teary eyes, noisely cleared his throat and dramatically put on a straight face for her benefit. “I’m really sorry for laughing,” he said. “But, in my defense, I wasn’t laughing at you…well, not technically,” he bit back the new bolt of laughter threatening to erupt. “It’s just that, you looked really cute, almost childlike. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in a while. It’s very flattering to know I rendered a beauty like you speechless.”
“Well, I guess my beauty does make things a little less embarrassing, right?” She nonchalantly shrugged her shoulders.
“What’s there to be embarrassed about?” Irvin asked. “I think it’s very sexy when a woman owns her flaws, her sexuality, her feelings…you know. So own it.”
Mara was looking at him with a new found interest. This was a first for her, this gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach demanding that she know everything and anything about this beautiful man standing in front of her. “You never told me your name,” she said.
“Irvin,” he said, offering his hand for a handshake. “Irvin Kamanga.” Mara smiled and shook his hand. “It’s a pleasure meeting you Irvin,” she said.
“Pleasure is all mine Ms Mara,” Irvin said. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you doing here at the Minister’s residence? Work or pleasure?” He regretted asking the question the moment it came out. It might not bode well for him or his mother to know about his father’s pleasurable activities.
“Work, definitely,” Mara supplied a little too enthusiastically. For the first time, she didn’t want a man to misunderstand anything about her. So she found herself adding, “Today is my first day meeting the Honorable Minister. If all goes well, the firm I work for might join his campaign team.”
“I want to ask what sort of work you do, and I’m curious about a whole bunch of things except, I your phone has been vibrating in my hands for the past few seconds…could be something important.” He handed her the phone.
Mara gasped. She had completely forgotten about the very meeting she was talking about. “It’s the Minister’s PA,” she said before taking the call. “Hi…yes, I’ll be right up. Thanks.” She looked at Irvin after hanging up, an apologetic look on her face. She had hoped their conversation would go on forever. She couldn’t bare to let this man go without knowing she could see him again.” Do you mind, ” she said, handing him back her phone. There was a puzzled yet somewhat innocent expression on Irvin’s face that forced her to clarify her position. “I would like to have your number,” she added.
“Oh, yeah, sure, no problem,” Irvin said, entering his digits. She searched around her for her handbag and spotted it on a bench a few feet behind Irvin. She retrieved it, pulled out a business card from her purse, and handed it to him just as he finished with her phone.” Thanks,” he said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have a business card myself. I’m just a mere second year student at the University of Zambia.”
“That’s okay,” she said. She didn’t care whether he was the undertaker or Lucifer himself. She wanted this man. “I didn’t even think you’re Zambian. Your accent….”
“Ah,”, Irvin snickered. “That’s a long story for another day. Maybe dinner?”
Mara felt the heavens open and the angels belt out à chorus in her honour. “I would love to have dinner with you Irvin. Unfortunately, I have to go now, meeting.”
“Yeah, sure,” Irvin said, stepping aside to make way for her. “It was really a pleasure meeting you Mara.”
“Me too,” she said, fighting the urge to add, please call me before deciding to hold on to the little remnants of dignity left in her after that unceremonious first meeting they had just had.
“I’ll call you,” Irvin said to her retreating figure. Mara paused for a second, nodded, and resumed floating with a huge grin on her face.
She was on cloud nine.
After delaying the meeting with the PR director for close to an hour, William wasted no time getting straight into business once the pleasantries were out of the way. “My secretary informs me that you already signed the NDA.”
Mara couldn’t tell whether it was a mere statement or question, but for purposes of professionalism, she answered, “I did, yes. Safeguarding information is the bone marrow of my line of work.” There was a hint of a smile on the Minister’s face, but it was difficult for Mara to tell because the man had the best poker face she had ever encountered. It explained why he had gotten this far in his line of business.
Mara was not a fan of politicians. They were great for her business. In fact 60% of her company’s income came from them. However, after dealing with them for over five years now, she had come to experience first hand what conniving, manipulative and pathological liars they were. They saw no shame in their illegal and unethical dealings. They expected a free pass for all their transgressions, and when push came to shove, they were willing to pay thousands of dollars to people like her to sugarcoat their indiscretions or worse, make them go away altogether. She was not one to judge, given her own indiscretions, but the fact que she played an active hand in ensuring their salaries made her feel entitled to certain expectations from them.
For some reason, Mara had always imagined the provincial minister to be a little different from most. He had never been involved in any huge scandals, except the usual minor ones that appeared out of the blue one day only to die of natural causes the next. Despite a transparent financial lifestyle, his private life was pretty much that, private. Which was why when she received a call from the Minister’s right hand man Alvin Sitali to set in motion this very meeting, Mara had been a little surprised. The provincial Minister’s office had its own communications and media team, and so did the YFDP party on whose ticket he was standing as a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. So why did the seemingly perfect minister need a media handler of her calibre?
“Seeing as I delayed this meeting, I’m in a bit of a hurry to get to my next,” William explained. “It’s a very important meeting for me, as you’ll soon come to understand. So I would like to get straight to the point. I am seeking your services as an individual, as the man William Mwanza who is a family man. As it happens, I am also a minister and a presidential hopeful, so somewhere along the way, all aspects of my life seem to collide.
“That being said,” he continued. “I want to make deliberate efforts that separate my family life from my work. I know it sounds impossible, but that’s why you’re here.”
Mara smiled at the recognition of her prowess. “Yes sir,” she said.
“As you already know, I come from a family of renowned politicians,” William went on. “Politics have been a part of my life for so long that I know more than anyone what impact being in this kind of limelight can do to a family. I want to offer myself to the service of the country, but I do not wish to sacrifice my family along the way. I do not want to lie to the people, my family means more to me than my politics, especially now more than ever.”
“Why now, what changed?” Mara asked.
“I’ll get to that in a bit,” William said. “But I need you to understand what having you on board means to me. Of course you’ll work closely with the other two media offices, but you will be solely responsible for handling any issue to do with my family. And to start you off, I would like you handle the current issue I have at hand, that of my son.”
Mara had been expecting a bombshell of some sort, but certainly not this. So Mr Innocent Gentleman was not so innocent after all. “A son?”
“He is nineteen, but he will be turning twenty in a few months. In fact, he already considers himself twenty.”
“Does this mean-“
“Yes, it means I had him before I married my ex wife,” William provided. “His mother is my childhood sweetheart, for lack of a better term. I figured I would be seeing a lot of it in the press in the coming days so might as well adapt to it. Her name is Miranda Kamanga,” he paused to allow her to type on her iPad. “Not many people knew about our relationship back then…and that’s because I kept it secret, for reasons I would hope are obvious.
“I do not wish to provide the public with intimate details of my private life,” William said. “I just need them to know what’s necessary for them to have an idea of the sort of man they’re voting for. I sent an email to you right before our meeting, in it you’ll find all the bits I’m willing to share. I don’t need to tell you what to do with them or when.”
“Yes sir,” Mara said.
William asked, “Any questions so far? “
Mara quickly went through her notes before speaking. “Your son, where has he been all this while, and why did you decide to reveal his existence now? Does your ex wife know about him?”
“I’ve explained all that in the email,” William said. “But for the sake of this meeting, I only found out about him two days ago. Today will be the first time I’ll be meeting him.”
“Oh yeah, that important meeting you mentioned earlier.”
“Yes, I believe he is already here,” William said, a nervous smile forming at the corners of his lips. “It appears Irvin is better at time keeping that his father.” he chuckled.
Mara stopped typing and for a few seconds appeared to have frozen in time. “What did you say your son’s name is again?” She asked, praying to the gods that she had heard wrong.
William picked up his mobile phone, opened his photo gallery to a picture of Irvin taken two years ago. He was dressed in a pink dress shirt and black chinos on a pair of white converse. William pushed his phone across the table to where Mara was and her face dropped to the ground. “You said he is nineteen?” She already knew what he had said. She just hoped he would say he had been lying. However, this man wasn’t a liar, she had come to conclude.
William laughed. “Like I said, Irvin likes to think himself older than his actual age.” he said. “His mother informs me that he is the typical alpha male. You should be able to have a sit-down with him and his sister soon. You can arrange that with my secretary.”
Mara could hardly hear what he was saying on top of the incessant thousand thoughts screaming through her head. Had she just flirted with a teenager? How could he possibly be nineteen years old!? Nothing about that boy said he was a teenager. Everything screamed he was a man, and not just any man. An extremely sexy confident man. He had flirted with her as if it was his second nature. He even asked her out for dinner. He must have known she was older. She might not look her age either but her ‘look’ was enough to say she was a fully grown woman. Yes, she had susoected he was younger than her, just not that young. At most, he looked twenty-five. It was still too young for her at thirty-five, but she had never been one to be fazed by age as long as the man was twenty-five or above.
She was fortunate enough to have a baby face so being with younger men before had never been an issue for Mara, unless of course the men turned out to be like her ex Bernard, leeches who needed grown women to take care of them like little babies. But nineteen? Mara mused. What in the world would she be doing with a nineteen year old kid? No matter how hot he was, or how desperate she had wanted to taste his lips, Irvin had just become a no-go area.
It was no longer just about age. It was now about the fact that Irvin was her client’s son, and that client happened to be a very influential politician who would most likely become president the coming year. That would make Irvin the president’s son. Not only that, he was an heir to his father’s multi-million fortune. She might be a successful business woman in her own right but she was far from being a match to someone with such an elite background…especially someone with her kind of past. Mara felt like a knife was being plunged into her chest, over and over again.
“Are you alright Ms Bwalya?” William asked. At some point, she had gotten to her feet and was now standing.
Mara immediately came out of her reverie. “I’m so sorry Honorable sir, I thought I felt something on my feet.” She made a show of examining her feet. “It’s probably nothing,” she said. “I have a chronic fear of spiders, so every now and then, I imagine the worst whenever I’m sitting in a strange environment.
“I can assure you that we have no spider problems here,” there was a hint of laugher in his voice.
Mara quietly sat down. This was the second time in a day she was making a complete fool of herself. It was a record.