Until Today Cover

Until Today

By Lee Quail


“Don’t come near me!”
At the start of the weekend I had made that quite clear to Roland.  Not due to any contagious medical condition, nor, for that matter, a lack of affection. I loved him madly. He stared at me in horror. This was not personal. It was all business: A group of bright, get-rich-quick metrosexual males, required our agency to broadcast a simple ‘people’s message’ across the nation, and that message needed to be conveyed to them in a meeting first thing on Monday morning.
Anywhere else in the world this advertising campaign might have been an easy accomplishment for an eager novice like myself, however, in Africa things are different. I would have to come up with the impossible,  a bit like painting a message in the sky, and I had little more than 48 hours in which to do it. I couldn’t allow it this weekend. Distraction.
To make things worse, he’s my boss. His company had only recently employed me, and I wanted to prove to them that they had made the right choice. Still, I wanted Roland to disappear for the weekend.
“You’ll make things worse. Stay away.”
“That’s two days without you!”
Two days seemed an eternity without his unexpected laughter, his rough hands holding me, his piercing blue eyes and gelled hair. But it had to be done.
“I won’t set myself up to fail, Roland. You’ve seen some of the presentation and only had good things to say about it, but I have to deal with every aspect of the presentation and I don’t want you hanging around. This is my account. My responsibility. I want a cup of black tea and you’ll only spoil it by adding milk. Am I making sense? All I want is to do this on my own. I’ll see you Monday morning, eight sharp.”
“I think you’re foolish and totally unreasonable. But have it your way. If you need me I’m just a phone call away.”
He leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead. “Just be calm, confident and gutsy. If we succeed, we’re going on a long trip. It’s a surprise, so don’t ask,” he taunted.
Monday morning arrived quickly. And then my life changed.
The doorbell rang.
I opened the door and stopped dead.
A child stared at me through eyes swollen from crying; a runny nose and grubby feet, toes curled into a grip on the step. Not much older than five. Barely out of crawling.
“Hello, little one…What on earth brings you to my doorstep? Where are your mom and dad?”
I looked around for an adult, but there wasn’t one in the vicinity.
Strings of silver tears stained her dirty-brown cheeks. A thumb plugged her mouth.
I crouched beside her and said, in stilted Zulu, “Mena Eric, wena?”
 “Princess.” Sad eyes blinked.
I took her hand, buckled her into the passenger’s seat of the Land Rover, and dialled Roland’s number on the car-phone.
“I have an emergency. I don’t know what to do.”
“They are here, Eric.  Waiting. Where the hell are you?”
“What would you do if you found a little lost girl on your doorstep this morning?”
“How did that happen?”
“Haven’t a clue. I suppose I have to phone the police about this but what if they tell me to stay put? I’m bringing her to work…”
“You can’t bring her here, Eric! Who will look after her? Listen, you get rid of this kid and get here by eight. Get rid of the kid Eric, or …”
“Or what, Roland?”
A deep whisper, “Consider this your last day.”
Roland’s absurd priorities didn’t include the child, obvious when he told me to get rid of her. His attitude proved that heartless human beings did exist. Laws protect children. Get rid of her sounded like a death knell.
Someone rigged my morning.
Faced with a risky solution, a lost princess and a life-changing business presentation, I had to do what was best for me.
Princess held onto me when I entered the boardroom through those heavy rosewood doors. I put her into my chair.
Roland walked in and immediately called me to one side.
“What is this, a kindergarten? Are you a nanny? Get rid of her.”
“It’s easy for you to say, but I had to shuffle problematic priorities.”
“We’ll talk about this later. Let’s get started.”
Destruction, annihilation, anger and hate came to mind as the presentation drawled on. And then something happened. Call it a miracle, fate, destiny or fatwa. I looked at the child and she smiled at me. That smile broke my heart. I realised that the best way to convey our client’s message was to use children and I changed my pitch immediately while Roland held his head in dismay.
I received a standing ovation.
The police waited patiently in the foyer with the child’s mother. She planted thick red lips on my cheek, thanking me for finding her little lost Princess. Truth is, she found me.
After the police left, Roland stormed in waving his arms in excitement.
“You were simply marvellous. They loved every second of it. You’re the best!” He reached for me, and I stepped back.
“I’m happy you’re happy, Roland.”
 I collected my briefcase and car keys from the table.
“Where are you going?”
“You’ve lost the right to ask me that question.”
“Lost the right? What are you talking about?”
“What I want in life doesn’t include people who abuse their moral worth. It doesn’t mean much to you, but that child has a soul and a heart. This was a crisis in her life, and mine. I loved you so much, Roland. I hoped we would build a future so that we may never want for anything in life except the best. Until today. You’re not the man I met, and you certainly aren’t the kind of boss I would like to work for, knowing that you could get rid of me at any time for any reason. I don’t know who you are.”
“I’m your lover. We want to get married, remember.”
“Do we?”
I walked out and didn’t bother to look back.