Mr. Charles

Mr. Charles
By Tawonga Msowoya.
Anyone could tell by the star struck look on young Charles’s face that he was very much enticed by his young maid. Anything of beauty and grace was scarce in the Livingstone manor and the arrival of young Thandi caused a stir among all the specimens of the opposite sex within a square mile of the grand estate. Charles watched from a distance as she was led through the grand doors of the atrium. He feared that if he got too close to the dazzling creature before him he would scare her away and he would never see another thing of beauty again, so he quietly watched her from the safety of the of the elegant mahogany doors that led up to professor Livingstone’s study. She brought with her only a small carrier bag which she slung over her shoulder casually and a single sweater in hand. Charles pitied the poor creature and was for a brief moment ashamed of his grand walk in closet filled with Italian leather shoes, double breasted suits and an array of scarves, hats and elegant wrist watches. Being the adoptive son of one of the wealthiest merchants in southern Africa meant he had to look the part at all times. Even when he was alone in his chambers or playing soccer in the courtyard, young Charles was always dressed immaculately from head to toe. Only just coming of age and having grown up guarded behind the walls of his adoptive father’s estate Charles knew little if not nothing at all about the fairer sex. It would take a near miracle for him to even get a smile from her. He followed closely behind as the professor led Thandi to the servant’s Quarters. He longed to trace his fingers on her soft dark skin and hold her in his arms while he whispered sweet nothings in her ear. He always knew that his Father’s money held immense power and he hoped to sway her with that if not his boyish charms.
Charles was neither an intelligent nor handsome young man.  He was tall, awkward and lanky. He was often made fun of by the other boys in his school or his servant’s children. It was only after the professor observed his son’s clear misery that he decided to pull him out of school all together. Charles saw no point of going to school anyway. He was the clear heir of his adoptive father’s fortune as the professor had no biological successor to take over his large empire. as long as Charles stayed clear of all scandals and problems he would be the next head of the large Livingstone estate. He hoped that his stories of great wealth and power would be enough to win Thandi’s heart. That night he went to bed dreaming of his wedding day. Seldom do young men dream of their wedding as that fantasy is reserved mostly for young women but Charles felt like he had finally found what he had been searching for. He was determined to win over young Thandi and he would be damned if anyone stood in his way.
The next morning Charles awoke to the beauty of the sun gracing his bedroom and the smell of fresh eggs and coffee in the air. He looked around him in confusion and for a moment he thought he was still asleep. His windows had not been opened since he was a young boy and he had not tasted fresh homemade eggs since the death of this adoptive mother. He was just about to return to his silk sheets when a gentle voice broke through the silence. “Good morning sir. I have prepared for you your breakfast and I have chosed a nice suit for you and it hanging in bathroom beside your robe”. He looked up in search of the voice and was met with big kind brown eyes. If he had not already established her beauty last night he confirmed it in the bright light of day. Her skin was soft and dark and glistened in the beams of sunlight. Her lips were full and slightly pink and her eyes were a mesmerizing brown. She wore her hair in a big plait behind her back and she wore her maid’s uniform with pride. In the presence of such simplistic beauty he once again felt ashamed of his lavish lifestyle and even more shame faced at his less than mediocre looks. “Thank you. What is your name dear,” he finally managed to say after momentarily losing his speech. “I’m Thandi sir. It’s a pleasure to meet you. You Mr. Charles are I correct?” Her speech intrigued him. He could tell by the way she talked that she didn’t have much of a formal education. Again he felt ashamed for not so long ago he had rejected the finest education that money could buy. “Yes I’m Charles and it’s a pleasure to meet you”. The room was once again silent and Charles didn’t know how to occupy the silence. Gathering all the bravado inside him he made another attempt at a conversation.
“So…umm…Thandi, where is it that you come from?”
“Originally come to here from Malawi. My father and mother meet there and come to here for better life. I just lucky life better now”. He had heard of the country she spoke of but had never actually seen it. The professor had dabbled in many business endeavors in Malawi and he knew from the professor’s log that the national language spoken there was Chichewa.
“So you must speak a little Chichiwa then. Please tell me something in Chichiwa”. His own eagerness surprised him and he felt himself straightening his back and trying his best to look as poised and elegant as he could. By mentioning her national language he felt traveled and educated and hoped that would be enough to impress her. She giggled lightly and Charles immediately felt all the confidence drain from his body. Giggling was not a good sign and he was sure he had not made a joke. Choosing to act coy he dug himself deeper into his sheets to hide his shame. “I have said something funny then Thandi?” She looked so beautiful when she smiled and Charles almost forgot the shame he was hiding. “Yes Mr. Charles, you very funny man. Language not Chichiwa as you says but Chichewa, and indeed I do speak but have not spoken in a while” with that said she gathered her things and with one last look in his direction she shut the massive  doors and left Charles in the company of his deep red faced shame.
After his shameful language mishap Charles decided to stay clear of Thandi for a while. He needed to fix his wounded ego and search for his fleeting courage once again. He thought it best for him to steer clear of her until he devised a better plan to capture her attention to avoid being shamed or humiliated beyond repair. He shied away from her glances when they met by chance in the foyer and dug himself deeper into his sheets when she brought up his morning meals. It had been two weeks since young Thandi had graced the halls of Livingstone manor and Charles was sure he had finally devised a plan which he believed to be fool proof. He saw the way she chatted amicably to Justice the gardener’s son. Unlike his own pale and less than mediocre looks justice was what one might call traditionally handsome with his strong angular jaw line and striking eyes. There had never really been reason for Charles to envy Justice’s charm as there had never been anyone whose attention he was vying for at the manor but in Thandi’s case he knew that if he was not swift and tactful, she would fall victim to Justice’s charm.
At the beginning of every month the professor would throw a lavish party in the foyer and he would invite all his business associates and wealthy colleagues. Charles was required to grace the occasion but more often than never he would sneak back up to his chambers when the festivities were in full swing. He was never one for parties and loud music but this month he planned to make more than just an appearance. When the wine had been served and the feast enjoyed, he planned to whisk Thandi away into his father’s study. There he would profess his love and infatuation for her. He paid extra attention to his clothing that night and opted to wear his best navy blue suit with a matching fedora and the solid gold watch with the silver accents that he had received for his 19th birthday. He hoped that she would be impressed by his class and keen eye for the finer things. Once the music floated into the air and the guests began to fill the foyer Charles realized he had reached a point of no return. With one final lingering glance in the mirror he was out the door and fully submerged in the festivities.
The professor spared no expense when he was hosting guests. One might even compare his lavish parties to those of Gatsby or even count Etienne de Beaumont. The guests came by the hundreds dressed in the finest silks and furs. On one wall the chef had established a fine display of truffles, Turkish delight and many more treats that were arranged in a makeshift pyramid that stretched out to the ceiling. A fountain of champagne was setup in the living room next to an enormous feast that almost looked medieval. Charles wandered around the manor casually greeting guests and relatives. He had not spotted Thandi all night and he was beginning to feel flustered and claustrophobic. He was just about to throw in the towel when she graciously glided into the room carrying a tray of drinks. She looked gorgeous in the fairy lights and Charles felt something tinge in his heart. He gathered all his courage and followed her down the hall. The moment he had been waiting for had finally arrived and he could barely keep up with his heartbeat as he followed her gracious figure down the hall.
“Thandi,” he said when he was finally close enough to grab her by the arm. She looked understandably surprised as Charles gently grabbed her by the arm and led her through the mighty mahogany doors of the study. Once inside he felt his momentary burst of confidence drain from his body as he watched her study him intently. He felt like a bashful teenage girl on the playground and he instinctively dropped his gaze to his polished shoes. “Mr. Charles you lose voice or you no remember how to speak?” Her little joke made him smile and he lifted his gaze only to meet with her smiling face. As quickly as the silence had begun it was gone and it was then replaced by fits of uncontrollable laughter. From there the conversation just seemed to fall into place and they talked about everything and nothing at the same time. She told him about home and what it had been like growing up by the lakeshore in a small hut with 6 other siblings. He told her what it was like growing up in a house where you only had yourself for company and what he remembered from his life before the professor had adopted him. Although their lives were completely opposite, they both understood what it was like to be on the outside.
“So Mr. Charles,” she said after they had fallen into a comfortable silence, “What it like being only black man in Livingstone house?” Charles realized that he had never really considered it. He had always enjoyed the professor’s company and had never taken notice to their clear racial differences.  Before he could gather up a response the door swung open and light flooded into the dark study. The professor’s tall steady figure appeared in the hall way and he was accompanied by a man who Charles recognized as his business partner. Their conversation stopped dead in its tracks when they noticed young Charles and Thandi lying on the soft carpeted floor next to the now empty tray of drinks.
“Son, what exactly is going on here?” They quickly stumbled to their feet in an attempt to hide their apparent shame.
“Father…I was taking a quick break from the festivities. I asked…umm Miss Thandi here to keep me company. I apologize we will be out of your way immediately”. Grabbing her protectively by the arm he made a quick dash by the door but their exit was halted by the large physique of the professor’s associate standing by the door.
“Now hold on there young Charles. There is no reason for you to exit so abruptly, I’m sure you can stay and have a drink or two with your father and I”. He took a purposeful step towards Thandi and took her by the arm. Charles felt an unusual anger flare up inside him as he watched the associate run his hands up Thandi’s arm and harshly hold her head in place leaving him only inches away of her face.
“Oh come on Charles we’re just having a little fun, aren’t we sweetheart? You know if you worked for me I would have to punish you in every which way I could imagine.”
“If you touch her again I’ll...”
“What Charles? What will you do? Your father seems to have no problem with this.” Charles watched in sheer horror as the professor dropped his gaze to the floor and knitted his fingers together in submission.
“Father, for the love of all things good and just in this world you have to stop this madness!”
He had never seen such cowardice in his father and it fueled his anger. He clenched his fists by his side as he watched her squirm in his arms.
“Father do something…I umm…I love her! Please”
The professor looked to his son with confusion on his face and at that moment Charles knew he had to take matters into his own hands.
“What are you going to do with that bottle son? Put it down before you hurt yourself boy!” The associate’s words did nothing but make him angrier. With one swift and final swing of the bottle it was all over. Looking down at what he had done Charles felt the tears run down his face
“Mr. Charles what have you done?” Checking his pulse she confirmed what they had all feared.
“You have to go now Mr. Charles. I Take Care of this. Run Mr. Charles and don’t come back here!”
Like the coward he knew he was he ran.
Escaping in a blur of loud music and fairy lights he was gone. Leaving all that he knew behind, leaving the love he had grown to know behind. He ran.

Tawonga Msowoya is a 17 year-old female student at Chancellor College.

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