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Truth: A Short Story by Oscar Mubila

‘Yes this is Pastor Bwalya… no… what… bloody… ok I’ll be right there. Thank you, Francis.’ For a few minutes he stood looking at the telephone without actually seeing it. The unfinished sentence in his sermon notes was a blur. He had been sitting when he took the call, but he stood up and went to the window. The cloud-filled night sky was almost an echo of the darkening emotions swelling up. A lump came to his throat and he felt physically sick. He had to sit down.

Pastor Bwalya was known to be a man of integrity. He was a fiery preacher, who had perfected the art of sermon delivery from the pulpit. Regarded by many as one of the most influential people in the country, he was to be found on those major committees which government has the habit of setting up in order to appear to be doing something. Reports and recommendations are given but no one ever pays attention to them, particularly government itself.

Anyway, pastor Bwalya was on the committee set up to look into the troubles affecting the two universities in the country and he was recently appointed chairman of the Human Rights Commission.

He appeared not to be able to do any wrong. He had worked hard, built his own ministry, had a comfortable house in Sunningdale – the prime residential area in Lusaka, and drove a Lexus LX. He was a very strict man living by a strict code. He was once divorced but he re-married. He had never had any children with his first wife. They had only been married for about two years before they eventually realised that they were not meant for each other. On reflection, Bwalya realised that they had married out of peer and parental pressure. Luckily they had discovered their incompatibility before they had had a family, which would have made it that much more complicated to go their separate ways.

Not long after all that, his wife died. He did not shed any tears, but he had grieved for her silently. He was not able to attend her funeral because that was the time he was taking his crucial exams at Bible College in Memphis, Tennessee.

When he came back, he had gotten on with his life. When he met Mercy, his current wife, she already had a child. His name was Jason. This was seventeen years ago and the boy was four at the time. He had treated the boy as though he were his own. He had got on very well with the boy right from the start. On reflection, he couldn’t help but think that he probably had more affection for the young man than he did for the boy’s mother.

A year later Precious had come along. He hadn’t really warmed up to her. He always felt awkward about her. Three years later Natasha had come along. She had become instantly daddy’s girl. He absolutely dotted over her. She was his number one.

Where Precious was plain and rather withdrawn, Natasha was very pretty and very boisterous. Her behaviour was not in any way malicious and that was part of her charm. Everyone who met her instantly fell in love with her. She grew up receiving and expecting affection, which she gave right back. This all served to make her doubly adorable.

His hand went to his head and he felt a cold sweat. He had to get up. He had to do something. He got up from his chair and noticed his still open Bible. He felt its leather bound edges as he picked it up and drew a sense of comfort, but it was short lived. Where had he gone wrong? Was he not the great prophet of God? How then could this be happening to him? He slammed the bible down on the desk.

The streets were virtually devoid of traffic as he drove towards the Central Police station.This was not unusual considering it was about 2 o’clock in the morning. He was just about to stop at some robots when he realised that it was not a good idea on that lonely road. There had been too many stories of people being hijacked just as they stopped at the robots. He drove on, his heart racing, because he was certain he had seen shadows moving towards the car as he was slowing down.

A few hundred metres later, he dismissed it as paranoia. He even managed to smile at himself for being silly. He chanced a look at his speedometer and saw that he was approaching 180 km/h. How silly! I mustn’t get unglued. He slowed down to a respectable speed and felt some of the tension leave him.

As he entered the police station, he felt his earlier composure deserting him. The Inspector General himself was at hand to receive him and quickly ushered him into his office. There was his Precious wearing the tartiest number he had ever laid his eyes on. She was heavily made up and her eyes were blood shot. His eyes breathed fire at her but she hung her head down. She dared not look at her father

‘She was found during a police raid on a party at one of the Opposition Party leaders’ houses. We had a tip that there were a lot of drugs and illegal weapons there. I took personal charge of the situation, as it was very sensitive. It is there that we found her. I should have brought her home but as I’ve said the magnitude of this case made it impossible. I also imagined you might like to deal with the situation yourself. However, if you like I could deal with it.’

A night in any of the local holding cells was enough to sober up even the most hardened of criminals. I G Mwansa was standing behind Bwalya and now placed his hand on Bwalya’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

‘That’s all right,’ Bwalya said. Mwansa nodded understandingly, and let his hand hang there for a moment before he sat down with a sigh.

Mwansa had known Bwalya virtually his entire life. He was the only one, it was rumoured, who could talk squarely to Bwalya. Mwansa was a seasoned professional who enjoyed doing his job. He just wished that politics would stay out of it. He had known that what was going on at the opposition party leader’s home was no more criminal than what was going on in some ministers’ houses. In fact, if he had to be honest with himself, there was more criminal activity in the ministers’ homes than the poor arrested politician’s home. But the orders had come from above and it was his duty to follow orders, wasn’t it? It was also a question of survival. He knew which side his bread was buttered on, to use the cliché. Ultimately that was what it came down to; Survival.

The private press was calling for his blood and condemning his impartiality. Yet he knew that given the same circumstances they would do the same. Earning the bread was more important than one’s principles.

When he had joined the Force as it was called then-presently it was known as the Service, which was the same difference as far as he was concerned- he was a starry eyed constable who would make a difference and be the best policeman ever. He was very soon disillusioned. He discovered that you couldn’t really do your job properly without enough resources nor was it worth risking one’s life for peanuts. Sure it was part of the job, but hearing A K 47 bullets whizzing past ones head was enough to make one stop think twice.

He knew there was rampant corruption, but he also knew that his ill-equipped and underpaid force was just trying to survive like anyone else. It was the unwritten law of the land, practised by everyone from the top down. It was not an easy thing to turn around people’s attitudes when they weren’t willing to do so. Even idealism has to succumb to a greater force than itself-Reality. Yes sir! This would be the right time to retire-after insuring a reasonable pension, of course.

Bwalya was barely able to contain his annoyance. Annoyance at being here, annoyance at his weakness and annoyance at how well his friend knew him. The last thing he wanted was an all-knowing friend showing sympathy. That sort of thing was tolerable from a stranger, not one’s best friend.

‘Are we still on for that round of golf this weekend?’

‘Of course we are.’

‘Good. See you then.’

On the drive back home neither father nor daughter said anything. She was too ashamed to say anything and he was too upset. He wondered where he had gone wrong. Was he not the greatest preacher to come out of Zambia? Did not God himself live in his house? How then could this wickedness happen right under his very nose? He was grateful Mwansa had let him deal with it in his own way. He owed him quite a lot. As young men they had grown up together. They had gone to the same school and at one time they had dated from the same household, at the same time. To everyone else he was Pastor Bwalya but to Mwansa he was Jake.

Mwansa had been the one to encourage him to follow his heart and do what he thought was good for him.Against his parents wishes he had gone to Bible College rather than become an engineer, which was what he had originally studied. Every one had believed that he had wasted five of his years at the University, but those years had opened his eyes. He now believed what people had always said about the University- no one could claim to have attended university if he came out with the same outlook as when he went in.

He parked the car in silence and when he got into the house; his wife and Natasha were anxiously waiting for him. One look and his wife knew that a storm was about to hit the household.

‘Natasha, go to your room.’

‘But mum.’

‘Natasha, do as your mother says.’

For the first time Natasha really looked at her father and what she saw frightened her. Obediently she went to her room. Precious sheepishly walked into the house.

‘Go on. Tell mummy what you have been up to. What’s the matter? Have you lost your tongue?’

‘Ba shi Natasha please.’

‘Shut up woman. You are probably the one who has been encouraging your daughter to be behaving like this. Look at the shame she has brought to this family. What sort of mother are you?’

‘Suddenly it is my fault.’

‘Are you saying that I ‘m responsible? Damn it woman! You fail to discipline your daughter and so you want to shift the blame. I ‘m not a violent man but you and your daughter are tempting me.’ His hands had clenched into fists. The fire was raging out of control.

He raised his hands and just as suddenly dropped them. He appeared to be praying. Without saying a word he left the room.

He was gone a full ten minutes. His wife sat there looking at her daughter and shaking her head. She couldn’t believe that this was happening to her family.

‘Precious, what is all this nonsense? How can you sit there in silence? What is this that you have done? How did you ever manage to go out wearing that outfit? Is that what you mean by going out to study? What have you been studying? Prostitution?’

Bwalya walked in carrying a suitcase.

‘Ba shi Natasha, don’t do this.’

‘Shut up woman or you will join your harlot of a daughter. Now as far as I am concerned I have no daughter. You will leave this house and where you go is up to you. I never want to see your ugly face again.’

‘Ba shi Natasha please don’t do this. How can you do this to your own daughter? Does your being a pastor matter more than your daughter?’ She began sobbing and so did her daughter.

Bwalya stood there, not moving at all.

‘What about me? Do I not matter?’ She walked up to him, and after a moment’s hesitation placed her hand on his arm, ‘Don’t you and I matter?’

That struck a nerve. He could not look at her. How could he, knowing what he had done to her? He pulled away and walked out of the room while mother and daughter remained engrossed in their own sorrow. Outside a storm had started.

He took no notice of the rain as he walked the drenched street. He was soaking wet. She always knew how to make him feel good.No. He mustn’t think about that. He had worked hard to get what he had. Life had not given him many breaks and he wasn’t about to give it up that easily. He had to set the example. How could she have behaved like that in his own house? He was a pastor for god sake. Deep in the back of his mind he knew the answer. It is one that he feared to access. He walked slowly turning everything over in his mind. ‘The truth will set you free.’ It was an inner voice.

‘But what is the truth?’ he asked.

‘You know it.’

‘No!’ he screamed vehemently

‘Yes!’ the voice seemed to scream back accusingly.

He did know the truth. He had failed as a father. He had failed as a husband. Most of all he had failed as a human being. Come to think of it, he had failed as a pastor.

‘What have you been up to?’ The voice asked.

He was silent. How could he answer? Judge not least you be judged. ‘What are you hiding?’ the voice asked. ‘Where are you going? The truth will set you free.’

He looked up and realized which direction he had been going as he walked. ‘I have been seeing a sweet sixteen, okay. Is that what you wanted to hear? That I have been having it off with a girl who is my daughter’s age. Okay, I have been having it off with a girl who is my daughter’s age!’

‘Why? Don’t you have a loving wife? A beautiful family?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You do.’ The voice was accusative.

Yes I do.

‘Say it.’ It was an order.

‘God no!’

‘The truth will set you free.’

‘God forgive me! I have not been worthy. I have sinned. I have craved excitement. She was everything my wife was not. I could do to her all the things I couldn’t do to my wife.’

‘Why couldn’t you do those things to your wife?’

‘God I ‘m a pastor. I ‘m not expected to have strong desires. I ‘m supposed to be pure.’

‘What were you born as, a man or a pastor?’

‘A man,’ he answered in a barely audible whisper.

‘Do you then imagine that because you’re a pastor then you are not a man? Do you imagine that I want blind followers? How can you be true to me when you are not true to yourself?

‘You recognise that you are created in my image yet you will not be true to that image. How then can you begin to see me for who I really am? I am who I am. Therefore you are who you are. I ‘m not looking for religiousness. I ‘m looking for the truth that lies inside you.

Have you not learnt anything? You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. What does all that mean? It is not the truth you will read in any scripture of any religion. It is the truth that lies inside you. That is the one you must know. Then and only then will you see who you really are. Then you can begin to see who I am.’

He fell down on his knees and wept.

Oscar Mubila
Oscar Mubila
Oscar Mubila is a teacher of English and Drama resident in Lusaka, Zambia. He has written several short stories and essays which he mainly shows to friends.


  1. Ba mudala this is a very nice story, well written too. it is almost too short a short story I absolutely loved it. keep up the good work we just might follow in your wake.

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