Vanessa arrived at an empty driveway. Thabo said his mother was hosting a gala dinner but there were no other cars in sight.
Thabo walked out with a glass of champagne. He seemed nervous, apologising and emphasising that he didn’t plan for things to go this way.
Vanessa assumed that he was apologising for giving her the wrong time and she arrived earlier than the other guests.
The maids stood by the door waiting to greet her.
“Leroy. Leroy. Is she here?”, a voice yelled.
“Yes mother..”, Thabo responded and shook his head in embarrassment.
Vanessa thought she had imagined it, but she was sure the woman calling out for Thabo was white.
Thabo rushed to the staircase to help his mother.
“Hi, I’m Evelyn.”, she said as she approached Vanessa. “My friends call me Eve.”
Evelyn gave Vanessa a hug and hurried towards the dinner table.
“I didn’t expect your mother to be…”
“I don’t think that’s a compliment either.”, he laughed.
Evelyn looked like a woman in her late 50s. She wasn’t stuck up but was definitely full of herself. She had an air of arrogance. Vanessa could tell by the way she spoke to her staff. They respected and feared her in the same breath, Vanessa saw it in their nervous smiles between every ‘Yes Madam.’
Vanessa and Thabo trailed behind her as she led the way. Portraits and sculptures lined up the hallway.
Thabo pulled out a chair for Vanessa and made sure she was comfortable. It was a long dining table. The maids were still removing some of the place settings.
“Did I arrive earlier than I was supposed to?”, Vanessa asked.
Thabo looked at her and then to Evelyn waiting for her to explain.
“No dear., you’re right on time. When Thabo told me he was bringing a lady friend, I uninvited all the other guests.”
Vanessa looked at Thabo confused. She hoped that he didn’t give his mother the wrong impression.
The dinner started slow with Evelyn doing most of the talking.
She followed all the “girl-meets-boy’s-mom” cliches. Embarrassing stories about Thabo’s childhood, a photo album with baby pictures and a not-so-humble brag on his achievements.
Evelyn’s tone softened when she told the story of how Thabo entered her life. Thabo’s parents were hired by Evelyn’s late husband. Thabo’s mother was the family cook and his father was the gardener. They worked at the estate for over a decade.
Evelyn’s husband and Thabo’s parents died in a car hijacking three months after Thabo was born. They were on their way to buy groceries when a group of armed men shot them and stole the car. Luckily Thabo was at home with Evelyn when it happened.
None of Thabo’s biological family came to claim him, so Evelyn decided to adopt him.
Evelyn looked at him with such pride. Thabo was all she had left and it showed in the way she fussed over him. She sent him to the best schools and gave him anything his heart desired just so that he could be someone his parents would be proud of.
Evelyn never remarried or looked for love again, Thabo became her sole purpose for living.
After they finished their meal, Evelyn took the opportunity to get some time alone with Vanessa.
“Thabo, didn’t you say you had a call from China you had to attend to?”
“Yes mom, but it can wait.”
“No. I insist. You take the call and I’ll show Vanessa around. You never gave her a tour of the mansion. Vanessa my dear, come with me. We’ll start with the champagne room.”
Thabo tried persuading her but Evelyn wasn’t budging. Vanessa could tell that he was worried Evelyn might say the wrong thing or let something slip.
“Champagne sounds lovely. Shall we Evelyn?” Vanessa stood up, ready for Evelyn to lead the way.
As they walked, Evelyn tried her best to intimidate Vanessa. She emphasised how much she cared about Thabo.
This was the first time he ever brought a woman home and Vanessa understood the desire to protect Thabo but she felt this was an over-kill.
Even though Vanessa explained that she was Thabo’s boss, Evelyn made remarks that implied she thought Vanessa was after Thabo’s money.
Evelyn refused to accept that an event planner could make enough to sustain herself. Vanessa could tell that Evelyn was old school. She still believed that a man would always make more money than a woman and that women needed men to take care of them.
Evelyn’s boastful nature made it easy for Vanessa to fish for information on Thabo. He sounded simple and straightforward, like someone who wanted to do good in the world. The person his mother described sounded nothing like the man who asked Vanessa to give him a job laundering money.
Vanessa felt bad for Evelyn, it seemed she didn’t really know her son very well. From her conversations with Thabo, Vanessa could tell he was really curious about the criminal world.
With the massive wealth Evelyn had, finding Thabo’s family couldn’t have been that difficult. Vanessa asked Evelyn if she tried finding Thabo’s family, she said she did her best but her response seemed dismissive. Vanessa saw a little guilt in her eyes. It seemed that she used Thabo as a coping mechanism after the death of her husband.
The more Vanessa inquired, the more she could tell Evelyn knew very little about Thabo’s biological family. In her eyes, they were probably just the help and not the tight-knit family she made them out to be.
Evelyn lived with Thabo’s parents for decades but never cared to know where they were from, or at least visited their home once. They were just the help and their relationship reflected that.
Thabo walked in on them as they were touring the grounds. There was a huge storm coming and all flights were grounded. He invited Vanessa to stay for dinner since her flight was cancelled.
Vanessa agreed to dinner and quickly stated she would check herself into a hotel before Thabo or Evelyn could offer for her to spend the night.
Thabo offered to let Vanessa use his laptop to make a booking. Evelyn excused herself and left them alone. Thabo gave Vanessa his password without a second thought. He seemed to be an open book, honest to a fault, a trait that left Vanessa bewildered.
“I need to understand something. Why would someone who lost his parents in such a horrific manner want to manage the money of people who rob and steal from others?”
“Would you believe me if I said I’m just trying to understand?”, Thabo answered.
“To understand?”, Vanessa was confused.
“Yes, to understand how criminals think. I’m trying to understand why someone would do something like that? Working with you should help with that.”Being referred to as a criminal left a bad taste in her mouth. The title came with the job but this was the first time she felt judged, like what she was doing had no justification. Vanessa had been working with criminals for years and never once understood why they did what they did.
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Jade Novelist ©️ 2021