When Pamela Mvula woke up that morning, she was resolute. She had just sent to print the biggest story her 3 year old newspaper had ever done. This day could be her last as editor-in-chief for The Crystal. Nobody who had ever written a scandal about the President of Nangonaland went on to live a happy healthy life.
She got ready, thinking of the possible ways this could go. As she pinned her braids up, the first prints of The Crystal were being delivered. Hundreds of early Nangonas were reading it over their tea, freezing when they saw the headline: “President Makala For War, Not Hospitals”. Pamela had written the heading herself, even though the last time the President was mentioned in a newspaper headline with something other than praise and worship, their head office burnt down.
The cover story presented evidence about how funds which were pledged to refurbish the Capital’s Central Hospital were actually being diverted towards arms procurement. This was by a President who had built his campaign on how his leadership ensured peace. “Hospitals, Not Tanks!” his posters had proclaimed during his successful election.
Now that he was up for reelection, the people needed to know what kind of man they were voting for. She got into her VW Polo and jumped when it misfired, then breathed. If she was going to lead the news team into battle, she needed to damn well be a soldier about it.
The drive to work was like an omen of things to come. Crowds gathered at street corners, sometimes all hovering over one newspaper. At least sales will reach record highs, thought Pamela.
Her key reporters, Gregory Mhango and Nina Mbalame were standing outside the modest grey building of The Crystal’s headquarters, looking nervous. They didn’t wait for her to switch off her engine before approaching her car.
“Pam, it’s bad,” said Greg.
“Good morning to you too, Greg, Nina. How bad?” She made a deliberate show of picking up her briefcase at a normal pace, being an unshaken leader.
“They say people are going to demonstrate in the streets. There are also rumours of riot police deployed…”
“Is everyone in the office now?” asked Pamela.
“Yes,” said Nina.
“Good, bolt the gate.” Pamela saw the lost look in her employees’ faces, and strutted into the building. This was only the first story, there were many more hard truths that the people needed to know.
The morning was fairly normal, except that no mail was allowed in or out. Pamela conferenced with various sections, collecting evidence which would be crucial in uncovering all the lies, one by one. There was however one story she kept to herself…
They broke for tea at 10am in the office lounge. People chatted uneasily. At 10:15 someone unmuted the wall-mounted TV. The headline scrolling at the bottom read “LIVE: President Makala On the Move After The Crystal’s Accusations.” A female voice spoke over footage of the presidential convoy. “… sources say that the President’s convoy is crossing the Gumonda-Harvey junction, and it appears that they are approaching The Crystal’s headquarters…”
Gregory’s open jaw was only slightly wider than his eyes. “You’ve got to be kidding m-“
“Hush!” said Pamela, saw panic spreading in the room. “At this point they are speculating, looking for something to fill the news slump. Don’t worry…”
But then the undeniable sound of the multi-siren convoy was heard. Everyone rushed to the window. Pamela pushed her way to the front and saw the guards quite stressed.
The sirens were loud now, and had stopped right outside the gate. Pamela turned away from the window. “Greg and Nina, come with me. I need you to cover this so we get our version. Everyone else, remain here.” She led the way outside. The office guards and the President’s military escort were exchanging words through the gate.
“Mr Chivane! Let them in,” Pamela called out.
As soon as they opened, eight black 4x4s zoomed in like a millipede, unnecessarily fast for a parking lot. The forth car stopped right in front of the office entrance.
Pamela kept her head up. She glanced left as she detected a movement. It was Gregory stepping up next to her and Nina followed suit on her right. Their gesture took a weight off her shoulders. She was with allies, not frightened followers who expected her protection.
The door of the tinted car in front of them was opened by a chauffeur. His Gracious Excellency, President of Nangonaland stepped out of the car and stood less than a meter in front from them.
“Ms Mvula. May we talk?” His stony expression was intended to cut through her.
“You make it sound like an option, Your Excellency,” she replied with faux politeness.
He spread his arms. “This is your territory. I’m only a guest.”
Pamela clasped her hands together. “Some say this whole country is your territory, sir.”
He tilted his head back, looking down at her. “Madam, lead us into a meeting room now.”
There it is. The façade that anyone else has control was dropped. She nodded and led him indoors, military escort in tow. They pushed her staff aside as they stayed close to the President. She opened the boardroom, stepping aside to let His Gracious Excellency enter first, and in the same moment gave Gregory a tiny nod before going in.
His security detail did a brief check of the room. However, they did not find the microphone hidden under the table. She hoped Gregory was switching it on from the control room now.
When they were seated, he placed clasped hands on the table.
“What do you want?”
“For your silence, what’s your price?”
“With all due respect sir, I am doing my job, reporting the truth. The only reward I want is delivering justice to the people.”
She shrunk under his malignant look. He addressed his Head of Security though his eyes never left hers. “Leave the room.”
The man frowned. “Sir, if I may advise against-“
Before Pamela’s next blink the men were gone. Pamela felt a chill despite the warm temperature.
“A real conversation now,” said President Makala. “Why are you doing this, Pam?”
She sat back and crossed her arms. “Because you are accountable to a country.”
“Did your mother put you up to this? She should have struck a blow when I was just a mayor, but this? This is stupid.”
“Mum has nothing to do with it.”
Pamela took a breath. “I found Lucy.”
His dull expression irked her the most. “Lucy who.”
She turned fully towards him, aghast. “Lucy! Your albino daughter who you said was abducted by a witch doctor. Lucy who you SOLD for the price of a prosperity blessing by a false prophet!”
He almost choked. She watched as he recovered. “She- she’s alive?”
“Yes. I am doing this for her; for all the young people who you intend to betray by sending them into a pointless war. I’ve only just begun.”
He swiveled back at her. “Stubborn woman! Fool! Who do you think will replace me if they throw me out? Huh? I’m the least of the thieves, murderers, plunderers, all waiting in the sidelines to get a slice of the pie. You think you are doing the people a favour?”
Pamela bowed her head. “There will be someone. I have seen the spirit of the people in this country and it is stronger than you think.”
He grinned shark-like. “You’re so naïve. Mark my words, you think you a patriot, but you are a traitor.”
“Someone will rise to lead!”
He let out a cruel laugh and stood up to leave. She did not stand with him, instead watched him walking away. “If no one rises, then I will.”
He stopped and turned around. “Oh, I will relish seeing you crushed by your precious people. They will rip your life apart, criticize you from every angle. That is what I had to go through.”
Pamela stood. “I will tell them the truth about everything. I have nothing to hide.”
“Oh? So you will tell them how you are my illegitimate child? Rejected spawn of the greatest leader this nation has ever had?”
He actually said it out loud. One of the best kept secrets, and he spoke it out loud in a bugged room. No one even suspected it, with their different surnames, and Pamela’s lighter skin tone due to her white maternal grandmother. The resemblance was almost undetectable.
Pamela looked down, frowning. “I will tell them I am a survivor. You leaving us is not my shame. It’s yours.”
He gave a dismissive shrug. “I’ve got a country to run and a mess you created to clean up.” He left. No doubt he would begin targeting her weaknesses. As soon as the convoy left, she pulled out her cellphone.
“Gregory? We are running this story. We need the people on our side, and fast…”
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