The air conditioning in the office was cold and the air smelt metallic. Jessabelle moved uncomfortably in her seat as she blinked at Cedric Khumalo across the table. He was glaring at her, and her tight-fitting cerise suite was starting to feel like a corset around her rib cage. She swallowed purposefully and smiled slightly, ‘Are we just waiting for one more person?’ she asked tentatively, a French lilt to her accent.
‘Yes,’ grunted Cedric as he drew his eyes away from her and looked through the glass door behind her, to the rest of the office. He was a tall man, and when he had met Jessabelle in the reception area, she had to drop her head almost all the way back to view his face. Thank goodness they were sitting down. Although, now that she could see his face properly, she could also feel the full impact of his anger and mistrust when he glared at her. He seemed to constantly be on the verge of saying something but then changing his mind. He turned in his seat. Jessabelle pulled her jacket free from under her backside, trying to feel more comfortable.
‘I’m so sorry I’m late,’ the office door burst open and a petite woman entered. She too was well dressed, in high heels, her hair straightened into a bob. An expensive brand of handbag hung over her arm, one that Jessabelle recognised from an Italian designer; in her other arm she clutched a large folder bursting with paperwork. She smiled openly and turned to Jessabelle. ‘Hi, I’m Anathi Mavuso.’ she announced, extending her hand to Jessabelle. Standing up, Jessabelle extended her arm and accepted the firm handshake of Anathi, ‘Jessabelle English.’ she responded.
Cedric stood up and leaned across his desk to shake Anathi’s hand. He smiled, and his face changed completely, transforming into a good-looking man who wasn’t angry. ‘Anathi, finally.’ he said, before sitting back down and indicating for Anathi to sit next to Jessabelle. Awkwardly, Jessabelle moved her legs to the side as Anathi moved past her and sat down.
Once Anathi was seated, Cedric cleared his throat. ‘Mrs English—’
‘Jessabelle, please.’ she insisted.
‘Fine, Jessabelle then. Anathi is my lawyer and was with me and my family when we were robbed on our family land, of our family heirlooms – treasure if you will – in December last year, by your EX-husband.’ He emphasized the word ‘ex’ as if to question their marriage status.
Jessabelle found herself swallowing again, and blinking at the angry man. She nodded, ‘I see,’ she responded, not really knowing the right thing to say.
Cedric regarded her and then continued, ‘your EX-husband, Edward English claimed that, as the descendant of the pirates of Libertalia, he had the right to take the treasure of the Matabele because Cecil John Rhodes had promised it to his ancestors in exchange for their help in defeating the Matabele. Do you know about this claim of his?’ asked Cedric, his eyebrows raised.
Jessabelle blinked and looked sidelong at Anathi, whose initially friendly face was now dead-pan, and waited for her to answer. She shuffled in her seat.
‘I do,’ she said, and looked down at her skirt. She heard Cedric harrumph, ‘But – ‘
Jessabelle lifted her head. ‘I can’t tell you anything more. As you already know, Edward English is my ex-husband. For over fifteen years now. I haven’t seen him since we… parted,’ stated Jessabelle. She sat up straight and looked Cedric in the eye.
‘How do we know you aren’t still in touch with him, or your children?’ stated Cedric. Jessabelle’s face saddened, ‘I haven’t seen my children in fifteen years either,’ she said softly.
Cedric frowned and turned to Anathi, ‘I struggle to believe this story!’ he spat.
Anathi was watching Jessabelle carefully, ‘Jessabelle, if you don’t mind me asking, on what terms did you and Edward part?’
‘He threatened my life,’ said Jessabelle.
The cold in the room seemed to hold the words in the air, frozen.
‘I see,’ said Anathi. ‘I’m sorry to hear that. It must have been very difficult to leave your children.’
Jessabelle couldn’t find the right English words, and just nodded.
‘My wife has left her son, without a second glance’ announced Cedric.
‘I’m so sorry Cedric. I –’ said Jessabelle ‘Thanks to Edward,’ interrupted Cedric.
Jessabelle covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head. Her eyes wide as she saw the hurt move like a shadow across Cedric’s strong features.
‘Jessabelle…’ it was Anathi’s voice that broke the silence. ‘We want to find Edward and try and get the Matabele treasure back
all we have is his son William, who has been abandoned by him, and is possibly not ideally trustworthy,’ explained Anathi.
Jessabelle’s jaw dropped. ‘William, my youngest. You know… where he is?’ she asked, her eyes lighting up with hope.
‘Yes, Cedric has taken him in. He is friendly with his son Mzi. They have returned to Dayeton College, their school, to do post matric this year.’
‘Can I see him?’ asked Jessabelle, looking at Anathi.
‘Of course,’ said Anathi, ‘he is his own person, mostly. Cedric just needed to pull a few strings with the school to get him re- admitted. They weren’t impressed with his behaviour last year,’ explained Anathi, trying not to look at Jessabelle. She didn’t want to unpack William’s behaviour at this point in the conversation.
‘Oh’ responded Jessabelle, ‘Thank you Cedric, that’s extremely kind of you.’
‘He’s a good kid. Bad parenting is his problem,’ grumbled Cedric, folding his arms over his extended middle.
‘I’d like to try and connect with William. Their father has poisoned them all, telling them lies about me. But perhaps, with William I have a chance?’ asked Jessabelle hopefully.
Anathi smiled, ‘yes, I think you do’
‘And I promise you Cedric, if there is a way I can help you to catch that despicable thief, Edward, I will do my best. I am so sorry I cannot help you now, but I will do my utmost to help in any way that I can,’ she added.
Cedric’s anger had begun to dissipate as he realised that this small French woman in front of him, in her perfect suit, was in no way an accomplice of Edward English – the man who had taken his family’s treasure. In fact, Jessabelle seemed more like a victim. Unless she was a very good actress.