Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Welcome to the Love Africa Book Club Festive series. From now until the end of the year we will be sharing our specially selected stories celebrating love during African festivities. These stories are about hope and joy and goodwill. Of course, they are all love stories and include happy endings.
First up, we have The Only One by Lauri Kubuitsile. I was really taken by this story because of the strong friendship between Melanie and Kedibonye. As humans, we want to know that there is someone in our corner no matter what’s going on in our lives. We all need friends like Kedi. I hope you enjoy this.
Read, comment and share.
Love, Kiru xx
Copyright © Lauri Kubuitsile, Love Africa Press, 2020 All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Melanie is at risk of succumbing to self-pity after a difficult breakup. Her friend, Kedi, refuses to let her wallow and drags her to a local Christmas party in a bid to lift her spirits. However, at the event, Melanie bumps into her ex, Daniel, and the old feelings come rushing back. Is there a chance of a happy makeup this festive season?
Melanie opened the door and nearly closed it again straight away.
“I told you I’m not going!” she said, turning back into her apartment.
“I know what you said, but I’m trying to save you from yourself.” Kedibonye, Melanie’s best friend, closed the door behind her as she walked in, holding up a bag. “Mel, you know you can be stubborn. I just want you, this one time, to give in. Have faith in me. I know what medicine you need.”
“No, you don’t.” She looked at the gift bag Kedibonye was still holding up. “What’s that?”
“I bought you a dress for the party, an early Christmas gift. I saw it, and I knew: this dress will look stunning on my girl. And it will. You can’t just prance around this flat in a stunning dress.”
“I’ve been known to that,” Melanie said.
“Not tonight.” Kedibonye pushed the bag into Melanie’s hands.
Melanie couldn’t stop herself from taking the bag and pulling out the sparkly black mini dress— a new sexy dress was a new sexy dress— but she would not go to the party, and that was that. She was in no festive mood and certainly not up to a party.
“Ke aleboga, Kedi. It’s gorgeous. I can wear it to my little sister’s wedding in January,” Melanie said, putting the dress back in the bag and setting it on the sofa next to her.
Kedibonye reached in the bag and pulled the dress out again. She handed it to Melanie. “Go put it on. We’ll be late.”
“Kedi, what didn’t you understand about the phrase: I’m not going?”
“I told you it’s at Lopang Malesu’s posh mansion in Phakalane, right? We’re talking best food, best drinks, and the hottest men in Gabs. You need to pick your heart from the floor, and get back in the game, Mel. Daniel is history. In any case, you’re a 10, and he’s barely an 8.”
“That’s mean. He’s at least a 9.” Melanie laughed. “You know we dated for nearly four years and only broke up last month. Can you not give me time to grieve at least?”
“Aren’t you the one who broke up with him? Women don’t grieve if they are the breaker-uppers. That’s like Rule 7 or something.”
Melanie laughed again. “There are no rules. Where do you get these rules and their arbitrary numbers?”
“It’s the rule book. It’s there.” She pushed the dress at Mel again. “Besides he’s a Mama’s boy. Who needs that?”
“Yes, okay I broke up with him, but it was complicated. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him. You know that. It was his mother and him supporting her.” Melanie hated to think about the terrible argument they’d had that forced her to end it.
“His mother is a racist, backward cow! How can she refuse to have you for a daughter-in-law because you’re mixed race? That’s fucked up. And then to tell Daniel, she only wanted him to marry a Mongwato? What sort of tribalistic crap is that? Humans are humans. And you are wonderful in every way. Their loss.” She kissed Melanie on the cheek, put her arm around her shoulder. “Forget about him and his mother and all of that. It’s done. You dodged a bullet. Now, go and put the dress on. I want to leave. Zero is waiting downstairs.”
“My taxi driver. You know, the one who barely charges me because he’s hoping to get in my pants.”
“Oh, yes.” Melanie laughed.
She looked down at the dress being pushed at her.
Three days until Christmas, and Melanie had to admit that it might be nice to meet someone for a short fling. To distract herself and get through the holidays. And that dress was magnificent.
Maybe it was good to have a bossy boots friend like Kedi to get her thinking the right way. And like she said the food and booze would be top-of-the-line. It would be a sin to miss that.
Melanie grabbed the dress.
“Fine, I’ll go.” She jumped to her feet. “I’ll be ten minutes!”
As she headed to her bedroom, she heard Kedi say: “And put your hair up. You’ve got a sexy neck.”
Melanie often forgot that there were wealthy people in Botswana. Her parents were both teachers, and she was a lecturer in the English department at the University of Botswana. They all did alright money-wise, but looking at the house in front of her, she realised they were on a different plane from people like Lopang Malesu. This was like a house from Bold and the Beautiful or something, a proper mansion. It had a circular drive and pillars at the front going up two floors. A balcony to view your minions from. It was insane.
She and Kedi hopped out of the taxi. Kedi turned back to the driver, “And don’t go to sleep, Zero. You need to come and fetch us later.”
“I’ll wait by the phone, my queen.”
He drove off while Melanie tried to decide if those last words were spoken with affection or sarcasm. He must be getting tired of Kedi’s nonsense by now. She guessed they’d find out when it was time to go home.
Kedi grabbed Melanie’s hand and pulled her toward the open door. “Eish, man! This place is too much. Let’s go!”
The house was as posh inside as it was outside. The party was primarily in the massive entrance hall with marble floors and two rooms leading off it. One, Melanie could hear, had a band playing.
The other side had tables for talking and a full bar. They got drinks—actual real champagne—and headed to the room the music was coming from, again another massive space. They sat at one of the scattered tables around the dance floor, watching the people dancing to one of the most popular bands in Botswana, Sereetsi and The Natives.
Melanie shouted in Kedibonye’s ear. “They must have spent a lot for this band.”
“I’m glad they did. I love them! We’re going to dance the first fast song.”
“Definitely,” Melanie said.
When she turned back to look at the dancers, that’s when she saw him. “Oh shit.”
Kedibonye followed Melanie’s sightline and saw Daniel walking to the dance floor. He was holding the hand of a woman.
“Oh, f**k. What are the chances that he’d be here?” she said. “Why doesn’t he just stay up in his village and pound sorghum with his future Mongwato bride?
That’s what Melanie thought too—why was he here? But then Botswana is tiny, and Gaborone microscopic and everyone knew everyone. She should have anticipated it. And, of course, he had to bring a date, and she’s just sitting there with her best friend announcing that she is Ms Singleton. Why did she come? She knew she shouldn’t have some!
“Let’s go,” Melanie said. She thought she might be sick. She needed to get out of here.
“Mel, that is the absolute worst play here. We must stay now. He saw you. He needs to know that you are over him. Just be casual. Rule 15: when accidentally running into an ex, always be casual and smile.”
“There is no Rule 15,” Melanie said, trying not to look at the dance floor. Kedibonye shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “believe what you like”.
“He must be really regretting everything now,” she said. “You look seriously hot in that dress. Every guy here is looking at you. He’s a fool letting you go.”
Melanie glanced at Daniel just as he looked her way. Their eyes met for a moment, and she quickly turned away. She knew the woman he was with, Tebby Sebina. She worked at the bank with him. Tebby Sebina, a Mongwato from Serowe. Daniel’s mother would be so happy. She got exactly what she wanted. Melanie was gone, and Tebby was in.
Anger spiked in her. No! Melanie was not going to let Daniel and his new woman ruin her night. She came to have fun, and she was going to have it. She downed the last of her champagne and stood.
“Let me go and get us refills,” she said.
“Okay, but Mel, promise you will not go and talk to him,” Kedibonye said. “Ignore him. He is history. History you already forgot. You barely even know his name.”
“I promise. That is the exact last thing on my list of things I need to do.”
Melanie passed by the dance floor and made sure she was looking in the opposite direction. At the bar, she waited for the bartender to make their shooters and sipped at her refilled champagne, her back to the dance floor.
“Hey, sexy lady.”
Melanie turned and was surprised to see Mothusi, a guy she knew from secondary school, thankfully not Daniel. She hugged him.
“How you doing, Thusi? I haven’t seen you in ages,” Melanie said. She hadn’t drunk alcohol for a month, and the champagne was going to her head, and she was feeling tipsy and friendly.
“I’m good,” he said. He looked her up and down. “But you look fabulous, Mel.”
Melanie smiled. “Thanks.”
She and Mothusi had a thing in school. She heard he was working at the stock exchange now. He’d always been brilliant, top of the class. He also looked rather good.
“Are you here with someone?’ Melanie asked.
“Just friends. You think I can get a dance later? Or are you still with that guy? What was his name again?”
“Daniel? No. We broke up.”
“AO! Really? Everyone thought you guys were serious. You like dated forever. Gothata told me you were getting married.”
“Yeah…well…things happen. But it’s fine. Things end.” Melanie smiled at him.
The bartender set down the tray with her shooters. She balanced the small tray on top of the two champagne glasses. “Come over to the table later, I’m with Kedi. I know she’d like to see you. And I’ll definitely say yes if you ask me to dance.”
“Then it’s a deal. See you later then.”
Melanie walked back to the table, carefully keeping everything in balance. Kedibonye looked at the shooters and smiled.
“So, someone has decided they are going to have a good time tonight after all, hey?”
“Yes. F**k him. I need to get used to seeing him out, out with other women. It’s no big deal. It’s nearly Christmas. It’s time to celebrate!”
Melanie picked up one of the shooters and handed one to Kedi. They clinked the shot glasses before drinking.
“To a good time!” Melanie said.
“A good time!”
The song changed to a fast one, and Kedi held out her hand to Mel. “Let’s go. This is my jam!”
They danced and as they headed back to their table, a very handsome South African man followed them. He took Kedibonye’s hand.
“Don’t sit,” he said. “I want to dance with you please.”
Kedibonye smiled at him. “How could I say no to a beautiful face like that?”
They headed back to the dance floor as Melanie sat down to cool off. She was watching them and didn’t notice someone was at the table next to theirs until it was too late to sort her mind.
“Hi, Mel,” Daniel said.
Was it him? Close-up after all these months. His smell, his lips, his sad eyes. Was that what had her head spinning? Or was it the way he said her name, so familiar and known? Was it that— despite what she’d told herself on a near hourly basis— she was not over him after all? Not even a little bit?
Whatever it was, she hesitated before answering and just looked at him, trying to get her breath back. Trying to calm her mind. Trying to stop herself from throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him. Trying to remember that he was no longer hers. That he never would be.
“Daniel,” she managed after a long moment.
“You look stunning.” He looked at her but didn’t smile. “I miss you.”
Melanie looked towards the dance floor and saw Tebby dancing with a girlfriend.
“I always thought you and Tebby would make a good couple, actually,” Melanie said. “Nice to see it happened.”
“We’re not here together.”
“Maybe you should change that. You’re a free man.”
Melanie spoke with a cockiness she did not feel. She wondered if he could hear that in her voice. She hoped not. Without the cockiness, there was just her, and she was struggling to keep herself together at that moment.
“I never wanted to be a free man. I love you. I always will.” His eyes were so sad.
Melanie tied to focus on her breath, to breath in and out, to stay calm. They’d been apart for nearly two months, and she’d made progress, hard-earned progress. Now here he was wiping that all away.
The music changed to a slow song. Kedibonye was heading back to the table, and when she moved slightly, there was Mothusi. He didn’t see Daniel, who was sitting at the table next to theirs, slightly behind Melanie. He walked up to her, and she turned to him, smiling.
“Can I have this dance, Mel?” he said.
“I told you I’d never say no to you, Thusi.” Mothusi smiled, and Melanie felt terrible since the words were more for Daniel than him.
Mothusi took her hand and led her to the dance floor. He was tall and strong and pulled her into his arms, holding her close.
The entire time, Melanie could feel Daniel’s eyes on her. She finally looked back at him, and she saw him walking out the front door of the house. Mothusi saw her watching Daniel leave.
“Are you okay, Mel? Wasn’t that… like the guy? The one you broke up with?” Mothusi asked.
“Yes. But please, let’s not talk about it. I’m fine. Just hold me. I want to have some fun tonight.”
“Fine with me,” he said.
They danced that dance and the next three. Then Mothusi asked, “Do you want to go somewhere?”
Melanie said yes.
They waited until Kedibonye got collected by Zero, and then went to Mothusi’s house.
It was Christmas Day, and Melanie was at her parents’ house in Oodi. Her older sister Claire was there with her husband, Ray, and their little girl Ludo. Ludo loved her Aunt Melanie more than anything, and, from the time she’d arrived, they’d been together.
“Aunty Melanie, you look sad?” Ludo said, holding Melanie’s face with her tiny four-year-old hands and putting her face close like she was looking for the source of her aunt’s sadness somewhere there.
Was she sad? She’d gotten what she’d wanted— a bit of holiday fun with Mothusi. They spent that party night together and the next two days as well. She only left his house that morning so that she could come for Christmas lunch. His parents were away on a cruise, so he had no obligations and wasn’t happy she did. They made vague plans about Boxing Day.
Mothusi was great, but they were never going to have much of a future together. He was fun in bed, but they were different people. She’d be lying, though, if she said that that was all. She knew seeing Daniel had messed her up. She was angry that it had and confused as well.
What did a person do with love that they knew was not good for them? She seemed to be making no headway putting it behind her. Whenever she thought she’d succeeded, it came running up and catching her.
How could she love Daniel when he supported his mother’s idea that somehow she was not as good as other women because her mother was white and her father was black? She was as good as anyone. She would not let him or anyone else tell her otherwise. She could not be with a man who thought of her in that way.
Ludo slipped off her lap and went to check the food in the kitchen. The dogs were barking at the gate. Ray went out to check if someone was there. He came back and nodded at her.
“Mel, someone at the gate wants to talk to you?”
“Who is it?”
Ray shrugged his shoulders in a way that she could see was insincere.
Melanie thought it might be Mothusi trying to lure her away. She headed out to chastise him for having no discipline. When she got to the gate, she was surprised to see it was not Mothusi, it was Daniel.
“Don’t speak,” he said. “Let me talk.” He looked terrible.
Melanie wondered why he was here since his mother made a big deal about Christmas and she wouldn’t like him missing it. Still, despite her confusion, she kept quiet as he wanted.
“I love you. I never said I needed someone else, or that I needed to marry someone my mother wanted. I don’t care what my mother wants. She doesn’t know you. When she does her ridiculous ideas will fall away. They must. They will because everyone who meets you loves you. I fell in love that very first day I saw you. You were at the library. I looked up, and my heart was yours. It was yours, and it can never be anyone else’s. Ever. Either I’m with you, or I’m alone.”
She couldn’t control the emotion rising in her, the tears streaming down her face.
Melanie watched him kneel in the sand at the gate of her mother’s house. Like a star in a movie, he kneeled before her. He had a tiny purple velvet box. Inside was a ring, all she could see was a solitaire diamond through her teary eyes.
“I’m not a stupid man,” Daniel continued. “I will not lose the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me. It’s you, Mel. You are my everything. I don’t want a life that you are not in. It’s not a life worth living. Will you marry me, Mel? Please say yes.”
Melanie reached down and took his hands. She pulled him to his feet. “Can I speak now?”
Daniel laughed nervously. “I really wish you would.”
“That’s quite a Christmas gift,” she said, looking at the ring.
“But …what are you saying? Please, say you’ll take me back… that you’ll be my wife.”
She smiled at him. “Yes! Yes, Daniel, I will marry you.”
She threw her arms around the man she’d always known she was destined to be with, the man she nearly lost, and she promised she would never make such a mistake again.
Lauri Kubuitsile is a two time winner of The Golden Baobab Prize for children’s writing, the winner of the Botswana Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture’s Botswerere Prize for Creative Writing, and a finalist for the 2011 Caine Prize, among others. She has more than thirty books published both here and overseas with publishers such as Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press and Penguin. Her books are prescribed reading in schools in Botswana and South Africa.
Her historical novel, The Scattering (Penguin SA, May 2016) won Best International Fiction Book 2017 at the Sharjah International Book Fair in the United Arab Emirates and was recommended by the prestigious Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction in the United Kingdom in the same year. The North American rights have been bought and the book is now published in the USA and Canada by Waveland Press (USA). Her second historical novel, But Deliver Us from Evil (Penguin SA) was published in 2019.
Her latest romantic suspense novel, Revelations, published by Love Africa Press is out now.