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The Leopardess
Rose Rwakasisi

"Ted, Ted dear," Anna called from the children's bedroom.

"Yes, madam," Ted responded. As usual, he was not sure of what to expect from his sister-in-law. Sometimes she was welcoming and at other times hostile to him. Anna suddenly appeared in the sitting room, vigorously wiping her delicate hands with a hand towel.

"Ted, you are a man now, even if not a better man than your brother George," Anna started with a funny smile.

"Eh, well," Ted responded, cautiously.

"What do you think about Jane—speaking as a man, if course? Is she really beautiful?" Anna inquired seriously.

"Well…" Ted said again, with a tentative smile. "Well-uh-uh-mmm, as it is often said, 'Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder'."

"Surely what does your brother see in her?" Anna asked. "Though she looks younger than her age, everybody knows the woman is beyond four decades! If he had fallen for a young girl, I would have been ready to face the competition. I would have understood; but this old woman, men can be so blind!"

"Madam, have you forgotten the old saying that what attracts a man to an ugly woman is always hidden from the beautiful one, like you," Ted said, his eyes critically studying her. Anna was embarrassed by the message in his eyes. She decided to go to her bedroom and later came back with a ruffled photograph of Jane in a swimsuit.

"Look at her photograph, perhaps you can judge better when looking at her," Anna said as she put Jane's ruffled photograph on the table and continued to iron it with the back of her left hand. "Look at her! See the wide chimneys called a nose, those wide flat lips and the short forehead! And tell me, where does the beauty reside?"

There was a long silence as they both studied the photograph, one critically and the other with amusement. Ted almost blurted out something but he stopped himself in time. When he stole a glance at Anna's face, he saw a huge tear about to drop. He remembered the many parcels and letters he had carried from George to Jane's executive flat and he was filled with remorse. But he was also very pleased to see Jane shedding tears. He could clearly remember how he used to cry of hunger when he was in primary seven. If his classes went beyond six, he would run to her flat only to find the house-girl cleaning the supper dishes. There would be no supper left for him. That was the trying time when George had left him to keep an eye on his young wife while he was doing kyeyo in Japan. Whoever knew that one day, I, Ted, would be a respectable man and Anna would get her punishment, he thought.

Suddenly, Ted looked up. Anna blinked her eyes. She looked scared, and very unhappy. She looked desperately at Ted for a solution. "I fear old George thinks heaven of her," Anna confided in Ted.

"But how can he?" Ted said with exaggerated concern in his voice. "Perhaps he is deceiving you to make you jealous. How about that"

She smiled as she licked some tears from her upper lip. "I hope so," she said. "I really hope so."

"Don't you trust George anymore?" Ted asked.

"Sometimes I do, but sometimes he does things that make me feel foolish. For example, there is tomorrow's wedding at Namirembe Cathedral. He is the best man and also responsible for the invitations. Only wedded couples were invited, I was told."

"Fortunately, I am not married. And between you, sis and me, I am planning to remain a bachelor for the next one hundred years," Ted interrupted her.

"But you must come. George is the best man and he asked me to go with you. But remember to leave when the party is about to end. I must return with George. Though only wedded couples are invited, I will not be surprised to see that leopardess, Jane, march in. She never misses big parties! That woman!" Anna said, as she struck the table with her clenched delicate fist. When she looked around, the table was decorated with rivulets of soda from Ted's glass.

***

The church service was superb. The Archbishop himself officiated at the ceremony. All the big names in town were present. Ted almost did not mind the ordeal of standing beside the woman he abhorred at the cocktail. If she was the price he had to pay to rub shoulders with the cream of society, perhaps it was worthwhile, he thought.

They were all merry, laughing heartily till the 'leopardess' walked in. Her face lacked classic beauty, but her enchanting smile was worth millions of shillings. She had a terrific figure and wherever she passed, men gaped and women cursed. For this occasion, she was dressed in a short-sleeved, tailored cream-coloured dress. No necklace, no decorations; just a simple dress was all she needed to steal the show. Like a house snake, she glided silently to the side of her late brother's widow, who was standing near the entrance unaccompanied. "Enjoying yourself, sister?" Jane asked.

"Oh, yes thank you."

With a mischievous smile all over her face, Jane said to her, "I know I am not wanted here by everybody present, but, since I am here, I will try to make the best of the occasion."

"But I want you here. As a matter of fact, thanks for coming. I was feeling terribly out of place," Mary said warmly.

"No, not even you. I embarrass you among your moral friends."

"Stop that, Jane. You know I lost all my friends when I lost him. It's only you I can count on now," Mary said sincerely.

"Now, listen to me, old pussycat," Jane said to her, "I came here uninvited." When she got no response, she asked, "Are you listening to me?"

Like one awakened from a long dream, Mary jerked back. Then she confessed to Jane, "No. I was listening to the mother of the bride. I was imagining what it will be like when my time for speeches comes. It is mainly during ceremonies like this that I miss your brother most." She looked up as tears gathered in her eyes.

"Stop that and remember always 'to cross the river when you reach it', as he used to say to us," Jane admonished her.

"Yes, yes," Mary agreed. A teardrop escaped. She wiped it with the back of her hand.

"Now listen to me, sis, and stop being a sissy," Jane went on. "I came uninvited, but I came because a woman rang me and provoked me. I have come to show her and hers how bitchy I can be when someone dares to cross me."

"Jane, don't use such language," Mary begged. "Somebody might hear you. Don't give people reason to say more bad things about you. You know how much it hurts me when I hear so much rubbish fabricated about you." Jane gave her a sweet smile and walked away to mix with the crowd. Mary mused about how sweet Jane could be to her and so spiteful to others.

Jane was like a magnet. All eyes turned to her. From somewhere, a short, lean, tough-looking little man accosted her with a glass of wine. She brushed the glass away with her hand as if by accident and it fell, splashing wine onto the nearby guests. As if to save the man from any further embarrassment, Jane took his half-full tumbler of beer and gulped it. Then she walked on. Very soon she was the centre of attraction. Even the eyes of the bridegroom were riveted on her. The wedding ceremony had turned sour.

Then she beckoned to the manager of the Fathers' Union Bank with her left middle finger. The fat bank manager with an extended stomach zig-zagged his way through the crowds to her side in record time.

"Take me out of this place. Take me out before I cause a scene," Jane commanded him. The two disappeared. All the women sighed with relief to see her back. The wife of the bank manager disappeared to the ladies' room to adjust her make-up. The lucky ladies shared her grief silently. All the men felt cheated and lost their mood for the party.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the bride and bridegroom are going to cut the cake. You are all requested to stand up and clap for them," the Master of Ceremonies announced.

Everybody stood up, clapped and laughed in relief. Another announcement soon followed, "The Best Man, Dr. George, is wanted outside in connection with a patient he operated on yesterday. He is requested to go outside for a few minutes of consultation." George went out but whom did he find waiting for him near his car!

"George, don't panic. I am the patient. I need a prescription," Jane said, looking very serious.

"You bitch," George hissed under his breath. "But Jane, I am the Best Man, how could you interrupt the party like this!"

"How could I have known you were busy? You did not invite me."

"But Jane..." he pleaded.

"Because I am not wedded, so I have to be locked out of society?"

"No, but be fair, at least this once."

"Make your choice today! What time do you pick me up?" she asked him as she eyed him like a leopard about to spring upon its prey.

"But, Jane, stop being unfair. You very well know that I am a married man. I have duties to perform in that respect. One of them is driving my wife home after the After Party," George said firmly.

"Tonight of all nights, she will go home alone like I always do," Jane retorted. Then she added, "At midnight, I will be waiting for you near the Post Office." Then she marched away, swinging her behind with exaggeration.

"Okay, see you then," George addressed her back. He walked away feeling as if a bucket of ice-cold water had been poured over him.

As soon as she reached her car, Jane rang another guest at the same wedding party. This one had no qualms about leaving his wife stranded. "Meet you at eleven p.m.," he agreed. They spent the rest of the weekend at the Collins Hotel.

Before the party ended, George explained to his wife that he had a patient in serious condition to attend to at the hospital. Feeling victorious, she kissed him goodnight and walked to a special-hire taxi which dropped her at their posh Kololo residence.

When George looked in the parking lot at midnight, Jane's car was not there. He instead found a note on the side mirror of his car telling him that she had changed her mind about meeting him.

"That bitch!" he cursed. He put the key into the lock and opened the door. He then lingered out for a while wondering where to go.

When he woke up twelve hours later, he was in a hospital bed. He was told that the force of the explosion had thrown him a safe distance away from his car. Who had planted the bomb under his car, the police wondered. George was scared when he was told how he had narrowly escaped death. He dared not speak his thoughts out loud.

She sent a bouquet of flowers and a card to him at the hospital. The card read, "The leopard skin you wanted is too expensive for you. Somebody else has bid higher. I believe the god she prays to answers her prayers. Lucky her. Bye and wishing you a quick recovery."

Rose Rwakasisi has taught in many secondary schools in Uganda. Trained as a textbook writer she now writes stories for children and does the Children's Page in New Era magazine.