Nawa's daughter, Kiza, sat in her lap as a puppy made of yellow flower petals roamed around them.
"I added river salt to strengthen the spirit weaving between the petals," Kiza said. "Mrs Mvula says to only use blood leaves when weaving, but she's wrong."
Kiza explained the craft - the magic - behind the puppy with fast, fevered glee. She was giddy.
"What do you think?" she asked. "What should I change? There's three days before the craft showcase at school."
The puppy had no eyes or mouth. Its petal paws made no sound against the hardwood floor of Nawa’s home office.
"Mom, what do you think?"
"Um…" Nawa could smell it; the sweet decay of wilting flowers. "I think you should put the puppy away."
The words extinguished Kiza's joy in an instant, replacing it with remembrance and regret. NO CRAFT IN MOM'S OFFICE. It was the unwritten rule of the Cheelo household, and Kiza had forgotten it. She interlocked her fingers and her creation lost all shape and movement; the pretty - now lifeless - petals fell to the floor.
"Sorry, mom," Kiza said.
Nawa smiled. "It's okay, sweetheart… I think your father can help you with your showcase."
Kiza's eyes lowered. "Yeah, I already asked him, and he told me to ask you. He said you know a lot about the craft even though you can't use it."
Kiza didn't mean--or know--the hurt in her words. In a better world that would have been enough comfort from the blow.
"Your father's sweet," Nawa said. "But I can't help."
Her daughter, eight years heavy, shifted in her lap and got off.
"Okay," Kiza said.
She gathered up the flower petals. "I’m really sorry, mom."
"Sweetheart, don't worry. It's okay. Really."
Kiza left the office; her head and shoulders displaying her sadness.
She turned to the laptop on her desk with her head in her hands. A consolidated statement of financial position sat within the screen, complex and unbalanced. The long-term liabilities were too high. An hour and three cups of coffee hadn't revealed how to lower the liability without being dishonest. The client didn’t care about honesty; their bank did.
Nawa was about to take a break to regroup when Kiza burst into her office and caught her off guard with that…
"Shit," Nawa said to the empty room.
She minimised the spreadsheet and logged onto Twitter. After three minutes of unfocused scrolling, she closed the MacBook.
She got up, walked to the office door, opened it, and called out to Kiza. Her daughter took longer than usual to come up the stairs. When she arrived, she kept a polite distance from her mother.
"I think you'll do great at the showcase," Nawa said. "The puppy had fantastic spirit weaving: smooth interlacing, solid bonding, and really great composition."
"Thanks, mom," she said with a smile. The smile wasn't convincing. Neither am I, Nawa thought.
"Come in, sweetheart."
They went into the office. Nawa sat. Kiza tried to maintain distance, but Nawa patted her lap and the girl climbed on. Kiza has loved sitting in her parents’ laps since she first learned how to sit.
"Kiza, do you know why I’m an accountant?" Nawa asked.
"Uh… you like money…?"
Nawa chuckled. "Yes, but it's deeper than like."
She reached into her bag beside the laptop, removed a crisp 100 kwacha note, and handed it to Kiza.
"Yours," Nawa said.
"… Thanks… Thank you very much."
"You’re welcome," Nawa said. "What are you going to spend it on?"
She watched as Kiza's thoughts processed, first realising what she wanted, and then realising what she'd say she wanted.
"A pizza," she said. "A large pizza for us to share."
My little light, Nawa thought.
"Good choice," she said. "The ability to turn a 100 kwacha note into food is why I'm an accountant."
Kiza looked confused, curious.
"I was heartbroken when my parents and I realized I didn't carry the craft," she said. "Being 'normal' hurt… a lot."
"I'm sorry, mom."
The craft was like a beautiful voice: if you had it, you could learn to better it; if you didn't have it, you couldn't learn it.
"It's okay," Nawa said. "As I grew up, I searched for another kind of magic - one that could be mine. After years and years of failure, I found it in the piece of paper in your hand."
Kiza examined the note. "How?" she asked.
"Money is beautiful because it can’t work by itself," Nawa said. "Money only works when people believe in it, and pretty much everyone - including you - believes in it. And that makes it stronger than the craft."
Kiza raised both brows.
"Mom… come on," she said.
Nawa smiled. "There would be no craft class - no showcase - without the money we pay. With enough money you can buy education, pizza; even people."
The last two words scared Kiza.
Nawa leaned in close to her. "Money is the greatest, most terrible magic in this world. You don't need my help with the craft. I know enough to know you're great at it. But if you want, I can teach you my craft and you will know all the magic in this world."
She leaned back. "How does that sound?"
Kiza's face lit up like fireworks. "… Awesome. That sounds awesome!"
Kiza was giddy again.
"Good," Nawa said. "We’ll talk later. For now, go buy that pizza with your dad."
"Wait, but mom--"
Nawa kissed Kiza’s forehead before lifting the girl out of her lap.
"Chicken and mushroom, please," Nawa said.
"Hurry up and hurry back, sweetheart."
Kiza whined sweetly and called out to her father as she left the office. Nawa took a breath and collected her thoughts. She turned to her laptop and opened it. It was time to work some magic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bwalya is a born and raised Zambian of the Bemba tribe. He is an accountant by profession and a writer by heart. His favorite pastimes are watching MMA with his wife and making art with her. You can find his musings and attempts at humor @Bwalya_II.