FEB 7, 2023
Mzee Tembo furiously squeezed the life out of his baby blue 404 and it responded with a hard blitz down the coastal highway. The orchestra of Manazinha that was parlayed by Ngola Ritmos lovingly fondled his soul. His gyrations on the driver's seat amused Mapacha who appreciated his jovial mood. Crime or rather action and evading detection clearly agreed with him.
"Africa Mapacha! This is what Africa sounds like!" burst out his hearty bellow, in between the loud unrhythmic whistles.
Barely 10 minutes later, he spotted the narrow sandy turn-off, slowed down and swung into it. He then drove down the broad track before he brought the Peugeot to rest halfway through.
"See? What did I tell you? This is the one I was telling you about. If you want to build, this is where you should do it. Everything from the road all the way to the beach is up for grabs as a single plot."
They got out of the car and began to explore. Underneath the soles of their shoes, the gritty sand crunched as they set tracks. The high sun obligated Mapacha to shade his eyes with his Persols. He deeply inhaled the rich salty air whose freshness overwhelmed him. As they traipsed up and down, the hostile soft-shell striped crabs and bloated shaggy spiders scuttled in dread as they sensed the presence of a sizeable new predator. On the postcard picturesque perfect plot was a sparse woodland of large palm trees that charmed as they swayed in the prevailing draught. The windswept beachfront was wide with mounds of untrodden pearl dunes. On one end was a craggy rocky bluff that camouflaged the land, while on the other distant end was a broad tidal estuary with lush gentle banks that were partly shrouded by dense mangroves. His only likely neighbour would be across the road, and this appealed to Mapacha's sense of solitude.
"Also note, since you are a veteran who was injured on duty, you only pay half the proposed value. The government will carry the bank on the rest of the tab. That makes it a steal." Mzee Tembo explained.
It was an easy consideration and Mapacha realised that by some divine fortune, in this case, Mzee Tembo, he had indeed found himself a winner.
"So if I want to buy it, what do I do?" he asked.
"If you are sure, then I will take you to meet the right officials and it will start from there."
"OK, boss. Make it happen."
"Fine. Tomorrow, come with your papers and we shall go to the Land Registry and apply for it."
As the 404 roared back towards Josephine, Mapacha felt ease wash over him as he felt the security of having found his future home.
Like all other Islanders, the unmistakable gentle patter of the long-awaited cloudburst surprised her. She cleaned and tidied up daily, nearly compulsively, and it therapeutically felt like a long overdue cleanse on her virtue. The tragic story of a fallen princess in a valiant fight to reclaim her sullied throne and reputation played constantly in her mind.
The three-bedroom was largely empty with her chattels from St. Michel ensconced in the smaller of the two spare bedrooms. She had not bought much furniture, save for a queen-size bed, tasteful Frenchlike furniture for the sitting room, a modern Tappan gas range with an oven, and even a majestic Electrolux fridge. To entertain herself, she had obtained an NEC television set from one of the high-end stores where a curious salesman had enquired if her husband was aware of her extravagant purchase. Banou had bitten her tongue in a bitter struggle to contain the expletives that would have fouled her day and ruined her happy state. No, she was not keen on the imprisonment of a hire-purchase option. She would pay for it in full, in cash and she had sat down and counted the six hundred and ninety pounds it would take to own the television outright.
Aside from her goings-on, she found herself surprised by how seriously she had taken her sobriety. Since she met Mapacha and Mzee Tembo, she had not dared to touch even a drop. Her vice was not even sex, just a French Gitane that steadied her.
The rain subsided as the tropical dusk approached. She wore her favourite white t-shirt and blue jeans ensemble. In the washroom, she ascertained that her thick bushy afro was kempt and proper with its rich coconut-fed sheen. When she opened the door to leave, she inhaled the crisp damp air, wore a simple pair of brown leather sandals, locked the main door and sauntered down the street where she hailed a taxi that drove her towards Nsia's.
The pale red Portuguese EFS Puch 125 throbbed between Mapacha's thighs as he rode on the damp road towards Nsia's. Though unnecessary for his needs, Gwafa had convinced Mapacha to level up from a bicycle. A motorbike seemed to be the big ticket item, especially given that he was finally an out-of-town landowner. The obvious choice from Gwafa's perspective was a sparky Yamaha or even a Honda, but Mapacha, loyal to the EFS brand that he had trained on while in the army, understood the entire machine from top to bottom and with parts readily available in the local market, this was a no-brainer for him. He found Mzee Tembo's baby blue 404 parked at the edge of the hill and he kicked down the wheel rest and rocked the bike onto it. As he walked down the hill, the orange haze of lights on the terrace illuminated the others. The trumpets that backed The Concords in 'I need Your Loving' blared loudly from the bar as he scaled the stairs. He found the others in a heated animated conversation. They suddenly stopped and turned to face him.
"Ola!" he greeted them.
The convivial atmosphere as they greeted him back forced a rare smile to emerge. He sat down next to Banou and then they all turned and cast their gaze on her. She gazed back at them confused.
"What?" Nobody uttered a thing, till she finally got the message.
"Seriously guys? Why does it always have to be me to go fetch stuff? Banou, get the drinks! Banou get the water in the buckets! Banou go get the old man! Is it because I am the girl in this outfit?"
Before anyone could muster an answer, she rose up, straightened her t-shirt and sulked downstairs trailed by a puff of smoke from her cigarette. It took her less than a minute and she came back with an irritated look on her face.
"The girl will bring some more juice in a moment."
Before she had settled down, a waitress clothed in a checked blue mini-dress rushed up and plopped the long-stemmed glasses onto the table. She then collected the empty ones and headed down.
"Right." Mzee Tembo started. "I have been to all the shops in Josephine and through every contact I have. We have barely sold a quarter of the diamonds. There are just too many and we have flooded the market here. We risk ruining the price of diamonds on the island with availability if we continue. We need to find a new avenue to dispose of them."
Gwafa found himself amused and chuckled. "Imagine these problems we are facing. Having too many diamonds. Who even says that?"
"Banou, what has Umaru said?" Mapacha brusquely asked.
Still flustered, she glanced at Mapacha and then answered.
"He picked up almost thirty thousand worth that he is trying to smuggle out to his contacts in Hong Kong and Macau. However, he does not want to pick anymore. There are just too many."
"I see," Mapacha answered.
The cigarette butts piled in the ashtray over the next hour as they explored the various avenues of getting rid of the diamonds, but really, short of going to Antwerp or Beirut, both being extraordinarily risky affairs, nothing came to fruition.
"Ah well, I suppose we need to give this some more thought. I assume everybody is OK for money?" Mzee Tembo asked.
Everybody nodded. Certainly. It was a bit tight, because they had embarked on new personal projects, but there were no empty stomachs.
"OK. Banou. Tell Nsia we are ready. . ."
Banou, let out a loud sigh and furiously stood up.
"See! Always Banou! You guys, I am an equal part of this thing. I am not your mother!"
She stalked down the stairs in ire and her afro comically bobbed as she went to find Nsia. Five minutes later it bobbed back up from beneath the staircase as the waitress trailed her laden with a tray with more drinks. As she sat down, Nsia, dressed in a deep red liputa walked up, followed by two waitresses who carried large white china plates on brown trays.
"Ola! Ola!" She greeted them, a wide grin cast across her face. "How are you doing?"
She received murmured greetings.
With a deft hand that demonstrated her seasoned expertise, she laid the dishes in front of them. Her flowery voice shed a light on the delicacies.
"Today, we have a North African dish. Bazin, served in a stew made from eggs, mutton, potatoes and tomatoes, with a bit of chilli."
She was certainly proud of this effort.
"Enjoy," she cooed coyly.
The waitresses dispersed as she recounted the tale of her recipe. Gwafa was immediately impressed by the meal, having experienced it previously in Tripoli. A prudent Mzee Tembo eyed the dish with scepticism, broke a chunk of bread that he tasted before he dipped the remainder into the stew and tasted that as well. The hot wild peppery flavour erupted in his mouth and as the stew crawled slowly down his throat, it sprung tears and set off a slight chilli fever sweat.
"Jesus Christ of Nazareth!" he exclaimed.
The burning sensation did little to deter him as he voraciously devoured the meal. Mapacha and Banou cautiously followed. A few minutes later, it was a concord of sniffles as the peppers got to work.
It took almost an hour to finally finish the tear-jerker meal and they soothed their blistered tongues with juice.
"So we have no plan?" Mzee Tembo reiterated once more, in idle pursuit of conversation.
"Be patient old man. Something is bound to turn up."
Banou's optimism interred little hope in his logical senses, but at this point, with no plan of action, patience was the only avenue.
As they headed down the stairs from the terrace, Banou and Gwafa lit cigarettes while Mzee Tembo, who loathed the interior of the bar entered to foot the bill. It was everything he had imagined. Loud enough to vibrate his core, obnoxious, with a thick pungent invisible sweaty haze, crowded by loud sour drunkards that stunk, loose women that gyrated drunkenly and the stale foetor of accumulated cigarette smoke mixed with the various odours from the meals that had been cooked that day. Fighting the sudden rush of nausea, he hastily settled up at the counter, waved at Nsia and left quickly, eager to distance himself from what he considered the devil's true den. The others waited for him, and he couldn't help but revisit the agenda one more time.
"OK. We need a plan. Think of something, then let me know. OK?"
They agreed, and he and Gwafa walked up the hill towards the 404. Banou and Mapacha heard Mzee Tembo chide Gwafa.
"Finish that thing before you get inside. I can't have my car stinking of cigarettes."
Banou and Mapacha entered the bar where she found Nsia seated on her favourite table with a large tumbler that contained her favourite gin.
"Hi. The food was great!" Banou exclaimed.
"Thanks," Nsia responded.
"You really made the old man sweat tonight."
She giggled at the thought of Mzee Tembo getting 'the chilli sweats'.
A waitress appeared and asked her what she wanted to drink.
"Just a tropical juice for me, thanks."
Nsia eyed her suspiciously.
"Eh Banou, you are still off the sauce?"
Banou gave her a committed nod. "
Yup. It's great. I don't think I will ever drink alcohol again."
"We shall see. Soon enough, we shall see." Nsia countered.
Mapacha's foray into the pub led him to Abril. He knew she would be seated at her favourite spot that was almost always reserved for her, not by a sign, but by the fact that she was Mapacha's 'wife'. Anyone who dared invade her space feared the misfortune of near-fatal physical entanglement with a perceived irate psychopath. The table was only ever occupied by others when Abril left, but until then, it remained hers.
"Ola!" She charmed Mapacha with her smile, which would have dazzled anyone.
"Hey, Abril. Have you eaten?"
"Yeah. Nsia served me some seriously spicy Libyan food."
"Are you ready to go?"
She rose to reveal a low-cut flimsy flowery sega-style dress, assembled from one of the yards of fabric Mapacha had brought back from Abidjan. Abril had stolen the design from a tourist magazine that advertised holiday adventures in East Africa. It stood out not only in its beauty but in the fact that it did not blend in with the current environment. It also craftily flattered her voluptuous figure. Abril, however, could not be soured. She looked beautiful for Mapacha and how she did that was up to her. Her hand held the wrapped leftovers and she followed as Mapacha cut a path through the bar and stopped long enough to wave to Banou and Nsia.
"That one is still smitten with Mapacha?" Nsia asked in surprise. "I don't understand their relationship."
There was a hint of jealousy, not because Nsia pined for Mapacha but because Abril had someone and she didn't.
"Nsia, every pot has a lid," Banou commented, as she remembered an idiom she had read somewhere and affirmed the truism of the fact.
She too wished she had someone, given that now she was on a quasi-celibate path.
Abril forced her hand into Mapacha's, and he led her up the hill to the EFS. The nippy evening breeze chilled her and her long curly hair flittered in the wind. He kickstarted the motorbike, turned it and Abril hiked her dress before she clambered on and clung tightly to him.
As cautiously as he could, Mapacha rode the EFS up to the main road then less than a kilometre down, left the main road and he steered it up the damp unpaved road before he got it to the ridge that overlooked his shack. Neve heard the two-stroke thrump and excitedly barked, as she bound up to meet the couple. With their fingers intertwined, they strolled down the pathway to the shack. Abril entered the dark shack while Mapacha picked a damp rug from the clothesline and wiped his weather-beaten chair that was set outside. He wiped away the dampness, and then stretched out on it, pulled out a joint and lit it. Neve, forced her way in between his legs, and fervently tried to lick his face, and he scruffed her huge fluffy ears to calm her down. Overhead, the pale crescent of a moon bodyguarded by clusters of stars slowly but boldly strode across the sky. In the background, he could hear Abril hum an island tune he had heard, as she undressed.
She opened the door and revealed her voluptuous frame veiled by a thin khanga. Neve eyed her for a moment before she returned to her favourite position between Mapacha's legs. Abril unwrapped the leftovers, whistled and waved the juiciest bone in the lot to draw her away from Mapacha. It worked, and Neve grabbed the bone and crawled beneath the shack. Abril washed her hands, wiped them on the edge of the khanga before she went out, forced Mapacha's legs wide open before she set herself on his lap and picked the fat joint from his fingers and dragged on it. He recognised the signs and knew instantly she wanted to have one of her talks.
"So things are going well with the bicycle business huh?" she asked.
"Yeah Abril," he responded in a deep throaty voice he knew she loved.
"You look like you are going places. New bike, you bought land, you are definitely going places."
She wanted to say 'we'. Was that even a thing? He hesitated, and they remembered the lesson Nsia had drummed into his head. Compliment her.
"The dress looked nice on you."
"Thank you," she said with a smile.
That was something.
As if on cue, the wind suddenly veered and the crescent along with its defenders faded from the sky, fogged by the thick easterly murk, and the heavens finally unshackled a fine misty precipitation that soothed the island heat from their bodies. As it intensified, her khanga and Mapacha's blue bell bottoms and light white t-shirt drenched and clung tightly to their bodies. She rose from his lap, dragged him up playfully and they entered the shack. Underneath it, Neve growled and gnawed her bone with great veracity.