MAR 10, 2023
Gwafa rushed back to the taxi while Fahd talked with Hamid. He manhandled Mapacha out of the taxi and checked to make sure he was not armed.
"You guys can come, but don't forget to bring the suitcase," Gwafa told them.
Mapacha allowed himself to be led up the short flight of stairs into the petite apartment.
"Sit him there and let me get my instruments."
In the car, Mzee Tembo took all the guns they had, as well as the sjambok, went to the back, opened the suitcase, laid them on top of the money and then hauled it out. It wasn't as heavy as he had imagined. They went up the stairs, and Banou entered first. Inside, they watched as Gwafa carefully unbuttoned Mapacha's flowery shirt.
Hamid returned with a small black doctor's bag and his spectacles to find two new faces, an old man and a girl with an afro. What sort of gangsters were these? For a moment he wanted to quip, but he turned and skimmed at the lattice of scars that enveloped Mapacha's torso and gasped ever so slightly. He recognised the shrapnel wounds and a few stab wounds and decided it would be wiser to hold his tongue.
The moment Hamid gasped, so did Banou. She had never seen Mapacha with his torso uncovered. To her, this was a whole new level of disfigurement. Her vain mind slipped to Abril. How could she stand to be around such gnarled flesh? If the gun battle had not convinced her that this was a different league, his scars finally sent that message home. Fahd stared too. The misshapen but toned body set every fibre in his body into a panic. It dawned on him that he had just jeopardised his life by association.
Only Gwafa and Mzee Tembo remained composed. They had seen Mapacha's body before. Mzee Tembo had been part of his recovery, so, this was not new. Gwafa too was aware, given that they had loaded and unloaded the plane together and at some point, Mapacha had removed his shirt to fend off the heat. Mapacha himself, as quiet as he was, proudly bore them. Not because he had been wounded in the line of duty, that was insignificant. Besides, the only beneficial thing he had obtained due to his previous career was his discounted land. That aside, once the army had spat him out, his benefits and pension had been released and had barely covered his meals for a month. He was proud of his scars because they were unique. They defined him.
As Hamid inspected the wound, his pudgy wife wrapped in a light blue quilted gown and sandals trudged into the room. He sternly cautioned her in Darija, and she averted her eyes from all of them and went into the kitchen, and they heard her tinker for a minute as she put the kettle on.
"You are lucky my friend. No serious damage," Hamid explained to Mapacha.
He turned and realised the others had their eyes intensely set on him.
"Sit down. This will take a moment."
They filled the mustard orange polyester chairs and began to spectate, curious to see how this bullet would come out. Hamid wore a pair of blue latex gloves and selected the instruments he would need. He laid them on a small metal tray, went into the bedroom and returned with a bottle of Rexall Tincture of Iodine that he treated the instruments with.
His wife wordlessly walked past him, set six glasses on the small table, and poured them tea, before she hastily returned to the rear room.
"Would you like something for the pain?" Hamid asked Mapacha.
Mapacha shook his head.
Hamid wiped down the wound with a medicated ball of cotton wool gripped by the forceps before he carefully inserted them and spread the fleshy entry point out. He drove in a second set and tried to grasp the bullet. It took three tries before the jaws finally wrapped themselves around the warped metal and slowly, he extracted it.
"There you go," he said as he dropped it onto the kidney-shaped medical tray.
He looked at Mapacha, who seemed apathetic, and revealed no strain of the pain and made no noise. Hamid's concern rushed to the presumption that Mapacha was in shock.
"Hey, are you OK?"
Mapacha smiled weakly.
"Yes, doctor. Please stitch me up so that we can leave your house."
Hamid treated the wound with more iodine, and then withdrew a small leatherbound suture kit. After he treated it, he took the mosquito forceps with a suture needle clamped to it. Slowly, he pierced the skin and run the string and after a few runs, closed the wound. When he finally knotted the end, he wiped it down again before he wrapped it.
"Thank you, doctor," Mapacha said with a smile.
He removed his gloves and then went into the kitchen where they heard him wash his hands. Afterwards, he emerged, proceeded into the back and returned with a plain starched medical shirt and a small bottle of pills.
"Here, wear this, and then for the medicine, take one in the morning and one in the evening. They are antibiotics. Hopefully, they will prevent infection. If it turns green or irritates you, then you will need to see a doctor."
Mapacha took the pills, opened the bottle and removed one that he dropped on his tongue before Hamid could hand him a glass of water.
"When do I get the stitches removed?" Mapacha asked him.
"You don't. These are Dexon. The Americans brought them here. They are absorbed by the body."
That was collective relief amongst Mapacha and the gang. If he recovered well, then this story would end here. As he wore the shirt, Hamid stopped him, and held a syringe that he stuck into a small vial, drew the liquid out and then pushed it into Mapacha's arm.
"This is insurance. Some more antibiotics. Now you can dress and have a cup of tea."
Hamid picked up the pan to go empty it in the kitchen, but Gwafa stopped him.
"For your own good, leave everything here and get a plastic bag. Put everything, from the shirt to the gauze, to the syringe into the bag."
"But I can use the incinerator back at work."
"Doctor, please don't argue."
Hamid got the point. He dropped it back on the table, walked into the kitchen, returned with a bag and stashed the waste inside it. On the straight chair, Mapacha drank his tea while the others smiled with relief.
"Thanks. Now, how much?"
"Just two hundred dirhams."
"Including the shirt?"
Gwafa took out a large wallet and counted a thousand dollars.
"No, no this is too much."
"Take it. You never saw us. We were never here. Understand?"
"Of course. I won't talk."
Gwafa turned to Mapacha who finally put his empty glass of tea down. He looked faint.
"You look terrible big guy. You ready?"
"Yeah. Let's go."
He struggled to rise, stood unsteadily for a moment, and then found himself.
Mzee Tembo and Banou stood up and thanked the doctor. Hamid fought back the curious temptation. He was curious to know why Mzee Tembo, clearly elderly, was involved in crime, but, he knew better. Gwafa carried the suitcase out and loaded it back into the taxi, as Banou led Mapacha to the back. Mzee Tembo carried the plastic bag with the medical waste.
Once they were all inside, a scared Fahd asked, "Where to now?"
"Hotel Solazur," Mzee Tembo instructed him.
It was a short five-minute drive before Fahd parked outside the hotel. He felt greatly relieved that this situation had ended with his life spared. Gwafa counted five hundred dollars and folded it neatly into a bundle that he handed to Mzee Tembo who handed it to him. He stuffed it into his pocket uncounted.
"Thank you. You will never hear from me again," he exclaimed with a large smile.
When they left him and entered the hotel, he pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and then fished the money out. Five hundred dollars. He kissed it and stuffed it in his pocket. With as much patience as he could muster, he turned the Renault around and drove off, grateful for the good fortune, and hopeful that he never had to run into that crazy lot again. As he turned his Renault towards home, the glow of dawn was already on the far horizon.
Gwafa carried the suitcase as Banou led a slightly disoriented Mapacha up, while Mzee Tembo brought up the rear. The receptionist saw them, waved and watched them make their way to their rooms. Banou guided Mapacha to his room, and inside, she helped him undress, got a washcloth, damped it and wiped the blood off him. He stretched out on the bed and felt tired and unable to focus.
"Do you want me to sleep here?" Banou asked him.
"No. I am good," he responded. "Thanks."
"No thank you. You saved us today. We would all be dead if it wasn't for you. I will check up on you later."
Her words landed on deaf ears as Mapacha let out a snore. She closed the door and entered her room. The suitcase was open, and Gwafa and Mzee Tembo had broken the notes into manageable bundles that they stuffed into different diplomatic bags.
"How is he doing?" Mzee Tembo asked Banou.
"He is dead asleep. He seems OK, but you know with him, he wouldn't tell you anything."
"Right. We owe him a lot. When he wakes up, we get him ready and leave Tangier today," Mzee Tembo decided.
"Where to boss?" Gwafa asked.
"If Mapacha is up to it, Casablanca. If not, then we go home."
"But. . ." Banou pointed out before Mzee Tembo cut her off.
"I'm for Casablanca. We came here to do deals. But Mapacha gets to decide."
She knew better than to argue. When they finished with the money, Mzee Tembo took two diplomatic bags, Gwafa took two, and Banou was left with four. She placed the suitcase with the guns in the closet and then undressed. Then she picked, up a cigarette, lit it and smoked in front of the window naked as she watched the sunrise and let the breeze wash over her. After she had smothered the smokey butt, she entered the privy, showered and then emerged still naked. She towelled herself down, threw the towel onto the armchair and got into bed. In less than a minute, she was dead asleep.