26 MAR, 2023
Adhan. His mind had grown accustomed to it. The bed without Una was a real struggle. As rigid as he was, he appreciated her warmth, her scent, her gentle snore and how she always rose before him and prepared him to go to work. That was before. Now, they both went to work. And on this operation, he was all alone. Mzee Tembo got out of bed and cracked the windows open. The warm draft vacated the room of the stale wind, the sequel to that delightful but rich meal from the previous night.
He checked himself in the mirror. Was he in control? Or was he desperate for this adventure and many others to follow? The bulge of his belly made him recoil. He had been such a fit military man, had marched for hours, fought for years and then marched and broke in recruits. Now here he was, neck deep in crime and not even for the money. His meticulous skills that the army had appreciated had to be put to some good use, and he would not dare let alcohol, cigarettes or even a lady of the night attempt to influence them. How was Una? He passed more wind, entered the privy and shut the door behind him.
Mapacha too was up. The pain had receded dramatically, but his mind was on a rocket. He pushed the curtains wide open, stared out into the street and noted that the roads were bare of cars. First, he needed to relieve himself. After a half-hour, he was dressed, walked out of the room and went knocked on Banou's door. A full minute later, she dragged herself wearily and opened up.
"Ola Mapacha! It's time to go?"
"No. But I thought you might want to have an early breakfast."
Banou might have been filled with cobwebs from the slumber but that invitation to breakfast by Mapacha stunned her. However, as keen as she was to join him, she was not done with her sleep and she still needed to get ready.
"It's too early. I will join you in an hour."
She returned to bed and blacked out.
He really was not interested in breakfast. The dreams about Abril had left him flummoxed. There was no desire to discuss them with Banou, but he also did not want to be alone. A walk around would help, he figured. He stepped onto the pavement and crossed over the Avenue Des F.A.R., turned left and proceeded onwards, in his case a near goose-step till he found the blue waters at the Port of Casablanca.
Beyond that, he strode on like a vagrant and occasionally passed the odd blank face of a day labourer who headed uneagerly to toil somewhere, unbothered by his presence, and wrote him off as a lost or confused tourist. Then a random stranger stopped him and asked if he wanted to buy a gold watch. No. How about a guide? No. Some hashish? He sidestepped the stranger and shuffled on and found himself a lot further down the Avenue Des F.A.R.
He paced back towards the hotel, past a red and white Firestone truck parked haphazardly on the pedestrian part of the street as he tried to quash the noise in his mind. A face he should have recognised walked past him, but he was too embroiled in mental toil to see it. Luckily, the face with its two hungry eyes that probed every face it run across pressingly did not recognise him.
He was back inside the hotel and went into the restaurant and sat down. Almost twenty minutes later, Banou and Gwafa walked down.
"Bonjour mon frere1," Gwafa greeted him.
"Hi Gwafa, Banou."
"Hi, Mapacha. Did you wait too long?"
"No. I went out for a short walk, to see the city. Where is the boss?"
"The old man is sleeping in," Banou said. "He is exhausted. How do you feel today?"
"I'm much better thanks. Let's get breakfast and get the day started."
They picked and matched at the continental-style buffet with local trims and fruit morsels, sat down, and ate. Mapacha then downed his antibiotic with juice.
"OK, big guy, let's go change the dressing then we can get the show started."
They went up to his room where Gwafa treated the wound and dressed it before they returned down and found Banou in the middle of a cigarette.
"See you guys later. I've gone to find a car."
Banou and Mapacha asked the doorman for the nearest marketplace, and he gave them directions. A short stroll later, they were among the traders on Boulevard Félix Houphouet-Boigny. Despite it being a late weekend morning, business was briskly in progress and they wandered amongst the carpets and golden trinkets. They watched a delicate but veiled woman thrust and grab a shuttle on a wooden loom as she weaved a handsome masterpiece from the white, red and blue cotton threads.
Here, the moment she had long waited for had arrived and she immediately started her collection of fabrics and carpets for her business with the occasional stop to pick a graceful yard that she held separately for Una and Abril.
Almost three hours later, and with Banou finally exhausted, Mapacha told her to wait as he went to find a van to transport their goods. The traders swarmed round her, as they had identified her as a big spender. Mapacha returned in ten minutes and they loaded the wares before the van headed to the hotel. When they were downstairs, Banou went to the reception, called Gwafa's room and after a short moment, he hurried down. They got into the rented car and Mapacha with the van driver followed them to the airport.
Gwafa got them cleared to load the goods from the customs officer and with the help of a few porters and their trollies, they got the job accomplished. There was barely enough room in the cabin when they were done, but they got it all in. With the porters and the van driver covered it was a quick drive back to the hotel to find Mzee Tembo.
He opened the door on the first knock.
"Come in, come in," he welcomed them.
"How did it go? You guys took care of the shopping?"
"Yes. We are ready to go. Did you manage to find us a buyer?"
"Sort of. Makhlouf's friend smuggles things back and forth between here and Beirut. He says if we have clean stuff, he is undoubtedly interested."
"You said 'sort of'. What is the catch?"
"He wants to meet late in the night, almost nearly midnight. It felt off. I called Makhlouf back, and he said it was normal for this, and that I should not worry. Either way, the deal will happen at a cinema he owns, after the last feature."
"Sounds suspicious. What do you guys think?" Banou asked.
"Well, it does not hurt to check and try it. I mean, we are armed, so we can get ourselves out," Mapacha offered.
"Are you up to it?" Gwafa asked him.
"Yeah. We can do this. It only means we can have to delay the departure to morning cause of the car, but that is a minor issue," Mapacha said.
"Banou?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"I don't know. So far we have had a shootout, but we have made good money. So, why not?"
"That is it then. Gwafa, did you get the car?"
"Is it fast? I hope it's not that Simca absurdity that labours going over bumps."
"It will do the job."
"Banou, you have the stones, right?"
"Yes. Two bags left. 100 pieces."
"Good. So, it's afternoon, I suggest you guys rest up. We meet up for dinner around 7 PM, then stake out the location to see how busy it gets."
They all left, and Banou followed Gwafa to Mapacha's room. He undid the bandage and checked it.
"No blood big guy. You heal fast."
He dabbed it with the tincture, then wrapped it with a fresh dressing.
"Want to smoke some more?" Banou asked.
"No. We have work, and I need to be sharp."
"I'm going to rest. See you guys later," Gwafa said as he left the room.
Banou sat on the apron and stared out at the cars and the people down on the street. She tugged on a packet in her pocket and pulled it out.
"Mapacha, can I ask you something?" she asked, as she lit a cigarette.
"If I say no, you will still ask anyway, so ask."
"How much does it hurt? Getting shot?"
"It hurts. I can't pretend it doesn't. It hurts a lot."
"What happened to you in the army? How did you end up with those scars?"
He regretted his rebuff of that offer of the joint.
"I was in the army, and we were in Biafra . . ."
For the next hour, they slowly chatted about his past military life. Banou was weirdly surprised that he opened up to her and finally unlocked one of his boxes that was hidden deep in himself. If she was surprised by his revelation, he was thunderstruck that he had discussed this part of his life. Abril only knew the abridged version and the rest she had obtained from the nurses who had assisted him, and Nsia who knew plenty about everyone.
Around 5 PM, Banou left his room and lay on the bed and reflected on what Mapacha had told her. She stretched and after a few minutes, she was sound asleep.
1. Hello, brother