FEB 8, 2023
The subsequent week breezed through. Mapacha's errands led him to finally understand the intricacies of the bureaucratic world when he pursued his property deed. Banou's week was a mix of laziness before the NEC with mindless shows, as she perused various fashion and decor magazines, and plotted for a business with the odd household chore around her new home. Mzee Tembo watched as Una 'transformed their' business into an entity he barely recognised.
As he finally secured the land and made his payments, Mapacha's next step was logical. Mzee Tembo had introduced him to a cabal of people, an architect, an engineer and a foreman, and they had proposed, designed and planned to build a simplistic home for him. That was already in the works. His extra time was committed to aviation and at this point, João's supervision was now a labour of love out of his fierce loyalty to Mzee Tembo.
Almost a week and a half after they had met at the terrace, Gwafa entered the bicycle shop. The 'transformation' meant that Una was now installed prominently at the counter while Mzee Tembo was in the back slung on a low chair with a newspaper while the small transistor, now set on the table chattered monotonously.
"Bon après-midi Madam Diria." Gwafa graciously greeted her.
"Ola Gwafa. How are you?"
"Hey! Tembo! Gwafa is here to see you."
Mzee Tembo, fully aware that Gwafa was in the shop had played the fool and let the scenario play out. He knew Una did not quite particularly agree with this particular relationship.
"Ah, Tembo, how are you?" Gwafa casually greeted him.
"Ola Gwafa. Would you like a cup of tea?"
Gwafa detested tea, so much so that he would rather have opted to imbibe ditch water or even seawater.
"I think I know where you can source more 'bicycles'. I have an idea. If you can get your 'team' together, we can meet and discuss the plan."
Una feigned interest and defaulted to a fresh catalogue while she eavesdropped. She found herself bewildered. They had just received a fresh order of almost three hundred units from India, so why did they need more?
Her prudent curiosity got the better of her. "Tembo, do we need more units?" she asked, as she interrupted the conversation.
"I am working on a big deal, so I may need more units that our suppliers can handle at the moment." He faced Gwafa. "Go find Banou, I will tell Mapacha, and we can meet at the terrace."
He casually performed a half bow in front of Una. "Madam Una."
"Gwafa." Her eyes never left his back till the door slammed shut.
Outside, he stood, sighed for a moment and then felt himself crave a cigarette. The Gauloises that he lit up and sucked on deeply before he exhaled a thick cloud of smoke felt like paradise. Una always made him feel nervous. He casually walked away, cut across the square and spotted a glossy yellow Fiat 128 in a casual cruise as the driver searched for a potential customer. Gwafa signalled with a loud whistle and rushed towards it as it stopped and jumped in.
"Where to boss?" the young Rastafarian driver in a colourful reggae-themed t-shirt asked.
The taxi began its run to Barra.
"Gwafa, what do you mean Morocco?"
"Tembo, it's a brilliant idea. The French Embassy has contracted me to deliver documents to their embassy in Morocco. This happens in a few days. We conceal the diamonds amongst the documents, we get them in, and we try to figure out who to sell to."
"This is a terrible idea Gwafa. Who do we know in Morocco?"
"Banou, if we ask around, we will find someone or some people."
"Hey old man, maybe you can ask your jeweller friends if they have connections in Morocco."
"So, we go to Morocco to sell them there?" Mapacha asked doubtfully.
"Yes. The plane is already paid for by the French, so think of it as a free sales trip."
"OK. That makes sense."
Wild ideas suddenly sprung into Banou's mind and she loudly blurted out, "Yes! I will buy fabric to start my business and decorate my house. Moroccan fabric, carpets, leather, all of it. I will buy it all."
They all turned and stared at her in surprise.
"You really want to open a business?"
"Yes, old man. Why not? I can think for myself!" she blurted out defensively.
"Banou, calm down. It's OK. We are just surprised you are taking it this seriously. We don't doubt you."
"Good. Cause you shouldn't."
How could they afford to? To her, they failed to understand the hazardous journey she had made to get this far in life. there was more at stake for her than all of them put together.
"So we only take dollars, no local currency, right?"
"Yes, Banou. Only dollars."
"How can we trust them not to backstab us and rob us, or turn us in?"
"Well Mapacha, we just have to make sure we have an airtight plan so that mistakes like those do not happen," Mzee Tembo said. "It's all in the planning. And we shall carry our hardware to make sure can defend ourselves. It will be an easy gig."
Mapacha doubted the ease being discussed. From a logistics perspective, the robbery had been the easier part of the gig, given that they had controlled the variables in the situation, had only attacked a safe and a handful of unprepared guards and had excellent cover for evasion. Now that they had to sell the diamonds meant they would have to deal with people in a game where greed was the primary factor and this posed a major challenge.
"So the cover story is bicycles? Or items for Banou for her business?"
Her need for attention overwhelmed her, and she cast a satisfactory smile. "We can use setting up my business as a cover story."
The cogs in her wheelhouse were in a furious methodical rotation. Success would be her answer. These fools would only take her seriously if she had a big thing of her own. Almost automatically, she stood up and walked down the stairs, entered the bar where she found Nsia and asked her to bring them dinner. As she ascended back to the terrace, she found herself in a determined scheme on how she would take over the world. Ten minutes later, two waitresses, appeared with heavy trays of food and drinks. Like the Queen of Sheba, Nsia was dressed in a light purple zuria that had a blue centrepiece design and a blue border.
"Ola!" she greeted them in an unnecessarily seductive voice. "How are you this evening?"
They all greeted her back.
"it is so wonderful to see you today. I have brought you guys some Ekwang."
Though they had no idea what Ekwang was, they could attest to its heavenly aroma and they imagined that it tasted divine. Nsia served the plates and then the glasses of juice.
Mapacha eyed Nsia suspiciously. It seemed that every single meal she served them accelerated her eccentricities. Her costumes were wilder and more exotic. And her act? Was she trying to somehow impress them? All those thoughts were obliterated the instant the first spoonful of smoked fish melted on his unprepared tongue. The next spoonful was laden with crayfish and then beef and he squared his thoughts away and delved deeper into this Ekwang. They all did. The conversation was suspended as they enjoyed the rich flavours that Nsia had presented. Mzee Tembo's face shone with a thin layer of sweat that he routinely mopped with his dampened handkerchief.
"Hey, old man, are you OK?" Banou asked with concern.
"Yes. Yes. Never mind me. Nsia has made a really spicy meal here."
She chuckled and continued with her fare.
"So Gwafa, what documents are these that the embassy is moving to Morocco anyway?" Mapacha asked.
"Usually they are annual reports and expenses that get consolidated and shipped back to France. I guess old Pompidou wants to show the French people that they still have something happening in Africa. It's the same for these embassies. The next couple of weeks, I will be shipping documents across West Africa."
"So Mapacha, how is your home building coming along?"
For a moment, Mapacha's face recoiled in surprise before he softened and answered.
"The council approved my construction documents, and the workers will lay the foundation in a few days and once that has cured, then we will start building the walls."
Not that he cared much, but he tried to be polite to her.
"How do you like your new home in Barra?"
"It's different, you know. It's quiet. Maybe I should get a cat or something."
She faced Mzee Tembo with mischief scribbled all over her face.
"What about you old man? How is working with the old ball and chain?"
Mzee Tembo, an old hand, married for decades and father to a wily daughter recognised her feminine needle, and he blatantly ignored it for a moment before he curtly answered her.
"Una has made wonderful changes to the business. it's going great."
There was the lie that blatantly exposed his regrettable reality. Since he and Una had joined forces, he had lost all interest in being involved in the bicycle business. There was a change in his orbit, and he simply appeared at the shop because he had nowhere else to be and it made Una happy which meant he was 'happy'. His interests lay in adventure, and if crime led to it, then he would do his best to pursue it. Adventure in crime, that was his mistress. The diamond problem, as formidable as it appeared, excited him a lot more than the idea of new models he had to present to bored businessmen and frugal entrepreneurs who constantly hustled him for impossible discounts. He stuck militantly to the orders he had commanded himself with.
When they were done with their meal, Banou deferred to her runner role and made her way down to the bar. She got the waitresses to bring them more juice and a beer for Gwafa and clear the table. They both lit their cigarettes and the conversation continued.
"So it is agreed then? We all go to Morocco and do this deal?"
They all nodded. The matter was settled.
"When do we leave Gwafa?"
"I shall confirm with the Embassy, but I think on Monday."
"Fine." He hesitated and then turned to Banou. "We are going down the road for the next few days. You need practice."
This was the tolerable necessity she would have to bear, the price she would have to pay for the 'soft life'. She felt a lot more comfortable with the Model 49, but not with the idea of being the hand that fired and shot someone. it did not feel right to her. That and the fact that she would spend a lot more time with Mzee Tembo who to her used firearms to escape from his own stale life. Her time, per her, would be better spent on her magazines or her schemes on how she would create an empire or even in front of the TV with a comedy, rather than at a beach with a gun nut she was not particularly fond of.
"Fine," she sulked."I shall come tomorrow afternoon."
He was full of glee, not because he would spend time with her, but by the fact that he would be free from the shop and more importantly, he would shoot at things. However, he was eager and altered her idea.
"No, we leave before midday, so that we can come back early."
She was full of regret. This was way earlier than she had considered or would be awake.
Mapacha mulled over a new set of problems. The trip would certainly halt construction on his house. He, being fastidiously particular felt the need to oversee many of the tasks as he did not trust anyone. Indeed, the professionals Mzee Tembo had introduced him to would deliver, but, he knew he would be a lot more reassured by being present. Could he leave Abril to oversee the work? He knew he could, but he preferred not to. It's not that he did not trust her judgement, it was just that he did not want to stoke embers on a flame that had the potential to burn out, one that he particularly did little to maintain. He also considered the pain that Mzee Tembo would have to go through as he explained to Una that he would be away on yet another business trip, and so soon too. These were concerns he did not have or want with Abril. He trusted her with Neve, but more out of convenience and that was as far as he was inclined to go for now.
Mzee Tembo on the other hand now ruminated on this. At some point in the future, Una would want to accompany him on one of his business trips and see the world. However, this was not that sort of trip. Maybe he should send her abroad to visit the kids? That would cheer her up and give him some room to try and rekindle his interest in the bicycle business. Perhaps a weekend in Dakar or Praia?