SEP 30, 2022
Mzee Tembo carefully treaded on the pedals and subtly shifted the gears as the car charged up the midriff of the island. The empty coastal highway willingly offered him an excellent chance to break out his 404, the engine howled as he instantly pushed it up to speed. Over Franco's 'Gare à toi Marie', the sedate putter of the exhaust made him giddy.
He harboured an introspective mood. The acrimony of being booted out of the military ran deep. It had faltered his life trajectory. Being idle naturally inclined him to build his bicycle assembly business, and it satisfactorily proved to be a brilliant stroke of ingenuity. Normally a business left to the Chinese and Indian emigres, he figured that a colourful face well-regarded in the military would be enough to instantly draw loyal customers. He had been right. While he assembled and repaired bicycles for the wealthy islanders, his commercial customers who placed large orders kept him busy. Occasionally he would bring in casual hires when the typical workload increased but ordinarily, Mapacha would suffice.
Mzee Tembo wondered about his dear children, who lived abroad. He wondered about his Una and how she jealously loved him. The monotony of the two as they faced their sunset years exhausted him.
The scenic drive lasted about an hour. He carefully turned off onto a rough path, drove a short distance in and parked his car. The picturesque hamlet he was in was considered abandoned, and the thin strands of grass slowly reclaimed the land. This was his favourite place on the entire island. His home. Whenever he was downcast, he came here. This was where he had spent his childhood and frolicked on the unspoilt beach. The undeniable charm never wore him down.
Carrying a small black pouch, he walked cautiously past his parent's marked graves and stealthily approached the pristine beach where a bobbing canoe tethered to a peg on the beach floated. Barefoot, he carefully clambered in. Attached to the handhold was a chain that he carefully pulled on and heaved a small metal box. He unclasped the hook, gently opened it and inside was a small grey rubber bag he had retained from the army. He unzipped the outer skin and then unhooked the inner skin and inside, wrapped in a waterproof plastic bag, were his military effects. He selected what he needed, put everything else back and slowly committed it back into the sparkling sea. Satisfied, he hastily walked back to his car and only stopped long enough to cross himself at his parent's graves. He hid the pouch underneath the spare tire in the boot, turned the car around and started towards Josephine. Despite his nervousness, he earnestly tried to enjoy the drive back and took in the extraordinary beauty of the island.
Very few people had ever heard of Ilha de Florença. A tiny island off the coast of Senegal and partway to Cape Verde, it possessed a vibrant history. Initially, the island had been colonised by the Portuguese. At some pivotal point, the British managed to get their hands on it, and they turned it into a penal colony. As mass deportations from their different colonies advanced, the British inadvertently banded together a large number of rebels. Eventually, they properly armed themselves and violently pushed the British out and gained independence. The various cultures of the different deportees merged seamlessly into a rich tapestry of diversity.
Mzee Tembo as such was the offspring of an East African deportee, who had been expelled for agitating. After the successful uprising, he settled with a local woman and made the island his home. The new government had allocated him a patch of fertile land and there he had raised his family and eventually, he had been committed to it.
As the evening swept in, Mzee Tembo arrived back at his shop. Mapacha was only too pleased for his return. He left almost immediately and rode off towards Nsia's for his supper. Now left alone, Mzee Tembo retrieved the pouch from the boot of the car and locked himself in his shop. He made himself a cup of honey-sweetened black coffee then entered the workshop where he slowly opened the pouch and revealed two revolvers, four boxes of ammunition and a cleaning kit. With the necessary tools at hand, he delicately disassembled the guns and then dutifully scrubbed them down. Now oiled and polished, he meticulously reassembled them as he had done countless times. Finally, he charged them and properly tested the action. They worked flawlessly. He adjusted his browlines and admired his handiwork, the craftsmanship, the gleaming steel and the power they restored to him. He repacked the pouch, locked his shop and again tucked the pouch underneath the spare wheel into the boot of his car. Satisfied, he got in and rambled into the night to find Mapacha.
Mapacha's shack had only ever received one visitor since he built it. Abril. Their largely ambiguous ad hoc relationship confounded everyone. Where the local women intentionally avoided Mapacha out of genuine fear, Abril herself had been drawn to him. She enthusiastically pursued Mapacha and hadn't made it too difficult for him. He never understood what Abril liked about him. His intimidation sort of stuck out. The ferocious backtalk she dealt with about Mapacha's presumed large manhood was ceaseless. Without a care in the world, she proudly held her head high. Mapacha was the only one who could properly handle her insatiable libido.
Today, however, she was home with her family, so it was a big surprise when he heard a car approaching. It was not Abril. She never came here alone or with a car. He recognised the bleating engine as Mzee Tembo's car. This late? Here? Mapacha slowly rose from his low-slung chair and headed up the pathway with Neve on his heels. Mzee Tembo was glad Mapacha saw him first. He did not like this side of town and he was not brave enough to knock on Mapacha's door. As he approached the car, the dazzling yellow beams of light promptly vanished and left him in the dark.
"Olá sir, is everything OK?"
"Yes. We need to find Banou."
"OK. I will meet you there."
"No Mapacha, get your things we take my car."
Mapacha jumped in. The strong whiff of the rich chrome gun oil genuinely puzzled Mapacha. He could see the profuse sweat on Mzee Tembo's brow.
"Aren't you locking up your house?" Mzee Tembo asked.
There was no specific need to complicate his life with keys. Nobody would ever dare come up the hill except Abril and she always came up with him. Also, no thief would dare steal from Mapacha as that was a guaranteed death sentence if he found you. They slowly headed down the potholed road towards Nsia's.
Banou, Nsia and another lady were engaged in a hysterical conversation in the noisy bar. The Lingala kept the mood lively. From the main door, you could hear their boisterous laughter. He walked up to the table and greeted everyone.
''Banou, you need to come."
Profound disappointment washed over her radiant face. She was having the time of her life. Being the only one at the table that had ever gone abroad, she told yarns about Asia, Europe and the continent itself. When she was in Josephine, she traditionally held court at this table with her friends but now Mapacha asked her to leave with him.
'Need a drink fella?' the other lady drunkenly asked.
Mapacha scarcely knew her. Jokia was in league with Banou, and always played second fiddle when she was around. She had often wished to take Mapacha away from Abril, but he barely gave her time. His nostrils flared with irritation and he instantly gave her the dirtiest of looks. This made her face crawl with regret for opening her mouth.
"Hey, let's go." he reminded Banou.
Banou explained to her friends that she would return in a moment and she skulkingly followed Mapacha. They came up to the car and she casually greeted Mzee Tembo, a bit embarrassed for being drunk again in front of him. The shaking of his head in disapproval was telling, but he did not have time to lecture her.
"We need somewhere to talk," Mzee Tembo said.
'Follow me.' Banou offered.
Mzee Tembo was reluctant to follow them into the seedy bar. Banou, however, directed them up to Nsia's rooftop terrace. Despite its dinginess, the privacy it offered eased Mzee Tembo's mind.
"Did you make the call Banou?"
"Yes. He is still there and will be there for another five days. He does not seem to do much except laze on the beach as before," she responded.
"Since we are helping you Banou, you will have to cover the cost of everything. Make sure you find a good hotel where we will stay."
This ached Banou. She barely had enough money to make due and now she had to pay for hotels too? Mzee Tembo could see her understandable reluctance.
"It doesn't have to be anything expensive, but it has to be discreet," he offered. "Somewhere where nobody will remember us." He carefully contemplated, looking at the drab surroundings. "And spotlessly clean."
That gently eased her mind. She knew a quiet discreet lodging that would not be ruinous.
"Don't worry Mzee Tembo. I know a place."
She would have to borrow some money from Nsia. Banou reasoned that since the operational plan was bound to work, they would come out profitable and if not, she could always pick some of the Englishman's things and sell them on the black market. Mapacha sat there quietly and quietly witnessed the conversation. His mind painstakingly recorded every word.
"Also, we need more intricate details about this Englishman. We have a good plan, but we need to know more." Mzee Tembo said.
Banou, already weary from the prodding she had already received since she met them, laboriously described him. Her active mind had documented the clothes he wore, undoubtedly knowing the popular brands that indicated wealth. She described how fit he was, what he ate, drank, smoked and everything else. She learnt that recognising these things meant she could carefully screen her clients.
"Oh, and one last thing. On the side of the hotel, there is a side path coming up from the beach. It is a service path for the hotel staff, but the tourists use it to sneak in local girls without facing the embarrassment of the hotel staff. We shall use it to get inside."
This was another survival tactic she had learnt. Around the various maze of hotels she had 'worked' in, she had gotten to know the ones that had clandestine exits, in case she needed a hasty retreat. With all the essential facts ascertained, the meeting concluded.
"So when we get there Mapacha you will stick to him, OK?" Mzee Tembo instructed Mapacha?
"One last thing. . ." Mzee Tembo said.
He opened the pouch he had brought along, and carefully pulled out the two revolvers, setting them on the table.
Pointing longingly to the first one, he explained, "That is a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard Model 649, my last service weapon. The one next to it is a Model 49 my first service weapon. Mapacha you take the bigger one."
Banou anxiously stared at them. Guns? This had become very serious very fast, and it sobered her up very quickly.
"Mzee Tembo, what do we need guns for?"
Mzee Tembo understood the finality of guns and the extraordinary power they wielded. If you instantly pulled one out in the enterprise of crime and maybe fired once in the air, people tended to willingly obey your every command.
"No sir, I agree with Banou. We won't need guns for this," said Mapacha.
Mzee Tembo was slightly offended.
"Ah well, suit yourselves," he contemptuously dismissed them.
He would bring them with him, just in case. Across the table, the electricity that coursed through Banou reddened her fierce eyes. She was a key step or two away from getting revenge.
'We leave at dawn.' Mzee Tembo said firmly.
Everything was set. Mzee Tembo and Mapacha hastily left, sinisterly fading into the shadows. Banou lay on the terrace and as the refreshing breeze cooled her, a deep slumber blanketed her. Mzee Tembo dropped Mapacha at the mouth of the dusty road that led to the pathway to his shack. Mapacha slowly walked up the road and onto his footpath. He quietly walked past Neve, who happily snored at her spot underneath the shack. Inside, he lit the single overhead bulb that weakly illuminated his small bedroom.
Cunningly hidden underneath the depths of his bed, he pulled out a small metal box, similar to the one Mzee Tembo had fished out earlier. The memories flooded as he quickly went through the documents, as he saw his military career in one single document. Underneath the documents lay his service weapon next to a heavy set of dull knuckle dusters, his favourite weapon. He gingerly wore them. They felt a lot heavier than he remembered and they fit a lot tighter than they had before, but after he flexed with them for a few minutes, the old rhythm was back. He set them on the tiny cupboard next to his bed, repacked the tin box and slid it back into its hiding spot. Finally, he shed off his dusty clothes and realised he reeked of sweat but did not care and needed sleep. He flicked the light off and slowly drifted into a deep slumber.