NOV 8, 2022
He sat in his beloved Peugeot outside his house as the radio whispered the late-night news. While seated in the dark, he considered the colossal task ahead, the discussion with Una. It was apparent he could not shut down the business for multiple days in a month while he was in the midst of his 'side gig' abroad. Una would have to bare the two bombshells he was about to drop on her. He had sighted her as she peered at him through the curtained window. Once he had framed his narrative, he got out, locked his car and entered the house through the front door. She had curled up in front of the Sylvania television with a smile and a giggle as she watched the comedy being broadcast.
She could smell the spices off him as he sat next to her.
"You want a cup of tea?" she offered.
He smiled at her. "Yes. Thank you."
She shuffled off to the kitchen and came back with a thermos and a cup which she poured for him.
"We need to talk Una," he said.
Her heart missed a beat. Here it was, he was forsaking her. She braced herself for the bad news.
"Una, tomorrow we will go to the shop together. You are going to run it for me for a few days."
The tense look was quickly replaced by surprise.
"Is there anything wrong?" she asked him.
"No. I have this business trip I need to make and could be gone a few days."
"Back to St Michel?"
"No. Cote d'Ivoire."
"Eh? The bicycle business or something else?"
She was now getting incensed by his haltered responses.
"Tembo, I have always been faithful to you. I have never been an insolent wife. Never gave you problems. What is going on? You are now going on business trips? Is there someone else? Did you find another woman? I know there is another woman."
"Una, " he said, weary of her jealousy. "I don't cheat and after forty-one years, I have never strayed. There is no other woman, but I am conducting this business with Mapacha and another woman called Banou."
She knew Mapacha, and she had heard this 'Banou' name, but she could not recall where.
"So you are going with Mapacha and this Banou woman?"
"Yes. As well as Gwafa. Remember Gwafa? I introduced you to him when we lived on base."
"That scrawny Algerian-French guy with the funny hair?"
"I never liked him. Always shifty eyes. And you know these French people. . ."
"Una. Not now. This is happening. I am trusting you with 'our' business."
He emphasised 'our' and this pricked her ears.
"I can't stop you Tembo, but you need to do the right thing. Something is different about you, and you must come clean about it."
He would never reveal to her what he was involved in. The new adventures had suddenly filled his life with a new purpose that he had been robbed of by his forced retirement."
I need to pack. Now, instead of trying to find a problem, you want to help me while you explain to me what you want me to bring you back?"
It was a smooth deflection and it worked. Her gears shifted quickly from suspicious to desire. Material desire. She was getting something for a little trouble and a bit of patience.
As they had done numerous times, she led the way to the bedroom except this time it was to find his suitcase and help him pack.
Abril was blissfully snoring when Mapacha disentangled himself from her perspiring body. She barely stirred as he dressed and went out. Cradled underneath his pit was his small metal box. On it, he had attached a label with a piece of sellotape with his first name on it. He jogged down with Neve on his heels. She was excited that they were going for yet another excursion across the sand. However, instead of a dash across the vast expanse of sand, he headed towards the rocks underneath the cliff. He had picked a spot on the beach he knew few people ever came to. With his bare hands, he dug a deep hole after which he dropped the box into it. He lay a round stone over it and then covered it with sand. Neve peculiarly watched him as he spread the sand with his heel to hide any indicators that something was hidden there. It was not that he did not trust Abril with the money, it would just cause unnecessary entanglement, with a conversation he was not keen or prepared to have. As he headed back from the beach, the amber cracks splintered overhead, and his shadow slipped from his feet across the sand.
He passed through the latrine and cleaned himself underneath his shower which he filled four times to make sure he was clean before he entered, towelled himself down and dressed. He picked up a newer pair of pants he had never worn and a collared shirt. From the bottom drawer, he removed the clothes he rarely wore and packed them in his military-issue Olive Type 1 Schoellkopf canvas duffel. He added other essentials, left two hundred pounds on the table for Abril and pocketed the remaining two thousand, a thousand more than Mzee Tembo recommended he bring alongside his passport and vaccination card. As with every other morning, he fed Neve with the leftovers, put on his blue Bata Bullets and silently walked away from the shack, up the hill and down the dusty road.
A half-hour later, he crossed the square as it stirred to life and headed to the bicycle shop. The morning was already looked bright as he arrived outside the bicycle shop. He set himself on the staircase as the sound of doors being opened and furniture being dragged out of cafes and shops echoed along the street. As the clock struck eight, he saw Banou walking next to a young man who manhandled her black Silhouette suitcase while she carried her favourite black Montbello II train case that matched it. She had carefully selected her outfit and kept it simple, with a stylish pair of cotton pants and a flowery blouse with flat black shoes. When they got to the store, the young man set the case down and Banou tipped and thanked him.
"Ola Mapacha," she greeted him in a flowery voice.
"Such a pleasant morning isn't it?" she asked.
"Yes," he responded.
Banou smiled in amusement. She knew the conversation was over. Mapacha never was for small talk.
"Hey, let's go and wait at the cafe," she offered. "We can have some tea."
"OK," he agreed as he slung his duffel on his shoulder and picked up her suitcase. They sat on the table outside and Banou ordered two cups of tea and two balls of broa.
"Are you prepared for today?" she asked."Yes." He considered some of the things Nsia had pointed out and decided to be a bit more involved in the conversation.
"What about you?"
"Why of course Mapacha. Today is. . ."
She was cut off by the waitress who brought them their order. Mapacha thanked the waitress, and he picked up his tea and broa. Banou followed suit, and they quietly enjoyed the meal. When she finished her broa, she reached into her bag and pulled out her Gitanes. Almost on cue, the waitress brought the ashtray, the same one from the previous day. She was halfway through the cigarette when a yellow Fiat 124 drove up to the shop. Mzee Tembo got out followed by a diminutive pudgy woman who wore a multicoloured flowered over sky blue liputa. Mzee Tembo's had not deviated much. It was his same worn pale shirt and brown pants, the only difference being that he wore sandals, not shoes. He waved at them from across the street and they waved back. Mapacha stood, walked into the restaurant and paid the bill. When he got out, Banou had already crossed the road to greet them. The waitress came out to clear the table. In the taxi, the driver popped his head out of the window and whistled at her, to draw her attention, but she casually ignored him.
Mzee Tembo was irked.
"Stop that and go get those two bags!" he barked at him.
Una was unimpressed by Banou who had dropped her cigarette on the paving and squished it with her flats. She was trying to recall where she knew Banou from, but it did not ring. Mapacha crossed the road with his duffel on his shoulder while the taxi driver carried Banou's suitcase. When the taxi driver got to the taxi, he placed the suitcase on the carrier while Mapacha tossed his duffel up and approached the group.
"Ola Madam Una," he politely greeted her.
"Ola Mapacha. Glad to see you are keeping well."
She knew Mapacha's reputation which made her nervous but all that aside, she liked him, the few times they had met.
"So, Una will run the shop for a few days. Give me a few minutes I show how where everything is and we can be on our way." Mzee Tembo said.
He guided her to the main door, unlocked it and led her in.
"But she smokes. . ." they heard Una complain from inside.
"Una, please. Not now."
Banou smiled at the thought that Mzee Tembo to before his wife. They heard the murmurs as he explained to his wife how everything worked. About ten minutes later, he walked out looking tense.
"Let's go," he said as he jumped into the taxi.
Still amused, Banou entered the taxi, followed by Mapacha. The driver checked the ropes that he had used to tether the bags once again, and with a confident nod jumped in. With a swift turn of the key, the starter wearily whined before the compact engine coughed to life. He engaged the gear, and with great effort, the laden taxi pushed off from the shop down the road and onto the main road leading to the airport. The radio in the taxi chattered noisily, as the driver eagerly described the previous evening's Division 1 match between Manchester United and Leeds at Old Trafford that had ended in a draw. Nobody was keen, but they valiantly endured his story.