MAR 4, 2023
Gwafa hauled the heavy suitcase as they rushed down the street. The car behind them engaged its gear and crawled down the road. There was a hint of peril harboured by the salty breeze. Out of nowhere, Mapacha got struck on the left shoulder with such great force that it lifted and then flung him down. Groggily, he struggled to figure out what had happened. Then he heard the loud report of a revolver, then another and another and he realised that a gunfight had ensued.
"Take cover!" he heard Mzee Tembo shout, but he could barely move.
As he fought to remain conscious, he heard the loud slam of Mzee Tembo's 649 as he fired. As if on cue, Mapacha found himself being roughly dragged by the ankles on the pavement. He looked up and saw an intense Gwafa struggle to get him behind a car. Banou was crouched with the suitcase and her gun, her whole face contorted in panic. Down the road, the Mercedes taxi's engine rumbled to life and they heard it speed off.
"Black Citroën! Three guys!"
Gwafa crouched to where Mzee Tembo was, pulled his own semi-automatic from his waistband, peeped over and fired. Mapacha could hear shouts from across the road, assumedly from the three guys behind the Citroën with sporadic bursts as they fired towards them.
"Banou, start shooting!" Mzee Tembo shouted as he sat down on the pavement.
He unloaded the spent cartridges and pocketed them before he loaded a whole fresh set. On the driveway that led to the hotel, they could hear panicked shouts. The ferocity of the duel quickly intensified.
"At what?" she screamed back at him.
"At the black Citroën."
She turned and saw a pool of blood start to collect underneath Mapacha.
"No! No! No!"
"Banou, focus and shoot!" Mzee Tembo ordered.
Above them, bullets whistled and ingrained themselves into the wall.
Gwafa fired momentarily and watched the reaction across the road. He could see the top of the dark figures crouched behind the Citroën.
It took a monumental effort for Banou to fight her panic, and she peeked over the bonnet of the 404, peered and saw the Citroën clearly for the first time. She cocked the revolver, aimed, and tried to recall Mzee Tembo's lessons, carefully squeezed the trigger and fired her first shot. The rear passenger window that faced her shivered into tiny flecks and splattered all over the road. She fired again, four times before she sat down to reload. Mapacha still lay on the pavement motionless.
"Empties in the left pocket, new ones in the right," she muttered to herself.
She turned and fired again, this time with better control. Five. Out. Reload. She turned to sit and reload and looked down at Mapacha. He was gone.
"Where did he go?" she shouted at Gwafa.
"Just keep shooting!" Gwafa shouted back.
Mapacha had been swirled on the edge of darkness. Then a dream.
His dead mother whose face he had never seen.
The father, who likely did not know he existed.
He remembered the cruel whip of the nuns at the various orphanages he had been sheltered in.
How he had first been beaten and then learnt to fight back.
His time in the army.
How he got injured in Biafra.
It all flashed before his eyes.
Then he woke up.
Above him, he saw Banou with one knee on the pavement aim and shoot. On the other end of the Peugeot, Mzee Tembo and Gwafa were pinned down. Slowly, he crawled round the car, picked himself up, quickly run across the road and flanked the three shooters hidden behind the Citroën. He then crawled up till he saw them, pulled out his revolver and with his right arm fired. The first round struck one of the figures in the right shoulder blade, and he stumbled backwards. By the time he hit the floor, Mapacha had already lunged upward towards them. Before his feet hit the sand, he fired again, and the shot pierced the palm of the second shooter as he tried to defend himself. The third shooter lazily pirouetted and tried to aim at him. However Mapacha fired first, and the bullet hit him in the hip. He yelled in pain as he rolled backwards and dropped his revolver. He recognised the thick figure. Kobus!
"Hold your fire!" he heard Mzee Tembo shout. Mzee Tembo was really in his true military element.
Mapacha pistol-whipped the second shooter with such force that his head dented the rear quarter panel of the Citroën. The first shooter crawled as he tried to find his pistol in the sand, but Mapacha grabbed him, flipped him over and swung the revolver twice across his face. The first shooter spat out blood and almost instantly passed out. Mapacha could hear Kobus labour for breath as he tried to crawl away. He grabbed him by the foot and dragged him backwards.
"The beating I gave you was not enough? You came for seconds?" Mapacha growled as he shifted the revolver to his weakened left hand. His right palm slipped into his pocket and came out with brass knuckles already wrapped around his fist.
Kobus' face, a pattern of contusions, knotted in fear, let out a scream.
"Nie man! Asseblief!1"
Mapacha punched him twice in the abdomen, and he almost instantly spewed blood and bile. The third strike was across his face and the blood instantly flooded his throat. He coughed as he chucked it out. Mapacha heard footsteps as Mzee Tembo, Gwafa and Banou run towards them.
He slipped the brass knuckles back into his pocket, grabbed Kobus' wrist and twisted it violently, and he heard it unhinge from its socket at the elbow. Kobus screamed again in pain and then pled with Mapacha.
But Mapacha heard none of that, as his rage commanded him to kick Kobus in the stomach. Desperation crept into Kobus' mind and he wished he was unconscious or even dead for it would have been better than the hellish torture that was being meted out on him. Behind him, he heard Mzee Tembo's voice.
"Banou, where is the suitcase?"
"I'll get it!" Gwafa shouted.
Mapacha lifted Kobus' face and snarled at him.
"You live today. This is your last chance. You understand?"
A weakened Kobus shrivelled and winced as he nodded. Mapacha cuffed him one last time with the revolver and he finally passed out. Mzee Tembo quickly searched the first shooter who, barely conscious, moaned in pain. He picked up his gun, wallet and passport, and saw the elephant's head.
Mapacha picked up Kobus's gun, searched him, and found a long sharp whip attached to his belt. He peeled it off and threw it at Banou. He could hear Mzee Tembo as he searched the other shooter before they heard a siren in the distance.
"Vamos!2" Mapacha shouted. "Let's take their car!"
Mapacha handed the guns to Banou as Gwafa loaded the suitcase into the boot of the Citroën. Mzee Tembo slipped behind the wheel and fired it up. The first crunk was dry. Gwafa helped Mapacha to get into the back, while Banou jumped in next to Mzee Tembo. They could hear heavy footsteps as people now rushed from the hotel to see what had happened. The second crunk got purchase and the Citroën sprung to life. He kicked it to first and they took off, round the Gran Socco where he turned right and headed down towards the ocean. As the gap between them and the hotel widened, he slowed down, with no idea as to where he was headed to. In the back, Gwafa tended to Mapacha.
"You OK big guy?"
"I'm shot in the shoulder."
Gwafa examined the wound and saw a steady stream of blood. He lashed out his belt, looped it above the wound and wrapped it tightly. Mapacha looked ahead and saw Banou's afro bob, as well as Mzee Tembo as he worked the wheel.
"Find somewhere and stop," Gwafa told him. "We can't stay in the car too long anyway, it's too hot."
Banou was in shock. She had laid the three other guns and the whip on the floorboard, but her right hand still gripped her revolver. The shootout had left her in shock.
"Eh, Banou, maybe you want to put your gun away. It's over," Mzee Tembo cautiously advised her.
She looked at him, blinked, nodded, set the safety on and slipped it into her waistband at the small of her back.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'm just driving."
They were surrounded by neon lights and signage that blinked and flashed though she just passively watched with no comprehension.
"Mapacha needs a doctor. The bullet is still stuck in there. We can't go back to the hotel with him like this," Gwafa said.
"No doctor," Mapacha told him. "I'm good."
"No, you are not. We can figure it out. Relax big guy," he told Mapacha.
Mzee Tembo saw an isolated spot and a junction with a road sign. He parked the Citroën on the side and switched off the engine.
"Avenue d’Espagne," he said, as he pointed out the sign to Gwafa.
"You guys wait here, let me see if I can figure out what to do next," Gwafa said as he jumped out of the car.
He jogged up one street, and after a minute, returned and jogged down another as he desperately sought a solution. The unfavourable hour did not help. Where could he find a taxi? As he ran up the next street, he spotted the glow and then the fade of a cigarette inside a red Renault 4. He rushed to it as the driver slid the window open. A thick gust of cigarette smoke blasted his face.
"Hey brother, I need a ride to a doctor," Gwafa told him.
The driver flicked the Riad butt away and cautiously took him in.
"Are you sick?"
"No, my friend, he has been injured in a bar fight, so we need to take him to a doctor."
"I can take you to the big Italian hospital. They are open 24 hours a day."
"My friend was the one who started the fight. If we go to the hospital, he will get in trouble with the police and we don't need that."
His desperation bourgeoned.
"Sorry, but no, I don't want to get involved in your gangster affairs."
Gwafa reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of notes.
"I will pay you well. Very very well. Whatever the fare is to a doctor, I will triple it, plus one hundred dollars."
The taxi driver reached for the money but Gwafa held it back.
The driver considered for a moment, and then countered. "Pay me three hundred dollars and I will help you."
"Fine. Can we go?" Gwafa asked as he slid into the passenger seat.
"I hope he won't bleed in my car," he said, as he eased the taxi into a roll before he dropped it into second gear and let the clutch out.
The wheels locked for a second and it roared to life.
"Where is your friend?"
"Down there. Drive until you see a black Citroën."
They got to the car, and the driver stopped.
"Wait here, but keep it running."
He opened the passenger door and stuck his head in.
"We got a ride. Time to go."
Mzee Tembo and Banou quickly jumped out of the car. Gwafa opened the boot and pulled out the heavy suitcase that he hefted into the boot of the taxi. Mzee Tembo and Banou helped Mapacha out and slid him into the back. The taxi driver quietly sat and watched them.
"Banou, matches?" Mzee Tembo asked her gruffly.
She peeled the box from her pocket and gave it to him.
"Hey, old man, what are you doing? We need to go!"
Mzee Tembo returned to the Citroën, opened the bonnet and pulled out the fuel line from the carburettor and fuel streamed out. He wrapped his handkerchief on it, got into the Citroën and cranked the engine. It coughed for a moment, then died. He got out, took the wet handkerchief and then went to the rear, opened the fuel door and stuffed the handkerchief in. Gwafa watched him with a smile. Mzee Tembo got in and cranked it again and fuel splashed all over the engine. He cranked it a third time, and the petrol now flowed freely before the battery finally gave in.
"Hey, what is he doing?" the taxi driver asked, as concern creased his forehead.
Mzee Tembo then jumped out, rolled down all the windows, struck a match and threw it into the engine bay. There was a loud swoosh and almost instantly, the entire engine bay was alight. He rushed to the back and lit the handkerchief and it too ignited.
The taxi driver was now anxious as he watched the Citroën's interior begin to smoulder. Mzee Tembo rushed in and sat next to the driver.
"You guys are dangerous gangsters. You told me it was a bar fight," the taxi driver lamented. "Do you want to kill me and burn my car?"
Mzee Tembo looked at him.
"No. Just get us to a doctor."
As worried as he was, he found it hard to eject them after he witnessed how the old man had nonchalantly set a car on fire. He knew that they were likely armed.
"Good one boss!" Gwafa said with a smile from the back.
"Mas por que?3" Banou asked Gwafa.
He flashed his fingers at her. She thought for a moment, then understood. The Renault made its way to the Petite Socco area and the taxi driver stopped it in front of an unpatterned multi-dwelling unit.
"Come with me and talk to the doctor," the taxi driver told Gwafa. "The rest can wait here."
Banou cradled Mapacha while Gwafa followed the taxi driver up the short flight of stairs. At the first door on their right, he knocked and then waited and stared at Gwafa. He wondered how he was going to explain all of this. He knocked again, and the second knock went unanswered. The third knock yielded some movement from within. There was a flicker of light as heavy footsteps approached the door.
"Open Hamid. It's me, Fahd."
They heard Hamid turn the key in the lock and undo two latches before the door swung open. Before them stood a short stocky man, dressed in a white vest that revealed a vast amount of foliage on his arms and chest, as well as hastily worn brown pants.
"Fahd. It's four in the morning. What is wrong?" Hamid asked.
"We have an injured man. He needs a doctor."
"So take him to the Italian hospital. It should be open."
"No, this is not that sort of situation."
Hamid sighed. "What have you gotten yourself mixed in? And who is this person with you?"
Fahd answered for him.
"His friend. They are willing to pay for your discretion."
"What do you mean by my discretion?"
Fahd winked at him and waved his palm.
Hamid sighed once more and asked, "Cash?"
"Yes," Gwafa answered.
"How is your friend injured?"
"He was shot in the arm," Gwafa responded.
"Gangster? Smuggler? Assassin? I don't deal with drug peddlers here. Or killers."
"We are traders."
Hamid stared at Gwafa then stared back at Fahd before he relented. He opened the door wider.
"Well, get your friend then. Bring him in."
1. No man! Please!
2. Let's go.
3. But why?
4. Who is it?