APR 21, 2023
It was a clockwork morning. Gwafa and Mapacha had the Citroën on the road before Adhan. They wandered a bit before they spotted an isolated patch of land, obscure enough to camouflage the car, and accessible enough that they could get water in the Jerrican from the ocean. Mapacha fetched while Gwafa cleaned, and in half an hour they had a spotless boot and car.
They were back just before seven, showered and packed and a few minutes to eight, they hauled their bags down to reception.
"You are leaving before breakfast?" the surprised receptionist asked them.
"Unfortunately. We have an early flight." Mzee Tembo responded, as he read the invoice, and then counted out the balance.
"I hope you enjoyed your stay here?"
"We did. Thanks."
"No problem. Have a safe flight."
Gwafa watched the porter load the bags into the boot of the Citroën, thanked him, palmed him five dirhams, and as quickly as they could, drove towards the rental shop, five minutes away.
The shop owner a middle-aged man dressed in overalls swept among the two rows of seven cars when he saw his clean black Citroën drive up into the yard.
"Salaam," he greeted Gwafa. "You are returning it?"
"Yes. We are leaving today."
"Mashallah. No problem."
His eyes hovered over the immaculate car appraisingly as they searched for any dents. It was in the same condition as before. He smiled and asked Gwafa to follow him to clear the bill.
Banou and Mzee Tembo stood outside with the luggage as Mapacha stopped a maroon Peugeot 404 taxi that turned around and entered the yard. The clean-cut driver came out, eyed their luggage and drew his conclusion.
"Yes. How much?"
Mapacha haggled with him, got a price he felt was fair and watched him load the luggage onto the top of the black carrier. Banou held onto the valise that Gwafa had sealed with the red tape as she sat in the back. Gwafa was out after a few minutes, followed by the driver before they shook hands and he joined them in the taxi.
It was a quiet ride to the airport and before long, they were at the terminal. Gwafa went to the administration first, cleared the plane for departure, paid the fees and then led them through to immigration.
A gruff bleary immigration officer watched the group closely, took their passports, went through them, and wanted to ask a question, but figured he would get a default answer he already knew. He did not bother and stamped them through. At the gate, they were given a quick once-over and allowed to pass.
"Have a safe flight," they heard.
Once airside, Mapacha supervised the luggage being stuffed in the last of the crevices of the Skytrain. Gwafa did his walkthrough, checked the plane's equipment and then called for the power unit to be hooked up to the plane. It was manhandled over, as he did a final take-off check, and watched the puff of blue smoke rise as the power unit kicked to life. A minute later, the Wasps rambled in unison and he stuck a thumbs-up out to request the crew to detach the plane and clear the chocks.
The Air Controllers had them wait for almost a quarter of an hour as an Air Afrique Caravelle 11R and a BOAC Super VC10 landed back to back, as they completed their overnights from Europe. Finally, they thundered down the runway and a moment later, it soared up, followed the instructions of the Air Controller and eventually the noise pointed South.
The first leg was uneventful, with only the hum of the Wasps and the idle chatter of the radio to keep them company. A few hours later, they were in Dakar, where they refuelled and then they proceeded to the short hop over the Atlantic.
This part of the flight was quite busy. They were forced to carefully shift the luggage around and make space so that Gwafa could undo the floor panels. Over the next hour, they removed the bundles of money, loaded them into the diplomatic bags that had already been declared, closed the panel, shifted the luggage and then did the next panel and kept at it till they had extracted it all. Gwafa tallied the luggage with the stamped manifest, and the nine bags would match the description.
It was late in the afternoon when they spotted the white frame of the lighthouse and then the shiny panes of the airport tower as the bright sun gleamed off them. Gwafa's short final and touchdown were as professional as he could muster and when he parked it on the apron, there was a collective sigh of relief.
It was a long hour as the customs officer registered Banou's wares, the fabric, the carpets and a handful of trinkets, and had it carted off to the customs warehouse for clearance later. She valiantly held the paperwork that held the keys to her wildest dreams as they walked through to immigration. The customs officer followed her and asked questions about where she planned to establish her shop and what her rates would be and if she had a tailor in mind as he had an unemployed cousin who could run machines and whatnot. There was a shrewd smile as she felt accomplished. Someone already had an interest in her goods. Immigration was a quick breeze as the officer was Gwafa's pub mate.
"Ola Gwafa!" came the spirited hello. "Welcome back brother."
Gwafa smiled and greeted him back.
"You guys went to buy more bicycles?"
"No. The madam wanted to buy fabric and carpets from Morocco."
The immigration officer whistled. "Serious things eh?"
He inspected their passports, saw the exit stamps from Casablanca and slapped them with the heavy entry stamp of the island.
"Hope I will see you when you are around. Drinks at the usual place?" The officer asked Gwafa.
"Sure thing boss. In a few days. It has been a long journey."
That is had. Gwafa just wanted to get to the small beach cottage he rented when he was in Josephine and just sleep.
Customs were at this point nonexistent as it was the same officer who had bonded the goods. He stamped Gwafa's manifest as he did a quick check of the diplomatic tags, stamped Banou's warehouse documents and allowed them through. He called Banou back and wrote a number on a small piece of paper.
"Listen, when you open your shop, call me on this number. My wife and her friends will appreciate the things you brought. Also, that maroon carpet. . .
That thick warm island breeze welcomed them home. The constancy of Ilha de Florença was real. The lazy lumber of islanders and the slothful pace were a major step down from the hustle of Morocco. A yellow Renault taxi appeared and Gwafa and Mapacha helped the driver load her suitcase, train case and diplomatic bags into the backseat.
"Take the bags to your place. We shall deal with them tomorrow, OK?"
Did they trust her with all that money? She was surprised, but after that trip, they had reached a new level of trust and she comprehended that. She rolled down the window, pulled out a cigarette, lit it and told the driver to head to Barra.
"See you guys later."
Gwafa left with Mzee Tembo, and finally, Mapacha made his way to the shack. Down the well-trodden path, past his parked bike and he could hear Neve's wild bark as she run up to meet him. Her frantic joy was uncontrollable as she leapt into his arms, and shook violently in joy, the bark reduced to a whimper. He scruffed her ears and they continued down to the shack. It was empty and had been rearranged. Abril was not yet home. Neve's water bowl was half empty. He found some leftovers in the cabinet and dumped them into her food bowl before he walked out and made his way to Nsia's. He was keen on an island meal, and he needed to find Abril.
Abril could barely contain herself that night. She had missed Mapacha and was curious about the bandage but that would be for later. The next morning was routine. He bathed, treated the wound, and she dressed it with a fresh bandage and he rode off to work. She was irritated that he had to rush off immediately, but he explained that new responsibilities meant he needed to be disciplined. When he left, she sat down and considered the conversation. It was not the grunts and monosyllabic conversation she was accustomed to. He seemed alive, and talkative and wanted to know how she had been. Something had changed. Her old beloved Mapacha had started to transform.
He rode intrepidly to the bicycle shop, parked his bike outside and entered. Time had stopped and restarted, and they had to pick up the pieces.
"Morning Madam Una," he greeted her.
"Mapacha. How are you this morning?"
"I'm great boss."
He entered the workshop, found that they now employed two assemblers, and he managed them. There was not much to do. He inspected their work and pushed the bicycles out, giving them a final once-over before he set them on the rack. On the small office table at the back, a bored Mzee Tembo perused the newspaper again for the umpteenth time, while the small radio chattered mindlessly. They looked at each other and realised the very same thing, they were bored.
The only person who seemed to enjoy being in that shop was Una who was dressed in a monarchical liputa. If she was gleeful at the fact that her husband was back from his trip, she did not demonstrate it at the shop. Inside, however, she was giddy. New fabric from Casablanca? New rugs? And they were held up at customs? Not a small package. Beautiful. Her coup, however, was an easy ambush at breakfast. Unable to contain herself any longer, she had prepared him a solid meal, fed him, and over morning discourse had told him that the shop was in good shape. It was. She found herself disappointed that Morocco suppliers were unreliable. This was untrue, given that Mzee Tembo had only entered one shop, and only then to hide. He had agreed to her main request. If she wanted to learn how to drive, he would support her. In fact, why wait till tomorrow? He would drive her to the school himself that very morning to find out how much it cost and how long it would take.
However, Mzee Tembo was a man on a mission. Mapacha's construction had given him ideas. He too wanted to build a rural home and leave the small house they inhabited in the city estate and move to something bigger. He needed to butter her up to the idea, so his give to her vehicular ambitions was just the tip of the iceberg. Ensconced deep inside his suitcase lay a small Simca brochure. His hook. Why not buy her a car? She would certainly agree to a bigger rural home with car ownership on the table. They lunched together at the cafe across the shop and at 3 PM, Mzee Tembo and Mapacha had to leave to attend to a business matter.
"Fine! Fine!" she waved them off with a smile.
"Wait for me here. I will pick you up in the evening?"
She was overjoyed. The business trip had certainly made him more pleasant.
The baby blue 404 sped to Barra and they stopped outside a freshly spruced house.
"307 boss. Right there."
He parked outside and hooted twice. Banou glided out, in an effervescent mood, dressed in a light brown djellaba, no doubt, a coup from Casablanca.
"Ola!" she greeted them. "Come in. How is your arm Mapacha?"
"Good Banou. You have a nice house."
It was. When they got in, there was a heavy stench of cigarette smoke. Gwafa was already there seated on the couch in front of a half-full ashtray.
He too was in a good mood.
"Big guy, how are you feeling?"
Mapacha smiled at him. "I'm good. Feeling better."
"How is Abril?"
"She is doing great."
Banou pointed to the wrapped bundles of fabric and two large rugs. "For Una."
"I owe you some money, right?" Mzee Tembo asked her.
"Yeah, we shall discuss that later."
A similar bundle was set aside.
"For Abril. You owe me for the fabric, but the rugs are a present from me to you. Think of it as a housewarming gift."
"Now, to business."
She floated into one of the rooms, returned with two diplomatic bags, and repeated that till all nine were present. The seals were still intact.
"Open them up." Mzee Tembo said.
Gwafa cut open the seals and poured out the money plus a couple of bundles of hash. Mzee Tembo smiled then shook his head in disapproval. He had forgotten about the hash and the weed. For the next few minutes, they poured out the money till the small table overflowed. Banou set aside the hash and the weed. She would give Mapacha his bundles. She switched on the television, and the late afternoon news program was on with the reporter's announcement about how the defeat of the Black Stars by Sudan had played out at the Africa Cup of Nations Final.
Big thanks to the guys who have supported me in this endeavour. D.W., R.W., A.M., and the guys on the newsletter who keep reading. Also, welcome to new followers.
Thanks to Vast_Cricket and rheckber for teaching me about currency.
Thanks to 13rahma and Tchaikovskin for pointing out a certain French car.
Thanks to BS-O-Meter, coldpizza32, EPIXKEY, Redcandy22, and a person who remains unnamed for helping me title this story.
Thanks to Drayef for teaching me about the Bouregreg.