SEP 27, 2022
Her ample derriere radiated unseen rays of allure. The luscious jiggle was amplified by her strong-willed stride, which drew attention to her. Heaving the dawn catches from their canoes, the fishermen fervently relished her swaying posterior. Across the road, the market ladies hushedly jeered and judged as mocking words peppered their jealous parched lips. She had comically clopped away from the minibus terminal and across the harbour on her impractical platforms, her elegant coconut-bred afro bobbing, pursuing the animation of her abundant bottom. She diffused her intoxicating perfume along a long trail. The cheapness of her clattering jewellery telegraphed her insidious profession. Up rose the fetid stench of strewn entrails, harvested from the fishermen's fresh haul, obliging her to twist her nose away. Overhead, the dark-feathered screaming cormorants lamented their losses, having yielded the growing heap of fish guts to the harbour's starving mongrels.
She felt fortuitous that morning, as she approached the open bicycle shop. At the boutique next door, she had scrutinised her appearance in the mirror. 'Not too shabby,' she had muttered to herself. When it came to her style, she never considered anyone else's opinion over hers, or what it signalled. Things could have been worse. There were destitute vagabonds that would have instantly traded places with her. She stepped up the stairs, pushed on the worn door frame and warily stepped in.
'Salaam,' she respectfully greeted the old man behind the counter, as the door behind her slammed shut. The bicycle shop was a tremendous maze. The front held racks that hosted different types of bicycle models. At the back was a kitchenette with a narrow table that held a paraffin stove with a kettle on top as well as a couple of mugs to the side. The other side had a door marked 'WORKSHOP', which she assumed was where bicycles were repaired.
The din of the energetic soukous artist played loudly on the portable transistor radio, and it drowned out her voice. Unsure of herself, she debated greeting him again. The old man, long having noticed her, disgusted by the creature that she was, candidly disregarded her and continued perusing the newspaper.
'EFFIONG ANNOUNCES END TO CONFLICT'
She read the headline on the paper that concealed the proprietor whose regret that morning grew by the second. Why couldn't she just leave? She coughed to capture his attention.
He was defeated and accepted the engagement. Gradually, he lowered the paper and gave her a disapproving once over.
"Yes, how may I assist you?"
He greyed his voice, hoping it emphasized his age. Her presence in his shop indignified him. Without saying another word, she haltingly lowered her oversized Manhattans and revealed her blackened eyes. The bruises surprised him as he realised he had overlooked something, not that it would matter as his disdain for her would never wash. As he observed her, he could see the concealment of her bruises underneath the delicately applied makeup.
"I need to see him. I need his help," she said. He detected the whiff of her desperation, but he did not want to get involved in her sordid affairs.
"He is not what you consider him to be. He is neither a pimp nor 'muscle' for hire. This island has no pimps. You know this. How would he help you?"
"Ermmm, please, just. . . just let me see him. Talk to him. He will understand."
"Banou!" Mzee Tembo said wearily with a sigh. "Please, just leave. Don't drag him into this."
His words stung her deeply.
Slowly, she slid the Manhattans back up and as quietly as she had walked in with her head stooped in defeat, she walked out. The hot tears slowly streamed down, as they raced streaks of mascara all over her cheeks. She slowly strolled to her refuge in the city, a dingy bar by the bluffs.
Back at the shop, Mzee Tembo scoffed at her audacity. How could she have brought herself into his fine establishment to try to procure pandering services? Is that who she thought he was? Repositioning his browline glasses, he anxiously continued to consume the thrilling tale of Biafra.
At the outskirts of the town, isolated by a hill, sat a small shack that overlooked the litter-covered beach. The humid air, pungent with the salient whiffs of passion and reefer smoke escaped through the makeshift curtains of the gaping window. He lay on the bed, entertained by the hallucinations of the freshly smoked joint. Next to him was Abril, who snored contentedly, worn out from their long night together. The curtain breezily flittered sneaking in the morning into the bedroom. Wearily, he coaxed himself off the bed and stubbed out the remnants of the roach into the broken beer bottle that lay on the wooden floor. He pulled up his green underwear as he staggered towards the door. The sun and warm sea salt breeze embraced him invitingly. Underneath the shack, his beloved Neve snored, unaware that her master had risen.
The searing heat roused his senses and evaporated the drowsiness from his body. At the latrine behind his shack, he swung open the door and stood aside letting the steaming stench gush out. Grudgingly, he stepped in, clutching a sheaf of crumpled newspapers. Having handled his business he grabbed the stained perforated metal bucket dunked it into the water drum and suspended it in the exposed makeshift shower behind the shack. Armed with a minuscule bar of Lifebuoy and a shred of nylon sackcloth, he lathered up and scrubbed himself clean. The drizzle through the punctures rinsed the suds away. Neve, now risen, watched him clean himself from a distance, as her tail slowly fluttered. He dried himself with his tattered grey towel, draped his dripping underwear on the clothesline and entered the shack to get dressed. He chose his default outfit. A plain white t-shirt and a pair of faded blue denim city sweepers that was held together by a thick brown leather belt with an oversized buckle. He wore his pair of Persols and a pair of brown leather sandals.
When he finished dressing, he patted his combed afro but did not bother to check himself in the mirror. For Neve, he heaped the leftovers and the bones that he had gathered from the bar into her plastic basin. He then added water to the empty plastic cooking oil container for her to drink. She hungrily devoured the meal appreciatively. Curled on the bed, Abril was still snoring. With the door shut behind him, he unhurriedly pushed his bicycle up the pathway to the dirt road. From there, he pedalled down onto the main road and headed towards the town square. It barely took him ten minutes to get to the shop. He leaned his bicycle against the front wall and walked in.
"Olá boss." he greeted Mzee Tembo.
Mzee Tembo liked Mapacha and regarded him as his own prized fighter. He lowered the newspaper that screamed grimly about the fall of Biafra and withheld the disastrous news from him. Mapacha's name always amused him. The twin, and in this case, the broken twin. Tattlers circulated the questionable tale of how Mapacha had strangled his twin in the womb, which caused his mother's demise at childbirth. The one brave soul that questioned Mapacha about this story ended up with a broken clavicle. That served as a warning to anyone who might have entertained ideas about broaching that issue. Over the years, Mapacha had shattered various bones in various situations. His propensity for violence was well documented, and so fierce was this disposition that even beat officers avoided him when he flew into a rage. Oddly enough, inquisitive rookies that believed themselves tough enough from the rigorous training, attempted to take on Mapacha. They approached him armed with batons after they had casually ignored warnings from their commanding officers. It invariably ended up the same. Mapacha tore through men at will.
He removed his sunglasses and hang them on the brim of his t-shirt as he walked to the kitchenette. There he poured himself a cup of tea and then headed into the workshop to begin assembling a new bicycle.
Mzee Tembo had painstakingly reassembled Mapacha after the army had disposed of him, following his injuries in the concluding Biafran affair. Disillusioned by the callousness of the army, Mapacha often stared bitterly at his scar-ridden torso, a victim of a landmine attack. Careerless, Mzee Tembo took the opportunity to manage his prospects and carefully curated the activities that set his direction in life. After all, Mapacha was a modest man. He prided himself in the fact that he had somehow completed the rigorous training of the national service and later on had proudly served his country in uniform. Despite it all, the illusion of nationalism had crushed down like the sand castles he had built as an adolescent boy on the beaches of the island. With the current headlines, Mzee Tembo feared that Mapacha would have lost his senses and become confrontational. The paper, therefore, had to be laid down. In the workshop, Mapacha opened his well-arranged toolbox, while Mzee Tembo happily reflected on the purpose he had granted Mapacha. Over the rhapsodic performance that covered 'Pata Pata', he slowly gathered the paper and silently continued poring over the news.
The silence in the back of the workshop comforted Mapacha. He quietly assembled the new speedster. The shiny chrome fascinated him, and he polished it repeatedly. As he worked, his tools noisily clanged in the workshop. So engrossed was he, that he did not overhear the hushed voices as a confrontational conversation transpired in the front room. All he could hear was the concert of the mixed acoustics that enthralled Mzee Tembo. He also did not hear Mzee Tembo as he walked in.
"Mapacha, you have a visitor," Mzee Tembo announced.
He was not the 'getting visitors' type, but as she squeezed past Mzee Tembo, he instantly recognised her. Instant hatred coursed through his veins as he stared down at Banou. He recognised her from the bar down the road where he ate his meals and gathered leftovers for his bitch.
"Olá Mapacha," she weakly greeted.
Mzee Tembo was determined to witness this conversation, wary that Banou was now in Mapacha's comfort zone. Cautiously, she got to arm's length before her confidence waned. She removed her sunglasses, and once again revealed her blackened eyes.
Stunned, he feared an accusation so he blurted out, "I did not do that to you."
Banou smiled. "I know. I want you to get the guy that did this to me."
"What?" he asked.
With a piece of tissue, she slowly wiped her face down and revealed the bumps and bruises all over her face.
"You want me to undress so that you can see more?"
Mzee Tembo finally understood the magnitude of violence that had been shed on Banou. He pulled up a chair. With the patience of a nursery school teacher, Banou revealed the horrors of the previous night at the elegant hotel in St. Michel. She explained that a client had enjoyed her services and then failed to pay after which he had beaten her up accusing her of being a con. The perpetrator, an Englishman, had bribed the security guards who had hurled her out of the hotel. Mapacha and Mzee Tembo were shocked by the tale and the level of cruelty.
"Banou," Mapacha explained, "I'm not a pimp. This island maintains a set of rules and there are no pimps. Report it to the police and allow them to fix it for you."
Banou countered. They did not understand. The man who mistreated her was a foreign tourist in a country that thrived on tourism. The pleas of a scandal-ridden woman of ill repute remained the last thing the police would entertain. She was at present a pariah in the very shop they stood in. The government would have committed her to one of the scattered nondescript villages where she would have remained for the rest of her life. Mzee Tembo understood this, but Banou was far too radioactive to even consider helping. Being in his shop alone could have scandalized him in their conservative society.
She concluded that they would not help her. Her hopeful aura died as she shrugged the whole thing off. Despite his intense dislike of Banou, Mapacha knew she had been slighted and her being downtrodden irritated him. He however could not see any way to assist her. She let herself out and slowly walked towards Nsia's bar, to salve her wounded pride and drink her sorrows away. Her impotence on the matter thinned her defiance. This refutation was the final catastrophe.