SEP 29, 2022
Overhead, the midday sun blazed its path across the azure sky. Islanders scattered from its terror into lazy siestas. The thick breeze carrying the fiery Sahara sands created a dazzling dry mist that cooled the island. Banou on Nsia's makeshift rooftop terrace stared out to the vastness of the Atlantic, a half-smoked Gitane sidled on her lips. Over the previous hour, she had explained her agonising story to Nsia who could only empathise. Where had she gone wrong for life to provide her with such bitter lemons?
"You used the wrong lure Banou," Nsia advised her. "You offered too little and expected a lot more."
"No Banou, you just can't offer them money from your 'business'. It would be insulting. You need to offer them more than that."
"I couldn't sleep with Mzee Tembo. He might croak before we even got started and Mapacha is so big and a nutcase. He would wreck me."
"But Mapacha sleeps with Abril, and she isn't dead yet. Besides, you can't offer them a piece of that," she said, as she pointed to Banou's prominent bum, "They won't dare touch you."
Banou understood her toxicity meant that no one wanted anything to do with her. Nsia was right. She needed a more effective strategy.
"So what do I do? What do I offer?"
Over the course of the afternoon, they conjured up ideas and debated them. Some were too reckless, others senseless, while others were outright outrageous. The waitress served them a slow-cooked spicy lentil and sausage broth seasoned with black pepper served alongside fried brown rice that they both feasted on with relish. As the bottle of Jim Beam slid them past tipsy, their voices amplified and laughter consumed them. Almost out of ideas, Banou stumbled upon what she considered a master plan. She slowly sipped on the glass as she explained to Nsia how it would work. Nsia played the devil's advocate, poked holes and corrected her on her glaring errors and together they crafted a devious scheme. A rebellious Banou, now inebriated, rose up and went to confront Mapacha and Mzee Tembo one last time.
For her level of commitment, Banou lacked consistent rationale. Her alcoholic savagery and caustic bitterness left her cursing at everything and everyone. Even the well-to-do city preacher that had braved the scorching sun endured a momentary tongue-lashing. She staggered through the streets as she searched for the shop, till she saw Mzee Tembo's gleaming baby blue Peugeot 404 parked by his shop. Her anger peaked as she stumbled through the front door and caught Mzee Tembo by surprise. He angrily sneered at her.
"Out!" He yelled. His patience with her finally wore thin.
Obstinately, she sauntered past him and let herself into the workshop. Mapacha was in the middle of the chrome marvel that was the Schwinn Speedster. He had ignored the commotion at the front, knowing Mzee Tembo was always harsh with panhandlers, but an inebriated Banou took him by surprise. She fouled the air in the workshop with her strong funk of alcohol, cigarette smoke and sweat.
"Mapacha," she carelessly yelled, "I have an idea."
A livid Mzee Tembo shadowed her, as he debated on how he would eject her without causing a scene that would have provoked a scandal. Mapacha, still agonized by Banou's story sensed her desperation so he sat down on the stool and pricked his ears.
"OK Banou, tell me about your idea."
Feeling unsteady, she propped herself on the wall and slowly explained her plan. The whiskey made her dramatise every single word, every sentence, and with her cunning mind, she tempted them with such irresistible fortunes, that even the prudent Mzee Tembo could not resist. Her rapier of a tongue ensnared them both and for a moment, they were bewitched by her scheme. Mzee Tembo whistled in admiration, surprised that Banou could put such a plan together. Her enterprise spelt out the one thing he had longed for. Adventure.
Mapacha stared at her in admiration. The idea seemed partially decent given that Banou was not the most reliable organiser. In his mind, he had already started planning, the excitement weaning him off his bashfulness. Over the afternoon, as they explored various strategies, Banou slowly sobered up. The horizon swallowed the sun, and despite Banou's overtures, they were not ready to agree with her.
"We will get back to you." Mzee Tembo said.
The twinge of the brush-off distressed her, though her instincts told her she had won them over. She left disappointed, as she wished she had an answer. In the modest workshop, Mzee Tembo and Mapacha stared at each other. They did not need to discuss anything. Their instincts had already decided for them.
Mapacha barely slept and before the morning light, he was already outside. The restlessness ate at him. For a moment, he wished Abril had spent the night with him. As he sat outside the shack slowly smoking with Neve tucked between his legs, Banou's words haunted him. He hazed through his rituals, as his mind calculated the numerous ways their plan could have gone wrong. As he rode into town, he caught sight of the dreaded white Peugeot 504 Station Wagon, fully crewed by plainclothes officers. Their peering eyes trolled the passersby, as they read their body language and sought after random casual culprits they could deal with. Known on the island as the 'disappearing act', it vacated the island of persistent violent offenders who ignored their caution. Unofficially supported, the squad in the car exacted murderous levels of justice and freed the people from the perils of ferocious villains and the judges of a lot of cases. The task of being a criminal lawyer on the island was an arduous one given the relatively few criminals that actually made it to the dock. They had set their eyes on Mapacha, as they recognised him. He heard their raucous laughter as they undoubtedly chattered about one of his violent exploits.
As with most days, he found Mzee Tembo engrossed in his newspaper, as he listened to Fany Mfuno's 'Hodi' on the small transistor. They greeted each other, and Mapacha habitually collected his steaming cup of tea from the kitchenette, entered the workshop and started a new assembly. Mzee Tembo followed him, intent on obtaining Mapacha's views on Banou's 'big idea'. He harboured moral misgivings that were quickly dispelled by Mapacha shrugging his shoulders in acceptance. What could he do? She had settled on them and would have likely moved on to another set of guys to aid her. Mapacha accepted this was fate. Mzee Tembo desperately tried to conceal his excitement, but Mapacha had already read it off his face.
"OK. We do this then?" he asked Mapacha for the umpteenth time.
"Then, go get her."
It was time to prepare.
Mapacha, a consummate teetotaller found it unpleasant being at Nsia's this early. The cooking pots stewed with lunch in the kitchen, and he could smell the berbere spice that seasoned the beef. Nsia at the counter took stock of the recent delivery of alcohol for the coming night. The various tables already catered to her 'frequent fliers', as the bottles of Guilder beer piled on the tables. Their merrymaking was hushed to ghostly whispers as Mapacha shuffled through the tables as he combed for Banou. He checked the corner tables and still could not locate her. On the off-chance she had left, he approached Nsia.
"Nsia, where is Banou?"
Nsia rolled her eyes at him.
"Well hello there Mr High and Mighty. . . Manners Mapacha," she bantered.
"Oh, hello. I am looking for Banou," Mapacha corrected himself.
Nsia and Mapacha maintained a terse sibling-like relationship. She understood Mapacha well enough to know he was not a lunatic and that all he desired was his own space. Indeed he was a borderline sociopath, but you needed to stoke him to bring out his unpleasant side. She had realised that he preferred to eat at her joint, so she discounted his meals significantly and ordered the maid to gather the leftovers and bones for Neve, which assured her that he would eat there frequently. He was appreciative, given that he barely had any money. What Mapacha did not know was that this gesture was not out of loyalty but of cunning. To Nsia, he was a one-man deterrent. All she needed to do was whistle up Mapacha's name once, and whoever desired trouble would rue the day. She had never done it, but when Mapacha ate there she tended to his table and thus fomented the myth.
She pointed at the back. "In there, sleeping it off."
He squeezed through the narrow doorway, into one of the backrooms. Banou sleazily lay half-naked, prostrated on a sheet-covered mattress that reeked of vulgarity. Disgusted by her coarseness, he roused her.
"Wake up Banou."She did not move.
"Eh Banou, get up, we need to go."
Still nothing. His frustration rose.
Her breathing intensified as she stirred to life.
"Come on Banou," he impatiently nudged her shoulder.
"Go away. Leave me alone," she mumbled drunkenly.
Mapacha's tether broke. Her drunken antics tired him. He walked out of the room to find Nsia who was amused by his agitated helplessness.
"Nsia, wake her up." He considered momentarily. "Please."
She headed to the backroom. Her own hectic day did not need this sort of drama. Irritated, she picked up the half-empty glass of water that was set on the floor next to the mattress and cruelly splashed it across Banou's face. Banou hissed as her body recoiled in shock. She struggled to open her bleary eyes, and when she flashed them open, her face was greeted by a furious Mapacha.
"Let's go. Get dressed. Mzee Tembo is waiting for us. I will be waiting outside. Two minutes Banou."
The pounding headache distorted her perspective. She rose groggily and headed to Nsia's tiny private bathroom at the back. The pungent aroma of spices from the kitchen nauseated her.
As he walked down the hallway, he heard Banou retch.
She spat down the dark hole as she peeled off her bra and knickers. Drained from hurling, she turned the faucet and the cold water slapped her wide awake. Half an hour later, she walked out of the bar dressed in fresh clothes as she hid her eyes behind her sunglasses. Naturally self-destructive, Banou was often lost in the incalculable destruction she caused in her drunken furore. Her hangover left her feeble, and she slowed Mapacha down as they walked towards the town square. By the time they got to the shop door, the sun had sapped away her energy. Mapacha steered her through, to the workshop. Mzee Tembo, ired, eyed her disapprovingly.
"Let's get this done then," he hastily began.
His calculating mind had come up with what he considered a foolproof plan. Around the workshop table, he slowly explained what he had prepared. He wrote notes down on a pad and emblazed them with arrows and circles as he signified their importance. Banou, still a mental yard behind irritated him as she raised her hand to ask questions every so often. He repeatedly attempted to explain to her why they needed to do it that way but she simply did not comprehend. Knowing she was getting on his nerves, she simply nodded in agreement. For her, being included in the plan and having a bottom line in it, despite her diminished role, was enough. Besides, the Englishman would rightfully get what he deserved.
In a little over an hour, they were done. Mzee Tembo assigned everyone their tasks. He wrote Banou's on a piece of paper, as he knew she would likely forget. Banou appeared confused as she slowly drifted towards Nsia's. She was indeed delighted that she was one step closer to her goal, but her excitement abated. Her racing mind slipped into its treacherous depths. A part of her regarded her diminished role as a demotion, and thus, began scheming on how that role would benefit her the greatest. Banou was indeed atrocious in many ways, but her tough life had turned her into a stunning mistress of survival.
Mzee Tembo also schemed in his own way. There were things he needed to attend to and requested Mapacha to mind the shop. He walked out, jumped into his Peugeot, fired it up and turned on the radio. 'Bem Bem', that new song he had heard about was airing. He turned it up, drove off, and made his way towards the coastal highway. Traffic was light, and he was in a buoyant mood. He mimicked Bella Bellow's voice as he rhythmically drummed the steering wheel of his beloved car.
Mapacha sat on Mzee Tembo's seat at the counter, unsure of what his temporary role signified. Mzee Tembo had forgotten to take the paper with him. Mapacha quickly skimmed through it and read the headlines that talked about a life he had tried hard to forget. Biafra had plunged from the grace of independence and fallen onto her mother's lap. Nigeria claimed her for herself.