OCT 1, 2022
Mapacha's insomnia plagued him as tried to conceptualise the violent action ahead. He packed a bag with a change of clothes, pocketed his knuckle dusters and he was out of the flimsy door before the dazzling sun had risen. The gentle gradient that transformed from orange to blue over the horizon announced the birth of another sunny island day. He led Neve down the dusty potholed road and walked across the shanty town. Twenty minutes later, as the island stirred to its usual chaos, Mapacha knocked on the battered door of the nondescript house. The bare potholed yard was characteristic of the neighbourhood. He bitterly regretted the early rousing, but he did not have much choice.
The second knock brought two peering eyes from behind the flimsy flowery curtain. Swollen thick with sleep, they angrily gawked at him. Unintelligible murmurs emanated from within, as footsteps timidly approached the door. It noisily creaked wide open and before him, Abril faced him in a loose-fitting kermis as her bleary eyes lethargically peered into the glorious dawn.
"Ola Mapacha," she rasped.
"Ola. . . I need you to take care of Neve for a few days. I have to go away."Abril's bewildered surprise flashed across her dazed face as burning questions saturated her mind. She had no idea how Mapacha knew where she lived, given that he had never been there until now. Besides that, Mapacha was entrusting her with Neve. In their contentious relationship, she had learnt she could never come between them. The other thought was that Mapacha was going away for a few days. He never went anywhere as he had nowhere to visit. There was no family to speak of, and he never spoke about the orphanage he was brought up in, so she ruled that out.
"Where are you going Mapacha?" she interrogated him.
"It's business, Abril."
"So you have a business trip with Mzee Tembo?"
She tried to assimilate the situation as she watched him stake the chain underneath the sole tree in the compound. From the bag, he removed the cooking oil tin and carefully poured water from the bottle he had brought along. Neve lapped it up quickly and then lay down. While he catered to her, Abril appraisingly admired him as her brutal lust tried to overcome her senses. Mapacha's presence always stirred her up.
"When will you be back?"
"Maybe in three days or a week."
He placed five pounds in her hand as well as the now empty water bottle as Neve stared, confused by this new arrangement.
"Go to Nsia's every evening and get her food."
"Would you like to come in for breakfast?" she eagerly asked.
"No. . . Bye Abril."
That brusque response agonised Abril, but he brought Neve to her, and in her mind, this confirmed one thing. Mapacha believed in her a lot more than she had ever considered. She keenly watched him cross the road and walk down the dusty pathway towards the town square.
As he walked away, Mapacha felt himself twitch. Abril's visible silhouette through her revealing outfit and the way her bosom heaved ruffled him. Underneath the tree, Neve, sorrowful as Mapacha left her behind, whined for a dreadful moment and then lay down. That was the first day and night of her life that she spent without him.
The salty breeze soothed him as he briskly headed to the town square. His mental disarray concerned him. Mapacha knew he was unprepared, and he struggled frantically to find focus. He sighted Banou comfortably seated on the stairs of the shop as she clutched her own travelling bag. She had radically transformed herself into an everyday city girl with her plain oversized t-shirt, blue stonewash jeans and flat white sneakers. There was no hint of makeup or cheap jewellery and really the only sole remnants of the old Banou were her big shiny afro.
"Ola Mapacha," she enthusiastically greeted him.
He sat next to her on the steps of the bicycle shop anxiously waiting for Mzee Tembo to inevitably arrive. A short while later the odd trio raced out of Josephine down the coastal highway as they tensely listened to the radio broadcast of the early morning news. The tragic fall of Biafra and the gritty drama that surrounded it was all the announcer breathlessly talked about.
The three-hour drive featured breathtaking sights. There were numerous tiny hamlets, unified by thatched roof houses. They were set on idyllic beaches, that bore coconut-dropping palm trees that habitually waved at the Atlantic and the occasional ships. The islanders who lived there were indeed in an idyllic paradise. Ilha de Florença was a stunning island. However, they lived a penurious life. The oblivious tourists, charmed by the postcard-perfect scenery often drove by as their cameras clicked away. They admired this charming life. Mzee Tembo and the rest of the islanders who lived there recognised the pathetic fallacy of it all. For Mzee Tembo however, it no longer mattered. With a healthy pension, a dutiful wife and a thriving business, he had made it. The only thing he had sorely lacked was a perilous adventure. The barbarous hand of death that preyed on people his age would have to ostensibly wait that much longer.
The city of St. Michel, across the island from Josephine, had progressed from an infamous fishing hamlet to a tourism mecca. Its infrastructure, one of the few sensible investments by the government, was ultimately supported by the big-name hotel developers. It was modern and donned a Mediterranean touch. The broad boulevards were cleaner and bore no potholes, and certified the city's established reputation. Tourists flocked in droves, eager to sample some of the new amenities like the local discos, the water clubs, competitive fishing, and the numerous wide tan sandy beaches. As the considerable numbers inevitably grew, the government decided to cut the commute from Josephine which bore the only international airport and developed a stylish state-of-the-art airport on the outskirts of St Michel. They guaranteed you could leave the airport and be on a gorgeous beach in less than an hour. It appeased experienced travellers.
The Peugeot halted at the city limits of St. Michel. Police controls meant they had to pass an official inspection to be permitted into the city, the simple way the government documented visitors. Sufficiently satisfied with their papers, the trio cruised into the meticulous city. At the first opportune junction, they exited the main road and made their way into the city using the narrower back roads. Mzee Tembo was eager to keep a low profile. As they drove past the stylish buildings, Mapacha stared thoughtfully through the window critically observing the stark difference between this city and the seediness of Josephine. He marvelled as they drove past the airport, but did not perceive the role it had played in his conception. Mapacha was a stranger in the city of his birth.
The Englishman was currently ensconced in one of its luxurious rooms, while they would lay low in a small squalid hotel. Banou adept in this city she called home directed them towards the modest hotel that was convenient to where their interests lay, the gargantuan Lotus Grand Hotel. Theirs, the Fair Highway Hotel was a shabby hotel designed for discretion. Initially billed as an affordable residence for budget travellers, it had been overrun by hourly customers. So many were the visitors and so frequent were the encounters that the management no longer cared about their register. Banou, in full knowledge of this selected three random names, paid the deposit and collected three keys and a receipt. The receptionist did examine the register for compliance and instead slammed it shut with finality as he merely pointed in the general direction of their rooms.
The cramped rooms looked rough. Rot from the salty air had overrun all the surfaces. Everything, from the threadbare cushions to the cheap linoleum sheet spread over the exposed concrete floor, all the way to the beddings was faded. The finger-thin mattresses were sure to leave bumps while the bathroom was bare with a shower, sink and toilet. Mzee Tembo felt safer when he sniffed the pungent chemical odour that emanated from every single thing. He was reasonably assured that everything was at the very least clean. They agreed to meet up after an hour to go properly explore the hotel and hopefully find the Englishman. Mapacha eagerly undressed and stood under the hot shower. He had ardently longed for the relaxing sensation of hot water on his skin again after he had spent almost two miserable years under his cold water makeshift bucket shower. The abundant water gently poured on him and his tense muscles relaxed. Mzee Tembo, exhausted from the early morning, lay on the bed and napped away. Banou stood by the window and fiercely stared in the general direction of the vast hotel. She futilely struggled to contain herself, while the contemptuous anger inside her slowly simmered.
The Lotus Grand Hotel majestically hovered over the wide-mouth beach. Still relatively new to St. Michel, it boasted ten floors with twenty luxury suites on each, accessorised extensively for comfort. Guests did not need to choose between a bathtub and a shower as they got both. They slept comfortably on the feather-soft mattress with plump pillows reputed to be the softest on the island. From the protected beach site, they had instant access to a series of lively bars and gourmet restaurants and avoided the specific need to get back on the main road. For the well-heeled, as well as the attractive men and women who pleasured them, this was the hotel they desperately needed to be in if they spent their holiday on this side of the coast.
An hour later, they all nonchalantly walked towards the towering building. Banou, through her extensive experiences, learnt many other hotels shared the same protected beach and thus she carefully chose a small obscure yet stylish marquee hotel to gain access through. To seem less inconspicuous, they initially stopped at the bar and ordered drinks. Banou, carefully keen to keep a tight reign on her dwindling resources ordered them the most reasonable drink on the menu, a cocktail of tropical fruits blended into a juice. They sat on the hotel terrace and cheerfully enjoyed their delicious drinks. She could not peel her eager gaze from the gleaming glass windows over the fence that separated the two hotels. With emptied glasses on the table, they made their way to the beach and approached the Lotus Grand Hotel.
The picturesque beach looked like a glossy page from an influential travel magazine. The tourists sunned themselves on the raked sand that bore no jagged stones or hidden seashells. The protruding huts at regular intervals were manned by tall muscular lifeguards that keenly watched over the swimmers.
As they walked past the hotel, Banou pointed to the prickly bushes that led to the hidden path. Mzee Tembo and Mapacha carefully noted the access area and covertly scouted to see if there were other vulnerabilities they could exploit later. They properly checked if there was an unseen window over the path where they could be spotted. It seemed clear. That bit covered, they slowly walked up the beach towards the bar and fervently hoped to find the Englishman.
For the next two hours, they roamed the various beach bars, but he was nowhere in sight. Banou undoubtedly knew he was nearby, but felt that it was too optimistic to find him this soon. As the radiant sun peaked, they reluctantly decided to break for lunch. Lazily, they sauntered towards the marquee hotel. When they got to the stairs off the beach, Mapacha gently tapped Banou and pointed out to a conspicuous figure underneath a palm tree seated next to a young island girl. Banou squinted her vigilant eyes as the harsh sunlight partially obscured her view. Her outrage instinctively stirred as she instantly recognised him.
"Hey, it's him. Yes. It's him."
Mapacha noted a slighter man than Banou had inaccurately described. He looked average-sized, seemed middle-aged from the bald spot on his exposed head, and sported a beer belly that protruded from his hairy torso. The island sun had tanned his skin to bronze, making him appear slightly exotic. Next to him was a considerably younger girl, an islander with chocolate skin and long curly hair bound in a bun. The Englishman shamelessly ogled her youthful peaks and mounds that were barely hidden by her minuscule bikini. Mzee Tembo stared at the couple in unutterable disgust as they drifted past them. He did not approve of the plucking of young fruit commercially by tourists. Mapacha had long committed the Englishman's face to his memory and seem disinterested in everything else. They passed the marquee hotel and wandered a bit of a distance towards the end of the beach where the overhanging rocks started. Mapacha pointed out to a hidden sandy spot where they could sit and remain obscure.
The surveillance was relatively straightforward. The couple seemed oblivious to the potential danger lurking and continued their animated conversation. Their boisterous voices and delighted laughter carried a bit of a distance as a waiter hovered and constantly supplied them with continuous glasses of caipirinhas, a recent import from South America. After about half an hour, Mzee Tembo led Banou down the beach away from the scene towards the jagged rocks. Feeling intrepid, he knew they would need to locate an escape path. Once they had achieved their objectives he had reasoned that they could not exit through the marquee hotel. They walked for about ten minutes and Mzee Tembo pointed to a rough walkway up the rocks that looked more suitable for mountain goats.
"There. That is where we shall pass to get out of this beach," he satisfactorily explained to Banou.
She was apprehensive about this part of the plan, given that they risk falling to their deaths. Mzee Tembo, however, smiled confidently. The valuable information he had received from his contact seemed accurate enough. Their ambitious plan felt more solid. Amply satisfied with the location, they turned and headed back towards Mapacha.
From his hiding spot, Mapacha scrupulously observed the couple and counted the drinks the waiter had delivered. He measured how drunk they would be while he checked to see how crowded the beach was. Instinctively, he ducked when he heard the soft thud of footsteps loom from the rear.
"Hey Mapacha, it's us." he heard Mzee Tembo call out. He peered out to see them duck among the rocks as they walked towards him.
"We pinpointed the precise spot where we can exit from. Have those two done anything yet?"
"No boss, they are just there drinking and laughing."
Mzee Tembo could see Mapacha looked weary and famished.
"Banou, how about you go get us something to eat?" Mzee Tembo asked.
She looked up, saw the tourists had not noticed them and she swiftly made her way up to the marquee hotel. Ten minutes later, she returned with a small bag and some bottled drinks. They contentedly munched on sandwiches, and Mapacha gratefully drank his thirst away. With lunch done, they hang around for a bit till it was time for them to leave. Banou gave Mapacha a few pounds that he hesitatingly accepted.
"You need to relax Mapacha. If you are confronted by a waiter or a guard, merely pretend you are exploring the beach and order a drink. They will leave you." Banou certainly knew her way around these parts. He uneasily watched them leave and laid back, a solitary eye shadowing its quarry.
As the deepening dusk approached, the couple finally jumped into the water for a few minutes to cool themselves. Once out, the girl wrapped her sinewy litheness in the khanga that she had spent the afternoon lying on while the Englishman hid his hairiness in a tropical shirt. Holding hands, they walked leisurely towards the lively beach bar, with Mapacha slyly in tow. He could see the security guards that patrolled the beach, and he followed Banou's prudent advice and acted as if he belonged and sure enough, they ignored him.
He stalked the couple in the bar, never losing sight of them. The tropical-themed bar was crowded with intoxicated tourists of which some unrhythmically gyrated to the cool reggae music that played softly in the background. Mapacha ordered a tropical drink as he desperately needed something to moisten his dry mouth, while the couple knocked back more caipirinhas. He took in the atmosphere at the bar apprehensively as he had never seen anything like it before and was typically used to more seedy places like Nsia's. The young girl was getting handsy with the now drunken Englishman as she lost her own inhibitions. With that last round, he escorted the girl out of the beach bar toward their hotel. In the sinister shadows, Mapacha hounded them until they got to the sweeping staircase, the invisible line he could not cross without being spotted. Sneakily, he streamed past them and headed towards the marquee hotel and glanced one last time to see the couple disappear through the broad-winged doors.
Though he was ravenous, his instincts swayed him to hang around for a few more hours. It would be an uncomfortable wait as the hunger pangs stabbed his stomach. He resumed his vigilant watch at the rocks and this time focused on the hotel. Mapacha had a lot to reflect on. He was in his home town, yet he experienced no emotional connection to it. This was an unfamiliar world. He fondly imagined his deceased mother in this city, but no vision satisfied him. Worse, he did not even have a picture of her, just the image he had conjured up in his mind. His thoughts deviated to his new experiences. St. Michel had exposed him to new things, and he was still quite perplexed.
Three hours passed, and Mapacha considered calling it off. The beach had finally quietened down except for the barking of the fierce hounds that the security guards patrolled with. He decided to give it another half hour before he left. Barely ten minutes in, he saw the wing doors swing open, and a familiar frame dash out. The Englishman was out once more dressed in the same tropical shirt as before, and a pair of grey shorts. He hastily got to the beach and walked speedily towards the rocks where Mapacha was hidden. Had he been spotted? After thirty precious seconds, he could hear footsteps quickly draw on him. Naturally worried, he pushed himself deeper into the rocks and prepared for a violent confrontation. The footsteps finally stopped and a brief flash appeared followed by the sticky smell of a joint. That caught him by surprise. Mapacha peeked out cautiously and saw him, with his back turned while smoke surged from his face. After ten minutes, he threw the roach into the peaceful ocean and leisurely walked back to the hotel. The Englishman maintained a habit that Banou had neglected to point out.
Mapacha, now weary walked through the marquee hotel, and the guard let him out through the main door. Slowly, he made his way back to the Fair Highway Hotel and walked directly to Mzee Tembo's room whose light was still on. He knocked on the door, and Banou let him in.
"Well?" Mzee Tembo inquired impatiently.
Banou expected Mapacha to come back hungry and had prepared for him a lukewarm plate of rich-looking mbongo tchobi served with peppered fried plantain.
"Sorry, it's cold and there isn't anything to reheat it with."
Mapacha did not care. Between mouthfuls, he explained what had happened, how the Englishman had made the young girl drunk and then left with her and later came out and smoked a joint. Banou's shame rose as she realised Mapacha had fittingly described the near similar unfortunate circumstances that led up to her own situation.
"Yes, I forgot, he comes out to smoke." Banou apologetically offered.
They glared fiercely at her.
"Every night?" Mzee Tembo asked surprised.
"Well, I was only with him for two nights, and he did that every night."
Mzee Tembo did not need to look at Mapacha as he fathomed what he concluded. They had found their window of opportunity. Their plan had changed drastically.
"So, we do it tomorrow?" she meekly asked.
"Seems OK. Do you know where everything else is?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"Yes. The rooms are usually the same."
"Is there anything else we should know?" Mzee Tembo asked.
Banou felt sheepish after realising her drunken stupors previously had caused her to neglect to provide them with vital information.
"Are you sure Banou?"
She instantly got irritated by Mzee Tembo's hectoring attitude.
"Yes, I'm sure. I made a mistake, OK?"
"OK, Banou." Mzee Tembo suddenly felt guilty for haranguing her.
They carefully reviewed their revised plan one last time and felt even more confident about the desired outcome before they all headed to bed. In his dreary room, he felt mightily relieved to undress, and once more took a glorious hot shower, that shed the soreness he had accumulated while he lay on the beach. He crawled into bed stark naked, stretched his weary frame over the uncomfortable mattress and almost instantly dozed off, the last thought being about his faceless mother in St. Michel.