OCT 2, 2022
This was a different morning. No roosters crowed in the background and there was no warm breeze trading from the Atlantic. Mapacha lay disoriented for a moment and thought he had woken up in the wrong house. He gradually gathered his thoughts and remembered he was not back in Josephine waking up in his shack. Tacitly, he put himself together and got off the bed. As he sat on the modern toilet seat, far away from his steaming latrine, he realised he missed Neve. The hot shower rejuvenated him and despite the hotel management's polite request that showers be limited to ten minutes, Mapacha enjoyed his for over half an hour. When the water turned lukewarm, he knew he was done so he walked out of the bathroom, towelled himself and carefully dressed in his favourite city sweepers and t-shirt. He packed his clothes from the previous day and walked out. Mzee Tembo stood next to his car, eager to go, but Banou had not yet come out of her room.
"Ola Mapacha. Did you sleep comfortably?"
"Ola boss. Yes."
They stood quietly for a moment waiting for Banou.
"Go get her," Mzee Tembo asked Mapacha as his patience waned.
Mapacha set his bag down and went to Banou's room. He hesitated, then knocked on her door.
"Banou, Banou, are you up?"
He heard her feet shuffle on the floor.
"Coming," she replied in a flowery voice.
She opened the door and the scents of various exquisite fragrances radiated from the room. Banou was already dressed and packed. He was genuinely surprised. For the second day in a row, Banou was sober and decently dressed, this time in tan pants, a white t-shirt with the national flag as well as her sneakers from the previous day.
"Hey Mapacha," she cheerfully greeted him. "Do you mind taking this to the car? I need to find us some breakfast."
Mapacha was wary of her overt friendliness. Her coarse nature seemed to have abated. He picked up her bag and loaded it into the car with the others. Banou walked out and headed towards the restaurant. A few minutes later, she returned with a tray loaded with three steaming mugs of tea and a few balls of broa. She set the tray on the bonnet of the car then they silently ate. When they finished, she returned the dishes back to the restaurant, went to the reception, returned their keys and paid the balance. Mapacha and Mzee Tembo stared at her, suspicious of her reformed demeanour. They got into the car, and Mzee Tembo fired up the engine and idled it. Banou jumped into the back seat. It was time for action.
The whole thing started anticlimactically. Mzee Tembo unhurriedly drove the 404 towards Josephine. His first stop was the Total petrol station where he fuelled his car. They slowly drifted out of St. Michel, as the news presenter read out the morning headlines over the car's radio. Mzee Tembo stopped at the police roadblock that they passed the previous day. He opened the window, stuck his head out and cordially greeted the officers loudly. They instantly recognised him, rapidly scanned the car's occupants and waved them on. He waved goodbye and smiled benignly, knowing that they had been marked as having left St. Michel. He drove for a few kilometres before he turned off the main road and drove towards a small abandoned hamlet. It was easy to find, and Mzee Tembo carefully hid the car behind one of the thatched houses.
They all jumped out, and each of them gathered their bags and went in three different directions to find a private spot to change their clothes. Mzee Tembo opted for sand-coloured pants, and a pale shirt accessorised by a weather-beaten straw fedora, and he instantly transformed himself into a well-to-do pensioner. Banou wore her olive green uniform with black low-heeled shoes and a beret from her previous stewardess career. Mapacha, not so keen on disguises picked his striped cotton city sweepers with a colourful shirt and a black cotton ganja cap. The whole outfit was complemented by brown platforms. He felt ridiculous but in an instant, he undoubtedly looked like a hippie. They looked comical, but when it came to the roadblock, they would pass scrutiny easily.
Mzee Tembo was the first to depart and on the main road, he hailed the first minibus that came along. He sat in the rear, strategically placed his cap over his face and feigned a nap. The slow minibus lumbered towards the roadblock. Once they stopped, an uneager policeman hopped in, quickly scrutinised the weary faces and jumped out. Nothing seemed unusual. They drove through and continued towards St. Michel. Banou too hopped a minibus and as Mzee Tembo had carefully instructed, sat in the back. She had a travel magazine that she intentionally used to hide part of her face. Once more, at the roadblock, nothing seemed unusual and they crossed into St. Michel. Mapacha inevitably followed in the same fashion. He sat in the back and simply stared out. Yet again, the roadblock policeman hadn't seen anything unusual, just weary faces. He arrived in St. Michel and rendezvoused with the others at the main post office as agreed.
They had a brief review and then set things into motion. Mapacha went in first through the marquee hotel gates. With his Persols on, he confidently walked up to the bar and ordered a tropical drink that he took with him to the terrace. He slowly drank it, and once he emptied his glass, abruptly disappeared to the hiding spot at the beach. Banou arrived next in a taxi. She looked like she had hopped off a flight. The hotel doorman graciously assisted her by carrying her bag into the hotel, and she went to the bar, sat down and ordered a tropical drink. With her eyes cunningly concealed by her Manhattans, she remained obscure. Slyly, she wandered out to the terrace with her drink and her bag, sat down, enjoyed it and once she felt confident that she was alone, she too vanished and headed directly to the hiding spot where Mapacha was waiting for her. She opened her bag took out her previous outfit and went behind the rocks where she changed. Mapacha removed the hat and shoes and put on the sandals that Banou had brought. He was ready.
They sat for almost two hours and carefully scanned the beach. Soon, the midday sun cut a fiery streak across the sky famishing them. Mzee Tembo eventually appeared with a small bag. As he slid between them, his beaming grin displayed his eager excitement.
"Ola," he cheerfully greeted them. "We made it."
He removed the sandwiches and drinks. Together, they heartily enjoyed their lunch as they patiently waited for the Englishman who was nowhere to be seen. They did not want to break cover, so despite the enthusiastic crowds, they chose to wait. The ultimate test of patience was here. Mapacha continued to survey the crowds as Banou and Mzee Tembo snoozed behind him, victims of the scorching sun and the hearty lunch.
Towards late afternoon, Mapacha spotted the couple as they walked out of the winged doors. He squinted as he watched them make their way slowly towards the beach. They crossed to the same spot underneath the tree and she gracefully dropped her khanga, revealing an even briefer bikini than her previous one. The Englishman shed his white shirt and sat down. As was the previous day, a restless waiter promptly appeared, and the tap of alcohol sprung open.
Their energetic chatter and laughter woke Mzee Tembo up. Curious, he cautiously peeked over the rocks.
"Good. Our guests of honour have arrived."
He roused Banou, who woke up with a slight grumble.
"They are here," Mzee Tembo informed her.
Banou gently squeezed between them both and anxiously peered over the rocks and the moment she saw them, her face lit with excitement. Everything was working out as planned. They keenly watched them in turns but the couple stuck to their routine of heavy drinking. Finally, the sun faded into the horizon and took with it the tedious heat. Dusk approached and some tourists headed to their hotels while others sought entertainment in the various bars and restaurants along the beach. As before, the couple jumped into the water and cooled themselves after which they headed to the lively beach bar. Banou hounded them as stealthily as she could and found herself a spot in the bar where she ordered a tropical drink. The couple, still engrossed with each other knocked back the caipirinhas while they gently gyrated to the reggae music. This lasted for about an hour before they seemed inebriated. They leisurely left the bar and headed to their hotel with Banou in tow. They got in so she ducked into the shadows and ran back to the hiding spot.
"They have gone in. They seem pretty drunk."
"All we can do now is wait now," Mzee Tembo responded.
She lay back and explored the stars before sleep overwhelmed her. It had been a long day. She wasn't sure how long she had been asleep but the nudging roused her.
"Wake up, it's time," Mzee Tembo whispered to her.
Mapacha was crouched, his haunches tightened with his nose flared. His hand intently slipped into the ragged pocket of his pants and he pulled out his knuckledusters that he slowly slid onto the fingers on his right hand. In the distance, the intoxicated Englishman staggered towards them as he whistled loudly. Banou felt electrified by the unbearable tension. They could hear his footsteps as he swished through the sand. Mapacha counted them and his head automatically calculated the distance. The Englishman stopped, pulled out a joint, slipped it between his lips and sparked it. He then sauntered on.
The trio crouched down on the hard rocks as the Englishman drifted past them. Mapacha peered over the rocks one last time to make sure there were no security guards in the vicinity.
"Go." Mzee Tembo whispered.
Mapacha slithered behind the Englishman and closed in on him. Deviously, he noisily rustled the sand and drew his attention.
As smoke billowed from his mouth, the Englishman turned and faced the darkness. Something had rustled but he could not make it out. He cautiously approached where he thought he heard the sound. Like two pearls, the ghastly whites of Mapacha's eyes glowed from the shadows and startled the Englishman. Uncertain of what he saw, he allowed the alcohol to lead him towards the dazzling eyes. Mapacha fiercely launched himself. With two steps taken, his left hand wrapped itself around the Englishman's throat. He yanked him into the shadows and brutally crushed his forehead into the bridge of the Englishman's nose. The look of helpless bewilderment swept over his face as he frantically tried to scream, but Mapacha's tight clutch on his throat rendered him mute. He flailed as Mapacha furiously swung his right hand with the knuckledusters into his abdomen. The Englishman blinked twice in abject fear as Mapacha's fast movements well coordinated with plenty of strength stunned him. The terrific blow caused his legs to go limp and Mapacha laboriously dragged him into the dull shadows. The Englishman was barely conscious, so Mapacha slapped him back to life. With deliberate movements, he barbarically vented his deep rage through a series of well-timed punches all over his body. In the shadows, Banou and Mzee Tembo watched in unimaginable horror as Mapacha viciously snapped the Englishman's ulna. The Englishman, devastated by the harrowing ordeal finally passed out. Mzee Tembo found himself amused. The old Mapacha was back. Banou's evident terror contorted her face. Mapacha possessed a devilish look and a sadistic smile as he obliterated the Englishman. She would never forget that look.
It was over in under a minute. The Englishman had been gored into a fleshy bloody heap. Mapacha reluctantly released him and listened carefully as he breathed raspily. With a look of profound satisfaction, he ardently admired his handiwork. Mzee Tembo positively swore he saw Mapacha smile. He warily approached Mapacha who was intensely rifling through the Englishman's pockets. There it was, the key to his room. The other smaller key, the one that unlocked the safe was held by a thin silver chain around his neck. Mapacha carefully unclasped it and pocketed them both.
"You two get moving," Mzee Tembo sternly ordered them, "I will watch him."
"Follow me Banou."
Banou was hesitant about being alone with Mapacha after that vicious act. He slunk into the shadows and made his way towards the prickly bushes as Banou mimicked him. When they got there, Banou took the lead and ushered him through the path to the service entrance. She peeked round the corner to make sure it was clear and as quietly as they could, they made their way up the three flights of stairs. Banou stealthily made sure the hallway was clear as they tiptoed to the Englishman's room.
"Three Forty-One," she whispered conspiratorially.
"Room Service," she called out in a flowery voice as she knocked on the door. There was no answer. She knocked again, and still, nothing. Mapacha gave her the room key, and she inserted it into the lock calling out one last time. She twisted the key and opened the door, letting themselves in quietly. They naturally expected to find the girl asleep in the room, but it was empty. Quickly, she shut the door and lit one of the decorative lamps by the luxurious bed. Mapacha was confused as he eagerly examined the elegant room. He had never seen anything like it before. The flowery scent in the atmosphere made him realise his shack stunk. He stared at the king-size bed, cautiously poked it and felt the firm mattress that was covered by the starched sheets and cover.
"Is it the right room?" Mapacha asked.
"Of course it is, the key opened it."
She opened the wardrobe and revealed the tiny grey Chubb safe at the bottom.
"Key," Banou whispered.
Mapacha unpocketed the tiny key attached to the chain and gave it to her. She unlocked the safe and inside lay an odd assortment of material. She pulled out two thick files, a small black velvet pouch, four film roll canisters as well as two bulky brown envelopes. With unabashed excitement, she spread them on the bed wanting to open them.
"Not now Banou, search the room first," Mapacha hissed at her.
Briskly, they combed the room, opened every drawer and took out the Englishman's personal belongings. There were two expensive watches, a couple of thick wads of foreign currency all wrapped in individual rubber bands, a thick heavy gunmetal bracelet, a leather wallet and a pair of fancy-looking sunglasses. Banou picked up his empty travel bag and stuffed everything they had collected into it. Mapacha curiously entered the bathroom and was taken aback by everything he saw. The bathroom had a bathtub and shower, as well as a modern toilet, all in one room. He picked up the Englishman's signet ring and tossed it into the bag. Banou's search was complete and so he zipped up the heavy bag and slung it over his shoulder.
Banou switched off the lamp, cracked the door open and glimpsed outwards to see if there was anyone in the hallway. It was quiet. They hastily left the room, locked the door and slowly made their way back to the stairwell. As they walked down, she heard the distinctive rattle of the trolley that delivered room service and they were forced to stop midway down. Behind them, she could hear footsteps and warm laughter as two hotel guests walked down the hall. They waited patiently till the sound of the trolley faded before they continued down the stairs. She peeked around the corner towards the path and saw that it was clear. They rushed past the bushes and skulked in the shadows towards the rocks. Mzee Tembo was still waiting as he hovered over the unconscious Englishman. He saw them and smiled. Mapacha dropped the travel bag and removed the Englishman's wallet. He emptied it of its money and threw it away. He jammed the key into the Englishman's pocket and slung the chain back around his neck. Mapacha then dragged him out from behind the rocks and left him underneath the palm tree where he had spent the day with the young girl.
'This way.' Mzee Tembo led them.
They briskly walked down the beach as the lights of the luxury hotels faded behind them. It took them ten minutes and they got to the exit spot that Mzee Tembo and Banou had visited the previous day. Carefully they clambered up and a short while later, they entered the sparse forest and began their long walk away from St. Michel.
Over the next two hours, they navigated their way by torchlight through the sandy thicket. Eventually, they located the hamlet where they had left the car. Mzee Tembo opened the boot and Mapacha stuffed the Englishman's travel bag, Banou's bag and the other paper bag that Mzee Tembo had brought their lunch with into the boot. She entered the back seat and lay down exhausted. Mzee Tembo and Mapacha hopped in front and the 404 sprung to life. They made it to the main road and carefully, Mzee Tembo drove them back to Josephine. The uneventful drive was punctuated by Banou's occasional snoring. Over the horizon, Mapacha saw Josephine's lighthouse in sight and knew they were finally safe.