NOV 7, 2022
It was still dark outside, but she could hear the choir of birds as they invited the sun with their captivating chirps. Banou stretched on the bed uneager to rise. She remembered the torment that was hidden underneath her bed. Her hand reached down below and pulled the box which she lifted as she sat up on the bed. The revolver was wrapped in a t-shirt and she slowly unwrapped it. Following Mzee Tembo's advice, she depressed the cylinder release and it swung out. It was empty. She revolved it then fastened it back in place. Guns intimidated her, but here she was, with one. The half-kilo J-Frame felt heavy. For a moment, she felt dismayed by the magnitude of what she had found herself involved in. What she had initiated. She stood up and placed the gun in her bag, alongside the box of ammunition that Mzee Tembo had given her. Outside slowly turned golden and she slowly stood up, stretching her limbs. She wasn't eager for this morning, but she could only make the best of it. Without much thought, she laid out her outfit, picked up her towel and went out to the communal shower. The cold water snapped her out of her lethargy and in a few minutes, she was back in her room, and while she faced the mirror, she stared at her naked slender frame and she regretted that she had to hawk it to survive. She slowly oiled herself with her freshly arrived Chantilly satin-smooth body lotion from France whose scent she loved. Afterwards, she massaged the coconut oil into her hair and combed it into its glorious puff. She then dressed in brown corduroys, with a white blouse and wore her basic running shoes after which, she admired herself in the mirror approvingly. The day began and she walked out, first to get breakfast, then to meet the others. At the doorway of the tenement, she slipped on her Manhattans, paused for a moment, took a deep breath and walked out.
The day was a repeat of their previous day. In the Peugeot, they drove down the coastal highway made their way to the range and spent the morning with their guns. For Banou, this was a better day, and she performed much better having shaken the jolts. She began to admire the prowess of the others. The sun finally hounded them away, and they drove back towards town, eventually ending up in the Ministry. As before, they walked through the main door where Mzee Tembo saluted again after which they went up to Mateus's office. He was waiting for them and eagerly gave both brown envelopes to them.
"Check them in case we made any errors."
Banou and Mapacha both withdrew the freshly minted passports from the envelopes and quickly confirmed the details. Everything seemed in order.
"Much appreciated, Mateus. You have really come through for my guys. I won't forget this," he said as he handed him another brown envelope.
Mateus shyly adjusted his glasses and let a farce of gratitude wash over his face. The whiff of acrid gunpowder lingered in the air. He ignored it and did not want to know more. The transaction was fulfilled, and he had gotten his livener. Further curiosity was asking for trouble. He escorted them out of the office while he regaled Mzee Tembo with a humourous tale. They drove off, and he walked back up to the office, glad to be done with them.
The Peugeot swept into the square and parked right outside the bicycle shop. Across, at the small cafe, Banou saw Gwafa seated outside. He wore his trademark breech pants, this time hued in brown with a white t-shirt jazzed up with Akli Yahiatene's portrait. He slowly let the cigarette smoke drift from his mouth as he stared at them through his aviators. They all crossed the road and greeted him.
"How are you guys? Everything went OK?" he asked.
"Yes, everything went OK. We are ready." Mzee Tembo replied. "So we meet at the terrace and finalise the plan this evening."
"I will be there."
Gwafa bashed his cigarette into the clear ashtray that had a striking 'S' with a wreath around it that had likely been appropriated from one of the larger resorts.
"See you guys them," he said walking away.
A sunburnt Banou stalked down the dusty road towards Nsia's for the afternoon. Mapacha was back in the workshop piecing together bikes while Mzee Tembo tooted the rhumba songs that played on the radio. An unforeseen complexity with the bicycle business interfered with the criminal conspiracy. He indeed made a fair bit of money with the business. There was also his take from their last job and the potential for near absolute wealth in the next one. Regardless, someone would need to mind the store as it were. His children were abroad, so they did not count and he did not have anyone he trusted so, it would have to be Una. His only question was how would he handle her. At some point that evening, he would have to discuss matters with her.
Dusk trickled in and cast a rosy gloom over the huddle of buildings that soared over the terrace. She struggled to overcome the overwhelming feeling. Her afternoon tête-à-tête with Nsia yielded her scant comfort, and they had meandered to the scandalous buzz of the island. She was so adrift, she did not see the orange headlights of the baby blue Peugeot die out on the hill, nor as the others walked down the hill. Her spell was broken by the multiple footsteps that ascended the staircase.
The first person on the landing was a cheery Gwafa.
"Ola Gwafa," she responded, trying to match his enthusiasm.
"Hi Mapacha, Mzee Tembo."
They all sat down as she rose and shuffled past them. A few minutes later, she came up with the juices and served them. On the table, the Englishman's documents and pictures were methodically laid out. Over the next hour, Mzee Tembo made all of them review the documents in detail to ensure they understood their content. He then took out his notes and explained what he considered to be a fruitful plan, based on their initial discussions. Everyone was assigned a role and what they would need to have.
"Boss, the issue with the safe is still bothering me. If the diamonds are that many, then the guy might have replaced the unit." Mapacha said.
"So what do you suggest?" Mzee Tembo asked.
"We need a backup plan. Explosives. If Gwafa can't pick the safe, then we might need to just use an explosive device."
Banou's nerves, already frayed by the audacity of the crime and the weapons faced a new measure of stress.
"Explosives? What sort of explosives?" she asked.
"Maybe dynamite or C-4. We should have both, just in case," he casually replied.
"Seriously? What if someone gets injured, or we destroy the stuff in the safe?"
"Don't worry Banou. The explosives are a backup plan. Either way, we have experience in this."
"What? Blowing up safes?"
"No. Blowing up stuff. The mechanics are more or less the same. you see. . ."
Mzee Tembo cut him off.
"Save the class for the plane ride. Anyway, Mapacha I see your point. I will find something to blow the safe."
"Two or three loads boss," he said with a shallow smile.
"Gwafa, that volume is OK?"
"Sure, but personally, I would rather not have it in the plane, but this is for the job, so we take a chance."
Gwafa looked at Mapacha. "It will be safe on the plane, right?" Gwafa knew it would be safe, but, he needed that assurance.
"If we pack it right, I don't see a problem," Mapacha responded.
"OK. Let's go over this once again."
For the umpteenth time, they reviewed the plan. Banou, already sceptical approached the plan from a polemic perspective and asked questions none of them had considered. With a few tweaks, they had what they considered a master plan and everyone felt confident in its success.
"Dinner time," Banou offered as she went to fetch Nsia.
A few minutes later, they returned, with more juice and two beers for Gwafa. Nsia followed shortly, leading a bevvy of maids bearing what appeared to be an intricate meal. Her infectious smile warmed them as she greeted them.
"How was the dinner the other day? You liked it?" she asked turning to Gwafa.
"Your cooking is exceptional cherie. I enjoyed it. What did you prepare today?"
The rich aroma of the yassa poulet invited them. The marinated rotisserie chicken was laid on a bed of onions, mixed with capsicum and garnished with lemon slices and mustard. It was complemented by spiced chips and a vegetable salad. Everyone dug in immediately.
"This food is superb," Mzee Tembo commented. "It will absolutely give me heartburn, but who cares." His chuckle was contagious.
The meal was over quickly. Banou and Gwafa leaned back, smoking their customary after-dinner cigarettes. Mzee Tembo, his brow dampened by sweat belched loudly, with a smile. This was the life.
"Meet me downstairs," Mapacha said as he headed towards the main entrance of the bar.
He found Nsia and asked her what the bill amounted to. She pulled out a small chit and gave it to him. From the hip pocket of his pants, he pulled out a few bills and counted them out.
"Did you serve Abril?" he asked Nsia.
"Yes. I took care of her."
Nsia was impressed that Mapacha cared enough to ask if she had eaten. He walked to where she normally sat and found her with a juice cocktail. Her eyes brightened when she saw him.
"Hi, are you ready?"
She was always ready.
"Yes," she answered, as she gulped the last of her juice while a pack of leftovers lay on the table wrapped in an old newspaper. She waved to Nsia before they walked out and found the others by the door.
"Ola!" Abril greeted them cheerfully.
They smiled and returned the greetings.
"This is Abril," Mapacha said to them."These are my work colleagues," he told her.
Mzee Tembo eyed her appraisingly. He had heard of her and seen her from a distance, but Mapacha had finally introduced her. For Mzee Tembo, he began to see the evolution of Mapacha.
When they got to the shack, Abril tidied up. Mapacha had to stop her, and he sat her down.
"Abril, I am going away for business tomorrow. Do you mind staying here for a few days, you know, to take care of the house and Neve?"
Would she mind? Since Mapacha had introduced her to his colleagues, her heart had raced nonstop. He now wanted her to stay for longer than a night and watch his place and dog. Yes, She was all in regardless of the fact that she would be alone.
"Yes Mapacha, it's OK. I will stay here and wait for you." she meekly answered.
Everything was working out far better than she had considered. She undressed before him and got into bed. Mapacha walked out of the shack, and under the dazzling constellation sparked a joint. Neve sat between his legs and panted from the heat. He scruffed her ear, as she buried her muzzle into his belly. In the distance, he could hear the waves occasionally crush into the rocks underneath the cliff as the gusty current cooled him. This tranquil moment defined paradise for him. He heard Abril behind him and turned to see her naked silhouette at the door.
"Mapacha? When are you coming to bed?"