Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
Sophie stayed at the farm for a week as Luke searched for a house for her to move into. He finally found one in Lango, two rooms with shared bathroom facilities.
It was the best he could afford. Ngairo was too expensive for him to pay rent for two houses, plus living near him posed a risk with Tony still searching for her. After she gave birth and started working again, they could upgrade to something better.
Sophie assured him she didn’t mind in the least, grateful for all his help. “If you prefer, I could move so that we can live together somewhere else,” he offered.
“Are you going to change jobs too? He knows where you work,” she countered.
The day after she moved into the house at Lango, she went into premature labour. “It’s only been 35 weeks, it’s too early,” she told the nurse in panic, after a taxi called by her new neighbours rushed her to the nearby Fabela Maternity Hospital.
“It’s not uncommon with twins,” the nurse assured her, trying to calm her down. Kevin was born the following morning on May 9 weighing 1.8kg while Sean weighed 1.75kg. Anything less than 2.5kg is considered low birth weight. Sean was having difficulty breathing on his own and both babies had trouble eating.
The nurse explained that although babies at 35 weeks have fully formed bones, their lungs may not be completely developed for another couple of weeks. They may not have enough fat or energy stores to stay warm and need help to regulate their body temperature. They needed to learn how to feed because the suck-swallow-breathe reflex was not well coordinated.
The twins stayed in the incubator for one week. Once they were both stable – breathing on their own and their organs were functioning normally, they were moved to the nursery where Sophie was able to breastfeed them. The nurse explained that they wouldn’t be discharged until they weighed two kilogrammes.
They lost weight the first week much to Sophie’s dismay even though the nurse had also warned her that might happen. Afterwards their weight crept up incrementally. The nurses urged her to be patient as the process could be slow but Sophie was so distraught and so tired of the hospital that she begged the doctor to release them after their third week at Fabela.
The daily trips to the hospital to breastfeed the babies was taking its toll. She was sure the hospital environment wasn’t helping. They would do better at home. Plus, every day the twins spent in the nursery was costing Luke money. After much pleading, the doctor relented and discharged them.
Tony read the detective’s report with a mounting sense of despair. He had found Sophie’s home after days of gingerly navigating alleys made treacherous by heavy rain that had turned the black cotton soil in the Maili Saba slum into a river of sludge, with raw sewage cascading down the sides of every path.
The slum had a mountain of garbage every few hundred metres from the thousands of make-shift dwellings of wood, plastic, cardboard, crumbling clay or dried mud. Old iron sheets scavenged from building sites marked the dwellings of the slightly better off.
Children played in the rivers of mud mixed with sewage, sometimes ducking under low hanging electric wires strung haphazardly all over the slum, illegal connections to the electricity grid of Bancushi Power, the country’s sole distributor.
The detective found her mother and five siblings, including two on holiday from boarding school but no Sophie. She had come home for Christmas and spent a few days with her family but hadn’t been back since.
Her family was tight lipped about her whereabouts but a helpful neighbour told him she had gone to stay with an aunt in Luzi, next to Kivulini Hotel. Tony had told him to spare no expense in finding Sophie, so the detective took the next flight to the coast.
He found a ruin where the hotel had been, destroyed by a fire a few weeks before. The inferno had been so fierce, it had spread to the curio village. The detective obtained the full story of the fire from owners of homes neighbouring the curio village who had spent the better part of that fateful night pouring water on the walls and roofs of their houses to prevent the fire from spreading to their homes.
With their livelihoods gone, all the traders including Sophie’s aunt, who everyone called Mama Boi, had moved on. Nobody knew where she had relocated to.
Tony’s lips tightened in anger when he read that part of the detective’s report. Kivulini Hotel was their client, one of four hotels that had gone up in flames in very mysterious circumstances. They were convinced it was arson but so far the police had unearthed no evidence to indicate the fires were anything but unfortunate accidents.
After the first fire at Palm Beach Resort in Meribo, Bola had believed the police report. But after three more fires in rapid succession in Luzi and Watiko, even he had wondered at the coincidence. They had put their own investigators on the cases, but so far they’d come up empty.
Tony called off the search after the detective’s futile trip to Luzi. Every Friday he went to Visions and stayed until the wee hours hoping that Sophie would walk through the doors but she never did. A few times he spotted her former classmates. They were always polite if not friendly with the exception of Carol who walked away every time she saw him.
Tony knew that Sophie must have heard he was looking for her. He had sent too many messages through her brother and friends. Which meant she was ignoring them. He finally accepted the unpalatable truth. She didn’t want to see or speak to him. Okay. Plenty of women wanted him. He didn’t need to chase someone who was clearly no longer interested.
He threw himself into his work. At night he partied with Freddo and Isaiah. He’d never had trouble getting women and this time was no different. It became like a conveyor belt, an endless parade of beautiful women whose faces and names soon blurred into each other.
But the memory of Sophie’s face in those last moments before she walked out of his life remained engraved in his memory. Many times after they parted company and Isaiah and Freddo went home, Tony went to the Golden Key Casino in Lavangwa, where he played blackjack until morning not caring how much he won or lost, all in a bid to keep the memories at bay.
Memories that assailed him when he slept, keeping him tossing and turning in bed for hours. The only thing that helped was whisky and the gambling. He never confided in his friends about his internal struggle to forget Sophie, but lately, he’d began to think that his sister Makena suspected something.
They were very close and she knew him better than anyone. They had spent little time together in the past few weeks as a result of his partying and gambling. He’d caught her looking at him strangely a few times when he joined the family at the main house for meals but thankfully she hadn’t said anything.
He didn’t want to discuss Sophie with anyone. He just wanted to erase her from his memory.
The Times loved sensational headlines and dubbed it the most daring heist of the year. Everyone who witnessed the robbery had a different version of events. One can only imagine and sympathise with the police who afterwards interviewed numerous eyewitnesses in an effort to piece together what had happened.
Ironically, the most accurate version came from a destitute beggar named Tito who had made his home on the pavement in an alley on Victoria Street. Tito had lived on the streets for years and had seen everything from muggings, fights, shootings to accidents. Nothing fazed him anymore.
And so when the gun toting robbers made their appearance sending most people scampering, he was one of very few who kept his wits about him and so got a good view of the proceedings.
The first thing Tito noticed was the man weaving towards him on the sidewalk. He appeared to be drunk but Tito knew what an inebriated person looks like and didn’t buy the act. He observed the man keenly, his curiosity aroused.
He had nailed the walk but his eyes were too shifty, darting from side to side as if looking for someone, not at all the vacant stare that a man drunk out of his skull would exhibit. Tito got a whiff of his body odour as the ‘drunkard’ passed him. Stale sweat and a cheap cologne but definitely not booze. Interesting.
Tito slumped against a light pole, took a puff of his cigarette and continued to watch the man from the corner of his eye. The ‘drunkard’ suddenly staggered onto the road right in the path of a Mitsubishi armoured van belonging to Eagle Security, forcing the driver to abruptly swerve and stop.
Within seconds two white Toyota Corolla saloon cars sandwiched the van, one in front, the other at the back. The doors opened and seven men dressed in black from head to toe and wearing caps that partially concealed their faces sprung from the cars wielding guns.
AK-47 rifles, as Tito would later learn from a discarded copy of the next day’s The Times newspaper that he retrieved from a dustbin. Two gunmen stationed themselves at the front pointing their guns at the driver and administration policeman in the front seat armed with a G3 rifle. Two others stood behind the van pointing their rifles at the closed doors.
Their three remaining colleagues stood guard with their backs to the van to ensure there was no interference from members of the public. Most of the onlookers hit the dirt on seeing the guns. Others cowered behind parked vehicles fervently praying that they survived if a shootout erupted.
The ‘drunkard’, suddenly upright and sober, retrieved a heavy metal pipe from his black leather jacket and smashed the tiny window on the left side of the van’s cargo space. An accomplice simultaneously did the same to the window on the right side. Two gunmen thrust their rifles through the narrow openings.
“Fungua ama tukumalize!” The voice was gruff, deadly with intent.
A brief scramble ensued in the van’s interior before the door was flung open. The hapless Eagle Security guard and the second AP at the back stared down the barrels of the AK-47s and surrendered without a fight. The two gunmen at the back of the van each grasped one man by the collar and hauled him out of the van.
“Lala chini! Funika kichwa!” The guard and the AP followed orders and lay flat on the ground, their heads and shoulders under the van, a position that prevented them from seeing what was going on above them assuming they looked up, which they didn’t dare do.
One gunman kept a watchful eye on the two as the ‘drunkard’ and his accomplices hauled out several bags of cash which they put into the boots of the saloon cars. They ignored the heavier ones containing coins.
Their task accomplished, all eight robbers leapt into the saloon vehicles, which raced off. The whole thing had lasted less than ten minutes.
Tito watched as the driver of the van reached for his radio and raised the alarm. Police sirens rent the air within minutes but the robbers were long gone, escaping easily through the relatively light, early afternoon Lavangwa traffic.
Quoting unnamed sources in the police force, The Times reported that the Eagle Security van was on its way to deliver cash from Prudential Bank in Riverton to the Central Bank of Bancushi. The robbers got away with Sh27 million out of a total of Sh32 million that the van was carrying at the time of the robbery.
The same police source was quoted as saying, “These guys had done their homework. They knew the route and timings of the vehicle which uses a different route each time it collects cash from the bank. They carried out their task quickly and efficiently, without even firing a shot. Now we have no ballistics evidence to work with.”
The newspaper’s clear hint that the robbery was an inside job was proved correct when the police arrested the two security guards and APs who had escorted the stolen cash. After interrogation, the driver of the van confessed that they had been offered Sh250,000 each to cooperate.
On further questioning he gave up his boss, the assistant cash operations manager at Eagle Security whose job entailed staffing crews for cash in transit assignments and getting APs to provide security. He was arrested and interrogated.
The only thing he could tell the police about the gang was the nickname of their leader ‘The Jackal’ who he had never met. He had met two of the gang members thrice, each time at a different bar in downtown Lavangwa.
These joints were seedy, with dim light and smoky from cigarettes and marijuana joints which made it difficult to see anyone’s face clearly. One of the gang members called the Jackal during the meetings to brief him on the negotiations and obtain his approval. They never told him the venue for each meeting until an hour before the rendezvous.
The gang had promised him a million shillings if he provided details about the route the van would take, how much it was carrying, the scheduled time of arrival at the bank and departure time after the cash was loaded.
Although the police officers interrogating him never showed any outward reaction to the mention of the Jackal, they knew him well. His real name was Eric Shimoli, a notorious gangster who had been linked to several bank robberies, murders, rapes and drug dealing.
He had escaped from prison twice, the last time several months before, and since then had eluded a police dragnet to catch him. With this new information, the police raided several of his known hideouts in the eastlands area of Lavangwa.
They found some of the gang members in Ngemika, a densely populated area bordered on its west side by the middle class neighbourhood of Riverton. The police shot dead two of the robbers and recovered three million of the stolen cash. Three other robbers escaped in the shootout.
The Jackal wasn’t present at the hideout and remained on the run. The rest of the cash was never recovered.
The Eagle Security assistant manager, security guards and APs who escorted the stolen money were charged in court with the theft. The police asked for more time to complete their investigations and the suspects were remanded at Shitu Maximum Security prison on the outskirts of Lavangwa pending the hearing of the case.
The three men walked slowly down the narrow path cutting through the coffee plantation on Bola’s Tezi farm, talking in low tones. Andrew Makanti and Mathew Gaku were Bola’s closest confidants.
They grew up in the same village, attended the same primary school and were circumcised together. Their paths diverged after high school but they stayed close friends. These two men had witnessed every milestone in Bola’s life.
They accompanied him to pay dowry for his first wife Consolata, celebrated the birth of each of his children and stood by his side at her graveside and condoled with him when she died. After he met Isabella, they accompanied him to her parents’ home for the dowry negotiations and helped him organise a grand wedding.
When he married Consolata, all he could afford was a small tea party with just a few close friends.
Makanti worked in the private sector for several years and then started Navosh Distributors whose main client was Bancushi Breweries Limited. From there he branched out into real estate. He was a renowned property developer and built several residential estates and shopping centres in Lavangwa’s middle class suburbs including Bola’s Jambele Arcade and Gemini Plaza.
They had recently discussed plans to jointly develop the empty parcel of land that Bola owned on Goti Road but had put these plans on hold because of the problems Bola was currently experiencing.
Makanti was diminutive at 5’3 with a square dark face, wide nose and bushy eyebrows set above small deep set eyes. He wore his grey hair cropped close to his skull. He was social and very good at public speaking, usually acting as the MC at Bola’s functions. He was married with four children and his third born Isaiah, was best friends with Tony, Bola’s son.
Gaku was dark and burly at 5’10 and walked with a slight stoop. He sported a shiny bald head and was an introvert, happiest behind the counter of his shop. He knew all his customers by name and always had a ready smile for them.
Like Bola, he started his career in the civil service before he relocated to Bezo, an industrial town 40km from Lavangwa to the north east where he built a large wholesale business. He owned several commercial properties in the fast growing town as well as a private prep school with a British curriculum run by his wife.
“How bad is it?” he asked Bola in a low voice although there was no one within earshot. They were aware that intelligence agents had been trailing them in the last few months and so exercised extreme caution whenever they met.
“It’s bad.” Bola matched his companion’s low voice. “Everyone is running scared.”
“Did you see the news yesterday?” Makanti murmured.
Bola’s lips tightened. Channel 4 had run a clip quoting Abdul Nasser, a powerful politician from the coast province warning business rebels who he claimed were raising funds with the intention of overthrowing the government.
Although he didn’t mention names, he gave enough information to clearly finger Bola as the ringleader. Nasser was Dwanje’s mouthpiece. Whenever the president wanted to gauge the public reaction to an impending action, he got Nasser to talk about it at political rallies or fundraisers.
Nasser talked carelessly but many of his pronouncements came to pass. Several of Dwanje’s political opponents that Nasser had talked about in public in the past had been sacked soon afterwards. The fact that he had set his sights on Bola was cause for worry.
“You know what they’re doing don’t you?” continued Makanti.
Bola nodded grimly. “They obviously know about the war chest. Dwanje is not a fool. If he plants propaganda that we’re using the money to plot a coup, no one will contribute.”
“Is it working?”
Bola nodded. “Ten people have withdrawn their pledges. They say it’s too risky and will chip in once the heat dies down.”
“Mangola’s delegations to state house aren’t helping. He’s called twice asking me to join,” Gaku chipped in.
“Are you going to go?” Bola glanced sideways at his friend.
Gaku snorted in disgust. “People have very short memories. Have they already forgotten what Dwanje did to our friends like Sengo and Komshi? He’ll take all our businesses if we don’t stand together.”
“They know that,” countered Makanti. “But Mangola has convinced them that declaring loyalty will protect them.”
“What about the Asians, how are they reacting?” asked Gaku.
“Just as jittery. They were happy to help as long as it stayed quiet, but now that we’re attracting attention and with the political connotations…”
“They are running scared,” Gaku finished for him. “So what do we do?” The trio walked for a minute or so in silence.
“Why don’t we hit back with an article in the media and expose Nasser’s lies? The Guardian will probably run it,” suggested Makanti, referring to the publicly listed and highest circulation newspaper in Bancushi.
Established soon after the country gained independence, The Guardian and its sister newspaper Alasiri, were initially foreign owned. The parent company listed on the Bancushi Stock Exchange (BSE) in 1973. The Guardian’s objective news and hard hitting political analysis had won readers from across the political divide unlike Mangola’s The Times which was basically a government mouthpiece.
Its writers and editors had suffered constant harassment at the hands of the state, a good number having been arrested and charged with sedition for publishing articles critical of the government and exposing corruption.
The Guardian had often clashed with Keye Mokeba’s government due to its fearless criticism of the state. To protect the company, the owners decided on a policy of avoiding bank loans to finance expansion and instead ploughed back profits and recapitalised. It had more than ten thousand shareholders, most of them Bancushians and kept most of its assets liquid in form of cash reserves.
This had helped the media house avoid the fate that had befallen many entrepreneurs whose bank loans were being used to blackmail them into supporting Dwanje’s government.
“No.” Bola shook his head emphatically. “The idea was to keep the fund a secret. An article will just confirm that it exists and give people like Nasser ammunition to use against us. We should just lie low until he gives up his witch hunt.”
“And if he doesn’t? Or God forbid, he names you in public, what then?” asked Gaku.
Bola shrugged. “I’m willing to take the risk. Even if they bring me down, others will take my place. They can’t silence us all.”
“You know this fight with Dwanje isn’t just about the fact that you’re bailing out people he’s targeted. He’s been holding a grudge for ten years,” said Gaku.
Aside from a few family members, these two men were the only ones in his circle of friends who knew the genesis of his rivalry with Dwanje slightly over a decade ago. They had been there when Dwanje swore he would make Bola pay for humiliating him.
He had been a lowly assistant minister at the time. None of them had imagined that he would rise to become president with all the powers that came with it. He could squish Bola like a bug if he wanted and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him.
“I know.” Bola sighed.
“If you could have foreseen this, would you still have gone ahead?” asked Makanti.
“Yes.” The response was instant with no equivocation.
“So seeking an olive branch is out of the question?” asked Gaku with a wary sideways glance at his friend.
“Let him do his worst. I don’t care,” Bola declared, his back ramrod straight, hands set stiffly at his sides.
Gaku nodded thoughtfully, almost regretting asking the question. They continued walking in silence. These men understood pride. They knew that Bola would fight tooth and nail to defend his family and his property even against the most powerful man in the land. Surrender was out of the question.
The only question now was how far Dwanje would go in avenging his own pride which had taken a beating 10 years ago at Bola’s hands. Gaku had a feeling the worst was yet to come. It was a sobering thought.
Her first week with the babies was utter chaos. Sophie hadn’t realised how much work the nurses did, taking care of them in the nursery. They slept most of the day and stayed awake at night, the opposite of her body clock.
It wasn’t until a month passed that she got a schedule established. Luke and Carol were a big help. Luke not only supported her financially, he came to her house every weekend and sometimes during the week to babysit and make sure she had everything she needed.
He and Carol often met up at her house and they became good friends, eventually fell in love and started dating. Sophie often teased them afterwards joking that they bonded over her babies.
After a month at home with the twins who were now seven weeks old, Sophie decided it was time to get back to work. She hired a lady from the nearby Makoko slum who came in daily from 7am to 5pm, took care of the babies and assisted with some household chores like washing nappies and cleaning the house.
Sophie got in touch with her old supplier at Meribo and he referred her to one of his best customers at Toi Market, a trader who gave her the first pick of whatever the supplier sent. Sophie initially sold the clothes through Carol who kept them in her hostel room for students to try on and purchase. She spread word throughout the polytechnic and pretty soon Sophie had a regular stream of customers.
She also started hawking clothes in offices in the city centre. After her experience in Luzi she found it quite easy to get her business going in Lavangwa which had a lot more people. Bank workers became her most profitable customers.
Their jobs kept them so busy that they had little time to shop. They had ready disposable income, their jobs required them to look good and Sophie just happened to be very good at selecting unique items based on what each customer liked.
She thought about Tony often and wondered how he was doing, especially when she passed by Gemini Plaza on her sales rounds in the city. Now that she was back in Lavangwa, her mother, Luke and Carol mounted a crusade to get her to tell Tony about his children.
Sophie adamantly refused, haunted by memories of his coldness when he insisted on an abortion. She still loved him and that made her vulnerable. She couldn’t bear his rejection again and didn’t see how he would react with anything other than anger when he found out that she’d made him a father against his wishes.
She might have risked his wrath if she needed financial support but her mitumba business was doing well and she was no longer relying on Luke to support her and the twins. She knew the chances of bumping into him were slim. She spent all day working and spent the evenings with her boys six days a week.
She attended the nearby St Theresa’s Church on Sundays and then went home, although she occasionally visited new friends in the neighbourhood, an area she knew Tony with his privileged background had never ventured into and probably never would.
She knew her family and Carol would never go behind her back and tell him about the kids or that she was now back in Lavangwa. She missed her old college friends and hated having to stay away from them, but the sacrifice was necessary if she wanted to keep her kids a secret.