Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
The news kept getting worse with every week that passed. Bola stopped at the gate of Woodville and watched as the guard opened the barrier and saluted him.
He usually exchanged a few friendly words with the guards but today he was too worried and angry to give more than a cursory wave. He drove his old Mercedes Benz to the canopied entrance of the hotel and handed his car keys to the porter who had promptly appeared to park it in the covered bay reserved for VIPs.
Tony called the car ancient, but Bola was in no hurry to replace it after so many years of good service. He considered changing cars before they started giving him mechanical problems an unnecessary extravagance.
He entered the cool lobby and nodded at the reception staff as he crossed the vast room on his way to Tony’s office, aware of the receptionist urgently speaking into the telephone. He knew she was informing the switchboard about his unexpected visit, ensuring that every manager was alerted and ready should he seek them out.
Not today. He was here to meet his sons and their family lawyer Caleb Jawiri. The situation was getting out of hand. They needed a solid plan to counter the damage Dwanje and his cohorts were wrecking on his businesses.
With the robbery of Sh27 million from Eagle Security, their claims had topped Sh100 million. Now the company had been hit with a Sh5 million tax demand by Bancushi Revenue Service (BRS).
The Commissioner of Domestic Taxes claimed this amount accrued from commission and brokerage deducted from clients of Liberty Insurance in 1985, four years ago. BRS was threatening to attach the assets of the company and freeze its bank accounts unless it paid this amount in 30 days on top of which it would load penalties and interest on any unpaid amount.
Bola entered Tony’s office to find the others already assembled. He shrugged off his brown tweed jacket underneath which he wore a black sleeveless sweater over a cream shirt and tan trousers, hung it on the coat hook in the corner, greeted everyone with a handshake and sat in one of the wing chairs. Tony had taken the other wing chair leaving James and Jawiri to share the sofa.
Jawiri was a short portly man in his 40s and had been representing Bola on legal matters since he started Liberty Insurance. He studied at Makerere University and obtained his doctorate at Oxford University in the UK. He taught law at the University of Bancushi until he fell afoul of the regime and was detained without trial for a year in 1986.
Theirs wasn’t just a lawyer-client relationship, they were good friends and Jawiri was a frequent visitor to Tezi farm where he and Bola chatted for hours over beer and nyama choma.
“Is the room secure?” asked Bola.
“Patrick swept it this morning and again just before you came in,” Tony replied.
Although Bola preferred to meet on the golf course or farm to avoid surveillance, that wasn’t always practical. On a day like today when they needed to go over documents, they met in Tony’s office.
Their head of security had procured sophisticated gadgets able to detect most listening devices. He swept Tony’s office several times a day to detect bugs that might have been planted by intelligence agents. A security guard would be stationed at the end of the corridor during the course of their meeting to ensure no one entered without permission or eavesdropped on their conversation from outside the closed door.
They couldn’t do anything about the phone taps which were done from Bancushi Telkom’s end except avoid using the phone when discussing sensitive business matters. When they had no option but to communicate by telephone they spoke in code.
It was an exhausting way to live, always watching what they said and looking over their shoulders but they didn’t have a choice if they wanted to stay one step ahead of their enemies.
“Good. Let’s start with you James, what’s the latest?”
James leaned forward, put down his coffee cup and opened the thick file he had placed on the coffee table. “BCB still hasn’t credited our account with the money from the T-bills. They’re saying they need the manager’s signature and he’s out of the country.”
“That’s ridiculous, it’s been two months,” said Bola. “Jawiri, write another letter to them and this time tell them we’re going to sue if they don’t release the cash this week.” Jawiri nodded. “In fact why not draw up the suit papers? I have a feeling someone, probably Dwanje is pulling the strings behind the scene. No use wasting time. Go to court if we don’t get the cash in seven days.”
“I suggest we change bankers. Let’s move to Barclays Bank, even if BCB releases the money. Better to deal with a multinational which is less likely to be influenced by local politics,” said Tony.
“Good idea. Move all our business accounts to international banks,” Bola said.
“Even the one at Prudential Bank? They are our clients,” said James.
“All accounts,” Bola insisted with a firm voice.
“What do we do about the fire claims in the meantime?”
All three claims had gone through arbitration. The hotels had claimed a total of Sh65 million but the judge had awarded Sh56 million. Two of the hotel owners had accepted the judge’s verdict but one had refused and filed a case in the High Court to appeal the award.
They needed to pay out Sh40 million immediately and reserve Sh16 million pending the outcome of the court case. “Kivulini Hotel and Coral Key Resort are threatening to sue if they don’t get a payment this week.”
“We could take out a loan with Standard Bank using the cash BCB is holding as security,” suggested Tony.
“I want to avoid bank loans for now. I will liquidate some of my shares,” Bola replied.
A keen investor at the BSE, Bola had been buying shares on the cheap since the 1970s and now had a portfolio of stocks spread across multiple economic sectors including agriculture, energy, insurance, banking, media, manufacturing and construction.
“We need to stop insuring hotels built with makuti. It’s not worth it and getting reinsurance is a nightmare,” said James.
“Makes sense. Write to our existing hotel clients and inform them we won’t be renewing their policies from next year,” Bola ordered.
“That leaves the Eagle Security claim,” said James.
“Did they have a fidelity guarantee policy?” asked Tony. James nodded. This covered any acts of fraud by staff, so although three employees of Eagle Security had colluded in the theft, Liberty Insurance still had to pay the claim.
“How much was recovered?” asked Jawiri.
“Only Sh3 million,” James replied.
“Prudential Bank is planning to sue the security company citing negligence,” said Jawiri.
James turned to him in surprise. “I didn’t know that.”
“I bumped into an old colleague who happened to mention it. For now keep it between us, but the information I have is that the suit papers will be filed this week. As the insurer you’re likely to be enjoined in the case,” Jawiri explained.
“Does that mean what I think it means? If the case goes to court we don’t have to pay out the claim now, just make an allocation in reserves and wait for the outcome,” said Tony.
“That will certainly help with our cash flow situation if BCB continues to hold on to our money,” said James.
“Let’s wait and see what develops over the next few days. If we have to pay, I’ll sell more shares,” said Bola, making a note in his diary. “Now for the tax issue. Jawiri what do you suggest?”
“I’ve looked at the BRS claim and gone over the 1985 figures for gross premiums that James provided. It’s extortion plain and simple. The figures on which they’re basing their calculations don’t make sense,” the lawyer answered.
“How do we proceed?” asked Bola.
“We go to court, file a case, attach all your income figures for the period and ask the judge for an injunction to prevent BRS from attaching your assets or freezing your bank accounts until the case is heard.”
“How soon can you do it?”
“I’ve already instructed my staff to do the research. We’ll be ready in a day or two.”
“That’s good. If you need any additional documents, just contact James directly,” Bola told him. Jawiri nodded. “That’s it as far as Liberty is concerned. Let’s talk about the trucks.”
James took a few moments to consult his file.
“Ten are currently grounded in various police stations. Two in Meribo, three in Lavangwa, one in Rukuna and four at the border in Baret. We’ve been paying the standard daily charge of Sh100 per trailer that police demand from everyone but lately they’ve been asking for exorbitant amounts ranging from Sh5,000 to Sh15,000. When we refuse to pay they arrest our drivers and charge them with ridiculous offences. Jawiri’s guys have successfully defended most of the cases but we’re losing money every day the trailers are not on the road and clients are getting pissed off by the late deliveries. We’ve already lost Bentara.”
Bola winced. Bentara was their biggest client, a consumer goods manufacturer which distributed its products throughout East Africa.
“Did you ask Patrick to look into it?” Bola asked Tony. Patrick had maintained his connections in the police force which had proved useful many times.
“Yes. It’s not good. The cops have declared open season on our trucks. The word came from very high up the ranks. Looks like Leswa and his goons are up to their usual tricks,” Tony replied.
“What do we do?” asked James. “We can’t keep paying money to the cops. That’s a bottomless pit. No sooner do we get a truck released and two others are arrested.”
“Ground the entire fleet,” Tony said.
His father and brother stared at him in astonishment. BK Transporters had 25 trailers and trucks that transported both transit and local containerised and loose cargo including foodstuffs, beverages, grain, cement, paper and heavy duty machinery. The company also transported relief cargo for the World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA).
“Are you serious?” James asked.
“Yes. We can’t keep sending lawyers all over the country to bail out our drivers and pursue cases and we can’t pay the bribes the police keep asking for. It’s extortion.”
“How will grounding the trucks solve the problem?” Bola asked, bewildered.
“It will make Leswa and Dwanje think they’ve won. Put out an advertisement in the newspapers saying the company is for sale. Then register a new company in someone else’s name and transfer all the assets into it with you as a silent shareholder. Then we restart the business,” Tony explained.
Bola stared at his son with a look that suggested he thought Tony had taken leave of his senses. “What?”
“Right now you’re an easy target. Everything is in your name. We have to start hiding your assets, make it harder for Dwanje to harass you through your businesses. As president, he has all the power. We can’t fight him directly. Our best option is to make him think he’s winning and hide your assets. That includes your shares at the BSE. You need to appoint proxies to conceal your shareholding in all those companies.”
“What makes you think he won’t discover that the new company is Bola’s? Patrick says those NIS guys are very good at extracting information out of people,” James countered.
“That’s why we have to be clever about it. There are ways to bury the true ownership of a company under several layers of dummy corporations. It’s usually used by people who want to evade tax but it will also work in this case,” said Tony.
Bola turned to Jawiri. “What do you think?”
Their lawyer stayed silent for a few moments, a thoughtful expression on his face. “It’s worth exploring. I agree with Tony. Right now you’re too exposed,” he finally said.
“Is this something you can do?” Bola asked him.
Jawiri shook his head. “Afraid not. It’s not my area of expertise, but I know someone who is good.”
“Can we trust him?” asked Tony.
Jawiri was not just their lawyer, he was a family friend. Like Bola, he had suffered at the hands of Dwanje, so they had a shared agenda. Bringing someone else into their business and exposing their secrets was a huge risk especially when the enemy was a president who had demonstrated an uncanny ability to turn even Bola’s closest friends against him.
Jawiri nodded his head. “He’s a foreigner, has a very exclusive list of clients and is very guarded. He’s very picky about who he works with. He’s expensive but he’s worth it. And he doesn’t believe in burning his clients. In his line of work, that’s the quickest way to die. I can vouch for him.”
“How do we get in touch with him?” Tony asked.
“You don’t. He dictates the terms of engagement. I will send word that you need his services and he’ll get in touch with you. In your case, I suspect he’ll want to meet outside the country.”
“That won’t be a problem,” said Bola.
“So in principle we’re agreed, we go forward with the plan?” Tony asked.
Bola sighed. “I never thought I’d be one of those guys who had to hide their business dealings. How did we get here?”
No one felt compelled to answer the rhetorical question. All these cloak and dagger manoeuvres, checking for listening devices and talking in code because government agents eavesdropped on telephone conversations.
A year ago, Bola never thought twice about his movements. When he wanted to meet someone for business or leisure, he just picked a place and went. Now every meeting was fraught with risk and had to be thought through beforehand. He constantly worried if he was exposing his friends to harassment by the simple act of being seen with them.
Anxiety about the danger his family was in, simply because they were related to him kept him awake at night. And all because one man couldn’t accept that he had lost a contest for a woman’s affections a decade ago. Bola suddenly felt very old. And very tired.
Makena’s left ankle was aching again. It had ached on and off since she shattered it 15 years ago while putting on a sock. She was determined to attend the corporate canoe challenge at Woodville despite the pain.
The kids were counting on her and she wouldn’t let them down. She’d had lots of practice at ignoring pain. It came with the territory when you suffered from Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) also known as brittle bone disease.
She was born eight weeks premature and doctors warned her parents that she had two years to live. She’d proved them wrong but had spent a large chunk of her life in hospital. Her OI was the result of a genetic defect that made her body produce too little collagen, the major protein required to make strong bones.
Her fragile bones fractured easily. Makena didn’t know how many bones she’d broken over her life. She stopped counting after the 40th fracture. In playground accidents where other children sprained an ankle, hers broke in two places. When her siblings ran into the coffee table and sustained only bruises, Makena broke her tibia.
She spent most of her childhood itching inside a series of plaster casts, sometimes having two casts on a leg and arm simultaneously. Fractures requiring internal fixation and reconstruction had led to lengthy hospital stays.
She hated hospitals, doctors, needles and surgery. The wheelchair wasn’t fun but combined with bisphosphonates that increased the strength and density of her bones, it had minimised the fracture rate.
Painting took away the pain, or at least helped her focus on something other than her disease. Her father noted her talent at an early age and encouraged her to explore art fully. She attended schools with strong arts programmes which helped to hone her skills and her pictures fetched sizeable sums at Lavangwa Gallery.
Now in addition to painting, she tutored disabled children like herself, helping them discover a world of beauty and craftsmanship where they could be more than just their physical limitations. She taught weekly classes on Saturdays at the GoDown Arts Centre in Lavangwa.
Housed in a large renovated warehouse with a wall dedicated to evocative graffiti tags, the centre had a performance arena, visual arts studio, an art gallery for major exhibitions and discussion rooms. The centre also ran a residence programme providing an open studio and a number of workshops and seminars to assist artistic development.
She was taking her current class to the corporate canoe challenge at Woodville to paint portraits of spectators for a small fee. The money collected would support the arts programme for disadvantaged children at the centre.
Her father was supposed to accompany her to the event but had to travel at short notice that morning. Tony would have to fill in. She rolled her wheelchair across the porch of his cottage and rapped on the front door. He opened it after several minutes looking bleary eyed.
“Please don’t tell me I woke you. It’s almost noon,” she remarked.
“Good morning to you too. I’m fine thanks for asking,” Tony retorted with a weary smile. He smothered a yawn and ushered her inside.
Makena surveyed the coffee table littered with empty beer bottles, dirty glasses, plates with leftover food and ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts. She turned the wheelchair to face him. “You had a party and didn’t invite me?”
“It wasn’t planned or anything. Isaiah and Freddo came over, then Jack brought a couple of friends and before we knew it, there were 20 people here.”
“Hmmn,” she looked at him disapproving. “You should still have called me.”
He bent and kissed her left cheek then ruffled her short afro affectionately. Makena closely resembled her brother except for her slightly wider forehead which gave her face a triangular shape and the whites of her eyes which were a blue-grey colour, both classic symptoms of OI.
“Next time, promise.” He straightened up and began to clear the table.
“I need you to take me to Woodville.”
“I thought you were going with dad.”
“He and Bella had to go to shags. One of the cows is sick.”
“What time do you have to be there?”
“That gives me just enough time to have coffee and shower. Do you want some?” He left the mess on the coffee table and walked to the kitchenette.
“No. I just had breakfast.” Makena wheeled herself to the magazine rack. They continued their banter as Tony made coffee and she rifled through the selections, finally picking the latest copy of Property Guide. “What’s this?” she asked, as a paper fell out of it.
Tony looked up then hurried over and snatched it out of her grasp. “Nothing.”
“Oh really?” Her tone was sceptical. “Let me see it.” Tony shook his head and placed the document on the mantelpiece out of her reach. “It looked like a sketch of a large project. Are you and dad planning to build flats or an office block?”
“I told you, it’s nothing.”
“Tony come on, why the big secret?”
He sighed, knowing she would keep asking until he gave in. “It’s something personal I’m thinking about doing.”
“What kind of project?”
“Really?” Makena’s eyes widened in astonishment.
Tony took his coffee mug into the living room, sat down and took a sip. “Yes.”
“It looks huge.”
“I think it would be a good project for dad’s five acre plot at Meribo. It’s a natural marine basin with a breakwater coral shelf that is perfect for a marina. Most tourists come to Bancushi to see the wildlife and in the process also visit the beaches. Egypt and South Africa both have very good facilities for luxury yachts which we don’t. So I thought why not build a serviced marina for this segment? It will have a five star hotel, serviced apartments, restaurant, spa and gym, water-sport centre, boardwalk with retail outlets and underground car park.”
He paused and sipped his coffee.
“You know the way Tamarind has done so well with their dhow?” Makena nodded. “I want us to do something similar but on a larger scale. We custom build a boat that can cater for up to 300 people which we then lease out for weddings, birthdays, Christmas and New Year parties and corporate functions like product launches, seminars, fashion shows and galas.”
He stood up, walked to the reading desk, retrieved several photos and gave her one. “I’ve been doing some research. These boats in Sydney Harbour in Australia are like floating hotels. That one has a retractable roof over the upper deck which can be used when it rains so events can be held all year round irrespective of the weather. On a dry night the roof opens and people can party or eat under the stars.”
He showed her another photo. “This one has a floating glass ballroom which can host 800 people. It has floor to ceiling glass windows all the way around the boat so everyone on board has full 360° views of the harbour. It has three levels with different types of entertainment on each including bars, lounges and a casino. There is a market for this kind of product.”
He stared at the ceiling thoughtfully then turned back to face her.
“Imagine a wedding where guests board the boat at Meribo and the couple says their vows on the ocean, as the boat cruises to an isolated island where they take photos with their guests then head back to the boat for the reception. The boat slowly cruises back and they finish with a fireworks show over the ocean before the boat docks again at Meribo. Their guests can stay overnight in the serviced apartments or the hotel. I think it will be a hit with couples who want something different and exclusive.”
Makena was staring at her brother in shock as he spoke, unrestrained passion and excitement in his voice as he gestured animatedly. “I had no idea you were so romantic.”
Tony frowned. “I’m not. It’s a business idea. I told you, I did my research.”
“Aha. So you got the idea of saying vows while floating to a remote island from these boats?” She held up the photos and looked at him curiously.
“Not really. I used my imagination given the beauty of Bancushi’s coastline. On a boat you can take it all in. Just think of the view, the ocean breeze, the …” he stopped abruptly. “You’re missing the point.”
“Which is?” Makena grinned broadly.
“The business opportunity. Surely you see it? Even if not weddings other events?”
“Tony, I get it. I was just teasing. It’s a great idea.”
He smiled and slapped her playfully on the shoulder. “Yeah well, it will cost a ton of money to build. I’ve done an initial assessment and the numbers are mind boggling.”
“What about putting together a consortium of investors like we did for Woodville?”
Makena was not directly involved in the family businesses but had an insatiable curiosity about the work her father and brothers did. She constantly asked questions and actively participated in business meetings held at home. Her father and Tony often used her as a sounding board when they wanted to try new ideas or products.
“Actually I was thinking of trying something different. Asking investors to buy into one aspect of the project, build it and run it themselves with guidance from us to ensure the master plan is maintained so that there is harmony in the whole project. That will reduce the financing burden on our part. But we’ll retain the party boat. It will be an extension of Woodville but on water,” said Tony.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea. The marina will attract big spenders from abroad and the boat will boost domestic tourism. The whole development will generate revenue all year round not just in the high season.”
“Exactly.” Tony nodded enthusiastically.
“How long have you been working on it?”
“A couple of months.”
“I’m surprised. I thought you’d given up on architecture.”
“A friend told me never to give up on my dreams. Even if I didn’t study to be an architect, I can still pursue construction.”
“Anyone I know?” Tony shook his head. “That’s a good friend.”
“Yeah, she was.”
“It’s a she?” Makena raised her eyebrows as Tony suddenly stiffened then drained the last of the coffee in one gulp and stood up, heading for the bedroom. “Tony?”
“I’ll go shower and change, don’t want to make you late,” he said over his shoulder before disappearing from view.
Interesting. Makena mentally filed away that titbit of information. She would ask about his mysterious female friend later perhaps after a few drinks when he was more inclined to talk. He wheeled her to the dam twenty minutes later. Teams were already on the water practising before the race began.
“Makena, please don’t tell anyone about the marina, especially dad. I still need to work on a few things before I’m ready to show it to the family.”
She smiled up at him. “My lips are sealed.”
“Thanks.” Tony smiled back and looked around. “What can I do to help?”
“Everything looks set.” Makena looked a few metres to her left where her students sat in a row facing their easels, their clients on stools next to them, paintbrushes or pencils whisking across canvas, lips puckered in concentration as they painted or drew caricatures.
Spectators stood in clusters behind them watching in fascination as their friends and family members were immortalised on canvas, a process that took roughly 30-40 minutes. She pointed out a spot at the end of the row and a hotel porter who had been following closely behind mounted the portable easel and set up the canvas as Tony laid out the tools of her trade – brushes in various sizes, palette, sponge, charcoal crayon, eraser and fixative.
Makena rolled her wheelchair to the nearest student, greeted him with a warm smile and exchanged a few words. She went down the row and spent a few minutes with each student, complimenting their work before finally stopping in front of her easel.
A young woman of about 30 approached with a shy smile, a toddler in her arms. “Will you draw us?”
Makena smiled and invited her to sit down on the stool beside the easel. The portrait began to take shape as she chatted with her client. She believed that speaking to people as she drew them created a feeling of trust which led to a better finished product.
Tony watched her sketch for a while. “I’m going to watch the race. See you in a bit,” he said, with a pat on her shoulder.
Makena looked up from her easel and smiled with a brief wave of her hand. “Later.”
Tony meandered off slowly, pleased by the turnout. After their inaugural sports derby the year before, the canoe race had proved to be so popular that Woodville held a race every month mostly dominated by corporate teams.
He glanced at the programme which an usher had given him. Twenty companies had signed up to participate in this weekend’s race. There would be four heats with five teams each. The top three teams in each heat would battle it out in the quarter finals.
The first and second placed teams in the quarter finals would proceed to the semi-final stage where eight teams would be grouped into two heats of four teams each. The top two teams in the semis would compete in the final race with prize money of Sh300,000 for the winner and Sh150,000 and Sh50,000 for the second and third place winner respectively.
Tony walked over to the dock as an announcement went over the PA system requesting the teams still practising to head to shore for the start of the race. Spectators thronged the area wishing their friends, workmates and family members good luck before going to the stands to take their seats.
Tony spotted two familiar faces in the crowd. Sophie’s best friend Carol and her brother Luke. He watched as they hugged and exchanged an intimate kiss. He stood stock still in astonishment. Luke and Carol were dating? Since when? It must have happened after Sophie left. He approached the couple who were now looking out over the water arms around each other’s waists.
“Hi guys.” They both turned smiling broadly. Tony watched as a deep frown replaced Carol’s smile.
“Hi Tony.” Luke shook the hand that Tony extended, still smiling. Carol did the same with obvious reluctance. Her feelings towards him clearly hadn’t changed but at least she hadn’t walked away this time.
“You’re competing in the race?” he asked Luke, who wore a Majiwe Ltd branded t-shirt similar to three men standing nearby, most likely his team mates in the race.
“Yes.” There was a short awkward silence. “How are you?” Luke finally asked.
“I’m good. You?”
“I’m fine thanks.”
“Is this your first time competing in the corporate challenge?”
“Yes. I’m looking forward to it.”
“It’s a lot of fun actually.” Another awkward silence. Tony shifted his weight from one foot to the other and looked around restlessly before turning back to the couple. “I had no idea you two were dating,” he said. Luke nodded awkwardly without speaking.
After their initial greeting, Carol had kept her face averted as if looking at him was beneath her. Tony had a feeling that she would have walked away if Luke hadn’t been with her. When neither of them responded, Tony changed the subject. “Is Sophie coming?”
Carol finally turned to stare directly at him, a stony look on her face. “You really think she would come back here after everything that happened?” Luke winced and grasped her arm warningly but she ignored him.
“How is she?”
“She’s fine,” Luke replied.
“Did you tell her I’m looking for her?” Luke nodded. “What did she say?” Luke shrugged and stared at the ground. “Where is she?” The silence stretched as Tony looked from one to the other. The trumpet sounded signalling the start of the first heat.
Carol grasped Luke’s arm and walked away, pulling him with her. “Come on, the race is starting.” Luke threw an apologetic look over his shoulder at Tony but didn’t protest.
Tony watched them go, the now familiar guilt that he couldn’t shake off snaking its way up his spine. Every time he thought he’d let go of the memories, something happened to pull him back into the past. He blew out a hard breath and walked to the stands to watch the races.
Every so often he scanned the crowd seated around him and keenly scrutinised the faces of the people streaming into the venue but there was no sign of Sophie. The final race was a close contest which Majiwe Ltd lost narrowly, coming in second. Tony stayed for the prize giving ceremony and watched as Carol hugged and congratulated Luke after his team members received their prize money.
An ache filled him as he watched them frolic like children, giggling and teasing each other, obviously very much in love. A familiar memory tugged at him. He and Sophie running on the beach, splashing each other with sea water as they laughed and giggled just like Carol and Luke.
Sophie had never been to the ocean. For Tony, who had been going to the coast on holiday since he was a child and took it for granted, seeing the ocean through her eyes was like seeing it for the first time.
An ocean makes it easy to believe that God exists. So vast that at times, especially at twilight you can’t tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. The water changes colour as the sun moves across it, from green to blue to grey. As you stand at the edge, ripples and waves flow continuously towards you, creep up your feet and slide back.
If you wade a little further in, with the water at your knees, you feel like you’re moving with the ocean, at one with it, almost as if a feather can tip you over and pull you along into the middle of the deep where you will be lost forever, a feeling as exhilarating as it is frightening.
When the wind is high, the same waves roll, crash and break, so loud that you have to shout to be heard above the din. You feel like a speck, insignificant in the face of all that fury, a truly humbling feeling.
Sophie had never seen a lawn where she didn’t want to take off her shoes and wriggle her toes in the grass. Tony wasn’t surprised when she slipped off her sandals and walked on the soft white sand that stretched far into the horizon.
She closed her eyes in ecstasy, face uplifted to enjoy the breeze, breathed in the smell of saltwater in the air, a scent like no other, and looked like she was communing with the ocean. Tony watched the serene joyful expression on her face, fiercely glad he had brought her here.
She took such pleasure from nature– a green lawn, cool breeze, beautiful sunset, a waterfall, the patterns created by moonlight in a grove full of trees. All the things that money couldn’t buy. He’d taken her shopping once or twice and he’d never seen an expression of joy at the sight of new clothes or shoes as the one she had right now.
He was suddenly envious of her and wished he could look at life and enjoy it as she did, taking pleasure in the little things.
Afterwards, he’d taken her dancing to one of Meribo’s popular nightclubs. He remembered holding her close as they danced, breathing in her floral scent. He’d pulled her off the dance floor and out of the club soon after as she followed wordlessly. He kissed her passionately in the cab, unable to keep his hands off her.
Once in their hotel room, he’d kicked the door shut and without a word taken her right there against the wall, both of them too overcome with desire to make it to the bed. His lips twisted at the bitter sweet memory. Did she think about him? The question had crossed his mind time and again.
He sighed at the futility of it. Sophie was gone. Thinking about her was pointless. He resolutely pushed her out of his head and went in search of Makena.