Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
Dwanje clenched his fists, lips tight across his lips as he glared at his companions.
Anger poured from him in waves barely held in check as he pressed a button on the remote, switching off the 7pm Channel 4 news clip of Akisa accusing the government of trying to kill his friend Bola.
“Who authorised the hit?” The question was a hard, rough growl as he turned to face Zimeli who sat opposite.
Dwanje had summoned his advisers to his Lavangwa residence, which he shared with his second wife, a 4-bedroom mansion built on two acres in Crescent Gardens off Goti Road. His first wife lived on the Zanzi farm.
The five men sat in his home office, a large square room with a gleaming oak desk in one corner and black leather seats in the centre. A lush maroon wall to wall carpet matched full length curtains covering a window that spanned one entire wall. Wildlife and savannah landscapes covered the other white painted walls.
“I didn’t.” Zimeli’s voice was calm, but he looked unusually alert, leaning forward in his seat, elbows on the chair’s arm rests, hands clasped in front of him.
Dwanje turned icy eyes to his left where Yasi fidgeted, eyes downcast, shoulders hunched as if trying to disappear into the seat. When he didn’t respond, Dwanje turned to Segala on his right. His chief political strategist was outwardly calm but sat ramrod straight in his chair, every muscle rigid with tension as if bracing for a blow.
“What the hell happened?” Segala quailed at Dwanje’s roar of rage. He heard Leswa’s sharp intake of breath then the other man who sat in the chair next to him leaned forward and pinched his nose before speaking in a soothing tone.
“Mzee please calm down.” Only Leswa had the guts to face down Dwanje in a rage and make a statement like that. The president turned steely eyes on his most trusted confidant.
“Calm down?” To his credit, Leswa didn’t flinch. He returned Dwanje’s hard stare with a steady gaze of his own. “I want to know who ordered Bola’s shooting. Now.” His tone brooked no refusal.
Leswa sighed and threw a swift glance at Yasi. Dwanje turned to the latter who fidgeted in his seat again, palms clammy with sweat. His eyes darted from side to side like a cornered rabbit. “Yasi?” The silence stretched as Dwanje’s cold stare drilled holes into his head of internal security. Yasi finally looked up, visibly trembling.
“Mzee, I was just trying to help.” His voice shook.
“How?” Dwanje’s voice was hard, like flint. His brow furrowed with impatience as he watched the younger man try to compose himself before continuing.
“We had tried everything and nothing was working. I thought with Bola out of the way, it would cripple Akisa.” Yasi’s booming voice sounded uncharacteristically hollow, as if he had trouble believing his own words.
“Nyang’au wewe!” Dwanje spat out the epithet that he only used when he couldn’t contain his rage or disgust.
They all knew he was ready to explode and so nobody spoke, waiting for him to compose himself. It happened slowly, by degrees, as he first took several deep breaths, clenched and unclenched his fists and glared at each of them in turn, his eyes dark pools of rage, flashing barbs, lips narrowed tightly over his lips.
Finally, he turned his gaze to Zimeli. “The police report?” The words acted like an invisible knife cutting the cords of tension in the room. All except Yasi relaxed marginally and breathed easier now that Dwanje had turned his focus on solving the problem.
“No suspects so far,” Zimeli replied in his usual calm even tone.
“Can we blame it on a robbery?”
“Difficult. They didn’t take anything from him. His watch, cash and other valuables were found intact.”
Dwanje’s gaze hardened as he turned to Yasi. “Can’t you do anything right? It didn’t occur to you we may need a cover story, assuming your men succeeded in killing him?”
Yasi withered under his glare and sunk further into his chair clearly miserable. “I’m sorry Mzee,” he replied in a low tone.
“Stupid! Incompetent idiot.” Dwanje cursed viciously under his breath. Another long silence followed as he sat in deep thought, fingers steepled beneath his chin and stared at the ceiling, working the problem in his head. No one spoke, each lost in his own thoughts.
“Ok this is what we’ll do,” Dwanje’s abrupt voice broke the silence several minutes later. “There’s a power struggle among the Buyu leaders. Supporters of the former VP feel that Bola is a threat to their man’s chances of getting into State House. They feel he’s become too powerful and want to get him out of the way. In so doing, they will also weaken Akisa. That’s why Bola was shot. Our government had nothing to do with it. That’s what Abdul Nasser will say at tomorrow’s political rally in Kapserwa.”
Leswa laughed and looked at the president in admiration. “I really like the way your mind works.”
“I will ask the Police Commissioner to personally handle this case, to show the public that we’re taking it seriously. Publicise the fact that nothing was stolen and all his cash was found on him so that it’s clear it wasn’t a robbery. That together with Nasser’s announcement will put Somangu on the defensive and take attention away from us. Bola has been trying to get the opposition to agree to field one candidate at the next election. Hopefully this will drive a wedge between them,” Dwanje continued.
“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” murmured Segala. Dwanje nodded.
“Who said that?” asked Leswa.
“Winston Churchill I believe,” replied Segala.
“I want to make one thing clear.” Dwanje leaned forward and looked at each man, his expression hard as granite. “No one makes a move on Bola without clearing it with me first.”
“Understood.” Leswa is the only one who spoke. The others merely inclined their heads except Yasi who nodded vigorously as if eager to make amends for his lapse in judgement.
It had been an agonising seven days, the longest week of Tony’s life as his father lay unconscious in the ICU. Seven days in which he’d watched his family fall apart under the worry and strain, leaving him to hold the pieces together.
He hadn’t slept since the shooting, subsisting on catnaps here and there as he rolled from one crisis to the next. Isabella refused to leave the hospital. After two days of incessant crying for their parents, Tony finally asked his brother to take in his step sisters. His wife Paula brought them to the hospital to visit their mother every day after school as well as Makena, who was recovering nicely with no complications thank goodness.
The two hours the girls spent with their mother every day helped to calm them down. Isabella didn’t think it was a good idea for them to see their father in the ICU. She just told them that he was sick and that the doctors were taking good care of him. Peter and Grace arrived from the US later in the week. Since they were staying in the main house, the girls moved back home.
The doctor discharged Makena but she stayed put in the hospital. “I’m not leaving dad,” she cried hysterically when Tony insisted she go home. He finally gave in and asked the doctor to allow her to stay for a few more days until their father got better.
Plus, she was a calming influence on Isabella who was prone to bouts of uncontrolled weeping when she would be inconsolable. Salome and her other friends couldn’t always be with her as they were at work during the day so Makena filled in, ensuring that Isabella was never alone.
Makena’s hospital suite had become their unofficial headquarters during the crisis. Tony and James spent most of their time here running their family businesses. The companies had proved to be the least problematic aspect.
The farm managers at their three farms were great, running things in Bola’s absence competently with very little reference to James or Tony who continued to oversee their own clusters of companies.
The politicians were another matter. Akisa’s second press conference two days after he visited Bola at the hospital where he accused state agents of trying to kill him opened a can of worms. A major blame game ensued within hours as Nasser, Dwanje’s mouthpiece, in turn accused the former VP of plotting the shooting, which the latter furiously denied.
It became a free for all with the attendant media circus. Journalists waylaid him and James at their company offices and at their homes in a bid to get their reaction to the accusations flying back and forth. In desperation, they retreated to the hospital where Patrick in concert with hospital guards kept the horde at bay, allowing them to work in peace.
Yesterday, they had received their first piece of good news. Bola recovered consciousness and would today be transferred to the High Dependency Unit (HDU) of the hospital. The feeling that ran through Tony as he saw his father talking and smiling – though still weak – was indescribable.
He felt like a new man. Like someone who’d been walking in a thick fog and now suddenly the skies had cleared and he could see clearly again. His stepmother apparently felt the same way. Tony watched as she walked out of the ICU smiling for the first time since the ordeal began.
“I’m going home for a while. I need to check on things,” she told him.
“I’ll take you.”
She shook her head. “Stay here with your father. I called Woodville and asked them to send one of the drivers to bring my car. He should be here by now.” Tony insisted on escorting her to the car in case any reporters lurked outside. She had been sheltered inside the hospital for the past week and he didn’t want her to be ambushed by the media.
Once outside the hospital, he spotted her car right away, in a parking space quite close to the entrance. He took her arm and led her to the silver Mitsubishi Pajero. The driver hopped out when he saw them approaching, walked round the vehicle and opened the front passenger door for her. Isabella got in and closed the door. “See you later.”
“Ok.” He watched them drive off, then glanced at his watch. 9am. He strode back into the hospital to oversee the transfer of his father to the HDU feeling relaxed for the first time in days. He yawned. Perhaps tonight he’d finally get a good night’s sleep.
Sophie watched the media coverage of the attempted assassination, feeling sick inside as she thought of Tony, the father of her children. She remembered how much Tony loved his father. When he’d spoken of him, it was in glowing terms.
He idolised his father so much that he had never even told him about the dreams he’d tucked away deep inside his heart. Dreams he’d shared with Sophie, about the real estate projects he wanted to build. Tony didn’t want to risk his father’s disappointment by revealing that working in the family business wasn’t his only aspiration in life. It must be killing him to see his father in the ICU fighting for his life.
A sudden discomforting thought struck her. The grandfather of her children had almost died and yet the Karenga family had no idea that his grandchildren even existed. Luke, her mother and Carol had tried to persuade her to tell Tony about his children ever since the birth but Sophie adamantly refused. After a while she simply refused to discuss the subject.
Having kept such a big secret from him for so long, Sophie was terrified that once Tony learned the truth, he would be so angry that he would punish her in the only way he could, by taking the children away from her.
His family was rich and powerful. If he decided to become vindictive and take her to court, he could keep her fighting for years as her children grew up without her. Not to mention that she simply didn’t have the kind of money needed to fight the Karengas in court for that length of time.
That fear occasionally gave her nightmares, when she would wake up in a cold sweat screaming for her children. Sophie finally convinced herself that it was too late. The damage was already done. She would have to deal with Tony’s anger eventually but she was in no hurry to face that confrontation.
So she watched the unfolding drama from afar, prayed for Bola’s recovery and asked God to give Tony and his family strength to get through the difficult ordeal.
“Do you still love him?” Carol asked her a few days after the shooting, as they sat chatting in her living room after she put the twins down for their afternoon nap.
“Liar. You can pretend in front of others but I know you too well,” her friend replied.
“Why did you ask if you already knew the answer?” Sophie retorted.
“I just want you to be happy Sophie and you haven’t dated anyone since Tony.”
“I haven’t had time.”
“Maybe not a year ago. But in the last six months the farm has been running like a well-oiled machine. Come on what’s the real reason?” Sophie shrugged. “Do you ever wonder if he thinks about you?”
Sophie snorted. “Not bloody likely. I’m sure he moved on a long time ago. Remember Christine? I was replaced as soon as he realised I was spoilt goods.”
“You could be wrong.”
Sophie stared at her friend in disbelief. “You hate Tony. Why are we discussing him?”
Carol twisted her hands in her lap. “I’m getting married to a wonderful guy. We’re so happy together. I just wish you could find that with someone,” she said softly, her eyes dreamy with contentment.
Sophie’s expression softened. “Luke is a good guy. Solid, dependable, caring. The type who wouldn’t hurt you knowingly. Tony was never like that. Life with him was fun and adventurous, but you can’t build a future on that. I need someone who will always be there for me and the boys no matter how rough things get.”
“You’re thinking about your father again, aren’t you? Give Tony a chance, he may surprise you.”
“Do you know why Luke is the way he is? He swore never to be like our father and became the opposite of him, a man any woman would be proud to have at her side. Me on the other hand, instead of learning from mum’s experience, I went and fell for a man who bailed out at the first sign of trouble. Talk about stupid.” The words sounded bitter and her eyes clouded over with pain as she spoke.
Dammit when would it stop hurting?
“I don’t want to talk about Tony. Let’s talk about your wedding,” she said resolutely, her lips and chin set at the stubborn angle that told Carol the subject of Tony was closed, at least for now.
Once at the house, Isabella went straight to the telephone and dialled a number. “Where is he? I have to see him.” She listened for a moment. “No. It has to be today.”
Her hand tightened on the receiver as she listened to the response of the person on the other end. “Listen Leswa, I know he’s on the farm. You tell him I’m on my way and he’d better tell the guards to open the gate when I arrive or I’ll raise hell.”
She slammed down the receiver, then ran upstairs to the master bedroom taking the stairs two at a time. After a quick shower, she changed into a tailored cream trouser suit with gold heels. She combed her long perm into a beehive which she fastened at the top with a brass alligator clip. She was checking her reflection in the full length mirror when her two daughters rushed into the room.
“Mummy you’re home.” Susan squealed joyfully as she threw her small arms around her mother who laughed and ruffled her pigtails.
“Were you good little girls?” Isabella hugged Rose and pinched her nose affectionately.
Rose nodded and looked up at her mother with an earnest expression. “When is daddy coming home?”
Susan was the more playful of the two, always cheerful and giggling, playing pranks on others. Rose was quiet and thoughtful, often to be found in a corner somewhere, nose buried in a storybook. Isabella gave her another warm hug.
“He’s better. I hope he will be home soon. He said hi.”
“Really, he woke up?” Rose asked, eyes shining.
“He did,” her mother confirmed, eyes tearing at the relief and joy in her little girl’s face.
“I drew him a picture. I’ll go get it,” Susan announced excitedly and rushed from the room.
Rose sat next to her mother, both arms around her waist. “He’s really better mummy?” She searched her mother’s face, renewed anxiety in her eyes. “He’ll come home soon?”
Isabella playfully pulled her braids which had been accessorised with bright colourful Maasai beads in a bid to lighten the mood. “He’s better. I’ll take you to see him in a day or two.” That brought a smile to the little girl’s face.
Isabella hugged her tightly to her side and kissed the top of her head, remembering how close they had come to losing him. Seeing her daughter’s bright intelligent eyes shadowed with pain at her father’s abrupt disappearance made her more determined than ever to confront her past. She would do whatever it took to protect her family.
Susan rushed into the room clutching a large sheet of paper. Isabella took it and spent a few minutes admiring the drawing, complimenting her younger daughter who sat on her other side. She wanted to stay here just like this, hold her children close and forget about the world outside. But what she needed to do was too important to be put off much longer.
She had been terrified of leaving Bola’s bedside, willing him to keep breathing through the long hours and days that he lay in the ICU, tubes running everywhere, looking like death warmed over. Now that he was awake and talking, it was time to end this war for all their sakes.
She stood up and kissed the top of each child’s head affectionately. “I need to go somewhere for a little while. I’ll be back this evening.”
“But mummy, you just got here.” Susan’s lips trembled, ready to burst into tears.
“I know baby. But I have to go, it’s important.” Isabella reassured her with a long hug.
“You won’t take long?” The question was a muffled whisper against her cheek.
“I promise. I’ll be back before you know it, then we can eat dinner together and play games afterwards, how’s that?”
“Ok.” Susan nodded with a tremulous smile.
“Why can’t we go with you?” Rose asked morosely.
“Because it’s a grown up errand. I won’t stay in the hospital tonight. We’ll cuddle in bed together and I’ll read you a bedtime story.” Rose cheered up immediately.
Isabella crossed over to her walk in closet and retrieved a brown clutch. She put into it the items she would need – money, car keys, ID and toiletries then left the room and went downstairs hand in hand with her daughters. Susan chattered nonstop all the way to the car. She kissed them goodbye and got into the driver’s seat. “See you later.”
“Bye.” They waved until she disappeared down the driveway. The trip to Rukuna would take two hours, plenty of time to rehearse what she would say to Lucas. But as she drove, all she could think about were the events that started the feud between her husband and Lucas a decade ago.