Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
Loud hooting broke into her reverie. Isabella looked in her rear view mirror and watched a Subaru overtake her and the lorry in front.
The passenger shook his fist at her in annoyance as the car passed hers. Isabella was surprised to realise she was less than a kilometre from Zanzi farm yet she still had no idea what she was going to say to Lucas.
A few minutes later she turned right and stopped before an imposing gate. A red and white painted security barrier with a large ‘stop’ sign painted in red blocked access to the farm. The securely locked gate behind it had high metal grills through which she caught glimpses of beautiful greenery.
The thick stone pillars on the sides had security lights mounted at the top surrounded by sharp steel spikes. A tarmac road with yellow markings down the centre and kerb painted alternating black and white, wound its way into the distance. A short fence made of black grills rose from the kerb on both sides of the road all the way down the long drive.
A guard dressed in the green fatigues and dark green helmet of the GSU Recce unit with his rifle held at the ready, left his post at the small guardhouse beside the gate and approached her vehicle. She wound down her window.
“Can I help you madam?”
“I’m here to see the president.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes.” She opted to lie, hoping that Leswa had informed Lucas that she was coming.
“ID please?” She reached into her bag which she’d placed on the passenger seat, retrieved her wallet and extracted her national identification card. “Wait.”
He stepped away from the car, unclipped a walkie talkie from his belt and spoke softly into it, his words an indistinguishable murmur. He listened for the response then replied in the same soft murmur. “Open the boot and step out of the vehicle ma’am.” The order was given in a courteous, non-threatening tone, which was good. His gun made her really nervous.
She opened the car door and took two steps away from the vehicle. The soldier searched the front, then opened the back door and searched the back of the car. That done, he turned his attention to the boot, making sure to lift the floor mats to check underneath. Isabella sincerely hoped he didn’t insist on a body search.
He handed her the ID and gestured with his hand indicating she could get back into the car. He walked to the security barrier and lifted it as his companion stepped out of the guardhouse and opened the gate. Isabella drove slowly down the drive for about two kilometres admiring the beautiful manicured garden on both sides of the road with tall mature trees, shrubs and sisal plants.
She came to a second gate and stopped at yet another security barrier. A guard stepped up to the car and asked for her ID which she handed over. He murmured softly into his walkie talkie and a second guard, this time a woman, stepped out of the guardhouse.
The first guard asked her to step out of the car and searched it thoroughly as the female guard patted her down, including her handbag in the search. By the time they were done, Isabella felt small and insignificant, like someone expected to commit a crime at any second.
“Drive to parking lot ‘A’, someone will guide you from there,” said the male guard, returning her ID. Isabella wanted to ask where parking ‘A’ was, but the stern faces of the guards discouraged her. The male guard lifted the security barrier and the gate behind it swung open.
Isabella drove through and a minute or so later a sprawling mansion with cream walls and red tile roof came into view. She saw a sign on her left, an arrow pointing to parking ‘A’ on her right. She drove into a large gravel parking lot enclosed by a short bougainvillea hedge. Another guard approached the car as she parked.
“Come with me please.” He led the way down a paved path through the garden away from the imposing front entrance with its white pillars and terracotta floor tiles to the side of the building and through a small terrace. He knocked on a black heavy wood door.
A middle aged man dressed in what was clearly a staff uniform – black trousers and a cream shirt with black bands around the collar, edges of the short sleeves and pockets opened the door.
“Mrs Isabella Karenga to see his Excellency,” said the security guard. The other man nodded and ushered her in. He led her through a small lounge into a corridor, through yet another lounge and into a different corridor.
Isabella was apprehensive about meeting Lucas and barely took in her surroundings although she did note that the rooms had lots of colour, different shades of red and orange on both the furniture and furnishings, very different from her own style of mostly neutrals – white, cream and beige.
As they walked, she realised how close she was to meeting her nemesis, a man she last saw 14 years ago. She had seen him on TV like so many Bancushians, but seeing him in person was a whole different ball game. She was acutely aware that hers wasn’t a social visit.
Her mouth went dry and her hands started shaking. Her guide stopped outside an intricately carved Lamu door and knocked softly. Isabella clutched her bag to her stomach tightly, took a deep breath and tried to relax.
There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’ve dealt with powerful men before. He may be president now, but he’s still the same man you used to laugh with and tease all the time. The one that was so easy to talk to remember?
She took another deep breath as the door opened and steeled her nerves for the looming confrontation.
Dwanje would never have admitted it, but the prospect of meeting Isabella after so many years made him nervous. He paced up and down his inner sanctum, waiting for the knock on the door that would announce her arrival.
His security had called him a few minutes ago alerting him that she had arrived at the main gate. Just a few more minutes to go. He rubbed his palms together and tried to compose himself. If his advisers could see him now, they’d be shocked. He, who inspired fear in so many people was in a tizzy because his ex was in the building. The very idea was laughable.
A knock sounded and Dwanje strode to the door. His first glimpse of her was a solid punch to his gut. She stood all of five three, in a cream trouser suit and gold heels, long sleek hair pulled up to the top of her head, a distinct difference to the short afro she’d sported more than a decade ago.
The years had been kind to her. She’d put on a little weight which enhanced her delicate curves and filled out the sharp planes and angles of her face, adding a graceful maturity to her features. She licked her lips nervously, a tremulous smile on those lush curves.
“Hello Lucas.” She extended her small hand in greeting.
He grasped her hand and stared into the big round eyes that had enchanted him so many years ago. Then, they tended to twinkle in laughter as she laughed or teased him. But now shadows flitted in and out and her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.
“Come in.” He ushered her into the room and caught a whiff of her perfume as she passed him. The same fruity citrus scent that had always reminded him of an orchard he’d once visited on a trip to Italy. He led her to the sofa. “Can I offer you a drink?”
“Do you have cold water?”
He went over to the custom made solid mahogany bar, opened the small fridge, retrieved a glass pitcher and poured the water into a glass that he removed from the shelf above the counter. He carried the glass to the sofa and placed it on a small black stool at her side.
He sat on the opposite end of the sofa, noting that she sat right on the edge, back held stiffly. Perhaps she was as nervous about this meeting as he was. That was a comforting thought. He watched as she took a few sips of the water, then set aside the glass, squared her small shoulders and turned to face him.
“How are you?” Her voice was soft as her gaze travelled leisurely over his features, almost as if she was analysing them to see how much he’d changed in the years since she’d last seen him.
“I’m well. How about you?”
“I’m doing okay all things considered.”
She reached down to the handbag she’d placed on the carpet, opened the clasp and removed a small brown envelope. She replaced the bag on the floor and clutched the envelope in her lap. “I know you’re a busy man so I’ll get straight to the point.”
He nodded slowly but didn’t speak. She opened the envelope and removed a black and white photo which she handed to him. “That is my daughter Rose. She’s 11 years old.”
Dwanje looked at the photo which showed a gangly girl in a studio with black and white tiled floor. She stared at the camera with a toothy smile, looking uncomfortable, as if the effort of standing still while the photographer took the shot was too much work. Isabella handed him another photo.
“That is her younger sister Susan. She’s 9.” Unlike her sister, the girl in the second photo looked perfectly composed, with a natural pretty smile, looking like she’d been born for the camera lens, a model in the making. Isabella handed him the last photograph. “That is Makena….”
“She’s not your daughter. You have two children,” Dwanje interrupted after a quick glance at the photograph of a young woman in a wheelchair, showing her side profile as she painted on an easel.
“I may not have given birth to her, but make no mistake, Makena is my child in every sense of the word,” Isabella retorted.
“Why show me these photos?”
“I know you hate me…”
“I don’t hate you.” The denial was a rough growl as he tossed aside the photographs.
“…but you are a father.” Isabella continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “So I want to appeal to Lucas the father, not Lucas my former boyfriend or Lucas the president.”
She took a deep breath before continuing. “Those children almost lost their father a week ago. I’m asking you, please don’t rob my children of their father. They’re so young, practically babies and Makena is in a wheelchair. They need him. Please Lucas, don’t take their father away from them.”
Dwanje’s bushy eyebrows knit together in a frown, lips tight with anger at her words. He could deny that he’d ordered the hit on Bola until the cows came home but he knew she’d never believe him. It was a logical assumption given their history.
He watched as she got up, took a single step and closed the gap between them, then went down on her knees. She grasped his hand, eyes brimming with tears, lips trembling.
“Please Lucas, promise me you won’t kill the father of my children. I beg you please.”
Dwanje’s lips twisted in bitterness as he watched her eyes fill then a single tear rolled down her left cheek. He hated seeing Isabella cry. The sight of her on her knees, in tears, begging for her husband’s life was like a knife straight through his heart.
He knew how much this visit had cost her. To set aside her pride and humiliate herself like this in front of him showed how much she loved Bola, that son of a bitch. Dwanje wanted to kill him. If he could get his hands on that bastard right now, he’d strangle him.
Never had failure to woo a woman into his arms and into his bed seemed so apparent than now in Isabella’s complete humility before him, sacrificing her dignity and pride for her husband.
“Lucas please promise me you’ll spare Bola’s life,” she entreated him.
Hearing his name on her lips made him even angrier if that was possible. He was already a boiling cauldron of rage. He stared deep into the eyes of the woman he’d loved with a fierceness that he’d never experienced before or since and felt a great tenderness well up in his soul.
He’d never been able to deny Isabella anything and now was no different. It felt like chewing broken glass, but he couldn’t kill Bola now no matter what that son of a bitch did. Because to do so would destroy this woman and Dwanje couldn’t bring himself to do it. He grasped her arms gently and raised her up, assisting her to sit next to him.
“You have my word. Bola won’t be harmed.”
“Really? You promise?” A smile trembled on her lips as joy filled her eyes, her relief so palpable he could almost touch it.
A bitter sweet feeling coursed through him as he watched her. Happy that he’d finally extracted a smile that reached her eyes. Anger that her elation was because of a man he’d love to crush under his boot.
“I promise.” The hard knot of rage in his throat made the words seem forced but she didn’t seem to notice as her expression lit up.
He picked up the photos he’d tossed aside on the sofa and stared at her children, his gaze lingering longest on the two little ones. If things had been different, those might be their kids. He’d married again, but like Hannah, his second wife didn’t seem interested in affairs of state. Both wives did the bare minimum required of them and then retreated to their various homes.
He remembered the conversations he’d had with Isabella, marvelling at how knowledgeable she was about current affairs, eager to share her opinions on political matters. She would have made a wonderful first lady, a woman that would have shared his passion both in and outside the bedroom.
Sharp regret pierced his heart like a physical pain. He thrust the photos into her hands and stood up, suddenly wanting her as far away from him as possible. “If there’s nothing else, I have work to do.”
“Of course.” Isabella hastily stood up and put the envelope with the pictures back in her bag. “I won’t take up any more of your time.” She walked towards the door.
“One moment, Bella.” She turned and looked at him in silent query. “I’ll arrange an escort for you to Lavangwa.”
“There’s no need for that,” she replied with a frown.
“I insist.” He picked up the telephone receiver and spoke briefly into it. “My men will follow you and make sure you get home safely.”
“I’ll be fine Lucas.”
“If something happened to you on the way back, do you think Bola would believe I had nothing to do with it?”
That shut her up. They stared at each other for a long moment, regret heavy in the room.
“I’m sorry about how things turned out. I never meant to hurt you.”
“It was a long time ago Bella. Take care of yourself alright?”
She nodded and walked to the door which closed behind her with a soft click.
She retraced her path through the house, walking in a daze as she followed the man who’d ushered her in earlier.
They were met at the outer door by the same security guard who had escorted her from the parking lot. Isabella followed him to her car. A white Peugeot 504 was parked alongside with three muscular, battle hardened men in black suits inside, their faces unreadable masks of steel.
She nodded at them absently, then got into her car and reversed out of the parking lot. The white car followed. Isabella drove blindly, on autopilot, barely aware of the actions she was taking, her mind churning as she went over her conversation with Lucas.
The reaction finally set in five kilometres from the farm. She was shaking so badly that she couldn’t drive. She turned abruptly off the highway, parked on the road shoulder, put her arms on the steering wheel and buried her face in the crook of her arm, trying to get her emotions under control.
Isabella had no idea how long she sat in the car, shuddering in reaction. She jerked at the sound of a sharp rap on the driver’s window. She looked up to see one of the president’s guards looking at her with a worried frown.
She had forgotten about her escort. She looked in the rear view mirror and saw another guard standing behind her car, talking into a walkie talkie. She rolled down her window.
“Ma’am are you alright?” Isabella stared at him dazed. “Are you sick?” She continued to stare at him, her tongue frozen to the roof of her mouth. The other guard came and stood beside his colleague.
“Would you like me to drive?” His voice was soft with concern, a tiny smile almost visible in the curve of his lips, which finally got a reaction from her. She nodded without speaking. “Unlock the door and move over.” She did as instructed.
He got in beside her and put the car in gear then checked for approaching vehicles before pulling back onto the highway. She’d always thought of her car as spacious but his large frame seemed to have shrunk the space drastically. They drove in silence.
He reached for a knob on the dashboard and switched on the radio. Mellow R&B tunes from Radio Bancushi filled the interior of the car and immediately put her at ease. Isabella sat lost in thought, a tremor running through her body every now and then.
Confronting Lucas had taken everything she had. Physically he hadn’t changed much except that his hair was now completely white. When they had dated, it still had a sprinkling of black. He still had the same ramrod straight, trim frame. But his demeanour had changed. The cold, hard side to him that she’d always suspected had become more apparent.
The stern, forbidding look on his face had intimidated the hell out of her, although she’d tried to mask it. The fact that Lucas was president had been rammed home to her right from the gate, where the stern GSU guards stood sentry, the security checks and the walk through his imposing mansion with all the wealth and trappings of power on prominent display.
If it wasn’t for the fact that this visit might save Bola’s life, she would have turned tail and run, long before she reached the door to his office. She was well aware that it was only because he had chosen to grant her audience that they had met. If he didn’t wish it, she would have never gotten anywhere near him.
Seeing up close the power he wielded was sobering and when she thought about her husband going against him, in effect taking on the entire state machinery, terror filled her. It was a miracle that he’d lived through that hailstorm of bullets. Isabella wished more than anything that her husband would stop supporting Akisa, which put him on a direct collision course with the president.
But Bola was a principled man and would stick to his guns no matter what it cost him. He was a proud man too and if he knew what she had done, gone on her knees to beg his worst enemy, he would never forgive her. She’d done it to preserve their family, but Isabella knew she could never make him understand.
“I need directions to your home.” The question startled her out of her reverie. She looked around her and noticed they had reached Riverton.
“I need to go to the hospital first to check on my husband.” The guard raised an eyebrow in silent query. “Lavangwa Hospital.” He nodded and they drove on in silence. He dropped her at the hospital entrance.
“I’ll park and wait for you there.” He pointed at a vacant parking slot near the entrance.
“You don’t have to do that. I can drive myself home.”
“Sorry. Have to follow orders.” His voice was firm.
Isabella nodded and got out of the car. She made her way to the HDU where Bola had been transferred earlier that morning. The ward had seven beds, five of which were occupied. Bola was at the far end of the room. He slept peacefully with Makena at his bedside.
Simon, his new bodyguard sat on a chair next to the unoccupied bed opposite Bola’s, a position that placed him within reach should a problem arise, but far enough to give Bola and his visitors some privacy. Isabella had liked Simon from the moment Tony introduced them. He was tall and muscular, with kind eyes and spoke in a soft yet commanding voice. She instantly felt safe in his presence, happy to have him watching over her husband.
Isabella greeted Makena with a hug and a peck on each cheek then went round to the other side of the bed. “How is he?” she asked, kissing Bola softly on the cheek.
“He’s doing great. He managed to eat some soup today.”
“How are the girls?”
“They’re fine. They can’t wait to see him.”
“Are you staying in the hospital tonight?”
She shook her head stroking her husband’s forehead. “I promised to eat dinner with the girls and read them a bedtime story. Where is everybody?” Isabella had peeked into the waiting room on her way in and seen no one she knew.
“Tony was here with Isaiah and Freddo. They just left. James went to pick up his kids from a birthday party. Peter left an hour ago to drop off his in-laws who had come to see dad. Grace went with him.”
“So it’s just you and your father tonight?”
“I don’t mind,” replied Makena, stroking her father’s hand.
“Take care of him alright?” Makena nodded. “I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”
“Say hi to the girls.”
“I will.” With a last lingering kiss on her husband’s cheek, Isabella left the ward. She met Patrick outside the hospital doors. “Hello Patrick,” she greeted him with a handshake.
“Mrs Karenga.” Patrick inclined his head and led the way to where her car was parked. The police guard got out and saluted Patrick smartly. “I’ll drive her home.”
They both entered the car and Patrick reversed then drove out of the parking lot. As they turned into the main road, Isabella noticed his Defender behind them with one of the hotel security guards at the wheel. The Peugeot 504 trailed behind.
She turned to him in surprise. “Are they still following us, even with you here?”
“Their orders were to make sure you got home safely. They will escort us to the farm,” he replied, with a swift glance at the rear view mirror. They drove in silence for a while.
“Aren’t you going to ask why I have a police escort?” He shook his head. “I know you know that I went to see the president,” Isabella finally blurted out when he stayed silent. She checked his side profile. His face didn’t change, as unreadable as the GSU guards in the Peugeot behind them.
Did presidential guards go to a school where they were taught how to wipe all emotions from their faces? There were times when looking at Patrick was like staring at a stone wall. “I had to go and see him,” she continued, needing him to understand her motives for going behind her husband’s back to visit his worst enemy. “I did it for my family.”
“Mrs Karenga, you don’t have to explain anything to me. I work for you. My job is to keep you safe,” he finally said, with a quick glance at her before turning his attention back to the road.
“Like you, my job is to protect my family. That’s why I went to see Lucas. But Bola will never understand, so please don’t tell him. It will only cause more problems.” She half turned in her seat to face him, a silent plea for understanding in her eyes. They had reached the driveway to her home.
Patrick parked outside the house and switched off the ignition. “I won’t. I think however that you should talk to Salome,” he said.
“Why?” A puzzled frown crossed her face.
“I don’t know the history, but I know that going to see Dwanje was very hard for you.”
“The guards told you about my breakdown on the highway.” It wasn’t a question, just a statement of fact. Isabella knew he had close friends in the police force. That’s how he knew about her visit to Zanzi farm and why he’d shown up at the hospital.
“You’ve been through a great deal, more than most people will ever experience in their lifetime. You don’t have to be strong all the time. Talk to your friend. I think it will do you good.” His voice held a gentleness that she’d never heard before and it brought tears to her eyes. She swallowed, determined not to cry.
“I can’t make Salome drive all the way here at night,” she protested.
“No problem. I’ll pick her up and bring her here, then drop her home when she’s ready.”
Isabella stared at him a long moment, realising he was right. She desperately needed to talk to someone and Salome was the only person she could trust with details about her trip to see Lucas. “Thank you Patrick. I appreciate it,” she finally said with a tearful smile.
He nodded but didn’t say anything, his face an unreadable mask once more. She got out of the car and walked into the bright cheerful house, smiling as Susan and Rose launched themselves into her arms with wild shrieks of joy. It felt good to be home.