Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
The Flying Squad officer threw a rope with a hook at the end over the balcony railing of apartment 2B and tugged it to ensure it had taken hold.
The sudden clang of metal against metal was drowned out by the sound of a burst of gunfire from the living room. The gangster in the kitchen fired back from his hiding place behind the fridge, aiming at the head of the policeman which had briefly poked out of the doorway before it was quickly withdrawn.
The policemen in the bedroom and living rooms fired continuously to cover the actions of their colleague who climbed the rope quickly until he was just below the railing of the kitchen balcony. The sound of gunshots had brought the residents of all the nearby buildings out of their houses. They crowded on balconies and windows to watch the action, talking animatedly and pointing fingers at the apartment from which the sounds of gunfire emerged.
A ripple of anticipation had gone through the onlookers at the emergence of the officer climbing the rope. He just hoped the gangster in the kitchen was too distracted by the gunfire coming from inside the apartment to look outside, where numerous people pointed fingers at him from their vantage points in other buildings, chatting excitedly.
Balancing one hand on the railing, he reached for the pistol tucked into his waistband and fired several shots into the kitchen. He ducked as the kidnapper inside returned fire, shattering the windows. A scream from a nearby balcony rent the air. The officer didn’t pause to see who had been hit; he reached into the pack slung across his waist, removed a teargas canister and tossed it through the gaping hole in the window.
A second later, his colleague on the corridor outside the window of the second bedroom swung the butt of his rifle, broke the bedroom window and tossed a second teargas canister into the room. Clouds of white smoke billowed from both rooms and spread quickly into the corridor inside the house, then into the living room and first bedroom.
The kidnapper in the second bedroom fired continuously at both the doorway and window as he coughed and choked, tears streaming down his cheeks. Finally, unable to withstand the pungent fumes, he stood up from his hiding place behind the headboard. A burst of gunfire from the window caught him in the chest. He dropped to the floor with a thud.
The man in the kitchen held out a little longer, but eventually he too stood up from his hiding place behind the fridge and stumbled to the sink in search of water to pour over his smarting eyes. The policeman at the balcony had been waiting for him to do just that. He felled him with a single bullet straight between the eyes.
He signalled his partner downstairs who spoke softly into his radio. Sergeant Ramla and a colleague who had donned gas masks rushed into the corridor and then into the first bedroom with a warning shout to their colleague still behind the table to hold his fire. Each of them grabbed a child and rushed into the living room where they handed over their burden to Flying Squad officers waiting just outside the door.
They rushed back into the apartment to assist their colleague who was by then almost choking from the teargas fumes that filled the entire apartment. They assisted him downstairs to the waiting ambulance. The twins had been placed on a stretcher and paramedics applied oxygen masks to their faces, then rinsed their eyes with a saline solution.
A third oxygen mask was applied to the policeman’s face. He took several deep breaths then took the jerry can of water that a colleague handed him and rinsed his face and eyes liberally, before donning the oxygen mask again.
Sophie rushed out of the apartment block across the street closely followed by Tony and Luke. “Are they okay? Kevin, Sean, talk to me,” she cried frantically as she reached the ambulance. “I’m their mother,” she shouted as a paramedic tried to prevent her from touching the children. He backed off apologetically. “Please talk to me. Mummy is here.” She held one twin’s face in both hands and kissed his cheek, then did the same to the other.
“We need to move now,” said the second paramedic.
“Can she ride with them?” Tony asked. The paramedic nodded. “Take them to Lavangwa Hospital. Sophie, we’re right behind you okay?” Sophie nodded as the paramedic shut the door of the ambulance. Tony looked around frantically. “Where is the taxi?”
“You’re the children’s father right?” asked Inspector Tambo.
“Yes I am.”
“We had to clear the area.” Inspector Tambo took his arm and led him to a police car parked several feet away. “You can ride in the police escort.” He opened the back door for Tony to get in. “Follow the ambulance,” he ordered the police officer behind the wheel.
“Luke come on,” Tony urged with a wave. Sophie’s brother entered the backseat beside him as the police car peeled away from the curb siren blaring.
Whereas ten minutes before, the street had been quiet, now it teemed with life as police cars, media vans and people thronged the area, all straining to catch a glimpse of the gangsters. Police were having a hard time keeping people behind the perimeter they had erected to keep the crime scene clear.
Inspector Tambo pulled his team back as forensics experts took over the scene to meticulously analyse and document evidence. The kidnapper who had been captured alive was hauled downstairs and into a police van where Flying Squad officers stood guard to ensure he didn’t escape.
Inspector Tambo barked orders for another ambulance to take a woman who had been hit by a stray bullet to the hospital. She was injured when the kidnapper in the kitchen fired at his man on the balcony.
Patrick summoned his assistant security guard hovering nearby. “Find the taxi and go to the hospital,” he ordered. “Make sure no one gets near Sophie and the children. Understand? Nobody. Use our guys at the hotel as backup for hospital security.” The other man nodded before sprinting off.
Patrick went in search of Faki who had remained at the backroom of the shop as the operation continued.
The children were admitted to the paediatric ward of Lavangwa Hospital. The doctor reassured their worried parents that they weren’t seriously ill, just severely dehydrated.
Sean had experienced some difficulty breathing after being exposed to the teargas but that cleared up in a few hours. Now both boys slept peacefully and would remain at the hospital overnight for observation. If all went well, they would be released in the morning.
Patrick had come back with the news that the police had found a bottle of Piriton in the kitchen of the house where they had been held hostage. The kidnappers had been using it to induce sleep and prevent the boys from crying and drawing unwanted attention from the neighbours. The doctor assured their parents that the drug would have no long lasting side effects.
The Kosovo Boys and their leader melted away from the scene as soon as the twins were rescued. Later that evening, Patrick paid Chike a visit at his headquarters, accompanied by Faki. He thanked the gang leader for his help and gave him another Sh100,000.
Patrick didn’t think Tony would allow Sophie to go back and live in Lango but in the event that happened, he wanted the family to be in the good graces of the gang so that they could watch over and protect her in the future. As promised by Faki, the police steered their investigation into the kidnapping away from the Kosovo Boys.
The captured kidnapper was interrogated and proved to be a hard nut to crack. However, 16 hours, a broken nose and two smashed kneecaps later, he spilled his guts. He confessed that he worked for the ‘Jackal’ aka Eric Shimoli, the ringleader behind the kidnapping.
He told the police about the Jackal’s hideouts, including a few that the police didn’t know about before. Police raids to all the places he mentioned yielded no fruit. The Jackal had escaped the dragnet once again.
Tony’s accountant guru had not yet identified the owners of the company they had been ordered to transfer ownership of their two companies to. All he found were several layers of dummy corporations, a finding that strongly pointed to Sudipta as the mastermind behind the kidnapping. But they had no concrete proof to link him to the crime.
The media meanwhile went into a feeding frenzy at the news that Bola Karenga’s grandchildren had been kidnapped. The sudden appearance of the twins whose existence no one had even hinted at before, only added fuel to the rumours flying everywhere.
Sophie had arrived at Casualty to shouted questions from journalists and flash bulbs exploding in her face. The kidnapping was the top story in all the evening bulletins and by morning there were no signs interest in it had abated. She was on the front page of every major newspaper in the country.
The Guardian had splashed a photo of her at the scene, in the ambulance facing the doors, looking terrified, face streaked with tears, clutching Sean’s little hand as he lay on the stretcher, an oxygen mask obscuring most of his face. How on earth had the reporter managed to get close enough to get that shot? Hadn’t the police cordoned off the area?
She shuddered at the thought of stepping outside to face those vultures again. Dozens of reporters surrounding Kevin and Sean, each one jostling to get a good angle to take the best photos. Opening up the next day’s papers to find her babies splashed all over the tabloids, with screaming headlines to match.
Sophie realised just then how much she craved and valued the anonymity she had lived in over the last three years. Seeking out places where nobody knew her, where she could live and work in peace, safe in the knowledge that she was just another ant, one of millions who made up the Republic of Bancushi.
She had never craved Tony’s life, being rich and famous, recognised wherever he went. Now that she had been thrust back into his life so unceremoniously, she didn’t think she could handle it. For a few minutes, Sophie was tempted to snatch up her sleeping children and run far, far away, where no one would ever find them.
But she knew that was no longer an option. There was a security guard stationed right outside the door of the private room to ensure that they weren’t disturbed. But in as much as he kept the outside world at bay, he ensured she remained inside this luxurious prison. And it was luxurious. Tony had insisted on the best for his children.
The deluxe room was spacious with a fridge, telephone facilities, television set, a couch and two comfortable armchairs. The nurse had told her she could order anything from the à la carte menu, a far cry from Fabela Maternity Hospital near Lango where she had given birth to the twins. Fabela, touted as Africa’s largest maternity hospital, was often crowded with mothers sharing beds. Women sometimes gave birth on the floor.
Sophie set aside the newspapers and glanced at the clock. 8am. She hadn’t slept all night. As the clock ticked off the long hours, Sophie stayed awake, watching her children sleep, unable to close her eyes despite the fact that she hadn’t slept in days. The knowledge that the crisis had passed and her children were safe brought no comfort or rest.
Her mind churned with thoughts that eventually took her back to that fateful day three and a half years ago when she entered a clinic to get an abortion and walked out a fugitive, on the run from her boyfriend. She had been running ever since. Running away from the mistakes she had made, unwilling to face her past.
She remembered the phone call telling her that her children were missing. Her first thought was that Tony had taken them. Then she realised he couldn’t have. He didn’t know about them. Then came the harrowing search, two days of walking around Lango until her feet hurt, protesting when Luke dragged her home after it got dark. She recalled the sleepless nights she spent praying for the safe return of Kevin and Sean.
And then the second phone call, this time from her brother informing her about the message left on their answering machine at the office. The call that changed everything and sent her hurtling into a future she wasn’t ready for, where she had no choice but to confront the ghosts of her past.
Tony hadn’t slept a wink all night. His mind churned with thoughts of meeting his children for the first time.
He had seen them in the ambulance and at the hospital but in the former, their faces had been covered by oxygen masks and in the latter, they had still been asleep, from the combined effects of the Piriton and teargas. He decided to go home last night and give Sophie some time alone with the kids.
Given the harrowing ordeal she had gone through, the last thing she needed was the added pressure of having him there, knowing they would have to discuss the future. He got up early, showered and dressed then tinkered around the house for two hours not wanting to go to the hospital too early. He left the house at 9am. He spotted Patrick walking towards him as he parked his BMW 325i at a spot close to the main entrance.
“Good morning,” Tony greeted him. “How was the night?”
“Quiet. No problems.”
“Is Sophie awake?”
“I don’t think she slept. The nurse told me she checked on the kids several times during the night. Each time she found Sophie awake.” Patrick looked at him critically. “Doesn’t look like you did either,” he observed.
Tony shook his head ruefully and started walking towards the wide glass doors of the hospital. Their head of security fell into step beside him. “I didn’t.”
“Pole. I know it’s tough. But you’ll be fine, all of you.”
“Thanks Patrick. Appreciate it.” They walked in silence the rest of the way to the room the kids occupied.
“I’ll be around, monitoring the area. Call if you need anything,” Patrick said at the door. Tony nodded and entered the room.
The children were awake. They sat on one bed giggling as Sophie, whose back was towards him, tickled their ribs, speaking softly. Tony paused just inside the doorway reluctant to intrude on the happy tableau. After a short while one of the twins waved at him and flashed a toothy grin. Sophie turned.
“Hi.” His greeting was wary, as he searched her features keenly to gauge her mood.
She waved a hand urging him to come closer. “Boys, there’s someone I want you to meet.” Sophie patted the bed beside her, indicating he should sit down. Tony sat, never taking his eyes off the boys.
Seeing them up close was like a sucker punch to his gut. They both had his honey coloured complexion and bushy eyebrows, same eyes. Looking into them was like seeing his reflection in a mirror. The resemblance was uncanny. Tony felt a shiver of awareness travel up his spine. He swallowed compulsively and tried to speak but he’d been struck dumb.
“I know. Clearly I was just the vessel.” Sophie’s voice was soft and an undercurrent of laughter laced her voice.
Tony turned to see her watching him with a gentle smile. “What?”
“Carol keeps saying they have my nose but I don’t see it. You imprinted on them.”
He really had. Tony had an old photo taken in a studio when he was around five years old. That photo bore a striking resemblance to the identical twin boys in front of him. He wondered how Sophie could tell them apart. They would play all kinds of tricks on him until he figured out which one was which. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Guess you can save money on that DNA test huh?” Her lips curved into a teasing smile and her eyes twinkled merrily, the way they used to when she teased him.
Tony realised she was trying to lighten the mood. She obviously understood what a profound effect meeting his children had on him. He smiled back gratefully. “This is Kevin.” She ruffled the top of his head affectionately, then did the same to his brother. “And this is Sean. Kevin is older by about two minutes. Boys say hello to Tony, your dad.”
Tony swallowed a lump of emotion at her words. She had decided not to hide who he was from the children. Sean reached out a little hand and placed it in his. “Hi Tony.”
“Hi Sean. I’m really happy to meet you.”
Kevin stretched out his hand as well. “Me Kevin.”
Tony shook it. “Hi Kevin.”
“You play footie?” Sean asked.
“Sam daddy play,” Kevin declared.
“Sam is their best friend in the plot,” Sophie explained.
“Do you want me to play with you?” Tony asked with a smile.
“Then I will. As often as you want,” Tony replied.
“Goody.” Kevin thrust his little arms into the air.
“Mummy hate footie,” Sean said, staring up at him. Tony laughed and winked at her. “You so big,” Sean continued, his eyes widening in wonder.
“Is that bad?” Tony scrutinised the little boy’s face keenly.
Sean thought for a few seconds then shook his head. “No.”
“Your dad will stay with us for a little while,” Sophie announced.
“Ooh, in our house?” Sean asked in wonder.
“No. We’ll go to his house.” They both stared at her in silence obviously processing this surprising information.
“How come?” Kevin asked.
Sophie took his hand in hers. “Your dad and I just want to make sure that the bad men who took you don’t come back,” she explained in a soft voice.
“Is it far?” asked Kevin.
“No it isn’t.”
“You come too mummy?” asked Sean, looking a little frightened. Sophie reached out and pulled him into her arms. He wound his little arms around her neck and held on tight. “I will be there every day, promise,” she assured him, kissing his soft cheek.
Tony swallowed a lump of emotion at the display of mother-son intimacy. “Daddy will play football with you and Sam will come visit. It will be lots of fun, you’ll see.”
“Are bad men there?”
“No. They won’t dare come there. Your dad is so big they’re scared of him,” she told him, touching his forehead with hers. She looked at Tony over the top of Sean’s head then stared at her son. “Now why don’t you tell him what you like to do? He wants to know everything about you.”
“Like kitty?” Sean asked.
“Yes. Tell him about kitty.” She handed Sean to Tony who sat the little boy on his lap. He was aching to hug him but he knew it was best to take it slow, until his sons got to know him better and were comfortable around him.
“Who is kitty?” he asked softly, after an encouraging smile from Sophie.
“Our cat,” replied Sean.
“Sam find it in box,” interjected Kevin.
“Crying,” continued Sean.
“It was stuck,” said Kevin.
“Mummy get it out,” added Sean. “It drink milk.”
“She said we keep,” said Kevin.
“Yes, if you take good care of it,” said Sophie.
“What’s her name?” Tony asked.
“He is a boy,” Kevin corrected him with that all knowing attitude that only a child of three years can possess.
Tony grinned widely at Sophie. “Sorry. What’s his name?”
“He don have,” Sean answered.
“How come?” asked Tony.
“They can’t agree on a name,” Sophie chipped in with a laugh.
“I say Toby,” Kevin said.
“Stupid name,” declared Sean. “Kitty is good.”
“For a girl cat,” Kevin countered crossly. “He is a boy.”
Tony chuckled in amusement. “Maybe I can help you decide. What other names are on your list?”
“That’s the entire list, two names, which is why the cat still has no name,” Sophie explained. “Sean insists on calling it kitty and Kevin calls it Toby.”
“Isn’t that confusing for the poor thing?” Tony grinned.
Sophie rolled her eyes. “I don’t think the kitten cares as long as milk is provided on a regular basis and it has somewhere warm to sleep.”
“I draw picture.” Sean scrambled off his lap and started lifting the drawings scattered all over the bed, looking for the one he wanted. He picked up one and showed it to Tony. The drawing didn’t look like much of anything, just a squiggle on paper.
“It’s very good. What are these, his ears?” Tony pointed at a blob on the paper.
Sean giggled and shook his head. “His tail.” Tony could have continued the conversation all day, his sons were enchanting, but the doctor picked that moment to walk in.
“How are we doing?” He smiled cheerfully at the boys. “Did you get a good night’s sleep?” They both nodded. “I need to listen to your chest, make sure you’re better.”
“With round thing?” Sean asked. The doctor nodded, taking out his stethoscope. He listened to first Sean’s heartbeat, took his pulse, shined a small torch into his eyes, and then repeated the same with Kevin.
“They look fine. Have they eaten?” he asked Sophie.
“They had cereal about twenty minutes ago.”
“Good. I’m discharging them,” he said, writing a note on the chart the nurse handed to him. “I need to go over a few things before you leave.” He gestured for Tony and Sophie to follow him outside, where they could talk out of earshot of the boys.
“I’m going to talk to the doctor for a few minutes. Nurse Beatrice will take good care of you,” Sophie told the boys. Their reaction was startling.
“No mummy don go,” Sean screamed, throwing himself into her arms. Kevin’s lips puckered up, a sure sign that he was getting ready to cry. Sophie wrapped one arm around Sean and pulled Kevin to her side with the other, holding him tight against her waist.
“I won’t be far, just outside the door.” She tried to get up. Sean wound his arms tightly around her neck and refused to let go. Sophie stared up at the doctor in surprise.
“How about if I leave the door open so that you can see me?” she asked, looking from one to the other. They both shook their heads. She sighed and looked at the doctor helplessly. She was saved by the arrival of Luke and Carol. “Look who’s here? Uncle Luke,” she said cheerily.
“Hey boys, how are you doing?” Luke walked to the bed and sat on it. The boys threw themselves at him with squeals of joy. In seconds, they were rolling around the bed wrestling. Sophie got up with relief, greeted Carol with a hug and followed Tony and the doctor outside.
“I’m sorry, they haven’t done that since they were little,” she told the doctor.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” he replied, with a glance at the open door behind them at the boys who sat on Carol and Luke’s laps, talking animatedly with huge smiles on their faces.
A streak of jealousy ran through Tony as he watched Sophie’s brother play with his kids. It was obvious he had formed a close bond with them, the kind of bond that Tony wished he had. Regret filled him as he thought of all the time that had been denied them, the milestones he had missed – their first steps, first words, the first time they kicked a ball or scribbled with a crayon. He wished he could blame Sophie for that but in all fairness, he had insisted on an abortion. He couldn’t really blame her for taking off.
“It’s normal after the kind of ordeal they went through. They’ll have separation anxiety for a while and be very clingy,” the doctor continued.
Tony tore his eyes away from Luke playing with the twins and turned his attention back to the doctor. “They’ll need you around for the next few days and people they’re close to like their uncle. Pamper and spoil them for a few days. For them you represent security and they need that right now.” Sophie nodded.
“However, it’s important that they get back to their regular routine as soon as possible. That means you going to work and leaving them at home. It will be hard at first, for both you and them when they cry, but they need to see you go away and then come back so that they stop associating your absence with bad things happening to them,” the doctor explained.
Sophie sighed and buried her face in her hands. “Oh God, I thought it was over.” She looked back at the twins. “How long will they be like this?”
“There’s no way to tell. Each child is different,” explained the doctor. “Even with twins, one twin may recover faster than the other. The important thing is to be patient. Ultimately, getting back to their regular schedule as soon as possible will really help.”
“That will be tough considering we’re not going to be living at our house,” said Sophie. The doctor looked puzzled.
“Sophie and the boys are coming to stay with me for a while for safety reasons. We don’t live together,” Tony explained.
The doctor took off his glasses, polished them on his lapel and put them back on.
“That complicates things obviously. But the important thing is that you’re there with them. That’s all they really need,” he told Sophie. “Whatever the living arrangements, they need stability right now, so wherever you choose to live, you need to stay there until their emotional state is less fragile. Uprooting them too soon will undo any progress they’ve made.”
“Thank you doctor for the advice,” Tony said.
“And thank you for taking such good care of my babies,” added Sophie.
“Don’t mention it.” The doctor smiled. “You can begin the discharge process.” He reached into the front pocket of his lab coat and retrieved a business card. “Call me if there’s any problem or if you have any questions.” Tony nodded and took the card.
They went back into the room and stood uncertainly watching the twins play happily on the bed with Luke.
“What’s wrong?” Carol asked, seeing their sombre faces.
“Could you excuse us for a minute?” Tony pulled Sophie out of the room.
“Of course,” Carol replied from behind them as he closed the door.
He led her to the waiting room, which was empty. Sophie sat on an armchair and stared at the floor. Tony perched on the edge of a two-seater adjacent to her. He stared at his clasped hands, wondering how to begin the conversation.
“I know this isn’t what you had in mind when you told the boys you would stay at my house. But I don’t think we have a choice. Going back to Lango is out, especially given what Patrick told me last night.”
Sophie’s head jerked up and her eyes narrowed. “What?”
Tony hesitated, knowing what he had to say would come as a blow. It seemed like all he’d done over the last few days was give Sophie bad news. At this rate, she would take off at the first opportunity and never look back. “The kidnapper the police arrested confessed.”
“He told the police who they used to lure the kids away from home.”
Sophie sat up straighter. “Who?”
“Your neighbour Malo. I believe he lives in the compound next to yours and runs a kiosk across the road.” Tony watched her carefully, waiting for her reaction.
Sophie shook her head. “No, that can’t be right. Malo wouldn’t do something like this. He loves the twins. He won’t even let me pay for sweets when we go to his shop. He loves spoiling them.”
“I’m sorry Sophie, but that’s the truth. Malo disappeared soon after the twins were rescued. The police are looking for him.”
Sophie continued to shake her head in denial. “All the neighbourhood kids love him. After the twins were born, sometimes I’d be so broke. He let me have milk and unga for weeks, without asking for payment. The police are wrong.”
“Sophie I know it’s hard but you have to accept the reality.” Tony spoke softly.
“They tortured the kidnapper right?” Tony stared at her in puzzlement. “People will say anything when they’re being tortured. Even implicate innocent people.”
“There’s one way to find out. Ask the kids.”
“And traumatise them all over again?” Sophie stared at him in horror.
“Okay, that was inappropriate.” Tony sighed and stared at her in sympathy. “My point is, you can’t go back to Lango. If what you say is true and Malo wasn’t part of the kidnapping plot, then whoever did it is still out there, most likely someone you know, that the kids like and trust. We can’t risk this happening again. My house is still our safest bet.”
Sophie buried her face in her hands and didn’t speak for several minutes. “We can stay with Luke. The kids adore him, we’ll be safe there.” She finally looked up at him.
Great. Like he needed another reminder about the close relationship between her brother and his children. Whether Sophie wanted to admit it or not, she was still running away from him. But he wouldn’t let her. He wanted his children and he’d be damned if he would allow her to keep them away from him any longer.
“You already told the kids you’ll be staying with me. The doctor said they need stability. That means we follow through on what we tell them.”
“Didn’t you say Luke is getting married soon? Why foist this responsibility on him?”
“He won’t mind. He loves my kids.”
“They’re my kids too Sophie in case you’ve forgotten.”
She looked startled at his sharp retort. “I haven’t,” she protested.
“I’m offering them a home as their father. I deserve a chance to get to know my kids. And they deserve to be with their father, it’s that simple.”
“No it isn’t. Nothing about this is simple,” she argued.
“You told them you would live with me voluntarily. I didn’t make you do that. So what’s changed in the last ten minutes?” Tony asked in frustration.
“I thought it would be just for a little while, a week or two at most then we could get back to our lives. But the doctor said…”
“A life without me you mean. The fact that I’m their father means nothing to you.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” she refuted hotly. “You’re over reacting. You can see Kevin and Sean any time you want. But we don’t have to live in the same house.”
Tony took a deep breath and forced himself to stay calm.
“It’s just for a little while Sophie, until we take care of this problem with Dwanje. It’s not just the kids I’m worried about. I want to protect you too. You’re the only parent our children have known. If something happened to you, I’d never forgive myself. Please come stay with me. It’s the best solution. Surely you can see that?” He searched her eyes, willing her to come round to his way of thinking.
“There’s just so much baggage between us Tony, stuff that…living together for an extended period of time may not be the best idea.”
“I’m willing to set aside my feelings for the sake of our kids. Their safety comes first. Can you honestly say the same thing?”
“Tony please don’t put me in this position,” Sophie pleaded.
Tony knew what she was afraid of. That if they lived together he would bring up the past and she would be forced to discuss it. Perhaps a little white lie would help his cause. “The past is buried. I won’t discuss it if you won’t.”
“You mean that?” He nodded. She stared at him for a long moment. He could almost see the wheels turning in her brain as she weighed her options. “It’s only for a short period right?” He nodded again. “Okay. For the sake of the kids, we’ll come live with you.”
Relief surged through him. “There is one thing however.” A worried frown creased his face. “That media circus yesterday. I’m not going through that again and I’m not exposing my kids to it.”
“I’ll take care of it. We’ll sneak you out of here. I’ll go get them discharged. Wait for me in the room.” He escorted her back to the children’s room then went downstairs to fill out the official paperwork.
He radioed Patrick who confirmed that there were several journalists waiting outside the main doors of the hospital. “Send one of the drivers to bring Bella’s car. Tell him to park outside the hospital until you get in contact with him.”
Two hours later Tony walked outside to his car, got in and reversed out of the parking then drove to the double doors at the main entrance. He got out slowly, making sure all the reporters saw him. A few rushed over and began asking questions. Tony gave non-committal answers when asked about Sophie but he informed them that his father was recovering nicely.
“Is it true he’s running for MP of Nyago in the next election?” a reporter shouted.
“You’ll have to ask him that. I’m not privy to his plans, at least not on the political front,” Tony replied. He spent a few more minutes answering questions, as more journalists came from inside the building where they had been lying in wait to take photos of Sophie and the boys leaving the hospital.
Patrick’s assistant came out and signalled to him a few minutes later. Tony excused himself from the cluster of journalists, got back into his car and drove off. He entered his gate at Thatwa Ridge fifteen minutes later. Patrick stood in the driveway, leaning against the door of his step-mother’s Pajero. “How did it go?”
“Like clockwork,” Patrick grinned. “There were a few at the service exit but I sent the hospital guard to tip them off that you were giving a press conference at the main entrance. They rushed over not wanting to be scooped and I sneaked Sophie and the kids out. I wonder how long it will take them to discover the birds have flown the coop.”
Tony laughed. “Thanks for all your help Patrick. They’d be dead now if not for you.”
Patrick waved away the compliment. “I’d better return the car. Have a good one.” Tony watched him drive off then walked into the house where Sophie and his kids waited.
Dwanje stared at his spy chief in disbelief. “Sudipta did this? On whose authority, Yasi’s? Didn’t I give explicit instructions that any move against Bola had to be cleared with me first?”
His voice throbbed with fury. “Since when do people walk around this country doing whatever they like?” He glared around the room at his companions.
They had congregated as usual at his Zanzi farm but Benjamin Yasi was conspicuously absent. Zimeli looked his usual calm authoritative self, now that the immediate crisis had passed. Segala and Leswa looked a tad bewildered by the turn of events.
“I have more bad news unfortunately,” Zimeli said.
Dwanje turned rabid eyes on him but the spy chief didn’t flinch.
“Bola was so furious about the kidnapping that he’s decided to run for MP of Nyago on an NDA ticket. Our intel indicates he’s the front runner for the seat and will win with a landslide. In fact, the local leaders have asked him not to bother campaigning for the seat and to focus instead on the presidential race. All indications are that Akisa will appoint him vice president if he wins the election.”
Zimeli paused and looked from one man to the other. Segala looked worried, Leswa had stiffened in surprise at the news while Dwanje looked even angrier than before.
“For years Buyu elders tried without success to persuade Bola to run and Sudipta has finally done the job for them. He was a formidable adversary when he was merely supporting Akisa from the side lines. But now he’s actively joined politics and is extremely motivated. Bola is convinced that we won’t stop targeting his family and the only way to keep them safe is to dislodge you from power.”
“What was Yasi thinking?” Leswa cursed viciously under his breath. “This is the last thing we needed.”
“Actually, I think Sudipta acted alone on this without telling him,” Zimeli replied. There was a short loaded silence. “This is why I asked that we exclude Yasi from this meeting,” he continued, leaning forward. “Sudipta is a loose cannon. We have to neutralise him fast. We are African men. We don’t involve babies in our quarrels.” He spat out the words in disgust.
“What do you suggest, we terminate him?” asked Leswa.
Zimeli rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I have a better idea. He’s wanted in the UK on fraud charges. We’ve been protecting him, refusing to hand him over to Scotland Yard. Perhaps we should. A few years in a UK prison ought to chill him out. Plus it will signal to the British that we’re acting on corruption. If we arrest a few people in government and charge them in court, that’s even better. It will loosen the donor purse strings and we desperately need that funding to halt the slide in the economy, which is the other thing that Akisa is beating us over the head with.”
“That’s a good suggestion,” concurred Segala. “If Bola and Akisa team up, that could be problematic. Bola would win the backing of the business community which is unhappy with the way things are.”
“It’s already happening,” Zimeli chipped in. “They’ve revived the war chest and money is flowing in. Akisa and Bola will have a very well-funded campaign.”
Leswa bit back another curse. “After all the work we did to tame Akisa, a single kidnapping will undo everything?”
“I’m afraid so,” Zimeli replied. “From our intel, an Akisa-Bola partnership will win in Lavangwa. The business community which has been uncomfortable with Akisa’s socialist leanings will get on board because they see Bola as one of them, a solid capitalist. He represents a safe pair of hands to steer the country without harming their interests.”
“And the rest of the country?”
“They’ll get the Kawe who always vote as a block. The coast region will also support them especially if Akisa stays as the presidential candidate with Bola as the proposed VP. That will soothe the fears of people who are afraid of Buyu dominance. We’ll get north eastern, which always votes for the government and of course the Benji. Akisa and Bola will get the Buyu and a huge chunk of the Buni and the eastern region even if not all. That leaves the Senya who can go either way. Historically, they rarely vote as a bloc.”
Silence ensued as the men digested this information.
“So what you’re really saying is that an Akisa-Bola partnership will win the next elections?” asked Leswa.
“Things are pointing that way, yes,” confirmed Zimeli.
“What do we do?” Dwanje’s voice was grim.
“We have to make sure the Buyu and Kawe don’t unite behind a single candidate,” said Segala after another long silence broken only by the sounds of birds chirping outside as each man sat deep in thought contemplating this new problem. “Can Bola be persuaded to ditch Akisa and run for president?”
“That would have been the easiest solution but we’re dealing with a very interesting man. Remember, he has come to politics very reluctantly because of the threat he perceives his family is under. Plus, he’s not a fool, if he runs he’ll just be playing into the fears of the masses who are afraid of Buyu dominance. My own take is that Bola won’t run for president right now for any reason. Perhaps in a later election,” replied Zimeli.
“We have to split the Buyu vote. They are notorious for always supporting their own so we must find a credible candidate to stand for president,” said Dwanje thoughtfully.
“But who?” asked Leswa.
“Somangu. My former VP.”
Segala perked up and leaned forward. “You might have something there.”
“Where does he stand right now?” Dwanje asked Zimeli.
“He’s solidly behind Bola.”
“We can’t have that. Segala, put a few of our moles on him. Their only job between now and the next election is to convince him to run for president,” Dwanje instructed.
“What about financing? That could be a real problem for him, going against Bola and Akisa’s well-oiled political machine,” pointed out Zimeli.
“We’ll fund him ourselves on the sly if it comes right down to it. That’s a small issue. But he must run. We have to split the Buyu vote,” Dwanje said firmly.
“How do we handle the Senya and eastern region?” Leswa asked.
“I smell a cabinet reshuffle,” replied Segala, with a smile directed at Dwanje.
The president laughed. “You know me well.” They all waited as he thought for several minutes. “We appoint a VP from one region and give the other a lucrative ministry like Finance or Local Government which has a lot of clout. The implication of course being whoever delivers their region in the next polls becomes my VP.”
“Naturally, we’re dropping Yasi,” Segala said. It wasn’t a question, just a statement of fact. There was no way the other man would be retained as PS for internal security. Dwanje had zero tolerance for parallel centres of power.
“Of course. We will use his position as a bargaining chip with eastern and western regions,” Dwanje said. “Segala, generate a short list. Let’s see who we’ve got for these positions that can give us maximum mileage.” Segala nodded.
“Can I play devil’s advocate for a minute?” asked Leswa. The other men turned to him curiously. “I know Yasi isn’t in your good books right now, but maybe he was on to something with the Bola shooting. Why not finish the job, take Bola out of the equation? He’s the reason Akisa is gaining all this momentum.”
“And create a martyr for the entire country to rally around?” Zimeli retorted sarcastically.
“That would backfire really badly,” Segala added.
“Right now there are a number of things that Bancushians are not happy with. The cost of living has risen because of the bad economy. The media feels we’ve reduced their freedom. Civil society and student activists are angry about the frequent arrests, detention without trial and the fact that we’ve banned political rallies. This situation is like a powder keg. All it needs is a match and we’ll lose control. Killing Bola will have the same effect as lighting a match,” explained Zimeli.
He turned to Dwanje who was nodding thoughtfully. “While we’re on the subject, this administration needs to send a very powerful message that Bola and his family are not being harassed. We can’t give him any more mileage. That means nothing can happen to him, even if it means we provide him with state security.”
“Isn’t that like an endorsement?” asked Leswa sceptically.
“No, it shows that we’re not afraid of him. As long as bad things keep happening to him, we look like we’re intimidated by him and that can be perceived as weakness,” said Zimeli.
“I see your point but providing security for him is out of the question,” Segala countered. Dwanje nodded thoughtfully.
“What about expanding the political space a little? Release a few detainees, allow people to hold demonstrations and political rallies, ask police to provide security but not interfere,” said Zimeli.
“Why?” asked Leswa.
“To send a signal to the international community that we support democracy. To make you look strong, a man who isn’t shaken by a little noise. The more we prevent these people from meeting and arrest them, the more mileage we give them and that helps them attract donor funding. Let them meet, make all the noise they want and go home. A peaceful rally is not as newsworthy as one where people are dispersed with teargas and beaten by the GSU,” said Zimeli.
He leaned forward and stared earnestly at Dwanje, the normal sphinx like façade gone, replaced by that of a man hell bent on making his point. “If the opposition, the media, religious leaders and civil society unite against you, no amount of rigging will keep you in that seat,” he declared.
A long silence followed that statement. Zimeli sat back and stared at the floor as if embarrassed by the transparent show of emotion. The blank mask slid neatly back into place and when he looked up, none of the others could tell what he was thinking.
“Well, we certainly have a lot to think about,” Dwanje finally broke the silence. “Why don’t we adjourn for now and meet again in a week with a solid plan. Segala, I expect you to have names by then.” Segala nodded.
Tony walked on eggshells around Sophie for the next few days. Saturday was the twins’ third birthday.
Tony had planned to throw a big party for them, complete with balloons and a clown but the boys had been having trouble sleeping, waking up at night from nightmares, too frightened to go back to sleep, forcing him and Sophie to stay up with them telling stories, singing, and when all else failed, watching cartoons on video until morning.
Everyone was running ragged from the sleepless nights. Tony realised the presence of strangers at a party might frighten the boys further. Instead of a party he got a cake from the hotel and hosted a small lunch with Luke, Carol, the boys’ best friend Sam and his parents as the only guests. Everyone wore party hats and Tony took lots of pictures.
He knew he’d gone overboard with the presents. He had bought each twin a tricycle, clothes, several toy cars and a train set which they could share. Sophie was horrified. “This is too much,” she protested.
“The doctor said spoil them a little, so I’m spoiling them,” he said, unapologetic.
“They’ll break everything in a week. That’s why we buy cheap toys.” Tony didn’t care. It was his first birthday with the boys and he would buy them what he damn well pleased. The day after they left the hospital, he and Sophie had clashed over the kitten.
The boys wanted her to bring it from Sam’s house where it had found temporary shelter after the kidnapping, but Sophie didn’t think it was a good idea. “Do you have any idea how much damage a kitten will do to your fancy leather seats?” she asked him.
“I want them to be comfortable and happy here. The cat makes them happy,” he countered. Tony suspected her objections were less about the furniture and more about wanting to make sure the twins didn’t get too comfortable in their new home. That would make it harder for her to just up and leave.
After four days he had to admit she was right. He could already see the nicks and tiny holes where the kitten had scratched the seats. Leather and cats were clearly not compatible. Not that the boys were any better.
Once they adjusted to their new surroundings and they started sleeping peacefully through the night, they became more active during the day, and just like typical three year olds proceeded to wreck his house. They spilled juice all over the rug, pulled wires from the TV and stereo, the glass top coffee table had to be tucked away in a corner between the seats so that they didn’t break it and hurt themselves.
Several ornaments on the hallway table didn’t survive their rough play. They were curious about everything and got into everything. Tony learnt from Sophie to be wary when they got too silent, especially if they were in a different room from the one he was in.
He remembered one time watching a movie after leaving the boys playing in the downstairs bedroom. Sophie had taken a walk outside and when she came back tilted her head and listened for a minute. “Where are the boys?”
“In there.” He pointed over his shoulder.
“I don’t hear them.” Tony cocked an eyebrow. “God, you’re such a rookie.”
Tony trailed her into the guestroom which was empty. He followed her upstairs and froze in disbelief at the sight that greeted them in his bathroom. Tissue was everywhere. In the toilet bowl, in the bathtub, over the handrail. It looked like they had unrolled all three rolls that he had left on the toilet paper holder. The boys smiled cheekily when their parents walked through the door.
“Well at least they’re not drinking from the loo,” Sophie remarked. She didn’t seem at all surprised by the mess. She shooed them out and told him to take them downstairs while she cleaned up the bathroom. “Rule number 1, if you can’t hear them, that’s a sign they’re up to no good,” she said, before shutting the bathroom door in his face.
Sophie decided to get back to work after a week at home with the boys. Luke had taken a week’s leave after the kidnapping to oversee operations at the farm but his leave was now over and she needed to get back to her regular schedule. Following the doctor’s advice, she had taken a walk alone every day for the last three days and left the kids with Tony, to get them used to her leaving the house. So far it had worked well. They hadn’t cried.
This morning she called a taxi to take her to the main road where she would catch a matatu to the city centre. Kevin and Sean started screaming the minute they saw her get into the cab. Clearly, they could distinguish between their mother going for a short walk in the neighbourhood, which was fine and her leaving for an extended period of time, which was not.
Sophie got out of the car, hugged the twins and tried to reassure them. After ten minutes they calmed down but the minute she walked back to the open door of the cab, they started screaming again. Sophie stared at Tony helplessly, close to tears herself. He walked to her, put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed gently.
“It’s ok, I’ll take care of it,” he assured her. He went into the house, got his wallet and paid off the cab guy then led Sophie and the twins back into the house. “Get them dressed, we’ll all go to the farm,” he instructed her.
“Are you sure? You’ll probably get bored,” she said.
“I doubt it. I’ve been wanting to see the work you guys are doing.” With that assurance he took the stairs two at a time, entered the master bedroom, took a quick shower and donned faded blue jeans, a blue and red plaid shirt and boots. As he dressed, he could hear Sophie talking in the bedroom next to his that she shared with the boys, urging them to put on their shoes.
He had purchased two cots the day after they came home from the hospital. The first few days the boys had insisted on sharing the double bed with their mother, afraid of sleeping alone in the dark. Sophie finally put her foot down two days before and made them sleep in their cots.
Tony installed a night light in the room which helped to alleviate their fears about the dark. As the doctor said, it was important to get the clinginess under control as soon as possible. Although they’d handled the sleeping issue, they still had a long road ahead going by this morning’s events. Tony knew the doctor would advise that Sophie leave for work anyway despite the boys’ tears but like her, he didn’t have the heart just yet to watch them cry. Perhaps tomorrow.
He had told James and his father that he was taking time off work to spend quality time with the twins. His leave was open ended and he could always work from home or rush to the office for a few hours if something urgent came up. Being the boss had its advantages.
He peeped into their bedroom and found they’d already gone downstairs. He found Sophie in the kitchen preparing a packed lunch of sandwiches, crisps, juice and milk for the twins. “We’re ready,” she announced after a few minutes. They all piled into his car. The twins chattered nonstop, excited to be going to the farm.
“Mummy has hens,” Kevin announced from the backseat as Tony reversed the car then drove out of the gate.
“And fish,” Sean added. “Tony like fish?” he asked, standing between the two front seats and curving his arms around the headrests.
“I love fish,” Tony replied. Kevin jostled his brother trying to dislodge him from his position between the seats, wanting to stand there himself. An argument erupted.
“Both of you sit down,” Sophie ordered in a firm tone after a few minutes, turning in her seat to face the boys. “Any more fighting and we’ll take you back to the house. Understood?” The boys quickly nodded and subsided.
They arrived at the farm 45 minutes later. Tony looked around him curiously as they got out of the car. Sophie led the way to the container that housed their offices. She stepped into the reception and greeted Jessica, her assistant and receptionist. Jessica was short and petite and wore oversized glasses that overpowered her small face.
“Welcome back.” Jessica greeted her boss with a warm smile. “I’m so glad they’re ok. Luke told me everything but it’s good to see them for myself. Hello Kevin, Sean.” She moved around her small desk and hugged each of the twins who returned the embrace eagerly. They clearly knew each other well.
“Thanks Jess. This is Tony Karenga, father of the twins,” Sophie introduced him.
Jessica stretched out her hand which Tony shook. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said.
“Likewise,” Tony replied.
“Is there anything urgent that requires my attention or can I show Tony around the farm first?” Sophie asked her assistant.
“We need to go over a few things but they can wait an hour,” Jessica replied.
“Great. Boys, wear your gumboots,” she said, before stepping into her office next to the reception, where she placed her handbag and the basket containing their lunch on the table. Several sparkling gumboots were lined up neatly along one wall of the reception. Kevin and Sean each retrieved a pair and proceeded to put them on after removing their sneakers.
Tony poked his head into her office. It was a tiny room with barely any room to manoeuvre around her medium sized desk and a grey steel cabinet in the corner. “Are my shoes okay?” he asked. She hung her jacket on a hook mounted on the wall next to the cabinet and stared at him puzzled.
She looked gorgeous in a black button down shirt over khaki pants and sturdy leather boots. But then Sophie looked good in anything she wore. Living under the same roof had brought all his old feelings for her surfacing back. It was getting harder and harder for him to act cool around her, pretending they were nothing more than house mates who shared two kids.
As far as he could tell, Sophie didn’t share his feelings which was frustrating as hell. She walked around his house cool as a cucumber, cleaning, cooking, making the place all warm and cosy in a way that only a woman could. And that only made him realise that he wanted her in it permanently. Not as a temporary house guest. He’d fallen in love with his kids in only a week and now couldn’t imagine life without them.
He taught the twins how to ride their new tricycles the day before. Kevin quickly got the hang of it and shouted, “Daddy look how fast it goes,” as he sped down the driveway. Hearing his son call him dad had knocked the wind out of him and made him realise how much he loved being a father.
“I’m sorry, what?”
He pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “The twins are changing into gumboots. I was wondering if I should too.”
Sophie glanced down at his brown boots. “No need. Your shoes are fine.” She walked round the desk and he preceded her out of the office. She took him round the farm explaining how everything worked. He had never been to a fish farm before and he found it fascinating. At the chicken coop he discovered why the boys wore gumboots. To prevent their sneakers from getting wet when they dipped their feet in the puddle of disinfectant at the entrance.
He was really impressed by how Sophie and her brother had fully utilised the farm, making use of every available inch of space. Afterwards, Sophie went back to the office. Tony stayed at the pond with the boys to watch the fish being fed. The boys ran excitedly along the edge, watching the fish swim to receive their treat.
They ate lunch at a plastic table set up under the cool shade of an acacia tree outside the container. Tony plied her with questions about her work. Her face lit up when she spoke about the farm and Tony couldn’t help but get caught up in her enthusiasm. They left shortly after lunch.
On the drive back Sean suddenly piped up, “Monkeys!” as Tony reached the junction and took a right turn into Sobi Road.
“Mummy can we?” Kevin pleaded.
“No we’re not going. It wasn’t part of the plan for today,” Sophie replied.
“Wanna see monkeys,” Sean added his pleas to his brother’s.
“Go where?” Tony asked.
“Safari Walk at Lavangwa National Park,” Sophie explained. “They love it. Can’t seem to get enough of the wild animals especially the baboons.”
“Tony take us?” Sean turned to his father after failing to get a favourable response from his mother.
“That depends on your mother,” Tony replied, flicking her a questioning glance.
“Mummy please?” Kevin pleaded.
“Yes mummy please,” Tony added his voice to the chorus. Sophie threw him a dirty look, which only elicited laughter. He slowed down as they approached the park gate. “So?”
“Fine,” Sophie conceded. The boys clapped their hands in glee as Tony turned into the gate. Once inside, they immediately asked for ice cream, a request that Sophie promptly shot down. “You just ate lunch, you can’t possibly be hungry.” They pleaded and begged until Tony looked at her in defeat.
“Just this once?” he asked. She finally nodded.
“Is this how it’s going to be, the three of you always ganging up on me?” she asked ruefully, licking her ice cream cone. Tony laughed and tickled her ribs. She giggled and stepped out of reach.
They spent an enjoyable afternoon walking around the facility, stopping at length to watch each animal before moving to the next enclosure. The twins skipped ahead, babbling excitedly as they pointed out various animals. Sophie and Tony strolled behind chatting, as they kept an eye on them to make sure they didn’t wander too far off.
“They’re ready for school I think. I’ll enrol them next week,” she remarked as they stopped to watch the leopard. “This separation anxiety thing has got me thinking. They’ll have to deal with it when they start school so why not do it now and kill two birds with one stone in a manner of speaking.”
Surprised by the change of subject, Tony didn’t say anything at first, watching the boys for a few minutes. The twins moved on and they followed. “Have you picked out a school?”
“Never heard of it,” Tony replied.
“Department of Defence headquarters. They have a very nice school there,” she clarified.
“Don’t you have to be in the army to get in?” Tony asked.
Sophie shook her head. “I guess they can’t always get the numbers to fill the classes so they admit civilians too. Carol went there. She says it’s great.”
Sean ran up and pulled her arm wanting her to see an animal hiding up in a tree and they dropped the subject.