Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
The twins spent the afternoon with Makena after Tony picked them up from school. She took them to the boma which housed the cows and they both exclaimed wide eyed when they saw how many cows their grandfather owned.
Afterwards, she took them to her studio and showed them how to finger paint. By the time Tony came home from work, they were covered in paint from head to toe. Sean in particular looked enthralled, having discovered a new medium of drawing. Makena gave them each a starter paint set which she had purchased that morning.
Sean wanted to start working on his immediately and it took all of Tony’s powers of persuasion to get him to leave the studio and go to the cottage to bathe before coming back to the main house for dinner with the family.
After dinner the boys got better acquainted with Tony’s stepsisters, 11-year-old Rose and 9-year-old Susan who asked them if they liked to swim. The boys promptly ran into the living room where the adults were talking and announced that they wanted to learn how to swim, much to everyone’s amusement.
The following afternoon after school, Tony took them to the pool at the main house where the hotel’s swimming instructor waited to give the boys their first lesson. They loved the water so much that getting them out of the pool proved to be a headache. Not even the promise of watching the cows being milked could get Kevin to budge. Tony had to promise that they would swim every day to get the boys out of the water.
“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” Makena asked at dinner.
“I’m taking them to be measured for their outfits for Luke’s wedding at 10am. After that I thought we’d go to Mamba Village to see the crocodiles,” Tony replied.
“Sounds like fun. Can I come?” she asked.
“This farm that Sophie runs with her brother, where did you say it is?” asked Bola.
“Hmm. Mamba Village is halfway to Kiseti,” he observed.
“Would you like to visit the farm?” Tony asked with a grin.
He knew his father well. His eyes had lit up the first time Tony mentioned the fish farm. Bola had a keen interest in all things farming and Tony knew he had been dying of curiosity but the circumstances under which Sophie reappeared in his life prevented him from pursuing the issue.
“Yes,” Bola replied with enthusiasm.
The following morning they all piled into Tony’s car. Tony drove with Bola in the front passenger seat and Makena in the back with the twins, her wheelchair stashed in the boot. Simon, Bola’s bodyguard, followed behind in a grey Toyota with three guards comprising his back up security detail.
Bola had readily accepted the personal bodyguard but was hesitant about the need for back up security. Patrick and Tony however insisted. They didn’t want to risk Bola’s safety particularly now that he had decided to join politics wholeheartedly by running for MP of Nyago in the next elections, a move certain to displease Dwanje. No sense taking chances.
They arrived at the designer’s house a few minutes after 10am. She lived in a quiet estate off Sobi Road where neat bungalows sat in well-tended but tiny gardens surrounded by green hedges. The estate reminded Tony of the house at Woodley where he grew up. She opened the gate after Tony rang the bell and looked surprised to see Bola.
“Hello. I’m Anne.” She stretched out a hand to greet them, looking flustered. Bola was a well-known figure and people found him intimidating. She was a tiny wisp of a woman, dark complexion, with long straight hair. Tony knew she was Carol’s age but her black leggings and green sweater top made her appear younger, more like a teen. “Please come in.”
“I’m really sorry at the inconvenience, but my men here need to look around, make sure everything is okay. They’re really overprotective. I hope you don’t mind,” Bola told her with a self-deprecating smile. The security measures implemented by Patrick while necessary, never failed to embarrass him.
“I understand,” Anne assured him. “I’m really sorry about the shooting. I’m glad to see you are doing well.”
“Thank you Anne.” Simon and two of his guards went into the compound and after a few minutes came out and nodded. “After you,” Bola said, with a gracious wave of his hand. Anne led them to her workroom which had previously served as a garage. The spacious room had a two seater fabric sofa and a comfortable chair in front of the sewing machine.
Clothes in various stages of completion hung on racks along two walls. A corner of the room had been curtained off to serve as a dressing room. Spools of thread and fabric were strewn everywhere, including on the floor. A stack of fashion magazines and scrapbooks with pictures of designs sat on a small table beside the sofa.
“I’m sorry for the mess,” Anne apologised as she swept a half-finished bridal gown off the sofa so that Bola could sit. Tony sat next to him. Makena rolled her wheelchair to one wall and started admiring the photos pasted there.
“Did you make all these?” she asked. Anne nodded. “Wow, you’re really good.”
Anne smiled at the compliment. “Thank you. Can I offer you some juice?”
“Sure,” Tony replied.
“Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back.” Anne left the room.
Sean pulled a scrapbook off the table and sat on the floor then started scribbling in it with a pencil he found tucked inside. Tony stood up and pulled the book out of his hands and replaced it on the table. “These are not for playing with.”
“That’s okay. I’m used to having kids here,” Anne said, coming back into the room. She pulled out a colouring book and crayons from behind rolls of fabric stacked in a corner of the room. “You can draw on this one,” she told Sean. The toddler eagerly took the book, sat on the floor beside the sofa and was soon busy scribbling.
Kevin pointed at a carton full of blocks. Anne picked it up and emptied it on the floor next to Sean for Kevin to play with. A young lady of about 20 years old entered carrying a tray with glasses and a jug of apple juice. Anne served the adults then turned to Sean. “Can you leave that for two minutes while I measure you?” Sean got up.
Anne took a tape measure from the table on which the sewing machine sat and began to take his measurements, recording them in a small notebook as she made small talk with the Karengas. Once she was done with Sean, he went back to his colouring book and Kevin took his place.
“Did you make that?” Bola pointed at a kitenge embroidered shirt hanging on the wall.
Anne looked up. “Yes.”
“Can I see it?” Tony stood up, gesturing to Anne to continue taking Kevin’s measurements. He went to the wall, removed the shirt from its hanger and handed it to his father who turned it over and over in his hands exclaiming at the quality of the workmanship. “This would be great for the campaign rallies don’t you think?” he said, glancing at Tony who nodded in agreement.
“Especially if you have it made in the party colours,” chipped in Makena who was still admiring the numerous designs on the walls.
“How long does it take you to do one of these?” Bola asked Anne.
“A day or two.”
“I’d like to order five.” Anne stared at him in surprise. “Do you need a deposit?”
“Well…yes, usually, but in your case I can make an exception,” she stammered, clearly overcome with delight at the thought of dressing Bola. Tony knew she would get tons of publicity once his father appeared on TV and in newspapers wearing the shirts.
Bola removed a business card from his shirt pocket. “Call my office. My PA will arrange for payment and have them picked up when they’re ready.”
Anne took the card. “Thanks. I’ll need to take your measurements.” Bola stood up and she made short work of measuring the width of his shoulders, asked how long he wanted the sleeves and measured his waist. “All done.”
She selected one of the scrapbooks and showed him some designs inquiring about the style of embroidery he wanted. A few minutes later they were all set. Anne escorted them to the road where they had parked their cars and cheerily waved goodbye as they drove off.
“That is one happy designer,” remarked Makena. “I bet she’s jumping up and down right now.” Bola and Tony laughed.
“Her work is really good though,” Bola said.
“It is,” agreed Tony. He drove fast and they reached the farm in Kiseti 30 minutes later. Benson, one of the farm workers met them at the parking lot. He was tall and lean with thinning hair and crooked teeth, stained from smoking cheap cigarettes. He shook Bola’s hand enthusiastically, grinning from ear to ear.
“Very good to meet you sir, Mr Karenga,” he said.
“Please call me Bola.”
“Sophie is not here. She went upcountry,” he said apologetically.
“We know. But we were hoping you can show us around. Sophie says you know as much about this place as she does,” said Tony.
Benson’s smile widened, exposing the spaces in his teeth where he had lost his molars. “I’d be honoured. Please come this way.” He led the way to the fishpond.
“We need gumboots,” said Sean.
“For the fecan,” added Kevin.
Bola turned to Tony puzzled. “He means disinfectant. There’s a puddle of it at the entry to the chicken coop,” Tony explained.
“Mummy says we put shoes in,” piped up Sean.
“And kill germs,” said Kevin, “So hens don get sick.”
“You’re right, the gumboots are very important,” said Benson.
He changed direction and led them to the container which housed their offices. He removed a bunch of keys and opened the door leading to the reception. The boys quickly went to the wall, picked out their gumboots and sat on the floor to put them on. Tony showed his father Sophie’s office and the store.
After that they headed to the fish pond then the chicken coop as Benson explained in detail the workings of the farm. By the time they reached the vegetable garden where Sophie had planted various crops, Tony could tell his father was blown away by the way Sophie and her brother had utilised every inch of land to make it productive and how the various sections were interconnected such that the chicken droppings fertilised the fish pond whose waters in turn irrigated the crops.
“I can’t believe how well you’ve used the space you have,” he told Benson, echoing Tony’s thoughts.
“Yes. Sophie has very good ideas. She’s done even better than her teacher Janet who taught us everything we know about fish farming,” he said, chest jutting out with pride at Bola’s approval.
That’s one of the other things that Tony admired about Sophie. Her ability to motivate her employees. Everyone at the farm spoke and acted as if they had a personal stake in the success of the farm. “It’s great isn’t it?” Tony said, as they walked back to the pond.
“Ingenious,” Bola murmured. His lips curved into a mischievous smile, eyes twinkling in merriment. “Now if you can just get your act together, I might have a real shot at getting someone in the family who’s actually interested in farming.”
Makena laughed. “Tell him dad.”
“Don’t start.” Tony ruffled her short afro affectionately.
“What? Dad has a valid point.” Makena raised her hands and shrugged.
Tony clapped his hands to summon the twins who were splashing water on the edge of the pond, trying to get the fish to react. “Kevin, Sean, time to go.” He took them back to the office where they put their shoes back on then walked to the parking lot where Makena and his father waited.
“Thank you Benson for the tour. Keep up the good work.” Bola shook the other man’s hand. “Buy yourself a cigarette,” he added, removing a Sh1,000 note from his wallet and handing it to the worker who thanked him profusely.
Tony drove them back and at the junction to Sobi Road, turned left and took a dirt road for a kilometre or so, then drove into a small restaurant overlooking a dam shaped as a map of Africa. They walked from the large parking lot through a small arched doorway and along a paved path with the enclosed area for the crocodiles on the left, a bridge over the dam leading to the playground on their right and the lush gardens straight ahead.
White parasols dotted the lawn, each covering a set of four white plastic seats and a square table. Led by Bola’s security, the group walked into the garden and elected to sit at an empty table near the water’s edge. Groups of families enjoying the sun and fresh air occupied roughly half the tables.
A waiter approached as soon as they sat and handed them menus, which they perused as Bola’s security detail checked out the venue, except Simon who stayed close but out of earshot.
“Full chicken and some choma with roast potatoes and kachumbari,” Tony ordered.
“Very good sir. Would you like to come inside and select the cuts?” the waiter asked.
“Ok. Bring a plate of fries for the boys to eat while we wait for the meat,” Tony replied.
“Yes sir. Anything to drink?”
Bola and Tony ordered a beer each and Makena a glass of passion juice. “Bring the same for the boys,” Tony told the waiter before getting up and accompanying him to the main building which housed the kitchen and indoor restaurant. He selected the meat to be roasted, including two kilos for their security team.
They spent an enjoyable afternoon at the garden, eating and chatting. At 4pm, Tony took the twins to watch the crocodiles being fed. They came back to the table to find Makena alone. “Where’s dad?”
“Gents.” Tony sat down. “You should tell him now,” she added.
“What?” Tony stared at her puzzled.
“About the real estate thing, the marina? He’s in a great mood.”
“Now is not a good time. The boys want to go to the swings…”
“I’ll take them,” she interrupted. Before he could respond she called out, “Kevin, Sean, want to go ride the bucket train?” The boys who had been wrestling on the ground nearby jumped up in glee. “Let’s go.”
“Where?” asked Bola, resuming his seat.
“The playground,” replied Makena. Tell him, she mouthed as she wheeled off, the twins skipping happily at her side. Two of the security guards followed the trio.
Tony stalled for another thirty minutes. He ordered a second beer and sipped, listening to his father dissect politics, nodding now and then when he made a really good point.
“What’s wrong?” Bola asked.
Tony frowned. “Nothing.”
“Your mind is really far away,” Bola observed, watching him keenly. His father had provided the perfect opening. Tony took the plunge.
“There’s something I’ve been meaning to discuss with you,” he began. Bola leaned back in his seat, his gaze never leaving his son’s face. “I’ve really appreciated working with you to build the companies. You’ve taught me a lot and I’ll always be grateful.”
“You want to leave the family business,” Bola stated shrewdly.
Tony shook his head. “No, not really. I want to focus on real estate. That’s what I’m passionate about. I have a couple of projects that I’ve designed but haven’t told you about.” He took a deep breath and waited for his father’s reaction.
“Really? Tell me more.” Bola leaned forward. Tony explained about the Marina project which he had designed for the undeveloped plot at Meribo and a mixed use development comprising a mall and serviced apartments that they could build on their two acres on Goti Road. “Well,” Bola leaned back in his chair as Tony held his breath. “You’ve certainly put a lot of thought into this. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you. I know how much you’ve always wanted us to work in the business,” Tony replied.
His father scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Did you know I asked Peter and Grace to come work for me?” Tony shook his head surprised. “They said no and that was fine. I just wanted them to be successful and pursue the work that made them happy. Why would I do any less for you?”
Tony felt a curl of shame in his belly. It had never crossed his mind that Bola could put his son’s happiness above his businesses. “It’s just, with all the problems we’ve been having with Dwanje, you needed me and helping you was more important than this.”
“You know what Dwanje has taught me?” Tony shook his head. “That life is short and precious. You can’t waste it doing things that have no meaning for you.” Tony nodded thoughtfully. “We can reorganise the business so that you focus on Jako Holdings and build it into a proper real estate arm of the business. Makanti has been on my case wanting us to do something on Goti Road. Perhaps you should take the lead, run with it.”
“You mean that?” Tony couldn’t believe his ears. All the time he had wasted, afraid of his father’s reaction if he shared his dreams. He felt foolish.
Bola nodded. “And I’m really intrigued by the marina idea. It has real possibilities. I can start making calls and line up investors in six months. Do you have sketches?”
“Actually, I have blueprints.”
His father stared at him in astonishment, then he laughed. “I’m impressed.”
“Would you like to see them? I have them in the car.”
“Yes. We might as well start work immediately,” Bola replied enthusiastically.
Tony stood up eagerly and almost ran to the bridge, crossed the dam and walked to the playground where Makena sat, watching the boys on the swing. “He went for it. He wants to see the blueprints of the marina,” Tony told her, barely able to contain his excitement.
“Don’t be smug,” Tony chided her with a laugh. “The boys okay?”
“They’re having a blast. Go finish your talk with dad.” She shooed him away. Tony gave a loud whoop and punched a fist in the air, then went to get the papers from his car.
Once Sophie returned from Kinyani, Tony began to woo her, just like he had when they first started dating. He took her bowling, dinner followed by dancing, an intimate picnic overlooking the dam at Woodville and a Papa Wemba concert.
He dropped her home after each date and said goodnight with a chaste kiss on the cheek. Tony had decided not to rush her, to give them both time to rediscover each other and what made them fall in love in the first place. With the issue of the children resolved, the earlier tension of their interactions vanished and they spoke with an easy camaraderie.
Tony told her about his conversation with his father and how they were reorganising the business so that he could focus on real estate. Sophie outlined her vision for the farm and all the stuff she would do to expand once she had raised enough capital.
For her birthday, he surprised her with a trip to Mt. Nyake Safari Club, a prestigious resort in Kinyani. He invited her family to the birthday lunch on Saturday. The other guests were Luke and Carol, her former college mates Josh, Helen, and David, Isaiah and his wife Ruth, Freddo and Stacy, his girlfriend and Makena and her boyfriend, Tim.
The Lavangwa crowd drove down on Friday afternoon. The three and a half hour drive brought them within view of the luxurious club with elegant buildings, manicured lawns and decorative ponds. Guests to the club set on 100 acres could enjoy many activities including horseback riding, golf, croquet, a bowling green, table tennis, swimming in an outdoor heated pool and a visit to the animal orphanage.
Other activities included guided game walks in the Forest Reserve, bird viewing, mountain biking, fishing safaris and game drives in nearby wildlife sanctuaries. The hotel had a beautiful rose garden, a popular venue for weddings and cocktail parties.
They checked in and a porter led them to a cottage with two bedrooms both en-suite, a spacious lounge with fireplace, private veranda and garden overlooking the golf course with splendid views of Mt Nyake. The rooms were luxurious with neutral colours – brown, cream and beige painted walls to match the fittings and soft furnishings.
Tony took one bedroom and Sophie and the twins shared the other. There was an outdoor dining area on the patio where they could eat whilst enjoying the fresh air and breath-taking views. Their friends were accommodated in elegant guest rooms furnished with rugs, bedside lamps, dressing tables, built in wardrobes and a fireplace.
After everyone had settled in and freshened up after the long drive, they enjoyed a bush dinner under the stars while being serenaded by a live band. The following morning after a sumptuous breakfast, the group sampled the various activities offered by the club. They congregated at the swimming pool for lunch where Sophie screamed in delight when she saw her mother and siblings waiting to celebrate her birthday with her.
Tony stood up after dessert and made a short speech spiced with jokes and wisecracks. Luke, Carol and Sophie’s mother also said a few words to congratulate Sophie on her special day. The birthday girl cut the cake assisted by her twin sons and then opened her gifts, exclaiming over each one and thanking the giver warmly as Tony took pictures.
After lunch Tony, Isaiah, Freddo and Tim went to play golf, Josh and David went mountain biking, and the ladies went to the spa, leaving Luke and Sophie’s mother chatting at the poolside, keeping a close watch on the twins splashing around in the baby pool.
The entire party later assembled at the hotel lobby for an early evening game drive at the nearby game park followed by dinner. The party broke up well after midnight. Tony got a hotel courtesy van to drop Sophie’s family home while the rest hit the sack, exhausted after an eventful day.
Sophie and the twins slept late on Sunday morning. They woke up to find Tony had already left to play a round of golf with his buddies after leaving instructions that they should be served breakfast on the patio.
Their friends were heading back to Lavangwa immediately after lunch. Tony had planned to spend an extra night at the club with just Sophie and the boys. He returned after his golf game to find Sophie relaxing in a recliner on the patio, soaking in the sun. “Where are the twins?”
“They went with Luke and Carol to mum’s farm,” Sophie replied, stretching lazily.
“When will they be back?”
“They’re going home with Luke. I asked him to drop them off at your parents’ house. Makena offered to babysit them until we get back.” Tony raised his brows in surprise. “I thought it might be nice to spend some time together, that is, if you don’t mind.”
Tony smiled in delight at her initiative. Clearly she enjoyed his company as much as he did hers. “What do you want to do after lunch?”
Sophie shrugged. “You pick.”
“Nice try. I’m not falling for that again,” she retorted with a smile.
“Remember the ostrich? How you tricked me into riding it?”
He grinned widely as comprehension dawned on him. “How about we both ride?”
Sophie stared at him a long moment, biting her lip. “Ok. But you go first.”
“Deal.” Later that afternoon, Sophie watched as Tony put his left foot in the stirrups and swung his other leg over the back of the horse. He took the reins and walked the horse round the paddock, then prodded the horse with his heels and it began to trot. “See, there’s nothing to it,” he assured her as he stopped alongside her.
“Says the man who clearly knew how to ride a horse,” Sophie commented dryly.
The club worker led a mare to her. “She’s very gentle,” he said, patting the horse’s neck. Sophie tentatively stretched out her hand and stroked the horse. She jumped back startled when the horse stamped her foot.
“Don’t worry. She won’t hurt you,” the worker said, continuing to stroke the horse. He put two sugar lumps in her hand. Sophie stretched her hand out again, fingers shaking and stroked the horse’s nose. It nuzzled her hand. “See she likes you. Ready to ride her?”
Sophie took a deep breath. “It’s now or never.” She moved to the horse’s side and the worker showed her how to place her boot into the stirrup and assisted her to mount the horse. “Oh God, the ground seems really far,” she said, clutching the saddle with both hands tightly.
“Just relax. I won’t let you fall off and neither will she, will you Marigold?” he murmured softly to the horse. He showed her how to hold the reins then began walking the horse slowly round the paddock.
Tony stopped to watch. “How does it feel?”
“I’ll let you know in a minute,” Sophie called out, gritting her teeth. After the first trip round the paddock she began to relax and even dared to look around her. “This is nice. I’m actually riding a horse,” she exclaimed in excitement.
“Told you it wasn’t hard,” Tony said, bringing his horse alongside hers. He slowed his to a walk to match her pace. “You’re doing great.” After a few more rounds, the worker led her horse down a well-trodden path through the bush surrounding the club. Tony chatted easily as they rode.
At first Sophie said little, mostly talking in monosyllables, concentrating on the movements of her horse. But pretty soon she relaxed enough to chat and enjoy her surroundings. After the horse ride, they relaxed at the pool.
Sophie emerged from her shower later that evening to find a table set for a candle lit dinner beside the fireplace in the lounge where a fire crackled. “Wow.”
“Surprise.” Tony spread his hands and grinned at her. He took her hand and led her to the table where a waiter poured her a glass of wine. They chatted over pepper steak, mashed potatoes, baby carrots, baby corn, and peas and polished off a bottle of wine between them.
The waiter withdrew after serving dessert; cheese cake with passion fruit topping. When it was time to say goodnight, Tony led her to her bedroom door, kissed her softly on the cheek then walked back into the lounge and into his own bedroom.
He had taken off his shirt and unbuttoned his trousers ready to take them off when a knock sounded on the door. He opened it to find Sophie on the other side looking tense. He watched her keenly, not speaking. She came closer until only an inch or two separated them, then stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the mouth.
The tip of her tongue tentatively slid across the seal of his lips which opened to admit hers. Their tongues duelled for a few seconds before Tony pulled back and held her away from him. “You need to be sure Sophie before we do this, because there won’t be any going back. If we do this, I’m never letting you go.” He searched her face, eyes glittering with hunger.
“I love you. And I want you.” She wound her arms around his neck and pulled his head down to hers for a smouldering kiss. Tony’s arms went instantly around her, pulling her tight against him as his tongue plundered her mouth. He lifted her up and carried her to his bed.
They spent three more days at the club, most of it in the cottage, rediscovering the passion they’d once shared, a passion that burned as bright and hot as ever. Tony drove them back to Lavangwa early on the fourth day and deposited her at home before going to the hotel where he spent the rest of the day catching up on the work that had piled up in his absence.
Isaiah called him in the evening and asked that they meet at the clubhouse for a drink. “Did you pop the question?” he asked, as soon as Tony sat down at the bar next to him. Tony shook his head. “Why? You’ve been carrying that ring around for weeks. Wasn’t Mt Nyake the perfect place to do it?”
Tony laughed at his friend’s mystified expression. “No it wasn’t. I’ll do it here where it all started.”
“Ah.” His friend nodded and slapped him on the back. “Congratulations.”
“She hasn’t yet said yes.”
“She will,” Isaiah assured him.
Tony picked up Sophie from home on Saturday afternoon and drove to the hotel where he collected a picnic basket that the chef had prepared for him. He drove to a secluded clearing on the 200 acre property. It was bordered by forest and sloped gently to the banks of river Ndara which flowed swiftly at this spot, the rocks at the bottom clearly visible, the soft swishing sound of the water soothing to the ear.
He laid out a blanket and removed the contents of the picnic basket – cold cuts, chicken sandwiches, fruit, cheese and wine. The chef had also packed linen napkins, two wine glasses, two china plates, forks and knives. After they ate he went to the boot of his car and retrieved a roll of blue prints.
“Is that for the marina?” Sophie asked.
“No. It’s a surprise for you,” he replied, sitting down and unrolling the large sheets.
“What is it?”
“Our house. I plan to build it here.” Sophie stared at him stunned, then looked around her. “Dad gave us 20 acres. I thought this would be the perfect spot to build the house. You can see the dam in the distance. I can build for the boys a tree house in that large baobab over there. We can have the swimming pool there.” He pointed out the various spots as he spoke.
“I know how much you hated living in a concrete jungle. I will build you the house of your dreams where we can grow old together, raise our boys, maybe have a little girl who looks just like you.” He tickled her ribs. “They will have lots of room to play here. And you can relocate the farm from Kiseti to here where there’s more space and close to home so you won’t have to spend so much time in the commute.”
“Tony slow down. What are you saying?” Sophie asked.
He put aside the blueprints and removed a small black velvet box from his pocket. He got on one knee facing her and flipped the box open to reveal a vibrant heart shaped red ruby and diamond twist ring crafted in platinum. “I know you hate gold…”
“It’s too flashy and loud,” they spoke in unison, then laughed.
“So I got you this. I hope you like it.” He held out the ring.
Sophie’s eyes brimmed with tears.
“Marry me Sophie. I love you. I have loved you since the moment I first saw you, arms stretched out, enjoying the sunshine and view outside the lobby. You looked so content and happy, relishing something that I had taken for granted my entire life. You are different from any woman I’ve ever met. You taught me how to appreciate the simple things, like walking barefoot on the grass, and trees and flowers and having people in your life who love you. I need you. I want you in my life. Marry me.”
“Yes.” He was on his feet in seconds, swept her up into his arms and kissed her with all the longing and passion that words could not express. They sat and he took her through the plan of the house, asking if there was anything she wanted to change. “We’re really going to live here?” she asked for the umpteenth time, staring around her dreamily.
He nodded and pulled her into his arms, her back flush against his chest. They stared at the landscape around them enjoying the sounds of nature – the wind whistling through the trees, the river murmuring in the distance, birds chirping. “Will you move back into the house?” she asked after a while, turning her head to stare at him thoughtfully.
“You mean before the wedding?” he asked.
Sophie nodded. “We’re already a family. You, me and the boys. I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that. Come back and live with us.”
“Okay.” He bestowed a quick kiss on her lips then nuzzled her neck. He slipped his hands under the green sleeveless cropped top which she had paired with a flared knee length print skirt and cork sole wedges.
She slapped his hands away. “Stop that. Someone will see us.”
“There’s nobody around here, trust me,” he assured her, putting his hands back on her abdomen. He moved them further up and caressed her nipples through her bra. Sophie moaned and arched into his touch. Tony laid her down on the blanket, captured her lips in a deep kiss and covered her body with his.
Benjamin Yasi was a man living on borrowed time and he knew it. The events of the past month had left him shell shocked.
It all started with the cabinet reshuffle that saw him demoted to an under-secretary in the ministry of tourism, which he discovered in the most humiliating way possible. He was the guest of honour at a luncheon for the National Youth Service when the news was announced during the 1pm news bulletin on Radio Bancushi.
He walked out at 2pm escorted by a large retinue of government officials to find his official car missing. His driver and bodyguard had taken off after hearing the news on radio forcing him to hike a ride from a junior ministry official. On arrival at his office, he found a terse letter with instructions to clear out his desk the same day and report to his new post at 9am the following morning.
As he left the building, he couldn’t help but notice the pitying glances directed his way by everyone he encountered. He barely had time to process the news about his diminished stature in government when the next shock hit. His pal and right hand man Sudipta was arrested and handed over to Scotland Yard, all within a period of 48 hours.
He knew Dwanje was angry about the kidnapping but the extent of his rage left Yasi reeling. He was confident he could get his job back if he could just meet with the president and show him that he was still useful to the regime. He was prepared to grovel if it came right down to it. But Dwanje had cut him off.
Whereas previously he could talk to the president any time he wanted merely by calling his direct line, now Yasi was reduced to begging his peers in the government to intercede for him and get him an appointment with Dwanje. People that he lorded over just a few weeks ago and who queued to meet him and ask for favours now treated him like dirt, not even worthy of returning his phone calls.
He camped out at Dwanje’s city centre office for a week and failed to get a meeting with the president. He visited Dwanje’s home at Crescent Gardens in the city and Zanzi farm but was turned away at the gate and told to return when he had an appointment by the same security guards that previously opened the gate the moment they sighted his car and saluted him as he entered.
Now looking at and talking to them was like looking into the eyes of strangers. Zimeli must be crowing with pleasure, happy that his competition had been shown the door. But Yasi refused to give up. He still had connections in this town. People who owed him huge favours. People he could destroy if he broadcast their secrets.
He would use them to get to Dwanje by hook or by crook, do whatever it took, including coercion until someone agreed to help him. He wasn’t finished yet. Not by a long shot. And he wasn’t going down without a fight.
Bola opened the door of Tony’s office on a bright Saturday morning and ushered Makena through it. The others had already assembled. Sophie and her brother Luke, Tony, James and Patrick. After handshakes all round, Bola went to the lounge area next to the window and took one of the armchairs.
James sat in the second armchair opposite him. Tony and Sophie sat on the two seater. Makena positioned her wheelchair next to her father. Patrick and Luke carried the visitors’ chairs at Tony’s desk and placed them directly opposite the two seater, closing out the circle.
“Thank you all for coming.” Bola looked at each face in turn. “I called you all here to talk about the restructuring of the business which I’ve mentioned to each of you personally with the exception of Sophie and Luke. You all have a rough idea about the changes to the area you will be handling personally from now on. But I wanted us all to meet so that you all get a good sense of where the overall business is heading.”
Makena smiled eagerly, looking enthusiastic, James was assured, Luke looked thoughtful, Sophie nervous as she wrung her fingers in her lap. Tony smiled at her reassuringly and covered her hands with his, stilling the movement. Patrick’s face was as impassive as ever displaying no emotion.
“Let me start by welcoming Sophie.” Bola turned to Sophie and smiled. “I know we already welcomed you into the family after the engagement but now allow me to welcome you and Luke into the business. Having seen the work that the two of you have done on the fish farm, I am confident that we will benefit immensely from your contribution in future.”
“Thank you. You’re very kind,” Sophie stammered, a nervous smile trembling on her lips. She felt intimidated sitting here in this room, so far removed from her world. Despite the warm welcome she had received from the Karengas, sometimes she had trouble believing that she was a member of the family.
She looked at Makena who smiled brightly and gave her a thumbs up. Sophie couldn’t help but smile in return. She really liked Makena. James was still a little aloof, a contrast to his wife Paula who was friendly, although Sophie didn’t know her well as they had only met twice. Isabella had made her feel instantly at home. Sophie thought of her as a mother bear. She was very protective of her family, from what Tony and Makena had told her.
But Bola made Sophie nervous. She had dealt with him before, when she was a switchboard operator. His larger than life image had made her nervous then, being his daughter-in-law filled her with anxiety although Tony assured her all the time that Bola was really easy going. She felt out of her depth when she thought of all the companies they ran successfully as a family.
And now she was part of it and expected to contribute. She was terrified of letting them down. Of letting Tony down. She loved him so much. Tony squeezed her hands. She looked up at him. He smiled and winked, instantly making her feel better. ‘It’s never that serious’ his look seemed to say. Okay. She took a deep breath and looked at Bola who continued speaking.
“Now that I’m going into politics, I will be spending a lot of time campaigning which means I will be delegating a lot. We’ve created a group under which all the companies will fall. It will be called B.K. Group. James will be the group CEO with oversight for all the businesses in the group and I will be chairman. Tony, as we’ve agreed, you will focus on real estate through Jako Holdings. The two main projects you will oversee going forward are the marina and the mixed development on Goti Road. You will also be a director in most of the companies but not responsible for the day to day operations. Every business will have a CEO and management team who are answerable to James and ultimately to the board of directors which comprises everyone in this room plus Jawiri.”
“Even Luke and me?” Sophie blurted out, unable to help herself. She was stunned.
“Yes Sophie. You and Luke will be in the new board of directors. I have big plans for the two of you.” He smiled warmly at her.
“Who is Jawiri?” asked Luke.
“Our family lawyer,” replied Makena.
“Patrick will head up the new security company we’re setting up. He’ll also double up as the director in charge of all security functions across the group. As thanks for all his hard work and saving my life as well as those of my new grandchildren,” he paused and smiled at Sophie. “I’m giving him substantial shareholding in the new company which will specialise in VIP security for CEOs, expatriates, visiting celebrities and corporate functions. Patrick will oversee the training and deployment of all security guards to our group companies. We’ve agreed that he will take a business degree course at a university of his choice, which the company will pay for.”
He turned back to Sophie. “You have a very good vision for the fish business which Tony has explained to me. Now tell the others before I share my proposal on how I can help you and Luke achieve it.”
Sophie stared uncertainly at Tony who smiled and nodded at her encouragingly. Attending this meeting was one thing, having to put her thoughts out there was quite another. But she had never backed down from a challenge. Sophie took a deep breath to still the butterflies in her tummy.
“Well the idea Luke and I had was kind of like what happens with the dairy cooperatives. Right now the biggest problem for fish farmers is getting good quality feeds at an affordable price. The second is finding a market for the fish. Tilapia takes eight to nine months to mature and then we sell in bulk. Without refrigeration facilities, many farmers I know have lost part of their harvest because they couldn’t find buyers in time.”
She paused and looked around the room. James was nodding thoughtfully, Bola looked keen and Makena leaned forward in her chair. Encouraged, Sophie continued speaking.
“In the dairy industry, the milk processor provides feeds and fertiliser to farmers and collects milk from the members thereby guaranteeing farmers a market. We can do the same for fish. Come together as fish farmers, set up a plant to process fish, buy refrigerated trucks to collect the mature fish and make feeds in bulk to supply to farmers along with fertiliser the cost of which will be deducted from the proceeds of the fish harvest. What do you think?”
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Bola. “And here is how I can help you. I will give you and Luke the capital to set up the fish processing factory and buy all the equipment including refrigeration trucks. You will make the fish feeds in bulk and farm fingerlings which you’ll supply to farmers as well as fertiliser. You will recruit farmers who will receive these inputs in exchange for giving you their entire supply. You will train them on how to farm fish while utilising their farms for other uses like rearing chicken or cows and growing crops the way you’ve done at Kiseti. I suggest you set up a similar farm here which will be used as a demonstration farm for training farmers.”
“We can also set up another one at mother’s farm in Kinyani so that farmers in the area don’t have to travel to Lavangwa for training,” Sophie burst in excitedly, her earlier nervousness gone.
“Exactly. You can set up others on the Nyago and Rukuna farms. Then you’ll travel to each training people who in turn will train local farmers in their area,” added Bola.
“And each demonstration farm can supply fingerlings to local farmers,” added Sophie, her eyes shining.
“You’ll need to recruit a lot of farmers to ensure we have enough stocks for the factory. I’m thinking of a plant that can process 10,000 tonnes annually. The idea is to invest in the entire supply chain from hatching fingerlings to packaging fillet for sale to both the local and export market,” said Bola.
Luke whistled. “That’s a big operation.”
“Exactly. Karengas don’t do small. If we’re going to invest in fish farming, let’s do it properly. This means that you resign from your job and get into the business fulltime with Sophie. You can set up the plant while she recruits and trains farmers. What do you think?” suggested Bola.
Luke smiled broadly. “Count me in.”
“The first thing I’ll need from you is numbers on the amount of capital required and a business plan with projections for the next five years. You can do that right?” Luke nodded taking notes. “We can either consider it a loan or you can give me stock in the company you and Sophie will incorporate to run the business. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which works for you,” said Bola.
“What about the land?” asked Luke.
“I gave Sophie and Tony 20 acres. Use that.”
“No, I meant what value should I put on it for calculating the amount you’re putting in?”
“The land is a gift for Sophie. Didn’t Tony explain?” asked Bola.
Sophie stared at him puzzled.
“In the old days, when a woman got married into a family, she was allocated a piece of land on which to farm and put up her home. That land was considered hers no matter what happened to the husband. It was a form of security. I want you to have that. You young people nowadays have all sorts of new-fangled ideas about marriage. But I want to ensure that no matter what happens, you have a home. That’s my gift to you and my grandchildren. I did the same for Paula. Since she and James have no interest in farming, I bought them a house on Goti Road. When Peter comes back I’ll do the same for Agatha,” Bola explained.
Sophie eyes filled with tears when she realised the enormity of Bola’s gift. “I don’t know what to say,” she whispered as Tony put an arm around her and squeezed her shoulders.
“You’ve had a hard life. Tony has explained how much you struggled growing up. Just know that from here on out, you will always have a home with us.” Sophie nodded and took a deep breath to compose herself.
“I have another role for the two of you,” Bola continued. “I’d like you and Luke to help me run the three farms while I’m busy campaigning. I have great managers who have been with me a long time and are reliable and hardworking. But I need someone for an oversight role. We’ll work together initially and if all goes as planned and I get into government, I will expect the two of you to take over the farms. That’s why you’re on the board of directors. You’ll oversee all the farming operations in the group. Think you’re up for it?”
“No problem,” replied Luke.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” said Sophie.
Bola nodded. “We can now move on to the foundation. Makena, would you explain what we have in mind?” He turned to his daughter beside him.
“Over the years we’ve been very ad hoc in the way we support charitable causes. But now we want to structure it and create a vehicle which will oversee all our donations and choose projects where we can have a long term impact. Right now we’re all over the place. I support the arts programmes at GoDown, we’ve given money for building health clinics, classrooms, paid fees for students, donated to churches and so on. With your help, I’ll identify thematic areas and projects that fit into them that we can support,” said Makena.
“We will establish the B.K. Group Foundation. Bella will be the patron and Makena the CEO. We will channel five percent of our profits into the foundation and work towards increasing it to 10 percent,” added Bola.
“I will work with all the companies in the group. The idea is not just to throw money at projects but to donate our time as well. Each company will identify one or two projects it wants to support and as well as giving money, the senior managers will be expected to put in their time to oversee the project and support it in any way they can. That way the culture of volunteering will percolate throughout the rank and file of our employees. At least that’s the plan,” said Makena.
“I like the idea of giving long term support. We can perhaps set up one of the demonstration farms near the Maili Saba slum where Luke and I grew up. Perhaps help the teenagers organise themselves into a youth group which will own and run the farm. There are plenty of bright kids there who just lack opportunities. If we can provide a way for them to earn an income, they can work in the farm on weekends and during school holidays. That will keep them busy and out of trouble and hopefully a few can go on to establish their own farms. What do you think?”
“That’s a good idea Sophie,” said Makena.
“We can also help them find internships in our companies and also talk to companies owned by our friends and business partners to take in some of those kids during the holidays where they will get valuable work experience,” chipped in James.
Sophie turned to him and smiled. “I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
Bola rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. “I can see Makena will get many good proposals on how to take this forward. Why don’t you meet individually with everyone here and list down all their suggestions? Do the same with the CEOs and generate a shortlist which we can discuss and select which projects to support,” he said, turning to Makena.
“Where will the foundation operate from?” asked Patrick.
“Here,” said James. “Makena will take over Tony’s office. I’ve identified some space at Gemini Plaza where Tony can set up his new office after we’ve done some refurbishing.”
“Anyone else with a question?” Bola looked around the room. “We’re adjourned.”
“How about some tea?” Tony walked to the sideboard where a waiter had placed some refreshments just a few minutes before. Everyone helped themselves and chatted freely as they ate finger sandwiches, cookies and samosas.
The door opened a few minutes later to admit Paula, Isabella, Sophie’s mother and the twins. Tony and Sophie vacated the sofa for their mothers and served them tea. The conversation shifted to the upcoming wedding.
Sophie listened to the discussion with a growing sense of panic. “How many people are we expecting?”
“A thousand, maybe more,” Isabella replied with a causal shrug of her shoulders.
“Tony and I wanted a small wedding. Didn’t we sweetie?” She glanced at Tony who quickly looked down at his watch.
“I really need to go and talk to the dam manager. He said the pump was acting up.” Tony put down his cup on the coffee table and walked towards the door.
“I think I’ll come with you,” said Bola, draining his cup. James and Patrick followed suit as Sophie watched in bewilderment.
“Tony I wanna come,” Sean said eagerly running after his father. Tony crouched and lifted him onto his shoulders. The minute he straightened, Kevin’s little arms stretched out also demanding to be carried on his father’s shoulders.
“Me too daddy.”
Tony gestured to his brother. “Might as well start playing your role of godfather.”
James crouched and lifted Kevin onto his shoulders. “Me godfather?”
Tony nodded. “Sophie picked you.” They planned to baptise the twins during their wedding ceremony.
“Why?” James looked mystified. “After the way I…” his voice trailed off.
Sophie walked up to them and stroked Kevin’s cheek. “You were trying to protect your brother. I’m a mother so I know what it’s like to want to do whatever it takes to protect the people you love. If anything happens to us, I know our children will be in good hands.”
James swallowed compulsively but didn’t speak.
“Tony let’s go,” Sean urged, tugging his father’s hands impatiently.
Bola laughed. “Does that boy ever call you dad?”
Tony grinned. “We’re working on it.”
“What about the wedding?” Sophie asked, as they trooped into the corridor.
“We’ll discuss it later,” said Tony with a quick kiss on her cheek. Sophie watched the three generations of Karenga men walk away followed by Makena and Patrick who were chatting animatedly.
“Give it up.”
“What?” She turned to look at Paula who had come to stand beside her.
“The Karenga men learnt a long time ago that weddings are Bella’s domain. She likes to be in control and everyone lets her. But don’t worry, I know how to handle her,” she whispered conspiratorially.
Paula took her arm and led her to the other side of the room where the sideboard stood and they could converse without being overheard by the mums on the sofa, excitedly discussing the wedding plans as they sipped their tea.
“Forget about having a small wedding. Those don’t exist in this family. But everything else will be the way you want down to the smallest bouquet of flowers.”
“Simple. We’ll be the very helpful daughters-in-law, giving suggestions here and there. Before you know it they’ll both be saying it was their idea,” Paula replied. They laughed.
“Sophie, we’re going to the grounds to inspect the venue for the reception. Please come along, there are details we need to discuss. Paula, you too,” said Isabella, walking to the door.
“Sure, give us a few minutes, we’re right behind you,” Paula chipped in before Sophie could respond.
“Ok. Don’t keep us waiting though.” The two mothers walked out of the room.
Luke put down his cup and stood. “I’m going to meet Carol. Are we still on for dinner later with mum?” Sophie nodded.
“This wedding is going to be a circus isn’t it?” Sophie asked Paula ruefully after her brother left the room. “I was tempted to ask Tony we elope but I knew his family would never forgive him. For that matter neither would my mother.” She sighed.
“The key is to go with the flow even if things don’t go the way you want. A wedding is just one day. It’s not that big a deal. I wish I’d known that when I got married.”
“What happened?” Sophie asked, seeing her grimace.
“I became a diva.” Paula laughed ruefully. “By the day of the wedding James and I were barely speaking and I had managed to alienate most of the family. We sorted things out during the honeymoon, which is what I should have been focussing on, not the wedding.”
Sophie stared at her puzzled. “Do you know the best part about having the Karenga parents plan the entire wedding?” Sophie shook her head. “They pay for it. Every last cent. The only things Tony needs to cater for are the rings and the honeymoon.”
“And that’s good because?”
“You can have a really nice honeymoon. James took me to Egypt where we spent three days, then Paris where we stayed a week. We finished in Mauritius.”
“Wow, you went to Paris.” Sophie’s eyes widened in amazement.
“Knowing Tony, he’s got something really spectacular planned.”
“I don’t care where we go as long as there’s an ocean nearby,” said Sophie.
“So just relax,” Paula continued. “Every time you’re overruled on wedding details, just focus on the honeymoon. You and Tony are just props, the excuse to have a really big party. Just go with the flow,” Paula advised.
“I find it hard to believe you acted up during your wedding.”
“Trust me. I was a nightmare. Don’t be like me. You’ve got a lot of goodwill in this family. Don’t squander it on a stupid wedding.”
“I have goodwill?”
Paula nodded. “Bola really respects you. The way you raised two children on your own, built a business and took your mother out of the slum. It’s impressive.”
“It is?” asked Sophie. All she did was do what she had to in order to survive. It was either that or end up back in the slum. Hearing her sister-in-law describe that as an achievement surprised her.
Paula nodded smiling. “My husband misjudged you. Initially, I think we all did. Makena didn’t make that mistake. She has this incredible instinct about people. She really fought for you and told Tony in no uncertain terms that he was a fool to let you go.”
“She really did. Remember that big fight you had with Tony, when you wanted to go back to Lango?” Sophie nodded. “She called Luke, told him to help Tony convince you to stay and give him another chance.”
Sophie stared at her in disbelief then she laughed. “Luke never said a word about meeting Makena that day.”
“We call her the meddler. But a very lovable one. She’s very close to Tony. After everything he did to save our businesses, she wanted to make sure he found happiness in his personal life. That meant getting you two back together. She adores you.”
“I love her too. She’s so warm and generous. I was terrified of meeting the rest of the family,” Sophie admitted with an apologetic smile. “But I relaxed with Makena almost immediately.”
“I know what you mean. She has that effect on people,” said Paula. “I’m here for you too. If you ever need anything, even just to talk, call me. I have a feeling you and I are going to be very good friends. Welcome to the family kiddo.”
“Thanks Paula.” Sophie hugged her impulsively.
“Come on, we have a circus to plan, better not keep the moms waiting,” Paula told her with a mischievous wink, linking her arm with hers. “And you need to start practicing how to be a prop at your own wedding.”
~ END ~
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