Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
Sophie stuffed her books in her rucksack and walked out of the library. She had spent the better part of two hours trying to study but was too worried and restless to concentrate. She decided to take a walk, get some fresh air and perhaps grab a bite to eat. She exited the building and walked to the parking lot.
“Sophie, wait up.”
She turned as her friend Josh raced to catch up with her. “Hi.” She smiled and gave him a warm hug. “I didn’t see you in class yesterday. Were you playing hooky?” she teased.
“I visited a client out of town and didn’t get back till late. Can I borrow your notes?”
“Sure.” Sophie pulled her notebook out of her rucksack and they walked to the administration building in search of a photocopying machine.
Talk and lanky Josh walked with shoulders permanently hunched as if to apologise for his height. He wore a cream short sleeved shirt with brown trousers and brown leather shoes. Josh was a popular student. He smiled easily and often, spoke slowly, listened attentively and rarely lost his temper even when provoked. These traits endeared him to many people.
“What are you doing here in the middle of the day? You’re not working?”
“I brought the assignment that was due yesterday. I’m going back to the office.”
“Did Monge give you a hard time?” Their financial accounting lecturer was generally unforgiving when it came to late submissions.
“He wasn’t in the office. So I pleaded with the admin secretary to slip my assignment into the pile on his desk.”
“You’re kidding. And it worked?”
“Of course. I’m very charming.” She laughed and punched him playfully on the arm. “How are things at work?” Sophie grimaced. “That bad huh?” He threw an arm around her shoulders and gave her a quick, comforting squeeze. “Is it Daniel again?”
“No. I got suspended.”
“Oh no. Why?” Sophie told him about the theft. “But why cancel the whole derby because of just one event?”
“The canoe race is the highlight and has the highest prize money. We can’t do it properly with just five canoes and even if we could buy new ones, we can’t get them in time.”
“Why not hire?”
Sophie stopped walking and whirled to face him. “That’s possible?”
“It must be. I don’t know much about the hotel business obviously, but there must be someone who does that kind of thing. People hire vehicles and camping gear to go on safari so why not canoes?”
Her face lit up in excitement and hope. “You may be on to something. But where would I start looking?”
They had reached the polytechnic bureau which sold stationery and provided all manner of services for the students including, photocopying, binding, laminating, typing documents and phone calls.
“Let’s start with the telephone directory. There are bound to be providers listed in the yellow pages.” He grabbed the directory underneath the telephone handset and flipped the pages as she showed the bureau attendant which pages of her notebook to photocopy. “Here’s a good one. Miano Safaris.” He read out the number and she dialled then listened as it rang.
“Good afternoon. I want to inquire if you hire out canoes.” She shook her head as she listened to the response then thanked the person on the other end and hung up. They went down the list and after the fifth call with a negative response, Sophie turned to him, deflated. “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way. Most places that have canoes probably bought them, just like Woodville.”
Josh nodded and chewed his lip thoughtfully. “You’re probably right.”
“But if we can’t hire, maybe we can borrow?” Sophie’s mind was working rapidly.
“What?” Josh stared at her in puzzlement.
“What was that place you were telling me you went last year on a team building exercise? The one with the extreme sports – diving, bungee jumping, rock climbing and white water rafting?”
“Sabuki River Camp.”
“Did they have canoes?”
He thought for a few seconds. “Yeah they did. I remember some ladies in our team were too scared to go bungee jumping so they were offered a tour of the river in a canoe instead.”
“Great. You’re taking me there tomorrow.”
“What?” He stared at her in astonishment. “Wouldn’t it be better to call first? Find out if they hire out their canoes?”
“Even if they don’t they will make an exception for me.”
“And how are you going to accomplish that?”
“I don’t know. But I’ll have thought of something by tomorrow morning. Or on the way there. Can you get the day off?”
Josh held up his hands in protest. “Wait a minute. You’re assuming a lot of things here Sophie. We can’t just take off to Sabuki with no plan whatsoever. It’s a two hour drive.”
Sophie grasped his arms just above the elbows, a desperate plea in her eyes. “Josh please. I need this job. I screwed up. But I can fix it. Please help me fix it.”
He stared at her for a long moment then his eyes softened. “Okay.”
“Really, you’ll take me?” Her eyes shone with gratitude and relief. She threw her arms around him. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I owe you big time.”
“How do we get there? I can’t use the company car.” Josh was a medical sales representative at a pharmaceutical firm.
“I have some money saved up. We’ll hire a car from that place your company uses. It’ll be faster than taking a matatu.” They agreed to meet at 8am the next morning outside the car hire offices in the city centre. Sophie left the polytechnic walking on air.
She woke up bright and early the next morning, showered and dressed in the most formal outfit she owned, a black skirt and matching jacket with a cream camisole underneath. She paired the outfit with her favourite mid heel, open toed, black leather sling backs. She combed her long hair into a pony-tail and held it back with a black satin scrunchie.
She packed juice and the egg and tomato sandwiches she had made the night before into a bag then checked to make sure she had the Sh2,000 they would need to hire a car for the day. It was a lot of money to spend, especially if they weren’t successful but it was worth taking a risk if it helped her keep her job.
She left the house and dashed to the bus stop to take a matatu to the city centre. She arrived at the car hire offices to find Josh waiting, dressed in a black suit. He wore his white shirt open-necked, no tie, striking just the right note of formal without looking too stuffy.
He had already paid for the car and led her to a white Toyota Corolla parked at the kerb. Once inside she handed him the money, which he pocketed. “What’s the plan?” he asked, as they drove out of the city.
“I’ll offer them a deal. In exchange for letting us use their canoes, we offer them free sponsorship which will allow them to market their services to the public and put up their signage all over the venue. It occurred to me last night that we get a lot of corporate events – product launches, retreats and workshops. Those companies are in the market for team building events involving extreme sports which we don’t have, the kind Sabuki offers. We can perhaps explore a long term partnership where we refer clients to them and vice versa. What do you think?”
Josh looked at her in admiration. “That’s actually a really good idea. Are you sure you’ve never done marketing before?”
“No. Had no idea what it was until I started this course. You think they’ll go for it?”
“I would. An event of the scale you guys are holding would be a fantastic marketing platform for them.”
“If this works I’m giving you an all-expenses paid weekend for two at Woodville,” Sophie promised him with a grin.
“Interns are allowed to do that?”
“Hey, if I can pull this off. I can do anything.”
“Your confidence is inspiring.”
Having decided on an action plan, Sophie settled down to enjoy the drive to the camp located on the banks of River Sabuki roughly 100km from the capital city. On arrival they asked to see the marketing manager and were soon ushered into an office where a slender woman with a long narrow face, smartly dressed in a green trouser suit and white shirt, greeted them with a warm smile. Sophie estimated her age at 30 years. A twisted headband secured her thin braids which spilled in curly waves to her shoulders.
The office was furnished in a simple style. A medium sized dark brown wooden desk with an ancient typewriter dominated the room with white walls and grey carpet. White venetian blinds covered the small window which overlooked the small grassy lawn at the front of the building that housed the administrative offices of the camp. The exterior of the building was covered in white plaster topped with a green tile roof that blended well into the surrounding lush vegetation.
“Good morning. I am Mary Fayola.” She extended her hand for a brief, firm handshake then urged them to sit down.
“How are you? I am Sophie Gitwana and this is Josh Mbari.”
“I’m fine thank you. Pleasure to meet both of you. What can I do for you?”
“I work for Woodville Golf Hotel and Country Club in Lavangwa. Five of our canoes were stolen on Wednesday night.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“The timing is really bad because we are preparing to hold our first sports derby this weekend. It’s a two-day event with a canoe race on Sunday afternoon. At least 30 teams have registered to participate in the race. As you can imagine, losing half our fleet is a big setback. We’d like to hire your canoes.”
“I see.” Ms Fayola leaned back in her chair. “Unfortunately, we don’t rent them out.”
Sophie leaned forward and spoke in earnest. “I hope you can make an exception once I tell you what I have in mind.” Ms Fayola nodded and urged her to continue.
“We have generated a lot of publicity for this event over the last few weeks on print, radio and television. We’ve sold over 1,000 advance tickets and expect to sell an equal number at the gate. That translates to over 2,000 people. We’ll give Sabuki Camp a gold sponsorship slot at no cost. That is just one level below the Platinum or Title Sponsor. We will allow you to put up as many banners as you want. You will also get a booth where your staff can give out brochures and market the camp to the public. A lot of the people attending this event are corporate executives in companies that hold team building events annually. In short, you get the opportunity to market the camp directly to lots of potential clients in just two days. Going forward, Woodville will be happy to give you referrals.”
Ms Fayola nodded thoughtfully. “It definitely sounds interesting. But I’d want to know more before making a decision. I’ll also need to speak to our CEO.”
“Why don’t I call our deputy general manager from here? You can get all the information you need from him and he’s also the right person to commit the company to whatever is agreed. Once you get the go ahead from your CEO we can firm up the details.”
“Sounds good.” Ms Fayola lifted the telephone handset on her desk and handed it to Sophie who dialled the hotel switchboard and prayed that Martin was on duty.
“Hi Martin how are you? It’s Sophie. Please transfer me to the deputy GM’s office.” She drummed her fingers on the table impatiently as she waited. “Can you get him on the radio? It’s urgent. Tell him it’s about the canoes.”
When Ayize answered, Sophie updated him on her conversation with Ms Fayola then handed the latter the telephone. She and Josh listened anxiously to Ms Fayola’s end of the discussion. Sophie was on the edge of her seat fingers crossed.
Ms Fayola proved to be a shrewd negotiator. Ayize finally agreed to signage at both the dam and golf course as well as a five-minute video presentation at the award ceremony for the winners of the golf tournament, something that only the title sponsor was entitled to.
“If you can fax the draft contract in the next hour or so, we can look at it and get back to you by 2pm. If everything is in order I can have the canoes on a truck by 4pm and they’ll be there by nightfall.” Sophie looked at Josh who smiled, winked and gave her a thumbs up.
Ms Fayola wound up the conversation a few minutes later and handed the phone back to Sophie. “I’ll be right back,” she told them before leaving the room.
Sophie lifted the receiver to her ear. “It’s Sophie again.”
“We’ve agreed in principle on the terms. I’m amending the sponsorship agreement before I fax it. I’ll call you back shortly.” Ayize hung up. Sophie leaped out of her chair and did a jig around the room.
“You’ve actually done it.” Josh leaned back in his chair and watched her, grinning.
A knock on the door interrupted her happy dance. She sat down and clasped her hands in her lap, still beaming. A young woman entered carrying a tray with a flask and two mugs. “Hi, I’m Stella. Ms Fayola asked me to serve you tea while you wait.”
“Thank you,” Sophie replied. Stella poured the tea, pointed at the plate of biscuits and invited them to help themselves before leaving the room.
Ms Fayola came back fifteen minutes later. “The CEO said yes,” she told them with a smile. “Now I just need to arrange the logistics.” She glanced at her watch. “Would you like a tour of the camp while you wait?”
“I’ve been here before but I’m sure Sophie would appreciate it,” said Josh.
“I’ll ask my assistant to escort you. Afterwards you can have lunch at our restaurant,” Ms Fayola told them as she picked up the phone. A few minutes later, Stella walked in and they followed her outside.
The camp was set in 10 acres of virgin lush woods. A cool breeze rustled through the tropical trees to the soundtrack of chirping birds and the gentle murmur of water flowing over rocks. This section of the river was wide and wound its way lazily through the trees, brown water flowing slowly like porridge, with barely a ripple to disturb the serenity.
It was hard to imagine that just a few kilometres downstream, the same river narrowed to form rapids. A frothing torrent, loud in its fury, created whirlpools around submerged rocks, before plunging 40 feet, a steep drop that churned the water like a giant blender, before dumping it into a pool of foam covered rocks with a ferocity that sent white spray tens of metres up into the air.
They went back to Ms Fayola’s office after a meal of stewed chicken and rice. She informed them that the truck that would transport the canoes was on its way. Sophie insisted on waiting until the canoes were loaded into the truck then she and Josh thanked and bid farewell to Ms Fayola and began the drive back to the capital.
Josh drove fast and they arrived at the hotel 90 minutes later, well ahead of the truck. She hugged him warmly and thanked him for his help. He drove off and she went in search of the deputy GM. She found him in his office.
“Sophie, come in. Are the boats here?”
She shook her head. “I’m expecting the truck any time from now.” He waved her to a chair. The palpable sense of relief and anticipation in the room was a stark contrast to the tension of their previous encounter.
“I was just having a cup of tea. Will you join me?” Sophie nodded. Ayize walked over to the sideboard and poured her a cup from the tea pot. “Wherever did you get the idea to hire canoes?” he asked, curiosity written all over his face as he sat down and pushed a plate of cookies towards her.
Sophie took a sip and smiled. “From my classmate, Josh. His company did a team building at Sabuki last year.”
“That was a very good idea. I like your initiative. You keep that up and you will have a good future here.”
Her smile widened at the praise. “Thank you sir.” She took a cookie from the plate and took a bite.
“How did you get to Sabuki?”
“We hired a car.”
“You paid for it?”
“Do you have the receipt?” She nodded. “Let me have it.” As she rummaged around in her bag, he picked up the phone and spoke softly into it. Violet Irungi, his personal assistant, entered the room and gave him a blue sheet of paper which he handed to Sophie. “Fill out this claim form and attach the receipt so that you can get a refund.”
Relief washed over her. Using that money had been a huge gamble. She needed every cent she could scrimp and save for her personal expenses. Now she wouldn’t have to borrow money from Luke. This day was getting better and better. She filled out the form and passed it to him to append his signature for authorisation. “Am I still on suspension?”
He looked at her with some regret. “Unfortunately yes. What you did today is great and it has certainly saved your job. But we still have to follow the rules. The suspension stays.”
Sophie nodded in understanding. “Am I allowed to attend the derby?”
“Of course.” His response was quick, without hesitation.
With the canoe issue now resolved, Sophie felt the worry and tension of the last two days ease only to be replaced by fatigue. She suppressed a yawn. “I don’t have to wait for the boats to get here do I?”
“No. Go home. Get some rest. You’ve earned it. Have fun tomorrow.”
“Thanks.” She walked to the door then stopped abruptly and turned. His brow lifted in silent query. She bit her lip, every muscle tensed in apprehension.
“Is there something else?” His gentle reassuring tone calmed her nerves a little.
She walked back to the desk and sat down. “I sort of promised Josh that if he helped me get the canoes, I could get him an all-expenses paid weekend for two.” She crossed her fingers and searched his face keenly to gauge his reaction.
He smiled and she relaxed. “We can do that. But not this weekend. We’re fully booked. Violet will let you know when to pick the complimentary voucher.”
“Thank you sir, I appreciate it.” He nodded in acknowledgement. Sophie left the office, glad the long day was finally over and she could go home.