Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
Later that evening Tony went in search of Sophie. He drove into Bancushi Polytechnic and parked his car at a spot where he had an unobstructed view of the main gate through which the students would pass after their classes. A quick glance at his watch showed 8.25pm. Ten minutes elapsed before the first group of students walked towards the gate in twos and threes, laughing and chatting. Tony got out of his car and scanned each face.
After 20 minutes the flow of students reduced to a trickle with Sophie nowhere in sight. Had one of her classmates given her a ride? He mentally kicked himself for ignoring the cars that had exited the parking lot. He had just assumed that she would be on foot. He spotted her as he opened the car door to leave. She was walking slowly with two male friends.
The trio stopped at a silver Mitsubishi Lancer parked three cars away then continued chatting, in no apparent hurry to leave. Tony could only hear snatches of their conversation and decided to wait until they finished talking.
Sophie opened the rear door a few minutes later, removed a plastic bag from the backseat and walked briskly towards the gate. He called out to her. She turned and stared at him, lips slightly open, eyes widening in surprise as he approached her. “What are you doing here?”
He hadn’t seen her since the night of the theft and didn’t answer at first. He just drank in the sight of her, from the top of her shoulder length straight, glossy hair, with flipped ends to her red painted toenails peeping out of black cork-sole wedges. The curvy terrain in between lit a fuse to his lust and sent a powerful wave of hunger tearing through him.
She wore a red knit sweater that clung to firm, high breasts and trim waist. Her dark-wash stretch jeans with a classic boot-cut hugged her hips and thighs like a second skin and flared at the bottom emphasising her long legs. He had never seen her casually dressed and the contrast with her usual conservative attire was striking. “I wanted to see you.”
“Why?” She frowned. Her bronze lip gloss shone in the dim light drawing attention to the plump lips that he’d dreamed of kissing from the first moment he saw her.
“I haven’t seen you since Wednesday night. How are you?”
He leaned in closer and caught a whiff of her perfume, something light and floral that made him want to nuzzle her neck to inhale more of the heady scent. “Can I buy you dinner?”
“I already ate, thanks.”
“How about I give you a ride home?”
A wary look crept into her eyes. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she finally spoke after a long moment of silence.
“Why not?” Her eyes darted left and right like a cornered antelope. He caught her chin between his thumb and forefinger and tilted her face, forcing her to look up at him. “Sophie?”
“Tony, what do you want from me?” She was clearly agitated as she blurted out the question. His smile was smug. “What?” A tight frown marked her features.
“That’s the first time you’ve called me Tony.” She bit her lip clearly regretting the slip. He seized the advantage and cupped her cheek, his gaze flicking to her lips. She gasped and stiffened. His gaze locked with hers as he stroked her bottom lip with his thumb.
Hunger dilated her pupils as her mouth parted in unconscious invitation.
“You’re so beautiful,” he murmured, a second before he dipped his head and covered her mouth with his. His lips slanted over hers as his right hand went to her hips and pulled her closer to his body. He remembered her skittishness and kept the kiss light despite the hungry need pounding inside him.
The wet tip of his tongue swept across the seal of her mouth. Her lips parted and tentatively touched his tongue with hers, twining with it. She relaxed and leaned into him. He deepened the kiss, drawing a whimper of pleasure from her.
God, she tasted so good. Like the sweetest honey.
Her arms twined around his neck and she threaded her hands into his untamed hair.
His tongue tangled with hers as he kissed her with a heat and hunger that had her moaning and arching into his touch. His left hand rubbed up and down her back then his fingers stroked beneath the fabric of her sweater to find the curves of her waist before sliding upward to cup her breast. Sophie shuddered as his thumb flicked a lace-covered nipple.
Tony finally pulled back and fought to draw air into his lungs. He stared into eyes that were half closed in passion, her breathing rough. He watched as panic replaced the dazed hunger. She twisted out of his arms and took two steps back.
“I have to go.”
He grabbed her arm as she started to walk away and turned her around to face him. “Dammit Sophie, stop running away from me. What are you afraid of?” Her chest heaved and something that sounded like a cross between a sob and gasp escaped her lips. He cupped her cheeks and ran his thumb over her lips.
“I can’t date you.” The words sounded like they had been forced out of her throat.
“Why?” His tone was soft, his expression tender as he searched her eyes.
“A relationship with you has disaster written all over it.”
He frowned. “You can’t be serious.”
“I’m on suspension because I had tea with you!” Her eyes blazed with anger.
“That was really unfortunate. But it won’t happen again. We’ll meet outside the hotel from now on.”
“It’s not that simple.” A frown creased her forehead.
“Sure it is. I won’t put your job in jeopardy, promise.” He used his most endearing smile but her worried frown deepened into a scowl.
“This is serious Tony, I’m not kidding.”
“You’re overthinking it. Everything will be fine,” he tried to reassure her.
“There will be no more meetings,” she insisted, a stubborn glint in her eyes.
He sighed and touched her forehead with his. “Sophie, what’s really bothering you?” The question was a whisper of breath across her cheek.
“We’re too different. We have nothing in common.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Sure I do. You’re rich. Your family owns a hotel. You’re my boss for Pete’s sake. I on the other hand am…” She swallowed hard and dropped her gaze.
“You’re what?” His tone was gently probing.
“I don’t fit in your world alright? Compared to you, I’m at the bottom of the food chain.” She threw up her hands.
“Why? Because you grew up in a slum?”
She stiffened and gripped the hands holding her cheeks, then stepped away from him once more. “How did you know that?”
“Is it supposed to be a secret?”
“I have to go.”
Tony pushed his hands through his hair in frustration. “We obviously like each other, so what does it matter if our backgrounds are different?”
“It matters. Please stop pursuing me. Let’s just keep our relationship professional.”
“I’d like to discuss it. How about a drink if you’re not hungry?”
“No. It’s better this way.” She turned and walked away.
Tony sighed and walked back to his car contemplating the enigma that was Sophie. The kiss had proved one thing however. Their chemistry was sizzling hot. He had no intention of walking away from her.
Now he just had to break down the barriers she was trying to erect between them. She had given him one clue tonight. She was obviously uncomfortable with the fact that she grew up destitute. He would show her she had nothing to fear from him.
Sophie returned to work to the disappointing news that she had been assigned to the morning shift until further notice. Martin assured her that it would only be for a few weeks and then they could go back to their old routine.
The chairman’s gift of Sh2,000 for all employees cheered her up. It would help to plug the hole in her finances now that she had lost the night shift allowance. She gave her brother Sh1,000 to send to their mother in Kinyani and saved Sh500 for school expenses. She planned to spend the remaining Sh500 at Toi market, Lavangwa’s most famous market for second-hand clothes commonly referred to as mitumba.
She discovered the open-air market located on the outskirts of Kibo, Lavangwa’s biggest slum thanks to Carol, a fellow classmate who was born and raised in the capital city. Toi Market was a godsend for students with limited funds like her who liked to dress well.
Unique clothes of good quality were plentiful and really cheap especially if one didn’t mind spending time digging into the huge bundles of garments heaped on wooden planks. Some traders ironed and hung up clothes on wooden or metal racks but these tended to be pricier than those in heaps.
Sophie usually allocated a whole morning or afternoon to leisurely browse through the market looking for bargains, especially designer clothes and popular brand labels. She and her friends loved Toi because one could find only two or three outfits of a particular design and sometimes not even that many. Shoppers were therefore assured of getting something unique unlike the shops in the city centre which stocked many outfits in the same design which after a while became Bancushi uniform.
There was a particular skirt trending at the moment, ankle length, multi-coloured with pleats which had become so popular that the students had given it the nick name “ni wewe tu” loosely translated to “everyone has one except you.” At any social function be it a wedding, funeral or church service, no less than 10 women would be wearing the skirt, some in the exact same colours.
Sh500 at Toi market would get her a skirt or trouser and two blouses to go with it or a pair of shoes. The clothes were not cheap due to poor quality. Many were brand new but had simply been discarded by stores in Europe because they were out of season. Europeans apparently wore new clothes every season and it was a faux pas to wear last spring’s fashion when the new spring rolled by. Sophie found it difficult to understand such extravagance. But she enjoyed reaping the benefits so she wasn’t complaining.
Her first day back on the job was a shock to her system. Sophie had worked the night shift so long that she had forgotten how hectic the morning shift could be. It was particularly busy that morning and even with the more experienced and faster Martin at her side, she could barely keep up with the deluge of calls. They barely spoke, both working furiously and by 11am, mid-way through the shift, Sophie was flagging.
She should have eaten breakfast. But she wasn’t a morning person and when confronted at 4.30am with the choice of waking up or sleeping for a few more minutes and forgoing breakfast, she chose to sleep. She had almost missed the 6am shuttle that picked up the morning shift staff from the city centre.
Her stomach growled and she thought with longing of the cup of tea that employees got served mid-morning. Perhaps Martin could persuade the kitchen staff to provide a croissant or a slice of banana cake. She didn’t think she could hold out till lunch.
Bola Karenga called a few minutes later sending Sophie into a flurry of nerves. The chairman was revered and feared in equal measure. Very few employees interacted with him directly and perhaps because of that, every new rumour about him and his family spread like wildfire in the hotel, getting heavily embellished with each new telling.
He had acquired a larger-than-life image as a result. The few employees who got to talk to him for any reason were envied and afterwards pumped for any scraps of new information they could provide about him.
“How is Woodville?”
Martin had drilled her relentlessly about the chairman and his habits. He preferred to call the hotel directly rather than through his personal assistant. He never gave his name and always started by asking that question. It wasn’t a greeting. It was code for “What is the occupancy?” In other words, the number of rooms the hotel had sold that day. Bola Karenga expected every employee to have this information at their fingertips.
The switchboard operators always began their shift with a call to reservations or the main reception to get the latest figures in the event that he called. The state of the greens was the other issue he cared about. When he visited the hotel, the first thing he did was inspect the golf course. Sophie glanced at a sheet of paper pinned to the wall above the switchboard. “We’re at 70 percent sir,” she replied.
“Get me Ayize.”
“One moment sir.” She put the chairman on hold, glanced at the clock and dialled Ayize’s extension. Martin had told her not to bother going through the personal assistants of the hotel’s managers when the chairman phoned but to call them directly so as to keep him waiting as little as possible. No answer from Ayize’s extension. She dialled Violet, his PA. “Is Ayize in a meeting?”
“No. He’s doing his rounds,” Violet replied.
“Ayize is not in his office. Please hold while I track him down,” she updated the chairman. She left Martin to answer all the incoming calls. Until the chairman was connected to the person he wished to talk to, his call was her first priority. That was something else that Martin had drilled into her. It applied even when she was alone on the switchboard. She reached for the radio receiver.
“Control Alfa, come in.” She had assumed that he got the code because his name started with the initial “A” but later learnt that it was because he was the highest ranking manager. “Control Alfa, do you read?”
“Come in control.” Ayize’s voice was loud and clear with no static indicating he was within the building or close to it.
“I have the chairman on the line. Your location? Over.”
“Just leaving the main restaurant, over.”
“Nearest extension? Over.”
Sophie heard him talk to someone. “4609, over.”
“Call transferred. Control out.” She leaned back in relief. Martin nodded at her in approval as she took another call.
“Alfa to control, come in,” Ayize’s voice crackled over the radio a few minutes later.
“I read you, go ahead,” Sophie answered.
“The chairman is on his way. Please follow the usual protocol, over.”
“What’s his ETA? Over.”
“30 minutes, over.”
“His itinerary? Over.”
“Golf then late lunch, party of four, over.”
“Tee-off time? Over.”
“Roger. Control out.” Sophie replaced the radio receiver and looked at Martin.
“You know the drill, go ahead,” he said in response to her questioning look.
“Why don’t you do it? I’ll answer the calls,” Sophie pleaded.
“You’ll be fine. I’m right here if you get stuck,” Martin assured her.
Sophie flipped the pages of her notepad to the one where she had written the codes assigned to the different managers. The chairman’s visits to the hotel were usually unpredictable. Even when he hosted friends for lunch or to play golf, he could ask about any aspect of the hotel’s operations or seek clarification in person for something in the reports he received weekly from Tony. It was a strategy calculated to keep the managers on their toes.
The deputy GM had devised the protocol to alert all managers about the chairman’s visits, a responsibility that had been given to the switchboard operators. She had watched Martin do it, but watching was very different from doing it herself. She took a deep breath and reached for the radio. She started with the head of security.
“Control Sierra, come in,” Sophie spoke into the receiver. “Sierra, Sierra, do you read?”
“Go ahead control,” Patrick’s voice came over the radio. Judging from the amount of static, Sophie reckoned he must be on the farm or one of the farthest greens.
“Chairman is on his way. Itinerary is golf 4 pax then lunch, tee time 11:45, ETA 30 minutes, over,” she replied.
She went down the list giving the other managers the same message. It had taken her a while to get the gist of the coding system the hotel had assigned to different departments. Some were pretty straightforward.
Lucy Galina of housekeeping was “Hotel”, Ben Osok, Marketing Manager was “Mike”, Patrick Lusebo, head of security was “Sierra”, Kepta Bosibo, Golf Manager was “Golf”, Shamina Mohammed, C&B Manager was “Charlie”, Eric Yinda, Entertainment Manager was “Echo”, the Farm Manager was “Foxtrot” and the Dam supervisor was “Delta”.
The others were a little confusing. Her boss, George Hube, Front Office Manager was code Lima, the “L” representing the lobby/main reception. Richard Thande, F&B Manager was “Romeo” because he was in charge of the restaurants. Betty, the Guest Relations Officer was “Whisky” a reference to her role of welcoming guests and seeing to their welfare.
The clubhouse was “Bravo” because it housed the main bar in the hotel. The radio was usually answered by whichever barman was on duty. Emmanuel Sekou, the Finance Manager was “November” because he dealt with numbers while Diana Nabwa the HR manager was “Uniform”, a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that HR made the ultimate decision on whether a person got a uniform (was employed) or not.
Charles Poloji, head of the engineering department was “Papa” a reference to the pipes which his department dealt with on a daily basis while maintaining the plant and machinery at the hotel. This included water treatment and distribution, boilers and water heating, sewage treatment, external and common area lightning, the swimming pool, fountains and other water features.
Last was Joseph Wanganga, the Executive Chef whose code name was “Kilo” in reference to his role as overseer of the kitchens.
Sophie had once asked Martin why he was on the list and yet technically, his role fell under that of the F&B Manager. Martin had told her that the chairman was very picky about his diet. No matter what else was on the menu, he ate boiled or roasted goat meat accompanied by ugali, chapati or mukimo with traditional greens on the side.
One time, so the story went, he arrived unannounced at the hotel at 9pm and asked for goat meat. The hotel didn’t have it. He summoned Wanganga and ordered him to slaughter a goat immediately. The poor man was forced to enlist the help of a hotel driver and they drove around Lavangwa for two hours in search of a butchery that was still open.
They finally found one with goat meat. Then he had to rush back to the hotel to cook the meat. The chairman and his guests ate after midnight. After that ordeal, Wanganga liaised with the farm manager to keep several goats on hand in readiness for the chairman’s visits. He also asked to be notified in advance of his arrival at the hotel. Sophie laughed until she cried when Martin told her that story with all his accompanying theatrics.
“Don’t forget Tango,” he reminded her after she had spoken to the executive chef. Sophie nodded. That was Tony’s code name. He didn’t carry a radio but the hotel had nonetheless given him a code name to eliminate confusion because he and his brother James acted as GM in different cycles. Their code names were based on their first initials so Tony was “Tango” and James was “Juliett”.
She dialled his extension but received no response. She called his PA who told her that Tony was within the hotel but she didn’t know his exact location. Sophie had to make several calls to the lobby, clubhouse, swimming pool, spa, main kitchen and restaurants before she finally tracked him down at the gift shop. “Why doesn’t he carry a radio?” she asked Martin as she waited for him to get on the line. He shrugged.
“Tony here.” His voice was like aged whisky, dark and smooth, and it sent a flutter of butterflies through her stomach.
“Good morning Mr Karenga, this is Sophie. I wanted to let you know that the chairman is on his way. We expect him to arrive in 15 minutes. He has an 11:45 tee time, party of four followed by lunch.”
“Thank you Sophie. Is there anything else?” His tone was coolly polite.
“No sir, that’s all.” She disconnected the call.
Her fingers instinctively touched her lips as memories of their kiss two days before washed over her. She hadn’t seen him since that evening but she couldn’t get the kiss out of her mind. He had been hard to resist before but now it would be next to impossible, especially if he kissed her again.
The second his lips touched hers she was lost, all the reasons why she should keep away from him instantly forgotten as she immersed herself in the pleasure of his touch. She loved the feel, the taste of him. Pounding, fiery sensations burned through her, weakening her knees as her hands slid to his shoulders and her fingers tested the hard muscle there. He was broader than she had thought, more muscular. It had taken all her willpower to walk away from him.