Duel in the Savanna
By Wanjiru Waithaka
Copyright ©2015 All Rights Reserved
By Friday the following week, Sophie had adjusted to the early morning routine which required her to wake up at 4.30am although she still preferred the night shift. Saturday was her off day. She usually had a marketing class in the morning but the lecturer had cancelled the class so that he could attend his father’s funeral upcountry.
With no need to get up early on Saturday, Sophie decided to join her classmates who were going to Visions nightclub in the city centre on Friday night. She had carried a change of clothes and after the economics class ended, Josh drove her to Carol’s room in the college hostels so that the girls could change into their party clothes.
The hostels were located on the outskirts of the central business district, a five-minute drive with no traffic, but being Friday night, they took 25 minutes to get there. Sophie lived with her brother Luke because she couldn’t afford the accommodation fees in the hostels. They had agreed that she would spend the night in Carol’s room once they left the club rather than try to look for transport to Ngairo in the dead of night.
Carol was a full time student and so didn’t have the same classes as Sophie and Josh. She first met Carol in the library and they became fast friends, hanging out together whenever Sophie’s schedule allowed.
Now that August had set in and with it warm weather, Sophie opted to wear a white denim mini skirt with a bright purple oversized top with short sleeves and broad scoop neckline. A black wide belt with bold buckle worn low on her hips emphasised her svelte figure. Mid-calf black suede boots, multi-coloured bracelets and a mini black bag completed the outfit. She wasn’t a fan of make up so she kept it light with just black eye liner and red lipstick.
She pulled up her long hair into a tousled beehive with tendrils falling softly down the sides of her face. Carol loved colour and donned neon orange leggings which suited her tall, skinny frame perfectly. She paired them with a black button down blouse of mid-thigh length and black five inch pointy toe stiletto heels. She also sported multi-coloured bracelets, large silver hoop earrings and wore her hair in loose curls. She plastered on the make-up.
They arrived at Visions Club at 10pm. They climbed a short flight of stairs to access it from the street and were greeted by Irene Cara’s “What a feeling” blasting from the speakers. On one side was the lounge area with built in, high back leather seats and low tables. The DJ had his own booth in between the bar and a small raised stage where the occasional live band performed.
The tiled dance floor was in the middle of the club. Neon lights and halogens created a bright array of flashing, flickering colours. A cold C02 fog billowed from the ceiling every so often, producing a stunning visual effect in addition to lowering the temperature on the dance floor by several degrees.
The trio went to the lounge area in search of empty seats. They found David and Helen, two of their classmates who had come early and reserved seats for them. After quick hugs all round they sat down. Josh and David went to get drinks from the bar. Sophie asked for Kingfisher cider, Carol, Redd’s and Helen, Smirnoff Ice. The men were drinking beer.
The friends were soon laughing and chatting gaily with occasional forays to the dance floor except Sophie who loved music and danced continuously with just the occasional break to take a few sips of her drink. Her friends couldn’t keep up with her so they joined her in turns on the dance floor. By midnight the club was packed with barely any standing room.
Sophie spotted many of her fellow polytechnic students in the crowd who smiled and waved at her. After a while Carol pulled her off the dance floor so they could eat chicken wings and fries. By then she had worked up quite an appetite. Twenty minutes later “Stomp” by the Brothers Johnson began to play. Sophie was crazy about the song and she pulled Carol and Helen to the dance floor with her.
The three started performing an energetic dance routine popular at the college and soon there was a line of students following. Other revellers moved to the edge of the dance floor to cheer as more than 20 students went round and round in a circle, shaking their hips, waving their hands and jumping in perfect sync to the music with Sophie in the lead. Sophie was unaware of just how beautiful and alluring she looked as her lithe frame gyrated to the beat.
She was so caught up in the music that she didn’t notice Tony sitting at the bar chatting with Isaiah and Freddo. He glanced casually at the dance floor then sat up in rapt attention, his friends forgotten, eyes fixed on the woman dancing with such fluidity and grace.
Tony couldn’t take his eyes off her. He suddenly understood why he had always sensed a wild streak in her. Here on the dance floor, she lost all inhibitions and gave herself up completely to the hard driving beat. The floor was filled with sexy graceful women but Tony only had eyes for her.
He watched her hungrily, as she threw her head back, sending tendrils of hair flying over her face, slightly damp from the exertion of dancing. He liked that about her. So many of the women he dated were self-conscious and moved like robots, afraid to break a sweat on the dance floor and ruin their perfect hair and made-up.
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” took over the speakers, sending a rush of revellers to the floor as the dance routine ended. Tony lost sight of Sophie in the dense crowd. He craned his neck wanting to see more of those sensual dance moves but it wasn’t until the song changed to a slower number and the crowd thinned out that he spotted her again.
He watched her for another twenty minutes until she walked off the dance floor and joined her friends in the lounge area.
“Welcome back,” Isaiah whispered in his ear and thumped him playfully on the shoulder. Tony turned to his friend who winked, a teasing gleam in his eyes. “She’s quite something isn’t she?” Tony nodded and took a long sip of his neglected whisky, enjoying the wonderful sensation as it cooled his parched throat. “So what are you still doing here?”
Tony grinned, drained his glass and got off the bar stool. “I’ll be right back.”
“Yeah right,” Isaiah retorted sarcastically before turning his attention back to his date.
Sophie didn’t notice him standing at her side until Carol who sat facing her stopped in mid-sentence and stared at him wide eyed. Sophie turned. Tony chuckled inwardly at her shocked expression.
“Hi Sophie.” His voice was casual, relaxed.
“Hi…I, what are you doing here?” she stammered.
“Same thing you are,” he told her smoothly before turning to her friends. He introduced himself and shook hands with everyone. “May I join you?” Carol made room for him next to her in the U-shaped booth before Sophie could react and he sat down directly opposite her.
Tony flicked his fingers and a waiter appeared within seconds. He ordered a round of drinks for everyone. “Having fun?” he asked Sophie.
“Yeah it’s really kicking tonight.” The booths were some distance from the dance floor so it was possible to have a conversation, albeit in a louder than normal tone. “What time did you get here?” Sophie asked him.
“No. My friends are at the bar.”
“Let me guess. Freddo and Isaiah?” she asked with a knowing smile. Tony nodded. “How long have the three of you been friends?”
“Isaiah since primary school and Freddo from high school.”
“You guys are really tight,” she observed.
“True.” She was doing it again, Tony realised. Getting him to talk about himself. She was quite good at that actually. But tonight he was determined to get to know this enigmatic woman better. “How are you doing?”
Sophie lowered her gaze to her glass and took a sip of her cider. “I’m good.” Short and to the point. Vintage Sophie.
“Tell me about yourself.”
“What do you want to know?”
Sophie raised an eyebrow. “That could take a while.”
“I have all night.”
“What about your friends?” Sophie pointed in the direction of the bar.
“They’ll be fine.” Tony’s grin was wide and easy.
Sophie put down her glass and clasped her hands together. “I never know how to answer that question. Ask me something specific.”
“What do you do for fun?”
“Well, dance obviously.” They both laughed.
“Yeah, I saw you in action on the dance floor earlier. You’re pretty good.” She lowered her gaze again clearly self-conscious. “What else do you like?”
“I read, take walks, hang out with friends, the usual stuff.”
“You didn’t mention a boyfriend. Are you dating anyone?”
Sophie leaned back, folded her arms and took another sip of her drink. “Why do you ask?” She was avoiding the question which meant there was no boyfriend. At least that’s what he hoped.
“I like you.” Her eyes darted from side to side before staring down at her glass. He reached out, captured her right hand and caressed her fingers. She glanced up at him but immediately looked down again when she met his intent probing stare. She looked at their clasped hands for a long moment before slowly raising her gaze to meet his.
“Good.” He brushed her knuckles with his lips. “I won’t have to fight anyone for you.” He smiled at her over the top of her hand. Another long silence ensued as their gazes locked and heat built between them.
The arrival of the waiter broke the spell. Sophie finished the drink she was holding in one gulp, reached for the new bottle of cider, poured half the contents into her glass and took a sip, clearly rattled.
Tony sighed inwardly as he watched her. He needed her to relax around him. But how to do it? The answer presented itself when Sophie leaned towards Josh, listening as he spoke something in her ear, then she laughed uproariously, shoulders shaking in mirth. Her laughter was infectious and he found himself smiling in response.
He wanted her to be like that around him. Comfortable and at ease, enjoying herself. He needed to cultivate her friends. Sophie believed that they were incompatible because her childhood was so different from his. But if he could show her how well he fitted in her world, then perhaps she might give him a chance. Get her friends to like him and they would become his biggest ambassadors. Now was as good a time as any to put his plan into motion.
Sophie stared at Tony in confusion. He had spent the last two hours charming the hell out of her friends and they were all hanging onto his every word, even Josh who like her, had an inherent dislike for the rich, political class. He hadn’t actually ignored her, but his single minded pursuit of her, which had characterised each of their interactions over the past few weeks was gone.
A frown creased her forehead and she bit her lip as her friends burst out laughing at yet another of Tony’s jokes. Was she jealous? She shook her head to dispel the uncomfortable thought. Not possible surely.
“That’s a great idea but the bowling alley is closed at this time of night,” Carol’s comment interrupted her reverie. She had been so lost in her thoughts that she had missed part of the conversation.
“I know the owner, which is the same as having a key,” Tony said. He took out his wallet and removed cash to settle the bill. Josh reached into his back pocket for his wallet. Tony held up his hand. “I got this.” Sophie looked up in confusion as they all stood up.
“Did I miss something?”
“We’re going bowling,” Carol told her.
“We’re what?” Sophie got up reluctantly, urged on by Josh’s hand on her elbow. “When was this decided?”
“Just now. Weren’t you listening?” asked Helen.
“I’ve never gone bowling before,” Sophie protested as they threaded their way through the crowd.
“We’ll teach you, it’s really easy.” Carol linked her arm through hers and laughed in excitement. Or maybe she was tipsy. Yeah definitely tipsy, Sophie concluded as her friend stumbled on the stairs leading out of the club.
“It’s 3am. Aren’t you guys tired?” A laughing chorus of ‘No’ greeted her question.
“Who’s coming with me?” Tony asked once they reached the street. Carol waved her hand encompassing Sophie in the gesture. “My car is right across the street. Josh where are you parked?”
“Down the road.”
“Ok. We’ll meet you there.” Josh, David and Helen walked off. Tony took her free arm and led her to his car. He opened the front passenger door and slid the seat forward so that Carol could get in the back.
He helped Sophie into the front seat then shut the door and went round to the driver’s seat. She watched him slide into the car broodingly. “What?” he shot her a quick glance as he switched on the ignition.
“Your friends? You’re leaving without telling them?”
“They left an hour ago.”
“Oh.” Sophie couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Carol chatted all the way to Jambele Arcade which helped to mask Sophie’s conspicuous silence as she tried to figure out what he was up to. There was little traffic and it took only ten minutes to reach the shopping centre next door to Toi Market.
The arcade was basically a petrol station surrounded by various retail outlets including a supermarket, butchery, bakery, restaurant, boutique, flower shop, fast food outlet, art and craft shops, chemist, post office and grocery store. The 12-lane bowling alley was on the first floor of the three storey building. On the top floor were residential flats. They climbed the stairs to the first floor.
“Go ahead. I’ll get the key,” Tony said, taking the stairs two at a time to the top floor.
“From who?” asked Sophie as she stayed put on the landing.
“The caretaker,” Tony announced before vanishing from sight.
“Are we seriously going to wake someone up at 3am just to bowl? This is nuts.”
“Is she still complaining?” asked Josh as he came up the stairs, Helen and David in tow.
“What do you think?” Carol replied, her tone weary.
“You know Sophie you should just learn to relax. Go with the flow,” Helen advised, putting an arm around her friend’s shoulders.
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Tony coming down the stairs. They followed him down the corridor. He opened a large steel door and flipped on the lights then headed straight for the shelves containing the bowling shoes on the left behind the main counter.
“What about socks? I tried wearing bowling shoes once without socks and it was gross,” said Carol.
“They sell socks. I’ll get you ladies a pair on my account,” Tony assured her. “What size shoes do you wear?”
“Six.” He got a pair from the shelf and turned to the others. “What about you guys?” The others replied except Sophie who was too busy staring in fascination at her surroundings. The first thing that caught her attention was a huge vivid, full colour graphic display of sea life mounted on the wall at the end of the bowling lanes, the side walls and ceiling.
It created the effect of being underwater watching various types of fish and dolphins swim. The playing lanes were covered in pine wood polished to a high shine, with black dots and arrows pointing at 10 club-shaped wooden pins, each having two red strips across the neck set up in triangular groups at the end of each lane. The ball return machines that automatically returned rolled balls back to the bowlers stood in a row just in front of the seating area.
Each machine comprised a hood and long metal rack that could hold 12 balls. The seating area had two rows of seats arranged in groups of four white swivel seats mounted on steel frames and attached to brown laminate table tops. A manual score board was mounted at the head of each table.
Separate seats for spectators were arranged in threes in front of the main counter. Each set had a table that doubled up as a storage rack for bowling balls. The tile floor was a mellow yellow broken here and there with green, red and purple tiles. Three pool tables and two for table tennis stood in a row at the far end of the room opposite the entrance.
A snack bar just inside the entrance contained fridges with cold sodas, juices, yoghurt and ice cream. Shelves under the counter contained assorted snacks including crisps, popcorn, biscuits, peanuts, chocolate and chevra.
“Sophie?” Tony called her name twice before she responded. “Your shoe size?”
“Six. Wow, this place is really something.” She walked from the centre of the room to the main counter where the others sat on chairs putting on their bowling shoes.
“Beautiful isn’t it?” Carol asked. “I forget after a while until I see the effect it has on someone who has never seen it before.”
Tony went to the music system. “Any requests?”
“How about we vote? Soul?” Carol and Helen raised their hands. “Rhumba?” Sophie and Josh waved enthusiastically. “Reggae?” David raised a solitary hand. “Okay. I get to break the tie.” He rifled through several tapes on the rack beside the music system, selected one and a few seconds later “Noa”, the hit song by Sam Fan Thomas blasted through the speakers around the room. Sophie clapped her hands in glee and began dancing.
“No surprises there,” Carol commented wryly in an aside to Helen who nodded, observing the way Tony watched Sophie with yearning, an emotion that he quickly masked when she turned to face him.
They got into teams. Tony with Sophie and Helen. Carol with David and Josh. Tony gave Sophie a tutorial while the others practiced. He showed her how to hold the ball by hooking her fingers in the holes and balancing the weight of the ball with her other hand.
Then he showed her how to aim at the pins using the arrows as a guide and how to release the ball. She tried a few times and watched as the ball rolled halfway down the lane then went off the edge into the gutter.
“What happened? I did everything you said.” She turned to Tony slightly miffed. Carol on her left made it look easy. She had already thrown three strikes. Sophie couldn’t understand why her ball wasn’t even reaching the pins.
“Relax. It’s your posture that’s throwing you off.” He placed his hands on her shoulders and adjusted her position so that her knees were slightly bent and back tilted slightly forward. “Now just relax, take a breath and roll the ball. Don’t overthink it. Just let it slide off your fingers.” She followed his instructions and this time the ball hit the pins knocking down half.
“Yes!” Sophie punched the air and gave him a high five.
“Told you it was easy. You just needed to relax. Now try a few more before we start the game proper,” Tony told her with a smile that made her stomach flutter. He was casual in a navy blue polo shirt and tan chinos. He had swapped dark brown loafers for bowling shoes.
“Any alcohol in this place? I can feel myself sobering up which isn’t good,” Carol said.
Tony laughed. “I know where the owner keeps his private stash, come on.” They disappeared into a doorway next to the main counter that Sophie hadn’t noticed before.
“Hey guys come on, you won’t believe the selection back here,” Carol called out, poking her head around the door. All except Sophie followed her into the back office and emerged a few minutes later with their drinks. Carol and Helen had switched to vodka tonic, Josh and David to Johnnie Walker single malt scotch.
“Sophie, drink for you?” Tony asked.
“Try something different,” Carol urged her.
“Get her a brandy or liqueur,” she told Tony.
“What if I don’t like it?” Sophie protested.
“You will trust me,” he assured her before getting back in the room. Sophie continued practising as her friends raided the snack bar for something to eat. Tony came back holding a glass and held it out to her.
“What is it?”
“Viceroy Brandy, coke, a dash of bitters and orange wedges. Try it, it’s good.”
Sophie took a tentative sip then another. “Sweet. It’s really nice.”
They started playing and pretty soon Sophie realised she had a natural flair for bowling. An hour later amid shouts of laughter, plenty of teasing and wisecracks she made another discovery. She was as competitive as Tony but Carol outdid them all. Her friend rubbed her hands together in elation after getting another strike and proceeded to do a happy dance.
“This is clearly your day,” Sophie complimented her. By the time they called it a night two hours later, Carol’s team had won. Sophie glanced at her watch. Quarter to six. “Wow we’ve actually been out all night,” she commented with a yawn.
“What is that wonderful smell?” Helen rubbed the back of her neck to ease the tiredness.
“Mmmm, fresh baked bread. I’m starving,” said Carol.
“Anyone want breakfast?” Tony asked from the counter where he was spraying the shoes they had used with disinfectant before putting them back on the shelves.
“Sounds like heaven,” said Sophie, her mouth watering at the thought of food. “What time does the bakery open?”
“Six,” Tony replied. “There’s a kitchenette at the back. One of you can boil water for tea or coffee while I get something to eat.”
“I’ll do it.” Carol slid off her chair. Josh and David went with Tony to the bakery on the ground floor directly below the bowling alley.
Sophie followed Carol into the back office. “Need any help?”
Carol filled the kettle and connected it to the socket on the wall. “Why don’t you find the mugs?” She opened a cabinet and retrieved coffee, cocoa, tea bags and sugar. Working in concert, they soon had everything laid out on a tray which they took back to the seating area. “Tony is really nice,” said Carol as they sat down.
“Yeah. I expected him to be a snob considering who his father is but he’s really down to earth,” agreed Helen. “How long have you known him?” She directed the question to Sophie.
“About a month.”
“Are you two dating?”
Helen’s eyes narrowed at Sophie’s strident tone. “But you like him right?”
“He’s okay.” She shrugged her shoulders.
Carol snorted in disbelief. “That’s why you keep checking him out when you think no one’s looking?”
“I do not. Don’t be silly.” Sophie tucked a loose tendril behind her ear.
“Yeah right. You have the hots for him admit it,” Carol insisted. Sophie grunted but didn’t reply, concentrating on the task at hand; pouring hot water into the cocoa in her cup. She added two teaspoons of sugar, stirred the mixture then took a sip. “He’s crazy about you too,” Carol added.
Sophie shot her a sharp look. “He told you that?”
“It’s pretty obvious. You’re a lucky girl. He’s a hunk,” she said with a dreamy sigh. Sophie opened her mouth to reply but the men picked just that moment to return, arms laden with baked goods.
“I wanted to get milk but the supermarket is still closed,” Tony said.
“That’s ok. Black is fine,” Carol assured him, taking a sip of her coffee. Tony took the fourth seat at the table next to Sophie.
“Coffee?” she asked. He nodded. She spooned coffee granules into a cup. “Sugar?” He held up two fingers. She added hot water, stirred and placed the cup close to his elbow. Helen took her cup and saucer and joined Josh and David at the adjoining table.
They ate in silence for a while. The margarine melted on the bread, still warm from the oven. The baguette had a golden-bronzed crust and holey ivory-cream centre, a thin, crisp shell that cracked with a little pressure, a fruity, cereal aroma and a soft, chewy dough with hints of butter and caramel. The croissants were just as delicious; a light buttery pastry turban with a crust that flaked apart in golden, rectangular crumbs that hid a delicate, cottony interior.
Carol sat back in her chair replete. “Boy that was good.” Sophie nodded in agreement, chewing the last of her cinnamon bun.
“Thanks Tony. I’ve had a truly wonderful time,” said Helen.
“Yeah, it was a great night,” said David.
“Karibu. Any time guys,” Tony replied with a gracious wave.
“I had fun,” Sophie told him softly with a warm smile which Tony returned.
“Me too. I like your friends,” he replied.
“It’s time we went home. Look at the clock,” exclaimed Helen. With all of them helping, the remains of their breakfast was cleared, cups washed and stacked in the sink and the bowling alley restored to order in a few minutes. They walked downstairs to the parking lot and waited for Tony who had gone upstairs to return the key. The city had yet to stir on this crisp, clear Saturday morning.
After a minute or two of consultations Tony offered to drop off the girls at the hostel leaving Josh and David who were heading in the same direction, to go off separately. They said goodbye with brief hugs and piled into the cars. A short time later they arrived at the hostels. Helen and Carol bid Tony farewell and left him alone with Sophie.
“Thanks again. I had a great time,” she told him.
“Can I see you tomorrow?”
“The morning shift right?” She nodded. “Then how about I take you out for a late lunch?” His knuckles caressed her cheek.
Tony smiled. “I’ll pick you up at 3.”
“How about we meet in town instead?” They agreed on a time and place.
“Bye Sophie. Enjoy your day.” He leaned forward. Sophie expected him to kiss her. He wrapped her in a bear hug instead. His strong arms held her close for long moments, warm breath fanning across her neck. Then he pulled back and kissed her softly on the cheek. “See you tomorrow,” he whispered.