One For You One For Me
One For You One For Me
By Gerald Kithinji
‘Albinism is a genetic condition that results in the lack of pigment in a person's skin, eyes and hair. Witchdoctors in parts of Africa claim that organs and other body parts from albinos have magical powers; and human traffickers target albinos for their body parts to be used for local superstitions’ (Sabahionline.com).
The two men met quite by accident. They had both retired from the army. There they had worked together for several years, but then the exigencies of their work separated them. Oliver Mkopo was posted to Tanga, while Luka Kambo ended up in Tunduma. What kept them in touch was their rural home in Mbeya. Here, they occasionally met during important weddings and funerals and exchanged notes.
The last time they met, they learnt from each other that they were soon to be axed from the force. The country needed a leaner force and thousands were earmarked for early demobilization.
“What do you think of that, old boy?” asked Oliver.
“A soldier cannot beg to be spared,” replied Luka. “The sooner they get on with it the better.”
“How old is your son, Mwakalinde?”
“Old enough to join the force, you know?”
“That youngster I saw the other day?”
“That was four years ago. They are growing faster than you can say Jeshi la Taifa!” That is, National Army in Swahili.
A few months later, Luka and Oliver received their gratuity and kicked their army boots off their feet. Their muscles were tired, their vision blurred and their blood had boiled to the maximum and now needed a rest. It was not a painful parting for they were promptly paid their gratuity. Overnight, they became millionaires. What were they to do with so much money?
After drowning several thousand shillings in alcohol and loose life, they decided to put their heads together.
“This won’t do, my friend,” said Luka.
“What won’t do?” Oliver asked, amazed that his friend could float a senseless statement in the middle of carousal. Had he ran out of ideas on how to enjoy an afternoon? Or was he getting drunk in advance and beginning to talk to himself?
“I mean to say that we should be more prudent.”
“I have always been a prudent man myself,” said Oliver. “I don’t know about you.”
“Don’t blow your own trumpet. There are people who would look at you and cry, my friend.”
“You know what you should do? I think you should go home to your wife!”
“Thank you very much. But let me ask you, did you think I was going to somebody else’s wife?”
They were interrupted by a man who had been watching them partying. He was a regular at the bar and although he knew them, they did not know him and did not much care one way or the other. ‘These guys are mean like cats,’ he had been telling himself. ‘With so much money, they should treat us all to a drink. We have been taking care of this village while they were away.’ He had finished his beer and would have gone home if he was not so angry with the pair. He decided to stick his neck out.
“The way some people drink,” he shouted, for the benefit of the whole bar, “you would think they owned the club.”
“Hey, you!” shouted Oliver. “You shut your beak! Or else…”
“Oh, leave him alone,” said Luka. “He is only talking. Why are you so jumpy? He was not talking about you!”
Luka knew the man was out to embarrass them. But he also knew the man had a point. They were drinking as if they were insured against poverty. He guided the talk back into sanity and the day ended without further incident.
The next day he reminded Oliver of the previous day’s outburst.
“The man had a point,” he said, “although it was not his business to tell us what to do with our money.”
“If it were not for your timely intervention, I was going to so discipline him, he would have rued the day he saw the light of day!”
“But let us be realistic,” said Oliver. “What are we doing with ourselves? This money will one day be gone! Then, what?”
They discussed the matter at length and decided to do something worthwhile. They even came up with a plan. If carried out meticulously, they would be worthy reference points for their comrades, for they would multiply tenfold the remainder of their gratuity.
But in their part of the world, nobody undertook serious business without first consulting a seer or seers to establish whether or not it would be worth their while. Accordingly, they consulted a self-proclaimed ‘famous’ seer aptly called Professor Moto Moto. His declared business was to ‘change people’s lives’ by enabling them to conquer poverty with skilful utilization of his wise counsel.
He charged 300 000 Tanzanian shillings for the said wise counsel. They paid and he promptly forecast a very bright future for them. Then he prepared various herbal medicinal defences against their enemies and detractors.
Armed thus with wise counsel and all the defences, they set aside five million shillings for a peanut project. They were to buy these in Mbeya and surrounding areas and sell them in Harare. A friend of theirs had introduced them to a very important contact, who knew a tycoon who sold the nuts in Johannesburg, South Africa.
After negotiating their way past the customs officials at Chirundu, they made their way into Harare. The contact (who had been waiting for them) booked them into a guesthouse and left with the goods to conclude the ‘deal’ with the tycoon.
“This won’t take long,” he said to them. “I should be back by evening- I mean six o’clock. If you go out, let the reception know exactly how long you would be away, just in case I should be through earlier than expected. But I would advise against straying into town. You never know who is walking behind you!”
That last sentence proved to be very effective with the international commodity dealers, as Luka and Oliver had styled their business. They did not leave the guesthouse except for the half-hour it took them to buy Nando’s chicken at a nearby outlet. They consumed it with full gusto!
“This place is famous for Nando’s chicken,” the receptionist had told them. They bought one for her.
“You are very kind,” she had said when they passed the parcel to her. “How do you say thank you in Swahili?” she asked.
“Ahsante sana!” Oliver had replied.
“Okay. Ahsante sana.”
“What does karibu mean?”
At exactly six o’clock, the contact went back to the guesthouse and told them that they had to wait until the following day. The following day they were promised that things would be fine the day after. The day after, they were implored to give the tycoon ‘just twenty-four hours to sort out the payment.’ To show his good faith, the contact cleared their bills with the guesthouse and advanced them some money just for miscellaneous use.
“See the city by night, my friends. But make sure you go by taxi. Have you heard of Chez Nthemba night club? It’s the hottest in this city.”
They spent everything they got at Chez Nthemba! They had no cares. Their money was only a day away. They grooved and drank till four in the morning. They slept most of the day, waking up just in time for late lunch. That evening the contact did not turn up. Nor did he show up the following day. The receptionist told them that he had intimated to her that they were due to leave the day after.
“But he has our money!” protested Luka.
“I don’t know about that,” she said.
“We brought a lot of peanuts and he was to sell them to a Johannesburg tycoon,” said Oliver.
“Peanuts are in high demand here. He must have sold them within the city!”
“I highly doubt it.”
“Do you know him?”
“I first saw him the day you arrived. Is he not your friend?”
“Well, we don’t know him that much. He was introduced to us by a friend.”
“Is the friend around?”
“He is in Tanzania.”
“You better pray hard!”
They lost three million shillings.
‘Shouldn’t we go back to that quack and demand our money back?” Oliver enquired of his friend.
“He will come up with a stranger-than-fiction story,” replied Luka.
“I don’t like cheats,” Oliver shot back.
“Neither do I,” replied Luka. “Nonetheless, I think we would be throwing good money after bad.”
“But two million is not money I want to watch disappear just like that!”
“Okay! Let’s go see him.”
“When I told you the future was bright, I did not exclude some dull moments resulting from your own inattention to the safety of your goods. You literally parted with your goods to somebody you did not even know! Come on, come on! If you had something from him- like a strand of hair from his head or a piece of his clothing, I would be able to punish him. Do you?”
“No, we don’t.”
“There you are! I don’t want to say like the hyena that the way I looked at him, he cannot go very far. I don’t do things like that!”
“What did I say?” Luka asked Oliver as they left Professor Moto Moto’s home.
“Let us move on,” said Oliver. “Let’s talk to Professor Pima Moto. When things get hot, he knows what to do.”
So the pair went to see Prof. Pima Moto. He asked them why they had not come to him in the first place.
“Everyone knows what I can do,” he boasted. “I can take worms out of someone’s tummy just by looking at him!”
“True, true,” Luka mouthed, elated.
“But that is not our problem,” Oliver countered.
“I know, I know,” said Professor Pima Moto. “You want to multiply what you have. That is as easy as eating pap. But people do not know. They think one has to work day-in day-out for years and years. Look at the footballers and athletes- just a little practice and the money comes in from all sides! The crowds just keep swelling at the gates to pay to watch them. Who do you think is responsible for all that? Eh? Trust me.”
They trusted him. They parted with one million for his special money multiplier effects.
At the end of a three week business trip to Harare, they were two million shillings short. Something had gone wrong again. Oliver was scratching his head! Luka was banging the small desk in their small room with his fist!
“This will not do,” Oliver yelled.
“Yah,” replied Luka, without the slightest idea of what would do.
“We have to think carefully,” said Oliver.
To help them think carefully, they ordered another round of beer.
“Remember,” said Luka, “that is against the rules. Professor said we should not drink.”
“Rubbish!” shouted Oliver. “That was to apply while we conducted our business. Now we are only counting the loss. The rules are redundant now.”
“But you know we lost less this time,” Luka said.
“And you think it was because of his theatrics?”
“Not entirely,” said Luka. “We have been careful all along.”
“So why have we lost out?”
“I think we should make one trip without consulting anybody and see how it works,” Oliver opined.
“I think so, too.”
Their unaided trip to Harare was an actual disaster. They bungled their customs papers and would have lost their entire cargo were it not for the fact that they had liquid cash. They parted with a tidy sum and were let through.
“Money speaks in any language,” said Oliver, after they left the border with their goods. “That’s why I always stash it all over me.”
Unfortunately, that money could not come in that handy when it came face to face with ‘Operation Murambatsvina.’ The illegal structure that they called their hotel was pulled down while they were out collecting their dues from their customers. A portion of their goods went with the wind during that clean-up operation.
This time the profit and loss account tilted heavily towards a huge deficit.
“It is those fellows who are working against us!” Oliver lamented. “Once you are in their pocket you have to stay there. I mean, we have been coming here all this time and we have never heard of murambatsvina. Why this time? Me, I’m quitting this business.”
“Coward!” said Luka. “We have not seen the most powerful seer yet.”
“Don’t accuse me of cowardice, man. I’m a soldier, even though retired!”
“A soldier never gives up,” said Luka.
“So what do you suggest we do?”
“We have to see Professor Zima Moto. He is the best, you know! The most powerful medicine man in this whole region! His medicine works. If he fails us, then we can entertain other ideas.”
“Do you know where to find him?”
“Yes; but he is very expensive.”
“Are you talking of the blind and dumb man from…?”
“Yes, he is a real professor that one! These others have it in name only.”
“I have heard that he is the behind the richest man in eastern Africa,” said Oliver.
“Yes,” said Luka. “He is the consultant for the richest man in Congo as well. His star is rising along with those of his clients.”
“He must be charging an arm and a leg for his services,” said Oliver. “Do you think we can afford his fee?”
“He does not charge that much,” answered Luka. “But his conditions are stringent.”
“Let us try him. One should not be afraid of the roar of the lion in the jungle. It might turn out to be toothless!”
“Toothless, yes! But clawless, is another kettle of fish altogether!”
The two men visited Prof. Zima Moto. As his name suggests, his specialty was to put out the fire- whatever fuel it was made of. He was a little fellow, thin and weather-beaten. He neither spoke nor pretended to hear anything that was said to his ear. But he heard distant voices and they spoke rarely. He had settled in the area recently having allegedly been sent there to settle various problems that mankind wished to rid itself of. One of them was poverty. Professor Zima Moto was a declared enemy of poverty. If one followed his instructions to the letter, she soon found herself in the midst of wealth- real wealth. If one flouted the instructions or sought to by-pass or otherwise to ignore them, then the remedy was lost to her and in its place stood a vengeful angry dragon that spit fire and swallowed all defaulters. That was his reputation!
To Professor Zima Moto, they went! They waited forty minutes while he readied himself to meet his day’s first clients. They were expecting him to come out through the front door, but he chose the rear one and sat on a mat under a tree at the back of his homestead. That was the sacred place where he executed his duties. He was playing a hand piano from Zimbabwe called mbira. He did not greet them but continued playing animatedly for a full five minutes. When he stopped, it was like someone had snapped at him to quit playing. He put the mbira aside and waited. His wife, who acted as the interpreter of his sign language, addressed them.
“Who are you?”
They told her.
“Where do you come from?”
They told her.
“What brings you here, to this poor lonely part of planet earth/”
“Poverty,” they answered.
“But you have left wealth behind?”
“It was never in our hands.”
“Well spoken Mtoto wa Kambo.”
“How did he know that I was son of Kambo?” Luka asked.
The woman interpreted the question. Professor Zima Moto was visibly angered, or made out to be so upset. He mumbled incomprehensibly.
“Are you not the fourth son of your father?” asked the woman.
“I am,” answered Luka.
The seer mumbled something, motioning them to sit down.
“If you have not come to interrogate me, state your case!” said the interpreter.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Luka. Then he turned to Oliver. “Your turn!”
“We intend to start a business,” said Oliver. “We thought you would be able to guide us.”
The professor protested, waving a finger of disapproval.
“You have started a business,” said the interpreter.
“Yes; in fact we have started the business but we have not made anything. So it is still at the starting stage.”
“It would help if you would be straight with me. I do not like beating about the bush. Get to the point. How much have you lost?”
“Almost seven million!”
“The average client loses two million before they remember that I am here for them! How extravagant mankind is!”
“We are almost broke,” said Luka.
“We are broke,” Oliver said, matter-of-factly.
“Our services are not altogether free,” said the woman.
“We are aware of that,” Luka said.
“How much did you pay Moto Moto?”
“We did not…”
“The truth, Son of Kambo, the truth!”
“Three hundred thousand.”
“And Pima Moto?”
“How did you know all about that?” asked Oliver.
“I am not their equal!”
“That is indeed so,” said Luka.
The professor clenched his right fist and straightened the little and ring fingers to indicate that he would charge two million.
“That much!” shouted Oliver.
“Yes, that much!” said the woman. “Take it or leave it.”
Oliver and Luka paid the money. Oliver was sweating on his nose. Luka was sweating around his neck. You would have thought a noose was tied around it and was being tightened deliberately and relentlessly. They waited for the tricky part. It was not long in coming.
The woman had to count the money, confirm the sum to her husband and hide it away in the hut. The hut was naturally protected by a potent talisman. When she returned Professor Zima Moto continued his mumble-jumble.
“I work with gifts,” he said through the interpreter, “and in stages. These gifts you have to procure in the space of a month. Beyond that, I cannot guarantee their efficacy. Do you understand?”
“Yes, we do,” Luka and Oliver chorused.
“If you follow my instructions closely, you will be the richest men in your city.”
“That is our prayer.”
“It shall be so when you have fulfilled the set preconditions. For starters, I would like to see a squint-eyed spot-less white goat.”
“A spotless what?”
“Take notes my friend, instead of shocking yourself.”
“A squint-eyed spotless white goat, he says,” confirmed the interpreter. “That must be easy for people who want to make millions overnight!”
“At this rate it will take years,” said Oliver.
“If you go to sleep, it will not happen at all,” added the woman for good measure.
“What else?” Luka inquired.
“That is all for today,” replied the professor.
Luka and Oliver spent a week touring all the major goat markets in Tanzania. At the end of it the future millionaires returned to report that they had not been that lucky. They suggested that professor should deal with the matter himself.
“That will cost you 600 000,” he said through his special interpreter.
“What!” shouted Oliver.
“There is no need to shout,” said the woman. “If you are unhappy with anything he says, you are free to move on.”
“It’s nothing, Mama. Here is the money.”
Luka counted the money and passed it to her. She disappeared into the hut and came back a moment later.
“Come back here on Saturday and we shall proceed to the next stage.”
When they arrived on the appointed Saturday, they found a squint-eyed spotless white goat tethered outside Professor Zima Moto’s hut.
They were now ready to move on to the next stage of the hunt for wealth without sweat. The presence of the squint-eyed spotless white goat was a great sign. They were agog with excitement as they inspected it. But their mirth was soon cut short.
“I would like to see the mane of a lion, killed by you jointly or singly.”
There was uproar from the visitors!
“Or… or the hair of a Masai moran! This has to be accompanied by a Masai short sword and native Masai sandals. When these are to hand, we shall move to the next step.”
“The hair of a Masai moran? Do you know what you are asking for?”
“If I did not know I would have asked for the hair of a Sun man from the Kalahari desert.”
Luka was of a more optimistic nature. He urged his friend to desist from antagonizing their mganga before they had earned enough money from their investment.
“We shall bring the gifts within a week,” he promised, without really appraising the difficulties to be surmounted.
The Masai were to be found almost four hundred kilometres away from their base. Travelling expenses aside, the pair did not speak Masai. Luka hoped that the Masai were fluent enough in Kiswahili. Oliver was not so sure. They thanked their host and left.
But the argument kindled in the yard continued outside for a long while. Luka was of the view that the conditions were in fact far too easy for them. He wondered if the man intended to really help them or whether he was a mere pretender at the money-making game.
On the other hand Oliver felt that the man was making them work like dogs when it was his duty to provide the paraphernalia for his craft. Why not charge the fee inclusive of all that was needed to complete the job?
“We have to believe if we have to gain,” Luka cautioned.
“I’m never lacking in faith,” said Oliver. “But I’m also a realist.”
“A man of faith cannot allow himself to be tempted. The heart must be steadfast.”
“OK. I get it. But now to the task! Are you sure you can persuade a Masai warrior to part with his hair?”
“We may have to pay for it.”
“Of course, we have to pay for it! The question is how much? How much does a Masai warrior think his hair is worth?”
“You have to ask one of them yourself,” said Oliver. “I do not want to be at the receiving end of a Masai club!”
“Let’s suppose nothing. There are times when suppositions do not work. I do not think they would work with a Masai warrior. You are either with him or you are against him. That is as far as my knowledge of the Masai goes.”
“You underrate their intelligence. They might get a chance to correct that impression.”
“I will not give them a chance!”
“Okay! Let us say we start from a position of zero information on that issue. I would like us to go there with an open mind and deal with the situation as it unfolds.”
“Very well! How much should we carry to deal with that situation?”
“A million is obviously too much; and three hundred is unequivocally too low. They are a proud people, you know?”
“I have heard it said, yes. Would they attack us or steal from us?”
“They would not stoop that low. I told you they are proud. If it were cattle it would be different, of course.”
“All cattle belong to them, eh? Blessed people!”
“You can say that again!”
“We better carry a million. It is our money. We can always come back with it. Besides, we shall also have to buy the sandals and the Masai sword.”
Oliver Mkopo and Luka Kambo went off to Umasaini, Masailand. They did not want to deal with the morans to be found in the city of Arusha, their fear being that these would be too sophisticated. They would demand too much money. Or even report them to authorities. They decided to go to the edge of the Serengeti National Park and talk to the real roving cattle herders. As luck would have it they came face to face with reality. Some Masai initiates had been following a pride of lions and attempting to isolate one in order to kill it for a cleansing feast. They had been hiding behind a bush when the two travellers saw the lions and took to their heels. For a moment the Masai thought the intruders were poachers. They gave chase. O it was not fear that shone on their faces! It was fright! They ran like the Kenyans at the Olympics! How they got away with their lives during the fearful ordeal, only God knew!
It was only when Oliver and Luka realized that they were being chased by morans and not by the lions that they stopped and begged to be heard. The Masai- noting that the two were barely armed, listened with amusement as the couple explained their mission.
“We are from Mbeya,” Luka explained. “We are not poachers or hunters. We were on our way to Arusha, but apparently we are lost! Please help us!”
The morans checked them out and decided that they were light years away from being real lion-hunters. They let them go.
“Yero!” said their leader, “You see that hill over there? Not the mountain- Kilimanjaro, but the hill! You clear that one keeping to your left. Then you coast left-wise past the next one and come out on a clear level plateau. If you look carefully, you will be seeing the city lights. Moreover, you will see the road to your right and, if you hurry, you might find transport.”
The others murmured approval and started off on their hunt.
“If you cross our path again, we will allow the lions to feast on you!” said a moran that was not entirely on their side.
“By the way, what are you going to do in Arusha?” asked another moran.
“We want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro!”
“In that case, you have to go on to Moshi! It’s at the foot of the mountain.”
“Are there any more lions on the route?” Oliver asked.
“There are lions everywhere, man! This is Serengeti!”
It was around two in the afternoon. If the pride of lions had not been followed by the morans, they would have been fast asleep. No, they would most likely have hunted a zebra down, feasted on it and would then have been having their normal siesta for normal Serengeti lions. But trust the Masai morans to think about the welfare of the king of the jungle!
Luka and his now highly apprehensive friend Oliver studied the savannah around them; peered into the scattered bushes and decided that they had reached a point of no return. Frankly, they could not retrace their footsteps even if they had been given the chance. The morans were gone. They were alone in the tsetse infested lion-protected wildlife paradise, without an angel to guide them. They remembered Professor Zima Moto. Did he know where he was sending them to? Did he have any idea what danger lay in waiting for them? Or did he actually intend that they should meet their end there in Serengeti at the claws of a pride of lions? Lions that dared even their more ferocious co-terrenos … the morans?
“He tricked us!” said Oliver.
“It’s not how but where?”
Oliver was sure in his mind that he had been led into this trap by the blind seer. He had a lot of questions to ask him the day he got back to Mbeya- if he got back at all! For starters he would want to know what a Masai head of hair had to do with business that was to be conducted in Harare. Or what his sandals had to do with wealth when they had no intention of dealing in footwear. If they had been unfortunate sole searchers, the whole macabre business would have shed light on the issue. They were dealing with peanuts for heaven’s sake!
“Just keep your eyes open!” Luka said to him. “There are snakes in this jungle, you know?”
Oliver flinched. He had been keeping his eye at horizon level, just in case a lion should raise its head. Now he was required to keep it down on his path as well. What punishment! They had taught him something at the military college, but not about snakes. He slowed down. He had to be sure of his step. Who wants to step on a cobra!
“If we do not keep pace with the sun,” said Luka, “we shall have to share the veil of the night with the inhabitants of this jungle.”
Oliver resumed fast-tracking. The earlier they got out of the snake-cum-lion den the better! A sleepy gazelle jumped out of a side thicket. Oliver almost flew out of his skin. But he remembered he was a soldier.
“These gazelles!” he shouted. “You’d think they were even remotely related to lions!”
“They are!” replied Luka. “Without them the lion population would be decimated by hunger.”
“Lions don’t eat small game!”
“Cubs do! On what do you think they practice hunting?”
“That’s unfair; these creatures have no teeth or claws!”
“That’s the jungle for you. Survival of the fittest is the law. If you don’t claw, you are clawed. The Masai know it by rote!”
They cleared the first hill while engaged in a heated discussion of life in the jungle and forgetting their ordeal for the moment. Both were sweating like cooks at a wedding party, but they dared not take off their outer garments. If a lion were to grab any of them, it would have to sink its teeth into a layer of synthetic fibre before getting to human flesh. That was small consolation to Oliver; but in the jungle any consolation, big or small, was welcome.
A squirrel ran out of a secret hole and stood on its rear feet a short distance away. It appeared to be amused to see unarmed men in the Serengeti. It coughed enquiringly!
“What did the moran say about that hill?” asked Luka.
“That we should keep to the left of it,” said Oliver.
“I say we keep to the right,” said Luka.
“Let us say I’m suspicious,” he answered.
“Why would you be?”
“Because I am!”
“And why is that?”
“It’s a tradition. Why should he have told us the whole truth? He told us enough to get us out of danger but not to get us out of the woods. That is standard practice in Africa.”
“Precaution, I suppose; just in case we should turn out to be who we say we are not.”
“Enemies, you mean to say!”
Accordingly, they disregarded the advice of the morans and passed the hill by coasting to the right. Presently, they encountered a gorge that ran in a north-easterly direction. They followed this for a long while and it kept turning to their left, actually in the direction that the moran had advised them to follow. It carried on round and up the hill. Luka and Oliver soon realized that it would be impossible to cross it that day.
They would have to sleep in the jungle. But, where in the jungle? In a cave? What if a lion should visit at the darkest hour of the night? Up a tree? They had heard that the lions of Serengeti could climb trees! And so could leopards! In fact, leopards slept up there, breathing the freshest air and surveying the jungle with their eyes and nostrils! In the belly of a baobab tree? That was the natural home of cobras and other snakes!
“I’m all for lighting fire and sleeping there,” said Luka.
“If we were four or five of us,” said Oliver, “I would agree. Two could keep vigil while the others slept. We are only two. A tree is my natural choice.”
There was a huge baobab tree with a big cavity in it. It could have housed any number of small game animals if they could shut themselves in.
“Tell you what!” said Luka. “We could smoke out whatever vile creatures there may be and then light a fire outside it to keep unwanted visitors out.”
“Agreed in principle!” said Oliver.
“We are not philosophers!”
“Then let’s get moving.”
The sun was setting on the Serengeti plains. They set fire inside the baobab cave with limited dry grass and covered it with green grass to smoke away any snakes and vermin that might be there. Then they lit a bon fire outside the entrance. They had gathered enough logs to last the night. They spread a mat of dry straw in the cave for their bed, just in case they should develop an appetite- plus the courage, to sleep. They ate the small ration of biltong that they had bought from the morans and embarked on their long vigil. It ended without any major incidents, although there were endless inconsequential ones. One time a cobra came close enough to rub nostrils with Luka’s trousers. But, compared to the raging fire, he was as cold as the cucumber. The snake sailed along until it found a warmer spot. It was the log that the fire was feeding on. If he had moved his leg, he would have received a jab from the cobra. Cobras are harmless bed mates as long as you leave them to do the movements!
The other snake actually curled itself between Oliver’s outstretched legs and slept. Oliver had only to make one stupid move and he would have had something to rant and wail about. But deep sleep had overtaken him. What with all the fatigue and weariness- he slept like a log when it was his turn to rest his eyes. That’s what spared him from a fang!
But what really saved him was this: Luka was overtaken by sleep during his vigil. When he woke up he noticed the snake serenely curled there between Oliver’s legs. He knew what that meant: one wrong move and your man would need intensive care. That care or any care at all was nowhere to be found! At best he would die on his shoulders as he tried to get him to the main road to Arusha. Such was the venom that the viper carried in its sac! Luka decided to use his common sense. It comes in handy sometimes, you know! His common sense told him that it was better to carry a man with a broken leg than one whose body was reeking of and trembling from snake poison. The first rays of the eastern sun had just illuminated a portion of the cave when Luka made his decision. Moving stealthily, he picked a splinter log from last night’s bonfire, raised it as high as one would in a mortal emergency and brought it down crushing on the poor sleeping snake. Bang!
Oliver sprung to attention! The snake breathed its last! Life continued!
When they got out of the cave ten game rangers- guns at the ready, were waiting for them! The fire had betrayed them.
“At last we got you!” shouted the commander of ‘Operation Restore Sanity’ of the Ministry of Tourism. Poaching is something else in East Africa!
They were frog-marched all the way to the main road. There, the rangers stopped a hides-and-skins transport lorry which ferried the prisoners to Arusha.
In Arusha they were treated like kings. The cops who took their statements noted that they were heavily loaded in terms of liquid cash. From all known criminal appearances, they cut the images of very successful poachers. The police took their time! It was a signal that things could be talked over: but someone had to read the signals. Luka and Oliver were not seriously schooled in such matters.
“Put them in the top security cell,” said an officer. “They will learn to respect the officers as well as they treat their fellow crooks!”
“But we told you that we were lost,” pleaded Luka.
“Yes, I’m sure you told us that,” replied the cop. “Poachers tell us a lot of things, you know! Like they were lost in the park, you know? But when you ask them for their park entry tickets, they think you do not understand. I ask you: as a poacher, how do you get lost in your own territory?”
“Ask the Masai morans! They saw us! I’m sure they can vouch for us. We were lost!”
“Don’t worry! If they are truly your friends, they will come to your rescue! In the meantime, we think you should be enjoying the company of the other inmates.”
So Luka and Oliver were booked in. They had to be guests of the state for the foreseeable future.
“Follow that officer. He will see to it that you are well treated.”
“Step in here,” said the booking officer.
They did so.
“Do you have any money on you?”
“Yes we do.”
“Where are you hiding it?”
“We are not hiding anything,” said Luka.
“Then, come out with it! How much?”
“No, bring it all out. I’ll count it.”
He took his time but he got the figure right. The men were truly well-greased and their pockets well-lined with cash. How do you deal with such characters? First you create a scene. Then you sort the scene out. The cops went to work. The two freshmen were thrown into the cells and forgotten there. Every now and then a policeman would appear at the door to the cells and ask whether prisoner so and so was present. And every so often they got the man they wanted. They took him away to court. Whichever way the matter ended, the man was bound to be brought back to pick his items and head either to the prison or to freedom!
The immediate problem was to deal with the inmates. Many of them were hard-core criminals. Others were petty offenders who could not raise bail. All were trapped in a human den of unwanted social outcasts. Those who thought otherwise soon discovered that nobody cared. They were among their brethren who had crossed the path of the law in one way or another. They had a common identity, a common enemy and no friends. Friends were a luxury they could ill-afford!
When lunch hour came, soup and beans were served, but not for the pair.
“We did not know that you were here,” said the cook. “We work with the register. Your names were not on the register. You have to wait for the evening meal, by which time we expect to have a new register with your names included.”
“That is totally unfair,” said Oliver.
“You should have booked yourselves in earlier, mister. We follow order. If you do not like it you can make your own feeding arrangements!”
After that cook left, the other inmates turned to the newcomers. The way they had addressed the cook had ruffled the air in the room. How could they be so arrogant?
“Hey, man,” said one prisoner, “what crime are they charging you with?”
“We were found in the park,” replied Luka.
“Come on, you can tell us! We are on your side. Nobody can charge you with being in the park if you had no weapons?”
“We had none? We had merely lit a fire.”
“What were you roasting?”
“Nothing. It was to keep away snakes and the cold.”
“But they say you had killed two snakes! Do you eat snakes?”
“We had killed one snake. They must have killed the other themselves. But, no, we do not eat snakes. What should we have done with the snake, chase it?”
“Take it easy, man. We just got curious! Have you tried to talk to them?”
“We have been trying since dawn!”
“Talk to the officers; not to the juniors. We deserve to be here. But you? No!”
A while later, a policeman called out their names. The door swung open and they were led out to another room.
“We have to take your fingerprints,” said the cop.
“But, sir, we have not even had our statements taken,” said Oliver.
“That will be done later!” said the cop curtly. “Any problems with that?”
“Yes,” said Oliver. “We want to talk to the chief!”
“We don’t deserve to be here!”
“Where, in your estimation, do you deserve to be?”
“We are absolutely innocent!” said Oliver.
“Very well, I will check whether he will talk to you.”
They were taken back to the cells. An hour later, they were taken out again and taken to the chief. He studied them as if he suspected they were dissidents. Then he looked again at the Occurrence Book before hi m and appeared to be making a mental note of something scribbled in there. In fact he was looking at the amount of money they had been found with.
“Is it true you were found with all this money?” he asked pointing at the note in the Occurrence Book.
“It is our money, sir,” said Luka.
“You want me to believe that?”
“What had you sold in the park, leopard skins?”
“No, sir, we had it before we got lost in the park.”
“So you had sold the trophies to the hides-and-skins merchant and then melted into the bush to hunt for more!”
“We had no weapons, sir.”
“You hid them elsewhere. The rangers will unearth them soon. But if you want to get a quick trial, you should tell me where you hid them.”
“We got lost, sir. We had no weapons. We had no skins or any trophies whatever! We were misled by morans when we asked for the route to the main road.”
“How had you got out of the main road in the first place?”
Luka decided to tell the truth. If the truth will set one free, as claimed by some philosopher, then so be it.
“Actually, we are from Mbeya. We have never seen the Masai in real life. So, we asked the driver to let us know when we reached Masai country. That is why we went into the bush. Then we encountered morans, who threatened to kill us, but we explained ourselves and they let us go. We asked them for directions back to the main road and they gave us. But we made a mistake and got lost. We then decided to sleep in the bush and resume our journey the following day. We did not know we were in the game park. That is the truth.”
“And the money?”
“That was for business. We wanted to buy Masai braids and beads to sell in Lusaka.”
“Is that what you told the morans?”
“The morans do not know about the money.”
“What did you tell them?”
“That we were going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro!”
In fact the morans had reported to the rangers the presence of the two strangers in the game park. For all they knew, the strangers could have been hiding lethal weapons somewhere in the park. Weapons like the AK47 rifle and others. May be they were just surveying the territory with a view to deciding where to strike. One did not take chances with such crooks! They knew that poachers were the enemies of the Serengeti heritage from which the community benefited.
“You will explain all that to the court in a few weeks time,” said the officer.
“Please help us, sir,” said Oliver. “We are telling you the whole truth.”
“A year ago,” said Luka, “we were officers ourselves. We retired. That money is our gratuity. We are businessmen!”
“This is a sensitive matter. Many officers are involved. What shall I say to them?”
“That we are telling the truth.”
“How will they know that you are telling the truth?”
“We will show our gratitude! We shall not forget them.”
“How much is your gratitude?”
“You will see!”
The inspector was satisfied as to their innocence. He set them free. In appreciation, they parted with a respectable sum.
“Forget your beads, okay?” said the officer as they left. “You are marked men.”
They went into town and booked in at the Kilimanjaro Guest House. There, they talked the manager into parting with a Masai simi (sword) and sandals which were displayed on the wall of his office. He could not resist their offer. The next morning they were on their way back to Mbeya and to Professor Zima Moto. They presented the sword and sandals.
“And the hair?” asked his wife.
“We have a request to make,” said Luka. “We tried our very best, but we could not get the hair. Can the professor help?”
“Yes,” she said. “It will cost you 600 000.”
“Couldn’t you do it for less?”
“Do you want to dilute the potency of my medicine?”
“They paid the money and as usual the interpreter went into the hut to hide it. When she came back she consulted with the mganga and announced that Luka and Oliver were to return in a week’s time. That would give the ‘professor’ time to procure the Masai hair.
When they went back, he had a beautiful head of long moran hair fully treated with red ochre. Luka and Oliver were very impressed. Their project was proceeding very well!
“You are lucky,” he announced through his interpreter. “Three Masai morans were here for consultation and I was able to secure their cooperation. It cost me more than you paid me but that is another matter. We cannot dig up old skulls!”
“We cannot adequately express our gratitude for that concession,” said Luka.
“That is a great favour, indeed!” observed Oliver. “You are very kind.”
“We shall now move on to the next stage!” said the woman.
“May we know how many stages are left?” asked Oliver.
“On what, sir?”
“On your cooperation!”
“Is there a problem, sir?”
“So far so good!”
“Thank you. I thought…”
“It is wiser not to think too much.”
“Thank you again.”
“Have you seen a white woman?”
“Yes, I have.”
“You are to bring me a white woman’s blonde hair.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes. The longest you can find.”
Oliver was stupefied. Luka was flabbergasted. They looked at each other in disbelief. They had escaped from a lion’s den and now this dumb fool was asking them to enter into a den of lionesses. There were no white women in Mbeya. The best they could do would be to travel a thousand kilometers to Dar es Salaam! Surely this was totally unreasonable. Even if they got there, how were they to convince a white woman to part with her hair? And not just a tuft of hair but a full head of hair!
They looked at the old cripple. He was busy making signs and mouthing utterances that they could not understand. His wife followed the movements with wide-open eyes and a fox’s ears. Then she turned to them.
“You have two weeks to do as he has directed,” she said. “The matter cannot be left too long, now. All your efforts would go to waste. We shall see you on the fourteenth day of this month. Go!”
They got as far as the gate and stopped. They argued for almost five minutes- Oliver insisting that they go back and tell the mganga that it could not be done and Luka saying that they should at least try.
“If we give up even before we try, what do you think will happen to our project?” Luka asked. “We cannot put one foot in the water and the other on the river bank. How can we swim without getting into the water?”
“I know I can get into those tourist hotels and befriend a tourist,” said Oliver. “But how do I persuade her to cut her hair and give it to me? She will think that I’m a witchdoctor, or something!”
“You do not have to persuade her,” said Luka. “I will get you something to use.”
“Don’t worry! Let’s get to Dar first.”
“I will not move an inch before you tell me what I should use!”
“Then I will leave you behind and you can try your luck with back-packers. They pass through here every now and then on their way to Malawi.”
“That’s a mighty long wait! I’ll come with you, but at least give me a hint.”
“I will give a hint on the way.”
Two days later they were in Dar es Salaam. Oliver booked himself into Cascades Hotel as a businessman from Kenya; Luka into a guest house in the Ngomeni area. They had agreed to stay separately just in case. That night Oliver danced at the Cascades until closing time at midnight. The second night, he danced with other tourists until 11. Then a lovely woman from the Netherlands agreed to go dancing in town with Oliver. He had been eyeing her hair from a distance, but she thought he was falling in love with her at first sight! They went into the …club. He was buying drinks like he had no respect for money. And although the woman protested, he handled her with extreme care, persuading her to keep on drinking.
“The drinks from here are next to useless,” he said to her at one time. “No matter how much I drink, I don’t seem to get high. I mean what is the point of a holiday if one cannot get into the mood? Are the drinks like that in Oslo?”
“I don’t come from Oslo,” protested the woman.
“Oh, I remember now,” said Oliver. “You are from The Netherlands. Are the drinks strong in Copenhagen?”
“I don’t know. That is in Denmark!”
“So which is your capital city?”
“No; guess again!”
“Ah, The Hague, eh?”
“You are so brilliant!”
“One more drink, then?”
Each time she went to the toilet, Oliver spiced her drink mildly. He did not want her to realize what was happening too soon. He wanted the ‘bottle to take effect slowly,’ as he told his friend later.
“Are you a Masai?” she asked Oliver. This came quite out of the blue, as they say. He almost jumped out of his skin.
“How did you know?” he asked.
“The way you dance!” she said. “You stepped on my toe twice! And I thought only a Masai had that privilege.”
“Why only the Masai?”
“Because they jump while dancing!”
“Well, I’m in fact half a Masai. We have them in Kenya, you know?”
“Wao! Let’s go dance!”
They became instant friends. She drank from his glass and he did likewise. They danced and kissed and sweet-talked each other. They were indeed very happy. If Oliver was looking to get into the holiday mood, Sinja was the perfect choice to guide his spirits!
At last it was time to go. They got into a taxi and were dropped at the Cascades. They walked or rather wobbled out of the car holding each other like old buddies. Oliver helped her climb the stairs to the first floor and then persuaded her to ‘come and see my room.’ Once inside, all her limbs seemed to lose control and she collapsed on the bed. That happened as planned. Somewhere at the back of Oliver’s mind he was very happy. So happy that he did not notice when his own limbs began to give way. He, too, collapsed on the bed beside Sinja.
He remembered thinking or dreaming about the clipper in his suitcase; how he took it out discreetly and oiled it so that it would not make any noise. Then he walked to the sleeping beauty and noiselessly turned her head to face the light on the ceiling. How he skillfully manoeuvred the clipper from the hairline on the forehead, over the top of the head up to the nape taking with him a third of her lustrous long hair. How he turned the head to the right and to the left as he cleared all the hair leaving her looking like a mannequin.
Then he woke up to find that she was gone. Her flight out of Dar es Salaam was for 11 o’clock in the morning and he was waking up at twelve thirty!
She, too, had been adventuring all night. Each time he went to the toilet, she exchanged their glasses! Or she emptied most of her drink into his mug.
“All that money just for a dance!” shouted Luka after he heard the story.
“Can’t you see we went as far as my room?” answered Oliver. “I tell you I almost clipped her hair off. It was just that… she did something to my drink. Otherwise it was a done deal, I tell you. You have to trust me. I came that close. I couldn’t believe it myself!”
“And that’s why it never worked! You never believed in it right from the start. That’s why you bungled it. Had I not told you to vomit each time you went to the toilet?”
“Yes you did.”
“Had you followed my advice you would have been as sober as a Sunday school teacher!”
“I was sober until I got to the room.”
“Then what happened?”
“I thought I told you!,” said Oliver, raising his voice a decibel. “I just went blank! I could not see or hear or feel. I thought I had died!”
“What you say makes no sense to me,” observed Luka, “but let us not cry over spilt milk. You had your chance and you blew it. The question now is what we should do. I should like to hear your views on that.”
“As you know we are now literally broke. I mean the fund we set aside for this kind of thing is almost over. I think we should ask the professor to procure the hair for us.”
“That will cost another 600 000 or more!”
“It is better to pay that money than to sink two million into a bottomless hole.”
“You know what I think? Professor Zima Moto is the bottomless pit!”
“You want us to abandon the project?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“What did you say?”
“That the eye that has seen is the one that believes!”
Professor Zima Moto welcomed them with a wry smile. His wife had just explained that the men had a favour to ask. She was sure it had to do with their inability to get the blonde hair. Poor creatures! Their lack of imagination bordered on the ridiculous!
“Did you say a favour?” she repeated the words spoken by Luka.
“Yes,” he answered. “We have tried everything; but we have not been able to get the blonde hair. We came close, very close. We spent money. We used our brains like never before. We really racked them! But to no avail. Please help us. We have given up. We throw in the towel!”
“This is a delicate stage that we are in,” said the mganga. “We cannot afford to upset the spirits. We have to cooperate with them. I have seen that they are ready to work with you. That is why I will render such help as I can. But you know what to do, don’t you?”
“The same as before?” asked Luka.
“Yes; same as before.”
“Six hundred thousand!” exclaimed Oliver.
“Yes; that’s right,” said the woman. “Once you get over this one, the rest will be smooth sailing.”
“I sincerely hope so!”
“Without hope there is no salvation!”
They paid the money and were asked to report back in a week’s time. As expected, the mganga had procured the hair and was all smiles when they greeted him. It was a great feat, his wife explained, to the joyous appreciation from Luka and Oliver.
“I had to scratch the nape of a lioness!” he announced. “That is not kids’ stuff! I will not blow my trumpet over it. All I will say is that you have to be prepared to handle hot iron if you have to bend it. I have bent this one for you. You have to bend the next one yourselves!”
“We are ready for that professor!”
“Well, this is what you have to do. Get a black robe each. Not the bui bui that Muslim women wear: real black robes for men that cover you from head to ankles. This must be done between now and Friday. Then on Saturday you have to present yourselves here with the robes. I will then perform the final ceremony.”
They procured the two robes from a shop in Dar es Salaam that sold clergymen’s wear by pretending to be deacons from a church in their home area. Come Saturday, they were at Professor Zima Moto’s home.
“Welcome, my friends, to the final act of our glorious fight against poverty,” he said through the medium. “If you survive this stage, all the world’s riches will be at your disposal. You will rule men with the might of your money. You will take your place among the rich in your city and beyond. When I say this, I say it because I know your city is a small island of riches. You will remember me all your lives! Kneel down, men from Mbeya! Prostrate yourselves before your fate!”
“And how much wealth do you reckon we shall have?” asked Luka.
The mganga was pensive for a long moment as if trying to calculate or remember how he had distributed the power to make money amongst the many clients who had consulted him on the issue. The men from Morogoro had been given 1/16th and the Arusha delegation had taken 1/8th; while the Tanga clients had been assigned 1/12th, the Kilwa merchants had been promised one-quarter. Kigoma and Musoma had each earned 1/10th.
“It is not a small matter,” said the wife. “God made me blind so that I can see with my mind. He made me deaf so that I may hear with my heart. He made me poor so that I may know generosity. You have shown greater tenacity than all the other seekers. I give you one fifth of the wealth of all the merchants of Mbeya. But there is one small sacrifice that I will ask of you. You are to wear the black robes and sleep at the local cemetery from eight in the evening till five in the morning. Not together but separated by at least ten tombstones.”
“When are we to do that?”
About 2 a.m that night, two thieves entered the cemetery. They were carrying a sack of coconuts they had stolen from a Zanzibari trader. They had decided that the cemetery was the safest place for them to split their loot. It was the darkest night they had ever experienced. They could not see anybody and nobody could see them. But they were nocturnal creatures and the cemetery was well known to them. That was where they slept during the day, except when there was a burial ceremony there. But as they entered the cemetery, one coconut slipped out of the sack and fell near the gate.
The cemetery being what it was Luka and Oliver had remained alert most of the night. They could hardly sleep. But the thieves had quietly slipped in while Luka and Oliver were tottering towards slumber. They straightened up only when the intruders began whispering as they counted and divided the loot. Luka and Oliver found themselves listening intently to the monologue, with the occasional ‘Yes’ from the other participant.
“Here,” said one of the thieves, “this will do!”
They put the sack down and the leader started sharing the coconuts.
“This one is for me,” he said, as he put a coconut to one side. “And this one is for you.”
His colleague was affirming the division as the leader proceeded with the split.
“This one is for me and this one is for you.”
“This one for you; and this one is for me.”
“This one is for me and this one is for you.”
“This for you; and this for me.”
“No, no. This one is for you and that one is for me.”
“And this one?”
“That is for me!”
“How about this one?”
“That’s for you.”
“And the one near the gate?”
“That one is for me!”
Suddenly there was pandemonium in the cemetery. Luka took off like a racing horse that had been stung by a scorpion! Oliver flew out of the cemetery like the Concorde on its maiden flight to New York! Unlike the Concorde, he crashed into a big tombstone and broke his leg. He hobbled out of the place and collapsed on the road.
Thinking that they had been discovered, the thieves abandoned their loot and took to their heels, jumping and falling over tombstones as they escaped. Each of them swore never to return to that cemetery alive! They would steal no more. If only God would let them off this time!
Luka managed to reach his house in one piece, more or less. He had a few injuries but none were life threatening. The following morning he decided to check whether his friend had made it home. He had not. Luka decided to investigate. A Good Samaritan had picked up a screaming Oliver and taken him to hospital. Luka found him under the scalpel!
Two weeks later, the two were brainstorming as to what had to be done. They had lost most of their money either on the trips to Harare or on endeavours to comply with the wishes of the medicine man. They decided to revisit Professor Zima Moto. This they did and the wise man listened to their story quite sympathetically. If he could he would help, he said. But the matter was now beyond him. They had bungled the plan and it was too late for him to be of any further help. They would have to start the whole process from the beginning, with little or no assurance of ultimately making it to the millionaire league.
“You see,” he said through his usual interpreter of his sign language. “The spirits have set certain rules by which all must abide. If I don’t follow the set procedure and fulfil the preconditions set by the guiding spirit, you have only yourselves to blame. We had gone a long way. Only so little remained to be done. You should not have run away!”
“I thought they were sharing the spirits!” said Oliver.
“I thought they were sharing the souls!” said Luka.
“But we now know they were thieves, don’t we? The newspapers carried the story, didn’t they? You talked to them in your delirium, no?”
Oliver shook his head. “I told you I did not know where I was! I was in a coma!”
“Yes,” confirmed the woman. “The papers said they were thieves and the others were night-runners! Wizards! You must have told them so.”
“But you know the truth,” asserted Oliver.
“Yes, the truth is that you lacked courage. That is the truth! If you want to be given another chance, we can talk about it. The past cannot be part of the future.”
“Are you saying that all that we have done counts for nothing?” inquired Oliver.
“In the realm of the future, it counts for nothing,” answered the seer. “But the doors will remain open for you if you wish to re-start the project. Otherwise, kwaheri, adieu!”
Luka could sense the anger rising in Oliver’s breast. He decided to intervene.
“Listen, my friend,” he said to him. “Let us go home now and consider our next step. It is in our own interest to conduct ourselves with decorum. Professor Zima Moto has spoken and we should heed his words.”
They went away looking like jilted lovers. Once out of earshot, Oliver regained his voice.
“We have been conned!” he said.
“I don’t think so,” said Luka.
“You must be blind,” he stressed.
“You think he organized for people to frighten us in the cemetery?”
“He was the only one who knew we were there.”
“And the coconuts?”
“Forget the coconuts!”
“But they were there!”
“Did you see them?”
“Come on, Oliver. Don’t be too sceptical.”
“I know a liar when I see one.”
“So why did you continue with the project?”
“I wasn’t sure of myself. I was too greedy to reason.”
‘Tanzanian and Kenyan witchdoctors promote the belief that people with albinism are not entirely human and that their body parts can be used to bring good luck to those seeking wealth, health and personal success, said Mwaura, an albino member of Kenya's National Assembly.’
“So, now that you are sure of yourself, what do you want to do?”
“Wait and see.”
Luka did not wait to see. Oliver had become too sceptical and this after they had spent so much money. May be he has enough and to spare. I do not have much. And my need is greater than his. How can I abandon the mission half way? No. If I go back and explain to the professor that my need is great and my faith in him unshaken, I believe we could work together and forget about Oliver and his scepticism. You have to have faith, he reasoned, otherwise there is no point in engaging in risky business. He decided to work on his own.
So he went back to Professor Zima Moto and repented for what he called his earlier exhibition of scepticism. He paid a large sum by way of consultation fee.
“I believe, but as you know, one can be misled by others,” he said as Professor Zima Moto pretended to be impatiently waiting to hear why he had come back.
“You mean your friend, eh, Oliver?” he asked through his interpreter.
“Yes. He counselled otherwise.”
“And you were wise enough to see through what he was saying?”
“May be he has enough and to spare!”
“That’s what I thought. Otherwise I could not understand why he wanted to abandon our mission.”
“Would you like to have his share added to yours?”
“That would be great. Can it be done?”
“At a cost, but...”
“That is really not the question. The issue here now is how to appease the gods and let them think not about what has happened. They don’t like being tempted.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“Will you or will you not carry out the commands of your benefactors?”
He was told to wait while Professor Zima Moto retired to another hut to consult. Twenty minutes later, he emerged and sat at his usual place.
“This is what you have to do.”
He was told to secure a child, an albino child.
“An albino child?”
“Don’t shout; but, yes, an albino child.”
“Explain, sir. This is a bit out of the ordinary.”
“It is not. But to you, maybe that is unusual. Let me ask you Mtoto wa Kambo – isn’t being a multimillionaire out of the ordinary?”
Luka thought about it for a while. Actually he wanted to get out of the ordinary realm of poor people to join the super rich. That cannot be business as usual. It is extraordinary. That is what he had set eyes on becoming.
“Yes,” he replied.
“There you are,” said Professor Zima Moto. “You have answered your question and I hope you have erased the doubt in your mind. Can we move on?”
“Oh, yes. Let us get on with it.”
“Remember this one you have to do by yourself or with help arranged by you. I have no role in this. But once I have the ingredients that I require, we are home and dry. That is what made Mali Mingi what he is today.”
Professor Zima Moto and his partner conferred for a while. Luka was wracking his brain. How am I to secure an albino child, he wondered. He knew one or two families that had albino children but they were his friends. Could he do it to them? Could he do it to any parent, friend or foe?
His brain went into overdrive. Professor wants me to kidnap someone’s child, kill her, extract her kidney and take it to him so he can mix it with his other macabre ingredients to make a concoction that I will then have to drink or smear on myself in order that I may get the powers to make megabucks to turn myself into a multimillionaire? That to my mind is murder! And I’m not going to do it. Whether or not a child is an albino is beside the point. A child is a child. And a child is a human being whose life is protected by law as well as by humanity itself. I need the money, yes, and a lot of it, but human life for me is worth so much more. It is sacred. I have to do something. It is my duty.
He went back to his friend. Maybe he was right after all! But his friend had just left for a location unknown. Of late he had been very secretive.
“He took a jerry can and said he would be back later,” his wife explained. “He appeared to be very excited; I thought he was coming to see you. He has not left the house for two days.”
Luka thought he knew where his friend had gone. He left. He headed for Professor Zima Moto’s home. On the way he met a policeman he knew. He was off-duty and was wondering how to spend the day.
“Come with me, Luteni,” said Luka. “There might be something we can do.” He agreed. Luka was known to have some money and he was not entirely mean. He might very well treat him to some beer and roast meat. They might even discuss business, deals, something to keep money trickling in.
“I will definitely do something, but after finishing off a small matter.” He explained what had transpired. Luteni listened carefully, nodding occasionally. Then they talked some more and agreed to do something. It was worth the try. They passed by the local butchery and Luka bought half a kilo of goat kidney and carefully wrapped it in a transparent plastic bag, which he put in an opaque plastic bag. They headed in the direction of Professor Zima Moto’s home.
Actually, Oliver had made up his mind. He returned to Professor Zima Moto’s home. He was carrying a jerry can. He asked to see Professor Zima Moto. The latter came out of his hut and sat as usual facing the tree at the back of his homestead. His wife sat to one side in anticipation of her usual role of interpreter. But Oliver did not need an interpreter this time. He addressed the professor directly and refused to let the woman say anything.
“I do not need an interpreter for what I’m about to say,” he shouted. “I have come to sort out this villain once and for all. He has conned me and my friend out of a lot of money. Now I want his blood!”
With that he quickly opened the jerry can and doused the professor with paraffin. By the time the woman tried to wrestle the jerry can from Oliver, the seer was all wet with the liquid. The woman also got splashed with it.
“You see this?” Oliver asked the woman, as he flashed out a matchbox and prepared to light it. “This is a matchbox and I’m going to use it! Say your prayers, before I throw this match and set you alight. You have been working together. You will die together! And don’t think you can fool me again. You see this Masai knife? You see how sharp it is?”
Suddenly the man and the woman started pleading for mercy.
“Please don’t burn me!” cried Professor Zima Moto. “I will tell you the truth! Please, please spare me!”
“I don’t care whether you tell me the truth or not,” shouted Oliver. “You must die!”
“No, please, my son,” said the woman.
“I’m not your son!” retorted Oliver, as he made to strike the match.
“Please, please, don’t burn us!” pleaded the man. “I am not a medicine man. I cannot do those things!”
“So why did you take my money, you scoundrel?”
“It is Rashid who told me that you had a lot of money! I will refund it all, if you give me time!”
“And who is Rashid?” asked Oliver. “Is he the one who came to the cemetery that night?”
Luka and the policeman arrived while all this was going on and hearing the altercation and the pleas, discreetly approached the three who were as usual meeting at the back of the house.
“Rashid said you would do anything to make money,” Professor Zima Moto was saying.
“And you said you could do anything so long as you were paid and your conditions met!”
“I know I said that and in some cases it is true. Even your friend was here yesterday because things are working for him. People believe these things.”
“What did you ask him to do this time?”
“That is between him and me.”
“Remember this is not a joke. I will set you alight and then you will realize that it is not between you and him. And it will be too late.”
“Please, please. I asked him to get an albino child’s kidney and two fingers.”
“Murderer,” said Oliver. “You are murdering albino children in the name of fortune making!”
Luteni and Luka had heard enough.
“Do you still have your gun?” Luka asked.