Amara found a duvet and nightdress waiting for her on the couch when she got home from work; it was her idea that her mother spends the night in her room while she takes the couch. She changed into the nightdress and turned the TV on, tuning into the channel that was showing Masai’s arrest but a late-night action movie was on instead. Tired, she turned the TV off and slipped under the duvet to catch some sleep. At six o’clock, she woke up, stripped her nightdress and placed it in the laundry basket. She stepped into the bathroom and as the warm water rushed over her skin, placed her hands on the wall and closed her eyes, uncertain of what lay ahead. Almost twenty minutes later she stepped out of the bathroom with a warm towel wrapped around her chest, silently opening her bedroom door and tiptoeing in so she doesn’t wake her mother up. She took her lotion, perfume, and makeup from the top of her bedside cabinet and went to apply them in the living room before coming for the red flare dress she was to wear. After dressing up, feeling ready for the day, ready to see Masai and listen to his excuses, she fixed herself a cup of tea and fried eggs, which she slowly took from the living room as she waited for James to pick her up.
After witnessing Masai’s arrest the previous night, she had wanted to go to the station right away to see him but Jack, who was still shocked that her boyfriend was the same guy they were seeing on TV, told her it was a bad idea and that the police wouldn’t let her see him that night. Her mother echoed the same sentiments when she called to inform her what just happened but that didn’t stop her from calling James who, just like Jack and her mother, told her it was a terrible idea and that if she could wait till morning, he would take her to the station himself. But he had not shown up by the time she was done with her breakfast and her mother had woken up. When her mother showed up from the bedroom to find her all dressed up, she raised her eyebrows and said, “Good morning,” but did not wait for Amara’s answer before disappearing into the bathroom.
When she showed up in the living room again, towelling her face with a small white towel, Amara was standing at the window, staring outside, noticing the sun rising and wondering what was keeping James. She turned to see her mother plunge herself on the couch while turning the TV on.
“He still hasn’t shown up,” Amara said as she went to sit next to her mother.
“James. I have told you about him, right? The man who helped me track Masai down?”
“Yes, you have.” Her mother paused. “So, this James, what’s he like?”
“Since when did you start asking such questions, mum? Ah-ah, what are you driving at?”
“I am not driving at anything. But instead of hanging on to a mysterious man who is not afraid of ramming his car into a police’s vehicle and beating the said police officers senseless, can’t you find yourself another man? Or is your love tied to Masai?”
“Mum, did you sleep well last night? Was my King-size bed not comfortable enough for you? Because it’s only lack of enough sleep that can make you talk this nonsense.”
“If you must know, my own bed in the village is more comfortable than this your king-size bed. You children think that comfort must always cost more.”
“In that case, for the rest of your stay here, you will sleep on the couch and I will gladly sleep on my expensive, uncomfortable bed.”
“Now who is talking nonsense? But seriously, I am both worried for and about this Masai boy. I mean, how did he manage to get himself involved in all this mess without any of the villagers knowing? Honestly, I never thought that boy had ever stepped foot in the city before you two started dating.”
“Well, no one was giving him much attention in the village. For all I know, he would have died in his house and it would have taken the whole village ten years to find out, so I am actually not surprised.”
Her mother opened her mouth to speak but Amara’s phone rung. Amara stood and walked to the window to answer it and all she said was, “Okay, give me a few seconds,” before hanging up.
“James is here, I have to go.” She grabbed her handbag from the table, kissed her mother on the forehead and begun walking away. Before stepping outside the door, she turned to her mother and said, “Everything you need is in the kitchen, including some money which I placed on top of the fridge because I thought I would be gone by the time you wake up. I promise to be back as soon as I can,” and then walked out, closing the door behind her.
James, dressed up in a suit, as usual, was leaning against his car with his hands pocketed. He took a step forward to hug Amara as she approached him and while still in his arms, Amara whispered, “Mister, next time you keep me waiting like this, I will rip this your suit off your body.”
“I am sorry I kept you waiting. I had an early meeting which I forgot to mention last night when we spoke. I also had to call the Police boss of the police station we are going to so as he can facilitate us seeing Masai. You know, Masai’s case is not an easy one.”
They pulled away from the hug and stared at each other for split seconds before James opened the car’s door for her, shut it when she got in and went round to get in.
“You, woman, look gorgeous. When I saw you, I felt as if I was going to drop you off for a date and not to see a locked up man,” he said, reversing from the parking lot.
Amara replied with a smile.
When he slowed down at a zebra crossing, Amara looked at both sides of the road to see if any pedestrian was going to cross the road, but none was in sight. She turned to look at James to see if perhaps he was sleep driving but his eyes were wide open, focused on the road. Next, he stopped at a red light while the rest of the motorists sped by like the traffic lights were only visible to James. She buried her head in her hands, wishing he could notice the anxiety in her face and drive like the rest of the motorists so they could reach the station faster. James, as if reading her mind, said, “Everyone in this country is always in a hurry, eager to do something or reach somewhere, yet the country is always at a standstill. Nothing worth writing home about is happening.”
“Is that why you are driving like we are going for a honeymoon?”
He looked at her with narrowed eyes, “If it was our honeymoon we were going to, I would be driving like a mad person so we can reach our destination faster for obvious reasons.”
The lights turned green so he stepped on the gas.
A brief silence fell between them and when Amara next spoke, she said, “By the way, when you refused to come upstairs stating that you weren’t ready to meet my mother yet, you almost made it look like we are dating. And we are not.”
“My wish is, that won’t be the situation for long.”
Amara would have responded, but he negotiated a corner and drove past an unmanned police station’s gate. They had arrived, finally.
The station was littered with young, middle-aged, and old men and women, all with long and tired faces. Amara looked around the station and saw the sense in what James said about nothing happening in this country. The station’s blocks would do with new paint, at the very least. An elderly woman in slippers and what Amara assumed was a nightdress was seated on a small rock in front of one of the old blocks, face buried in her hands. An ageing man in an old grey coat was loudly speaking over the phone, begging the person on the other end to please send him some money because the one he had was not enough to bail out his son. Outside an office, with the initials, OCS encrypted on the door, was a long queue. A man or woman, smiling or frowning, would walk out when the door opened and then someone else would go in. When they went in, they mostly placed one of their hands behind their back the same way people do when they want to show humbleness.
James got out of the car and Amara did not wait for him to come round to open the door for her. Allowing him to give her special treatments, she knew, would only make it difficult for her to say No when the time came. She followed him to the same office people were waiting in the queue to get in and stopped when he opened the door a crack and stuck his head in. There were disgruntled murmurs from the people on the queue, obviously sick and tired of people who thought they were more special than others. Amara understood them. If she was also waiting on the queue and someone showed signs of jumping the line, she would not have hesitated to voice her disappointment. James pulled his head out and told her they would have to wait for the person inside to get out first, which wasn’t long. When they stepped into the office, the OCS, a staunch grey-haired man with surprisingly soft hands, stood to greet them. When he shook Amara’s hand, his handshake lingered for a little longer than it was necessary, and so did his eyes.
“You must be Masai’s fiancee,” he said, “My good friend here told me about you when we spoke over the phone.”
“Yes, I am. Nice to meet you, sir.”
“The pleasure is mine. I was also happy to hear that you are the woman my older children can’t get enough of. They listen to your show and talk about you nonstop.”
“I hope they are okay.”
“They are. Please have a seat.” He pointed them to the two armchairs in front of his desk.
“Now, I ensured we delay taking your fiancee to court so that you can have the chance of seeing him. I must say that things do not look good for him though because he is not denying the charges. And unapologetically so.”
“Was he drunk?” James asked.
“He was sober. This is truly bizarre because who gets into a fight with police officers for no reason? I mean, my officers were not even stopping him.”
“Please, sir, can I see him?”
“Sure. He is in a cell alone, if it’s okay with you, you can see him there so you two can talk privately.”
“I will love that, sir.”
He picked up his telephone and called someone before standing and leading them out. But before he could take them to the cell Masai was in, he first directed the people on the queue to the office next to his. They all nodded their heads but cast Amara and James evil looks, angry that they had interfered with things. The cells’ hallway was terribly lit, Amara couldn’t see where she was going, though the two gentlemen ahead of her walked normally as they conversed and gestured with the familiarity of two people used to owing and doing each other a favour. They stopped before a closed metallic door and the OCS removed keys from his pocket and unlocked it. This was work a junior officer would be doing, she thought, so he must have meant it when he said he delayed Masai’s appearance before the court so she could have the chance to meet her. Both stepping aside, the OCS gestured her to go in and she walked past them, stepping inside the room. It was windowless and dark. The small opening on the wall near the roof did not let in enough light. She waited for at least three minutes for her eyes to adjust to the darkness before she spotted the dark figure seated on the floor with his head thrown back against the wall.
It was Masai.
She walked to him and when she got closer, she realized his eyes were closed, and there was no sign he had registered her presence. Not even when she placed her hand on his head and run her open palm over his face. His forehead was cold, and for a second, her heart almost jumped out of its place when she thought he was dead, but he smiled just in time to show he was alive.
“I knew you will come,” he said, opening his eyes. The glitter in his eyes was not that of someone who had spent the night in a police cell, waiting for judgement and to probably serve his time. When he stood to hug her, pressing his body against hers, she felt things. She wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him close, and when she pulled away, she slapped him on the cheek. It was a gentle slap, one that couldn’t harm a fly, but a slap nonetheless
“What was that for?” he asked.
“You decide. Was it for brandishing another woman in my face in a hotel, or for running away because I told you I am pregnant, or for almost giving me a heart attack when I watched you on TV last night. Masai, I don’t even know where to begin with you, what’s happening? Did you kidnap someone? Or kill someone? Are you a drug dealer? I mean, everything you have done so far fit what criminals, hardcore criminals for that matter, do.”
“I am glad to see you are still the same woman I fell in love with, fiercely inquisitive.”
“Now is not the time, you need to start talking or I will remove my heel and dig a hole in your scalp with it.”
He sat down and tapped on the space next to him. The floor had probably kissed washing powder and water ages ago and she would have no other choice but to discard her dress altogether thereafter, but she sat next to him anyway. Now that she had been in the room for a few minutes, her eyes had fully adjusted and she could see him well. He hadn’t been to a barber for a while now because his face was hairy, and it made him look unkempt and handsome at the same time.
“I did not do any of the things you mentioned, sweetheart. Neither am I a drug dealer.”
“Then who are you?”
“I am Masai.”
She hit him on the shoulder. “Can’t you be serious even for a minute?”
He looked away from her. The glitter in his eyes died down and for a moment he looked lost. Amara edged closer and placed her arm over his shoulder. “What is it?”
“I did not kill anyone, at least not with my own hands, but someone died”
“What do you mean? Did you order someone to be killed?”
“I did not give any order,” he turned to her, “Look, some very bad people are after me and it’s good, for you and our baby, if you don’t know why. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate you coming over to see me but this was a risky move because they may find out about you and that’s what I have been trying to avoid.”
“Who are these people and what did you do to them? What do you mean they will find out about me?”
“Like I said, they are bad people. Very bad people and you will be safer if you don’t know more than I have already told you.”
“NO!” Amara stood abruptly. “You haven’t told me anything and you can’t treat me like this. I need to know what’s going on and I need to know it now.”
“Knowing you, you might try to do something once you know what’s going on and that, my dear, will be suicidal. Now, that money I sent you, and the car, should be enough to give you and our baby a good life, until I am done with this shit, that is if I will be done with it. As you see me like this, I have nothing left. No money, no nothing. All I have is you so I want you to promise that you will do as I have asked.” He paused and paced the room before turning to her. “That guy you were with at the hotel room, who was he? Are you dating him now? Because I saw how he was holding you and—”
“Listen to me . . .” she started but he lifted his finger to silence her.
“On a second thought, I don’t want to know. It’s probably better if I don’t, but that day, you mentioned that he and his friend are in a position to get me out of this shit, yes?”
“Yes, but not if you don’t tell us what’s going on.”
“I don’t have to because he can’t help me. But he can help you.”
“What are you talking about?”
He walked to where she was, trembling with both fear and rage, and whispered, “If he thinks he can help me, then he surely can protect you. The truth is, if you decide to move on with your life, I will totally understand because as things stand now, my life is over.”
“Please, don’t do this to me,” Amara’s voice was shaky. “If I am not ever going to see you again, because that’s the impression you are giving me, at least let me know why I am losing you.”
He wiped off the tears rolling down her cheeks and said, “Fine. But promise you won’t tell anyone about this or try to do something to save me.”
“Okay, I promise.”
“They came to me back in the village with this crazy idea that I shouldn’t have bought but I did anyway.”
“Who? What idea?”
He remained silent because the door had opened and the OCS had stepped in to tell Amara that her time was over and she needed to leave. She tried begging him for a few more minutes but he refused, “We need to leave now if we are to beat traffic and be in court on time. I am sorry,” he said, gesturing her out where James was waiting.
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