Amara shifted to the very edge of the seat and leaned against the car’s door. She hadn’t known what seeing Masai would have amounted to, but she hadn’t expected it to fill her with more pain and emptiness. Nothing Masai said made sense and it was worse he had already given up on her by declaring he would be okay with her moving on with her life. She raised her head and stared outside the moving car. It was hot outside. The women had a few buttons of their blouses loosened and the men held their jackets in their hands. She was envious of them when she imagined that maybe the hotness of the son was the only thing bothering them. James sped past a speed bump, throwing her in the air, her head almost hitting the roof. She turned to look at him with scolding eyes and he apologized profusely without turning to meet her gaze. From the way he held the steering wheel with a firm grip and how his eyes deliberately refused to look her way, she knew something was eating him up.
“Are you okay?” she asked, fastening her seatbelt.
“Just wondering what happened in there with Masai. What did he tell you?”
“All that time you were in there with him he didn’t tell you anything?”
He sighed. “I don’t know why you still feel like keeping things from me yet I have been there for you all this time.”
“I am not lying to you. Masai and I talked, yes, but he said nothing substantial so I am still in the dark about what’s happening with him. He, though, was going to tell me something before the OCS interrupted.”
“I am sorry, shouldn’t have doubted you. Should we stop somewhere we grab lunch?”
“I’d love to but I promised mother that I will be home as soon as I can, so maybe we can have lunch on another day?”
He reluctantly agreed and drove her home. Amara, to try and make up for the way she had treated him earlier, asked him to come in and meet her mother but he still refused, saying that he will on a different day. She dragged her feet upstairs and found her mother waiting to hear how the meeting went. She did not even let Amara sit before bombarding her with questions. Is Maasai okay? Did he tell you why he ran away in the first place? What’s going to happen to him now that he is in police custody? Amara was not surprised that her mother was asking too many questions because it was in her nature to worry too much. She sat her mum down and told her everything. When she was done, she looked at her mother with the what-do-I-do eyes and her mother opened her mouth to speak but exhaled instead. She took Amara’s hands to hers and then as if it wasn’t obvious already, said, “Whatever that boy did must be something awful. Now I am scared.”
“I am scared too, mum.”
“I don’t think it’s safe here anymore, my daughter. We should leave and go to the village.”
“What do you mean we have to leave and go to the village? Mum, you know I can’t leave. I have a job, remember!”
“That job is not more important than your life. You are the one who said that Masai told you going to visit him in the cell was a risky move. What if one of those people he has wronged were lurking there, waiting to see whoever visits him so they can come after them? No, we should leave.”
Amara hugged her mother and whispered in her ear that those things she was talking about only happened in movies. And she would keep repeating these words to her for the next one week she was around in an attempt to convince her that no one was going to hurt them. To prove that she believed her own words, Amara no longer wallowed in self-pity. She woke up early in the mornings to do laundry and prepare breakfast before her mother woke up. They would spend most of the time in the kitchen cooking because her mother loved cooking. Amara got used to her mother’s presence that when the day came for her to go back to the village, she almost changed her mind about staying in the city and follow her to the village instead. But she did not. On that day, she took her mother shopping in the BMW, driving the car for the first time. She shopped for her brother too and promised to come pick him up during school holiday so she could spend some time with him. Later, after loading the shopping in Samuel’s car’s, Amara pulled her mother aside and asked her, for the umpteenth time, not to worry about her.
“I promise that the moment I start suspecting something is wrong, I will come home.”
“Okay, my dear, though you should have let me take the bus instead of wasting money on a private car.”
“Well, is it your money I am wasting? Ah-ah, Samuel here is my good friend. In fact, it’s because of our friendship that he agreed to drive you to the village because usually he only operates within the city.”
They hugged, and Amara waved at the car as it drove off.
Even with her mother gone, Amara found herself thinking of Masai less often. Thoughts of how she was going to be a mother, a good mother, started replacing those of Masai and as days passed by, the less guilty she felt about it. She continued to wake up in the mornings, not just so as she can prepare and have breakfast on time, but to exercise too. She had read in one of the Baby Blogs she had bookmarked that lack of exercise could lead to prolonged labour and she did not want that. She went to the salon, finally, and Nyathiwa was elated to see her. She hugged Amara closely and Amara hugged her back, smiling and gushing from all the compliments Nyathiwa threw her way. “If it wasn’t for the fact that we are both women, I would have pursued you very seriously,” Nyathiwa said as she ushered her to her seat. By the time Nyathiwa was done with her, her braids had gone and in their place were thin lines of dreads. As if the mirror in front of her wasn’t doing good of a job, Nyathiwa held another mirror in Amara’s face and said, “Look how beautiful you look, my dear. I told you that you have the face for dreads.” The other women in the saloon also agreed that she looked beautiful. Nyathiwa walked Amara out as usual and when she saw the BMW, her eyes widened, first with surprise and then with admiration. Like Samuel, she ran her open palm over the car as Amara only watched with admiration. There was something about Nyathiwa that was intriguing, something that made Amara want to help her out so she can make more of life than she was already making of it.
“Are you living your dream?” she asked Nyathiwa.
“What do you mean?” Nyathiwa responded, hands and eyes still on the car.
“Did you always want to be a hairdresser?”
She now turned to look at Amara, “Not at all. But I have grown to love hairdressing. If I had money, I would have started my own salon so I could at least make more money than I am right now.”
“That’s good. Look, I have to run, but I promise to call you so we can meet and discuss how I can help you start your own salon. I like you, and so I want to help.”
Nyathiwa did not say anything, and she did not need to. She said whatever needed to be said with her eyes. She stepped forward to hug Amara and when they were breaking off from the hug, Amara tipped her heavily like she always did.
Everyone at work would marvel at her dreads later that evening. Jack, especially, couldn’t get enough of them. Later, when the show was over and they were hanging on the balcony like they always did, he said, “Soon, your dreads will be longer than Achika’s and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between you two.”
The mention of Achika made Amara remember about her ring and that Jack was in love with her. So she inched closer to him and said, “By the way, the love of your life, Achika, is about to get married to someone else.”
“This is not a smiling matter.”
“I know,” Jack said, smiling even wilder.
“No way,” Amara shrieked. “It’s you! Come on, what did you do? Did you seek a witchdoctor’s intervention? I mean, how?”
“I only took your advice and manned up. Turned out that behind that fierce and no-nonsense person, was just a soft and lovely Achika longing to be loved.”
Amara was genuinely happy and surprised too. Driving home, she called Achika to let her know that she now knew her secret, but she didn’t answer. At home, turning the lights on, she saw three men; one seated on the couch and the other two standing on his either side, in her living room. She dropped her bag and let out a heart-wrenching scream but before she could let out a follow-up scream, one of the men rushed behind her and grabbed her by the neck with one hand and covered her mouth with the other. She fought to free herself from his grip but he was too strong for her, so she settled for low sobs. She glanced at the seated man, clearly the boss. His suit looked expensive, sitting well on him like a pencil drawing on an artboard. He raised his open palm and ran it through his white hair before adjusting his tie, which had slanted to the right, and gazing at Amara with a cynical smile. He struck Amara like a man who did not smile often or only did when planning something sinister. And maybe it was old age, but his eyes did not open fully, and the combo of his narrowed gaze and cynical smile made him look even more dangerous. She was more scared of him than she was of the man choking her, so she let out a stifled moan, feeling a tremor steal through her body when he shifted, sitting on one butt to retrieve a pistol that was stuffed in his trousers and placed it on top of the table. Her knowledge of guns was scanty but she could tell the pistol was fitted with a silencer, which meant he could shoot her and not even her neighbour could hear a sound. This realization fuelled her fighting spirit and she struggled to free herself in vain.
“Listen, my dear,” the man spoke for the first time. His voice was croaky and cocky, enough to grab and retain Amara’s weakened attention. “That guy is going to let go off of you and you will not make any sound when he does because if you do,” he glanced at the pistol dramatically to attract her attention to it and looked at her again. “Well, let’s not get there now. In fact, let me make you a promise, if you behave yourself, we won’t even need to get their, okay?”
“Good,” he gestured for the man to let her go and when he did, Amara gasped for air and fell on her knees. “Please, don’t kill me. You can take anything you want from this house but spare my life, please, sir, I beg you.”
“We are not thieves, young lady, we are not here to steal. Why don’t you have a seat so we can talk like grownups? You look like a reasonable person so there is no need for us to get theatrical, right?”
Amara trembled to her feet and sat on the edge of the couch. She looked at the direction of the man who was seconds ago choking her and he was standing by the door, arms crossed against his chest. He, just like the other one still standing beside their boss, was in a white pair of shirt tucked in blue jeans. Even though they were obviously not good people, they didn’t look like it. On any normal day, they would pass for those bank tellers who love hitting the gym and folding their sleeves at work to draw attention to their big arms.
“What’s your name?” The boss asked, crossing his legs.
“Amara,” he repeated, nodding his head as if in approval of her parent’s choice of name. “Look, Amara, first, me and my boys deeply apologize for breaking into your home and scaring you the way we did. This, we hope, will never happen again, okay?”
She, again, nodded her head because she wasn’t sure what else to say.
The boss curled his wrist to glance at his watch. “It’s late now,” he said, “So I will cut to the chase so we can leave and you can have your rest. Do you know a man by the name Masai?” Amara was not surprised by this question. She had known all along that this was about Masai and wished she had listed to her mother when she demanded she follows her to the village. But it was too late now, this man, with his gun, was going to kill her. This was going to be the night when she, and her unborn baby, meet their untimely death. This thought brought tears to her eyes but she struggled to keep them from flowing because she did not want to give up just yet. The man was still staring at her, patiently waiting for an answer.
“He is my ex-boyfriend, sir.”
He glanced at her belly. “The father of your unborn child, I suppose?”
Amara hesitated. “Y-yes, sir.”
“Please, enough with the sirs. We don’t have to be too formal about this thing. So where is he now?”
“He left after we broke up and I have never heard from him again.”
“When was that?”
“It’s been a while, I can’t remember exactly when it was.”
He grunted. “Lying will only get you killed if you must know.”
“I am not lying.”
“You are, and that will get me pissed off and you do not want to piss me off. You know, when I asked when did you last see or speak to him, it wasn’t because I did not know the answer. You went to see him when he was in police custody almost a week ago and now you claim to not remember when he left, and that you’ve never heard from him. Come, on, I may be old, but I am not stupid.”
He stood and paced the room, mumbling something under his breath. He walked to Amara, gestured for her to stand and placed his hand high up on her back, speaking in a near whisper. “Your boyfriend asked for a ridiculous amount of money from me in exchange for his kidney for my dying son. When he went for his tests, it was found out he was only born with one kidney, and he thought that gave him the right to call off the deal. I told him what I told you, I don’t want the money. He could have tripled it and I still wouldn’t have taken it because what I wanted, and what I still want, is the kidney I paid for. Now, I will admit he has outsmarted me for a while now but that is about to end. And for the troubles he has caused me, the pain he caused me after me watching life slip out of my son will only be quenched if I slit him open with a knife and retrieve what is mine. I would rather feed it to my dogs than to let him have it.” He let her go and walked a few steps from her, speaking over his shoulder. “Never!”
Amara remained rooted to the ground, unsure of what to make of this situation. What was this man talking about? What did he mean he gave Masai money in exchange for his kidney? And Masai has only one kidney? She felt weak at the knees. She loathed this man. She loathed how he paced her living room, feeling entitled like he was the giver and taker of life, she loathed how he made her feel helpless in her own house.
“Sir, all this is news to me and—”
Someone knocked before she could finish her sentence.
“Go see who it is,” he said, picking his gun from the table. “But if you give whoever that is any reason to believe that things aren’t okay here, I will take them out, too.”
Amara timidly walked to the door and opened it in a crack and stuck her head out. Her neighbour, clutching to her nightgown, was standing outside. Her eyes looked heavy with sleep and Amara knew before her neighbour even said it that it was her earlier scream that had woken her up, so she smiled and said, “I am sorry, it was a spider, I am so scared of spiders.”
The neighbour held her chest, “Oh, I am scared of spiders too. I thought someone had broken in.”
“No, everything is okay.”
The neighbour wished her a lovely night and left. When Amara closed the door, the boss was standing too close.
“Here is the thing. You will do whatever it takes to get Masai out and while at it, you will make sure that no one gets a hint of what’s going on.” He dipped his hand into the inner pocket of his coat and brought out a photograph, handing it over to Amara. She took the photograph with quivering hands and her body felt weak when she saw it was her brother in that photo. He was in his school uniform, holding the football he had bought him. He wasn’t looking at the cameraman when the shot was taken and she could also tell it was taken from a safe distance. The loathing she had of this man turned to fear.
“What have you done to my brother?” she asked, the tears getting the better of her.
“Nothing, yet. That is just to let you know that if you try to do the opposite of what I am asking, your people will suffer, and we both don’t want that. And you cannot run my dear because no one runs from me. Few have tried and failed, I doubt you will be the first one. I know everything I know about you because I did not get where I am in life by not knowing what I should know, so if I were you, I would be scared of me. Even I am scared of myself,” he paused to look into her eyes, to let his point sink in. “So do the smart thing and get me Masai because if you don’t,” he made the sound a bullet makes when its shot. “Your brother will soon be meeting my dead son.”
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