While applying lipstick, pouting her lips towards the mirror, Amara felt guilty that she was only going to church because she was in trouble and wanted pastor Andrew to pray for her. Granted, it was her mother’s idea, but she did not object to it when her mother said she would talk to pastor Andrew so he can pray for her and cover her with the blood of Jesus now that she was famous and enemies of progress were out to destroy her. She spun in front of the mirror, taking a good look at herself to make sure her dress was not too tight. Even with her baby bump, she still wore fitting dresses because she hated walking around in a dress that felt like a balloon, ready to drift into the air at the slightest blow of the wind. She tied her dreads behind her and as she took a final look in the mirror, was surprised at how her skin glowed, despite everything. It must be the pregnancy, she thought. She slipped into a pair of black flat shoes and walked out of her room to find her mother and Alexis waiting for her in the living room. They both stood as she entered the room, a sign that they were ready to leave.
From the way her mother looked outside the car window and waved at everyone she recognized, Amara was convinced she didn’t just want her to come to church for prayers, but also to give her the opportunity to drive through the village in her car, showing everyone that her daughter had made it. This thought filled Amara with joy and it was because of this that she said, “Soon you will have your own car, Mama.”
“I know,” her mother said without turning to look at her. Like it was only natural that she too gets to own a car and drive around the village flaunting it and offering people lifts, like she was about to do with the elderly man walking on the edge of the dusty murram road, clutching a Bible in one hand. He was in an oversized grey suit, one that looked borrowed.
“Is that not John, our treasurer? Please, let’s give him a lift,” Amara’s mother said with the temerity of someone who owned equal rights to the car.
Amara reluctantly pulled over. John stuck his head through the window to shake their hands first and quickly hopped in when Amara’s mother asked him to, so they could drive to church together. He did it so fast, almost as if to deny them the opportunity to change their minds. “It’s good to see our children prosper,” he said, buckling in, eyes on Amara. Amara was looking at him through the rear-view mirror, lips slightly moving with a smile. “Who knew that our daughter Amara would one day be driving us to Church in this air-conditioned car? My daughter, may God bless you and may you achieve more!” Amara mumbled ‘Amen,’ knowing that other than the lift, she would have to part with something small for John wasn’t peppering her with compliments and praises for nothing. In Ola village, such compliments were reserved to people with the ability to part with something small without too much arm twisting. Her mother cast her a knowing smile. She, too, knew this.
When she drove into the church’s yard, Amara recognized Hassan’s car parked under a mango tree, but there was no sign of Hassan himself. They all stepped out of the car and they were walking towards the church’s door when she saw Hassan talking to a group of elderly men, all with their hands tucked behind their backs like it was the norm when the elderly talked to a rich young man or woman. The tucking of hands behind one’s back, in Ola village, was the universal sign of respect in the presence of a rich person. She stopped to stare at Hassan until he turned around and their eyes met. He had a smile that brightened his eyes and one that incensed her. How could he afford to smile when he knew he was the reason her life and those of the ones she loved were in danger? She hastily walked away when Hassan excused himself and approached her, only stopping when he called out her name aloud, attracting the attention of the other believers. It was then that she also realized Alexis was still tagging behind her so she bent down and asked him to go inside, “Please, follow mum inside, okay? I am right behind you.”
Alexis threw Hassan a curious look and as if convinced he wasn’t worth his time, nodded his head and went in. Amara shook Hassan’s stretched out hand so quickly and loosely as if she wanted to make her disappointment in him known. “What are you doing here?” she asked calmly, hands folded over her chest.
“It’s Sunday and this is a Church premise, so what else do you think I might be doing here?” He said with a faint smile, irking Amara even the more. She wished he could stop smiling.
“I am not really in the mood for jokes so I suggest you get serious.”
Hassan scowled. “Why do I get the feeling you are not excited to see me?”
“That’s because I am not.”
“Look, I thought I will find you here. When you told me my uncle was after you and Masai, I knew I had to do something before things get worse. Coming here to see you was the first thing in my mind.”
“You know, I can’t even look at you right now. You have all along known that Masai was into some kind of trouble with your shitty uncle and you never found it necessary to tell me about it? Was this the kind of help you wanted to render Masai? I mean, I assume you knew who your uncle is, how many people he has killed, and still went ahead to introduce Masai to him because, what, you had stolen his girlfriend and now wanted to get him killed?” The words came out like they were marinated in bitter herbs, leaving a stinging feeling in her tongue. She closed her eyes, clasped her hands together and took a step closer to Hassan, laying a hand on his shoulder before opening her eyes. “You’ve done enough harm already, my dear. Now, I am here to pray, for myself and people like you and your evil uncle, have a word with my pastor thereafter and go back home with my family. If your listening skills are good, then you must have figured out by now that you feature nowhere in my plans.”
She turned around and walked away, ignoring his incessant calls. But as she settled down on a wooden bench, he came and sat next to her and for a few seconds she entertained the idea of moving to a different spot but thought better of it. She ignored him, focusing on the girls only praise and worship team, clad in white blouses and navy blue skirts, singing like birds in the morning with voices so fine you could use to soothe the irritable of babies to sleep. When her eyes locked with Abigail, her number one sworn enemy, Abigail looked startled and went off key for a bit before regaining her control, hitting the high notes to show off. Amara smiled. Abigail forced a smile back. Hassan leaned in and whispered. “It’s really not difficult to tell that you two have a history.”
Amara started singing, too, and Hassan backed off, but only for a minute.
“You have every right to be angry at me but your life is in danger and I am only trying to help.”
“It is you and your psychotic uncle that need help; good thing you are in Church where help is readily available,” she fired back.
The sermon was long. Pastor Andrew preached with the vigour of a man whose spot in heaven was assured. Even as he took off his coat, he did not let this act interrupt his sermon, so as he placed the coat on a chair, he continued preaching, “It doesn’t matter how big you think your problem is, my father in heaven will not let you suffer if you call on him for help, somebody say Hallelujah!” and the whole church echoed “Amen!” before silence fell across the room as pastor Andrew stood at the pulpit’s steps, eyes studying the room as if he was looking for someone who hadn’t said “Amen.” After the sermon, Amara and her mother walked into his office which was next to the church and pastor Andrew could not hide his excitement on seeing Amara. As he gestured for them to sit, he said, “It’s good you still come to church even after the success God has bestowed on you. You know, most people stop coming to church the moment money starts hitting their bank account.”
“I have raised her well,” Amara’s mother said, not wasting time in taking credit she believed she deserved.
“And I see soon we will be having future Pastor Andrew,” pastor Andrew said, pointing at Amara’s baby bump.
Amara smiled. “Yes.”
So how’s work?”
“Everything is fine, save for the challenges that come with being known all over. Most will love you and some will want to harm you.”
“True. True.” Pastor Andrew said. “Your mother here told me the same thing and suggested you come we pray together. Don’t worry, nothing bad will happen to you, my daughter. People with a bad eye will be defeated in Jesus’ name.” Amara’s mother shouted a big ‘Amen,’ and Amara stifled a laughter. It was not that she did not believe people with ‘a bad eye’ existed, but the thought of her coming to see a pastor because of it was ridiculous, even to her. The people she was worried about wielded guns, whereas she was sure the people pastor and her mother worried about were the kind that maybe run naked at night, or sit their naked butt next to a three-stone fireplace, holding a pot, mumbling her name followed by the nasty things they wanted to happen to her. Amara was not scared of witches. She did not care for them either, but because she did not have the whole day, she had to agree to Pastor Andrew and her mother’s version of evil people so they could get the prayers done with. She wished, though, that she could tell the pastor what was really ailing her so his prayers could be more relevant and, consequently, effective. But because she couldn’t, she stood up when pastor Andrew asked them to, held hands and closed her eyes, silently saying her own prayer over pastors. Before leaving Pastor Andrew’s office, she gave him five thousand shillings and he peppered her with more blessings and prayers.
Hassan was still waiting outside. As her mother and Alexis got in the car, she excused herself to go talk to him. “Okay, now that you’ve made it clear you won’t leave me alone, let’s meet in the town centre later this evening. Here is not a good place”
When they met later that evening, in a restaurant with leather seats that sunk with one’s weight, and waitresses in short black skirts with slits, Hassan stood to hug her. She hugged him back but made sure the hug was brief, their bodies barely touching. He pulled a seat for her and not wanting to waste time, she spoke while sitting down. “Why did do you do it?”
“You are making it sound as if I did something wrong.”
“You mean you didn’t? In what world would introducing your best friend to a murderous drug dealer for an outrageous deal be the right thing to do?”
“Masai was not forced into it. My cousin Nathan was dying and I mentioned it to him and he asked if he could be the one to donate the kidney. I told him it was a terrible idea but he insisted.”
“Was this before or after I met him?”
Hassan flagged down a waitress and ordered a well-done steak and ugali. Amara asked for a glass of water.
“Before you two met.”
Her eyes widened. “What? How come? Before I met Masai, he was penniless. It wasn’t until a few months into our dating that he began spending money, which I wasn’t sure how he had earned. And are you not the one who came to me with the idea of helping him? Why would you offer to help him if you knew he had money?”
He sighed. “I only wanted to know if he had told you about the deal but you clearly had no clue.”
“What? Were you spying on us? So you could go tell your uncle?”
“No. My uncle and I don’t have that kind of relationship. Look, I needed to find out if you knew so I would advise you to run. After the deal backfired, I knew my uncle would come after Masai and anyone close to him. I am sure that’s why Masai kept the deal a secret, too.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“I know you know that Anita left Masai before she and I got involved. What you don’t know is that she left him because after he told her about the deal, she tried talking him out of it but he wouldn’t listen. They had an argument and she left.” His steak and ugali were served. He picked up a fork and a knife, cut a piece of the steak and had a bite. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?”
“What I want is time to process all this.”
He placed the fork and knife down. “Masai wanted this deal because even when he was with Anita, he didn’t consider himself someone with anything to lose. He got the money, the deal backfired, tried to return the money but my uncle wouldn’t take it. He has survived this long because of my cousin, Nathan, who was still alive and my uncle was hoping he will eventually get Masai to give up his only kidney. He is strongly coming after him now because Nathan is dead, and he is angry.”
She buried her face in her hands.
“Amara, I know this is too much but I will help you overcome this.”
“How?” she asked. She now felt less angry and more helpless. “Your uncle threatened to kill my only brother if I don’t bring Masai to him. Even if it was possible for me to find Masai and drag him to your uncle, how can I choose between Masai and my brother who gets to live?”
“You won’t have to choose. What you need to do is go back to the city and make it look like you are trying to find Masai so my uncle won’t know we are planning something else.”
“And what exactly are we planning?”
“I will tell you, but not today. Nothing will happen to you or to Masai or to your brother, I promise.”
Amara did not want to believe him, but she had no other choice.
That night she told her mother she would be going back to the city in two day’s time. They were seated in the kitchen, her mother prepping stew for dinner and she doing the dishes. Her mother did nothing to show she had heard her and Amara knew it was because she was still worried about her safety. After a brief moment of silence, her mother turned to her. “Are you sure you will be fine?”
“Very sure, mama, don’t worry.”
They did not speak about her leaving again until the day she left. They stood next to her car for the longest time as her mother reminded her that she could always count on her when and if she needed anything and Amara smiled, leaning to hug her before climbing into the car and slowly driving off.
Dusk had fallen when she arrived in the city. After parking, she stayed in the car for long because she feared she would find Abdi Hassan and his men in her house, again. She called Achika, wanting to know if she was at home so she could go to her place instead. But she realized, just before Achika answered her phone with the loud shouting of Amara’s name, that she risked dragging Achika into this mess. They had grown so close over time that it was practically impossible for her to hide anything from Achika without her sniffing it out. So she told her she was back in the city and that she would see her the next day. She thought about Masai, and where he was. Was he jailed? Was he released? What was his next move? And was she willing to give him up to save her brother? She wished it was easy. She stepped out of the car, leaving everything else other than her laptop in the car and climbed the stairs. When she turned the key in the lock and pushed the door open, she hesitated to turn on the lights. She felt uneasy. She could almost see someone seated on the couch. Someone with a bespoke suit like Abdi Hassan’s. Her hand shook as she reached for the switch and she gasped before letting out a loud scream when she indeed saw someone seated on her couch.
But it was Masai.
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