[ Fiction ]
Saturday, 12th November, 4:06 AM. Undisclosed Location
“Henry. Dude. Shit. You know… if this had gone any other way, we’d both be dead… right?”
Henry looked over at Ali, who was hunched over, hands resting on his knees, breathing in quick, urgent breaths, trying desperately to calm down, while also needing to get the words out. It felt like they had just run a marathon.
“I know,” Henry said, turning his eyes skyward. He laughed a short nervous laugh. “I know.”
Henry was lying down on the grass, just behind a wall fence, looking up at the stars. It was a very, very cold night and his words frosted up in the night air as he spoke, hanging hazily for a few moments before reluctantly disappearing. The grass was sparse, clumped in uneven places and a little wet; it had drizzled slightly just a few hours ago.
“Should we go find the other guys? They may not be alright.”
Ali’s voice was shaky. He was definitely rattled.
Poor kid, Henry thought, his first day at work and it had turned out to be a shitstorm.
In the distance, police sirens were still wailing, with the blinding glare of blue, white and red lighting up the entire street.
Henry quietly crawled around the wall fence and peeped.
Several excited policemen were walking, some running, all of them speaking with loud voices into large radio calls and gesticulating wildly at each other. A tall, lanky man with a worryingly large stomach screamed at no one in particular, shouting with the simultaneous urgency and regret of someone who arrives too late for the action, but feels important enough to try and exert some semblance of authority.
“It’s still too risky,” Henry whispered. “Let’s chill here for a while.”
“Let me see.” Ali whispered back.
Quietly switching positions with Henry, Ali studied the scene, while Henry crouched a little lower.
The large, important-looking policeman was now standing to the side of the pick-up truck. The flashing lights illuminating half his face made him look like some demonic clown, shifting shapes with each light flashing cycle.
A few meters away, three other policemen were attempting to lift someone onto the pick-up. Two had him by the shoulders and another by the feet. The one with the feet suddenly missed a step and slipped, dropping the legs of the person being carried. Falling backwards, the policeman’s curse rang out into the night and his fellow officers jeered and shouted back him. Still cursing, he picked up one of the legs, hoisted it to his knees, then picked up the other and they resumed their shuffling movements towards the car.
“Shit. Henry. Shit shit shit.”
“What?!”, Henry hissed back.
“He’s dead, Henry. He’s actually dead.”
Henry squinted into the darkness.
“Oh yeah. He is.”
“What? He deserved it. They all deserve it! He shouldn’t have fought back. Or tried to run. Or…”
They froze. In the distance, the policemen had stopped moving. The body had been dropped to the ground. But the policemen were not doing anything; they just stood there, eerily still.
Suddenly, a loud bang shattered the night air and a split second later, a large chunk of wall was violently torn off the fence, mere inches from Henry’s face.
“Fuck! Run! Ali! Run!”
Saturday, 5:42 AM
Henry fiddled with the padlock, and – thanks to years of practice – stealthily unlocked the door, quietly entering the house. He looked around to make sure no one was awake. Satisfied, he walked slowly into the inner room, towards the soft guttural sound coming from the dimly lit bed.
Standing over the bed, he slowly pulled back the covers.
A voice, heavy with sleep, whispered, “You know I always hear you walk in, right?”
“Sorry, love. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“It’s alright. How was work? Did Ali do alright? I worry for that boy.”
“Yeah. Ali is fine. Go back to sleep. We’ll talk in the morning.”
Friday, 11th November, 9:16 PM.
“So, ready for your first day at work, Ali?”
Ali’s grin was so wide, Henry had once joked that it threatened to permanently disfigure his face.
“Oh yes!”, he shouted as he took the keys from Henry’s outstretched hand and straddled the motorcycle parked in front of them. He grinned even wider as he stroked the handlebars of the 180cc Bajaj.
His own boda-boda; and a brand new one! He could hardly believe it. Now he could finally make some real money, he thought. The other guys at the stage had been so nice to him and had welcomed him instantly when Henry had introduced him to them, a few weeks ago.
“This is my nephew,” Henry had said with pride. “He wants to be a boda man. Let’s help him make some money.”
One of them, the big burly one whose name Ali could never quite remember, had walked up to Ali, and wrapping his large arms around him, looked at Henry and said, “No. He is now our nephew.”
Henry laughed when Ali turned the key and motorcycle roared to life. He put his hand on Ali’s shoulder, and with a serious face, gave him the same short lecture he’d given him for the past few months.
“It’s yours, Ali, but not yet fully yours. Ride it well, treat it well, work hard, make your payments on time and in less than two years, it will be yours.”
Hollering and whooping loudly, the other boda riders walked up to him one at a time and fist-bumped him.
“Namutima,” they each said after the fist-bump, thumping their chests as they spoke.
“Namutima!” He whispered back with each fist-bump, holding back the tears.
Saturday, 3:37 AM
Shouts erupted at the stage. Ali had just finished counting his money – he had made quite a bit that night, and the older riders had mentioned that the ladies seemed to fancy him – and was now folding the notes back into his socks.
“They have found them!” Amos, the short, fat rider with the square head shouted at him, breathless with excitement.
“Who?” Ali was confused.
“Those ones of the Kifeesi boys! We go! They’re just up there at the junction. There of the primary school!”
The bikes roared to life and the night came alive as nearly six riders tore off into the darkness, heading towards the school.
When they reached, they found Henry and two other riders from another stage, shouting angrily. In between them was a man, screaming in pain as kicks and slaps rained down on him.
To the side was a girl, leaning against a wall, sobbing heavily. Ali and the burly rider from his stage immediately rushed to her.
She was dressed in a t-shirt, skinny jeans and a short pink leather jacket. She had a small black handbag with her, which she was clutching tightly, holding it close to her chest. Her eyes were wide, clearly in shock. She looked too young to be out on a night like this, Ali thought, but reminded himself that it was none of his business.
“What happened?” Ali asked, gently, concerned that she might be feeling even more insecure with all these strangers around her.
Through the sobs and tears (and some mineral water from Amos) and cringing at the screams of the man being beaten, they got a good version of the story.
She was heading home, from a house-party. She had taken a boda, whose bike had broken down. He needed to get fuel. Or something. She found herself alone and afraid by the very dark roadside. She had taken the next boda that came by. Suddenly she was in a dark alley somewhere around here, still on the boda. Next thing, she was on the ground, her handbag being violently taken from her. She screamed and tried to get up. The boda man slapped her, shouting obscenities at her. He pushed her back down. Suddenly, two lights appeared. Another boda rider – Henry – with two others. She thought she was going to die. But they hurled themselves at her attacker, pinned him down and started beating him hard, shouting something about Kifeesi. And then others had showed up.
When she had finished, Ali gave her his handkerchief and she wiped her face. She looked like she was going to pass out and he got even more worried for her. He offered to take her home, but she violently shook her head. She told them she had already called her friends and Henry had been kind enough to direct them to where she was.
A few minutes later, a car appeared and quickly took her away. The driver, a fresh-faced boy who looked barely older than her, seemed even more frightened than the girl was.
Ali’s attention, and wrath, now turned to the Kifeesi man on the ground. He was barely recognisable; half-naked, he had deep cuts on his arms and chest and his face was covered in an unbelievable amount of blood. This didn’t stop the crowd around him; the kicks and the slaps and the punches kept coming. Then, someone somewhere picked up a large brick from the pavement and raising it above their head, unsteadily walked towards the screaming man.
Ali looked on in horror.
Suddenly a shot rang out, someone shouted “police!” and the last thing Ali remembered was quickly getting on his bike and roaring off after Henry.
Saturday, 4:04 AM
Having taken a long circuitous route around the city to avoid being traced, they eventually parked their bikes back at the stage.
After a few minutes of excited conversations with Big Burly and Amos giving their own wildly conflicting stories, their curiosity had gotten the better of them. Henry wanted to see what was going on and Ali was too fresh in the business to resist, so they had walked back together.
When they turned they corner, they saw a police pick-up truck and a few civilian stragglers at the edges of the scene. A policeman turned around, shouted at them and began walking towards them. They ran back out of sight, only stopping when they were a safe distance away.
Ali hunched over, breathless and Henry decided to lie down on the grass for a bit.
Saturday, 1:06 PM
“Honey!” Henry’s wife’s voice rang out from the sitting room. Her voice sounded both excited and worried.
“Yeah?” Henry groggily responded. It was way past his normal waking up time, but he was particularly tired today and had decided to sleep in a little. Besides, the kids were out playing, so it was quiet and peaceful. The delicious smell of pilaf wafted from outside the house into the bedroom.
“The news. The police are saying a Kifeesi man was killed last night by boda-bodas.”
She paused briefly before continuing, intently listening to the lunch-time news bulletin. “They say he had tried to rob a girl. Only God knows what else he wanted to do. Do your boda friends know anything about it?”
“No. We were at our stage last night. It was very quiet.”
“Okay. Eh. Mama. He was beaten really badly. But they deserve it. They all deserve it, those stupid Kifeesi men. Lunch is ready!”
Saturday, 9:27 PM
“Ali! How are you? Ready for your second day?”
Ali grinned and fist-bumped Henry.