Sam Ririra cursed. The traffic was unrelenting in its quest to make her late to the office again. She had three articles to submit and two were unfinished as yet, thanks to her laptop giving up the ghost the night before and she had to meet that Reuters guy. Her mobile phone was ringing repeatedly, plinking a muffled melancholy tone which she had assigned to her editor from the depths of her handbag. She reached into the bag and turned it off. The line of cars inched forward.
Sam thought about the call she had received three days ago. A whispery recorded voice had told her about the villainy that was pervading the government’s new much hyped foreign investment policy. According to the voice, slave labour and mass murder were apparently the norm in the vast tracts of ‘un-utilised’ land that the Economic and Agricultural ministries had leased to mostly Arab states for them to grow their food. Whole communities had disappeared without a trace and the people who served as manual labour in the fields were virtually prisoners in the squalid hovels that served as their living quarters. She had contacted Vaughn Hendricks, the Reuters guy, to help her investigate the claims. He was waiting for her at the Hilton.
In his plush office, Makani Okoo, the Minister for Economic Development, fidgeted in his puffy leather seat, absently chewing a biro cap. His cup of tea had gone cold on his desk and his secretary had been buzzing him for the past half hour without response. There was a thick status report on his desk compiled by three prominent humanitarian agencies condemning his ministry for visiting hell upon rural Kenyans with the agricultural schemes. The uproar from NGOs had become too loud to ignore anymore and the wallahs from the Office of the President had been hounding him to quash it. It’s not my job, he thought, mangling the plastic cap with his white even teeth. This is clearly a security issue, I have done my part. What is their problem? The government is making a whole lot of money and receiving, for all intents and purposes, free petroleum from the Gulf States that had stake in the schemes. So a few poor sods died, what is the problem? Makani had never visited the plantations, apart from that one inauguration ceremony. He was rich, he was in government, what did he care? He fidgeted some more in his seat. Weighty matters these were.
Corporal Kimwa downed the last bit of gin in the cheap glass tumbler and slammed the glass so hard on the grimy bar that it cracked. No one in the tin shack bar even noticed. He smacked his bush hat on his head, grabbed his rifle and stumbled out into the merciless heat of the Tana Delta, headed nowhere in particular but looking for shade. All the scraggly trees had men under them, sprawled carelessly with their shirts unbuttoned or off and their rifles carelessly thrown aside. Kimwa thought his superiors would throw a fit if they saw the indiscipline that wrought this detachment. Morale was rock bottom and the events of the past three months had turned almost every one of them into raging alcoholics.
Kimwa trudged towards his tent, a flimsy structure built out of something that was not quite canvas that kept the intense heat trapped inside it, broiling anyone within during the day. He unzipped the flap and crawled inside. He took off his hat, shirt and boots, the latter adding a pungent stench to the already stifling air in the tent, placed his rifle on the groundsheet and lay down on the cot. He closed his eyes and he could hear the voices; begging, pleading, then finally defiant. Voices of people who had lost everything and didn’t give a shit what happened to them anymore. Voices silenced by long bursts of automatic fire, screams drowned by the cacophony of tinkling brass cartridges on the rocky ground. Thinking foggily about how unfair it was that the government was sanctioning, nay, ordering the outright murder of its own citizens, Kimwa drifted into a troubled doze. In his dream, the voices spoke his name and their fingers, dusty, bloody and somehow disembodied from the corpses, reached out and tugged at his uniform shirt, leaving dark smears that he somehow knew would never wash out.
Sam was at her desk, sipping a mug of scalding coffee and pecking at her desktop’s keyboard with one hand. The IT guy with the earring had scuttled off with her laptop, promising her the return of its full function in an hour. She finished the second article just as her phone rang.
“You still coming?” Vaughn Hendricks, in his slight Boer accent, wanted to know.
“Yes, yes. I’ll be there in…” Sam checked her watch, “…fifteen minutes. Sorry to keep you. What are you up to?”
“Nothing much. I have a respite for like a week before I go back to SA. I’m enjoying your beer here. Very nice.”
“Vaughn! It’s nine-thirty! Shame on you,” admonished Sam. “I need you fresh for this little venture of ours.”
“Like the tagline says, ‘there is always time for a Tusker’, babe. You will find me at the Jockey Pub.” The line clicked dead. Sam placed the phone on her desk with a little smile curling her lips. She remembered Vaughn, in their eight (or nine) months together a long time ago.
In Pretoria, in London and in quite a few lodges and campsites in East Africa. The man loved the outdoors and all things nature. He was also very intelligent and fun, like the time they…
Crap, just when it was getting good.
“Daydreams don’t print very well, you know. Where’s my stuff? It was due yesterday. This is today. I am perturbed, vexed even. Why do you do this to me, Samantha? Why?” the last ‘why’ was drawn out and followed by a sad sigh. Samantha’s editor was a tall thin man with stooped shoulders and a long boyish face. He wore expensive designer spectacles and expensive designer cologne that hung in his wake like an oil slick, poisoning all those around it with his presence. He was a nasty backstabbing hack, Sam thought. And he didn’t deserve…no wait, he did. But it still wasn’t fair. Now he stood before her desk, in that condescending manner she hated; facing away from her but turning his head ever so slightly to address his latest grievance with her. It was also to ensure the rest of the office could hear. And he did it to everyone.
“I have it. It should be in your inbox, Larry. Did you check?” She didn’t look up.
“Mm-hmm,” said Larry nodding. He spun on his heel, tilted his head down and then carefully put his right hand in his trouser pocket.
This is an excerpt from a novel Stephen is working on. He has submitted it to the contest, and if you vote for it, he might get a chance to attend the Manuscript Doctor Session and have his novel reviewed.
© Stephen Mwangi 2009
If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Wednesday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.