Celebrating East African Writing!
The Meet by Mwangi Ichungwa
The wind blew bits of paper and grit over the desolate loading dock in the dark railway warehouse complex, buffeting the watchman’s small fire and threatening to blow it out. He cursed as he added kindling to the waning flame, wishing he was at home in the arms of his young wife, safe and warm. At least the thin drizzle had stopped, he thought. He remembered the note he had received from the warehouse complex manager about patrols. He was supposed to make rounds every hour to make sure that there were no breaches of security. Breaches? What was this, a military base?
On the other end of the complex, near where the chain link fence was broken, where the watchman never went, a man tried to sleep under the eaves of Warehouse B2. He was a hobo, the kind you see lugging huge sacks full of waste paper and plastic bound for recycling plants. The hobo tossed and turned, trying to sleep. He had lost his bottle of sniffing glue and sleep did not come easy without the solvent slowly dissolving his brain cells. He muttered bad things about the wind that was biting through his itchy threadbare blanket and wished that he too had a wife and a warm home to go to.
The watchman lit a cigarette and tuned his crappy transistor radio to a scratchy frequency that was playing Benga. He hummed along to the tune, one of Franco’s old ones, as he sipped hot cocoa from the Thermos his wife had packed for him. That old thought of robbing this place crossed his mind again. The warehouses were packed with grain, steel, agricultural equipment and lots of other things he could sell. All he needed was to get someone with a large truck and a few nefarious friends and together they could pick a few warehouses clean. He had even spoken about it to his cousin, a burly lout who worked for a trucking company. His cousin had been up for the idea, even tabling a selection of the nefarious friends. But the reality, as it always did, dawned on the watchman. He would get caught, he would go to jail and his life, as he knew it, would be over. He sipped his cocoa again. He figured he was lucky; there were lots of people in far worse predicaments.
It was three hours later when the hobo suddenly woke up. He looked around wildly, confused about where he was, before he realized and calmed down. Something had woken him, what was it? He heard a low crunching sound, like a wheel rolling on gravel. He sat up and peered into the gloom but saw nothing. The sound stopped. The hobo listened for a bit, scratched at something crawling over his belly and then drifted back to sleep.
There was a large open lot at the farthest end of the complex, where trucks turned around. The surface was once tarmac but the constant abrasion by heavy truck tyres and shoddy maintenance by the railway authorities had seen it turn into gravel. In one dark corner of the lot, given some scrutiny, one could make out a brand new jet black Mercedes Benz S 65 AMG parked in the shadows. Soon, a gleaming white Toyota Prius drove up towards the Benz without lights. The hybrid engine was silent, the only sound coming from the wheels crunching on the gravel. It sidled up next to the Benz and stopped. The wind blew bits of paper and dust around the cars as they sat there, like they were waiting for something.
Presently the driver’s door on the Benz opened. A figure stepped out, tall and dark. It walked to the front of the car and leaned against the bonnet. A match struck and in the momentary glow, the sharp features of Lucifer’s face showed as he lit a cigarette.
“Will you get out of the car, man? I don’t have all night,” he said over his shoulder. He blew a stream of smoke and it formed a perfect pentagram before the breeze obliterated it.
The dome light in the Prius came on as the driver opened his door and stepped out of the car. He came around the rear of the smaller vehicle in careful measured paces, hopped over a small puddle and came to stand next to Lucifer.
“Why didn’t you just walk over that?” Lucifer asked, laughing. He turned and offered out his hand to the other man who looked down his nose at it. Lucifer looked at his outstretched hand for a moment, then pulled it back and put it in his pocket. He faced away and took another drag of the cigarette.
“How are you doing J? Still saving?” Lucifer asked.
“That’s what I do,” Jesus said. “What do you want?”
“Hey, hey, hey. Easy man. I can’t meet my brother? I mean, I know I’m the black sheep and all that but – I missed you man. Just wanna say hi.”
“Why meet here then?” Jesus asked. It was cold and dark and the wind kept issuing these freezing gusts. Jesus wished he’d brought a heavier coat (he could choose for the cold not to affect him but he liked to stay in character, Son of Man and all that).
“You’d rather do a club? I’m game!” Lucifer laughed again, a bit too eagerly. He pointed at the Prius with his cigarette. “What’s this shit you’re driving? What, you’re an environmentalist now?” he laughed again, softly.
“My car is not the issue,” Jesus said. “What do you want? I have better things to do. The Catholics are keeping me busy.”
“Ah, those guys,” said Lucifer with a weary shake of his dark sleek head. He took the last drag on his gaff and tossed it in the small puddle Jesus had skipped earlier. It landed with a small hiss and a puff of steam that formed another pentagram. The breeze took that one too.
“You really shouldn’t litter,” Jesus said. “It dirties the earth.”
“Fuck you man,” said Lucifer. “I do what I want. You know that.”
“Lucifer, why did you ask me here?” Jesus asked, rubbing his hands together. The crucifixion scars sometimes got really itchy on cold damp nights like these. (again, he could have chosen for the scars not to affect him, but…) “Because if it’s for you to rant, like you always do, I’m not in the mood.”
“Pissy tonight, aren’t we?” Lucifer’s tone was mocking. He walked over to the Prius and placed one foot on the rear bumper and started rocking the small car back and forth with his leg. “Losing converts, bro? Or are you getting frustrated that you’re the gospel doesn’t work as well as it used to?”
“The gospel works fine,” Jesus said. He moved to the front of the Benz and started fiddling with the three pointed star ornament. Lucifer took his foot off the Toyota’s bumper. Jesus let go of the star.
Lucifer came back to lean on the Benz’s fender. “Tell you what, let’s go for a little ride. I’ll even let you drive,” he said.
He held up the key. Jesus looked at it for a moment then closed his hand around it. Lucifer didn’t let go immediately. They exchanged a glance, with their hands together like that. A terrible fire flared in the depths of the Devil’s eyes before Jesus tugged hard and pulled the key out of his grip.
“Stop playing,” Jesus said as he walked round to the driver’s side. “I’m really not in the mood.”
They got in the Benz. The car was fully loaded with all the luxuries Stuttgart had to offer. The leather was so soft, Jesus thought as he turned the key a notch and adjusted the driver’s seat (Lucifer was taller) and the control surfaces were well placed. Those Germans really knew their business.
“This is a nice car,” he said, sitting back and taking in the dashboard, with its wood trim and ambient LED lighting. Lucifer nodded, smiling as Jesus started the car and reached to the center console for the shift stick. There was nothing there and he hesitated, unsure of what to do next.
“It’s up there, on the steering column,” said Lucifer helpfully. “You’ve never been in one of these?”
“My kind of people usually don’t drive such,” Christ muttered as he found Drive. The huge car rolled forward silently, crunching gravel under its 20-inch AMG wheels.
The watchman was having a bad dream. He was running away from something, scurrying fearfully through the alleyways of Kibera where he lived. He couldn’t see what was chasing him but he knew it was close from the ominous crunching sound it made. And it was coming closer. He ran and ran but the ground was turning into mush and his feet were sinking. The alleys grew narrower and narrower until he was pressed in from all sides and sunk up to his knees in the mire. That’s when he woke up. Through his half open eyes, he saw a large black car drift slowly by his shack. He tried to get up but an overwhelming desire for sleep overcame him and he slid back into sleep.
“See that guy?” Lucifer asked as they passed the fitfully sleeping watchman. “He has worked the night shift here for the past eight years. He is not a rich man, he works hard and he is relatively honest but harbours thoughts about robbing the place. He feels he is entitled. Do you agree?”
“Entitled to what?” Jesus asked. “He is paid for his job. Fine, it’s not much but that’s what he signed up for, isn’t it? Thou shalt not steal, remember? Or covet others’ property.”
Lucifer rolled down his window and pressed the cigarette lighter button. “But to him, it’s not fair that he is entrusted with all this shit -” Lucifer made a circular gesture with his finger, “- and he is still paid crap.”
“Life is not fair,” Jesus said. “I really hope you don’t intend to smoke.”
“It’s my car bitch. I do what I want, remember?”
Jesus sighed. “Yeah, you told me. Fine.” He rolled down his own window. The cigarette lighter popped out and the Devil lit up. Embassy Kings, Jesus noted. Horrible stuff.
“Life’s not fair,” Lucifer said musingly, blowing a cloud of smoke out of his window. “And that is Dad’s biggest folly right there. I called you over her to discuss this situation. Think about it, you know how much of a control freak He is. He makes Man, gives him free will, then creates a scenario where, if man exercises this supposed free will, he is doomed for eternity. What’s up with that?”
“You reeeeally want to go down this path again?” Jesus asked, smiling. “Dude, we’ve been through this, over and over again. We all have our roles to play. Fine, Man is caught in between. Poo for him, what can we do about it? You corrupt, I save. It is the way things are done. Deal with it.”
“Why should I have to?” Lucifer turned in his seat to face Jesus. The Devil’s face was animated and that creepy glow was back in his eyes. “I do…”
“…what you want. Yes, we know,” Jesus said wearily.
“Exactly! And so should you. Have you considered how long you will play the goody-goody two shoes role? For eternity, bro! Eternity! You know how long that is?”
“Er, I’m guessing eternity,” Jesus deadpanned.
“Stop saying that!”
“Hehehe, sorry bro. It’s just that, I have been thinking. Dad doesn’t even care about this place. He doesn’t care about the people. He’s so far removed from all this -,” Lucifer made that all encompassing circular gesture again with his cigarette, “- He wouldn’t know if we changed a few things. Screw Him, let’s do what we want.”
“I want to save people,” Jesus said. “That’s my purpose. You, on the other hand, can do what you want. That’s your purpose. Stop trying to drag me into your shit. Oh crap!”
Lucifer burst out laughing, a markedly creepy sound in the leather and wood cocoon they were cruising in. “You said shit!” He leaned out of the window, “You hear that world? Christ said a bad word!” He laughed some more as Jesus saw that they had reached a dead end. Christ executed a perfect three-point turn, marveling at the speed-sensitive steering and they drove back the same way they’d come.
“Try the stereo,” Lucifer said. Jesus pressed the Play button on the steering wheel. Some ambient electro stuff filled the cabin. It was nice.
“Surround sound. Kick ass,” said the Devil.
“I thought you’d still be on metal,” said Jesus. “Noise music. Rargh! Angry young people fighting the system and sticking it to the man?”
“Nah, kinda gets old. And that association is so old. Thought I’d change up.”
“Is this some kind of temptation, Lucifer?” Jesus asked. “Did Dad put you up to this? Seriously, with the car, the rebellion talk and all that? Does he think I have failed in some respect and sent you to see if my will can be swayed?”
Lucifer smiled. A smile so full of guile that the universe paused its perpetual forward trudge for a fraction of an instant, trying to process what it meant.
“Nope,” the Devil said simply. “I’m just fed up, you know. It’s the same routine over and over and over again. I’m bored. We’re supreme beings. Let’s do something supremely crazy. I need you to loosen up.” Lucifer pulled a bottle of mineral water from the glove compartment and held it out to Jesus. “Make this something strong.”
Jesus touched the bottle with his fingertip. Lucifer unscrewed the cap and sniffed.
“Vodka. Niiiice.” He took a huge gulp and offered Jesus the bottle. “Here, put some hair on your chest.”
“I’ll pass,” Jesus said. Outside, a light rain began to fall. The rain sensing wipers started flicking back and forth slowly. They both rolled up their windows and sat in silence as the Benz slid almost silently between the ulking warehouses. Lucifer burped.
“So,” Jesus said. “What’s your plan?”
Lucifer turned to look at him. “You’re interested? Like really? Or do you just want to hear then dismiss? You get that from Dad you know.”
“Tell me the plan.”
“Fiiine,” wheedled Lucifer. “Will you stop being such a fucking grouch? You’re wound up so tight you could burst at any moment.” He laughed. “Turn left here.”
“Where does this lead?” Jesus asked as the huge car turned into what looked like a black hole. They were driving without lights. Moloko’s ‘Time Is Now’ was playing on the stereo. Lucifer took another sip of the new vodka.
“I am going to show you what the plan is,” Lucifer said matter of factly. “Might get a little squeamish, hope you don’t mind.”
Jesus stopped the car. “What are you going to do? Tell me now or I’m outta here. We’ve been here before, remember?” He adopted a mocking impression of Lucifer. “‘Jesus, turn this stones into bread, jump and ask the angels to save you, worship me and I’ll give you’…”
“Yeah, I know OK?” Lucifer said curtly. “Believe me, this is some finality shit I’m about to show you, bro. Trust me.”
“Trust you?” Christ scoffed. He pressed gently on the accelerator and the plutobarge was sailing forward again. “Riiight.”
© Mwangi Ichungwa 2010 (Avalon Perpetual)