Celebrating East African Writing!

The Chameleon

The man blended into the crowd at Jevanjee gardens like part of the scenery. It was lunch time and the normal smattering of people at the park had been joined by office workers out stretching their legs and eating fast food from plastic paper bags. They were subdued, these newcomers, enjoying their brief stint of freedom before they had to return to their phone calls and computers. He observed them distractedly as he passed the time. The man was dressed in worn out jeans, a branded OMO t shirt and a faded brown leather jacket. He watched a skinny man in an oversize suit take position a few yards from him with a Bible tucked under his arm. The man had already anticipated the loud pontificating that would ensue and the mild interest the sermon would attract from the people in the park. The preacher was situated just close enough to his bench that any conversation held there would be inaudible to anyone close by who wanted to eavesdrop. It was the sole reason that he had picked that spot.


He glanced at his watch more from force of habit than impatience, the potential client was twenty three minutes late, but it was not of great concern to him. In his line of work he was used to waiting, watching and waiting. If he had a business card, it would read something like Security Consultant, he personally abhorred the title Private Investigator as he did not merely investigate. He solved.


He stretched his legs in the afternoon Nairobi sun, feeling the rub of his pistol along the calf of his leg, then sat up as he spotted a woman fitting the description she had given over the phone walking towards him after a long look at his t shirt.


“Hi.” She said, offering a hand in greeting when she reached him. Her grasp was limp and soft, her fingers meticulously manicured. He saw his own face reflected in the dark, mirror-like sunglasses that covered half of her face.

“John, is it?,” She was nervous, but trying hard to hide it.

“Yes.” He answered pulling out a the center pages of newspaper and spreading it on the mud splattered space beside him on the bench, a precaution against unwanted seat mates.


She was wearing a long sleeved blouse which must have been uncomfortable for her in the February heat. She did not offer her own name in exchange, instead she rummaged inside her handbag and handed him a supermarket luggage tag. Then she told him what she wanted him to do for her.

‘John’ had perfected the art of being a good listener, it was an essential attribute in his line of work. He never took notes, documented evidence was a risk for obvious reasons. He also had an eye for detail and he could tell that although this woman had dressed down, she came from money and had recently been beaten.


Her story was this. Her husband – she named a member of a prominent family that had been in the media regarding some shady dealings – had been  physically violent towards her for the 3 years they had been married. She wanted him taken care of; her source – the Private Investigator who had referred her to John – had told her that he could help in this situation.


“ So you want me to break his arms or what?,” John asked.


“I need a more.. permanent solution.” She said.


They were both silent for a while, John looked over at the preacher who was now caught up in a frenzy. He could practically see the spittle spraying out of his mouth as he contorted his body, raised his hands up into the air and shouted about evil inhabiting the earth.

He cleared his throat, he would have to let her down gently.


“Listen, I -”. He started. But she had already read the response in his expression, she clutched at his jacket, seemingly losing all self-restraint.


“Please please, He’s going to kill me. He has a gun, he held it against my head” She was blabbing. He could see one or two people turning to watch them.


“He said no-one would care and the police said it was a d..domestic matter.” Snot and tears were running down her face now.


John patted her on the shoulder, for the sake of the onlookers he hoped it would seem as if he were comforting a distraught friend. He watched the woman, try to get control of her emotions as she fished for and found a handkerchief in her handbag. He had been in the business long enough to know when a person was lying to him and his instincts told him that this was the real deal, still the Hassan family was wealthy, influential and shady. If he did this he thought…. But no, there was too much risk.

“I’ll double the money.” She said, and as lifted her sunglasses to wipe the tears he caught a glimpse of a purple eye swollen shut.


He sighed, shaking his head, no.


“Okay, okay.” Her voice started trembling again and as he asked himself why he was negotiating with a client he could not help she spoke again.


“Name your price. Please.” she said.

He quoted a high six figure amount and was taken aback when she agreed.

“I can send you half the amount tomorrow.”

“Half?,” He asked incredulously.

“Half.” She confirmed.


After their meeting ended, he went to Nakumatt Lifestyle and handed in the supermarket tag to the attendant behind the luggage counter. The attendant handed him a green paper bag, inside was a hundred thousand shilling in a thousand shilling notes; his consultation fee.


Three weeks later, some time after 7pm, dressed in a dark hoodie with a small rug sack on his back, John did what he did best and blended into the crowd at the busy Machakos bus station terminus. He had been shadowing his target for two weeks and had manipulated events so that the would-be wife killer would be at this place at this time. It had all been surprisingly easy, he had learned that Hassan had started a new business, a fleet of brand buses that plied the Bungoma -Webuye route. The man was obsessed with this new venture, the only problem was that his offices were in a different part of town, a well-guarded building that searched visitors diligently and required identification to permit entrance.


To get around this inconvenience, John had turned his attentions to the bus terminus and paid a group of 3 street boys 1,000 shillings each to slash the tyres of 4 buses that were supposed to leave for Bungoma. They had milled in with the passengers, touts and hawkers and did their job even as new travelers were boarding.


He then watched his plan unfold at a discreet distance. Just as the crew were preparing to depart there was a sudden shout as a mechanic discovered the damage to the tyres. John grinned as the commuters started disembarking began to demand their money back while the drivers and touts tried to placate them, he then called Hassan pretending to be an irate traveller whose plans had been disrupted by his ‘shady company’.


He waited a tense 20 minutes at the entrance to the terminus for signs of his target, he had committed to memory the number plates and makes of the four cars that Hassan owned. But he was sure the man  would not drive his high end Jeep, Mercedes or Jaguar to downtown Nairobi and so he watched out for his other car, a white Pro box.


It was regrettable but there would be collateral damage, it could not be helped, it was the only way he and Hassan’s wife could escape suspicion and retribution. Besides, John had taken so many lives that he had become somewhat inured to the emotions attached to the deed. When 20 minutes were up, he watched as a white Probox pulled up to the entrance of the bus terminus, Hassan got out, he seemed agitated as he hurriedly locked the car and strode to where his buses were parked.


John reached down into the rugsack, the deed had to be done quickly and without hesitation. He tailed Hassan until he was about 4 meters from one of the buses before calling out to him. Hassan turned at the mention of his name, his brow furrowed, he was dressed in a black suit and held an expensive phone in one hand. He barely had time to give John a ‘what is it?’ gesture with his other hand before the grenade hit him square in the chest turning him into an exploding mush of bone, flesh and blood.


In the ensuing commotion, John appropriated the car which he eventually converted in to cash some three hours later in a dodgy garage in Ngara. He kept himself updated on the news, relieved when it was blamed on a terrorist attack just as he had anticipated and when his thoughts drifted to the other deaths he had caused, he told himself that it could have been much worse, at least the grenade hadn’t gone through an open bus window.


He read with bemusement some days later as a news article on the late ‘Business tycoon’s Widow’ as the article named her quoted Mrs. Hassan as saying she was ‘heartbroken’ and that she hoped the terrorists would be brought to justice. She had already bought her own justice.

©Christine Yienya



One comment on “The Chameleon

  1. Phillis
    May 15, 2012

    Hey, girlfriend…i love the story. You were able to work through its twist and turns and the ending was satisfying!!!

    Apart from few mistakes here and there?…still its a nice conspiracy story. I would say i like it


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