They closed at five and I got in at five-fifty. Instead of ten tens, she gave me ten twenties. I hurriedly pocketed the notes and left. The security official smiled and nodded as he opened the door to let me out. What a nice guy, I thought, stepping out and adjusting my eyes to avoid the orange glow of the setting sun that was now bidding farewell to the skyscrapers. It was a beautiful sight but I had no time to marvel at the city. By the time she realized her mistake, I would be out of sight.
I found James and Patience outside. James was seated on the stone entrance steps, humming to a tune and breaking a stick into tiny pieces. Beside him was a copy of Come into My Trading Room: A Complete Guide to Trading by Alexander Elder. For James, Elder’s book was his ticket to a career as a stock trading priest. He carried it everywhere. I never touched or read it but I think I knew everything that was in it. It was all he talked about. It also turned out to be the only book on his bookshelf. I doubt he was aware of the city passing by at all. He was a thousand miles away, somewhere on Wall Street, making millions. Patience was standing with her eyes fixed on the tablet in her hand. Boredom was written all over her face. The mania of hustling had not gripped her. Maybe that’s why the gods had favored her highly. Instead of dreaming about yellow cabs, cheap Italian pizza and martinis on Times Square like we all did, she had made it as a grounded oncologist. There was no need for fantasies. By marrying James, she did not only save him but made it easier for me through my association with James to tap into her credit line. Her presence also made whining about our condition undesirable.
As I expected, the two refused to come along. Normally, I could have persuaded them to trudge along but I wanted to disappear before the teller had sobered up and realized that I was the one responsible for her future in the gutter of the unemployment line. I couldn’t tell James and Patience about my small fortune either. James’ morbid interest in the concept of karma would have resulted in him giving me a never ending lecture about forthrightness, in the end inducing me to consider walking back and surrendering my hard earned green bills. I was not ready to let my luck ebb. My aunt, the writer of this fortune was also not supposed to know for obvious reasons. Her knowing meant she was not going to send me any money in the next coming months and she also did not take lightly any acts of upending the law. She had sent her hard earned Australian dollars with an earnest heart. I was not going to mess that up. This was my secret. I also wondered why I bothered thinking about this at all. The money had been handed to me. I was neither pickpocket nor cheat. I was just a lucky man.
I took Sam Nujoma Avenue. James and Patience got into their car and disappeared down the corner on their way to St. Anne’s Hospital. James was going to drop Patience at work. He promised to meet up with me later. For now it was me, the city, and the shadow of the teller.
By now the spirit called rush hour had taken over the city. It had once again become an orgy of honking taxis, vendors dangling their wares, people rushing in and out of glass doors, of alleys, of supermarkets. Even if they tried, they were not going to find me in this sardine can of a city. A short plump woman wearing a baseball cap bumped into me. She nearly dropping her two Spars plastic shopping bags. I apologized and kept on walking. I could tell from her eyes she suspected that I was trying to knock her bags off so that I could steal them. Relax, I just made it, I said to myself and kept on walking. I nervously crossed Samora Machel Avenue. I made sure that I avoided eye contact with the soldiers guarding Munhumutapa offices. I was never sure how to act every time I passed by that place. It was not like these polished dark unsmiling faces intimidated me with their guns. It must have been one of those irrational fears.
Two blocks down the road, I reached Eastgate Shopping Mall, where I found Charity in one of the boutiques. She was trying on new shoes. She had suggested that we meet here- a very convenient location for her. A tall light skinned neatly dressed woman whom I guessed to be one of the shop assistants asked if she could help. She was on my tails the moment we entered the shop. Work hazard, I thought. I told her that I was fine and had no intentions of buying anything. That did not stop her from following me around.
Charity did not waste time. She went straight into business mode after we had had our awkward hug. Hugs were supposed to be romantic and intimate. I found them terrifying, maybe because with Charity they felt more like a favor.
“Is my hair getting done today? Look at it, I had to cover it with this ugly wool hat,” she asked while removing the light blue woolen hat. Her hair did not look that bad. The ugliness she talked about was all the work of the hideous woolen hat. Given the choice, I would have told her I like it the way it was but then I risked breaking more than three years of work we both had invested in this twisted Beckett romantic play.
“I did,” I answered, reaching into my left pocket and fishing out a twenty dollar note and handing it out to her. She took the note examined it for a second, the way people examine bearer’s checks for authenticity. Satisfied, she picked up her bag, fished out a small purse from her knockoff Marc Jacobs and carefully slotted the twenty between other twenties she had. There it was my twenty lost in a sea of other twenties. Why did she even bother to ask me when she had that much money? I thought. They called this gluttony at church.
She placed her bag on the shoe fitting stool. “Are you going to buy anything?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said avoiding eye contact. She removed the red shoes she was trying on and got back into her white stilettos.
“Is there anything else you want?” she asked as she grabbed her bag and prepared to leave. How was I to answer that question? That I wanted to spend some time with her? which I dreaded. Movies, hugs, kisses, after three years, we all didn’t want any of it. “…cause it is getting late and my hair lady is not going to be available past eight,” she continued.
“That’s ok, I have some stuff to care of too,” I found myself answering self-assuredly.
“By serious stuff you mean drinking?”
“No, I really have important stuff lined up.”
She was right. Despite my claim to smartness, Charity was always a step ahead. It was a disturbing but also enthralling part of our social arrangement.
“Ok then, I am out. I will talk to you later. Call me.” She gave me a hug and slowly walked out of the boutique. I looked at her moving away. How lucky I was. At least, that was what my family and friends often said. I knew I was lucky and had to be grateful.
Though darkness had gripped the city by the time I left Eastgate, the street was still bustling with bodies. They really didn’t sleep here, I thought. I decide to head for Club Tropicana. It was a squalid underground club located in a trendy shopping complex. Tropicana was not known for its great air conditioning. Heavy hot air filled the dance floor. The smoke from cigarettes and marijuana greeted you as soon as you emerged from the metal stairs that took you to this dungeon.
I walked to the bar and asked for the usual – gin and tonic. The taste was awful. The bottle of gin never came from the stacked bottles on the bar shelf. The bartender had to walk into the backroom to get it. It must have been special. I reached into my pocket and looked at my phone. There was a text message. James was on his way. There were also four missed calls from an unknown number. The one person who always called hiding their ID was Charity. I had to call back and tell her where I was.
“Mr. Moyo, thank God, you called back. It’s Mrs. Katiyo from Western Union. I was worried I would never get hold of you,” said a rather cheerful voice on the other end.
I only managed to say “ok”. I knew why she was calling.
“I think I made a mistake earlier, I gave you more money than I should have.”
“Yes, I am still at work and I cannot go home until I get that money,” continued Mrs. Katiyo.
“I am sorry but I think you gave me the exact amount,” I lied.
“Can you please check your wallet or pockets, because I did not serve anyone else after you left?”
“I can always check, but I doubt I have the money. Give me a second.” I paused for a minute, pretending to be checking my wallet. “I am sorry. I only have a hundred dollars in my pocket, just checked. I haven’t used the money yet.”
There was some stone cold silence on the other end. “You know I have kids, I can’t lose this job…” I put the phone further away from my ear.
“I really have no idea what you are talking about,” I said.
“Mr. Moyo, do not force me to go to the police,” she said agitated and panting.
I hung up on her and turned the phone of. Try ranting now Katiyo, I thought. I was still marveling at my phone when a tall woman in a short red dress walked over to the bar, ordered a drink and grabbed the seat I had reserved for James. “Is this seat taken,” she asked. She did not wait for me to answer. She went ahead and sat comfortably. The city was full of people like her. They just took without your consent. It was infuriating.
“I am saving it for my friend. He will be here soon.”
“Makes the two of us. I am waiting for my friend too. But, can I sit for now?” She tried hard to pull the short dress to cover her legs. They were nice legs. I doubt she wanted them covered at all.
The bartender brought more gin and tonic.
“Do you smoke?” my red dressed friend asked after a long silence.
“Sometimes,” I found myself answering.
“I want to go out and smoke but it’s quite dark.” She was inviting me outside – to smoke. It was not like smoking was prohibited in Tropicana, it was the smoking capital.
“We can go out and smoke,” I said after moments of hesitation. She looked rather startled by my sudden willingness to go outside. We left the drinks and she led the way up the stairs, out of the shopping complex and into an unfinished building. We sat on a heap of bricks. She lit a cigarette and passed it to me. By now, I knew her name- Diana.
Diana edged closer. I moved no muscle. I could feel the warmth of her body feeding and disturbing my loins. I stretched my hand and grabbed her by the waist. As I was adjusting to this new development, two dark shadows appeared in front of us. From the shape of their shades, I could tell they were policemen.
I did not protest. Squealing or whining seemed rather pointless and inflammatory. I needed to look tough like my stern-faced tormentor with piercing green eyes. He looked rough. Ages of anger, violence and death were written all over his fat-round visage. His partner stood a few feet away biting his nails. He was a spectator. Despite the thick darkness, his grin and annoying smirk lit the night. He was in jolly land, reveling in my misery. I was enraged but also enervated and powerless. I wondered how it would feel like to give him one nasty blow to the cheek. He stood there, his prurient eyes fixed on Diana. I was handcuffed. They didn’t cuff Diana but they were taking her in as well. Their arrival was sudden and unexpected. How did I fail to notice that something was wrong?
“We are taking you in,” said the green eyed policeman while straightening his cap.
“What did I do?” I protested.
He reached into his pocket and produced a small notebook. He wrote something into it and turned his gaze back to me. “It is quite clear that you were loitering for the sake of prostitution,” he retorted.
This was my first brush with the law and I had no idea what to say. “How could I be loitering when I was seated on those bricks?” I made my case by pointing at the heap of bricks. The bricks were neatly stacked next to a half built abandoned structure, probably another night club that was under construction. Adjacent to the abandoned building was Club Tropicana.
“Are you saying we are stupid?” he asked. “Dube, he says we are stupid,” he continued now addressing the younger spectator police officer. He was probably a junior officer. Dube was skinnier and wore oversized khaki pants and a grey shirt. Judging from his dressing and face, I could tell that he was in his early twenties. Dube just smiled and said nothing.
“No I did not say you were stupid officer. You smartness cannot be questioned. I am just saying I was not loitering.” I tried to defend myself.
The two police officers looked at each other and green eyed raised his voice to match the noise of the music coming out of the club.
“So we are just fools who run around arresting people for no apparent reason,” he asked.
“I did not say that.” I knew that I was not supposed to reply but the accusation was outrageous.
“You did not say that? Why do I get the vibe that you think we are stupid?”
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“He doesn’t know! Your hands were on that woman’s breasts and you don’t know? I understand. We are just uneducated police officers and we are so blind to the level of accusing you of something you did not do?”
“Officer, it’s just a misunderstanding. I was not touching but helping.” By now I knew there was no case to make. Either way they were going to have their way.
“Is she your wife?”
“So why were you touching her?”
“I was not I promise…”
“Stop wasting our time…you can make your case tomorrow after sleeping it off in the cells tonight. Don’t worry your ‘wife’ is coming with you.” They hauled me and Diana into the back of their Mazda B2200 police truck. Dube, the spectator sat with us at the back.
The cold wind ravaged my face. I had to cover it with my cuffed hands. I tried thinking about what had gone wrong. How had I ended up with Dube the snickering, dim-witted cop and Diana, the supposed prostitute at the back of an open truck on a windy and cold July night?
I looked at Diana. She looked beautiful even in the dark. I was sure she had carefully selected the red dress for a good night out. I barely knew her but was sure she was no lady of the night or whatever name people called those who plied that trade. The simple crookedness of her teeth made her much prettier. Now, I found myself pondering and imagining the kind of torture that waited this innocent soul in the famed Harare jail cells.
As the car made its turn into the Bulawayo Road, I knew they were not taking us to any police station. Something was awaiting us. Dube stood up in the moving truck and swung his right hand. His fist hit my ear. I mourned and cried. I thought, it was busted but it was all there no blood. It was painful. “What did I do this time officer?” I asked and pleaded.
“You know what you did. You think you are smart,” he was laughing. He reached for his waist and removed his belt. One swing reached the back of Diana’s dress tearing it apart. He moved closer to her and grabbed her breasts. She shock him off which made him much angrier. He punched her in the face, knocking her to the floor of truck. She yelled and cried. Dube was like a raging psycho. I knew that our horror show was just getting started. The truck kept on moving.