Fanta sat at the counter of her aunt’s shop and watched the street. It was still in the stifling afternoon heat, and not many people were moving up and down. She watched the street boy they called Pinchez approach carrying a grubby, oily sack slung on his back, a bottle of glue stuck to his upper lip like a ludicrously large boil.
As soon as Pinchez appeared the street mongrels that had crawled under the vegetable stalls to escape the heat sprang alive, the fur on their spines raised, ranging themselves on either side of the street. They were growling deep in their throats as they watched the lad who competed with them for the garbage the people of the street had thrown out approach.
It mildly surprised Fanta that the mongrels rarely responded that way to anyone else, not even Sudi the mad man. And yet he was equally in rags. The only other person she knew who agitated the dogs was Jomo whenever he set up his mutura brazier opposite the bar in the evenings. She wondered why the dogs would pick out the two of them from the many people who lived on the street.
Pinchez walked on calmly, seemingly oblivious of the dogs. One, drawing courage from the agitated pack that had made a ring around the street boy, lunged at his heel. But Pinchez had been watching from the corner of his eye and took a swing at the dog with his oversize boot, catching it on the jaw. The mongrel let out a yelp of pain and sprang back. The others stood back, making energized but half-hearted lunges at his heels that ended with the pack dancing round and round the urchin in a cowardly charade.
Pinchez stopped in front of the shop and leaned back on his stick, gazing at Fanta. At first she pretended not to notice, busying herself with arranging and rearranging groceries on the counter. Pinchez liked that. He was watching the way her red cotton print dress hugged her slim back and dipped above her small round buttocks. For the umpteenth time he caught himself wondering why anyone would chose to name their child after a soda. Whatever was her mother thinking to call her Fanta? Fan-ta….well, it rolled rather well off the tongue. Perhaps the mother had just had a soda before she went into labour, concluded Pinchez, drawing amusement from the thought. About him the mongrels had withdrawn to their haunches, growling lowly, tails stretched straight in the dust, their eyes fixed on him.
He extracted the glue bottle from where it was wedged under his nose and examined it. He tapped the mucoury goo at the bottom against the heel of his hand before putting it back. He then took a long sensuous pull that caused the saliva in his parched throat to dry up, zinging home deep into his nasal cavity. The familiar fumes shot instantly into his system, warming the base of his belly. Fanta turned and saw him still standing there, a stupefied grin covering his grime-coated face. When their eyes met he winked. She made a face and went back to arranging the groceries. He liked that very much. He seemed to enjoy the game, too; the hunter sizing up his prey. The dogs had lost interest and now sprawled on their bellies in the dust, still eyeing him and his long stick from a distance.
Pinchez followed her movements, taking in the thin pale arms. He knew what they looked like, the albino skin thin and baby-like, almost like a mzungu’s, the fine hairs on it like those on a plucked chicken. It was the rashes that he didn’t like. That and her eyes. The paleness in her eyes disconcerted him. But he was certain he could live with it. He suddenly caught himself wondering just what it would feel like to have her arms roped about his neck…just how would it feel like to have her? Maybe it would be like a mzungu. He had never been with a mzungu, but he imagined that she would feel smooth against his skin like… like what? Like an eel. Now, where in hell had such a comparison sprung from? He caught himself with a slight cackle. Yes, supple as she might appear, of one thing he was certain, Fanta’s body would not be warm next to his…
He looked up and caught her staring, too. And the moment their eyes met she made a face and turned her back on him, ducking behind the screen that hung in the door leading to the inner room. Pinchez clicked softly and licked his lips. Then he picked up his gunny sack and set off. Instantly the dogs sprang up, forming a cordon and escorting him down the street with their frenzied barking.
As Pinchez resumed scavenging in the garbage heaps on the side of the street, his mind was whirring. He had been so engrossed in his fantasies he had momentarily forgotten some important business. Kassim, the mganga at the bus terminus further up the street who many believed was from Tanzania when he was actually a Wanga from Mumias had told him something interesting the week before. Indeed it was this that had brought Pinchez here. Of course Kassim had first sworn him to secrecy before hinting that there was a huge demand for people like Fanta across the border in Tanzania. That the waganga there were doing booming business selling business people from as far as the Congo amulets prepared using those body parts. That an albino arm alone fetched as much as a quarter of a million.
Pheeew! Now that was some money to kill your own mother for. Just an arm? For a while there he wondered if Kassim was just making it up as they passed the time sharing a spliff in the junk-strewn yard behind his tiny tin-walled shop. But then there was that look in the old man’s eyes that convinced him he wasn’t. It was true. Kassim knew the contacts. If only they could get her across the border successfully…
Pinchez thought about this as he flattened a rusty biscuit tin beneath his oversize Caterpillar boot that was a different make and colour from the one on his left foot. …if only they could get her across the border successfully…. But how?
He looked up and the dog nearest tensed and barked. He opened the gunnysack and the dogs followed his hands as he stuffed the flattened tin inside next to the junk and other items that were known only to him. He drew the back of his hand across his moist brow and raised the sack to his elbow. And as he made his way up the street with his unwelcome entourage in tow a slow smile spread across his grease-streaked face.
Yes, he knew just what he would do. First he would devise a way to lure her into a kidnap. Then he would indulge his fantasies… after all he had all the time in the world, or didn’t he? Thereafter he would remove his hacksaw and the rest would be easy, just like sawing through a dog’s carcass… Yes, it was going to work, he convinced himself, his breath rasping in his throat with excitement. And he knew just who would lend him a hand. Jomo. He knew of no job the old boy would not get into… so long as there was a cut for him. Indeed he could already anticipate the glow of excitement in Jomo’s eyes when he told him later that evening. He had absolutely no doubt about Jomo. Thereafter it would be up to Kassim to arrange the transport… yes, a clean deal, cut and dried. Half the payment on delivery and the rest when the cargo was handed over at Namanga on the border. After which everyone gets their money and everyone is happy.
That is unless there was a double-cross somewhere. But by whom? Jomo? No such chance. He would set it up in such a way that he was boss this side of things, right up to when they handed over the cargo, carved up and nicely packed in crates… complete with ice-packs if the blighters who would be paying insisted. That left Kassim. Kassim knew better than to play around with Pinchez. What the old mganga would be toying with was a razor across the throat– and he knew it. The whole thing was tight as a virgin….yet again Pinchez laughed at his choice of reference… Oh, boy…. That money!
And as he broke into a soft whistle the dogs launched into excited barking, lopping after him like chase hounds on a hunt…
Stanley Gazemba (@stangazemba) is an award-winning author. His new short story collection, Nairobi Echoes, features the continuation of Chinese Cuisine (that’s right, there’s more!) and is available to purchase on Amazon and BahatiBooks.com
Stanley’s breakthrough novel, ‘The Stone Hills of Maragoli’, published by Kwani? won the Jomo Kenyatta prize for Kenyan Literature in 2003. He is also the author of two other novels: ‘Callused Hands’ and ‘Khama’, he has written eight children’s books. A prolific writer, Stanley’s articles and stories have appeared in several international publications including the New York Times, ‘A’ is for Ancestors, the Caine Prize Anthology and the East African magazine. Stanley lives in Nairobi and his short story ‘Talking Money’ was recently published in ‘Africa 39’, a Hay Festival publication which was released in 2014. Published by Bloomsbury Publishing Inc, ‘Africa 39’ features a collection of 39 short stories by some of Africa’s leading contemporary authors. Stanley is also in the process of working on an array of creative literary projects.
This story was published in collaboration with Bahati Books, an e-book publishing company that aims to bring to global readers captivating and well-written African Literature by African authors.
Related country: Kenya, Tanzania