It was about 10:00 am on Sunday morning and as I waited at the crowded airport arrivals hall my Babu emerged from behind the sliding doors. I almost slipped and fell on the smooth polished floor as I ran forward to greet him and relieve him of his large battered suitcase. He beamed at me, happy that for once I had registered the correct date and time of his arrival and we walked out into the bright Nairobi sunshine. The Jacaranda trees were in bloom and birds were singing high up there in the shade. I got the sense that Babu was happy to be back home.
I guided the old man towards my even older fluorescent green Fiat Strada which I had parked with a small rock wedged carefully against the near-side front wheel in lieu of a functioning hand-brake. I placed his suitcase in the boot and as Babu put away his rain coat and fedora in the back I stealthily obtained the rock and hid it under my driver’s seat.
We drove out of the airport and quickly joined the Mombasa Road traffic as we headed for Babu’s ‘South C’ residence. I kept to the speed limit in the near-side lane allowing plenty of room for the comedians, clowns, matatu driver’s and other maniacs of our roads to perform their stunts. The short journey was uneventful unless you consider the two elderly pedestrians who narrowly escaped with their lives right before our eyes after running across the road in some mad kamikaze effort to get to the other side of the Msa bound carriageway near the Air-tel buildings. The speeding ambulance that was hurtling towards them had screeched to a halt just before impact and the two wazee totally oblivious had just hobbled along to the other side of the road.
We dropped of Babu’s things and after a quick freshen up we headed off to his club next to the Police Mounted section headquarters for an early Sunday lunch. Most people know that my Babu was a former detective in the Police force where he spent nearly forty years working with the homicide department in various postings around the country. He is not my Babu in the real sense of a grandpa. He went to school with my dad and when I came to the city to find work the detective took me under his wing. I lived with him and his gracious wife before I went off on my own and when he started a private investigations consultancy I was happy to join the firm and was soon employed in discreet surveillance.
We ordered lunch and then took our drinks and sat on the veranda facing the deserted tennis courts. I had long ago learned that Babu would not start on a story until he was ready. So as we sucked at our tall glasses of madafu water by straw I gave him the usual small-talk of what had been happening whilst he was away. A few moments later the waiters came round and brought us warm water to wash our hands.
The waiter had recommended the chef’s special and we were not disappointed. As we silently attacked the spicy beef stew and ugali with fresh sukuma wiki, peas, carrots and potatoes, I realised that I had not had a decent meal since Babu’s departure over a month ago. Surveillance work tends to involve long hours of sitting, waiting and watching and drinking lots of coffee. One often lacks the required motivation to cook decent food at the end of such a cramped day and sadly we are only kept alive by unhealthy take aways.
The beef was so fresh you actually sympathised with the cow and the vegetables must have come from a garden just outside the kitchen. The ugali had been prepared in a revolutionary method that is still under patent pending rules and so I cannot divulge the actual process here. All I will say is that it was formed in the shape of a dome and was very soft and tasty with a hint of classical seasoning.
Lunch was cleared away quickly to make room at the table for our proper drinks. Babu pulled out a brand new pipe from his jacket pocket and filled it with exaggerated care. He had some strange foreign tobacco which he took out of a small plastic pouch. The picture on the pouch was a black eagle on a red background. When he lit the pipe he coughed twice as the smoke punched him in the chest. He squinted his eyes when the smoke rose up now spreading across the small veranda. A few patrons looked in our direction with renewed interest. The pipe smoke and Babu’s strong aftershave together smelled of power and influence.
Babu liked to have a glass of good whiskey by his elbow when doing a debrief. We talked and drank until the sun hid behind the tall cypress trees at the perimeter of the compound. His trip to Europe had been a resounding success by all accounts. He had accomplished his objectives and now he explained it all to me.
Months before, Rubina, a young lawyer from the firm that Babu used for legal work had approached us with an unusual assignment. Her friend, Katarzyna, from Poland, now living in Nairobi was in great difficulty. Her grandmother had passed away. It had come as a surprise that the granny was a woman of quite substantial wealth. She had left a huge inheritance for Katarzyna and her 13 year old son Pawl. There was a small problem. The young boy could not travel to Poland as required by the terms of the will because he did not have a passport. His father had refused to sign the necessary documents required by the Polish authorities.
Pawl’s father was from Poland. He met and married Katarzyna in the port city of Gdansk where he was in the Polish Navy. Pawl’s dad travelled the world as a sailor and he had fallen in love with Mombasa. After leaving the navy he came back to Mombasa with Katarzyna and their baby son and opened a bar which catered for visiting navy and merchant sea men. It was in a seedy part of town where vice of all sorts was never far away. Pawl’s father developed a drink and drugs problem and beat his wife about. With the help of friends she left him and moved away to Nairobi where she found work and settled. Her divorce papers were handled by Rubina. A year later Pawl’s dad returned to his native Poland where he married again and had several children.
Babu explained how he had used his extensive police contacts overseas to get the errant father to do his duty by his son. He got him to sign the official documents and Pawl would soon have a passport. From Poland, Babu visited England where he was invited by an old police colleague to visit his cottage in rural Oxfordshire. He found that his friend lived alone and used ordinary kuni to keep the house warm. The retired copper was now a coach driver and spent his days driving holidaymakers all over the place. Babu had accompanied his friend on one such journey which had taken them on a sight-seeing day trip to France. They got back quite late and took the coach to the depot. The friend had his own little van to get them back home.
They had got into the friend’s van for the 20 mile drive back to the cottage at 11.45.pm The country roads were dark and deserted. They had to drive through the lonely Wytham woods. The car started to judder a little like some older diesel cars when they are about to break down. This was just as they were out in the middle of nowhere. Babu’s friend decided to call his grandson who lived nearby. He asked him to come out in his car and follow them back to the cottage – just to make sure they got home ok. The twenty-something year old grandson declined saying he was already in bed and could not come. Even his granddad’s offer to fill up his car for him would not persuade him to leave his bed. Babu told me how depressed he had felt. The boy had totally lengad his grandpa at his hour of need.
The two coppers having no other option had driven on with fading headlamps and thick fog setting in. The car crawled at a snail’s pace but they eventually got to the cottage. The tired men could hardly stand after their long day and they went straight to bed. Babu says that his friend was snoring in under five minutes.
At about 03.00am Babu heard the phone ring. His friend answered it at once and almost immediately he was cursing and swearing. Babu heard his friend moving about and getting dressed and switched on a light. He asked if everything was ok. His friend could not help himself. It was as if a red mist had descended over his face. He explained that the caller was none other than his grandson. He who would not come to our rescue earlier in the evening. Some mates had called round to his house where they had played cards for ages before he decided to drop them off home. He had run out of diesel in the middle Wytham woods. He wondered if his grand dad would mind bringing him a gallon of diesel.
Babu and his friend had put on their coats and driven off into the dark cold night to rescue the ungrateful grandson.
As Babu recounted this tale to me Whitney Houston’s version of The Greatest Love of All was playing in my mind. The first line about the children being the future and how we teach them well and let them lead the way, seemed so apt somehow. One of the finest bloggers in town has really managed to marry music and the story in such a way that sometimes when you really listen you can hear the story being told in someone else words. I hope to be able to do that too, someday.