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Month: September 2015

this passport is valid

As soon as I got onto the by-pass I realised that I had forgotten to call Rubina. I had meant to do it before I left Babu’s office, where I’d gone to meet him for a short briefing. The old man was not to be hurried. He had so much to tell me. When he had paused, 2 hours later, at the end of a rather funny anecdote, I seized my chance to escape – and failed to make the call.

I drove on towards her place anyway, hoping that she would be home. I turned off at their little neighbourhood shopping centre and stepped into Maria’s mini-mart where I picked up a bottle of wine and some bites. It was only seven-thirty but the sky was dark and moody. The trees swayed frantically in the wind which swirled around the car-park blowing leaves and litter across the asphalt. My trained eye spotted a bar at the far corner of the shopping centre. I would have a swift pint in there and call Rubina.

Half-an-hour later we were in Rubina’s kitchen cooking dinner. She had opened the wine and we were making chicken curry with rice. I offered to make a side dish of her favourite ML spinach and in retaliation she made me the tiniest ugali you have ever seen. This was to thank me, she said, for turning up unexpected. She was glad that I had come by and happy that we were making a proper supper to have together.

We were having a ball in the kitchen. There was so much to catch up on. I had been away on assignment in Mombasa and we had only exchanged short conversations and not much else. I knew that Rubina was currently very busy at work and when she had called me one evening saying she had something rather important to tell me, I had asked her if it could wait until I got back to Nai. I would see her when I came for the office briefing. So here we were.

The meal was a success. I could have done with a larger ugali but Rubina’s coconut milk rice was an excellent substitute and it went very well with the chicken. I asked her why that chicken tasted so different from other currys that she had made in the past.

“I used a special ingredient.”, she said. “Lemon grass. It makes all the difference.” She stood up to clear the table and I topped up our glasses with the last of the wine. She washed and I dried, like they do on tv and when that was done we retired to the living room.

I was surprised to see the floor covered in papers and things. It looked like the contents of two drawers had been chucked all over the floor.

‘Ooops! Oh dear, I forgot about this, Woolie. Ha. Please excuse the mess; this is what I was sorting when you called. I totally forgot about it. Come sit here on this seat.”

“It’s ok, Rubina. Ha. I thought you’d been burgled! I can help you tidy it away, if you like.”
I started to pick up some documents when she reached out and took them, grabbing a whole load more from the floor.

“No no….Look…..this is my mess. I’ll sort it, thank you.” Rubina was getting somehow flustered, and I stepped back.

That was when some of the stuff that she held in her hands slipped and fell, and at the top of the pile was her passport.

“Are we going somewhere?” I asked, picking up the little blue book and turning the pages.

Old Passport

“If you look carefully, you will note that that’s is my Old passport. I was looking for my New one in order to make sure that it was in date.” Rubina said, putting some of the papers in order. She was obviously agitated by the thought that her passport may be lost. I picked up the remaining papers and together we put them away in the drawers.

“Try and think when you last had your kitabu.” I said, hoping to jog her memory. Rubina did not travel abroad much and I was struggling to remember myself. Was it that time during the floods?
Rubina left the room with the two drawers full of papers.

As I idly turned the pages of the expired passport, I noted the message on page 4 which read:

PASI HII INAWEZA KUSAFIRIWA KATIKA NCHI ZOTE ZA JUMUIYA YA MADOLA NA ZA KIGENI

It was also translated into English

THIS PASSPORT IS VALID FOR ALL PARTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH AND ALL FOREIGN COUNTRIES

EXCEPT THE REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

The bit about not travelling to SA had subsequently been deleted on the document, following the first multi racial elections: a culmination of the freedom struggle, the arrival of the age of democracy and a new South Africa, with the great Madiba Nelson Mandela as its first president.

The Exclusion

I marveled at the idea of how one was making a political statement every time one took a passport to travel abroad. Today’s passports do not have this message and I would be interested to know of other exclusions that may have been placed on passports and over the years.

After a while Rubina returned to the living room. She was wearing a bright red dressing gown. She carried a pale cream duvet and some blue pillows. She placed the bed things on the sofa and said “You shouldn’t really drive home tonight. There’s a storm brewing and you’ve had a lot of wine. I think I’ll just make us some hot drinks, then I’ll try and have an early night.”

She went into the kitchen and a few moments later emerged with two large steaming mugs of milky cocoa. She placed mine on the small table near the sofa.

“Have a good night, Woolie”, she said, offering me her cheek. I kissed it lightly and said good night in a voice that I barely recognised. Now I watched as she flowed out of the room, in the red gown. I heard her bedroom door close, putting that final full stop to the evening.

I wondered what it was that she had wanted to tell me as I slowly drifted to sleep……….

Would I lie to you?

I was in Babu’s office, seated across the desk from him, waiting patiently for him to end his phone call. He spoke in hushed tones and I barely made out what he was saying. I guessed it must be a sombre matter; perhaps some elderly relative was gravely ill, or had even died. He spoke for a further couple of minutes before saying goodbye and replacing the handset with a deep sigh.

“Whoa!” he said. “That woman is fuming. She’s spitting blood!” He looked at me, eyes twinkling over his reading glasses and asked, “Woolie, bwana, what have you done to make Ruby so angry?” I shook my head, surprised. “Me?” I asked. “I’ve done nothing – what’s she accused me of, Babu? Whatever it is, it wasn’t me. It’s not true, I haven’t done anything wrong. Would I lie to you, Babu? That woman just hates me. What am I supposed to have done?”

I was getting angry now. Commander Ruby Mwekundu of the Nairobi Regional Crime Squad was Babu’s pal. She made no secret of the fact that she loathed me painfully. She still referred to me as Mr Mbuzi even though she knew my name was Woolie Kondoo. I chose to rise above all that petty stuff, knowing that she was great friends with Babu. He was speaking again, now, repeating what commander Mwekundu had threatened to do if she ever laid eyes on me again. Apparently she had vowed to cut out my kidneys and roast them on a slow fire. It occurred to me that she may have referred to different body organs but Babu was ever the diplomat. He said “Stay out of the way until whatever ‘this thing’ is blows over.”

I wondered what ‘this thing’ could be. We rarely crossed paths, Ruby and me, and each time that we had met in recent times we had always parted ways courteously and without drama. Why was she suddenly on the warpath?

I did a quick rewind mentally to the very last time that I had seen the commander. This was when she had called round at my flat, the Friday morning before I was due to leave for work in Mombasa. It had been a short friendly meeting. She had brought a couple of parcels that she had asked me to take down to her relations in Mtwapa and we drank tea, chatting amiably about her niece’s wedding the following Saturday.

I remember how just as I had been complimenting Ruby on the wonderful preparations for the Big Day and my own regret at being unable to attend the nuptials, her official driver had come up to the door in a state of slight distress. “Very urgent call on the secure car-phone line, madam.” he proclaimed. Ruby had dashed out of the house and into the car to take the call. I could tell at once that this was a grave matter. After she had finished the conversation she lowered her window, her face all drawn and explained to me that there had been some serious breach of security somewhere and she was going straight back to Police HQ.

“I also need you to do me a really big favour, Woolie.” she said. It’s for the wedding tomorrow. Go to the shop and get another pair of long (arm length) gloves, please. Drop them off at my house and when I get back in tonight I’ll deal with them.” She stretched out her hand to give me some instructions, written on a piece of paper torn from her police note book. She also gave me a wad of notes.

From Police Notebook

I put the note in my pocket and offered a self-conscious salute. Ruby smiled sweetly and said, “We’re all counting on you. Please don’t let us down, Mr Kondoo.” And with that the car sped off in a cloud of dust.

I showered and shaved quick time and prepared to go to the shop as detailed in Ruby’s instructions. It was just after 11:00 and the sun was quite hot. At the shopping centre I noticed that KK’s bar was open for business so I stepped inside and ordered a swift Pilsner to wash away the dust. I had just put my favourite track on the jukebox when two pals from shags walked through the doors. They were down in the city for their monthly shop. The married couple were known around here for their love of mayhem. They would wine and dine Friday afternoon, dance away the night and then wake up to buy their provisions late on Saturday evening before heading back to the village. I had plans so I only had two beers with them. I began to feel the effects of 4 Pilsners on an empty stomach. If I was to accomplish mission Ruby and finally prove to her that my IQ was not a single digit, I had to make a move.

I found a taxi driver who was familiar with industrial area. Next I was looking for the small piece of paper with the name and location of the shop. It was not in my jacket or shirt pockets, nor was it in my trouser pockets. Should I call Ruby and ask her to text me the info? There was an unread sms on my phone. It was from Ruby, some 2 hours ago. “Hope you got the gloves. In a meeting till late. Bye xx” Oh no!

I nearly panicked but lucky for me I have a photographic memory. I knew where we wanted to go. I asked the taxi driver to head straight for Junction Road. We were there in twenty-five minutes, bless the kind man’s soul, At the corner of Junction Road was a row of shops. The middle one was called Mjengo Welding Supplies. I walked through their doors just five minutes before they were due to close. The man showed me his selection of gloves. I paid for a pair of full(arm length) gloves which came in a secure box. We dropped them off at Ruby’s house in Kilimani and then headed back to my flat where I packed a suitcase. The taxi finally dropped me off at the coach waiting room and |at nine-thirty I boarded a night coach to Mombasa.

Babu had listened to my story without interruption. Now he picked up the newspaper and slipped it across to me saying, “Open page 36, the classified section and look half-way down the page.” The advert gave me a cold empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

M&J Wedding Supplies

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