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.
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.