The car had not quite skidded to a halt when Woolie jumped out of the driver’s seat and ran round to get the passenger door. He held it open for her until she was seated. He closed her door and went back and settled himself behind the wheel. He selected drive, eased the handbrake and drove slowly down the short drive to rejoin the Mbeki Road where traffic was nose-to-tail in both directions
“We’ll be so late…” she sighed, staring straight ahead.
“Sorry Rubina”,Woolie replied. He glanced at her. “It couldn’t be helped. There’s a huge hole that’s opened up in the middle of the road, hapa mbele……you’ll see it. It is taking a long time for everyone to get past. That’s what’s causing the delay.”
“You should have come a different way….or left earlier. Have you forgotten we are giving Binu Prakash a lift to the restaurant? I reminded you jana”, said Rubina.
“Nkt! Why do we have to give this Binu chap a lift anyway, can’t he drive himself? Woolie asked. “I don’t even know why he was invited to your farewell dinner. Was it not supposed to be just work-mates and close friends?” Woolie said this with a pained expression on his face.
“Woolie, Prakash was invited by Commander Ruby as you well know. That is why you are being so hostile. You know that Ruby introduced us when she learned that Prakash now lives in Toronto. At least she’s making sure that I will have someone to help me settle in when I arrive. Someone I can go to for help, directions, information. It was nice of her to do that for me.” Rubina was looking at the road ahead as she said this, hoping she had not stung him too deep.
“She’ll probably want you to marry him and have his tois and ef’thing, knowing the commander”, Woolie retorted in a scornful tone.
“Stop being petty, Kondoo. It doesn’t suit you.” was her reply.
These heated discussions were nothing new. Ever since Rubina had dropped the bombshell – her imminent departure to take up a teaching post in Toronto – things between her and Woolie had not been the same. Rubina was young, bright, unattached and without the burdens (as she put it) of close family ties. Woolie, now single, was settled, working for Babu in the investigations and security industry and he could not countenance emigrating and starting anew. They had agreed that this in itself should not mean the end of the world and somehow despite or perhaps because of these limitations their relationship had continued to blossom to a point where they were now quite cheerfully having rows.
They were now driving down the street where Binu Prakash’s mother lived. They stopped at door No 77 and Rubina went up to ring the doorbell. A short lady in a bright green sari came to the door. A moment later Rubina was ushered into the house. The lady stepped out and looked at Woolie’s car for a moment before following Rubina inside and shutting the door behind her.
Rubina’s boss at the law firm sat next to Babu at the head of the table and was as proud as the father of the bride. He made the introductions and went on to tell the rest of the party that they had opted for an informal dinner, a chance for them all to say kwaheri to the brightest star of the firm. He had a tear in his eye when he proclaimed in true wedding fashion that he was losing a daughter as Toronto was gaining a bright and articulate young woman with a fantastic career ahead of her. He explained to those gathered that recent geopolitical events were having a profound impact on so many aspects of our lives. The university where Rubina would be working had set up a new study on the Impact of Recent Migration on the delivery of Law and Justice. Exciting times ahead.
Woolie nodded and clapped with the others. He had already accepted that Rubina had made the right choice in taking up the 3-year appointment. He had spoken to Babu about it and the old man had merely confirmed his own thoughts. One must be allowed to follow one’s dreams and aspirations, for better or worse. The alternative is always worse, ha! Far better to grab the chance, the opportunity than to taste the bitter waters of wondering what ifs and could-have-beens, and the inevitable resentments in relationships.
The party was in full swing now. The drinks were flowing and the music was getting louder. Woolie snapped out of his reverie to find to his surprise that Commander Ruby Mwekundu was speaking to him.
“I wanted to introduce you to Binu”, she was saying. “He tells me his mother thought you were shy earlier this evening. Hahahahahahaha…” She had pulled Binu by the hand and so that he was now facing Woolie, smiling. Binu Prakash took off his spectacles and untucked the front of his shirt to polish them.
Ruby Mwekundu addressed Binu saying, “Tell mbuzi here how I almost killed you when we first met…hahahahahahahaha.”
Binu liked the attention. He waited till everyone was quiet. They had gathered round, their glasses full, waiting for him to begin.
He took a long sip of his beer and said, “It’s such a long time ago, but I remember the events like it was yesterday. I think this is something I will remember to my dying day”.
And so the gathered party heard how it came to pass that seven years before young Binu Prakash had walked into a small bank in Westlands with his naani, (grandmother) They were waiting in the queue to deposit some money. Suddenly the front doors were kicked open and six armed robbers burst into the banking hall, their weapons drawn. Three of the gangsters went up to the cashiers and demanded money. The other three stood guard forcing the customers to lie on the floor.
The impatient thugs were threatening to shoot the customers if the cashiers did not accede to their demands. When the old watchman pleaded for mercy the thugs shot him in the chest, leaving him to lie bleeding in the centre of the hall.
Now Naani was carrying a large cotton bag with Ksh2000 worth of one-shilling pieces. When one of the thugs turned his back to her she smashed the bag over his head with such force that it split open, spilling hundreds of shillings all over the floor. The thug collapsed in a heap. Binu snatched his pistol and turned it on the other thieves shooting two of them dead. He shot and injured a third one who escaped with the other two colleagues.
There is no way the crooks would have known that the Flying Squad had been lying in wait for their gang following a tip off. Led by a young commander by the name of Mwekundu they had stormed the bank to find a triumphant Binu strutting around waving a loaded pistol and looking for more crooks to shoot. Mwekundu had tackled him to the ground and snapped on the handcuffs before he could explain that he was an innocent bank customer.
After lengthy interviews, witness statements and bank cctv evidence Binu was found to be completely innocent. He assisted the police with ID Parades and in due course the remaining robbers were apprehended. Ruby and Binu’s friendship had continued to develop out of a mutual respect that each held for the other. When Binu went away to Toronto he had used the Commander’s reference letter to land his first job as a fraud officer in a small Canadian bank.
Woolie was now looking at Binu in a different light. This man was his kind of hero! A man of Action. It is a good thing that Rubina would be able to count him as a friend. When he got a chance he would tell her that he now realised why Ruby had introduced them. That should smooth the waves, he thought.
Binu was still speaking. He deplored the silly gun laws in the country and found it strange that decent good people found it difficult to obtain legal weapons whereas illegal arms proliferated the towns and cities. The guns were with the bad guys. Binu declared that if the GOK was serious about fighting the threat from the black-flag extremists then they would need to look again at gun laws. Arm the communities to defend their families and their property! Armed robbers and car-jackers operate with impunity because the law forbids decent law-abiding people from carrying weapons.
Woolie could sense disquiet from the legal fraternity and members of law enforcement gathered. Even Babu did not seen convinced by these ideas. Meanwhile Binu was now speculating what the outcome would have been if say security and maintenance staff in places like Westgate or Garissa had been armed….
Binu sensed the mood and changed direction. He smiled at Rubina who had come back to sit next to Woolie. It was quite cold. Without thinking, Woolie had taken his coat from the back of the chair and placed it over Rubina’s shoulders and she was pulling it closer to lock in the warmth.
“Awwwww you two are so sweet. Woolie you should see how she looks at you.” Binu said. Woolie asked him if he was married. Binu nodded saying he would be married 3 years in March. It was commander Ruby who asked him, “ What does your other half do for a living?” To which Binu had replied “Linda is a physicist. Works at the same university that Rubina is going to.
Woolie was impressed. This guy was so cool. A security official type dude working in boring old banks and married to a physicist. He asked, “Is she Canadian or…
Woolie looked at Binu and was surprised to find that his eyes had softened. Gone was the hard-line cynic speaking with an edge to his voice. Gone too, the worries of an unsure, unsafe, insecure world. Even today Woolie says that what he saw in Binu’s eyes was immense joy. He was speaking softly now and Woolie strained to hear what he was saying. Woolie glanced at Rubina and found that she too was trying to catch what Binu was saying.
“My other half is not Canadian. His name is Linda Sokhwebula and he is from South Africa”, he said.