It was twenty-past ten when I finally got to the office on a cold, wet morning after the night before. What a night it had been. I was still trying to get my head around what I had learned from Rubina. Babu was standing at the office reception and he did his usual annoying thing of looking at his watch when he saw me.
The small office was a hive of activity today as colleagues buzzed in and out, answering phones, consulting with clients and earning money. Babu looked around and beamed. He beckoned to me and so I followed him straight to his private office. I noticed that the light in my own office was off. Rubina often worked in there and I was half expecting she would be in. Babu read my mind and said that he believed that she would be in court all morning.
I was soon seated comfortably having ginger tea with Babu’s favourite cinnamon mandazi from the shop downstairs. Babu took out his pipe and filled it carefully. When he was done he walked over to the big window and pushed it open drawing in the wet and misty Nairobi air. We could hear the traffic noise outside, some seven floors below.
“So what do you think of our young lawyer?” Babu asked, trying to blow his sweet pipe smoke out into the mist. I answered quickly saying I thought she was a very nice young lady. I was slightly taken aback. Was there anything at all that this man was not aware of?
Babu smiled and told me to relax. He explained that he was interested to hear my own view about her rather unusual background. It was clear then that Rubina had already told him of our late night conversation. Perhaps they had talked about it just before she went into court. I told him that quite frankly the news had come as a bit of a shock and I had not had time to process it in my own mind. He nodded to show that he understood. The ‘news’ had been quite the bolt from the blue.
“Well……I have a little more background information for you.” Said Babu. He gave up fiddling with his pipe and went back to his seat. I refilled our cups, helped myself to a couple more gorgeous mandazis and got myself comfortable again. Babu had that far away look in his eye and I realised that he had something to tell me.
“You see, I first met Rubina when she was a young law student. I was giving a talk on Crime and Punishment at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at her University. Later that evening we had an informal dinner with the law students. Rubina was introduced to me by one of her tutors. It was clear even then that she was a bright spark, highly motivated. We discussed law, politics and other stuff that evening. Later, when I returned home we kept in touch by post. Rubina would send me regular updates on her studies and she enquired about changes to our legislation and procedures in criminal law. I was always happy to discuss all these things in which she showed such a genuine interest.”
Babu went on to tell me how, after a year or so, Rubina had announced that she would be travelling to the fair Republic over the summer holidays. She was going to pay her father a visit. Everything was planned. She arrived safely and went to see her father who raised sheep and cattle in a small farm just outside Nakuru.
One week before Rubina was due to leave again for Uni she had called at Babu’s office at the Police Headquarters. On her face was a sad determination. Tears ran freely as she had told Babu of the huge gulf that had developed between her and her father. Peter Malo, it seemed, was reluctant to help Rubina find her natural mother. Babu rephrased his statement. Malo was angrily opposed to any such proposition. In his mind the woman who had abandoned a helpless baby girl could not be forgiven and did not deserve to be called a mother. Where had she been all these years. Rubina told Babu that she had tried to explain to her father that it was she who needed to find her mother to settle her own mind. Malo would not be convinced. He had hardened his heart and declared that all along her trip to Kenya had not been about visiting him at all, but to look for that terrible woman. He had ordered her to leave the farm immediately getting the workers to carry her suitcases to the main road. She had realised she would have to seek help elsewhere. Babu had made a solemn promise to do all that he could for her.
I was aware that all this was many years ago. Rubina had gone back to England, completed her studies and was now a high-flying lawyer with a well-known city firm. She did much legal work for Babu and was quite at home at his offices.
Babu now explained to me how Rubina had remained unwavering in her determination to find her mother. There had been many false leads which she and Babu had followed to dead ends. For all intents and purposes they were no nearer to finding her today than Peter Malo had been all those years ago. From Malo’s testimony the young ‘Jennifer’ was Kenyan or perhaps Ugandan. He had not been able to identify her at all.
The phone in my pocket trembled. I excused myself to check it and found that it was a message from Rubina!
“Woolie this is an SOS! Please call me asap.”
“ I better call her and find out what’s wrong”, I said to Babu who nodded. The time was 12:34
Rubina answered immediately. She was obviously quite agitated. She asked whether I was still in the office. She explained that she was having a bit of a day from hell. The court case had gone well. They had finished by 11:00am and so she had gone shopping. She was hosting a small early supper that evening for some important guests. She had finished with the shopping and had a good idea of what to cook. She was back at home and everything was in place. Now she had discovered that her oven was not working. Did I know anything about electric ovens?
I relayed all this to Babu who immediately ordered me to go and get help.
“Try the electricians at Corner House first,” he said, as I hurried out of the office.
I stopped by a few electrical shops one the way to Rubina’s and they all said that their engineers were out on calls. The earliest I could expect a home visit was Thursday morning of next week! When I arrived at her apartment Rubina was beside herself. She had prepared all this food and it all needed to go in the oven. What was she going to do.
“Let’s have a nice cup of tea and we’ll sort it out”, I said trying to sound confident.
She had an ten year old Flavel cooker, a make that I had come across before. I switched it on and it was immediately apparent that it was the element that had failed. I asked Rubina for directions to the nearest electrical hardware store. I was there and back in 15 minutes carrying a brand new element.
I asked Rubina to turn off the oven at the mains.
“Now pour me a very stiff drink, for my nerves. One needs steady hands for electrical work.” She looked at me like I had uttered an obscenity.
“Hahahahaha! Just kidding”, I said quickly and the smile slowly spread across her face in that charming way of hers. For the first time she relaxed.
I went back to my car and retrieved a small tool box from the boot.
Rubina said, “Hmmmm…..I see you came prepared. I’m impressed!”
“Oh it’s just a few bits that I keep handy, you never know when you might need them.” I said quietly.
We worked as we chatted. The first thing to do was to pull the oven out from its fitted location so that we would eventually gain access to the back.
The element actually sits inside the oven cavity behind a metal plate at the back and it was necessary to remove this back plate in order to withdraw the element. The back plate was held in place by two screws at the top. The screw on the left showed signs of serious wear and heat damage. This element had clearly been changed before.
Once the element was exposed we proceeded to remove the top and side outer cover plates thus gaining access to the back of the oven where the electrical connections came in. There were 3 connections. Just to be safe Rubina took some photos of the electrical connections. We pulled the cables off and removed the retaining screws that held the
element in place.
We now positioned the new element in place screwed it firmly into position and replaced the top and side outer covers. We replaced the back plate and lifted the oven back into its fitted space.
Rubina switched on the oven and within minutes it was warming up. It took a little while to burn off the ‘new element’ smell and it was soon ready for her to cook her supper.
I was ready for another cup of ginger tea.
“So who have you got coming for supper tonight? I asked.
“Oh, just some ladies.” Rubina looked at me. She said, “Your Babu has some friends who work with the men and women of the shadows, know what I mean?” I nodded.
“One of them has found someone, an old nun in Kitale, would you believe. She thinks she may have some information on ‘Jennifer.’ The shadows are bringing her over tonight. It is all very quiet.”
“But how, can this even be possible after all this time?” I asked. I did not want her raising her hopes only to have them dashed again.
Rubina looked calm, disturbingly calm. She said quietly “We shall have to wait and see. You are most welcome to stay, if you like.”
“Oh thank you so much, but I can’t really stay.” I told her. This was her moment. I felt that I would be intruding on something private.
“No, no.” She said earnestly. “Don’t you see, Woolie, this is an investigation like so many that we do. I need you and Babu to help me with this.”