Global Enemy In My Backyard
All heads at the dining table turned to the doorway as the man of the house stumbled in.
The man of the house was thirty munites late to the breakfast table, and it was unlike him. He never took kindly to anyone coming late for meals, and he never took kindly to anyone touching anything edible before every member of the family was present.
"You won't believe what happened last night - this morning, in fact," started Pastor Jacob Gumede as he dragged back his chair... and missed it.
Jacob cursed loudly as he gathered himself from the carpeted floor. All five heads were staring down at him; all persons present trying to make sense of what was amiss with the pastor. Everything that the man had done so far this particular morning was unlike him.
"Jacks, what's the matter with you today?" asked Lloyd, the pastor's younger brother.
"I'm a bit shaken, as you see. I had a vision last night. A vision that no one since Moses himself has..."
"Aah, not again," snorted Lloyd as he threw his hands in the air. "Can somebody say grace, some of us are starving!"
Lloyd was the only person in the house who could speak his mind with no regard to the highly feared Gumede. He was also the outcast of the family; the only one in the highly religious household who drank like a mackerel and smoked like a crematorium.
"I saw Satan with my own eyes," continued Gumede, ignoring his brother.
Eyes widened. Throats were cleared. Lips were bitten and wiped to conceal amusement. Lloyd roared in laughter.
"I can see the disbelief in you, all, but I saw the devil, was touched by the devil...shut up, Lloyd! None of this is funny. As I was saying, the devil even spoke to me. She said..."
"She?" Asked Gloria, the sister to Pastor Gumede.
"It came in form of a woman. She said..."
Lloyd interrupted by loudly standing up.
"I can't put up with your nonsense anymore, Jacks," he said, "I have monitored your every movement since you came in here. You are clearly hung over and..."
"You know very well I don't drink!" Exploded Gumede. "God bless you for even insinuating that!"
"And He bless you for making me quit my food before I even touched it," scoffed the younger brother. "Pass my regards to Lady Lucifer, I'm out. And God help you if you feed your rubbish to my kids."
Lloyd strolled out of the doorway, whistling Amazing Grace on the way. His two sons looked at his back with a daddy-please-take-us stare. When he disappeared, the four remaining pairs of eyes turned to Gumede.
Gloria said: "Brother, you were still saying..."
"I know very well what I was saying," growled Gumede. "The Devil was standing in front of my closet, admiring my suits. I have to burn them all!"
He went on, "May God forgive me for saying this, but she was an exceptionally attractive woman. She told me that in two days one of us in this family is going to die."
The silence that followed was spooky. Each person at the table looked down and swallowed saliva at the impact of the words, save for Gumede's daughter who barely suppressed a giggle.
"Maria!" Exploded the pastor, "What is amusing you? Is death a topic of comedy to you?"
"N- no," replied the terrified girl.
He raised his voice: "Have I spared the rod on you for too long?"
"Not at all, brother," interjected Gloria. "We need to pray and chase away this contemptible spirit"
"I know," replied the pastor gruffly. "It is quite refreshing to hear a brilliant idea coming from you, sister. In addition to praying, we are all fasting beginning now. Take all these plates away."
"Oh, no!" The children protested at once, and stopped themselves too late.
The clergyman looked up. "Did I ask for anyone's opinion?"
When Lloyd came from work in the evening, fasting was aborted. Not that there was any fasting among the children, because they had secretly munched on the forgotten breakfast. He boldly instructed the children to cook as he proceeded upstairs to confront Jacob.
"You know what, brother?" He started, sitting at the edge of the table. "You are so full of shit."
"Hey, Lloyd!" Shouted the Pastor. "You don't speak like that to the man of..."
"And you don't starve my children the whole day because of your hallucinations, Pastor!"
"Look, if you and your children find Christian life too hard, the door is open."
"Keep dreaming, Jacob. That house is my father's and I'm not going anywhere."
"Then learn to respect my..."
They were interrupted by the sudden burst of the door as Lloyd's twelve-year old son charged into the room.
"Boyd!" The father snarled. "Don't you know how to knock any..."
"It's Aunt Gloria!" shouted the boy urgently. "She saw the woman Satan!"
They found Gloria trembling on the sofa and mumbling a series of inaudible syllables.
"I saw the woman in my bedroom," said Gloria when the men started demanding answers. "She said she is the mighty Lady Lucifer."
"Lady Lucifer?" chuckled Lloyd. "What are you people smoking?"
"The only smoker here," retorted the elder Gumede, "is he who finds amusement in the works of the cursed spirit."
"At least I smoke a certified brand of tobacco," he said.
Jacob ignored him and asked, "Gloria, what did the cursed Deceiver tell you?"
"Say it, child of God, say it!"
She fixed her eyes on Jacob as she replied: "I know it's all a lie by Diablo who wants to divide us as a family, but the woman said she instructed you to cast an evil spell on me and... and you did it."
"What are you attempting to mean by that?" Jacob demanded. "A spell? Me? On you? You don't believe that, do you?"
Maybe it's true," pressed Lloyd, knowing his statement was going to set his brother ablaze.
"God bless you!" Shouted Pastor Gumede.
"Thank you. Sister, what did your she-devil tell you about the specifics of this so-called spell?"
"She said Jacob has got my blood sample under his bed and... and that he made a wish that I should never find a man, and that he wants you dead, Lloyd."
"Bingo!" Exclaimed Lloyd sarcastically. "I knew it!"
Jacob was incensed. "Rubbish! Is that what you people think of me? Wizadry? Your own brother?"
"Then we better take a look under your bed, brother Jacks," challenged Lloyd.
"That's unnecessary! I have nothing under my..."
"Then what do you have to hide?"
"Fine! Let's go! Doubters, Thomases, you shall have no share in God's kingdom!"
When the three siblings got in Jacob's room, Lloyd heaved the nearside of the bed until the top side stood flat against the wall, revealing a debris of underpants, coins and tattered socks.
"That bottle!" Exclaimed Gloria. "She said it's all in that bottle!"
She was pointing at a 100 millilitre Vaseline container which was smeared with engine oil on its outer side.
"Whose bottle is that?" Demanded Pastor Jacob Gumede, his eyes wide and reddening like chillies.
"You tell us, brother Jacks," replied Lloyd sourly.
"I have never seen that thing!"
Lloyd opened the bottle and pulled a pitch-black bird's feather and a face photograph of Gloria. On the photo's blank side was a dark smudge of what appeared to be dry blood.
Suddenly, slaps rained on Jacob as Gloria got in a trance and was only stopped by the bemused Lloyd.
"I knew it!" cried Gloria. "Four failed marriages and I knew someone was playing the Black Magic game on me, but you? You, a brother I have tried to respect for so many years? You disgust me!"
He last words came out weaker until she tumbled down and lay unconscious.
"This accusation is extremely preposterous," insisted Jacob with an unusually low voice.
"If you say so, Pistorius," replied Lloyd distantly.
He was on his knees, trying to revive his unconscious sister.
When Gloria finally returned to the world of the conscious, Lloyd escorted her to the sitting room, instructed Maria to keep her company and then returned to Jacob's room. The pastor was sitting like an inanimate object on the edge of the bed.
"This matter can be easily clarified," Lloyd said to his brother. "Either Diablo is in town, which means he or she or whatever, has rightly implicated you..."
"...or there is no Devil at all, dear brother; someone is just messing with your heads. Now which is which, Pastor?"
"The Devil was here, I saw the woman with these two eyes! As for that bottle with Gloria's mugshot, I'm sure there is a logical explanation to it."
Lloyd diaplayed his frontline in a mirthless grin.
"You only seek logical explanations when they suit you, Jacks, dont you?"
There was an urgent knock on the door and before anone could respond, Boyd once again bulldozed his way into the room.
"Daddy! Come and see what Larry is doing!"
Larry was Lloyd's younger son.
Without a word, Lloyd dashed after the boy and stopped dead at the foot of the stairs, perplexed by what he saw.
Little Larry was standing on the coffee table in the middle of the sitting room, wielding an extra-large kitchen knife.
"You don't scare me at all!" The boy was screaming. "Get off my face, you ugly hag!"
"Larry!" Shouted Lloyd as he crept up and closed in on the boy. "Who are you talking to?
Put down that knife before you hurt yourself!"
The nine-year old boy ignored him and jumped off the coffee table, stabbing the air and kicking at nothing. Gloria and Maria scurried for cover behind the sofas. Lloyd shoved the stationary Boyd out of the way and carefully pinned back Larry's arms. Within a minute, he had taken the knife and settled the boy on a sofa. Larry was now in an awful fit of sobs.
Lloyd asked: "What did you see, boy?"
Larry just kept on crying.
"Did you see a woman?"
The boy nodded.
"What did she look like?"
Lloyd heaved himself up and went upstairs again, brushing past his brother along the way. He returned with the Vaseline bottle.
"I've seen enough of this shit," he said. "I'm going to the police."
"Do that, brother," agreed Jacob. "We need answers to this nonsense, especially the part about me bewitching my own..."
"I thought so," snorted Lloyd as he headed for the exit.
All eyes turned to the speaker, who turned out to be Maria.
She stumbled around the sofa and continued. "Please don't go to the police."
"Why the hell not?" Lloyd demanded, annoyed at the waste of his time.
The teenage girl dropped her eyes and stuttered something inaudible.
"If you have nothing to say," snarled Lloyd, "then don't waste my..."
"It was... it was me," stammered Maria.
"What are you trying to mean?"
"The orange juice in the fridge... I put crystal Nyaope in it."
Lloyd instantly understood. The Nyaope was a street drug commonly imported from South Africa. Brewed by Chemistry graduates with no jobs to waste their skills on, the latest versions of the drug were refined and into a highly soluble pack of grains. They were even so tasteless that one would not notice the difference in any foodstuff or beverage. The most notorious effect of this drug was hallucination.
Lloyd tried to be angry, but amusement got the better of him.
"There goes my niece again," he said in a smile.
"Maria!" Shouted her father, the Pastor. "God forgive me, but I'm going to kill you!"
"Shut up, Jacks," interjected Lloyd. "Maria, if this was just a drug, so why is everyone seeing the same woman who claims to be the devil?"
"I... recorded the voice-over on my phone. At first I set it as an alarm tone and hid it under Dad's bed, and then when I saw Aunt Gloria drinking the juice, I put the phone under the cushion beside her. I did the same with Larry. The voice aids the hallucination if you are drugged."
"Well, it was just my way of saying Happy Fools Day."
"Fools!" Exploded Jacob as he lunged at Maria. No one attempted to stop him. "When I'm finished with you, little girl, we will see who the bigger fool is!"
The Pastor grabbed the screaming Maria by the arm and dragged her upstairs.
"I'm too shocked to care about what you do to your daughter," Lloyd said after them, "but your mafiozi disciplinarian methods have created that cunning little girl. I hate to say I told you so!"
He turned to Gloria and his two sons.
"Can somebody get rid of that orange juice before somebody decides to forget whats in it? Oh, happy Fools Day indeed!"
As Lloyd finally strolled up the stairs to save a teenage girl from the wrath of a leather belt, laughter engulfed him.
LET THEM TRY
When I am eating a well grilled T-bone steak, I hate to be disturbed.
The disturbance on that sunny Thursday morning came in form of a resounding series of bangs on my gate. The person hitting the gate was either a damned idiot, I presumed, or was looking to start a fight. Why would he vandalize my expensive property when there was a bell button, very big and very red, as well as the instruction ‘Ring Bell’ inscribed in the most legible…
After taking a big bite of my T-bone, I jumped off the garden chair and headed for the gate.
“Hey I'm coming, you donkey!” I shouted as the bang got louder. “Are you planning to buy me a new gate?”
I was startled to an abrupt stop by a khaki envelope which flew over the entrance towards me. As I picked it up, I heard a motorbike start and take off outside. I studied the envelope as I returned to my spot under the jacaranda tree.
It was from the Bulawayo City Council, but it was definitely not a water bill or an invitation to a public meeting.
After attending to the meat once again, I finally tore it open. I forgot to breathe for a minute as I stared at the heading.
I once again checked the address on the envelope. The letter was definitely mine. But the house was mine, too!
“The Bulawayo City Council regrets to inform you that the land on which you built your house has been legally acquired in terms of Section 3:5 of the Urban Lands Tenure Act…”
I read on in disbelief. I was being chucked out of my own house. I had a month to vacate. It made no sense at all to me.
Five years back,when my auto repair business started to flourish, I had bought a piece of undeveloped land - from the Council itself - and followed every piece of procedure when I built my thirteen roomed semi-mansion. Either the records had been mixed up or someone was playing a dangerous practical joke with me.
I pulled out my phone and called the number which had been generously added at the end of the letter.
To my surprise, the call was answered by the Deputy Town Clerk himself. Enquiries usually went through Reception.
I spent the next three minutes explaining my case to the DTC.
“Sir, it must be very hard for you,” started the city officer, “but the records in front of me show that stand number 12, Hudson Crescent was officially idle until it was recently purchased by, let's see… by Tinashe Ndoro. That's not you, I suppose?”
“Of course not,” I replied flatly.
“In other words,” he continued, “you live in an illegal structure. You are very lucky to be allowed to leave, without any criminal charges levelled against you. Plus, do be grateful that you have been given a whole month to vacate the premises.”
“So I should demolish the house before I…”
“No!” He vehemently responded. “The Council will handle that. What I only ask of you is to save yourself more trouble and do the right thing without fighting us.”
“Of course I will fight you!” I heard myself burst in anger. “I told you I’ve got title deeds for this property!”
“Fraudulently obtained, of course,” scoffed the DTC’s voice.
“Voetsek, man!” I snapped. “I still have every receipt from the purchase of the stand up to the last transaction I did with you guys!”
“Then those receipts are forgeries too no doubt.”
Dazzled by the anger in me, I flung the cellphone at the far distance and half-watched it disappear into the neighbour’s yard.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
I turned to see a petified Sandra standing in the veranda, staring at me. I had even forgotten that there was someone else in the house. As usual, Sandra was only waking up now. Not that she was a champion sleeper, but she was fresh out of Khami Maximum Prison where a good sleep was as rare as a sunny midnight.
She went on: “Did I just see you throwing an iPhone over the wall?”
I stood up as I replied. “You and I are next over the wall.”
“Somebody wants to kick us out of this house.”
“What? But I thought…”
“It’s mine, damn it!” I shouted, and instantly regretted it. “Sorry, I…”
“Its okay, Skyman. Just tell me what this is all about.”
I waited for the whole hour in the Charge Office of Bulawayo Police Station. I was already contemplating to rise and vacate when a tall, gangly officer with heavily stained teeth approached the concrete bench I was sitting on.
“You must be Skyman Dube,” he started, grinning. He was probably oblivious of his dental situation.
“And you must be the VIP who kept me waiting for an…”
“Sorry, man. I was checking out the facts of your story. Follow me to my office, please. I am Inspector Chimene, by the way.”
As soon as Inspector Chimene took a seat behind his desk, the brown teeth vanished behind a pair of pouting lips.
“I know who you are, Mr Dube,” he said. “You are an ex convict who used to rob banks.”
He paused. I said nothing.
“This year is the ninth since you were released from prison, and you have built a house worth a quarter of a million bucks, no?”
“Your facts are precise,” I replied, tonelessly.
“Right. Your car repair business is also not a million dollar venture, no?”
I stood up. “Whats your point, policeman?”
“Sit down. You supposedly bought a stand four years after your release; no mechanic in the world would buy a stand in Morningside in a space of four years, let alone build such a house. Either you forged those receipts, sir, or you involved yourself in some illegal fundraising project.”
“Bloody moron!” I shouted. “I came here to…”
“The Municipality wouldn’t lie, Mr Dube. Just vacate their land and don’t give them grief, or we will have you thoroughly checked out and throw you back to jail for property fraud.”
“One more thing, Mr Skyman Dube. I understand your romantic companion is one Sandra Banda.”
“She’s also an ex-con, right?”
I sprayed the policeman with spittle and stormed out.
I was on my third pint of Carling Black Label at The Horizon when Patrick Solenbutt joined me at the far enfd of the bar. Known as the Scandal Hunter, Solenbutt was a freelance reporter whose reputation included the dismissal of two government ministers and the imprisonment of a city mayor. Like me, he was an ex convict who had come out of jail with a new purpose in mind.
“This better be good, Skyman,” he started as he snapped his finger at the bartender.
I replied: “Why would I need you for anything good?”
I spent the next ten minutes explaining my case to Solenbutt.
“So,” he finally interrupted me, “what exactly did you find newsworthy about your ordeal?”
“Don’t be a swollen backside, Patrick,” I replied, trying in vain to conceal the impatience in me. “There is obviously a group of mamparas out there who are busy stealing people’s houses; im sure im not the only victim. If you and I can prove that, then your dry spell of stories will be over.”
Solenbutt looked at the ceiling and laughed. I frowned.
“Sky, let’s get one thing straight,” he murmured. “You are not worried about my dry spell. You are worried about having to live in an imaginary house after they…”
“Skip the motive crap, man,” I said with finality. “Let’s just do this.”
When I got home at 6pm, I pulled three Carling Black Labels out of the fridge and went back to the garage to sit in the car. I wanted to think. I punched the steering wheel in dismay when the smaller door of the garage opened and Sandra walked in. At that moment, I wished I was the woman and she the man.
It is quite easy for a woman to say, “Go away, I want to be alone.”
But said the other way round, that statement might lead to a lot of unthinkables, including a night without contact games.
I concealed my disapproval by rummaging through the glove box as she got into the car.
She started: “So what did the cops say?”
“They denied that they were even cops,” I replied.
“What do you mean?”
I explained to her the details of my trip to the police station, including my meeting with Solenbutt.
“Sky, you can trust me,” she finally said, her eyes trained on mine.
I just stared at her, confused.
She went on. “Are you really sure you bought this land? I mean, the Municipality wouldn’t…”
“Sandra!” I exploded. “Are you listening to your bloody self?”
“Im not saying I don’t believe you, Sky, but…”
“Then what the hell are you saying?”
My new Huawei cellphone saved the day. Its shrill ringtone startled us both. It was Solenbutt calling.
“Skyman, you are a lucky guy,” his excited voice whispered.
I said nothing.
He continued, “I ran some background check on the Deputy Town Clerk. It looks like Mr Trevor Sibanda has previously worked for at least three other municipalities.”
“And that helps us a lot, right?” I sarcastically said.
“Let me finish! When Mr Sibanda was working in Beitbridge, at least two guys lost their properties. When he was in Plumtree, at least two more guys lost houses. One of them fought all the way to the Supreme Court but lost.
“Then our dear Sibanda went to Victoria Falls…”
“I can easily guess,” I interrupted him. Look, im coming to your house right now.”
“Don’t hang up, Skyman,” he said. “There is one common thing about these victims.”
“They are all ex-convicts.”
I had hooted twice in front of Solenbutt's house, but there was no response. I noticed the Jialing motorbike which was awkwardly parked in front of the entrance I cut the engine of my Isuzu and got out.
"If you are thinkiñg what I'm thinking," spoke Sandra, "then let's climb over the gate very fast."
I said nothing. I was too angry with her to acknowledge that she was right.
"I'm not thinking what you are thinking," I replied distantly. "And it's been more than two decades since I climbed over someone's gate."
Sandra snorted something inaudible and started clambering over the not-so-challenging steel gate. I had no choice but to follow.
Ever since Sandra hinted that she did not believe my version of the problem at hand, I had begun to build a theory that she was part of whichever gang that was trying to scam me. I had tried to stop her from accompanying me to Solenbutt's house, but she had buckled up and challenged me to drag her out of the car.
Solenbutt's front door was wide open. I shoved Sandra aside and looked inside. I would not have expected worse than what I saw.
The coffee table in the middle of the sitting room was a mess of broken glass and blood coating.
I heard Sandra let out a gasp, which would have been a shrill scream were she any other regular woman. She shoved me forward and I entered the house.
A continuous trail of blood started from the ruined table and stretched into the kitchen. When I stepped into the kitchen, I immediately saw the corpse.
"He tried to kill me," said Solenbutt, emerging from the dark pantry.
I jumped. Sandra gasped again.
"Don't frighten me like that, Patrick!" I whispered unpleasantly.
Solenbutt ignored my rebuke and continued speaking.
" I spotted him climbing the gate. I then sneaked out through the back door and..."
"Who is he?" I asked.
Solenbutt hesitated and looked hurt that I had no time to listen to his supersoldier story. Then he tossed an ID card at me. And another. And a third one. And then a passport.
The documents belonged to three different nationalities. One was for a Tanzanian named Roy Safewa. The other ID and the passport both belonged to a Nigerian, Troy Emenike. The last card belonged to a Zimbabwean. Tinashe Ndoro.
"Isn't this the guy who supposedly bought your house?" Sandra asked.
"Which makes a lot of sense," said Solenbutt.
I cast a demanding stare at him.
"Newsflash, my friends," he said. "Your deputy Town Clerk's real name is Joel Emenike."
The story came out on Sunday morning. In the afternoon, I was sitting like a king under the jacaranda tree, helping myself to a well grilled T-bone steak when the FM radio pleasantly disturbed me. It reported that Joel Emenike had been arrested for countless counts of fraud. His brother cum accomplice was officially on the run, but I knew that his body would never be seen again.
The Code of Ndazula
The humid, sunny summer was hostile, and the man in front of them was unbearable.
It was barely forty-eight hours since the Ndazula National Councilors had crowned the new King, but they already missed the 'good old days'.
King Sondeza was tirelessly talking.
"I will not, by any means, allow the Ndazula nation to be flooded with dirty Western culture. Therefore, if you have Satellite television in your home, tell your respective people to take down the dishes tomorrow and destroy the decoders. I don't have to explain what will happen to you if you think I'm joking."
There was a rumble of disapproving murmurs in the crowd, but no one dared to speak up in protest.
"I realize that my forefathers had abandoned some very important Ndazula customs; they are all back. Starting tomorrow, I will be visiting schools."
The Councilors all stopped murmuring. Maybe the man was going to say the first sensible thing since the meeting started, they each hoped.
"Why schools? Because it's a custom, which my rather ignorant predecessors overlooked, that every year the King should choose a beautiful, reasonably young girl to be his..."
King Sondeza's voice drowned in the angry roars of protest. The Councilors had heard enough. One stood up and headed for the door. In seconds, the Ndazula House of Councilors was empty but for one man, clad in leopard skin and an obviously Western crown, and his security details.
A Zimbo’s Quest
Cathy Simpson had never heard a voice like that. Nowhere in New York.
She had been standing and listening for three minutes in the doorway of the rehearsal room. She was sure that it was not one of the Simpson Records artists in there. It was the first time she would ever call a male voice 'sweet'.
She quietly walked in.
The source of the voice had his back to her and was too lost in his piece of music to sense a human presence other than his own. Cathy was able to read the back of the singer's jacket. Alvarez Cleaning Services. A cleaner.
She tapped his shoulder. The cleaner jumped off the stool, eyes wide, and started to stammer an apology. The forgotten acoustic guitar, which had been resting on his right lap, was saved by its
strap slung over his shoulder.
Cathy suddenly transformed from impressed to furious. The deal with the cleaning company had been simple: come after the close of business, do your thing and leave. No messing around with priceless musical instruments. There would be hell to pay. She would call Pablo Alvarez first thing the next morning.
"What' you doing with that guitar?" She demanded.
"Ma'am, I'm sorry. Very sorry, I..."
"I asked you a question." She crossed her arms and watched the man wilt even more.
"I'm cleaning, ma'am. Please, I..."
"Cleaning?" She snorted a sarcastic laugh.
" Not exactly. I've finished cleaning, and got three more hours to kill before..."
"Kill the hours, then, not our instruments."
She turned to leave. She had noticed something foreign about the cleaner. Something about his accent...
"What's your name?" She asked, turning at the doorway to face him.
"Mandla. Rhymes with Chandler."
"Zi- what? Where's that?"
The guy looked surprised. "In Africa."
"Now listen carefully, Chandler Rhymes. I'm gonna speak to Pablo Alvarez in the morning and tell him how seriously you take your job."
The cleaner's knees seemed to buckle as he sat on the stool and said nothing. Cathy walked out.
The less I have worth giving, the more I feel like believing....
The lyrics had been ringing like a brass bell in Cathy's mind ever since had left the Simpson Records building the previous evening. And the whole night after that. Even now as she was munching her breakfast. That cleaner guy wasn't just a raw talent, she thought. He was an undiscovered pro.
"Cathy, I'm talking to you," croaked her father, Charles Simpson, startling her. "Are you okay? You are smiling like a nutcase, spilling cornflakes and milk all over yourself. Is it finally a man?"
"No, it's nothing. I'm fine. It's nobody."
"Who is this Nobody?"
"Charlie," croaked her step mother. "Leave the girl alone and eat your food."
"Shut up, Maria. Cathy, who's this Nobody?"
" No one! I was just thinking about a song I heard at the studio last evening when I went back to get my flash drive."
"I'm not following."
"I found this guy singing and playing one of the guitars in the..."
"Not exactly, a cleaner. He..."
"What do we pay those guys for?"
"That's not the point, he..."
"Did you give his boss a call about it?"
"And there you are, eating like a toddler. That's because of a cleaner?"
"Dad, I rest my case."
"Nah, don't rest it. Tell Suarez, Alves - whatever - that he will lose the cleaning contract in less than a heartbeat if his cleaners mess with my studios like that."
Cathy stood up just then, her appetite gone. She called Alvarez's number on her phone.
"Hi, Pablo. Do you have a minute?"
"Always," replied the gruff, cartoonish voice.
"There is this cleaner of yours..."
"A human cleaner or a detergent?"
"That's too silly for a joke. He was in our building last evening."
Alvarez was quiet for a moment. "What did he or she do? I'll fire that person in a blink if..."
"Relax, nothing's wrong. He said his name rhymes with..."
"Chandler? The Zimbabwean?"
"I want his number and address."
"May I ask why?"
"Provided you will wait a few days to be answered."
"Miss Simpson, it's my duty to protection my employees. If..."
"Pablo, don't forget that your contract is a couple of months away from running out. And do remember that my father has a limited opinion about you."
"Okay, okay! Let me send the number. I don't have his address."
She smiled to herself and hung up.
Three hours later, Cathy parked her Bentley Continental in front of a McDonald's outlet. Mandla immediately appeared and hesitantly got in the car. Now he looked more confused than scared.
"First of all," started Cathy after the rather-too-formal greetings. "I'm sorry for last evening's outburst. It was just an awkward moment we both should forget. And of course, if you weren't singing so masterly, I wouldn't even be sorry about anything."
"I'm sorry too," replied Mandla, filling his own gap of the truce. "For touching your stuff without permission."
She eased the car out of the parking lot and headed towards Manhattan.
"Where are we going?" Mandla asked.
"Relax," replied Cathy. "I'm not interested in human meat. You will know very soon. How old are you?"
By the time they reached Manhattan, Cathy had gathered a near complete profile of the Zimbabwean. Mandla was twenty-two years old and he had migrated to USA with the hope of making it big in the music industry. He wanted to take the whole world by storm, and any musician who wanted that needed to be first endorsed by Americans. If Americans okayed you, Africans and Asians would then take you seriously. Especially if your genre was founded in America. Learned laymen call it media imperialism.
"So you still believe your dream..."
"I don't dream, ma'am. I plan."
Wow, she thought.
"Call me Cathy, not that."
She parked in front of a store and killed the engine.
"van Groot, musical instruments..." Mandla read the shop's placard and looked at Cathy. "Is this what I think it is?"
"Just follow me, Chandler Rhymes," she replied with a smile.
She led him into the store, through the neat rows of various musical instruments and halted at a section tightly packed with acoustic guitars.
"Time to choose, buddy," she told him. "Take your time, and I'm pretty sure you'll find the one."
"Where will I keep it?" Mandla asked as Cathy reversed the Bentley out of the parking lot. He hardly took his eyes off the new guitar.
"What do you mean?" She asked back. "Where do you stay?"
Mandla looked away and said nothing.
"Mandler, talk to me, all right?"
"I stay nowhere."
"What? You don't look like a bum to me!" She immediately regretted using the word.
"Well, I make some effort to look smart. I do my laundry at work and keep my few clothes in a locker there. I asked Mr Alvarez for nightshifts so that I'd stay busy while all of you are asleep, and then take a nap at a subway station or bus stop during the day."
"Isn't your salary..."
"I'm in the middle of recording, and five months worth of salary covers only one song at a backyard studio. I might need to save even more for marketing my work, you know, bribing a presenter or two..."
As Mandla was babbling about his plight, Cathy yanked her Galaxy S7 off the charger and dialled.
"Pablo, hi again. Are you able to excuse Chandler from work for a couple of days, starting today?"
"Miss Simpson, what's really going..."
"I have a task for him."
"Unfortunately, we are short-staffed here. I can't."
"Pablo, be nice with me."
"Gracias," she hung up."
Mandla cast a curious glance at her.
"You will start rehearsing today,"'she told him.
" Your solo appearance at a fundraising dinner three days from now."
"What!" Mandla looked ready to jump off the moving car. "I can't! I mean..."
"Then you might as well commit to scrubbing floors until your visa runs out, after which you will have to drag your arse back to Zoo-baby"
"Right, sorry. I'm just trying to give you the 'big break' here. This bullshit plan of yours - sleeping in subway stations and saving bucks to bribe some bogus presenters - you're not the first to try it and you won't be the first to fail. If you don't take my offer, well, fine by..."
"I'll do it," Mandla quickly replied. "It's just that I'm nervous, you know."
"What nonsense, you came all the way from Africa to get nervous here?"
They drove in silence for ten more minutes. Cathy was now driving slowly, especially by the standards of her supercharged V8 machine. She caught him stealing a look at her cleavage. Again. She smiled and said nothing.
She finally swerved to the right and parked in the driveway of a Bed and Breakfast establishment.
"Here's what happens," she told him. "I'll get you booked in here, you make yourself friends with that guitar and be ready to impress me on Friday. I'll send someone to help you, and I'll get you dressed for the occasion. If you disappoint, I'll personally pack you in a plane back to Africa."
Mandla looked helpless.
"Hey, cheer up. You did a great solo at the studio last evening, so this time it's up to you to mess it or smash it."
"Cathy, just listen to that!" Charles Simpson slurred as he downed his tenth shot of whisky, his left finger pointing at the solo musician on the stage.
The singer was supposed to have finished his work ten minutes earlier after doing his two songs, but the crowd of distinguished persons at the fundraising event had demanded an encore.
"He's pretty good, daddy," replied Cathy as she stood up and winked at one usher. She went towards the restrooms and the usher, whose tag read Hannah, joined her inside a minute.
"That chair is now occupied," said Cathy accusingly.
"Ma'am, there was no way I would refuse..."
"Well, make a plan! Put an extra chair at Pritchard's table! I want him right there!"
Cathy turned and walked back into the hall.
The singer was now being asked by the MC to step off the stage. The crowd of high-lives was booing the MC as the tall black man with an English-cut waltzed between the tables with a broad smile. He was led by an usher to a table with one chair too many; not that anyone had noticed the anomaly anyway.
"Cathy," spoke Charles Simpson in a panicked voice. "Do you see what I'm seeing? That boy has gone to sit next to Pritchard!"
Charles Simpson and Albert Pritchard had been bitter rivals since their nasty split, a decade earlier, when they had been in the same Rock group. The two men always competed over everything. The bitterness even spread to the artists: You either belonged to Simpson Records or to Pritchard Productions.
Cathy said, "Pritchard might sign him tomorrow morning if you..."
"Get him off that table, Cathy!"
"And then what, will you sign him instead?"
"Of course I will, weren't you listening when he sang? And do you think I can stand a phone call from Pritchard gloating like..."
"Dad, are you really sure..."
"He's the cleaner I told you about."
"I don't care! Wait a minute... you know him? Is this a doctored coincidence?"
"Sorry, dad. I had to. If you don't want the cleaner, Pritchard takes him."
"Before you sign anything, Mr Mandla Moyo," said Charles Simpson as he paced around in Cathy's spacious office. "I want you to know that I love to be impressed. You are here today because I was impressed on Friday. If you drive me to losses, I will pack your ass into a cargo ship back to Africa in a click. And please, man, keep your eyes off my daughter's cleavage."
He walked out.
"Don't mind him," soothed Cathy. "Put some ink on those papers, boy. I've already booked a session for you. After which maybe I can take you out of your misery, you know, the cleavage."
Mandla smiled as he reached for the pen.