*William Khalipwina Mpina is a Malawian poet, fiction writer, essayist, editor, economist and teacher. His writing reflects on the mundane and the everyday. Many of his works appear in online international literary magazines such as Kalahari Review, Literary Shanghai, Writers Space Africa, African writer, Nthanda review, Scribble Publication, Atunis Galaxy Poetry, Poetica and Expound Magazine; and in over ten local anthologies. A co-editor of 'Walking the Battlefield' a 2020 Malawian anthology on corona virus, Mpina contributed succulent verses in a book 'LOCKDOWN 2020', prose and poetry on living in isolation and surviving corona virus, which features authors from 24 countries around the world. His books include Princess from the Moon (2020), Shattered Dreams (2019), Blood Suckers (2019), Shadows of Death and other poems (2016), Namayeni (2009) and Njiru (2003).
SNIFFING THE DEAD MAN'S SHADOW
"How Joyoyo died everyone would live to remember? It might be true the world has two-legged beasts, merciless and without a soul. Trust me, the walking beasts would do anything anytime. Just imagine, this man was killed and bundled in a travelling bag right at the hotel." My fiancee, speaking of her brother, was facing the wall, full of tears.
"Sorry, bae. Let everything be in the hands of God. Allow God to be the judge since justice is being sought." I consoled her; yet still I begged her to tell me why her brother deserved that sort of punishment.
A sea of slim crows flew past the entrance of Mount Soche hotel as Joyoyo greeted Frank, the receptionist, basking in the morning sun. Joyful crows in black and white crowed seemingly, making peace with one another. If Joyoyo's eyes were to follow the crows, they would see that the crows had a home in a tall bluegum tree. Each perching on its own branch. Thousands and thousands of them; equal in richness and weight, bothering nothing about the welfare of the other had their homes in trees one thousand metres away from the hotel. If Joyoyo craned his neck down the trees, the eyes would be stunned to see the ground painted white with the crows waste. These small vultures were useless, but the city authorities kept them to be cleaning dead dogs hit by drunken drivers.
Joyoyo smiled as he parked his car nearly hitting Frank's left leg.
"Yes, boss. Have been shivering throughout the night." Frank smiled.
"Where shall the 'irresistibles' meet?"
"Makata hall. SG has already booked it."
"Yes. He called this morning. "
"Alright. Always remember. No one should notice that the 'irrestibles' are here. The SG and other well known guests should not use the front door. You know how sensitive people are nowadays; and what their smart phones are doing. Clicking and clicking, taking the best shots and posting nasty things on social media."
"Bho, bho, boss."
Joyoyo's shiny shoe tapped on the floor and quickly, he scampered up the stairs straight to Makata hall. Two muscular men brandishing batton sticks followed him and, whispering to each other, stood at the door.
Towards half-past eleven, stony faced-irresistibles about twenty; each one of them perturbed, checked in. Given a green card, they were to follow a zigzag route to the seventh floor.
When SG arrived, the meeting started spontaneously without a prayer.
"Each of the participants is allowed to contribute an idea except one person in this room. Follow the rules." SG, a very serious man, bellowed.
One by one contributions were being taken down on paper by SG. Joyoyo raised his hand. Instead, SG recognized a woman behind him. After she spoke and sat down, Joyoyo raised his hand again but the chance fell on a gentleman in front of him. Sitting by the window overlooking the desolate Nyambadwe hills, he forlornly put down his hand after a fourth attempt. He had reasoned within himself and accepted to cork up his ears and listen to fellow irresistibles as they spoke one by one, hinting on useless arguments missing narrowly the gist of the matter, a point Joyoyo was to raise.
“Stage road accidents.” The Director of Women Affairs known for using a tongue as sharp as a razor blade declared.
“Recruit spies.” The Director of Youth put forward his plan.
“Let’s try a spy machine to be monitored by the Chief Government Engineer. He is our boy.” The Regional Governor charged.
Joyoyo sensed he was a quixotic louse in the house. How did that happen after all the loyalty to the ruling party? He had been away to the northern part of the country to mourn his father in-law. His two-day absence had aroused suscipicion. Obviously, fellow political fanatics had reported that he was sabotaging the party. But it was not true. Though he had sensed that he was in trouble, he did not escape but hanged on to see who had a soft ear to listen to him.
Joyoyo had a passion for not milking blood from his host but to ignite debates and present ideas that would always make sense. He thought he had to be heard yet he was not being recognized in that crucial meeting. In his view, the new political movement they had come to discuss comprised nincompoops who wouldn’t shake the foundations of either the state or the ruling party. The top leaders of the movement were trapped under the stinking tendency of politics of castigation, dirty minds spewing defamatory trash. They wouldn’t put pressure on them. And if the irresistibles were to be keeping track of what the members of the movement were doing--and obviously assassinating them--they would fall into a trap. However, he had no opportunity to air out his views. When he raised his hand for the last time, the house was already in a mood of excitement. SG had denied him to speak while every member had spoken at least twice.
As soon as the meeting was over, Joyoyo filled with bitterness sauntered out and stood close to the main entrance to pass on good wishes to SG. The Regional Governor’s suggestion had been adopted; the spy machine was good to aid political brutality and killings.
Joyoyo, waiting for SG, was waving at the senior irresistibles and shaking hands with those that were close to him until he saw SG, his wife and a few others popping out of the small door.
“Excuse me, sir. I ...” He coughed.
SG controlled his wheelchair to listen to him.
“Good afternoon, sir." He continued. "First of all, congratulations, sir. Just thought it is good to think twice before we proceed with what people have said in the meeting. Or are you going to put everything into force?” Joyoyo requested.
SG turned to him, scarlet specks in his eyes, and pushed his wheelchair forward. Joyoyo followed, almost running.
“I am told some of these irresistibles have been given chunks and chunks of money to frustrate us. Are you aware of this, sir?” Joyoyo sought the views of his boss further. SG trying to show that Joyoyo was treading in a dangerous zone spat on the floor.
“Were you informed that I need to meet you because of your ‘basket’ mouth?” SG barked.
“No. I always get instructions from you and communicate accordingly, sir.”
“You can keep what you want to say now till we meet in the evening.”
Joyoyo without thinking that he was not listening to a voice of reason, followed SG to his car. Something heavy was nibbling at his thoughts. He had to vomit it out. Now or never. When SG’s wife stopped to talk to a few ladies who were waiting for her, Joyoyo flung another spear of his thought with an aim of convincing SG.
“I think we must not always trust the voice of the majority. Some of these are carpetbaggers.”
“What sort of wine did you taste this morning; yellow, orange, or black?” SG cut him short.
"Sir, but sir. People are angry with our administration. They will not allow us to... They will..."
When SG was helped to enter his car, he closed the door with a loud bang. Joyoyo slowly walked away, both arms behind his back, and stood at a distance, as usual waiting for him to leave first. When SG’s wife had done away with the ladies, the car sped off.
It was no secret that when SG was breathing fire, nobody should talk to him except his wife. He personally was known for not tolerating nonsense. And if he showed that he was annoyed with somebody, the next morning, something would surely happen. Joyoyo was his second spokesperson in a space of ten months after his predecessor implicated in a treason case was dumped in prison. ‘Handle me with kid gloves.’ That was a warning any new employee assigned to SG would get.
Joyoyo rushed to where he parked his car. It was not there. Confused, he scampered round the hotel and noticed that there was only one car that belonged to one of the senior youth irresistible known as a cadet. He reached out for his pocket to check for his car keys. They were there. He ran back into the hotel room and found the staff members cleaning here and there. Scratching his head, he went out and met the cadet who said he was waiting for him. The cadet was actually instructed to give him a lift. Joyoyo, a sense of danger lurking inside him, jumped into the car before he was told that his car had been confiscated by SG. He wanted to know why, but he failed to ask, an idea had already walked in his mind. He sat quietly and listened to the car engine as it purred towards Namiwawa where SG used to perch.
Patricia looked in a mirror. Her face was as bright as the moon. After combing her hair without looking in the mirror, she asked her husband to check over her make-up. Mike told her to turn around several times and nodded his head.
Patricia opened the main door and sniffed at the afternoon chill outside. She put her umbrella in place and motioned her husband to escort her to Mafisi bus stage. This was not the first time for her to leave her car for a mission in the city. Mike, excitedly, held her left hand as they crept out of their compound and sauntered towards the bus stage. A few cars stopped to pick her up. She denied all of them because she opted for a bus.
When the bus arrived ten minutes later, Patricia jumped into its mouth. She knew where she was going and what her mission was. The new political movement had stirred uneasiness in the country. It was the talk of the town. As an executive member of the movement, Patricia had to be careful. She had the master plan and the keys of the movement.
Former Minister of Information, Communication and Technology, Patricia had engaged a network of engineers at the electricity generating and supplying company, water boards and other technocrats at the communication regulatory authority to be part of the team that would make the current regime less popular. It had been revealed that the regime had a plan to capture audio and video information from the secret meetings of the movement using a spy machine. And, it was for this machine that she was travelling to the city. No secrets of the movement would be known and exposed. That was her conviction. Her intelligence team had done everything. The Chief Government Engineer, the most disappointed person with the ruling party, had been promised a heavy package and was ready to leak all information. That evening, according to a lead by the Chief Government Engineer, the spy machine would be transferred from SG’s house to a hotel room where it would be hidden.
For Patricia, it was not exhilarating to travel by bus two hundred kilometres to the city but the situation demanded her of the same. As a public figure, she was to cunningly play her chess and check her moves.
The potholed road from Mafisi bus stage meandered reluctantly, down Nansato trading centre and passed by Gerena Filling Station. As it snaked through a carpet of chlorophyll tea into a long line of buildings that housed offices and banks and diverted left side into another long line of shops until it ended in the heart of the city, she dreamed of a better road one day. It was tiresome but using public transport was a good game plan. She, smiling to herself, disembarked at a stage near the hotel and joined the hustles and bustles of the city. The smile on her brown face matched well with thick black hair that was trimmed short on a brick-like head. Her eyebrows, grown to a reasonable size, veneered her red eyes and variegated well with her black blouse hidden inside a black coat.
She had intelligence information that SG would arrive around ten o’clock in the evening with an aim of testing the spy machine in Mikombe room. The Chief Government Engineer would not hesitate to sweep everything and escape through the fire exit door.
“Yes. Me talking. Who is there?” Patricia whispered through her mobile phone.
“The car is behind the hotel. Black in colour.” The man on the line said.
Patricia got a whiff of victory and strolled into a motel across the road overlooking the entrance of the 5-Star hotel. One of her few dreams was to see the spy machine in her hands. She went over to the empty table in a restaurant and asked for a bottle of water which she sipped slowly.
“Where are you now?” The man on the line called again.
“Ali-baba.” Patricia answered.
"The Hotel Manager has also obliged to help."
Joyoyo couldn’t just sit when wind got him that the spy machine was not safe. He had thought about it. Looking at his wristwatch, he convinced himself that he still had enough time to reach the hotel and talk to SG. It would be better he walked than take his wife’s car. Nobody had to suspect what was happening. His wife was also not supposed to know about this. It was a secret affair. It was for men in the public office to handle privately.
He sneaked out through the back door into the dark night. Billy, his dog, suspiciously was sleeping somewhere. The place was unusually quiet. The noise he managed to hear was the clattering and stumbling of his footsteps. The safest route was to take a small winding path and cross the narrow river. Standing by the river, he used his torchlight to check for stepping stones. He stood there for a moment and looked around. He noticed that the river was much wider than he expected. Removing his shoes, he stepped into the cold water. The noise his feet made and the sudden silence of the singing frogs scared him.
When he approached the main road, his heart began to beat. He had to walk along the road for twenty minutes before he diverted to the hotel. No cars were coming from both directions. Looking behind and across the river, he saw the security lights of his house. He thought about his wife’s reaction relative to his absence. He did not care.
Turning to the hotel, he walked along feeling extraordinarily happy. He had to meet SG in order to protect the spy machine. The new movement was hitting at the regime hard. First, it revealed that SG was corrupt. He went to the media and refuted those allegations. A week later, a document leaked from the corruption bursting body that SG was being investigated on a corruption charge involving the Police Service and the company, Payoniya Enterprises, which paid hundreds of millions of kwachas into the SG’s personal account.
Plans were underway to pin down the irresponsible officers when the president of the movement denounced the public university system of selection by quota, a policy that takes on board merit, size of district, and gender in ensuring equitable selection to publicly funded universities as evil and satanic, a ‘Cut-off Points document’ leaked after his rally.
It was unfair. All their plans were being laid bare. Should the spy machine be discovered, the downfall of the regime was nigh. The documents leading to the purchase of it had to be safely kept. Joyoyo though fired from his job was on this road to tell SG that the hotel was not a good place to keep the very important machine.
Standing in front of the hotel, Joyoyo sniveled at the smell of rose flowers. That smell triggered something in his memory when he was young. He loved Thom, his young brother who loved rose flowers. He loved watching him tending to them. One day, his arms went out unconsciously with the longing to touch the flowers. Thom stopped him. “Don’t touch my flowers,” he said without any explanation. An enmity started from there and grew massively till that day. They were not in sitting-together terms. Worse enough, Thom had deliberately joined the movement with the intention of fighting against his brother. He was one of the reliable members of this notorious movement. At the public rallies, the embittered Thom had been speaking ill against Joyoyo until the SG was not amused.
At around 11 pm, two black cars entered the hotel premises. In black suits, two men carrying a huge carton each, rushed through the entrance and pressed the button of the elevator. Soon, they jumped into the open door. In a moment, they were in to the fifth floor. SG followed the men while the Chief Government Engineer nudged two white visitors out of the way.
Patricia saw everything. She was instructed to join the driver of the black vehicle behind the hotel soon after that. Walking out of the restaurant, she quickly ran out to join the driver. The driver, friend of the engineer, knew what he was to do. His eye was on the fire exit door. Opening the rear door of the car, Patricia walked in with no pressure. She had to do it with less noise. Her eyes followed the eyes of the driver on the fire exit door as though their salvation would come from that door. The security officer on the staff exit gate was ready for action. He was there ready to let the mission car leave silently. He had already pocketed two hundred thousand dollars. The driver had also pocketed five hundred thousand kwacha. Should he complete the mission, K1.5 million was awaiting him. In addition, he would be offered employment as a presidential chauffeur once the movement took over government. Patricia would take back his ministerial position. The chief government engineer inside was on a very good position. If he managed to steal the spy machine, he would be given K10 million. Beyond that, should the movement took over government, he was the country’s next communication regulatory executive. It was a calculated move. A chain. The four of them prayed for their luck, not necessarily wishing to change the system of government.
Minutes ran into an hour. Silence ensued. Patricia not wishing to talk to the driver and the driver not caring about Patricia. The driver had already thought about his next plan of action. If this derailed to the wrong side of the plan, he would shoot himself. SG was his uncle and he would not wish to wait for his eye to see what a bad future he would have. The best for SG would be to put him in prison for the rest of his life. And the worst would either be to deprive him of any opportunity to earn an income anywhere in the world or hire thugs to kill him.
Patricia was agonizing over what her boss would contemplate about her if the deal drooped. Both of them were so much engrossed in thought that they did not see the arrival of the engineer. The driver just saw two huge cartons being slotted into the back of the twin cab. Immediately, he switched the car engine on. The security officer instantly pushed the gate wide open. Patricia pushed her head out of the window. She wanted to say something but she held her breath. The Chief Government Engineer, medium-sized with a well-shaved goatee, waved at both of them to leave at once.
As the car sped out of the gate without headlights, Joyoyo saw the government engineer behind the hotel running on the ladder that zigzagged to the second floor. The Hotel Manager was waiting for him to close that emergency door. Joyoyo squatted. The car passed by him with great speed. The spy machine was but gone.
Immediately, he scuttled into the main entrance of the hotel. Pressing the button of the elevator, he chose not to pay attention to the receptionist who was trying to greet him. He arrogantly jumped into the open door. Inside, he looked at the button board and pressed number 5.
For very secret meetings, SG used to book a one room suite with green-sized bed and comfortable seating area in the fifth floor. It was a room with a 39-inch flat screen TV, electric fire place and butler kitchen stuffed with refrigerator, microwave and a coffee brewer. It had a large bathroom with a 60-inch shower. He liked it because it was designed in a fashion to allow mobility impaired accessibility so it was easy for him to push his wheelchair back and forth.
Joyoyo, turning the door handle without knocking, found SG whispering something into the cadet’s ears. Before he opened his mouth to say what he had seen, the cadets jumped and stood close to him. At once, they pulled out their pistols, wrinkles dancing on their foreheads and arrows of death salivating in their eyes.
“Kneel down!” One of them commanded.
“I am not against you, sir. Please understand me. I have some....”
“Why does he follow me like a dog? Take him out of my sight!” SG roared, suggesting that Joyoyo should be killed.
The cadets bowed. In two minutes, they tied Joyoyo’s both hands and legs and sealed his mouth with a black cloth. One of them hurried down into the car. On his return, he brought a large travelling bag and a 14-pound hammer.
Joyoyo shrieked. He tried to shout for help but he failed. Pushing him close to the kitchen unit, one of them twisted his neck hard. The sound of breaking bones filled their ears and echoed within the walls. Later, they hit him hard with the hammer, twice on the forehead and thrice at the back just above the neck, and let his body for a few seconds roll on the floor. When they heard footsteps tapping on the white tiles in the corridor, they bundled him into the bag and closed it immediately.
Meanwhile, the Chief Government Engineer knocked and entered to report on the success of the plan. Moving closer to SG, he bowed and whispered,
“Congratulations, sir. The spy machine is safe. I have to quickly go back to the office. I have forgotten my tool box.”
SG nodded his head and, before he released him, told him to wheel the bag out of the room. He was to drop it at the gate of Joyoyo’s house. He bowed and pulled the bag towards the elevator. When the doors of the elevator opened, the Chief Government Engineer sought to know what was it that he had to deliver at that time of the night. He was not part of them now, and he was not supposed to handle anything anymore. He pressed button number one. When the elevator stopped, he jumped out, ran down the steps and disappeared to meet Patricia.
Twenty minutes later, Patricia arrived, wheeling the travelling bag back into the room. She had come to congratulate SG for killing Joyoyo. Behind her, peeping into the room, were the Chief Government Engineer and the police armed to teeth. Instantly, there was silence in the room. The silence that lasted a long time until SG and his men were handcuffed; and forced to leave the room to kiss the cold walls of the police cell.