Playing with Fire II-By Edward Maroncha

(Continued from Playing with Fire I)

A battered Datsun pickup pulls up next to the SUV and an old man steps put. He walks to the boot of the Prado and removes Louisa’s suitcase. He frisks Louisa and takes away her phone and her tablet and locks them in the glove compartment, with is quite literally locked with a padlock. He orders Louisa to take the passenger seat of the pickup truck, and she obeys. The old man jumps into the driver’s seat of the pickup and inserts the key in the ignition. The engine of the old Datsun coughs and then dies again. The old man curses under his breath and then tries again. This time the old Datsun coughs and sputters into life. The old man changes gears and the old vehicle jerks forward violently. He changes gears again and then presses the accelerator all the way down. The Datsun whines loudly but starts picking up speed.

As the old pickup rattles out of the airstrip, Louisa starts wondering where the old man is taking her. Is she being kidnapped? Is this old man the one who killed Humphrey? The man doesn’t look as old as he seemed on the first impression. It is his massive white beard that gives him the appearance of an old man, and the shabby clothes and the aged vehicle reinforce that notion. He was also walking unsteadily when he picked up her suitcase from the Prado, like a feeble and weak old man would. But there is nothing weak or feeble about the man who is now changing gears with a visibly strong hand. Louisa doesn’t want to stare at him but behind the massive beard the man looks vaguely familiar.

She doesn’t know where she could have seen him. The man is clearly a native of this island of Lima, which is in the Indian Ocean on the Kenyan coastline, and about five kilometers from Malindi. But she couldn’t have met him because before Jared told her all about the island the day before yesterday, she had no idea that it existed. The old man doesn’t look like he has ever left the island, and if he has, then he definitely has never gone beyond Malindi. Louisa googled the island yesterday and read up on it. The island is not very large, and has a population of about two thousand. About half of those people are natives, while the rest are immigrants from the mainland. The natives are from the Chonyi tribe of the Mijikenda, and they have occupied the island for centuries. No one knows for sure how long they have been on the island, but what is known is that by the time Sultan Seyyid Said of Zanzibar annexed the Kenyan coast, these people were already on the island.  The Sultan and his Arabs seem to have had little impact on the island, because as the rest of the coastline and islands turned towards Islam, the inhabitants of Lima Island have steadfastly  remained traditionalists and still worship in shrines.

Immigrants started streaming into the island thirty or so years ago, and almost all of them are employees of one or the other of the hospitality companies that have set up camp on the island. It was billionaire investor and adventurer Tim Hayward who ‘discovered’ the island’s beaches under the thick undergrowth while he was on one of his expeditions. He talked to the tribal leader of the island and convinced him to sell him land on the island’s beach. The tribal chief agreed, but was restricted the billionaire to the sea front. Agreements were drawn up to that effect. Hayward set up Hotel Hayward, and in line with his agreement with the chief and elders of the island, he hired fifty native young people at the hotel. These were mainly waiters and waitresses, valets, guards and other support staff. The only requirement was that they should be able to express themselves in English. Hayward brought in professionals from elsewhere, ranging from chefs, baristas, HR professionals and other executives.

Hayward’s agreement with the island’s leaders obliged him to set up two schools- a primary school and a secondary school-on the island for the natives, as well as the health centre. He did all the three things, and natives no longer had to travel to the mainland to get education or health care. Other investors who came later were given the same conditions, and the island now has six schools: three primary schools and three secondary schools. It also has a fully-fledged level four hospital. The result of this is that native young people are now holding executive positions in some of the hotels on the island, including Hotel Hayward itself. It is also the reason the native population of the island is so low: the native young people of the island are no longer into fishing. Many of them are in institutions of higher learning in the mainland while others are employed there.

As the hotel picked up, other investors got attracted to the island. A few other hotels came up as well as private cottages like the one in which she was supposed to meet Jared. An airstrip was also built for tourists who did not want to cross the ocean using boats from Malindi, or those who wanted to fly in straight from Nairobi or Mombasa. But all these developments are concentrated along the coastline. The hotels, the airstrip and even the cottages are lined up along the coastline. The heart of the island is still controlled by natives, and few immigrants dare to go there. The natives prefer to keep the heartland of the island pure. Immigrants and tourists can walk around naked in the beaches and their hotels, and the natives are more than willing to serve them and make them comfortable (many natives now work in the enterprises that have sprouted on their coastline) but they are not welcome in the villages within the hinterland of the island.

The old man driving the Datsun looks every inch like a native. And he is driving her towards the interior of the island. But why would he do that? And why did he kill Humphrey? And is Jared safe? According to the research she conducted yesterday, the natives are not known to be hostile people, but Louisa has seen the gun the man is holding, and she knows without a doubt that he is the one who shot Humphrey.

“Where are you taking me?” Louisa finally asks, unable to continue bottling her anxiety. If the man wants to kill her, then he will kill her whether she speaks up or remains silent. But the man grunts in reply and doesn’t say anything else.

Louisa’s mind is running wild now. She can’t see a scenario in her mind where a native would want to harm her. She has never been on this island before. But if he killed Humphrey and hanged around to wait for her, then he knew she was coming. He was probably watching as she alighted from the plane and as she dragged her suit case on the tarmac. The question is why?

The answer to that question points to only one direction. Someone found out about this weekend get-away and is now punishing her and Jared. Humphrey was only caught in the crossfire. Is it Alpha or Jared’s father-in-law? Alpha would make sense. The man has a lot of interests at the coast, because a lot of his illicit cargo is stowed away in ships. The man might be Kinshasa or Brazzaville or wherever, but he has spies all over. There is no one in his line of work who doesn’t have spies. The question is, does he have a spy inside Jared’s office? Because that is the only way he could have known about their affair. Maybe there is a guard who works for him who told him that she and Jared have been staying in the office late?

But why kill Humphrey?

Maybe Alpha got it all wrong. Maybe he doesn’t have a spy in Jared’s office. Louisa told him when the talked last night that she would be spending the night with her mother in the village. They have been together for two years but Alpha doesn’t know anything about her family; it simply doesn’t interest him. So that sounded like the perfect cover for her rendezvous with Jared. Maybe Alpha had her followed, checked out her flight and the destination and figured out that Humphrey was waiting for her. Lima is not a busy airstrip at this time of the year, and her flight is the only one that landed there today.

Alpha must have assumed that Humphrey was the man she was coming to cheat with, and had him killed. But what does he want with her? They are now in a village far away from the western civilization that lines the beaches of the island. The old man stops the pickup truck in front of one homestead. All the three houses in the homestead are mud-walled and grass thatched, just like all the other houses she has seen in the village.

The old man steps out of the pickup, grabs her suitcase from the back and then yanks her from the vehicle. He leads her towards one of the huts, still not uttering a single word. Does he want to rape her? Or make her his concubine?

She doesn’t want to find out, but there really is no way out of this mess.

(Continued Here)

Image by Shopping Buddy  from Pixabay:


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