Face-off

‘Hey kid! Hey Kid!’ The sound was faint. Maybe it wasn’t; I mean, the ringing sound in my ears couldn’t let me listen properly. I had never experienced a hangover before but if this was it then never again. I try to open my eyes. My right eye seems to be squashed. It’s not batting an eyelid, literally. My whole face is in pain. The scene is blurred but with time I start making out the figure of a guy squatting. Soon enough I distinguish his face. My teeth hurt. The guy stinks! As I try to lift myself up so as to get away from him, I scream. My ribs are in extreme pain. I feel the pain in my hips as well. Just what the hell happened to me?

‘Hey, my man! I’m not your enemy,’ the guy insisted.

‘Are you sure coz you do smell the part?’ I felt like puking.

‘That’s not me. That’s our little friend over there,’ I look around, tolerating the pain that comes with this feat, only to behold…no one.

‘Aha…’ I gave him the look.

‘The bucket! I heard that a former inmate hid a weapon there and used it to settle a score with one of the cops. They got rid of the lid immediately after that so that we can’t hide anything no more,’ now I was really gonna puke.

‘Wait…Inmate as in prison cell inmate?’

‘Duh!? Where’d you think we were? A 13th floor penthouse? I mean, some do call it the continental but those are only silly John Wick fans…Far be it from me to judge,’ he smiled. I’d rather he didn’t but no need to agitate the guy.

‘You’ve slept for six hours straight…In here that is…Coz you weren’t much awake when they brought you in as well. Tell me…What are you in for?’ I had no idea. My mind was literally blank. I wish I could say the same for my body. Each time I tried to lift a part of me I would feel so much pain that I would give up.

‘Jackson Kamau! You’ve got a visitor!’ I’m all for manliness and strength but at that point I found myself wishing for a knight in shining armor. The guard didn’t wait for me to pick myself up. Patience wasn’t in his armory. He took me by the elbow and forced me out.

‘Good luck!’ The cellmate wished as the door was locked. As we headed to the meeting room, I begged the askari to be a little bit gentle.

‘Come on, Mkubwa,’I had almost adopted a soprano voice. He let go of my arm and for a moment I was relieved but only for a moment for he then held the hind part of my belt and handled me like a real Mahabusu.

‘This is how criminals like you deserve to be handled!’ He kept repeating.

He opened the door and threw me into the room.

’15 minutes!’ This before he shut the door. I turned to look at my uncle, Kimathi, who wore a worried look.

‘Oh my boy!’ He hugged me gently yet that too was painful. He sat me down then we had one of the most serious conversations I’ve ever had.

‘What happened Uncle? Why in the world am I hurt so bad? And why can’t I remember a thing?’ My mind was in a frenzy. I needed to know, I had to know.

‘Don’t you remember anything?’ I shook my head. ‘Well it seems alcohol is not your friend.’

Come to smell of it, I did rig of alcohol now that I was far away from that stinking bucket. How comes, though? I don’t drink.

‘So you are saying that you don’t remember impersonating Q, taking Sheila to the club or even John on top of you?’ All this was news to me. ‘Then let me remind you,’ he then went on to tell me a tale that only proved the existence of possessive demons in our world…

***********

The draught is really strong today. If I wasn’t so anxious I would consider taking a nap here. I am on the mango tree well disguised within the branches. I know it sounds weird but love truly is blind. As I hang there, memories from the past come to me. I see myself as a youthful boy coming into this homestead accompanied by my uncle. He was a gardener but he preferred being called garden manager. The first time he told me this we had just arrived and so I thought it was a joke. We were walking to his quarters and I laughed out loud. As I looked away, however, I saw what I was born to see! I stopped mid laughter and coughed almost to death. It seemed air itself choked me. The damsel was exhilarating! She stood up and came to me seeing my condition leaving her companion in the process.

‘Are you OK?’ I could only but nod to her sweet voice. Her eyes held me at ransom. It was like our souls were old lovers. As she touched my arms real spasms of happiness rose through my spine. I felt like singing and dancing but I was still in awe.  On seeing this my uncle quickly picked me up and escorted me to his place. I looked backwards the entire way.

‘Was that an angel?’ I had to confirm I wasn’t fantasizing.

‘Nope. That was face-off,’ he said as he pinned his tag to his shirt. The title actually was garden manager. For the next few months I would attend school but I later on dropped out to join him in his work. I didn’t hold this against him, though. At least I could keep tabs on Sheila.

Sheila was the boss’ youngest daughter. She had been involved in a car accident but had gotten away unharmed. On conducting a brain scan, however, it was discovered that she had a brain tumor. She went for an operation in India which to a huge part was successful. When Sheila came back she looked brilliant, apart from the loss of hair and weight. No one could imagine that one of the side effects of the operations was prosopagnosia. It’s like memory loss but only of faces. She could not distinguish people’s faces thus making her vulnerable. From then on everyone in the homestead had to wear a name tag. She was also to be home schooled.

I feel raindrops approaching and descend from the tree quickly. I had been up waiting for Sheila and her teacher to come sit under the shade of the tree to continue with her lessons. I had made it a habit. Perhaps they knew that it was going to rain. I decide to go to the main house to check on her. I find her laughing with Quinton. I didn’t exactly like Q. He was the chef’s son and was a senior in high school. He already had a guaranteed scholarship to pursue a course of his choice abroad. I guess it was these facts that made him likeable to her.

‘I noticed you didn’t have your lessons today,’ I asked after gulping down the water I had imposed on myself. How else would I have explained being in the main Kitchen?

‘Yeah, she called in sick.’ Her voice was as sweet as ever.

‘I could teach you,’ Quinton teased and they both laughed. Surely, was that funny? What was there to laugh about? Maybe I was being too strict on them. We were all teenagers after all. I stick around after exiting so as to listen in on their conversations. I frown, clench fists and bite teeth at his sweet nothings to her. He promises her an adventure one of these days.

As I walk home, I remember the first time Sheila and I had a one-to-one talk. She was so jovial. I introduced myself and she went on to very kindly explain her predicament to me. She would remember that moment and everything about me except my face.

‘It’s my curse,’ she said.

‘I wouldn’t exactly call it a curse. Be positive,’ I tried to comfort her.

‘Really? What’s positive about forgetting people’s faces?’

‘Well, for one, you won’t attach people’s value to you as per their past!’ Suddenly Boaz came to mind. I had done wrong by him and God knows I wouldn’t want to be associated with that part of my past.

‘You’re right. You are so positive! I’ll call you positive kid from now on. I hope you don’t mind,’ she had just opened up an old scar. I missed kid but this was not the time for sadness. As I opened the door, I found Kimathi with a worried look.

‘It’s Sheila again, isn’t it?’ He was mildly annoyed.

‘I haven’t done anything wrong…’

‘Yet! Look, Jack, tread carefully! If anything happens remember…’ his arm was on my shoulder.

‘The 3 gentlemen’s rule! I know, uncle, I know.’ He gave me a hug. Later on I came to learn that something had come up in the countryside and Quinton and his dad had gone out abruptly. It was rumored that they would not come back until the following week. I knew that I would not get a chance like this ever again.

***********

I had just been from Quinton’s room to ‘borrow’ his tag when I bumped into John. He was Sheila’s older brother. He was a nice guy. To an extent he was also soft. He had just completed college and was on an internship.

‘Be careful with Sheila. She’s vulnerable you know,’ he said midway our small talk.

‘What!?’

‘You don’t have to hide it from me. I see the way you look at her. I also notice how you make an effort to be around her. Just be patient and resilient. If it’s meant to be, it will be.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ I was smiling. He was actually OK with it. Perhaps even her father would be cool with it as well; That would be a long shot though. I was surprised when he suddenly held me by the collar and looked into my eyes.

‘If, however, you even think of hurting her then you’ll have me to answer to! Understood?’ I nodded. Of course! He was just faking it. He knew that I liked her and for as long as that stood true then I’d always protect her. All he was concerned about was her and not us. I bid him farewell and pretended to go home. Once he was out of sight, I tiptoed to Sheila’s room. I put on Quinton’s tag before going in.

‘Remember that adventure I promised you? Well, here it is!’ I got her out of bed and dressed her appropriately. We sneaked through the kitchen window and I helped her jump over the fence. It was smart of me to borrow Quinton’s clothes as well. Thank God it had been too dark for John to notice. I took her to a night club. She had earlier on narrated her fantasy to me; Dancing the night away, with beer in her system and her loved one in her arms. The thought of this happening at home was absurd as the one of Trump apologizing. That aside, I was excited to be the loved one that she mentioned even if it was only for tonight.

After a few drinks she was ready to dance. We were there arm in arm (I won’t bother to mention the other parts, that’s for you to guess), dancing the night away as she wished. She was a free soul. In another life, I wouldn’t have to use deceit to please her. This was not selfishness. Well, it was but that’s only because her happiness was my happiness. Suddenly and out of nowhere, John appeared and separated us. Before I could utter a word he had managed to incapacitate me and was on top of me on the ground beating me to a pulp. The guy wasn’t as soft as I thought. The last thing I saw was him putting his coat around Sheila and walking away before some big guys in blue helped me to my feet. Very kind fellows! They even walked me to a cab. I didn’t think it strange that they got in with me; Perhaps they wanted to make sure I got home safe. The next thing I saw was that awkward guy in the cell…

***********

I was still bewildered by uncle’s story.

‘I did all that?’ He nodded quietly.

‘No worries! Remember the 3 gentlemen’s rule?’ I nodded. ‘Well, it’s time.’

The first rule was deny. Maybe you even know the second one for it too is deny but the third one? No way in hell. The third rule was to refer to rule number one.

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