The parking lot is mostly empty when I arrive at the Mombasa SGR terminus but I park in the farthest corner at the back. It will be difficult to leave once the cars stream in, but I want to have a bird’s-eye view of the entire space. I could trust no one with my back. Instead of waiting for her where passengers exit the terminus and helping her with her bags as I usually do, I opt to call her and give her directions to where I am parked. I can’t risk it tonight because if I make any wrong move, my life could end. It was bold enough for me to come here at this hour, but I had no other option. I wouldn’t let the lady take public transportation at night.
I have my friend with me in the car. I created a fake excuse to have him come with me to the station. At least if anything happened to me, he would inform my family. I was risking his life too, but what other option did I have? She finds the car. I hold out my hand to shake hers and I do it almost too firmly, like we’re workmates. Like she wasn’t my womb mate; my twin sister. “Welcome home,” I give her a weak smile. She doesn’t bother to smile back.
I focus back on the road. There were more important things to worry about right now. Like the two cars that were leaving the station at the same time as I was. One car is a black minivan and the other a white Probox. Both cars don’t have passengers, I also notice. I note their plate numbers in my head and my mind races. I turn the volume of the Quran recitation playing on the tape. Even though I am not listening to the words, the voice soothes me. A little.
I find the street lamps extra bright tonight despite my tinted windscreen and several cars coming on the opposite side have their lamps in high-beam mode. They are clever. They planned all this hoping I will crash the car due to the blinding lights. This way, their hands would remain clean. But bloody hands will always be stained even if you wash them with bleach. I adjust my spectacles and will myself to focus on the road. I can’t slow down because I can see the black minivan behind me trying to keep a safe distance, but I know they are following me. Ya Allah, protect me from their conspiracy.
We reach the busier roads but it does not dampen my apprehension. In fact, I start noticing the people strategically placed on the road. Like the one selling peanuts and cashew nuts by the pavement. Since when did they sell cashews at this time? Then I notice the man on the flyover. Why is he not moving? Who looks over the edge of a flyover at oncoming speeding vehicles? I point all this out to my friend who just grunts. He does not believe me. No one does. When will this miskeen wake up and start seeing things that are hidden in plain sight?
Then I notice both the cars I left the station with on either side of me. One is slightly ahead of me and the other right behind me. But they have changed their plate numbers. I point this out to my friend and again he grunts. I switch lanes and the car behind me switches lanes too. My heart was drumming in my ears and the bitter taste of bile rose in my throat. What is it they want from me? What have I done to them? Fear clouds my mind, but I need clarity of mind to survive this ordeal.
At the next roundabout, I take the wrong side and drive in an anticlockwise direction instead of the usual clockwise direction. Cars honk and screech and some profanities are exchanged. I am close to leaving the car to challenge one man with the dirtiest mouths, but I remember why I did this in the first place and I continue driving onto the proper road. I hope this unexpected move deters them for a while. My sister at the back is pale from fear. She asks too many questions. I had forgotten she was with us in the car. I tell her I am just analyzing the roads because sometimes people cross the road abruptly and I have to calculate their move if I am to avoid hitting them. This miskeenah is too weak to understand the magnitude of the situation.
A jam is picking up at the Makupa roundabout because a trailer has broken down. I know for a fact that this is part of the setup, but I keep it to myself lest I worry the lady at the back or give more reason for my friend to not trust me. Did the truck have to break down at this point? The two cars that were following me disappear from my field of vision and I am grateful. I speed up the car and drop my friend at his home and I pray I reach my house in one piece. I turn up the volume of the Quran some more.
I stop by a dingy shop poorly lit by a single fluorescent bulb swaying on its cord. I honk and wait. These days, they take longer to respond. They no longer treat me as they used to before. After an eternity, a man in a hood leaves the shop and brings me a package wrapped in a brown paper bag. It is half the size of the usual package. I complain, but he tells me in a curt voice that I should be grateful that he gave me qq at all and if I don’t have money the next time, I should not come at all. I want to confront him and show him that I cannot accept that tone. If he thinks he has an upper hand, he should challenge me man to man. Then I remember the two cars and the lady at the back, and I think it wise to head home before they find me.
At home, my sister heads straight to her room and locks the door without another word. She must have witnessed enough madness to last her a year and I knew better than to start a conversation with both her and my wife right now. I hit the walls hard until my hands burn red. My wife comes out of the room startled and asks what has happened. I tell her about the bugs installed in the house and I am making noise to alert whoever is listening that I am home and that I know they are listening. Her face falls, then she goes back to the room as if nothing happened. She doesn’t understand the magnitude of the situation. I try not to tell her everything about the people after me because she either gets too fearful or she doesn’t believe me. Miskeenah.
Then, from the corner of my eyes, I see a flash of light that disappears as soon as it appears. .After a few seconds, I see another one. They are taking pictures! I cannot stand it. It’s ok if they want to end my life. But why would they take pictures of my family? Perhaps they are now trying to hurt me through my family because they have realized I am too clever to catch. I clench my fists trying to limit the anger that was flowing through my veins.
“They are taking pictures. Get up and change the curtains to the thickest ones we’ve got.” I order my wife.
“But it’s the middle of the night and they are double-layered. How can someone possibly take pictures through them?” she asks.
“Don’t argue with me, woman! This is a matter of life and death.” I shake her up and drag her towards the closet.
Her eyes widen and with trembling hands, she sifts through the layers of fabric in the closet. She asks me to help her. Can’t she see that is exactly what they want? They want me to get up a stool right at the center of the window so that I’m easy to target. Why is it so hard for women to reason? Miskeenaat.
She finishes changing the curtains amid incomprehensible grumping and I feel safe enough to get into bed. I pick the half-sized brown package and sit with it on the bed. This has been the only thing that calms my mind. I remove the staple pins and open it up. Some leaves fall on to my shirt. I pick them and put them in my mouth. I fill my cheeks with some more before I chew. Oh Mogokaa. Pure bliss!
*Mogokaa is a type of khat; a shrub whose leaves are chewed as a stimulant.