Scarlet Rivers

Scarlet Rivers
by Precious Mulima
For the umpteenth time Atani Malekano glanced at his 18-carat gold wristwatch, which assured him that the captor of his heart was just around the corner. He was sitting at a table in the rear of a five-star restaurant, armed to the teeth: a designer denim jacket, a designer T-shirt, designer jeans, designer trainers, designer jewellery. A short, concrete creature he was, his head in the shape of a pumpkin, his face the epitome of second-rate sculpture. Zero beard, zero moustache, zero hair-a Buddhist monk in designer casuals!
Elite Restaurant stood on a side street in the heart of Limbe, where the Buddhist monk managed a newborn merchant bank called Zenith. On that warm summer’s evening the deluxe eatery was pleading for customers, something that happened once in a millennium. He had just taken a sip of the devil’s wee when Atani saw her coming towards his table, her gait the definition of grace. Elegance incarnate she was; a crimson velvet evening gown, white spike heels, gold hoop earrings, a diamond pendant of two intertwined hearts dangling from a delicate gold chain. She was a buxom woman of medium stature and silent beauty: fair skin, a plump round face, full sensual lips, snowy almond eyes, short jet-black hair, a moderate dose of make-up.
Grinning like an imbecile, Atani stood up, went round the table and pulled out a chair for the sculptor of his insomnia, Tinkhani Gwaza. The woman doctor’s smile was the arc of a rainbow, her teeth exotic curios whiter than snow. She sat down on the canonized chair and put her handbag on the table.
“You look like a rose garden in full bloom,’’ crooned Atani when he had resumed his seat, still grinning like a drunk.
Another arc of a rainbow. “Thanks.’’
Atani’s eyes fell upon the pendant Tinkhani was wearing. He did not move a muscle as he stared at the two intertwined diamond hearts, his mind crawling with all sorts of psychomolluscs. It was a century later that he detached his eyes from the pendant and pinned them onto Tinkhani’s face. “Where did you buy that pendant?’’ His voice was toneless, his face expressionless. A masquerade.
“I didn’t buy it. My brother gave it to me.’’
“Did your brother tell you where he bought it?’’
“When did he give it to you?’’
Tinkhani scrutinized Atani’s face. When she spoke there was a trace of wariness in her voice. “Do you mind telling me why you’re curious about the pendant?’’
Atani heaved a sigh, smiled a mirthless smile and said in a bantering tone, “Well, it seems I’ve fallen head over heels in love with your diamond baby girl, even though there’s not an ounce of paedophilia in my RNA.
Tinkhani smiled, her eyes twinkling with amusement.
“So you’ve got a brother who spoils you with presents romantic enough to tempt a nun into elopement, huh?’’
Tinkhani chuckled. “We’re twins. He gave me the pendant on our birthday last April.’’
Last April!
The two harmless little words reverberated in Atani’s head like a mine explosion in a valley. He willed his face to remain expressionless as his mind metamorphosed into a whirlpool.
April13, 1:30 a.m., five months earlier: Karen Nyilongo was dead to the world, watching her husband-to-be wrestle with a headless zombie in a triangular ring enclosed with human skeletons. Dark and silent was the luxurious bedroom was, its sumptuous furnishings spectating the unearthly wrestling in Karen’s nightmare.
She had just jolted out of the bad dream when Karen heard footsteps and saw a sliver of light under the bedroom door, which she had forgotten to lock. Burglars, she thought and sprang up. Just then the door opened and torchlight flooded in. Please don’t let them hurt me, Lord, she played silently, sitting motionless in bed, frozen with terror.
A click of the light switch.
Karen flinched at the sight of two men wearing masks and gloves. Then her heart juddered to a halt as her eyes fell upon a gun, a grey Beretta 9mm pistol. It was in the hand of a short, broad muscular man in a black leather jacket. The other man, a tall, lean athletic creature in a black trench coat, switched off the torch and pocketed it. Leather Jacket levelled the gun at Karen, his finger on the trigger.
“Please don’t shoot,” stuttered Karen, her hands in the air, her terror infinite. She was in yellow and white check pyjamas. A 22-carat gold ring glittered on her ring finger in the air. Dangling from a delicate gold chain around her neck was a diamond pendant of two intertwined hearts which her fiancé had given her two days before. She was a tall, slender woman with ebony skin, an elfin face, a rosebud mouth, sensual hazel eyes, long lustrous jet-black hair that fell over her shoulders. A magnet. “Please don’t shoot,’’ she repeated. “Take whatever you like. There’s some cash in the bottom drawer of the dressing table-about K60 000.Take it all.’’
“And what makes you think we’ve come to steal?’’ Snarled Leather Jacket. “Do we look like a pair of petty pockets to you?’’
Trench Coat moved closer to the bed. “Give me that,’’ he ordered, pointing to the pendant Karen was wearing. “That’s too beautiful for your ugly pitch-black neck!’’
With trembling hands Karen took off the pendant and gave it to Trench Coat, who pocketed it and said sharply, “A souvenir of your legendary homophobic dung.’’
“Listen very carefully, you homophobic bitch,’’ growled Leather Jacket. “I brought you a message from the people you love to hate.” He paused, probably to allow his words to sink in.
Karen twitched as consternation and a fresh wave of terror washed over her. Her pedicure-clad feet began to dance under the covers, her heart threatening to leap out of her chest. For the first time in her life the chartered accountant considered herself an outright fool. Why on earth had she allowed her convictions to become an open book? Why on earth had she set foot in the anti-gay marriage lobby? And why on earth had she allowed her zealotry and charisma to catapult her into centre stage? Were her convictions worth dying for? She had never asked herself these questions before and that struck her as odd.
Leather Jacket cocked the Beretta. “Here’s the message,’’ he said and then pulled the trigger. Bang! Bang! Bang!
Six seconds later, the two men went out of the room as quickly as they had come in, leaving no trace of them behind.   
Karen lay as still as a statue in bed, her arms outstretched, her eyes and mouth wide open, her pyjama jacket soaked with blood, which was pouring out of three bullet wounds on her chest. Two of the bullets had perforated her heart, which beat no more.
In silence they sat, the banker and the doctor. In silence they sat, their eyes bolted to a big plasma-screen TV, where two child soldiers levelled Kalashnikovs at a heavily pregnant woman in a dense jungle. They were reclining on a black leather-upholstered couch in the doctor’s sumptuous living room in Nkolokosa. In front of them stood a coffee table with a glass top where sat a half-empty bottle of red wine and two empty wine glasses. They had been in the middle of merriment when the TV screen demanded their attention.              
The weather on that warm summer’s Sunday afternoon had been manufactured in Mercury. It was too hot to boil the Lake Malawi and char her beauteous beaches. The greenhouse effect was furiously lashing the hands that created it, yet no one thought it wise to climb up a ladder and patch the holes in the ozone layer.
The two young boys in the jungle opened fire at the woman, who slumped to her knees with her hands on her enormous belly, shielding her unborn child from the venom of the Kalashnikovs. Then the scene cut from the jungle to a muddy road thronged with displaced souls on the move.
“Shall I pour you another glass?” said Tinkhani, pouring herself a glass of the devil’s wee. She was barefoot, wearing a short white sundress patterned with royal blue flowers.
“No thanks,” said Atani, his eyes fastened on the TV screen. “One more glass and I’ll be speaking to you in Chinese.”
Tinkhani chuckled. She put her glass back on the table and cuddled up to Atani.
The front door across the room opened and a glamorously dressed man came in.  He none too gently shut the door and waltzed towards a two-seater sofa opposite the couch.  He was tall, lean, and athletic, his face a carbon copy of Tinkhani’s.  And just like Tinkhani he had fair skin and short jet-black hair.  Confiscate his tallness and leanness and he would be the spitting image of Tinkhani.
Tinkhani tossed her twin brother a warm smile.  He smiled back as if smiling was too expensive he could ill afford it.
“HI.’  A husky voice, a genial tone.  “How are you doing?”
‘Well, doctors are always fine.’’
Only Atani, whose eyes were riveted on Tinkhani’s brother, did not laugh.
“This is my boyfriend, Atani,’’ Tinkhani informed her brother. “He lives in Napeli.” To
Atani, “Honey, this is Nicholas, the twin brother I told you about last night.”
“Hi,” Atani greeted Nicholas, his voice and face devoid of expression. A façade.
“Hi,” His tone said “Break my sister’s heart and I’ll break your neck!”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.  I saw the pendant you gave Tinkhani on your birthday last April.” He studied Nicholas’ face which registered perplexity. “It seems we’ve something in common. You’re undoubtedly an aesthete and so am I.” A momentary pause, his eyes never leaving Nicholas’ face. “I always buy my jewellery from the Venus. That boutique knows how to quench an aesthete’s thirst. I suppose that’s where you bought that pendant.”
“Yeah, that’s where I bought it.”
With those six harmless little words Nicholas confirmed Atani’s suspicions. Venus Boutique did not exit!
“How on earth did thou coax the stars and the moon into lending thy face their glory?” queried Atani. “And how on earth did thou coax the bees into lending thy lips the taste of their honey?”
Smiling the smile of an empress, Tinkhani opened her eyes and looked at Atani. “Please stop talking to me like a poet or I’ll turn into a sonnet.”
Atani chuckled.
They were lying on their backs on a comfy king-size bed in Atani’s heavenly bedroom, their naked bodies glistening with sweat, the bitter juice of the sweet fruit.
Atani’s cell phone rang on a bedside table.  He rolled over and, reaching out his hand, took the phone from the table. Caller ID: unknown number. “Hello?”
“This is Chingáningáni,” said a gruff male voice at the other end. “I’ve dispatched the parcel you sent me. Let’s meet at the same place tomorrow night.”
Four seconds went before Atani spoke. “All right.”
The line went died.
Atani, his heart doing forward somersaults, put the phone back on the table and rolled over.  He gazed absently at the ceiling, his head reverberating with the words “I’ve dispatched the parcel you sent me”. He heaved a sigh and closed his eyes, hoping to see a radiant Karen beaming approval at him. I hope she’s happy that I’ve avenged her murder, he thought. I hope she’s happy that her killer has met his nemesis.
Tinkhani rolled onto her front and laid a hand on Atani’s hairy chest. “What title would you give me if I turned into a sonnet?”
Atani heaved a sigh, opened his eyes and forced a smile. “Um, let me see.” He thought for five seconds and then said, “Lavender.”
Tinkhani grinned with total abandon, the contents of her head crystal clear: A sonnet titled Lavender – ah, what a divine thing to be! A million miles away from her knowledge was the fact that never again would she hear the husky voice of her beloved twin brother.
In the swollen belly of the night’s black, lay sprawled Nicholas, garbed in the quietude of a statuette, a mahogany foetus of the ebony night. In a scarlet rivulet painted on a black canvas made of rancour, lay sprawled Nicholas at the foot of Mount Soche, his life stolen by four Parabellum bullets, one of which had savaged his brain like a ravening tiger.  
“I’ve dispatched the parcel you sent me.”
I’ve killed the man you hired me to kill.

Precious Mulima, 29, comes from Lilongwe.

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