“We should go get ready for the dinner.” Sali said.
“I have not been able to locate any of S bombs or other weapons Yatuta bought.” I muttered.
“Diminga is clever. She has been in intelligence all her adult life so don’t beat yourself about it. Just keep searching.” Sali placed her hand on my shoulder. “Now come get ready. I don’t want to be late.”
“Okay.” I nodded. “Did you read the article on the Ebola outbreak in parts of Utawaleza?”
“Yes I did. Some people are afraid it will spread to here and are asking the government to intervene.”
“Is it true? The outbreak?”
“I called Anyazgambo and she confirmed it. But she says they have it handled.”
“Okay.” I turned to face my monitor. Sali exited my study.
Sali was standing in front of our bedroom’s full length mirror. Her fingers surveyed her belly which lay underneath her tank top. “I’ve completely lost my six pack.”
“You were trying to maintain it? Is this why you have been doing your intense cardio?”
“That cardio is intense for you. For me it’s down a notch” She must have read the shock plastered on my face, because she said. “ Don’t look at me like that. As though you would be willing to lose your six pack for nine months?”
I surrendered. I was tired of trying to get her to take it easy.
“I don’t think Sali will ever be your typical pregnant lady.” Kuleza said to me months ago when I told him how she was still lifting. “Her instinct is to defend. That’s only heightened by pregnancy. Another woman would want to depend on you but a Kaulimian and ex-mzengeli. She is trained to be self-reliant.”
I dribbled the ball to the goal post, then dunked before Kuleza tried to snatch the basketball away from me. It did bother me that she did not rely on me as much I had seen my sisters rely on their husbands during pregnancy.
“You could have been attacked.” I argued. She had gone out at 12 am to get ngumbi, flying ants, in a rough side of town.
“I could have taken out my attackers.” She replied calmly.
“At 25 weeks! Really Salifya?”
“What am I supposed to do Xo? I am beginning to get insomnia and I have these cravings.”
“Ask me, your husband to get them for you.” I retorted. Sometimes I wish I did not say that. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want her going out to get them herself. And she can’t send the cyborg either because Fya is an illegal model that would attract the police or thieves. But being asked at 11pm, 12 am and even 2 am to get papaya juice, ngumbi or chewula is not fun.
I’ve wanted this baby for so long. I wanted to raise my child in an environment that I wanted as a child, a stable, food on the table, no clients walking in and out of my mother’s room type of environment and one with a father in the picture. Tijenge robbed me of that when she aborted our daughter. This child would not replace our daughter.
But how normal would my life really be? I was a private investigator whose partner was an ex-spy.
“Mommy is still mad at me little one.” I said kissing Salifya’s enlarged belly. I knew she was rolling her eyes right about now. I pulled myself up, placing my hand on her belly. “I don’t know why. I just told your Aunt Khetiwe and Abuya she still jogs even after she got kidnapped.” Salifya shoved my hand away. “Maybe you could talk to her for me. All I want is for the two most important people in my life to be safe. Tell her that.” Salifya expression softened into a slight smile. I kissed her on her cheek and placed my hand on belly again.
“It was months ago and Sanudi is behind bars.”
I rested my back on the couch. “We don’t know who sent Sanudi your location still. They could be out there still trying to nab you.” I argued. Sali sighed; a sign of surrender.
Kuleza swiped his forehead removing a build-up of sweat. “Naledi and I went to my house yesterday because the bot match we were attending was cancelled. Naledi told me about her time in the brothel. How she got tortured because she refused to sleep with a client. And how her Madame made her to sleep with the client.’ In circular motions, he removed the hand wraps encasing his knuckles. “I think she was relieving it Xo. She told me she felt ashamed for soliciting. I reminded her it’s not her fault. After that she told she had to go. She left. I wish that I had been able to comfort her. I wanted to text her that evening but I did not know what to say. I kept thinking about her and I knew she was not okay but I did not know how I could make it okay.”
I removed my hand wraps and we made our way outside the Musangwe ring. “So you didn’t call?”
We strolled to the south east of the ring. The locker door opened, we both entered. “I did not. I feel bad about it. How is she supposed to see me as a potential mate when I can’t even comfort her when she opens up to me about her wounds? I wish I had your way with words.”
I chuckled. “Kuleza you could have just put your arm around her when she was telling you.”
“I pressed her hand after. Putting my arms around her that’s a lot. She isn’t my girlfriend.”
“Yes but she was looking for your comfort.”
“I know.” He sighed heavily. “Which is why I feel so bad about how I handled it all. She will never to want to open up to me again. I just didn’t want to say the wrong thing to her. And in doing that I might have just pushed her away for good.” Kuleza perched himself on the bench near our lockers. “I was happy when she started opening up to me about her time in the brothel. And now I screwed it up.”
I sat down next to him. “When was this?”
“It was yesterday.”
“Have you spoken since?”
“No, like I said I didn’t know what to text her. I am sure she has shut me out.”
“I am pretty sure she hasn’t. Call her, go buy her a milkshake or ice-cream whichever she prefers.”
“I don’t know man. I don’t know.”
“Just do it, Kule.”
“What do I even say on the phone?”
“Just say, are you busy right now? If not would you like to receive a free milkshake?”
“What if she is busy?”
“Then you get it when she is free.”
“What are we going to talk about if we meet?”
“Whatever it is you talk about the bot matches. I think she might bring it up and apologise for leaving abruptly. Then you can ask how she is?
“I don’t know. What if I can’t say anything soothing then?”
“You will figure it out. Just call her.” I said getting up. “If you don’t, I will text her pretending to be you and ask her to meet for a milkshake.”
“Okay. Okay. I will text her now.”
“A call would be better.”
“Just let me do it my way Xo.” He said taking out his phone and texting her. “She is free. Thanks. I hope this goes well.”
“You look beautiful.” I said. The grey flowy dress Salifya wore flattered her figure.
Sali scrutinised herself in the mirror before her. Was she still thinking about her lost six pack? “I look very pregnant.”
“That is beautiful.” I wrapped my arms around her belly from behind, my chin rested on top of her head. Her fingers interlaced with my own. We stood like that for a moment. Tonight would be Salifya’s first time meeting my father’s wife. A few weeks ago, my father’s wife had asked me to call her Amayi.
Amayi and Sali had been discussing food cravings. I slid myself across the couch to be closer to them.
“When I was carrying Tayanja I craved those bitter oranges and I could not stand bananas.” Amayi’s eyes were on Sali. “Tayanja loves those oranges and won’t eat bananas.”
“According to that logic, our baby loves papaya juice and can’t stand bread.” Sali said.
“Xo,” Anjiru my half -brother said putting his hand on my shoulder. “Enjoy your last few months of freedom, because once that little bugger comes out it’s bye-bye sleep, bye space and bye-bye savings. But it’s worth it.”
I looked at his daughter Tiyamike, who was sitting on her Grandfather’s lap, she was seven months now, meaning she would have about a year difference with our child. They would be close.
“You had faux labour and Xo you didn’t tell us.” Amayi said. Everyone looked at me. I apologised.
Amayi, my Dad, Anjiru, Tayanja and her husband were all still staring at me. “I was under a lot of stress.” I said avoiding their glares.
“Anyway, next time that happens it will be the real thing. Call me I want to be there when my grand-child comes.” Amayi said glancing at both me and Sali.
“Seriously though, call all of us,” Tayanja said. “We all want to be there for you guys.” She moved closer to Sali and whispered. “Plus Xo will be useless on that day. You will need people who have been through it.”
“Useless?” I said, I dramatically touched my heart to signal I was hurt. Me and Sali had been taking classes and ran many virtual labour sims; one at home, many at the hospital and one in a pod. I was ready.
“Kahenge here, was asleep during his son’s birth.” Tayanja complained throwing a glance at her husband.
“It was 12 hours labour. It was not my finest hour. I was tired. But I woke up towards the end.” Kahenge said.
“Only after my best-friend woke you up.” Tayanja pointed out.
“When I was delivering your sister, your father was getting painkillers for his aching feet.” Amayi said.
“I had been standing for a long time.” My father said sheepishly.
We all laughed. I wish my father had been there at my birth. My child would not know the pain of growing up without a father not when I was alive.
“We should do brunch or something.” Tayanja said, her folded arms encasing Salifya’s torso. “I know the last mile is the hardest.”
I went to bed feeling blissfully at ease. Something roused me from my sleep, I turned, Sali was not beside me. I wanted to return to sleep but I decided to check on her. She was sitting in her study watching a video.
“Today is the beginning of a new dawn. A dawn where Utawaleza is no more.” A man wearing an Ulalo uniform said. “For a long time Utawaleza has been allowed to exist. Hoarding human resources and natural resources from our nation. This will end today. Utawaleza is Zamania’s dead weight and we have started cutting it.” War-bots invading Utawaleza were shown. “Ulalo is bridge in Chichewa. We are the bridge to Zamania’s prosperity.”
“There is a way to stop all this.” Asikwese said squeezing a lemon into his tea. He had flown in the next morning. “The league of Jume built an updated EMP. If installed it would paralyse the war-bots”
“Where is it?” Sali asked sprinkling sugar in her rice porridge.
“Hidden away. There only person who knows where it is, was found dead yesterday.” He replied.
“That means Ulalo already knows the location to the EMP.” Sali said.
“No, Anyazgambo is in the league if it were breached she would know.” He retorted. “Plus if they know where it is then all hope is lost.”
I placed my bowl of rice porridge on the table. “Where is she?”
“She is fighting off the war-bots at the Utawaleza border.”
“What’s the dead guy’s name?” Sali asked.
“His name was Fantchika Gwechengwe. The EMP could be anywhere between the 100 labs in Utawaleza and here that they use to work on the tech for the border.” Asikwese said.
“How did Ulalo find Fantchika?” I asked.
“It means that they have someone on the league and maybe even the council of elders working for them.” He retorted.
Asikwese left soon after breakfast. He said he wanted to join his wife in battle.
“The war-bots they can be reprogrammed.” I said glancing down at Sali. “It’s not too difficult but it requires some expertise in robotics. Once you reprogrammed, it will do whatever you want it to do.”
“That’s good.” She replied.
I slid myself to the side she was seating on the couch and placed my hand on her belly. “More than anything I wish you were pregnant in a peaceful time.” I said slowly. “I have to go Salifya. I will join the Aka-Rebel brigades going tomorrow.”
She shook her head. “No.”
“I am sorry my love, I don’t want to leave you.” I held her hand. A tear rode down her cheek. I had only seen Salifya cry twice; that was at her parents’ grave and when she found out Ipyana was kidnapped. “This is what God wants me to do. It doesn’t matter if I am scared or I would rather be here.” Sali shook her head again. “Baby I will come back, before you deliver. I promise.” I pulled her into my embrace. This was the last mile, when she needed the most and I was leaving her. She could deliver any day now. I knew this.
She pushed me away and wiped her tears away. “Xo, what if you die?” Her voice was strained. “Then what our child is to grow up fatherless?”
“Why don’t you want to have kids?” I asked. We had just come out from that weekend’s session of pre-wedding counselling at Church.
“1. I would suck at the motherhood thing. 2. The world is a dangerous place getting more dangerous. To bring a child into it would be unkind to the child.” She drew her breath in. “3. What if I die? What if you die? What if we both die? The work we do is dangerous. I don’t want my child to know the pain of being an orphan. I don’t want to bring someone into the world to abandon them.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just nodded. My eyes focusing on the building outside of my pod.
She was 30 weeks pregnant. “I won’t die.” I answered feebly.
“You don’t know that.”
“Come here,” I said opening my arms. She pulled herself off the couch and exited our living room.
who is your favourite character so far?
Please check out the companion book to this novel. It is in my works entitled Lagoon of light. It is set in Utawaleza.