“I have to do this. I want a better world for our child.” I said.
“Save your speech for your autobiography.” Salifya replied. She went to the kitchen. I could hear her making a snack. Then proceeding to eat it.
“Still up?” She said when she returned.
“I can’t sleep with you upset with me.” I told her. She climbed into the bed and placed her back against my chest. I cradled her belly in my arms.
“I am not upset with you. I am upset with myself.” She confessed. “I am in-objective. The rational thing is for you to go but I don’t want that. My emotions are getting the best of me.”
“It’s the baby,” I said rubbing the swell of her belly.
“No it’s you. You’ve come to mean so much to me. I would not know what to do if I lost you.”
I pressed a kiss on the side of her forehead. “I will be okay.”
“Here it is.” I said putting the Chikhole around Salifya’s neck.
She scrutinised herself and the necklace through her reflection on her phone. “It’s beautiful.”
“I was not sure you would like it.”
“I like it,” she said, pressing her lips against mine. “I did not know I could feel this way about anyone.”
I lay back down on the cloth we had placed on the grass. “Me neither.”
She looked beautiful in her burgundy flowy dress I got for her. More beautiful than I imagined she would look.
“What you too?”
Her angular face with the tree leaves and branches background looked like a photograph on a poster card. I stroked her cheek. “After Tijenge I shut up my heart. You opened it up.”
She lay down resting her head on my arm. “I am scared I will lose you to death.”
“I don’t know when I will die but I promise to make the time in between my death and now so amazing they will outweigh the pain of losing me. If I die first.” Her hickory eyes pierced mine. I massaged her back with my free hand. Her eyes were full of love and the vulnerability that came with it.
I hugged Salifya tight and kissed her goodbye.
“You come back to us.” Sali’s hands gripped my wrists. Her hickory eyes were ablaze with fear. She released my wrists.
I put my hand on her belly. She hated it when I did that in public but I had to this could be the last time I would see her.
“Yes ma’am.” I kissed her again. “I will come back to you two.” I walked towards the aka-rebel bus pod.
“What? you didn’t know Dad hates anything physical.” Tayanja said.
“It’s true I’d rather much be at my desk crunching numbers than be outside.” My father chuckled. Then why did he insist I train him in Musangwe? We trained for 2 hours every week and he never missed a session unless he had travelled or was ill.
“It’s because he wants to spend time with you Xo.” Sali replied when I told her. “He wants to make up for lost time.”
I did not want to be like my father. I wanted to be there from the start and have nothing to make up for. I starred at Salifya at the Aka-Rebel assembly point till she looked like a toothpick. Had I made the right call here? I could miss my baby’s first cry? Or I could miss my child’s whole life? And leave my child fatherless and Salifya a widow.
We were all given Aka-Rebel uniform and arsenal. Akuzike, Ntawale, Asante, Yanjanani, Naledi and I were in the same division. Since Aka-rebel had now been legalised (after their momentous role in bringing Muhlabase down), we were all allowed to use our names. Akuzike was put in the infirmary despite his protests to be an infantry.
“I am not wasting your training on the battlefield A.K.” Wiza, our lieutenant, told him. He reluctantly complied. Me and Naledi were to train the other soldiers who were tech savvy to re-programme the war-bots. I had shown the technique once to Naledi and she not only picked it up but made improvements to it. The rest of the division were sent to the battlefield.
“We should probably call Salifya so they can start looking for the charging points.” I said. “It’s a good idea you know.”
“Thanks.” Naledi smiled. We exited our lab into the communications tent which had the best network.
I took out my phone and dialled Sali.
I knew that they would be worried by the way we hang up. I felt sorry for Ntawale, Asante and her boyfriend Yanja as I watched them making it to where the cyborgs were. This was supposed to be their rest time after spending their day at the battlefield.
“We need the bots running.” Naledi said as we re-entered our lab. “Just there ones you and I reprogrammed anyway.”
“But we haven’t run full diagnostics on them.”
“It doesn’t matter. I trust what I did and I trust what you did. So let’s get them operational and get them to go to the battle field.”
We had programmed about ten that day.
“If we missed something they could kill us.” I held out my assault rifle.
“I know,” Her finger was on the trigger of her assault rifle. We switched them on, one by one waiting five minutes before switching the next one on. They all went to the battlefield.
“I noticed my best-friend started smiling more often these last few months.” I said.
Naledi just chuckled.
“Ever since I got married we have not been as close as we used to be. And with the coming of the baby I was worried that he would give me more space and be on his own. So I am glad he has you.”
“We are not dating.” She said shyly.
“I know. And I am not putting pressure on you or anything I am just glad he has someone else apart from me.”
“He is a great guy.”
“That he is.” I chuckled. “You know before you guys got close Kuleza would forget his phone at home, he just couldn’t be bothered to be on it much but now I can actually text him and get an instant reply. I guess because you two are always messaging each other.”
Naledi starred at the tools in her hands.
“His ex-fiancée’s death devastated him. I didn’t know if he would be able to let anyone else in after that.” I knew if Kuleza heard me saying this he would be annoyed with me for pressuring her. I was not trying to pressure her. I just wanted her know what she meant to him. Kule was not the best at showing or expressing his emotions. “You broke past so many of his walls.”
Naledi’s diamond shaped face lit up in a smile. “He broke mine too.”
We spent the rest of the night reprogramming the other war-bots that were brought in during the day so they could even the odds on the battlefield. I woke up at 4 am at my desk. Naledi was sleeping on the floor.
I sent Sali a message telling her what happened and that we were okay. I went to sleep. It was only when I woke up properly that I learnt of the casualties we had. Yanja had died in the attack and 22 other soldiers.
“Without what you two did, we would have all been dead.” Wiza said to me and Naledi. “Which is why I am requesting more volunteers familiar with robotics.”
“Okay.” I replied.
“We used weapons worth two days, it is my assumption that these bots will continue to attack day and night to wear us out. So I need more of those re-programmed bots so we survive this war.” Wiza told us.
“We will work as fast as we can.” Naledi said. Wiza left our lab. I went out to look for Asante. She was in her tent. I called out to her. She came outside and we took a walk around the camp.
“He said he did not want to be in the same division as me, because he did not want me to see him die or the other way round. But I insisted and now the image of him dying will always be with me.”
“He was a brave man.”
“I have to wait for the pod coming to drop soldiers tomorrow. His body is going to rot by then.”
“It won’t. The mzati have a way of preserving bodies. Wiza said they will hand over the bodies to them.”
“At least, his mother can see his face.” She wiped her tears. I placed my hand on her shoulder and squeezed it.
“We were so worried when you didn’t call.” Sali said.
“I am sorry. It’s been a busy 48 hours.” My eyes fell on the many bots lying around in the lab waiting to be reprogrammed.
“I am glad to see you are okay.”
I glanced down at her belly which was the size of two watermelons. “How are you?”
“I am okay.”
“I miss you.”
“I miss you too. Ipy found a charging point. I sent the schematics through one of the Aka-rebel lieutenants coming to the warfront.”
“We will try to hit it as soon as possible.”
“Be careful.” She said. “Tumpale set up an account for people to donate to Aka-Rebel for the war. It’s made a good amount of money. Hopefully that goes into much needed weapons.”
Naledi turned away from the robot she was reprogramming. “What are you writing?”
“A letter to Ipyana. She asked me to write her.” Akuzike replied looking up from the desk he was on. “I hope you don’t mind me using the lab it’s got the best light apart from the clinic. The clinic isn’t as quiet as it here.”
“We don’t mind. I don’t know the last time I used a pen.” I said.
“It’s taking some getting used to. I was hoping my handwriting would be more cursive but it looks more like chicken scratchings.”
“The fact that you are writing more than two words is something. I think I can only manage to write my name and then the pain of holding a pen kicks in.” Naledi chortled.
“It’s taken me thirty minutes to write one paragraph.” Akuzike said.
Ntawale, Wiza and a soldier named Khama walked in.
“I will come with you on this mission.” Wiza said. “What’s the plan?”
“Get in and blow it up.” Naledi told her.
“Sounds like fun.” Ntawale said with a chuckle.
“How do we get across the sea of robots between us?” Khama asked.
“Wiza got us a pod with invisibility.” Naledi retorted.
“This is dangerous. If we get caught. We die.” Wiza said.
“What an encouraging prep talk Lieutenant.” Naledi teased.
“You know me, Nale, queen of prep talks and cheer.” Wiza chuckled. “Jokes aside, if we succeed, we take one step closer to winning this war.”
“You will succeed. You are hitting it at 12am a time when no war-bot is charging.” I told them.
Are you following what is going on?
Does the title and cover now make sense?
Do you think it was right for Xo to leave Sali?
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