THE REAL DEAL by James Kariuki
Cobwebs hung from the wooden rafters of the one room mabati shack along with an assortment of beads and bones on strings. The room was dimly lit through a little wooden window that was only partially open and covered with a piece of sack for a curtain. Rays of light shone through holes in the roof and particles of dust could be seen swimming through the air when they floated through the light. Juma was alone in the room hurriedly packing his belongings in a sports bag. His work paraphernalia littered the floor. Calabashes, animal figurines and horns were scattered all over, and the contents of various bottles spilled onto the ground as he knocked them over in his rush.
“What is this? Who did I wrong? I didn’t kidnap him. He should be the one being arrested. I made him win the election and he never paid me a cent. I hope whoever has him stabs him in his fat belly,” he mumbled to himself as he wrapped a wad of cash in black polythene and stuffed it into his getaway bag.
A loud bang startled him and he ran to the door, before slowly opening it and peeking outside cautiously. The long corridor between the row of one room houses ended at a small metal gate that was now shaking as someone attempted to kick it open.
He ran back into the house and picked the open bag. It was too late to flee but he had to try. He kicked the wall of his own house and the metal sheet opened into a neighbouring room. It was lucky that none of the neighbours were around during a weekday morning. He could kick his way to the first house by the gate and lie in wait. The door of the house flew open as he was only halfway through the gap in the tin wall.
“Come here!” a voice shouted.
He was grabbed by the ankles and pulled back into the room. Three police officers in camouflage jackets and red berets rained kicks on him as the one holding him dragged outside the house.
“Please, I can give you money,” he pleaded.
The hands around his ankles let go and his legs fell heavily to the ground. He was lying on a puddle of soapy water on the rough cement floor and struggled to sit up.
“Show me how much you have, Daktari,” the one who had foiled his escape said.
“It’s inside the house. Allow me to get it,” Juma pleaded.
“Harakisha!” he barked at Juma, with a raised fist threatening to punch him.
Juma hurried back into the house on all fours and rummaged through the bag that was now stuck in the hole between the two rooms. He retrieved a black polythene paper with a bundle of notes wrapped inside it and walked out slowly. He handed it to the leader who proceeded to unwrap the bundle and count it.
“Twenty seven thousand? How long did it take for you to earn this?” he asked.
“Four days,” he answered.
“How many clients did you see?”
“All this money from two clients? You must be the real thing, eh?”
“Yes. I promise. I’m not a charlatan like the ones you…”
A sharp slap interrupted his sentence and sent him reeling backward. The other policemen punched him and kicked him to the ground. The beating continued until Juma was curled up on the soapy puddle again.
“Haya! Twende!” the leader ordered.
Two men grabbed him by the ankles once again and dragged him to the gate that was now hanging by a single hinge. A police pickup was parked outside, and he was thrown in the tarpaulin covered back. A small crowd was gathered outside the gate watching and murmuring amongst themselves as the police car drove off at full speed leaving a cloud of dust
The car arrived at a police station he had never been to before. He tried to look for a sign board that would tell him where he was so he could call his family later but he was quickly bundled into the building; lifted up by his belt and dragged along, barely walking on his own two feet. He was surprised to find himself led into a sparsely furnished office instead of the cold cell floor that he expected. The two police men who had put him in the room left and closed the door behind them.
The room had a small desk standing in the middle. On one side was an old office chair with a torn back exposing the brown stuffing inside. A plain wooden chair stood on the side near the door. Behind the office chair was a grey cabinet that was too full of files to close properly, and yellowing paper spilling out of the drawers. The white paint on the walls was peeling and hanging in oddly shaped strips and the ceiling was full of stains, evidence of leaking rain water. He looked at the newspaper folded on the table and recognised it as the previous week’s daily that had made him fear for his safety.
“Governor Missing,” read the headline.
He was also aware of the story inside the paper about a police operation to arrest all charlatans practising as witchdoctors. The story had deeply offended him. He did not consider himself a charlatan. He knew that he had a special power that could be hard to harness sometimes but it worked in his favour many times. At least they didn’t think he had anything to do with the missing governor. He really wished he did. His thoughts were interrupted by the door swinging open. A woman in brown police uniform walked in and sat on the office chair behind the table.
“Have a seat,” she said to him.
He sat on the wooden chair uneasily and avoided eye contact with his interrogator.
“Do you know why you’re here?” she asked him.
He looked at the newspaper and tried to think of how to answer the question without incriminating himself in any wrongdoing. ‘Because you’re arresting charlatan witch doctors’ would not be an appropriate answer.
“I asked you a question. Do you know why you’re here?”
“Yes,” Juma mumbled.
“How does it feel to make your living lying to people?” she asked.
“I don’t lie to anyone, I help them with their problems.”
“I’m told you made a lot of money over the past few days. What did you do for those people?”
He looked at her for the first time. Her hair was tied in a bun above her head. He thought it made her unsmiling face look even more stern.
“I helped them with their marriage problems,” he replied, his voice now shaking.
“Please explain to me how.”
He was surprised that she suddenly sounded polite.
“I gave them a potion to keep their husbands at home over the weekends. That was the problem they wanted me to solve.”
“So it was a love potion?”
“It was something to give them diarrhoea.”
The officer let out a loud laugh.
“I knew you were a charlatan. I have nothing more to discuss with you. You will join the others in the cells.”
“No! Wait. I can prove to you that I’m not,” he pleaded.
She reached into her desk, pulled out a flyer with bold black and white print and placed it on the table. It had his name, Daktari Juma, and outlined a list of conditions and ailments that he claimed he could cure with his herbs and magic. He wished he had never printed those out. They had probably led the police right to his doorstep.
“This is yours?”
“It says here that you can find lost people.”
“Then tell me where the governor is.”
Juma looked at the flyer and nodded to her to indicate his compliance. He was relieved that he was not a suspect in the disappearance of the politician. He stood up and undid the two topmost buttons on his shirt. He pulled out a small pendant that hung from his neck on a piece of leather string. It was a small glass bottle in the shape of a miniature gourd with a brown liquid inside. He stepped to the side of the room as if to find space to manoeuvre and ripped the pendant from his neck. He mumbled a spell and threw the bottle to the ground. There was a bright flash and the smell of burning flesh suddenly filled the room. His eyes rolled to the back of his head and he started whispering incoherently before collapsing to the floor.
The officer rushed to his side and felt a hand grip the back of her neck. He pulled her down close to his face and continued mumbling, all the while staring at her with his ghostly white eyes.
“Afande!” she called out to the police outside the office.
His eyes rolled back into position and he suddenly spoke in a clear voice.
“Sweet Water Hotel,” he said, and immediately went unconscious.
Juma woke up from his seizure on a comfortable bed. He sat up and saw that he was in a hotel room. The door to the balcony was open and two men stood there. One of them was looking into the distance, smoking a cigarette, while the other was leaning on the railings, fiddling with his phone. He looked up from the phone when he heard the bed creaking and saw Juma trying to sit up.
“He’s awake,” he said, putting his phone back into his pocket.
The smoker threw the butt off the balcony and walked out of the door without looking at the magician on the bed, as if in fear. The woman officer who’d spoken to him earlier came into the room immediately. She motioned to the other man to leave before sitting on the bed next to him.
“How did you know he was here?” she asked Juma.
“I told you, I’m not a charlatan.”
A puzzled look took over his face, as if he had heard her question the second time.
“Here? Why are we at the hotel?” Juma asked.
“I knew where he was but it was a test to see whether you’re the real deal.” she replied.
“Now you know I am. May I go?”
“No. Now we need your help. The governor needs your help. Come with me.”
She stood up and opened the room door.
He walked behind her down the corridor to a door that was surrounded by a group of five men, including the two who were in his room earlier. They opened the door and he walked in behind the woman. On the bed was the governor lying on his back with a look of terror on his face. Beads of sweat poured down his brow and he seemed to be in pain. He let out a groan when he saw Juma walk into the room. A young woman was straddled across him and supported herself with her hand on his round hairy belly. She seemed to be dozing off, tired but not in pain.
“I think you know what’s going on here,” the officer said.
“Yes, I do.”
“We need you to separate them.”
“Very well,” Juma said. “I need you to follow my instructions without question and provide me the items I need to do it.”
“Of course,” she replied.
“Bring me a knife.”