I’m out. Of money, that is. It’s official. I went to the grocery store today to pick up some essentials and I got the dreaded “Insufficient Funds” screen on the debit machine. Though it’s killing me to do so, I’d like to ask a favour. If you haven’t already, please buy my book. If you […]
His friend since pre-school, Juan-Pablo Guttierez eyed him quizzically. “What are you talking about, Glen?”
“That’s how many times it feels I’ve been sitting here with you at sunset, waiting for you-know-who to come back.”
“So what’s the point for four?” Juan-Pablo asked.
“Don’t you mean what’s the point four for?”
“I know what I mean, and so do you. Pendant!”
“You’re at it again. Don’t you mean pedant? A pendant is something you hang around the neck.”
“My point precisely, Glen. Just substitute by for around.”
“We are in a mood this evening, aren’t we? What’s eating you, J-P?”
“Do you know what the date is?”
“Of course. Twenty-fifth of October.”
“Exactly. The twenty-fifth of October, and you know what happened on the twenty-fifth of October three years ago?”
“Juan-Pablo Guttierez. When are you going to get it through your thick adolescent skull that she’s not coming back?”
“But she promised she would. She got into that canoe with that other bloke, waved at me, and said ‘see ya’. That meant she expected to see me again. Otherwise she would have said something like goodbye, or adios, wouldn’t she?”
“I know. We had a connection. I loved her… love her more than anyone I had ever loved before, and I don’t think I’ll ever love anyone as much again. She even gave me some tokens of her love, and I happen to believe it was to keep me true to her until she returned, as she said she would.”
“She didn’t say she would come back again, J-P, she said ‘see ya’.”
“It is. So why would she have given me those tokens of her affection if she didn’t feel it?”
“Remind me again, mate. What was it she gave you? These tokens of her undying love?”
“Oh, Glen; the memory is as fresh now as if it had just happened. We were walking along the harbour wall—”
“Hand in hand?”
“Well, no; the wall is too narrow, so I was right behind her.”
“I’d brought along a packet of Werther’s Originals—”
“Other toffee-based confections are available…”
“Yeah, but that’s what I’d brought. Anyway, I was sharing them with her… that’s what lovers do, you know; share stuff… and as she finished each one, instead of throwing the wrapper into the sea like any normal person would—”
“Or any litter-lout!”
“Whatever. But instead of doing that, she gave them to me, individually, and said ‘for you’ each time. That made every wrapper a token of her affection for me.”
“Are you certain that’s what she meant by it?”
“Maybe… and bear with me on this… just maybe she was giving you her rubbish to throw away because she was too lazy to do it herself.”
“Are you listening to yourself, Glen? How could you even think such a thing. I thought you were my friend!”
“I am, J-P. It just breaks me up to see you idolising this girl who, as far as I can tell, had no more feeling for you than for the empty wrappers she gave you.”
“You don’t get it, do you? You can’t see the symbolism, even though it’s staring you in the face.”
“I see the symbolism, all right. What she was giving you was exactly what you gave her—”
“Yeah, the sweets. Only she had sucked the life out of them before giving you the empty wrappers back again. How’s that for symbolism?”
“Glen Marechal, you have no soul. I don’t suppose you’ve ever been in love, have you?”
“After what it’s done to you, I’m glad I haven’t.”
“Then you can’t understand. You’ve never felt what I feel, so how could you?”
“So, J-P, tell me again about this relationship. How many times did you go out together?”
“Just once, but quality means more than quantity in these things. Not that I’d expect you to understand.”
“So you had this date…”
“Not exactly a date. It wasn’t arranged or anything. I saw her near the bus stop and our eyes met. We both knew right away that it was the real thing.”
“Then she started walking along the wall. I said I was going the same way, and asked her if she would like a sweet. ‘Sure,’ she said. Not okay, or alright or anything, but sure. As if she was certain that we had something going for us.”
Barely able to suppress a snigger, Glen asked what happened next.
“We just walked together. Neither of us said anything. No words were needed. Our connection was so strong that talking could have broken the magic. After a couple of minutes, she jumped off the wall and climbed into the canoe.”
“With the guy who was already in it.”
“Then he forced himself on her and kissed her. She was incredibly brave. I knew she hated it, but she didn’t give him the satisfaction of knowing it. She pretended to like it.”
“Then they said something to each other; she pointed at me and laughed. Then she waved to me and called out ‘see ya‘ with a voice that would make Kiri Te Kanawa sound like a fishwife. Oh, Glen. I wish you could have seen it. It was the wave of a queen or an angel, and as she waved, she was still laughing – a light, bubbly laugh that tore at my heart-strings. It was then that I really knew.”
“What, that you’d been suckered?”
“No, Glen. Not that. I don’t know if we can stay friends if you won’t support me in this.”
“Okay, J-P,” Glen lightly patted his friend on the shoulder and said, “see ya!”
Juan-Pablo looked askance at Glen and said, “I’m sorry, Glen. I don’t think of you in that way!”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 97, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.
Kreative Kue 96 asked for submissions based on this photograph:
“Keep smiling and maybe they won’t know.”
“Shush. They’ll hear you.”
“Don’t be silly. They are so far away they would never hear us.”
“Don’t be too sure. I think the old guy is getting wise. He’s smiling back.”
“Naw. He just has gas is all.”
“How long do we have to hold these grins? My face is beginning to cramp.”
“Till they walk away. I’ll let you know.”
“Tell me again why we are smiling?”
“For Pete’s sake. The guy gave us a nickel. We are showing gratitude.”
“For a nickel? You gotta be kidding me.”
“Shush. They are coming back. Keep smiling and let me do the talking.”
“You youngsters have been smiling for quite a while. Is everything okay?”
“Oh yes, sir it is.”
“You sure you don’t have a stomach ache of anything?”
“No, sir. We are just fine.”
“Well, have a good afternoon.”
“We will sir and the same to you.”
“Oh, by the way. I seem to have dropped my coin purse. Did you happen to see it?”
“Why no sir. Are you sure it’s not in another pocket?”
“I’m quite sure.”
“That is a shame since you were so generous with that nickel. Would you like it back, sir?”
“No that’s okay. You have fun with that coin.”
“We will sir. Is there a name we can call you since you’ve been so nice?”
“Sure. Just call me Mr. Scrooge.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Scrooge and God bless you.”
My effort was
Following information received from a reliable and trustworthy source, my chief, the Regional Customs Controller, sent me to investigate reports that prohibited goods were being smuggled through the small village some thirty kilometres south of us. My instructions were to proceed with a light touch, in order to avoid any conflict with the local people, but to identify and apprehend the miscreants.
The minute I arrived at the site, two local boys started hounding me; obstructing my passage and preventing me from seeing the nefarious activities that were undoubtedly taking place behind what they euphemistically called ‘the big tree’. They immediately saw that I had a camera with me; part of my evidence-collecting paraphernalia, and insisted I photograph them. I was tiring a little of their game, but tried not to let it show; even though I knew instinctively, what they were doing.
“Look, lads,” I said after some time, “I’m asking you nicely. Please step aside. I need to see what’s going on behind you.”
The boy that I took to be the elder of the two responded. “No, no mister. You take one more picture. Look; we both do nice smile for you. You snap?”
“I’ve already taken your picture eight times. I don’t need any more.”
“You try to trick us. Many times people snap picture of us, the machine always make click. Your machine made no click.”
He had me there. I hadn’t exposed a single frame. “Okay,” I conceded, “I’ll do one more.” [click] “happy now?”
“You take picture, you should pay,” the younger boy insisted, all but blinding me with the size of his smile.
“How much?” I asked.
“Two hundred shillingi.” The younger one was clearly the more commercial of the pair.
“Each.” Okay, I was wrong. The older one was even more commercially minded.
“That’s a lot of money for one photograph, lads,” I complained. “If I do pay you, you must do one more thing for me.”
“I haven’t told you what I want, yet.”
“Money. First,” the older lad said, a hint of menace shining through the big, faux smile.
“Oh, no,” I said, “I’ve met people like you before. If I give you four hundred shillings now, you’ll do a runner and I’ll never see you again. I need you to take me, and show me what happens behind that tree.”
“Nothing to see,” the younger one said.
“I don’t doubt that,” I replied, “but you will show me the trapdoor, the hidden entrance, the tunnel cover, or whatever it is you use.”
Knowing the levels of superstition that still prevailed in these parts, I passed the fingers of my right hand in front of them in a wave-like action as I said this. The elder boy peered at me through half-closed eyes.
“Your Jedi mind tricks don’t work on me,” he said, “only money.”
“How much for the extra information?” I asked.
“Two hundred shillingi,” he replied.
“Is everything two hundred shillings? Don’t you know any other numbers?”
“Two hundred shillingi.”
“Very well,” I said. I reached into my back pocket to pull out my roll of one-hundred shilling notes and found… nothing. I turned my head around and ran my fingers around inside my pocket to confirm what I’d found… or not found, to be more accurate. When I looked back, I saw three boys running off, laughing.
How was I supposed to explain that to my boss?
On to this week’s challenge:Using this photo as inspiration, write a short story, flash fiction, scene, poem; anything, really; and either put it (or a link to it) in a comment or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org before 6pm next Sunday (if you aren’t sure what the time is where I live, this link will tell you). If you post it on your own blog or site, a link to this page would be appreciated, but please do also mention it in a comment here – pingbacks don’t work.
Go on. You know you want to. Let your creativity and imagination soar. I shall display the entries, with links to your own blog or web site, next Monday.
The Orphans is mostly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
Max Matham is a self-employed freelance forensic accountant living in a quiet village in Buckinghamshire. Della Jont is a hard-nosed businesswoman who presses Max into working for her, investigating alleged financial irregularities at an orphanage in East Africa. Max soon finds that some disturbing things are going on at the orphanage, and becomes involved in a set of intriguing events involving orphans, government agencies, witch-doctors, an old university chum and a multinational pharmaceutical company.
Beginning on 10 January 2016, I shall publish The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Fifteen, scene two: The meeting.
I had no idea what Hannice and Sophie did on Tuesday. They left the house before 10 o’clock, and I didn’t see them again until almost seven in the evening. They were in very high spirits when they arrived, more like a pair of teenagers than a wheelchair-bound forty-something and his carer.
They didn’t volunteer much, either; just that they had seen a few sights and been to some of Hannice’s favourite haunts. When I asked about his physio and personal care, they both said, almost in unison, “We managed.”
They were rather tired, Hannice certainly; I could see it in his face. They retired early and I went back to my book. I had managed to add another couple of chapters during the day and was keen to push it through to its conclusion. I now had a working title for it; this story of marital conflict: she a feted chef, running the kitchen end of a restaurant hovering on the brink of success, and he a somewhat rabid accountant. My working title was “There’s no accounting for taste”.
Wednesday was the day of the meeting. We all knew that the three directors of TanzCap: Fonseca, Thakur and Wangwe would have been briefed by Della, and I had no doubt that they had been instructed to hold out for a figure much higher than we were prepared to offer. I had spoken with Paul the previous day, and acquainted him with our position. He was rather ambivalent on the numbers. His only concern was that someone with the right credentials would hold the 51% of the business that the licence mandated, so the company could continue to do business. The level of capitalisation was of lesser interest, he told me, as JPI could offer top-up funding if needed.
Seven of us assembled around the conference table in Jaxson’s facility: on one side, three TanzCap directors; on the other side, Hannice and I, as negotiators, and Sophie as observer. Paul sat, symbolically, at the head of the table, favouring neither side. He acted as chairman and Sophie as secretary.
Paul called the meeting to order and set out its purpose.
“Jaxson Pharmaceutical (Tanzania) is required by its licence to be 51% owned by Tanzanian interests. This requirement has been met by TanzCap, but TanzCap’s owners, JCap Holdings, wish to divest the holding. Further, the government of Tanzania has indicated that it does not accept that TanzCap is fully owned by Tanzanian interests, as all its shares, apart from nominal amounts held by its directors, are registered to Jont Capital (India).
“It is therefore incumbent on TanzCap to offer their interest in JPT to a suitable Tanzanian national, or to a company that is domiciled in Tanzania and majority owned by Tanzanian interests. The relevant bodies being satisfied that Knight Investment (Tanzania) meets the domicile and ownership requirements, and they having expressed an interest in purchasing from TanzCap, their interest in JPT, the sole purpose of this meeting is for the parties to agree a price.” He then called upon the parties to start their negotiation, agreement to be reached within one hour.
I spoke first. “Having researched the value of JPT, and allowing for the fact that if this deal doesn’t go through, JPT will cease trading, KIT is prepared to make a cash offer amounting to four billion shillings.”
Two of the three TanzCap directors had clearly taken on board their owner’s instructions; they calmly shook their heads from side to side, indicating dissent. My old friend and, as I now know, Kanene’s father, Afolabi Fonseca, was incandescent.
“How can you possibly make such a derisory offer? The company is worth at least thirty billions, fifty-one percent of which is more than fifteen billions. Yet this white devil is offering only four billions!”
Thakur grabbed his sleeve and tried to pull him down, but he wasn’t having any of it.
“Unhand me, Ravi,” he said. “I knew, as soon as this creature came in pretending to be working for Miss Jont, that she was trouble. I told you all. I kept a close watch on what she was doing, where she was going—”
“Sit down and be quiet, Labi,” Mr Wangwe counselled, “Ms Matham is unlikely to raise her offer in the face of such abuse and threats, is she? Remember, you are a director of a significant corporation, not a—”
“Not a what, Abraham? Not a what?” Fonseca demanded to know.
“A shaman, a witch-doctor,” I interjected. He looked ready to explode;
“Who has been talking to you?” he yelled.
“You have,” I calmly replied, “by your actions, by your words and by your behaviour. Now, would you care to sit down and listen to the advice of your colleague, or would you prefer to risk being declared unfit to hold a directorship?”
Thakur and Wangwe grabbed a sleeve each and dragged him into his seat.
“We have had discussions with Miss Jont,” said Mr Thakur.
“We imagined you would have. What is her view?”
“Miss Jont says she would like to realise seven billions.”
“That’s too much for us,” I advised, “I can increase from four to five billions for a quick agreement.”
Fonseca was clearly struggling to hold himself in check, and Wangwe was muttering softly to him, seemingly trying to keep him calm whilst Thakur conducted the negotiation.
Thakur spoke into his phone, put it down and said, “I am authorised to accept five and a half billions. That is our ‘red line’. We cannot, will not accept any less.”
“You are aware, Mr Thakur,” Hannice said, “that if we don’t reach an agreement at this meeting, JPT will be forced to cease trading and go into liquidation. You will then be left with 51% of a company that is worth only the market value of its tangible assets. So…”
“But… but… but…”
“So it is as well that we are prepared to meet your figure of five and a half billion shillings, isn’t it? Have your lawyers draw up the papers and present them to our lawyers by close of play on Friday. We should be able to conclude this and have the cash in your account by this time next week.”
Heads nodded, hands were shaken and the three TanzCap directors left the building. Two of them had a look of satisfaction, if not happiness; the other was still fuming.
I recounted to Hannice, Paul and Sophie details of my last face-to-face with Della, in which she told me what a formidable opponent she would be.
“If that was Della being formidable,” Hannice observed, “it’s a pity we didn’t come up against her on a normal day; we might have got away with the four we started with.”
Marcia came in bearing an ornate silver tray on which stood a magnum of France’s finest and five flutes.
“Why five glasses?” Hannice asked.
“You don’t think I’m bringing the good stuff in and not having a glass myself, do you?” Marcia replied.
We all laughed, as the tension of the meeting melted away.
“I don’t know what I’d do without Marcia,” Paul said.
“I feel the same about Lindy,” Hannice replied, “but I’m afraid I have to let Max have him. Not an easy thing for me, the man is a saint.”
I looked at Hannice incredulously; he had poached my friend, assistant and confidante.
“Look after Sophie, Hannice,” was all I could add.