15o23’40.97,,S, 28o18’30.18,,E, Sector 15 Designated Coffee Shop. STATUS: INHABITABLE
I couldn’t help it. Every time I saw Bupe, I smiled uncontrollably. She looked stunning in a simple baby blue off the shoulder dress. Today she tamed her bouncy hair, and had it pulled back into a pony tail that exploded lush curls over her head. She was smiling too, a little bit shyly. It had been two months since we’d had a real date and three since we were intimate. Maybe today would be a good day.
“I feel like we have so much to catch up on.” I said softly. I reached out and put my hand on top of hers. She clenched her muscles slightly, but did not move her hand.
“You’re right.” She said, not quite meeting my eyes. “we need to talk.” The air seemed to settle heavily around us. Bupe opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by the loud voice of a waitress.
“can I take your order yet?” she drawled lazily.
I shifted in my seat, and nodded my ascent. “you first babe.”
She bit her lip, and I immediately knew what she would order.
“king sized fries with hot wings.” She smiled and glanced at me. It was the first meal we’d ever had together.
“uhuh,” the waitress said, taking the order. “government name?”
“9512B- XX” she said. The waitress’s eyes seemed to glaze over as she processed this information. Waitresses had been fitted with a certain software to help them know of customer’s allergies and dietary tastes. After a few seconds, the waitress turned to me.
“I’m not eating, thank you.” I smiled at her.
“come on Chabota. Just eat. You look like you haven’t had anything in ages.” Bupe said, meeting my eyes for the first time that day. I opened my mouth to protest but changed my mind halfway. I’d risk it.
“onion rings and hot wings, please. Plus, two milkshakes.’’ I said listlessly.
“okay, do the thing.” She smiled, waiting for my own ID.
“9516C-XY” I said, shifting nervously again. Moments passed by as her eyes glazed again and finally she said it.
“there’s a whole chunk of missing information.” Her voice was no longer lethargic, it was alarmed.
“I know,” I waved her off. “I was in an accident. Recovering my files was a nightmare. I hit my cerebrum” the lie was well practiced and almost believable.
“uhuh, ok.” She reverted to her usual drawl. “food’ll be out in ten.”
Bupe was looking at me, a mixture of sympathy and curiosity on her face. “this is why you hate eating out, huh?”
“yeah. If I could remember my accident it would be easier.” I lied again. I remembered everything. Silas made sure of that.
“I wonder what it feels like when you die.” Bupe whispered shakily.
“why would you think that?” I asked. ‘it’s so… messy.”
“I know. I just… you have answers for everything. I thought maybe you’d have an answer for this.” She sounded dejected.
“Bupe, is everything okay?’ I asked. I was worried that she knew something. I would have to go missing for another few months.
“yeah. I’m just tired, I guess.” She mumbled.
“okay. How’s school going?’ I asked, clutching at straws. I needed to control this conversation. As soon as I said that, my mobile flashed. It was a message from Silas. The preview read ‘shu shu shu.” I gulped uneasily, that was a sign of trouble.
“how’s school going.” I asked again, I was getting more nervous.
“I’d rather we just sat in silence, that okay?” she said. I nodded slowly. I hated to admit, I was scared. Tension clung in the air, heavily. Despite the hum of chatter in the café there seemed to be a heavy silence. As if to add more tension, my phone buzzed again.
“you can answer your phone,” Bupe said calmly. Silas had sent another message. This one simply read “run.”
“Chabota, our order is taking too long.” Bupe said suddenly. Before I could react, she was signalling for a waiter. Our waitress came back, she was wringing her hands nervously.
“it’s been 20 minutes.” Bupe huffed.
“oh, I’m sorry… I… let me just…” the waitress stammered. She walked back to the kitchen urgently.
“baby let’s just go. I’ll buy you a snack elsewhere.” I urged. My phone rang almost on cue. I silenced it and put it in my pocket.
“no, Chabota. I want to eat now.” Bupe asserted. She gave me a steely glare and then decided to focus her eyes everywhere except on me.
The waitress returned, her face tear stained this time, visibly shaken. ‘what’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’m sorry.’ She stammered before shouting, “run!”
I barely had time to react when four heavily armed police officers strode towards us.
“9516C-XY, you are under arrest.” The foremost officer said tonelessly. “you may either come with us, or do this the hard way. Anything you say can and shall be used against you.”
“where’s your search warrant?” I asked, standing up. I stepped in front of Bupe, shielding her with my body.
“we don’t need one.” An officer from the back growled at me. I slumped temporarily and turned to Bupe. She was stricken, her eyes were wide and her mouth was slightly open.
“Bupe, run!” I screamed. I pulled her forward as I rushed towards the nearest exit. Suddenly I heard a loud bang, followed closely by another and Bupe’s hand slipped out of mine.
I spun around hurriedly. Dust filled the air and screams engulfed the once tense silence. My eyes scanned hurriedly for Bupe, she was cowering behind an overturned table, crying. I rushed towards her, to grab her. out of nowhere, a bullet sped right past my ear, I could feel the tingling heat still on my skin. I stumbled to the floor in shock. Before I could react, a heavy steel boot thudded right in front of my nose. I stared upwards into the rough face of the police officer.
‘that was a live bullet.” I said bitterly. I spat some blood out and watched it splatter hopelessly on the boot of the officer.
“I don’t care.” He said gruffly. I narrowed my eyes at him and moved to get up, knowing my chance of escape was limited. As I sat up I heard a small scream and what sounded like a vague struggle. Through the dust emerged another officer, pinning Bupe to his body. Her tiny frame struggled against his huge one.
“your life is forfeit, boy.” He jeered at me, “it’s either you or her.”
Suddenly the officer’s eyes went round and he crumpled to the floor; he was taken out by a perfect head shot. The other three officers followed soon after and someone grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, pulling me towards my temporal salvation. Blinded by adrenaline, I couldn’t see anything, until I was pushed into the back of an old jeep wrangler. I heard a thud as the front door slammed shut and someone spoke.
“you okay, fam?” the voice was milky and familiar. Slightly deep but very obviously female. I rubbed my eyes and sat up, gathering my bearings.
“Stephanie?!” I exclaimed incredulously. “oh, good lord.”
“in the flesh babes.” She smiled indulgently at me. I took some time to look around and realised that The Rats had assembled. We were in business and it was about to go down. Milimo sat in the front seat, typing furiously at one of his many laptops. Silas was cruising way above the speed limit and I only just noticed that Milimo was hacking all the traffic lights in the area to turn green as we approached. Stephanie was also working hard, running through codes on her smartphone, her brow furrowed in concentration.
As I sat up, Silas barked, “when I tell you to move, you move!” he whipped around and glared at me from the front seat. ‘I sent you a whole string of messages.”
“yeah, I was kinda on a date.” I sighed. “it was crazy back there, how’d you find me?”
Silas reverted his eyes to the road and huffed. “we kinda set off security services.”
“whoa! How?” I said leaning forward in my chair.
“they were bailing me out.” Stephanie chipped in. I turned to her aghast. Looking at her properly, I realised that her skin had lost some of its lustre. Her hair wasn’t as shiny and she had lost a lot weight.
I cursed softly. “where were you?” I reached out and put my hand gently on her thigh. “what did they do?”
She coughed. “remember your accident?” she looked upwards, trying to fight tears. “I had one too.”
“fuck.” I said out loud. “how did these guys find you?”
“you’re sharing a car with the most dangerous hacker in southern Africa.” Milimo said. “apparently, I have a price on my head.”
“fuck.” I said again. “why didn’t you tell me?’ I sunk back into the chair and exhaled heavily.
“all’s fair in love and war.” Silas said grumpily. He was about to say more, when suddenly he hissed “get down you two!”
In a blur, Milimo was pushing my head down under a heavy coat, that smelt like stale weed. Through the darkness, a small warm hand grabbed mine, it was Stephanie. I sighed and waited.
“Good evening.” I heard the oily voice of an officer say.
Milimo and Silas grunted non- committal replies.
“where are, you headed?” he asked, feigning a conversational tone.
“back home, outskirts of sector 15.” Silas said cheerfully. “my nephew has just come home from China.”
“you were studying there?” the officer said, genuinely curious.
“systems engineering,” Milimo lied easily.
The officer was quiet for a while. “be careful, there is a slight security worry here. Be home before curfew.”
I lurched forward slightly as the Jeep begun to move forward and begun to sit up. Stephanie pulled me downwards roughly.
“don’t be stupid. There’s another roadblock twenty metres ahead.” She hissed.
“how do you even know?” I mumbled angrily. She shoved her phone under my nose and I rolled my eyes.
Once again, I could hear the voices of police officers, interrogating Milimo and Silas. They stuck to their lies easily, acting like nothing was up.
“have you heard about the criminals on the loose?” the officer asked, a tad roughly. Milimo and Silas murmured their dissent, when suddenly they were being forced out the car. I heard Milimo grunt as the officer pushed him against the Jeep.
“what’s in the car?” the officer asked. Milimo’s voice was strangled as he said. “nothing.”
I felt Stephanie shift uncomfortably, I clenched her hand and held my breath.
“your coat moved.” The officer said non-commitally.
“could be a rat.” Silas grunted. The cop said something inaudible then wrenched the door open. I held by breath, hoping he wouldn’t see us in the half dark. Seconds passed by before what felt like a baton slammed heavily onto my face, several times. I bit my tongue so hard to stop from crying out I tasted blood. The officer slammed the door shut and scoffed. “probably just a rat.” He affirmed. “get out of here, fast.”
We drove for a few minutes before Milimo turned around and whipped the jacket off my face. I looked at Stephanie, she had blood all over her face and bruises across her cheekbones. I figured she’d been treated to the baton too. I pulled her close to me and closed my eyes. I needed this to all be over. I just wanted to taste peace and freedom.
Before long, Silas parked the car in an overgrown field. “Clear everything out, we’re making the last leg on foot.” He ordered. “the grass is long enough to give us sufficient cover, walk parallel to the road.” We got all the fancy gadgets out of Silas’s car and hoisted our bags on our backs. Silas removed a jerrycan from the boot of his car and begun to pour petrol around it. He sighed heavily before shrugging and setting it ablaze.