Last Orders at Harrods Part 15

HARARE - The Daily News on Sunday continues to serialise veteran Zimbabwean born journalist-cum-writer Michael Holman’s satire, Last Orders at Harrods. Today the paper carries the last part of Chapter 12 and the beginning of Chapter 13.

While there was certainly a case for drastic measures, said Furniver, on the whole, all things considered, and in this day and age, he would be most reluctant to do away with his steward simply because the fellow had failed to iron his underpants.

The Oldest Member had nodded sympathetically, and regretfully.

“You’ve got the right attitude, young man, but you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. I don’t blame you. Perfectly reasonable. And you’re probably right.”

The OM checked himself.

“Said probably right? Huh! Definitely right. Getting to be a bit of a liberal in my old age.”

He gave a dry chuckle, which became an extended cough as he got carried away by his own joke.

“Just wish more youngsters shared your views. It would only be what the bugger deserved. Might have got away with it in the Old Days.”

His pale blue eyes misted over with happy recollections of pre-independence Kuwisha.

No, no, old chap, this what you do: you smear Vaseline on the place where the eggs of the bloody jipu have burrowed their way in. Damn maggots then won’t be able to breathe. Get ’em when they come out for air. And you sack the native, preferably after giving him a good talking to behind the kia.”

The OM beckoned the bar steward.

“Know what I mean?”

Furniver had no idea what the OM meant, although he could guess. A kia was the southern African term for the hut at the bottom of Europeans’ gardens, which housed their cook and gardener. He knew that much; and he suspected that a “talking to” might not involve much talking. He decided not to ask. Life was complicated enough.

The Oldest Member took a swig from the gin and tonic that had just been delivered, and patted Furniver on the knee.

“You’re sound. Sound chap. Not like some we get here. Bunch of left-wing tossers. Word of advice. Don’t go round broadcasting your views. Keep them in the family, so to speak. Let off steam over a G and T with me.
Not popular with the local Johnnies. As for the bloody aid workers  ...”

The Oldest Member stood up, shook Furniver warmly by the hand and tottered off, muttering to himself:

“Bloody good idea, nonetheless, damn sensible. Improve their ironing, that’s for sure  ...”

Furniver had another scratch. It was time for action.

Chapter 13

“Only dogs can tell the difference between hyenas and jackals”

Hardwick Hardwicke’s initial impressions of Kuwisha, were far from favourable. The World Bank President watched the billboards and hoardings slip by on the journey from the first meeting at the central bank back to their city centre hotel.

If the advertisements for patent medicines were any indication, Kuwisha was a nation beset by headaches and malaria, intestinal worms and thin blood, vitamin deficiencies, and an unpleasant variety of liver ailments and kidney problems, while the skins of its citizens were either too dry or too dark.

The cures on offer included petroleum jelly and skin lightening creams, pills and potions that would enrich your blood, beers and stouts that would improve your sexual prowess, and soft drinks that would provide access to a world of suave and handsome young men surrounded by attractive women.

Hardwicke nudged Fingers, and pointed out one particularly lurid poster.

“That’s your problem, Fingers.” He guffawed. “That’s why you sleep so much. You’ve got worms!”

He and Fingers had been met at the airport by Marcus Reuttman, the Bank’s resident representative in Kuwisha, whose three-year term was coming to an end, and whisked away to the Intercontinental Hotel in a black Mercedes provided by the Ministry of Finance. The meeting with President Nduka was next, confirmed at the last minute.

There was no time to lose.

As they drove Reuttman outlined the programme that had to be crammed into less than forty-eight hours: apart from the meeting with President, finance ministry officials and sessions with local World Bank staff, there would be a visit to a pilot housing project in Kireba which was intended to be the start of a massive upgrading exercise, final negotiations on a $300m infrastructure loan, and possibly a press conference before departure.

Hardwicke read the draft, prepared by Fingers, now wide awake, of what would be his main speech during the visit.

Kuwisha, Hardwicke believed, provided the opportunity to establish a test case, to create an African precedent.

The meeting with President Nduka was expected to be the highlight of his east African tour, and he was confident that it would mark the start of a new, frank and constructive relationship between Kuwisha and the Bank.

But he was determined not to come across as an easy touch.

The Bank is not a bountiful provider; it is not an infinite source of funds; nor does it have a monopoly of ideas,” Hardwicke was due to say.

“If anything, we are a catalyst, a supporter of fresh strategies, drawn up after consultation and debate  ... For many years, Kireba has been seen as a symbol of what is wrong  ... yet it can be seen as an example of hope  ... empowerment of civil society  ... citizens an inspiration of how people who are poor in resources but rich in ideas, can aim for the stars  ...”

Hardwicke paused, his marker pen in hand.

He turned to the man who had again fallen asleep in the adjacent seat in the back of the car, breathing heavily through part-open mouth, and nudged him in the ribs.

“What’s this, Fingers: ‘...  can aim for the stars?’ Sounds like bullshit to me.”

Fingers shifted his position, and opened his eyes.

“Bit of poetry,” said Fingers. “Take it out if you don’t like it.”

Hardwicke turned to the itinerary for his visit.

“Kireba pilot housing project  ... Meet Mboya Boys United Football team  ... remind me, will you? Who the hell are the Mboya Boys?”

The Mboya Boys United Football Club was more commonly known with varying degrees of fear, envy and admiration as the Mboya Boys. They had taken their name from a Kenyan politician, Tom Odhiambo Mboya, a young and articulate trade unionist who seemed to represent the best of a new generation of African leaders, but who had been assassinated in 1969, before he reached the age of forty.

No-one seemed sure just how the boys fastened on the name Mboya. Lucy had quizzed Ntoto while the boy was having a mango juice and a fresh bread roll baked by Charity, during a lazy Sunday morning.

Tell me, Titus, why the name Mboya?”

Her curiosity had irritated Ntoto. He did not like being called Titus for a start. He played dumb, pretending not to have heard.

Lucy appealed to Charity.

“Tell him to talk, to answer me.”

“If he does not want to talk, he will not talk, and I cannot make him talk.”

Ntoto stood silently, and shot Charity a grateful look.

“You can show her.”

Charity disappeared into the back of Harrods and emerged with a plastic bag that contained Ntoto and Rutere’s most precious possessions, and handed it to Titus.

He returned it.

“You show her,” he said, looking at his feet.

Charity pulled out a creased and grubby local newspaper article, a photo of Nelson Mandela cut out of a magazine, and a black and white photo of a man with a smiling, chubby face. She handed the cutting to Lucy.

In a continent with few heroes, Mandela and Mboya were the boys’ role models.

The Mboya Boys Club had been created for one reason — the boys’ passion for football.

It had been the initiative of Titus Ntoto, in order to qualify for membership of the Kireba football league, brainchild of a young US marine captain, who spent many of his leisure hours working in the slum during his posting to Kuwisha.

Success to the league cost nothing. Nor could it be bought with ngwee. But — and here was the ingenious feature — teams had to earn a certain number of community service points, starting afresh each year, if they wanted to keep up their membership.

The points system had been so designed that unless a team took part in at least one community event, such as clearing rubbish, they would be unable to qualify.

There were now thirty teams, and three leagues, serving the 1000 or so boys and girls who had signed up. Its assets were modest: a dozen footballs, a handful of referees’ whistles, and — for use in the league finals only — a goal net and two sets of kit, stored for safety in the clinic run by Charity Mupanga’s cousin, Mercy.

When membership of the league was first proposed at a gang meeting, it was a matter that threatened to divide the boys.

None of them had any relish for the point-scoring tasks that membership required — such as clearing the rubbish, or digging out sections of the stream that served as a sewer.

No-one was more sceptical than Ntoto himself, but nevertheless he decided that the matter would have to be settled by discussion.

Hundred yards or so from the water pipe in which Ntoto, Rutere, and many of the boys had set up home was what, at first sight, looked like a mound of earth, some thirty metres in diameter.

It was not so much earth, as layers of rubbish that had settled over the years. In the middle were the rusting hulks of an old bus, its rusted frame like the skeleton of a beached whale.

Two cars, stripped of their parts, were more recent adornments, and one of them could not have been there more than two or three years.

The bus now served as a rudimentary clubhouse, while the cars helped conceal a small lined pit, dug by the boys, in which they kept their only football, a collection of football boots, not all of them matching pairs, a large plastic bottle which was filled with water for the half-time drinks, a radio-cassette player, and a handful of tapes.

On the day membership of the league had been discussed it had been too hot to sit inside the bus, but the speakers climbed onto its top and from this makeshift podium made their case for or against joining.

Initially the majority of the Mboya Boys had held out against applying for membership, but as time wore on, it became clear that the mood was changing. The first season of the scheme, when the boys had looked on enviously from the sidelines, had proved a great success; and as more leagues were formed, and the grand football final approached, the lure of membership overcame any dislike for community chores.

Then so-called “community points” were required for full membership, and the Mboya Boys soon qualified, earning six in one weekend when they cleared 100 metres of pathway along the side of the evil-smelling black rivulet that ran through Kireba.

It had been during that initial debate on the merits of membership that Cyrus Rutere first came to Ntoto’s attention.

The boys had been divided, and Ntoto himself was uncertain.

But when Rutere put forward a well reasoned case for joining, he tipped the balance. Ntoto did not hesitate, took his advice, and joined up. From then on, the two boys forged a friendship, and Rutere, shrewd, cautious and pragmatic, though inclined to the superstitious, became the equivalent of consigliere to Ntoto’s don.

There was one other item on that day’s agenda: how to deal with the newcomer to Kireba, Edward Furniver.
The Mboya Boys had nearly split over the issue, almost equally divided between those who wanted to steal the computer the white man foolishly kept in his office, and those who advocated knocking him on the head and snatching his briefcase.

Titus Ntoto thought both ideas had merit, but feelings were running so deep among the Mboya Boys that unless he found a third way, a damaging division seemed inevitable.

It was then that Rutere had made the suggestion that may well have saved Furniver’s bacon.

“It is my turn to speak,” said Rutere.

“Stand up, stand up,” cried one boy in the audience, a cruel jibe at Rutere’s modest height.

“True, I am small, and nothing can change this; you are tall,” replied Rutere with dignity. “Nothing can change that. But I am clever, and nothing can change this  ...” He paused. “And you are stupid  ...”

As repartee went it was not sharp, but his infuriated tormentor had to be restrained from punching Rutere.

“Let Rutere speak,” said Titus quietly. The response was immediate, prompting Rutere to wonder whether the stories he had heard about Ntoto were true.

Rutere seized the opportunity.

“We want to play football, yes? If you want to play football you must have a team.”

The boys nodded their agreement. -  Michael Holman

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