Blood is the Price

Jenny wasn’t beautiful; her forehead was slightly more pronounced, her cheeks puffy, her lips thinned and her skin difficult to maintain in the heat. However, she did have eyes that moved men to arenas of sensuality that very few women could, and an attitude that would never apologize for it.

Jenny understood what many women in her position understood—sex is leverage. Power. Control.

On that cold night on Christmas Eve with the wind combing her skin and her hands stashed away in her coat, she paused at the door of a pub tucked away in a corner of Lusaka’s biggest shopping mall. Jenny looked at two men heading her direction…and smiled. The men looked at each other as if trying to verify that they were not seeing things.

“Will you gentlemen be so kind as to open the door for me? It’s freezing; I don’t want to expose my hands to the cold.”

The men nodded and both reached for the door. After a few awkward seconds of what nearly degenerated into an argument over who would open the door, the taller of the two opened it.

“There you go, madam.”

Jenny didn’t even so much as look at them let alone respond to the man that spoke. Her smile had gone, and replacing it was a grin of irritation.

When Jenny was inside, she eased her way to a secluded seat and lit a cigarette. She pulled on it a couple of times before letting out a cloud of smoke. A few seconds later she heard a man’s voice.

“Would you mind if I joined you baby,” the man said in Nyanja, one of the local languages.

“Be a darling and screw off.”

The man looked shocked for a second, then smiled, wide and hard. He then sat on the chair opposite her.

“Didn’t you hear me?”

“I did, but just give me a chance sweetheart,” he spoke in Nyanja again.

“Will you not address me in that bloody language? And while you’re at it, leave me the hell alone or else I’ll call security.”

The man froze for a moment, then smiled again.

“You like to play hard to get, huh?” This time he spoke in English. He struggled to pronounce each word.

“Henry!” Jenny shouted.

“Okay, am going.” The man got up and broke out in a fast walk.

Everyone knew Henry, the muscle of the pub. The man was an ex-Jerabo (a Kitwe thug group with a passion for violence).

Jenny enjoyed a few minutes on her own before another man walked up to her and sat across from her.

“What the hell is wrong with you hounds? Can’t you let a woman be?”

The man smiled. Jenny was drawn to it. That upset her.

“Yeah, we get it, you have white teeth, now save it for someone who cares.”

“My mom told me to always smile at strangers. You might never know who needs their day brightened.”

“I imagine toothpaste was high on her home shopping list.”

“And belts for spanking; funny how those things wear out so quickly after hitting a few booties.”

Jenny chuckled, then smiled.

“Now look who’s smiling. My name is Hank, by the way”

Jenny’s face hardened. “Go screw yourself!” She had a quick look at her watch before standing up and walking away.

*

Hank looked around the pub. It wasn’t his usual setting and he felt slightly unease. He was a man who loved the intimacy of silence. The sound of the hoarse voices and loud television was unsettling.

Five men wielding fire arms walked into the pub.

“Everybody Get on the floor right now!”

The men were the embodiment of shadows. Black boots, black pants, black mask…black was their signature.

The customers began to scream, the effects of alcohol wearing out with ungodly speed. The women threw themselves at the men, hoping that they could provoke the natural guardian instinct and thus find protection. However, in the wake of such unprecedented drama, the men forgot their roles and decided to play their second act—that of staying alive. They threw the woman aside and dashed for cover.

Henry, the one-man security, yielding nothing but brass-knuckles, ran towards the men dressed in black. He managed to strike two coma-inducing blows before shots tore at his torso then his brain. The man fell to the ground, dead.

“The hell!? Took out Tom and Chisenga,” one of the men dressed in black said.

“You imbecile! I thought I told you not to use our bloody real names!”

“Sorry Boss, it’s my first time.”

“It’s gonna be your last time if you don’t get your act together,” said the man ominously. He then turned to look at the terrified crowd and shouted through his mask.

“This is a Robbery; there only two rules if you wanna stay alive. One, stay put and don’t do anything brave. Two, give us all your money and jewellery.” He paused. “I think we’re gonna get along just fine.”

Hank swallowed hard as he gaped upon the four menacing men with guns. Had he made a mistake by coming here?

No-he had a job to do, robbery or no robbery.

****

Luka Mwango

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