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The Hitchhiker

by Jerà
26 Nov 2018 at 22:29hrs | Views
She stood some fifty-sixty metres away from the desperate looking swarm of humanity that infested the Harare Showground bus stop. One hand shielded her sunglazed face from the savannah sun, the other palm restraining the flapping hem of her skirt which threatened to depart with the wind.

Despite her efforts, glimpses of her light skinned thigh flashed on the roadside like a human traffic light that made her hard to miss. Seated on the black and white kerb at her high heeled ankle was a little boy. Under his arm he held a soccer ball.

It wasn't just the manly compulsion to assist a damsel in distress that made me consider stopping for her and the child. I had just miraculously managed a $200 cash withdrawal from the parched banking halls where, lately, bank notes are as scarce as pangolins. My late uncle Smart, a man who had a wealth of opinions from politics to economics, said "the quickest  way to spend a $100 note was to buy a loaf of bread."
Even though bread only cost a dollar, he reasoned that the human mind somehow feels compelled to preserve money in larger denominations, but spends smaller units without thought. If you want to save money, keep it in large bills, he advised. I had two dead presidents – Ben Franklins to be exact – entombed in my breast pocket. I had no intention of surrendering them to the Norton tollgate woman, despite her "marry me" smile and pleasant chit chat. I figured if I had one paying passenger, I could avoid breaking my $100 bill just to pay for the tollgate up ahead. This woman, who looked out of place in the blazing Harare heat looked like the perfect source of my $2 tollgate fee.

I thumbed the turning signal, silenced Shaggy's It Wasnt Me in the radio and lowered the left side window.
She cat-walked in her high heels to the open window and bent her back to meet my eyes inside. A gust of wind brought the expensive scent of L'instant de Guerlain into my nostrils.

"Can my son and I get a lift to Bulawayo."

The way she pronounced Bulawayo, with a soft, almost inaudible BU, betrayed her Southern origins. Her lips were full, like Angelina Jolie after a bee sting.
Inside the large black glasses over her eyes, I saw two identical reflections of myself, both with their jaws hanging and bulging eyes zoomed in on her caramel cleavage.
She repeated her enquiry, slowly, like I was an idiot.

"Bu — la — wa — yo, two people?"

My destination was was Selous, known to its denizens as Halfway, 70km outside the capital. Bulawayo was 450km from my current position.

I swallowed before attempting a reply. But my tongue seemed to be on strike. Thankfully my neck still remained loyal. I nodded.
She held out a flat manicured palm, a signal which I knew to mean "wait".

In the left side view mirror I saw her catwalk at great speed back to the soccer ball hugging boy and two upright suitcases whose design could only have been Louis Vuitton.
She yanked out the long handle of the bigger suitcase, took the boy's hand and clip-clopped back towards the car with the pull along suitcase trailing her with a rasping sound of turning wheels. I pressed the door lock in time to meet her painted fingers which stretched out to open it. Letting go of the suitcase whose repetitive LV logo was visible at close quarters, she hoisted the boy into the backseat.

While she fussed over the child's sitting position, I reached under my seat and fingered the boot opener. In the rear view mirror, I saw the tail of the car pop up, like the buttocks of a twerking woman.
She shut the rear door and placed the suitcase into the open boot before giving me her manicured "wait" sign.
She turned and, this time, attempted a high heeled jog which made her prominent hips swing and fleshy buttocks jiggle in time to her footfall.

In the back, the boy, whose face was a lighter shade of brown than the woman's sat silently with the soccer ball under his arm, as if he was headed to the park for a kick-about with his friends.
Two cute ears sprouted from the sides of his head, framing his Mohawk hairstyle. His good looking features implied he was her son.
I nodded at him.

"Hey Lukaku, who are you playing against tonight?"

My attempt at footballing humour was met with a blank boyish stare, one perhaps that said "I'm not allowed to talk to strangers."

The car shook which could only mean that she had loaded the second of her two suitcases. Above the boot lid, I saw her weave encased head, then four painted fingers. Bang, the boot came down. A heart beat later, she was at the front passenger door palming the handle.
The effort of opening the door made her cleavage squeeze outwards. Just then a salt and peppered head appeared beside her two large breasts, making the car window appear like a picture frame with three pumpkins in a still life image.
Beneath the newly arrived pumpkin was a priestly collar whose purple shirt I immediately recognized as Lutheran.
"Norton?" enquired the ecclesiastical pumpkin.
With his head in the window, the Bu – la – wa – yo woman, whose cleavage was framed in the car window, was obliged to wait outside the vehicle.
Either out of impatience or deference to the pastoral collar, she replied on my behalf.
"We are going to Bulawayo and Norton is along the way."

Inside my skull, I heard a voice say "damn it! What's she inviting him for!" I quickly recognized the voice as my own.

The Lutheran collar said "thank you" in that way that clergymen express gratitude for a generous church fund donation before he slid into the back seat next to the Mohawked child who still held his ball like nobody would dare part him with it.

The scent of L'instant de Guerlainscent filled the interior of the car and both passenger doors slammed shut. In the seat next to me, the Louis Vuitton woman made herself comfortable, shifting her massive hips like a hen attempting to find a suitable position to sit on its eggs. The fabric of her skirt stretched on either side of her thighs where her hips swelled up like she had two capital letter Ds inside her skirt pockets.

Higher up her body the seat belt dissected the hillocks of her bust, like a beauty pageant sash, from left shoulder to right hip. She attempted to sink the seat belt buckle into the slot between the two front seats but the overhang of her right hip wouldn't allow it.
She tried a second time before sighing resignedly.

Secretly, I was pleased that the seat belt would not obscure the view of her glorious cleavage, but I wasn't about to risk being delayed by the bribe seeking traffic police for an unfastened belt.
I reached over to her left shoulder, an action which put our faces in unsettling proximity. The roma of L'instant de Guerlain was even more powerful at that distance, along with the scent of Diasporan lotions that spoke of high street stores and expensive, appointment-only hair salons.

I pulled the seatbelt across her bust and down to her side and aimed it at the slit next to the red button. The collision between my knuckles and the bouncy flesh of her hip was unavoidable, though not entirely regrettable.
I muttered an apology before the buckle of the seat belt clicked into place.
I heard her say "thank you."
Involuntarily, my hand lingered a few seconds longer than necessary on the buckle. On the tip of my tongue was a joke about men being better at shoving things into narrow holes, but the Reverend's overpowering presence made me reconsider the joke.

I took one more lungful of L'instant de Guerlain before relinquishing my grip on the belt buckle and returned to the steering wheel.
I glanced at the rear view mirror to check for traffic behind but was met with the judgemental, fire and brimstone headshake of disapproval by the Lutheran collar.

We travelled in silence. With the critical eye of the clergyman ever-present in the rear-view mirror, I dared not revive the secular Shaggy who was still holding his breath in the radio since the stop at Harare Showground.
After Kuwadzana Extension, the extreme edge of Harare, a fat cop flagged us down. As the car came to a slow stop, the policeman's eye fell upon the holy dog collar in the back seat and we were waved on before I could fumble in my wallet for my license. Turned out that Reverend Killjoy was useful after all.

Half an hour later, we hit Norton and just before the triple lane highway bottle necked into a narrower road, the Lutheran collar said "ndasvika mwanangu".
I raised a hand to decline the $2 bond note he held towards me in the space between the two front seats. After saying thank you, he glanced parentally at both the Louis Vuitton face and my own before exiting the vehicle. A kilometre down the road, the ball-clutching child slumped sideways onto the spot vacated by the reverend before shutting his eyes. Finally I could fill the silence with Shaggy's suggestive vocals now that the reverend's judgemental glare had departed.
I pressed play and Shaggy once again made his denial of infidelity.
"It wasnt me".
I turned to my passenger who had her left elbow against the door so that her palm cradled her cheek. I noticed a birthmark or tattoo of some strange symbol on her left wrist. The seat belt had imprinted a deep welt across her breast. I wasn't sure if, beneath the dark glasses, she was aware of my gaze, so I quickly faced the front.

"Feel free to change the music" I offered.

But my offer was more out of the need for an icebreaker than hospitality.
"That's fine, your music will do," she replied with a faint smile.
"Really, I insist" I said.
"Very well," she said.

She fiddled with her handbag on the floor of the car and, a moment later, an iPad came out.

She jabbed a painted thumb against the button on the side and three photographs of herself in collage molesting a small black dress appeared on the screen.
Next she married the gadget to the car radio by way of a USB cable and Shaggy's cheating denials stopped.
Next a volley of Francophone African rhythms issued from the car speakers.

When the reverend's threat of eternal fire and damnation had hung in the car from Harare to Norton, several chat-up lines swum in my head. But now that the reverend had left, I couldn't recall any of them.

"You don't look like you are accustomed to hitchhiking".
It was the best I could think of.
Then came that half smile, followed by a question which was spoken in an accent that still carried its Zimbabwean DNA but had partially succumbed to the influence of many places visited.
"Why do you say that?"
I shrugged before responding.
"I don't know, your luggage for starters suggests a woman accustomed to a more comfortable mode of transport."

Again the half smile.

"Plus you stood away from the rest of the crowd at the bust stop, meaning that you weren't altogether prepared to elbow people to get onto a bus."

The full lips finally broke into a proper smile.
"Normally, I use Joshua Nkomo airport but I had passport issues to sort out in Harare. I had hoped to rent a car for the drive to Bulawayo but forgot to pack my driver's license before leaving home".

A second later she added, "my other home, I mean".

"So what do you do for bread and butter and to keep the landlord from evicting you?"

The full lips smiled again.
"I am self employed, and I'm guessing by your dreadlocks and the roundabout way of speaking, you must be a writer?"

"Guilty as the lady alleges" I replied.

"Apart from writing, you also go out of your way to rescue mothers with their sons."
It didn't sound like a question and I felt found out.
"What do you mean? Should I have left you there?"
"I'm not saying that, but you weren't going to Bulawayo were you?"

"We-well what makes you think that!" I quickly realized that my response had the note of vehement denial. I moved to right that.
"I have friends in Bulawayo."
The full lips became a smirk that suggested she had lived a lifetime of listening to the lies of men.
"How long is your stay in Bulawayo?"
The question sounded more a portal into a well considered trap than random small talk. But I walked into the trap all the same.
"A week or two".
She let out a snort.
"What does that mean?" I asked.

She did not reply. Instead she pulled out a $5 note from her purse.
She half pointed up ahead and half handed me the money.
"Tollgate coming up" she said.
As I rolled the window up and tossed the tollgate receipt into the cup holder berth beneath the car radio, she picked up the conversation where it had ended.
"You and your friends must be very close".

"Why do you say that?"
The juicy beestung lips half smiled.
"Aside from a spare wheel, your boot was empty. So was the backseat. I assume you are either going shopping for a week's supply of clothes or you will rely on the hospitality of friends in Bulawayo?"

! Busted!"
My outer voice attempted denial.
"I keep a change of clothes in Bulawayo".
"Your fuel gauge is dipping below a quarter"
Another accusation.
"Most people fill up before making the drive to Bulawayo".
I took my eyes off the road to look right at her.
"Where do you work, Scotland yard?"
She turned to face me. From the face reflected in her dark glasses, I became aware of the creases of anger in my forehead.
She pointed a red fingernail.
"Lorry coming" she said calmly.
I quickly swerved back to the left lane to avoid the lorry whose driver was flashing his headlamps madly.

We travelled in silence for the next 30km. I saw Selous appear in the windscreen up ahead.
At the next turn off, I signalled to leave the road and drove into the service station.
A smiling young man came to the window just as I lowered it.

"Mr Jerà, how was Harare?"

I crossed my lips with a straightened forefinger, attempting to signal for him to shut up.
But the snort in the passenger seat said "I found you out, go ahead and deny it like Shaggy".
Rather than responding to the pump attendant, I handed him one of the Ben Franklins that I had hoped to preserve for the uncertain future.
"Toisa marii, five dollars yekusvika paimba here?"
Halfway is a small settlement, barely visible on the map and $5 was sufficient fuel for two weeks local run-around.
"No, full tank please," I replied.
If there was any doubt that I had been discovered, the pump attendant nailed the "player" sign onto my forehead.
"Full tank? where to now?"

In the back seat, the Mohawked little figure stirred.
Still holding his ball, he sat up and stuck his face between the two front seats.
She turned to him.
"Yes love?"
"I need to wee-wee".
She looked at me as if enquiring about the location of the restroom.
I pointed to the kiosk. She exited the car before opening the rear door and walking the boy, ball under arm, to the kiosk.
I looked up to see the pump attendant grinning mischievously at me.
Over the hum of the petrol pump I heard him say "mudhara makaipa!"
On the front passenger seat, the iPad display light had died, leaving only the word Nikki which ping ponged against the sides of the screen. A few minutes later, the woman and child returned, along with the L'instant de Guerlain scent.

I immediately made conciliatory moves.
"Can we start afresh?" I extended my hand. "I'm Jerà"
She smiled.
"Nikki.... Nikki Houblon".
"You're not mad at me for lying to you?"
"I'm a grown woman. I'm very familiar with the games people play."
She shrugged.
"Besides, I was more grateful than angry with you. A personal chauffeur beats a bumpy ride on a chicken bus." She paused. "Even if the driver has other motives".
I changed the subject.
"So if it's not Scotland Yard, what exactly do you do?"
"I own a clothing line" she replied.
"Really? Anything I have heard of?"
She fiddled with the iPad on her lap, once again drawing my attention to her rotund thighs. She tapped the iPad screen and it immediately came out of its sleep.
Her painted finger swiped across the screen, causing pictures to shift sideways until she came to the image of a Fifa referee holding up a digital board.
At  the top of the board, it said "Hublot".

"Damn girl, your hustle is strong. You sponsor the Fifa referee boards?
She laughed for the first time since we had met an hour ago at Belvedere.

"No man, I said Houblon, not Hublot."
She pointed to a big R on the advertising hoarding at the edge of the football pitch.

"That's my brand..." There was a pause. "Rascals".

I knew right then there was more to her than the cleavage.

My pen is capped

Source - Jerà
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