We had gone to collect the spare part my father sent me for, we walked past a church in Nyamirambo trying to make an adventure of something so trivial, the smoke from the corner market covered it in a haze of grey, the taxi-conductor swung out of the side-door yelling his destination and tapped my head.
He laughed heartily and they drove off. One of the local characters who gave us free rides to town.
I had around Rwf10,000 my father had given me, a relative fortune, it could buy 4 crates of soda then and I toyed with the temptation of soda and samosas.
We were a group of four, Johnny always lagging behind, Sammy always running ahead and driving the plot, and then there was me and Steve in the middle, trying to keep the balance.
Sammy came up with an idea “lets go and check out that Indian shop with the proper samosas!” and I wondered what the point of salivating was, but opinions were swayed.
The speed picked up on the thought of samosa, and I was suddenly lagging because I was the one with money.
Wow, the samosas were nice and hot, there was no question, we all debated but we decided it was a good investment, the samosas also needed soda and that cost more money.
After we ate we wondered how we would make back the 8000 we just spent, but we always had a plan. Steve kicked a plastic bottle down the road and we chased after it, dodging goats, rubbish, fat police men, traffic, and the general chaos of Biryogo in ‘98.
Biryogo was a monstrous slum at first inspection, but in reality it is a giant industrial complex, a huge cannibalising colony of ant-like workers, all scavenging for parts, pieces of metal that might be worth something, bits of scrap that have been left for dead to rust, but these people are creative.
They revived dead parts and made them back into the living parts again, even the child in the corner was playing with a rusty pipe, licking the oxidised mange off the metal, these kids were immune to tetanus.
The cacophony of pounding, drilling, scraping, several radios blaring in a short distance of each other, we were looking for Al-Hadji, a short stocky man with bad teeth, which was the only clue.
From behind the curtain, emerged a man whose pot belly took up most of his body; he had a withered leg from polio and a rainbow in his mouth, some teeth were green, blue, brown, red, and a perfect white one in the middle.
A solitary defiant tooth in the sea of decay, he motioned to us like a Sultan calls a vassal, we run up to see him.
“My father sent me, Mercedes-Benz part, he left it here last week, remember?” he shook his head, I looked to my friends who were transfixed by the mesmeric motions of the pounding, and yet to Al-Hadji it was total zen-like silence. “Oh yeah, the blue Benz, I made a copy of it, here it is.”
It was perfect right down to the part number and the ‘made in Germany’ sign. “That will be 10,000.” I remembered that we had eaten 800, so I had only 9,200, I told him how much I had.
“I agreed 10,000 with your father, I didn’t agree 9,200, looks to me like you have a problem.” He went to walk away but I grabbed his arm, he was surprised by my audacity.
“Please Al-Hadji, I don’t want to get in trouble, please I’ll do anything.” I was only thirteen but taller than him, he grabbed my shoulders and leaned forward, I saw the burn mark on his forehead and the grey underneath his cap. His breath was hot and measured. “If I don’t get my money by tomorrow, 5pm something very bad will happen to you.Have it.”
I took it and walked home but thought about the deal I had made, people said he was not to be messed with. Sammy told me a story about how he bewitched a man who didn’t pay him.
I threw up the samosa and soda that had put me in all this trouble, and the walk home was slow and tortured.