By Wanangwa Zondani Mtawali (Malawi)
The crocodiles propelled their wide open mouths above water, eager to crush with their rusty teeth the savegely beaten man being dangled by two muscular young men in black overalls. Three middle aged gentlemen looked on with hard faces. A weeping little boy suddenly appeared, pointing his shaking forefinger at the man in the middle and asked.
"What did he wrong you?"
Just then, the young men having let go of the man, swung back their heads to see their mouth agape masters awed by a little stranger, an intruder. As they sprung to lay their bloody fingers on the boy, he dashed off, crept through the reeds and disappeared in the tall trees ahead.
The following day, news spread that a well known politician had gone missing. The nation was told that searches were being undertaken to find him. Days passed into weeks, weeks into months and months into years. He was never found.
Two decades elapsed and most people had forgotten about the politician. Terror attacks orchestrated by one resentful Master Ndota began in public places across the Republic of Unyolo, leaving authorities and citizens wondering what exactly his intentions were.
One day, Jolting and deafening explosions were heard. Then dark and thick smoke hurled to the blue afternoon sky and quickly conjured up a dense cloud above Rulindo, the Capital City.
Even in Kanthete to the far north, Ukavu to the far south, Malivenji to the far east and Tinkho to the far west, people saw the smoke, rising. It was summer. The city's streets were bustling with people.
The explosions and smoke were emanating from the center of Rulindo. But it never occurred to some people, especially those in Kanthete, Ukavu, Malivenji and Tinkho that it was actually Capital Circle which was under attack until it was announced hours later on the radio that thousands of people working there had died.
Capital Circle, comprising six, twenty storey elegant buildings, had housed all head offices of government ministries, departments and institutions in the Republic of Unyolo. The buildings were the tallest in the republic, built in a circle with a concrete spacious parking bay at the center. There was a wide hallway through the ground floor of the southern block from which stemmed a two hundred meter four-lane tarmac road, linking the compound to the nearby six-lane Muyaya Wamuyaya highway which cut through the center of Lulindo from east to west. Another two-lane tarmac road with well trimmed green hedges and flowers along its outer edge, went round the compound.
Huge flames had broken out. The concrete pillars and walls broke, leading to the collapse of some sections of the buildings. Large pieces of shattered glasses and walls flew in all directions. Panicking workers jostled through the smoke filled doors and corridors to escape the apparent death.
From offices, shops and streets around the compound, frightened people just watched. There was pandemonium as sirine blaring ambulances, fire fighter and police vehicles sped to the scene. Military helicopters flew by like confused butterflies.
Thirty minutes passed. The flames grew fiercer. Fire fighters and rescuers retreated to their own safety. Dozens of people still trapped in the buildings, shrouded in smoke and fire and pinned down by heavy mounds of rubble, were left alone to grapple with their own fate.
Another thirty minutes elapsed. Seven kilometers to the east, five black Mercedes Benzes left the Muyaya Wamuyaya highway and turned left into Mpondamatiki, a decent suburb where Cabinet Ministers, Diplomats and tycoons lived. The Mercs passed high brick walls that fenced state of the art mansions as they cruised northwards.
Having moved straight for about three kilometers, the Benzes reached a patch of green short grass after the last line of houses. Then, they headed north east with the grass field lying to the left.
The Benzes reached a natural thick forest which stretched far beyond. Four armed men in military regalia opened a gate to let the convoy pass through.
After moving a kilometer deep into the forest, the Mercs reached another gate. Armed military men increased at this gate. Beautiful flowers and green short grass grew along the road to a magnificent white villa which stood imposingly amidst tall trees at a distance of about 100 meters from the gate.
The villa was the palace for Muyaya Wamuyaya, President of the Republic of Unyolo. There was a concrete wide square courtyard in front of the palace. A black metal pole stemmed high at the center of the courtyard with the red and yellow flag for the Republic of Unyolo waving in the air at its tip.
The Benzes parked behind each other on the right side of the courtyard, facing north in a vertical line. The front left doors flew open. Five mascular young men, also in military regalia, immediately got out, opened the left rear doors and saluted at the confortably seated, very important persons in the republic. Those were President Muyaya Wamuyaya's most trusted servants and constituted his inner circle.
Alighting were Ministers Majoni Matembo and Nyoza Madimbo, General Daniel Bobozoli Army Commander, Police Inspector General Masebela Nkhukana and Head of Inteligence Services Katakwe Mutesi. They wore black suits with matching pointer shoes and white shirts. Their sombre faces down cast, they slowly headed to the front glass doors fixed in the glittering wall of the State House, across the shiningly polished balcony.
A presidential guard held one of the doors open to let the five into a lounge where they would meet their master, the dictator. Muyaya Wamuyaya had then ruled the Republic of Unyolo for over thirty years without a Vice President and during which time he had also not tolerated any opposition.
The lounge was spacious with a red carpet on the floor. A long black couch was placed against the northern wall. Muyaya Wamuyaya sat in a black armchair near the eastern wall, facing a wide flat television on the western wall. His own portrait, hanging above the television, stared back at him defiantly.
A black Wilson hat perched on his head, the tall and brown skinned Muyaya Wamuyaya wore a white long sleeve overflowing lobe and black pointer shoes. His thighs clasped a well sculpted wooden black cane, standing between his legs. He rested his hands and his chin with grey beards on the curved handle of the cane as he watched with rage the heart breaking incident at Capital Circle on the television.
The five fell on their knees in front of the President and bowed their heads. Muyaya Wamuyaya gave his bowed servants a long belittling glance, exerting his power, his control over them. His aides always knelt, bowed and crawled before him as a show of respect and descipline, failing which, they risked being fired, arrested, tortured and then fed to the crocodiles, lions and black panthers alive.
"So, you are becoming incapable, eh?" Muyaya Wamuyaya asked.
His voice was deep and hoarse. The five swung up their heads to face the roving eyes of their angry master.
"We are sorry, sir," Matembo responded, shaking.
"The attack is a surprise, sir," Bobozoli added.
"We are doing our best," Nkhukana and Mutesi chorussed.
"Shut up!" the President shouted.
"Doing the best when this son of a bitch can slaughter my people at will? When Capital Circle is crumbling under your watch?"
Son of a bitch, Master Ndota, the most wanted by His Excellency the Life President Lion Dr Muyaya Wamuyaya and the enemey of the Government and the people of the Republic of Unyolo, had claimed responsibility over the previous terror attacks in the republic. So, Muyaya Wamuyaya, his kneeling aides and the mourning people across the country, promptly suspected that the Capital Circle assault, was undoubtedly the work of Master Ndota. Muyaya Wamuyaya had always blamed neighbouring Heads of State, saying they were aiding Master Ndota to topple him out of power to fullfill their evil interests in the sovereign Republic of Unyolo.
"We are sorry, sir," Madimbo pleaded.
"This is failure of the highest degree," said Muyaya Wamuyaya as he finally ordered his aides to sit on the black couch.
The television beamed aerial view of the raveged Capital Circle. Night was beginning to fall. Crows and vultures cleverly flew by. What used to be the pride of the nation, the engine for the government, had suddenly become a sorry sight of slanted towers with huge yawning holes and jutting remains of broken pillars, metals, steel and wires.
The television camera zoomed in, showing the grounds. Amidst smoke oozing debri, grief stricken people stood or walked by aimlessly. The police and rescuers were lifting plunks, just in case. Stray dogs sniffed around.
Then, a fairly short reporter, brown in complexion, wearing a dark blue t-shirt and black jeans with matching casual shoes, appeared on the screen. His wide eyes faced viewers as he stood fixed, holding a mic in his left hand, close to his protruded mouth. He spoke while his right hand gestured at the towers of wreckage behind him. Silence reigned in the lounge as Muyaya Wamuyaya and his allies listened attentively.
"From the center of Rulindo, we continue bringing you live footage of a deadly attack on the headquarters of the Government of Unyolo. With more than three hours now gone and perhaps just when State House is finally conteplating to issue a statement to condemn the assault, Master Ndota, the usually suspected attacker, has just claimed responsibility."
The recorded video of the hard face of a tough talking Master Ndota was then beamed on the left bottom corner of the screen. He was light in complexion with bushy hair and a long dark beard under his chin.
"Next is the State House in Mpondamatiki forest," he warned.
Muyaya Wamuyaya rose as if he had been stung by a scorpion in his underwear. In anger and deep confusion, he staggered forward, his wrinkled fists clenched to punch the rogue on the television screen.
Just then, Master Ndota's image suddenly faded away.
Frustrated, the frail, oldman turned 180 degrees, wobbled back and wearily slumped into his seat shaking his head. He fished out a white handkerchief and pressed it hard to his most photographed face.
Now, as a Government Spokesperson, Madimbo needed to craft a strong worded statement, condemning the assault and expressing the President's heartfelt condolences. In fact, citizens and the international community had been eagerly expecting the statement. They were longing for Muyaya Wamuyaya's militant address which would never fell short of disparaging remarks towards Master Ndota, his sworn enemy. Unfortunately, the President was too devastated to mumble any coherent words that evening.
"Murderer, we will hunt you down and slain you in the severest way possible," ended the statement, read out by Madimbo and aired on local as well as international radio channels.
Soon after the statement was aired, condolences from neighbouring heads of State and diplomats poured in. They pledged their support to track down Master Ndota.
Just when Master Ndota had drifted into sleep for the first time in forty eight hours, he suddenly awoke to the sound of scurrying footsteps in the distant. He cursed ruefully. He was in severe pain after rifle butts were thumped repeatedly all over his body. The bumpy floor made him even more uncomfortable. He was feeling hungry.
It was dark and cold where he was. He had crawled and groped about. It was indefinite darkness. He had screamed. His voice just echoed.
The footsteps were getting louder as they approached. Master Ndota now knew who it was. His captors were coming to inflict revenge. He felt more than ready to go through torture, to die. After all, what futile fight could he put up, alone and unarmed in captivity of an oppressive regime which had slaughtered even more innocent people.
There had been a wild car chase and protracted heavy gun fire exchange between the military and rebels to capture Master Ndota in the remote western border town of Malungo. Ten rebels and three state soldiers died.
It was the afternoon of a Sunday, one and a half years after the bombing of Capital Circle. Heavy summer winds brew from the east, whirling up dust from earthern roads, leaving it splattered on people, cars and buildings. Throughout the town, men, women and children, were characteristically going about chatting, selling and playing, apparently oblivious of a military operation in their midst.
The operation in Malungo was nearling six months with the armed forces having combed and ransacked suspected rebel areas. A base in Mubangwe forest on the southern edge of the town was demolished, although the army emerged without their most wanted catch, Master Ndota.
That Sunday afternoon, Commandant Bibida, the eagle-eyed, as was popularly known among his juniors, was peering out of a window on the top floor of the tallest building at the center of Malungo, his eyes carefully surveying above the town. Buildings and houses of different sizes and shapes, some looking very old and dirty, stood almost fused and stretched across without any plan.
Bibida cast his eyes south east. A black double cabin Land Cruiser with a canopy, emerging from the high fence of an old compound about a kilometer away, drew his attention. The cruiser seemed being weighed down by what Bibida thought were hundreds of kilograms of people stuffed in it. He kept looking at the cruiser as it slowly headed further south east and then turned right into the big road to Mubangwe forest, to the south west. The cruiser, suddenly, began to move at a supersonic speed. Commandant Bibida hurried down the staircase and in no time, he was on the ground floor.
He alerted his troops, who quickly converged and jumped into a waiting, green single cabin open Land Rover. Bibida hoped to intercept the cruiser at the crossroads, just where Mubangwe forest began, stretching further south. With the gun wielding soldiers standing naughtifully in its body, the Land Rover sped off while skillfully overtaking other cars. It raised dust that chocked jilted and bemused onlookers along the road.
The Land Cruiser arrived at the crossroads fast enough to the utter dismay of Bibida and his crew who were only about 150 meters away. It turned west into the road to the border post. Bibida then ordered that the Land Rover further increased speed to catch up with the cruiser, afraid that they could lose it. Upon reaching the crossroads, the Land Rover negotiated the corner to the west while skidding, almost knocking down two pedestrians. Its fast rotating tires stirred up more dust, much to the disgust of the baffled spectators.
The Land Cruiser and the Land Rover were moving very fast along the forest, at least, mantaining a 100 meter distance between them. Heads of four men thrust out of the cruiser's canopy, their eyes quizzically gazing at the stalking car. A soldier in the Land Rover aimed his gun, forcing the heads to recoil into the canopy.
The two vehicles left the forest behind and were passing through a wide field with tall dry grass and shrubs, stretching out further west. The distance between them reduced to about sixty meters. Fleets of cars ferrying people and goods to and from the border post briefly stopped aside to enable the military carry out their operation smoothly.
Distance reduced to about forty meters. More men emerged from the cruiser's canopy with rifles and aimed at the approaching Land Rover. The battle line had been drawn. Shooting began. The two vehicles took charge of the whole road, swaying edge to edge. A loud clattering sound ensued as bullets whizzed and hit agaisnt the speeding armoured cars.
The two cars were now about 25 meters apart. A soldier dropped dead from the Land Rover. Thick blood oozed from the left corner of his open mouth as he lay down on his back, facing up. Infuriated, the other soldiers fired back in unison, pruning down at once three men from the Land Cruiser. The cars' tires run over the writhing bodies.
The vehicles were at the center of the field with a twenty meter distance left between them, when another green open Land Rover full of armed soldiers sped from far west. The Land Cruiser then screeched to a sudden halt, jerking vehemently as its doors instantly flew open. A tall figure, wearing dark clothes and matching thick boots, stepped out of the right rear door. It was Master Ndota. The rebels quickly surrounded their boss. They were shielding him as they headed into the bush, fiercily shooting back.
Most of the rebels were brought down before they even ate a twenty meter distance from the road. Others escaped. Master Ndota was suddenly alone, running fast, a horde of soldiers not far away from his back. As he was about to dive into a thick shrub in front, Commandant Bibida slashed the chief rebel to the ground with his legs. Master Ndota hurriedly pulled himself up to fight his way through the gathering military men. It was a futile effort. He had been cornered.
Master Ndota could now hear the footsteps of his captors very close in the eastern direction. A door burst open and immediately the lights went on. He stood up. His numb eyes strained to swallow the abrupt full light to begin picking up details of the surrounding.
It was an almost empty, vast room with a small window at the top of the northern wall. There were pot holes almost everywhere on the floor, a result of numerous feet that trode on it over the years. The high walls were black.
The room was within the compound of the State House. President Muyaya Wamuyaya and his allies used it as a dungeon for perceived high profile political opponents or rebels. Blood stained pliers, axes and hammers, part of the tools used to slain captives, lay well stored in the corners of the room.
Warmth suddenly engulfed the room. Master Ndota felt his body relax abit as his blood began to flow normal once again. He had regained some energy, although the pain and hunger had not subsided.
Three policemen entered first, then Majoni Matembo followed by three gigantic soldiers. Master Ndota watched them come with Matembo walking majestically, his hands thrust into his trouser's pockets, his jacket flowing behind him. The policemen and soldiers stood strategically across the room, steadily looking on as the furious Matembo slowly paced round Master Ndota.
"You fool," Matembo began.
Among the five most trusted allies of Muyaya Wamuyaya, he was closest to the President and regarded as a possible successor to the ageing dictator once he eventually succumbed to God's call. He was Minister Without Portifolio but handled sensitive duties and information of the state. He represented the President at high profile forums within and outside the country.
"How dare you scratch the wound of the peacefully sleeping lion?" Matembo asked, still pacing round Master Ndota.
The ruling party, top civil servants, ministers and even the other four members of the inner circle, feared Matembo. They were careful with what they spoke and did in his presence, for whatever he reported and recommended to Muyaya Wamuyaya was heard and done. He lived, did and worked as he wished. At his command, people he perceived were a threat to his rise to power and to Muyaya Wamuyaya's rule, were tortured and executed. The lucky ones were jailed for life without trial.
"No one plays around with Muyaya Wamuyaya, the life ruler."
Matembo was now staring Master Ndota in the face, expecting response.
"Murderer, you thought you could hide for eternity from the glaring eye of the lion, the king of the jungle?"
"You won't talk to me?"
"Bastard, you won't answer me?" Matembo was now shouting.
All along, Master Ndota stood still, just gazing fixedly in one direction. Then, with Matembo's none stop rantings and insults, he was compeled to speak, vomit what he bitterly held in his heart.
"Hypocrite. You and your master are the ruthless murderers."
Master Ndota sighed to defuse the furry that was boiling inside him after he had spoken. Matembo continued pacing round him. He cast his face down, probably embarassed by Master Ndota's honest proclaimation. He spat on the floor.
"The people we ever prosecuted wronged the state..."
"No," interrupted Master Ndota, "they are innocent people, killed just out of cheer cruelty and unfounded paranoia."
"Hahahaha, if you think so, what then differentiates you from us?"
"You are too inhuman to understand an aggrieved young man who is desperately seeking revenge."
"Revenge?" Matembo asked, surprised.
He stopped pacing as he watched Master Ndota raise his arms and place his hands at the back of his neck, allowing his fingers pull a zip upward through the hair on the back of his head. Then, his right hand yanked off the mask which had fitted his face and head very well.
Matembo's mouth fell wide open as the shocking reality manifested before his fluttering eyes. Master Ndota, apparently, had been a mask. Standing in front of him was a clean shaven, innocent looking young man and very familiar to him.
"Magenge!" Matembo found himself calling.
"Yes, I'm Muloyi Magenge junior."
For a moment, Matembo sized up in disbelief the son of a long dead politician, Muloyi Magenge, a man he so much envied and hated. An inward mixed feeling of guilt, shame and fear almost overwhelmed him as he thought by seeking revenge, maybe Magenge junior knew the evil the regime had done to his father.
"You killed my father!"
Matembo shook his head.
"Don't blame us over your father's death, if at all he died. Everyone knows that he just went missing."
"Liar, I saw everything," charged Magenge junior.
This ouburst just confirmed Matembo's worst fear. So Magenge junior watched what the regime did to his father? He recalled the execution of Magenge senior more than twenty one years ago.
Magenge had been beaten with metal poles and had his knee and elbow joints broken. He had yelled for help, wriggled with excruciating pain and pleaded for mercy while asking what wrong he had done to suffer like that. Almost breatheless, he was then thrown in a cage of crocodiles.
Matembo remembered seing a little boy pointing at him, then the two mascular executioners reaching out for the boy as he escaped. He had invaded their secrecy. Matembo and his thugs had hunted for the boy all over the place and even everywhere else, but could not find him. What they did not know was that the boy was Magenge junior. He had disguised himself by wearing a mask.
Indeed, paranoid Muyaya Wamuyaya and his close allies ruled the Republic of Unyolo with the worst impunity. No one criticized the regime. Highly educated citizens were detained for no apparent reason.
Muyaya Wamuyaya's portrait hung in every building, office and house on the land. His spies were everywhere. People feared, even just to mention his name. They praised him as if he were God.
Muloyi Magenge had been Secretary General of the ruling party. He was a well educated politician, handsome and rich. The party and people across the country, loved Magenge.
After the state spread the false story that Magenge had gone missing, his businesses were seized. His children were withdrawn from school. His family was kicked out of their poshy home and relocated to a filthy slum where they lived in constant fear under the watchful eye of state spies.
The family was quite traumatized, especially Muloyi Magenge junior. He became exceedingly and bewilderingly quiet. A strong mixed feeling of anger, hatred and rebelion towards the Muyaya Wamuyaya regime was slowly boiling up inside him and it was just a matter of time before it exploded. He burst into violence even at the slightest provocation. He was always alone.
One day, Magenge junior sneaked out of the country. People never saw him or heard about him again.
"So, you killed all those people at Capital Circle to revenge your father's death?" Matembo asked.
He resumed pacing round Magenge junior.
It had become hot. A policeman unlocked the small window and opened it to allow some fresh breeze into the room.
"It's strange. You could have killed us then, since you believe we killed your father," Matembo spoke with a chuckle that surpressed his guilt.
"That was a warning that if I had the capacity to even execute an attack on such a secure compound, then State House would be easy as well."
"Hahahahaha," Matembo loughed nonchalantly, provoking Magenge junior to say more.
"Now, listen you fool. Nothing will stop our plan on you. You will die the most painful death ever," Matembo finished with a long evil stare at Magenge Junior.
Within the compound of the State House were two more cages, each keeping two lions and two black panthers respectively. The worst enemies of the state were left to be mauled alive either by the crocodiles or the lions or the panthers. Magenge junior had to decide for himself in which cage he had to be thrown into. Muyaya Wamuyaya would personally witness his execution while seated in an armchair, sipping his favourite expensive wine.
With Matembo now turning away from him, Magenge junior imagined being torn apart by beasts to the delight of Muyaya Wamuyaya and his overzealous henchmen who killed his father for no apparent reason at all. He became angrier.
"But what did my father wrong you, maggot!" he shouted, aiming to hit Matembo who had began walking to the door to exit the room.
But just before his fist landed on the back of Matembo's head, two heavy arms held Magenge junior back. Fists landed all over him like rain showers. He fell to the floor with a heavy thud, unconcious and bleeding profusely.
It was Wednesday mid morning. Muyaya Wamuyaya sat back in his armchair in the lounge. There was a glass tumbler of wine on the stool in front of him.
Standing, Matembo, Bobozoli, Nkhukana, Mutesi and Madimbo excitedly brought their tumblers together to a clique of cheers and then unanimously took long swigs. Muyaya Wamuyaya looked on while smiling and nodding his head like a lizard.
The words BREAKING NEWS were flickering on the television. The inner circle watched on, keenly expecting what the news was. What the dark skinned female presenter with short hair and snow white teeth was announcing, shocked them.
"Two days after his dramatic capture, Master Ndota, the architect of the horrible Capital Circle bombing, has escaped from custody with renewed vigour to execute deadly attacks on the Presidential Palace and two other undisclosed busy public places."
As usual, Master Ndota was beamed on the left bottom corner of the screen, talking tough.
"If Muyaya Wamuyaya does not resign in four days time, we will bomb the palace," he finished.
In disbelief and anger, members of the inner circle suddenly let go of their tumblers. Abundant fear seized Muyaya Wamuyaya and plunged him deep into hysteria. He was swearing incoherently from his shaking mouth, pointing at the television.
So, Muloyi Magenge Junior was free again with his Master Ndota mask to wreck more havoc? While the inner circle thought it was celebrating victory, actually, it was celebrating nothing. Was that the beginning of the end of Muyaya Wamuyaya's grip on power?
How could Magenge Junior bolt? Surely, this was beyond the comprehension of Muyaya Wamuyaya and his inner circle. Somebody needed to explain what happened and suffer dearly for the mistake.
Lights in the cell were still on as they were left the previous night. The small window was also still open. Magenge junior was indeed not there. The guard lay in a pool of blood.
Unknown to partying Muyaya Wamuyaya and his inner circle, drama had been unfolding in the room during the night.
After Magenge junior regained concious, he lay in the same position for a while, pretending he was still unconcious. A guard paced about. He reached the northern wall and stepped on a stool to either close the window or gaze out.
Like an alligator, Magenge junior carefully crept after the unsuspecting guard and pushed away the stool. The startled guard fatally fell down, smashing his face against the floor.
The guard rolled over with Magenge junior sitting astride over his body. Just before he could shout for help, he was hit hard with a hammer on his mouth.
Magenge junior reached for the two knives in the nearby corner. He used one of them to slit the guard's neck.
He now had his only chance. Magenge Junior climbed on the stool. He thrust his head out of the window and squeezed his body through like a huge reptile coming out of a tiny hide out hole. He fell on the grass below with a thud, not loud enough to alert anyone.
A river meandered from the west through bushes and shrubs, flowing a few meters away from the room as it proceeded down east. Magege junior crept down along it. He reached the spot where the river had swelled to accommodate the cage of crocodiles. The reeds around and the trees ahead, still stood thick and tall as he had seen them more than twenty years ago. The leaves flapped in the night breeze. Bats flew by zigzagigly.
Magenge junior passed the cage. He crawled through the reeds. With the mask clasped in his armpit and the two knives held in the ready for any attack manner, he had walked to his freedom through the soldier and snake infested forest of the State House.
Wanangwa Zondani Mtawali is a journalist and short story writer from Malawi. He was born in 1985.
He was trained at the Malawi Institute of Journalism in 2008, kick-starting a career now clocking over six years. Currently, Wanangwa works for Joy Media Group as a Staff Reporter based in Northern Malawi's City of Mzuzu.
As a journalist, he has accumulated experience over the years having attended various training workshops and visited so many places across Malawi reporting about issues affecting people.
Some of his short stories have been published in the country's major newspapers, Weekend Nation and Sunday Times. He has also published others online.
Notable short stories include The thief Within, In this Village, Manacles of the Past and Face to Face.
Wanangwa is still single. He likes reading, writing and strolling.