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23rd, Jan. 2014. Location: Limbe, a suburb of Blantyre City (Malawi). For close to 5 Months, I lived in this part of town that doesn’t look remote on face value, though it rather comes off as old-school in almost every aspect. Limbe literally shuts down by 6pm. There are a few taxis still plying their trade, but they hardly stop by. It’s like a transit route to other destinations.
The shops too. They are all closed by 5pm, save for a couple of supermarkets. ‘Peoples’, a popular chain of supermarkets in the country on an approximate 800 meter stretch, is the lone open supermarket beyond 6pm. It opens till 10pm. The other is an Indian-owned supermarket by the roadside whose name failed to register in my memory.
It gets worse on weekends. Especially Sundays. One would imagine residents have been sent on a state-funded vacation, or they are all nursing dreary hangovers. Not even stray animals –Dogs, cats, or owls can be seen roaming on the streets. I guess they dread the lone nights out there as well. Limbe appears serene and peaceful in the evenings. Unless, of-course, if you forgot one of those must-have necessities, and you have to do that chilling trip to ‘Peoples’.
Only then will you hear strange sounds from all angles. Behind you, ahead of you, Or sideways. Whistles, cackles or shrieks. Sounds from all corners. Phantom sounds. Once in a while, you will see a few idle-looking blokes slouched on patios of closed stores. Some look like hired rag-tag Askaris for the store owners, while others could pass for seasoned street burglars.
The food: The menu on all restaurants reads like a presidential decree. Very monotonous. It’s either beef or Chicken. Broiler chicken. If you are lucky to find an alternative, it will be goat, local chicken or fish. Even with all the water bodies around, fish is still treated as a rare delicacy. It’s pricey. I guess it’s the reason it’s not on many eateries’ menu. Very few locals can afford it.
Beef is prepared in all sorts of ways; T-bone steak, Stew, name it. All in the name of making the menu look rich and long, I suppose. It’s still beef. The last time I was in this part of the world, I returned home 15Kgs heavier.
I had to take some precaution. But there was one small problem. There is only one renown gym, I was told. And it closes by 5:30pm. I elected to do a little exercise of my own. My office was about 2Km away from the hotel. I thought it would be a good piece of exercise if I decided to walk the distance to and from office, every day. It was one of the ways I would keep my weight in check.
I was on one of my routine evening strolls from office when a grey speeding Nissan X-Trail suddenly slowed down, before stopping a few meters ahead of me. On the driver’s seat, a grey haired man of apparent Indian extraction donning a golden tunic signaled out to me, as if to inquire something. I pulled over, stopping by the co-driver’s side.
“Hi. My apologies. I guess I mistook you for someone else,” he said.
“OK… And who could that be?” I asked.
“My son. He was in town, so I figured he had decided to walk home,” he replied.
I was puzzled. He, with his skin color, had sired a son so dark that his complexion was comparable to mine? I let it pass. But he would not let me go.
Stranger: “Where are you going?”
Me: “To my hotel.”
Stranger: “What’s the name of the hotel?”
“Oh, OK. So you are new in this place, aren’t you?” I answered in the affirmative. He asked where I came from, to which I told him Uganda. He said his name was Noor. He’d grown up in Tanzania, and he spoke fluent Swahili. We exchanged proper pleasantries in Swahili before switching back to English. What, then, was he doing in Malawi? Noor said he was there for business.
The business had been good, so he decided to move his whole family to Malawi. They stayed in Mpingwi, a few kilometers from Limbe. My hotel was on the way to his home, a few meters off the junction that leads to Mpingwi. He offered to drop me. It was one of those chilly evenings when the heavens threaten to open up unannounced. The offer sounded rather innocuous. A genuine, friendly gesture. Noor unlocked the door and I made myself comfortable in the co-driver’s seat.
We were soon at my hotel, shortly after which we exchanged contacts. I had got myself a new friend, or so I thought. Noor asked if he could check out the hotel rooms. I saw no issue taking him to mine. I had been asked the same question, a few times by friends and peers for potential reference to colleagues on working visits and all. I agreed to have him take a peek at my hotel room.
Noor’s visit would turn out to be more than just a brief look at my room. Once I had the door open, he made his way to the middle of the room, somewhere in between the wardrobe and the bed before suddenly stopping in his tracks. “Oh, by the way. You haven’t welcomed me to your room,” he said. I should have sensed something was wrong. Somehow, I didn’t. Noor flung his rickety hands towards me in an attempt to initiate a hug. It all still looked a familiar gesture.
So we hugged.
I could almost count the number of vertebrae(those circular-looking bones that a converge at the spinal code) on his spine in the few seconds he held me. He was that skinny. And wobbly. One strong slap would easily send him sprawling to the floor, I thought to myself. Noor made his way to the bed, before asking me to join him. It now dawned on me. I was in peculiar company. I didn’t react immediately, but rather gave him a blank stare. Like I was staring into an abyss. I stayed glued to my seat for a couple of seconds, before asking him what he was up to.
“You got a really hot body,” he went on. He probably believed he had me cornered. I guess he thought he was at that point where a woman you have been chasing is one smart move away from giving a nod to your overtures. Or one romantic gesture. A morning text or an evening movie date.
Deep inside, I believed there was something else giving him the confidence, and the guts to pitch such silly propositions. He might have had a gun (I have heard of cases where people have been raped on gun-point), or he could have been high on drugs. Could I have looked easy prey for him? He certainly couldn’t have mistaken my broad chest for boobs. I bore a fairly grown stubble on my chin. I certainly didn’t look like a woman.
At this point, I faked a phone call and signaled to him I needed to meet somebody downstairs. As one would imagine, the “call” ended as soon as were out of the room. Noor wasn’t giving up so easily. He asked what my program for the weekend was. I told him I was busy, and wasn’t ever going to do anything with him.
Now, one of the advantages of working in telecoms is that it’s easy to trace a mobile user’s details, as long you have their number. So I decided to dig-out more about Noor. A quick search on my database returned the few details I needed at that point. Noordin Ahremani was his full name, a 42 year old raging gay(the database didn’t have that, of course) that was born in Mumbai in 1973.
Now, I needed to stay out of Noor’s reach. I needed to block his number from calling me, which I did successfully, after a number of rounds on the net and successful installation of a call-blocking application on my phone. I could have done it the harsh way, and have him disconnected from the network. But I decided to be lenient on him. Two failed call attempts the following Saturday had him finally give up, for he never tried calling again.
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