The thief of hearts

Sunday June 30 2019

Every free weekend when he could, he picked Bella and took her home with him to try and find her again.

Every free weekend when he could, he picked Bella and took her home with him to try and find her again. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA 

DAVID TUMUSIIME
By DAVID TUMUSIIME
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Why don’t you take a ride with me?” Cynthia asked, as they stood at the reception, waiting for the lift, “unless you are going somewhere else after the meeting?”

Mark raised one eyebrow and winked, “Are you driving? I don’t intend to. My hands will be too busy.”

She couldn’t help it. She giggled and Zoe, the front desk administrator, looked up from behind her desk at them.

At that precise moment, the elevator arrived. Cynthia rushed for it as Mark ambled behind her. Smiling.

Mark pressed the button for the basement and turned to Cynthia, “I will have that ride. I’m the one carrying your laptop after all.”

She gasped as she realised she had almost forgotten it on Zoe’s desk in her rush to get into the lift. The laptop had their market analysis and pitch report for the client they were going to see.

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They had worked on that report for a month and a half. Well, she had. Mark had spent much of that time claiming he was over at Danica, their client’s office, making friends.

Today would be the day to find out if he had indeed smoothed their road to getting the contract to manage Danica’s negotiations with the government for the building contract of several ministry offices.

She was not too worried about the presentation though. They had presented together many times before. They had their act together. It was what she wanted from Mark that had her all nervous. 

After five years of working together, this Friday, after the presentation, she wanted to confess. Lingering morning hugs, her nose buried in his shoulder, would not do anymore. Lunch dates, eating out of each other’s plates, were no longer enough.

THE DEAL

Nyamahe Pretty was in the parking yard of Danica in Ntinda Industrial Area. She was not waiting for them. Before her were four men seated on wooden crates.

Cynthia was going to walk past them into the office block where they had a meeting with Nyamahe’s boss, Vincent Turiyo. But she had to follow Mark as he walked up to Nyamahe and the men.

“Don’t tell me! But tell me! Is this the famous Sula?” Mark asked as he got to Nyamahe and the men. He extended his hand out to a balding man with a white fez who looked at him with surprise and then grinned as Mark grabbed his hand to shake it.

Then Mark turned to Nyamahe, “I wish you had told me Sula was coming in today! Isn’t he the man who is pioneering the new delivery system you have been urging Danica to adopt for almost a year now?”

Nyamahe and Sula looked at Mark with interest. Cynthia immediately figured out what Mark was doing. He was laying out their pitch right here and now; to the Danica workers who would have to implement it, if it was going to work. In the corner of her eye, she saw several other workers in the compound drawing closer as Mark raised his voice in excited exposition.

She took a deep breath, braced herself and then walked into the circle forming around him, opposite him, ready.

When Cynthia looked up from getting the signature of Danica’s chief finance officer, Mark was gone. There was a message on her phone, “Great work! See you later.” He ended the text with a hugs emoji.

Nyamahe Pretty watched Mark make her coffee in her office. He picked up her flask and placed it on the table, scooped three spoonfuls of Good African Coffee and poured it into the flask. He poured hot water into the flask until it was almost at the brim and started to stir slowly until it foamed. She sighed at the aroma. 

He came round her desk to place the flask between her desktop computer and helmet.

Earlier at the presentation to Sula and the workers, he had taken off his coat and folded the sleeves of his blue stripped shirt up to his elbows. She was surprised, again, at what big hairy hands he had, veins throbbing just underneath the skin of his long, strong fingers. His gold wedding ring glinting under the office light.

As he started to move away, she touched the space between his thumb and forefinger and asked, “What happened here? You have never told me. How did you get that?”

He laughed, “I was a boy, I was stupid. I almost lost this hand. My father was disciplining our mother. I stopped his herder’s stick from splitting open on her head again.”

An unfamiliar emotion gripped her. Her mind wandered back to when they were growing up in Nansana, wild children who looked after each other.

But Mark was not one to reminisce.  He was on his feet, leaving her office, “I got you something,” he said as he reached into the inside pocket of the coat he had folded over his arm. He pulled out a white envelope and placed it on her desk. He was out of the door before she was done opening it.

She let out a whoop and dashed off to her father’s office, the Danica CEO. In her hand was the invitation they had tried for two years in a row to get. The Uganda Vintage Auto Academy requested the pleasure of their audience to allow them to examine, certify and enter their 1975 Datsun 120Y Coupe in the East African travelling exhibition.

MARK'S LIFE

“How is she today?” Mark asked.

“You should leave her here today,” Dr Kambuga replied.

There was a tremor in Mark’s voice, “I cannot.”

Dr Kambuga was silent. Mark did not avert his gaze. After a while, Dr Kambuga spoke again, “Ok. You fill in the bill for this month. We will continue as before, if that is what you wish.”

“Thank you, Dr I have no problem,” Mark shook his hand.

Bella had been prepared for him. She did not look up when he came into the room. She did not turn at the sound of his voice. He had to turn her wheelchair round from the window which looked out of the room onto a strip of blooming tomato plants and inform her, “We are going home for the weekend.”

She was in a yellow top, black jeans and sandals with yellow streaks. The nurse had done up her hair into a French bun. It had become so thick you had to look closely to notice the healed stitches that stretched from the back of both of her ears and disappeared into the hair at the top of her scalp.

No one had thought she would wake up from her coma. He had. No one had thought she would ever be able to sit up on her own or walk again. He had. Everyone wondered how she had survived the accident that wrecked his vehicle. He had not.

He had only asked the doctor one question, when she was still broken and bleeding but alive, veins of tubes and glinting metal, and he had learned the extent of her injuries, “Will she be like she was?”

She could stand. She could walk by herself. She had started to eat, after being prompted. She could sit in front of a TV and watch for more than an hour. But two years after her accident, he had not got her back.

She was insensitive to heat or cold. The doctors said there was nothing wrong with her sight but he could see no light of life in them. But the worst of it all was that she could not talk. The chatty Bella was gone.

He could not forget the screams of her mother, in the hospital after the accident, “What have you done to my daughter?”

Every free weekend when he could, he picked Bella from Myrtle Hospice took her home with him to try and find her again.