Wema gunned her motorbike down a narrow lane littered with trash, dexterously swerving potholes filled with stinking muddy water and two dirty brown mounds, one smaller than the other. A homeless man and his dog covered in tattered rags deep in slumber were regular occupants of this side street.
She emerged into a ramshackle marketplace that subtly merged into a slum town, slowing her pace as she navigated thronged dirt roads that criss-crossed rows of tiny shanty structures, some mere polythene sheets stretched over wooden beams.
Wema elicited stares wherever she went, with her all black leather ensemble and her dare devi l attitude, as she expertly manoeuvred her shiny grey black bike about. But here in the slums, it was her reputation that licensed the stares and hushed murmurs as she drove by.
Stopping outside a poorly constructed small wooden house, this one at least roofed in sheets of rusty corrugated metal, she flicked the bike’s kickstand down with her heel to hold it in place as she parked and quickly dismounted.
“You’re late,” a sulky, deep voice said softly as Wema entered and stood by the doorway, letting her eyes adjust to the near pitch blackness of the room after the bright sunshine outside.
In a corner by a boarded up window, sat a thickset young man, his feet propped up on a large metal trunk, meticulously cleaning a small black pistol. He didn’t look up as Wema moved slowly into the stuffy room, sidestepping four other occupants, two of whom were smoking a loosely rolled cigarette, passing it back and forth between them, the other pair engaged in a game of cards.
“I had a few issues,” she said casually, walking up to where the man, Vick, sat.
As she neared him, she pulled a bunch of twisted gold necklaces, a wad of three wallets and a handful of diamond rings from within her tightly fitted leather jacket, as she unzipped and tossed it onto the arm of Vick’s chair.
“One woman screamed as I relived her of her ring,” Wema smirked, leaning forward to dump her loot onto Vick’s lap, “I had to…”
A resounding slap caught her mid-sentence and Wema flew sideways with the force of it, her face and shoulder slamming into a wall, the rough wood ripping and bruising her skin.
Then Vick lowered his arm and sat back calm as ever, sweeping Wema’s stash of stolen goods into the large metal trunk at his feet, filled with the gang’s loot. There was absolute silence.
The smokers, a skinny boy and girl, were still puffing vigorously on the cigarette butt and the other pair, two muscular boys, sat unmoving except for their eyes and hands as they shuffled cards across the cement floor. Wema massaged the welt she felt already forming on her cheek, a resentful look darkening her pretty eyes, then reached for her jacket and made to go out but Vick’s soft voice froze her where she stood.
“You’re done for today,” his authority was absolute, his manner threatening as the gun he was still cleaning, “Now, come here.”
Wema found herself a living puppet held up by marionette strings, moving without meaning to, Vick the snake charmer, his voice the flute and her the unwilling mesmerised victim. She sat numbly down on the wide trunk and he gave a sudden shout of laughter as he pulled her towards him and turned her face roughly to inspect the bruises.
“Is this what you’re mad about?” he laughed again and nudged her off the trunk, “You’ve had much worse, and last time it wasn’t even me!” he grinned at her sour expression, as he reminded her of a recent fight with a rival gang, which he’d started with his mouth but had her finish when things turned violent, “Here,” he unlocked the trunk and pulled out a glimmering gold necklace, pressing in into her palm, “Get yourself something nice tomorrow,” he said dismissing her.
Wema stalked off into a tiny adjoining room and gingerly lowered her sore body onto one of six damp mattresses lining the floor. She fingered the gold chain as reality washed over her.
Vick making light of a fight where she’d nearly been killed had finally opened her eyes. She was a second in command whose worth lay only in what she could do for him.
All the pride she took in belonging to this fearsome gang, pride in a reputation that shielded her and made her feel protected, was only masking the truth, she was an expendable member of a gang that cared nothing for her. She fingered the delicate thin gold some more.
Finally, Vick had been careless. She’d seen the code to the combination on the padlock kept constantly on the trunk, and even as she debated her plan, her mind was already made up.
The moon was full that night, shining bright moonlight that dusted everything a pale ghostly silver.
Wema was used to being sneaky, used to creeping unseen and unheard, and so she made easy work of her escape plan. Loaded down with as much loot as she could carry, most of it her contributions, she wheeled her bike as far down the dirt road before gunning it full throttle and speeding off into the night, her mind sure she could hear Vick’s yells of rage beneath the steady roar of the powerful engine.