SHORT STORY: The stranger wasn't me

Monday August 08 2022

Prisca (Jake's secretary) staring at Joachim who was posing as Jake in the office. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA | NMG


Joachim was an average size man, with average, non-descript looks that you forgot as soon as you turned away unless he smiled at you. Then, this ordinary run-of-the-mill man revealed a set of sharp, discoloured teeth that turned his mild face into a terrifying visage that would give grown-up’s nightmares.

His smile had a wild edge to it as if he were actually capable of biting you, lighting his eyes with a mad glint. In spite of his colourless looks, Joachim was a fiery character who walked the streets of the city he lived in, bullishly taking advantage of everyone he could and generally being a nuisance.

He was the last person one would expect fortune to smile on, but it just so happened that in that same city lived a man named Jake, who was a spitting image of Joachim or was it the other way round; but completely opposite in character, so that the two men’s personalities could be said to be day and night.

Also, Jake’s smile was broad and pleasant, his teeth though a bit off-white from his love of coffee, almost perfect, a charming gap between his front teeth; a wide smile that caused his kind eyes to crinkle softly at the corners.

“I have no time for your nonsense!” Joachim spat out at a thin man sitting next to him in the driver’s seat of a black van, which had all its windows blacked out, “If you’re afraid,” his tone was mocking, his teeth bared in all their glory, “Get out! I’ll do it myself.”

The thin man shuddered visibly at Joachim’s raised voice then slid down timidly in his seat and turned his head away so that he didn’t have to look into Joachim’s face.


“Quick!” Joachim’s voice was excited but hushed, as he prodded his companion who quickly slid into the back of the van with Joachim’s hot breath on his neck as he followed close behind him. They sat still and watched as an averagely sized man, unnoticeable aside from his sharp suit, walked down the street they were parked on, now relatively deserted after the morning rush. They hardly breathed as he came closer and closer.

Then suddenly, Joachim struck like a snake. He whipped the van’s side door open, yanking the man into his and his thin companion’s arms, slamming the door shut before a single witness could record what had happened or the flailing man, Jake, could understand what was happening, as a damp cloth emanating noxious fumes was pressed and held violently to his face, sending him into a dark silent world as he blacked out.

“Morning!” a young secretary with ‘Prisca’ boldly printed on her lapel called cheerfully as her boss walked in, then started slightly, as with a simple nod and no smile, he walked by her desk briskly and hopped into a waiting elevator. She was slightly off-put by his behaviour, he was always so friendly, but she shrugged it off, deciding he must be upset because he was so late.

Strange, in her two years of working there, he’d never been late.

“Prisca!” a static laden voice came on the intercom on her desk, “I have a question for you, and I want you to answer it truthfully,” there was a short pause, “Where is my safe?”

Prisca broke out in a light sweat. Why was he asking her that? She knew he had seen her linger in the doorway once as he swept aside a heavy painting mounted on the wall, sliding open a wooden panel behind it to reveal a shiny silver safe. But she’d closed the door pretty quickly when he turned around, so should she feign ignorance, or fess up?

“Behind the painting of a mango tree, you slid open the wood panel by pressing the moulding of carved leaves around it,” she paused, unsure whether the silence meant she was fired, then heaved in relief as the voice came again.

“Good, I wanted to see how honest you are,” the voice was rough and unfamiliar in pitch, but Prisca was so relieved that she was keeping her job that she swept the niggling feeling that something was not quite right aside until her boss swept passed her suddenly again, this time on his way out.

“Sir!” Prisca called out, leaping to her feet. She had several pertinent pieces of work-related news to relay, and she knew he always appreciated the information, “You have a meeting with…” then she cut off as he turned and gave her a sharp look.

His eyes were alight, glinting madly from within, and for a few seconds that stretched into an eternity, she was sure she didn’t recognise this scary stranger.

Then she shook her head as he whipped around so rapidly it was as if the look hadn’t happened, clutching a suitcase he wasn’t carrying before to his chest.

Later that day, she would report to frazzled cops that it was her boss who’d come in that morning, as a shaky Jake, dressed only in his vest and trousers that he claimed were not his, a fact Prisca could at least attest to as he was ''dressed in a suit this morning''; insisted at the top of his voice that it was not him she’d seen.