“Have you decided to make post-graduate application?”
“Not yet. You?”
“But of course! I am to need post-graduate work if I am to get a proper position.”
“I don’t know if I can stomach more school. I need a break. I need a gap year.”
Ojiambo smiled. “A gap year? What is that?”
Amari smiled a bright white smile too. “Time off. A year off! Then I’ll decide.”
“Ojiambo shook his head. “You have it very good, Amari. Very good indeed. You want to see the world. I just want to help my people.”
“Our people,” Amari corrected him. “But I just see it differently. You cannot help others if you cannot help yourself.” He grinned. “I just need a little time off to help myself.”
Ojiambo laughed. Amari was such a card! “Good day, Amari!”
Amari threw up his hand and the two friends, who had just come out of the engineering lab on the campus of the University of Botswana, went their separate ways. Ojiambo: to his family hut down in the village. Amari: to his family estate in the Botswanan suburb of Phakalane. Ojiambo traveled by foot. Amari dashed off in his high-revved BMW so fast that he kicked up dirt as he sped away. His classmates across the campus looked at him smiling, and shook their heads. Amari was a flashy one, they already knew. But they had no condemnation in their hearts. Everybody liked Amari!
That was why, when he pulled into the slanted driveway of his mother’s contemporary home, he was surprised to see that the men had arrived already. They liked him, too, and had promised to give him more time. They knew he was good for it. He was always good for it! Why were they there already?
Furious, he hurried into the house through the side entrance. He hurried through the kitchen and made his way around the breakfast nook into the living room. “Did I not tell you---” he began to say. Until he saw his American mother, Jessica Lutalo, sitting in a chair with a gun to her head. He dropped his engineering book, and stopped where he stood.
The visitor was not the local loan shark, nor any of his goons. In his mother’s home were men, white men in suits, he had never seen before. And there were five of them.
The leader, Leo Deitric, looked at the tall, strapping young man who had just entered the room. “Hello, Amari,” he said in a decidedly American accent.
“Put that gun away,” Amari ordered in his precise African accent. “What are you doing? I owe the money. I always pay my gambling debts. She knows nothing of it!”
“How much do you owe?”
Amari stared at him. He should know that himself. Why would he ask him such a question?
“How much do you owe, kid, I’m not fucking with you! How much?”
Amari gave in. “Thirty thousand.”
Leo smiled. “Shit!” His men smiled too. Thirty-thousand pula was only a few thousand in American dollars. “You think we came all this way to collect a little chump change from your chump ass? Are you out of your fucking mind?”
“Who are you? What do you want?” Amari asked.
Leo looked at Jessica. “Ask your mama,” he said.
But Amari frowned. “My mother? What would she know of men like you?”
Leo smiled again. “Tell him, Jess. Tell this fine, upstanding boy of yours, this half-breed, what you know of men like us. Tell him about his old man. Tell him that his old man is a man like us. Only worst. The government sanctions his shit.”
His old man? Did he say his old man? Amari looked at his mother. “Of what does he speak, Mother?”
“Nothing, baby,” Jessica said. “Don’t you worry about what they say. He’s just trying to play the big man!”
Leo, no longer smiling, took the back of his hand and slapped Jessica across her pretty brown face. “Watch your tongue, bitch!” he yelled as she felt the sting of his slap.
But as soon as Amari saw that he had touched his mother, he leaped over the table so quickly, and with such power, that the other men could not stop him in time. He jumped onto Leo and knocked him to the floor.
Jessica, mortified that the men would kill her son outright, cried. “No, Amari, no! Amari, no!”
But Amari wasn’t listening. He had blinding rage as he punched Leo repeatedly across the jaw with roundhouse right after roundhouse right, snapping Leo’s head sideways so violently that blood was oozing from Leo’s mouth. “No man will touch my mother,” he yelled as he beat down the leader, “and live to tell about it!”
But he was badly outnumbered as Leo’s men grabbed Amari and pulled him up and away from their boss. It took several of them to pull up the young buck, but they managed to do so.
When Leo was free, he touched the side of his mouth. When he saw blood on his fingers, he jumped up even angrier. “You fucking prick!” he yelled, and hurried to settle the score.
“No, wait!” Jessica cried. She jumped up, too, but the gunman pushed her back down. “Don’t harm him,” she cried. “Please, don’t harm my child!”
But Leo, with two of his men holding onto Amari and constraining him, punched him and punched him until his fist began hurting. He punched him in his handsome face. And then moved to his flat stomach. And then back into that face again. Amari wasn’t unconscious, but he was staggeringly close.
Leo spat out blood. “Fuck with me again, motherfucker! Fuck with me again!” Then he straightened his suit coat, and touched his bloody lip again.
“We need to make a start, Boss,” one of his men, the one with the gun to Jessica’s head, said to him. “We have to make a start.”
“Then start,” Leo said.
Amari, worried sick that they would harm his mother, looked up.
Leo smiled. “Don’t worry, hot shot. If I wanted to kill your ass you’d be dead already. We just need to send a message to your old man. A very clear message. And there’s only one way to get his attention.” He looked at the gunman, gave the order with a nod of his head, and then left the house altogether.
The gunman looked at Jessica, and grinned. “Say goodnight, Irene,” he said in a heavy Brooklyn accent, and pulled the trigger.
Amari’s heart fell through his shoe as he fought with all he had to break away from his captors, to go to his mother, to help her! And despite the pain of Leo’s beatdown, he was able to break away. His brute strength won out. His muscular arms lifted up, and he broke free of the men who sought to hold him back, and he hurried toward his mother.
But the gunman, panicking, quickly turned the gun on the advancing Amari, who was coming at him like a raging bull. And he pulled that trigger again.
Amari stopped in his tracks, and fell to the floor.