Friday, February 12, 2010

Monica Cheru's 'Full cupboard'

"Full cupboard"

(By Monica Cheru)

“Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.” Danny opened bleary eyes and in the moonlight that filtered into his bedroom, he saw a sight that made him vow to go easy on the bottle in future… a rat with a note in its mouth going to the back of the cupboard by the wall.

This was too much for Danny’s drink and sleep-saturated brain. He rolled over and went back to his snore-punctuated slumber.

In the morning, Danny had the vague notion that there was something that he ought to check on, but for the life of him, could not figure out what it was. A flick through his notebook revealed no clues. Surely if it was important it would be in the notebook. But if someone had let escape some vital clue at the beer-hall, he would not have written it down then. That would be giving the game away. He would remember the information.

He was a cop first and last, even when roaring drunk, no criminal was going to get away just because Constable Daniel Munyenyi was plastered one night. No sir! He would go back to the same bar tonight and sit with the same crowd as last night. Whatever had been said last night would be repeated again tonight. He would bet his mother’s life on that. (Never mind that his mother had already lost the valuable asset).

Deep in thought, Danny took his uniform from the top of the cupboard where he had carefully placed it late in the afternoon the previous day. He absently patted the cupboard and silently blessed his predecessor for leaving that one piece of furniture in his room. Being single, Danny was used to being stationed in rural and oft remote places at a very short notice.

He tended to travel light, only needing his uniform, sleeping bag, a few civilian clothes and minimal cooking utensils. When he found the cupboard in his room at Chivi Growth point and was told that the previous guy had failed to find space for it on the moving van, he was pleased. The cupboard became the center of his existence. On the top he kept his books, his few cosmetics and laid out his uniform. In the cupboard itself he kept his meager provisions and his few utensils. Even his few clothes had found space in the cupboard. It was a largish kitchen cupboard with several shelves. It was rather ugly but Danny was not concerned with its aesthetic qualities. The practical use was all that he needed from the cupboard.

As per plan, after duty Danny went to the same bar and sat with the gang from last night. He was pleased to note that all the suspects were present. In the course of the evening the guilty party would reveal himself. No doubt about that. Meanwhile, Danny would have just one beer to merge into the scenery. If he sat there not drinking, his quarry would be spooked. He nursed his first beer for along time but finished it before anyone showed any inclination to reveal their deep criminal secrets. So he had another one with the same result. Not even the slightest twitch on his in-built cop antenna. So he had another one, another one, and another one till he had lost count. He got so totally into his cover that he became just another guy quaffing the waters of wisdom with familiar guys in his regular bar.

By the time he staggered the short distance home in the late hours, Danny was well in his cups. His condition was just as bad if not worse than that of the previous night. When he got to his room, it proved too much of an effort to get into his sleeping bag so he simply dumped himself on top of it and started snoring in bliss.

He dreamt of a mouse that vomited money and told him that he was now so rich that he could buy the national airline for cash from the poverty-stricken state.

Then his grandmother, in black from head to toe, stood in his way and stopped him from picking up the money. “Riches that you have not worked for will always be paid for in blood. Turn your back on this evil wealth and live on what your ancestors grant you. We are always on the look-out for you,” she cautioned him.

Danny woke up abruptly, his mind quite lucid. He pondered on the dream for a while then drifted back to an uneventful sleep.

In the morning, Danny recalled the dream in vivid detail and wondered what it meant. Did it mean that he must no longer accept presents from grateful clients when he granted a few harmless favors? But what would be the point of being a cop if one did not take bribes? Of course he had his principles and never accepted bribes from serious and violent offenders. It was only those with minor cases, such as stealing a few things from an employer, which he let go. After all it was often the employer’s fault for failing to remunerate his employees adequately. If he, Danny, had been well paid, he would have done his duties more diligently and would have accepted no bribes. Given a chance, even Judas Iscariot could have justified selling Jesus down the river for a few coins as a matter of principle.

That day poor Danny collected no presents and as a result had no cash for even a single beer. He opted to stay at home and read a crime novel by an American best-selling author.

Why were these Americans so determined to convince the world that AIDS had started in Africa? Everyone knew that patient zero was American and had died twenty years before the scourge ever hit Africa. And, surely there would have been a village in central Africa where people died before the deadly disease spread from the towns and cities were the natives mixed and slept with foreigners? He dozed off with the light still on and the book on his chest.

Shortly after midnight, a squeaking noise startled him awake just in time to see a rat go behind the cupboard in the room. Even as he asked himself if he had really seen what he thought he had seen, the rat re-emerged and scampered out through the half-open door. “That was a rat carrying what appeared to be money. Not useless pieces of money printed copiously by some demented and deluded guy but real notes, bearing the legend ‘In God we trust.’” Danny mused to himself.

Pragmatic, fearless and with a wish to be rich, that was Danny. The first two traits are often sadly lacking in most of us but the last is inherent in the majority of earth’s population. Danny got up and hauled the cupboard from the wall. Lo and behold! A big, fat pile of American dollar bills! Danny gave a whoop, jumped into the air and danced in jubilation. The end of poverty and the beginning of life as it should be lived. Move over Diaspora moguls. Here comes Danny, the rat millionaire.

As he bent over to gather his windfall and check that it was really genuine, Danny recalled his grandmother’s warning in the dream and froze in mid-motion. He spent a timeless second bent over, one hand on the cupboard, the other one stretched out to take the money. Greed and caution fought a bitter war inside the man. The money, if it was genuine would end all his earthly troubles. He could even become an honest cop once again as he would not need to take any bribes. Or he could just chuck the job and concentrate on enjoying his fortune. But what if the goblin then started killing off his family? The hand hovered in mid-air.

Caution won the day. Slowly, with pained reluctance, Danny straightened up and pushed the cupboard back against the wall. He then searched the whole house but failed to locate the rat or even a hole that it could have disappeared into. Unsurprisingly, sleep proved elusive and Danny spent the rest of the night trying to read his novel, but, dollar signs tended to superimpose themselves on the pages. He was also on the look out, just in case the rat would be bringing some more loot. In the cold light of day, Danny checked behind the cupboard again to make sure that he had not hallucinated in the night. The pile of money was still there, as undisputable as an eight-month old pregnancy. And it sure did look genuine.

Resolutely, Danny closed the door and went to the officer-in-charge’s house to report the rat. His superior wasted no time in calling her deputy and accompanying Danny to see the evidence. On seeing the cash the two turned on Danny and urged him to come clean and confess his crimes in full. Who had he murdered and robbed? “It will all come out, son. If you tell us now maybe we can help you,” offered the deputy in a fatherly voice. In his head he was already calculating the cut he might reasonably expect for helping Danny get away with whatever it was that he had done. Danny eventually managed to convince the two superiors to hold on until the night then sit up with him to await the wondrous rat.

Right on cue, a few moments after midnight, the rat came in squeaking, a hundred dollar bill in its mouth. The three stayed deathly still as the rat deposited his burden then departed. For a long while no one spoke. “The rat belongs with the cupboard and there is a problem attached to owning it. Why else would Museve have left such a gold-laying duck? Tomorrow we must track him down and make him come and collect his problems.” That was the officer-in charge declaring as she realized that her deputy was going to suggest that they take the money.

Museve was never found. By the time they tracked him to his rural home where he had retired to in ill-health; he was practically dying and could not even speak. He died a few days later and on the same night the cupboard burnt down mysteriously. Danny had since vacated the house, which now stood locked and empty. When the fire was discovered no one could explain how it could have started. The flames burned greedily and consumed the cupboard. No one was willing to put out the fire which died of its own accord when the cupboard was no more. No ashes or any other sign of the combustion was left behind. It was as if there had never been a cupboard or money in the room.

Danny is still a police officer and occasionally accepts ‘gifts’ from minor offenders. He views these as the dues from his ancestral spirits. He has no regret for having let the rat and its wealth go. If I had been there, I would have taken the money and run, leaving the rat to its cupboard. Come to think of it, perhaps not.

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1 comment:

  1. This is a well thought story and keeps the reader in suspense.If you give yourself time to think, as you have always done, you can come up with part two of the story. Good story, keep going.