Excerpt of Hour of the Red God by Richard Crompton
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SATURDAY, 22 DECEMBER 2007
The sun is at the vertical, and shade is as scarce as charity on Biashara Street. Where it existsin shop fronts and alleyways, like cave mouths and canyonslife clings: eyes blink, and patiently they watch.
They see a man and a boy walking along the sidewalk, the boy turning every third or fourth step into a skip to match his companion's rangy stride.
The man, in concession, has stooped slightly to maintain a conversational height. Their posture suggests that if either reached out a hand, the other would grasp it, but for their own reasons, neither will offer. They are father and son.
But where would you ride it? the father asks wearily. It's evidently a long-running conversation.
Anywhere! says the boy. I could go to the shops for you.
Adam, this is Nairobi. You go out on your own on a bike, you're going to get killed. Have you seen the drivers here?
Then around the compound. Grandma's house. It's safe there. Michael's got a bike. And Imani, too, and she's only seven.
The tall man pauses in his stride, and the boy runs into the back of his legs. Something has disturbed the man: immediate, palpable, yet indefinable. The sense of trouble about to strike.
Just for once, thinks Mollel, just for once, I'd like to turn off this instinct. Be able to enjoy going shopping, enjoy spending time with my son. Be a member of the public instead of a policeman.
But he can't. He is what he is.
That's the one I want! says Adam, pointing at the shopwindow.
Mollel is vaguely aware of a display of bicycles inside, but he is watching a reflection suspended in the glass: a group of teenage girls, all gossip and gum, mobile phones wafting like fans, handbags slung over shoulders like bandoliers, and from the shadows, other eyeshungry nowemerging. Watching without watching, getting closer without moving in, the men nonchalant yet purposeful, disparate yet unified, circling their prey. Hunting dogs.
Go inside the shop, Mollel tells Adam. Stay there till I come back for you.
Can I choose a bike, Dad? Really?
Just stay there, says Mollel, and he pushes the boy through the store's open door. He turns. It's happened already. The group of men are melting away, the girls still oblivious to what has just taken place. He clocks one of the guys walking swiftly from the scene, stuffing a gold vinyl clutch bagso not his styleunder his shirt.
Mollel takes off, matching the hunting dog's pace but keeping his distance, eager not to spook him. No point in letting him bolt into a backstreet now. Pace up a beat, narrow the gap. Quit Biashara Street. Cross Muindi Mbingu. Weave through trafficignore the car horns. Busier here.
The hunting dog is in his late teens or early twenties, judges Mollel. Athletic. His shirt has the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, not to expose his well-developed arms, but to ease its removal. The buttons at the front will be fake, Mollel knows, replaced with a strip of Velcro or snaps to confound any attempt to grab the bag snatcher's collar, leaving the pursuer holding nothing more than a raggedy shirt, like a slipped snakeskin.
While Mollel weighs his strategya dive to the legs rather than a clutch at the torsohe realizes that the thief is heading for the City Market. Got to close the gap now. Lose him in there, he's gone for good.
Taking up an entire city block, with more ways in and out than a hyrax burrow, on a day like this the market's dark interior is thronged with shoppers escaping the sun. Mollel considers yelling Stop, mwizi! or Police!but calculates that this would lose him precious time. The thief leaps up the steps and deftly vaults a pile of fish guts, pauses a moment to look backshowing, Mollel thinks, signs of tiringand dives into the dark interior. Mollel's gaunt frame is just a few seconds behind, his heart pounding as he gulps lungfuls of air even as his stomach rebels at the powerful reek of fish. He hasn't done this for a while. And he is enjoying it.
Excerpted from Hour of the Red God
by Richard Crompton. Copyright © 2013 by Richard Crompton.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.