Where does the time go? Almost two months ago I was double-dealing two men on Valentine’s Day. I thought I had things under control with the third man, Mr N. But here I am embroiled in the biggest lie of my life. I have just lied to my boss about him. Called him a rapist. In just under an hour Mr N is on the line.
“Are you f**king kidding me?” he asks. “Rape?”
He is probably taping this. I choose my words carefully.
“Are you calling to threaten me again if I expose you for violating me?” I ask.
“Wh-ha-at?” he asks incredulously.
“You may be powerful and rich but you don’t scare me!” I say. “I’ll go to the cops! I’ll tell them everything!”
“Are you certifiable?” he asks.
I hang up. I need to speak to him but not over the phone. This will be the most classic shakedown in history. I need a secure line. The problem with Nairobi these days is that we don’t have public phones.
Mobile phones came and swept away the need for the booths that I loved so much as a kid. Memories of reverse calls, tapping and all the tricks we pulled to make calls bring back nostalgia. Tap dialing was the system we used to fool the phone company into thinking we were actually dialing a number.
Rather than using the rotary dial you lifted the receiver and tapped on the cradle a number of times. No coins required. The necessity to get this inventive came about because parents would padlock their landlines thereby disabling the dial. Tap dialing at home was a walk in the park. And soon we discovered we could do it on public phones as well.
The science behind it, who came up with it, what (if anything), the phone companies knew about it is a mystery. But similar to stories told around a fire by your grandparents, the knowledge of this illegal but extremely worthwhile activity was passed on from teenager to teenager for years.
I leave the house. I’m a girl on a mission. I stand by the matatu stand and wait for a shy-looking boy to appear. It doesn’t take long.
“Hi! Can I use your phone briefly? I’ll give you 100 bob,” I say holding it out to him.
He looks at the money suspiciously. “Is it a local call?”
“Yes, of course. You can check as I dial,” I respond.
He shrugs and hands over his phone pocketing the money. I call Mr N. He answers after the first ring.
His voice is gruff and he barks “hello” like he is expecting to hear from someone.
“It’s me,” I say. “You didn’t leave me with much choice.”
A brief silence and the gruff voice returns.
“Samantha?” he asks. “Are you trying to ruin my life?”
“No. But you would not talk to me. I had to get creative,” I respond.
He starts to laugh. A very dark laugh that doesn’t sound too much like that of a tickled man.
“Calm down. Give me what I want and all this will go away including the baby you are so desperate to get rid of,” I say.
“I’m listening,” he says.
“Two million,” I declare with more confidence than I’m actually feeling. The dark laugh resurfaces.
“Do you really want to test me further?” I ask.
Silence. If he tries to negotiate I know I have him. If he tells me to go to hell then I’ll have to up the stakes.
“Blackmail? I didn’t think you had it in you…” he says. He sounds almost…. Proud of me. “I’ll give you Sh500, 000.”
“One million and not a shilling less,” I respond. “It will cost you a lot more if I decide to keep the baby.”
I hold my breath. Will he agree?