By Samuel S. Bunnya, Uganda
Nambi was glad that her disguise was working. Unlike the other states on the continent, Kitara was more than open to women serving in all spheres of life. Women were traders. They fought alongside the men in the armies. They were also among the scientists and miners of the precious Zaabu. In all aspects of Kitara, women and men were seen as the same in both capability and rewards.
Nambi turned her mind back to the woman’s question. “I just need somewhere to stay.”
The older woman was confused. She looked over Nambi’s shoulder at Naki and the three guards. “For all five of you?”
“If possible or just for my three friends over there.”
“Why?” The woman seemed curious. “I am not at liberty to give shelter to just anyone later on a trader who is probably going to join our mad chief in his scheming.”
“Do I look like a troublesome trader nyabo?” Nambi asked.
“I mean no trouble. I swear.” Nambi took a glance to her companions.
“Then tell me child.” The woman leaned forward. “Why do you need shelter for your friends and not for yourself.”
“I have somewhere I need to go without them,” Nambi whispered.
The woman chuckled. “I thought after all these years, you would have changed child.”
Nambi looked into the old woman’s tired and haggard face. Recognition hit Nambi like a tonne of bricks from the Karimoja Plains. How had Nambi not recognised the old woman. Time had not been kind, but all traces of the woman who had always taken her hand when she visited the border village with her father, were there. The lopsided smile and dark eyes; the small pouting mouth; everything was the same but for a few deep lines from age. Her once dark luxurious hair was now more grey than anything.
“Nabirye?” Nambi whispered.
“Yes little whisp,” Nabirye said in a low voice. Nambi was shocked. She had not expected to meet the woman who had chased her around the village. “And is that little Naki?”
“Well call her over here.”
Nambi motioned for Naki to come closer. Naki knelt down before the woman and showed her respects. Naki gave Nambi a confused look before looking down on the ground.
“It seems Ganda has made the two of your more cautious, more respectful and observant than you used to be,” Nabirye observed.
Naki’s head snapped up. “What do you mean by that nyabo?”
Naki looked at Nambi for guidance. Nambi decided to let the older woman have her fun. It was the least she could do for her. After all the terrors that her and Naki had put Nabirye through when they were younger girls, Nabirye deserved some retribution against them. Nambi looked at the ground waiting for Nabirye to answer.
“Good heavens,” Nabirye smiled. “If I knew that going to the capital would tame the little devils of Mabira and Nalubaale, I would have advised your fathers to send you there a lot earlier.”
It was the nickname that Naki and Nambi had for the old woman.
“Still ruthless with your words,” Nabirye said.
Naki smiled broadly at the older woman. “It has been a long time jajja.”
“Call me jajja one more time and I will remind you who taught you to use the knives.”
“But you look more like a jajja now,” Naki said innocently.
“If I look like a jajja, I am sure you two will soon join me.”
Nambi was enjoying the banter with her old mentor, but she knew time was of the essence. “Will you help me?” she asked suddenly.
Nabirye stopped smiling and looked at Nambi. “With those three brutes?”
“My heart tells me to accept, but my head is telling me to say no.” Nabirye leaned over the pot and stirred whatever she was making. “Will you tell me why you want to go off on your own?”
“On your own?” Naki hissed.
Nabirye was amused. “I see you did not even tell your partner in crime about your intentions.”
“It is not safe for me to just start spewing my suspicions Nabirye.” Nambi tried to ignore the anger in Naki’s eyes.
“So, you brought me all the way here in the name of going off alone?” Naki asked in a deathly tone.
“Then tell us why you want to go alone,” Naki demanded. “Or else I will speak a little louder and your guards will get in your way.”
“You wouldn’t,” Nambi warned.
“Try me, your majesty.”
“For the sake of the great god will the both of you keep those legendary tempers in check.”
“I will if she does,” Naki spat out.
Nambi got on her feet and looked down on both the older woman and Naki. “You know I can command you to do what I want – the both of you.”
“Hmmm. You won’t,” Nabirye brushed her off. The older woman got on her feet. “You might be queen. You might be the greatest woman in the kingdom as we speak, but whatever has brought you here has actually made you forget about your position.”
Nabirye was right and it frustrated Nambi. “I need to find something.”
“Come with me into my hut.” Nabirye dusted herself off. She was shorter than Nambi remembered. The old woman opened the door of her hut. “And I mean both of you.”
Naki called the guards over and asked them to watch the hut for anything suspicious, before entering it herself. Nambi could feel the anger emanating off her friend. She knew that she would have to placate Naki before they got back to Ganda. Nambi followed her friend into the hut once the guards had placed themselves in the shadows watching the hut.
Nabirye’s hut had not changed a lot. There were soft torch lights in the walls covered by glass. It made the hut illuminated. Nambi looked through the hut. The soft cot in the corner was covered by thick cloaks of lion and zebra coats. The Zaabu frame in the opposite end of the hut still shone brightly. Nambi sat down on one of the cushions that must have been bought from a trader. Naki sat next to her and they both looked at Nabirye who was putting some of her art away.
It was at that point that Nambi noticed something blinking on the table. There was a small map of the kingdom on a table in the middle of the hut. Nambi was shocked to see small dots on it moving around near them. Nambi drew closer to the map and pulled back in fear as she saw her brother’s name on the map somewhere along the border. Nambi could not tear her eyes away from the map.
Could the spy have been right?
“That is a gift from Bunya,” Nabirye said.
“What is it?” Naki asked.
“It is one of his newest inventions,” Nabirye answered. “Some sort of tracking device on all Zaabu linked to your bodies.” Nambi was shocked. She started to panic. What if Kunda got to know where she was? She had not told her husband her destination; only that she wanted some fresh perspective out of the capital. Nabirye chuckled. “It is only a prototype and I asked him for it.”
“How do you know Council man Bunya of the Research and Zaabu Development Ministry?” Naki continued probing the older woman.
“Bunya is an old friend of my brother,” Nabirye replied.
“And why did you ask for such a tool?”
“I believe it might be for the same reason that you are here,” Nabirye answered.
Naki had had enough. “What is she talking about Nambi, and don’t dare tell me nothing.”
Nambi did not want to say. She did not want to let her friend know her fears, but one look from Nabirye made Nambi open her mouth. “I received word that my brother might be committing treason,” Nambi said on a sigh.
“What do you mean treason?”
“He is colluding with the white traders from the east,” Nabirye answered.
“How do you know?” Nambi asked.
“You have the map before you,” Nabirye whispered. The old woman pushed the map closer to Nambi. “I asked Bunya to link his invention with the Zaabu linked to Lumbe. Besides, who do you think sent your man back with the news?”
“Do you have proof of this old lady?” Nambi demanded.
“I do not have enough proof, but I am an old woman and cannot just go out to investigate such things.” There was something in Nabirye’s voice that told Nambi what she had to do.
“Is that why we are here?” Naki asked.
“Then you are not going alone to the border Nambi,” Naki said firmly.
“I know that.” Nambi had never intended to go alone. “Why do you think I brought you along?”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?” Naki asked.
“Would you have come if I had told you?” Nambi shot back.
Naki did not respond. She just rolled her eyes at Nambi. Nambi chuckled knowing that Naki knew the answer to that question. The years had made both of them a lot less reckless. They were not the girls that had gone to the capital. They were not carefree and all action with no tact. Being queen and the chief lady of the queen had made the both of them learn more about the games of politics.
“I believe you two will be needing this.” Nabirye was giving the map to Nambi.
“And some horses.” Nambi held the map and was shocked to see it was a simple metallic frame of silver inlaid with Zaabu and complex wiring with a thin screen.
Nabirye laughed as she pushed some small lever on her table and the ground opened up. “You two are fit. You can walk. Just follow this tunnel and it will bring you out closer to the falls. Once there follow the map to where your brother is. I am sure you will find him up to no good child.”
“What of the guards?” Naki asked.
“Don’t worry about them,” Nabirye said. “Just be back before nightfall.”
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