I looked up as two mercs entered the room, one holding an AK-47, the other wearing a pistol holstered to his side. Both were followed close behind by Oliver Tambossa, leader of the APR.
The last time I met Tambossa, the newly-formed APR had just begun establishing their presence in the country. Now they were becoming an ever-present force through the region. And Tambossa seemed larger, more confident than the last time we’d met.
He tossed a bottle of water at me but in my weak state, I missed it and it bounced to the floor rolling back to his feet. He snorted as he sat at the chair opposite me. He did not pick up the water. It just lay there taunting me.
“I have a decision to make. Either I shoot you right here and let the chips fall where they may, or I drive you to UFLL territory and let them take the blame.”
Lord knows what possessed me, the lack of water likely, but I replied, “You’re a fool. Every man at the Standard saw your men kidnap me”.
He tilted his head as he watched me. Then he stood, grabbed the water bottle and placed it in my lap. He patted my cheek like a priest might a sinner. He turned and left.
Minutes later I was thrown back into the shed, now several degrees hotter. I finished the water in a single gulp but it did nothing to quench my thirst. What had I done? What possessed me to say such a thing?
I stared at the five ebony men. One stood tall, three others were crouched low, and one was lying on his side. It was this fifth ebony figure that I fixated on. Maybe because we shared the same pose, maybe because he seemed as powerless as me at the moment.
Whatever it was, I studied him closely, his pronounced brow and close-set eyes conveying the gravity of my situation. I had to keep my sanity. I had to believe in hope, to keep my mind wrapped tightly around the belief I would see my family again. That Mikela would take me in her arms, and I’d draw our daughter close, the three of us shielded from the world.
Stifling hours inched by. I lay curled in that embrace for hours, gazing into the ebony man’s dark eyes. If I was to live out my final moments here in this tin furnace, I found the peace to do it. I had my family, I had the ebony man’s eyes. I was ready.
Some time later…ten minute? Four hours? …the door opened again. I was taken back to the small room with the execution chair. My mouth was as dry as rice paper. My breath wheezed. Tambossa entered and sat across from me. He held out a bottle of water which I grabbed and drank ferociously. I finished that and saw a second one in his hand. Again, I drank. It felt like an injection of life.
It was enough to clear my head and realize I was still stuck in a deadly grim situation. Tambossa spoke, “Anything to say to me?”
I felt numb. I slowly shook my head.
“Good.” He folded his arms. I could feel his eyes on me. A terrifying silence enveloped the room. I swear the only sound we all heard was the thumping of my heart.
“The only reason you’re going to live is that the UFLL lost their weapons as well.” He leaned forward, “The next time you interfere in the business of the Alliance for Popular Resistance, you will find yourself here again. Only I won’t be here to save you.”
He held my gaze. I could see him looking, trying to bore deep into my soul, trying to decide if I truly heard him. I was too shaken to consider anything beyond survival, but whatever my eyes conveyed, he was satisfied.
My gear was returned to me and I was led back to the shed again. Good lord, I thought I was heading home. The mercs promised to return with a vehicle. While I waited, I snapped a photo of my tiny cell and I took the ebony man, my faithful companion during my incarceration.
On the drive back, I asked what day it was. Sunday, they said. Sunday! I’d been held for 4 days, but my mind can only process 2 days. I must get back to Johannesburg.