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Traffik: The Stolen Girls

Traffik: The Stolen Girls

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Traffik: The Stolen Girls

Length:
467 pages
6 hours
Released:
Apr 25, 2017
ISBN:
9788826079073
Format:
Book

Description

Traffik: The Stolen Girls - A story of modern day slavery.

Four girls stolen from their homes and sold into a life of degradation and humiliation. Four very different girls who learn to respect and rely on each other as they battle for survival against the odds and a cruel, powerful enemy.
Follow spoilt and vain Jata, sensible and motherly Akinyi, sensitive but disturbed Shani and worldly Marija as they strive to regain their stolen freedom and dignity.

"Daylight found the four fugitives asleep beneath the softly sighing pines, four young women from vastly different backgrounds that had been thrown together by cruel fate, a fate that had stripped them of identity and dignity, a fate that had tested their spirits beyond the boundaries of endurance. They were all damaged by their ordeal yet it had forged a bond between them that transcended friendship, and it had given each of them a priceless gift."

Editorial Review
Human trafficking must be one of the ugliest scourges of humanity, and the author's unflinching look at this abominable practice is heartbreaking, no less so because of his skill in drawing believable, likable characters. Readers who seek realism and social change will appreciate this book, and lovers of redemption stories where honest people struggle against great odds towards a well-deserved happy ending will find enjoyment in the pages. Traffik: the Stolen Girls will make you angry. It will make you cry. And then it will make you cheer. In all, this is a book well worth reading.
Released:
Apr 25, 2017
ISBN:
9788826079073
Format:
Book

About the author

Andy Lang was born in the north west of England in 1965 and worked in the early years as an engineer in an agricultural manufacturing company. Moving from the United Kingdom in the late 1990's he subsequently spent many years in the entertainment industry in Cataluña, Northern Spain and property sales in Andalucia, Southern Spain. After several years workings as an Independent Financial Advisor in East Africa, he now writes full time. Over the years he has travelled extensively and has lived in Spain, the west of France, Brazil, Kenya and South Africa.He currently lives with his wife and their young sons in Uganda.


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Traffik - Andy Lang

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Traffik: The Stolen Girls

Andy Lang

Copyright.

Layout Copyright © 2016 by Andy Lang. Published 2016 by Andy Lang. Ebook design by Andy Lang. Cover art by Andy Lang

3 rd Edition (April 2016) - First published (2014)

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the authors imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the authors permission.

Introducing the Stolen Girls

Akinyi ( A-key-nee) Luo (meaning born in the early morning)

Jata ( jaa-ta ) Kikuyu (meaning star)

Shani ( shar-nee) Swahili (meaning marvellous)

Njeri ( uN-jerry) Kikuyu (meaning daughter of warrior)

Marija ( ma-ree-ya) Eastern European (a variation of Maria)

Book 1 – Kenya

Chapter 1 Akinyi

Mtwapa Creek – Kenya

This was her best time of day and her favourite place in the whole world. She hadn't seen a great deal of the wide world but so far, this was her best!

Akinyi sat on the rocks in her private hideaway. Her early morning meditations deep in the mangroves had become daily routine and a chance for her to find a little peace before the noise and monotony of work began. Nestled amongst the black and gnarled stilt-like tree roots exposed by the low tide, she was in her own wonderland of tranquillity, hearing only the sounds of distant surf breaking over the reef far offshore and the tiny cries and clicks of the abundant wildlife. She smiled as she watched a pair of fiddler crabs using their ridiculously enlarged bright orange claws as they busily cleared their sandy burrow of the detritus left stranded by the ebbing tide. Their industry impressed her as they cleared leaves and twigs from their small patch of the swamp. At least they have a place to call their own, she thought , even if the sea does reclaim it daily.

She sighed contentedly. The sounds of nature soothed her like sweet music, a natural symphony to drive away the cacophony of discordant noise that surrounded her in the small room that she now called home. Before dawn the banging Rap, Kenyan Urban and Hip Hop would start as neighbouring families began their preparations for the busy day ahead. The music originated from different points and from different radio stations, and appeared to converge in her tiny room. The thin walls afforded her little privacy. The familiar tinkle and gurgling flush from a weak-bladdered neighbour sounded to her as though he was stood in the middle of the dark night alongside her bed relieving himself of the excess of Tusker beer. Before 5am the cooking pans started to clatter as mothers would begin preparation of Uji porridge for a small army of hungry children.

Crying children. Screaming children. Noisy children.

As she lay under her thin cover staring into the darkness she often wondered if she had the stomach for kids of her own. Maybe her attitude would change as she grew older. I don't know, maybe? She paused to consider the possibility... but listening to the complaining and squabbling, she felt little of the maternal spark in her soul.

A mud skipper drew her attention, driving out the debate of potential motherhood. Such an ugly little fish, she thought, with those protruding, bulbous frog eyes, but still a wonder of Mother Nature. How could a fish climb out of the ocean and breathe air? She remembered she had been told in school how all life had started in the oceans and over aeons strange creatures had crawled from the water, forsaking their aquatic life and colonising the dry land. Could this drab brown fish with its fins like stubby legs be such a creature? It climbed a sloping root at her side and paused as if just spotting her. The strange eyes studied her for a second before it leaped back into the safely of a bed of green-brown sea grass.

Akinyi smiled and whispered. I am the least likely person to hurt you, little friend.

She loved all creatures great or small, ugly or beautiful, magnificent or insignificant; it was all the same to her. Beyond the reef line a small dhow dropped its lateen sail and she watched the lone fisherman drawing in his hand line loaded with silver dollars flashing brightly in the early morning sunshine. He wasn't fishing for the hotels and restaurants. Rather his catch would be quickly snapped up by the local women. Tiny fish, bony and unappetizing, but cheap and nourishing.

With a final glance at the shimmering azure Indian Ocean, she picked a careful path through the twisted mangrove roots back to the high water mark and the white sanded public beach. Her meditations over, work could begin.

***

Her life had begun far from the sea but close to the shore. A different body of water had been her childhood ocean, an ocean without salt. Born on the shores of Lake Victoria, she was welcomed into the world in the small hours of the morning. Her mother had decided her name as the agony of labour had peaked long before any cock crow heralded the arrival of dawn.

With the tiny miracle cradled in her arms she had whispered.

You are my last born. There will be no more children for me. You are a Luo, my pretty angel, so be proud of the Luo name I give you now… Akinyi, born in the early morning.

She was proud of her heritage and had inherited the fierce, independent spirit of her tribe. Akinyi started no fight or argument, but neither did she back down from them . Her childhood had been tough, but she had never suffered the starvation that afflicted her peers in other regions of Kenya. Her parents were poor, that was a fact. Everyone in rural areas was poor, but her family was constantly blessed with the bounty of the lake. Her father had been an old man when she was born. She didn't know his age, and he didn't know for sure himself. His only certainty was that he was in his early thirties when the British finally handed over independence, and that was almost fifty years ago. He still fished daily, pushing his small wooden boat onto the calm waters and rarely returning empty-handed. There was always enough for his family with a few left over to sell. She missed lake fish now. The sea fish tasted so different from her favourite fried then stewed Tilapia, or the wonderfully tasty Nile Perch. Although she had never been hungry, she had never had any abundance in her life either. Her school uniforms were always hand me downs, stitched and patched until barely any of the original fabric remained. In the early days her greatest dream had been to own shoes of her own, any shoes, tattered or new she cared little. Just to have shoes would have made her royalty and a cut above the other kids in the small rural school she attended religiously.

Education is important, her mother had drummed into her as she helped shuck the heads of maize they grew on their small shamba. Without education you will remain here for the rest of your life. You will have no prospects, child. There will be no escape for you. Her mother dreamed of a better life for her youngest daughter. A different life, she thought as she looked at the young girl who sat beside her, struggling to prise the remaining stubborn grains from the dry cob, a life without the soul sapping poverty and constant struggle. Work hard, she had urged.

Akinyi knew how much her mother sacrificed to send her to school. The fees every term were very low when compared to the developed world, but to her family the burden was crippling, and she knew she mustn’t let her mother down. Akinyi worked hard and found learning easy. Her young mind was like a sponge, always ready to soak up knowledge.

Her big break came from afar as her primary education was drawing to an end. With a heavy heart she accepted that continuation through to secondary school was an unattainable dream because the increase in fees was simply beyond her family's limited means.

Her English teacher saved her.

Akinyi, I want you to do something special for me, she had said. Sit down and write a letter in your best English.

Always willing, Akinyi had attacked the letter with enthusiasm.

Make sure you explain clearly why you want to go to secondary school and what your dreams are for the future. With a smile the teacher had read the letter, so full of youthful enthusiasm and hope, and as she sealed the envelope, she said a silent prayer.

Please, God, let me help this one.

Weeks passed and the teacher's hopes started to fade. Akinyi had never hoped. For her the letter had simply been another exercise in English, class work and nothing more. She was unaware that at that very moment her written words were touching a heart on a distant continent.

Waving a letter madly in the air, her teacher had burst into the tin sheet classroom. Akinyi? Where is Akinyi? she cried in excitement. Cinderella shall go to the ball. Breathlessly she explained that an elderly lady in Texas, was willing to sponsor her through school.

She will pay your fees, your uniform, your books and there may even be a little left over for luxuries. Akinyi had stared in utter disbelief. Speechless, she struggled to comprehend the enormity.

It is even more important for you to work hard now. Akinyi nodded, slowly grasping the reality of her good fortune. This kind lady will continue to pay your fees… but, her expression hardened, Akinyi, you must understand, if your grades slip and if you don't work hard, she will stop. Akinyi, do you understand…? She has agreed that if you excel at school she will put you through college.

The idea of college had never crept into her wildest dreams before, and now it was being handed to her on a silver platter and all she had to do in return was study and learn.

Secondary school was a breeze. She topped every class and sailed through each end of term exam. Regular as clockwork, she wrote her progress letter and added it to the carefully folded photocopies of her report card and monthly test results before posting it to her sponsor so far away. She became the envy of the village, and envy bred jealousy and spite. Often her mother would discover cursed offerings supplied by witch doctors tied to the rough door frame of their wattle and daub, mud-walled home, or other fetishes buried in hastily dug holes at the doorstep. Akinyi often fell inexplicably ill, although it never kept her from school, and her mother fought a constant battle against the curses with prayers.

Contrary to all accepted western understanding or belief, she battled a tangible evil through all the years of Akinyi's schooling. With the help of a local seer she learned how to take the illnesses into herself and spare her youngest daughter. Her health steadily deteriorated and she aged far beyond her already advanced years, but she never complained. Her suffering was a small price to pay for the education her Akinyi had been gifted. Occasionally she received a wandering pastor who had the ability to reverse the evil back to its source and she gained great satisfaction when she learned that one of her close neighbours had suddenly become sick, sick with the same unexplainable symptoms she always suffered.

When Akinyi finally packed and left for college, the curses ceased, the illness receded and she found peace.

Further education had not sat well with Akinyi's father who, being a very traditional man, had started the process of finding her a suitable husband. A daughter was a valuable asset in his culture, chattel to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. For him, although he loved her deeply in his own way, Akinyi was an investment of his time and energy. She would bring him similar riches to the wealth in cattle his five older daughters had brought… five daughters who now wore the blank expression of the oppressed. They had become defeated women resigned to the never-ending drudgery of village life, always waiting for the day that their husband would casually announce that he had decided to take his second or third wife, a wife always younger and prettier than themselves, and they knew they had no right to object, no recourse, no option but accept. Akinyi's mother had discovered his plan and, breaking a long switch from the bushes, had beaten him soundly, forcing him into submission.

Her only bright hope would never be turned into the dull-eyed sheep her other daughters had become.

A similar switch was used liberally on Akinyi's legs when she was reported by the village gossip. The busybody had spotted young Akinyi talking to a boy and, eager to stir trouble, the report had reached her mother's ears with salacious additions. Still pleading her innocence, Akinyi laid her thin mattress on the hard earth floor and, holding the raised welts across the backs of her thighs, she curled up and cried herself to sleep.

The morning brought a stern lecture as her mother laid down the law.

Stay away from boys. She wore a severe look but her wrath had subsided, they will bring nothing but trouble. Concentrate on your learning. There will be plenty of time for that stupidity when you have a good job. Perhaps by then you will understand more about life.

Akinyi rubbed the crisscrossed welts on her thighs. She had learned a lesson she was not likely to forget in a hurry.

The college course she took was in Hotel and Resort Management. In a country that relied heavily on tourism, it appeared to her to be a wise choice. The coursework was tedious, but she applied her quick mind and studied hard. Keeping herself to herself, she eventually graduated with honours.

The long years spent in the college dorm couldn't start to prepare her for her first real job. Answering an advert in a national newspaper, she had soon found herself travelling all the way to the coastal city of Mombasa. For an upcountry village girl, the journey had been traumatic, and as the first bus dropped her in the sprawling metropolis of Nairobi, the tall, dark and oppressive buildings overwhelmed her. Claustrophobia threatened panic. She had never experienced the sheer volume of people before. The constant smog of exhaust fumes stung her eyes and seared her throat, and the inescapable noise beat upon her brain. Dazed and confused, she begged directions to the coast bus depot. One Good Samaritan took pity on her and guided her to the heart of the city. In the relative safety of the terminal she waited out the long hours before her scheduled departure for the sun-kissed beaches of Mombasa.

Mombasa was as different from Nairobi as chalk is from cheese, and although at first glance it appeared brighter and cleaner, she soon realised the effects of long decay. The city was old, no, ancient. It reminded her of a terminally ill patient, the body wasting away and slowly falling apart but the mind clinging tenaciously to life. So Mombasa clung to life as its body crumbled from years of neglect. The humidity hit her like a solid yet invisible wave. She had grown up in such a climate, but it was a question of degrees. Her lake home was tolerable, Mombasa was off the scale. The sun felt hotter and beads of sweat started to seep almost immediately when she stepped from the air conditioned bus.

Her first official position was assistant front office manager, which as she rapidly understood really meant receptionist, but she didn't complain. Akinyi was happy to start at the bottom, as it would give her vital practical experience. Her life was all theory and she longed to be hands-on, regardless of the position. The general manager had welcomed her on arrival and he took her in with a lingering look. His first impression was favourable. She looked interesting, not a classical beauty, her nose maybe a little wider than the local Swahili girls, but she was pretty enough. Her body was in good proportion, shapely without surplus weight, and what pleased him most was that she possessed the famous Luo posterior, room for junk in the trunk. He smiled. Oh yes, she could prove to be very interesting.

Shielded by a mixture of naïvety and inexperience, she never recognised his advances. She laughed at his innuendo, a nervous laugh that she hoped would cover the fact that she didn't even come close to understanding his hints. She frustrated him and became his obsession. He would lie awake at night watching the ceiling fan silently rotate above his lonely double bed and imagine the pleasures of the unattainable Akinyi. Week after week, month after month she remained happily oblivious to his desires and designs.

His confusion and frustration mounted as she innocently ducked every carefully laid plot to lure her to his bed. He knew she wasn't stupid, as her work was exemplary and she had intelligence in abundance. Surely no one is that naïve. She must be teasing me, he decided. His mind ran over every possible scenario. He added all of the known facts together and reached a total:

She was a tease who was simply playing hard to get. Well, he knew how to play that game too.

***

Maggie, have you got a moment? Akinyi cornered the front office manager. Have I done something to upset Mr. Joseph?

Maggie looked unconcerned, completely disinterested.

It feels like he's avoiding me and he hasn't spoken to me for over a week now. I really hope I haven't done anything wrong.

Maggie shrugged, You tell me. Have you done anything wrong? Her cold tone revealed how she had secretly rejoiced when she first saw the distance growing between them.

Akinyi shook her head. I really don't think I have, that's why I'm confused. So he hasn't mentioned anything to you?

Nope, came the reply, but I make it a habit not to get involved in lovers’ tiffs.

Akinyi's jaw dropped. What? Lovers tiff... What on earth do you mean?

She received a sneer in return, loaded with scorn.

"Oh, don't act so shocked. You think you've hidden it so well behind that Little Miss Innocent disguise? Well, I can tell you... you're fooling no one. You're actually quite a joke around here… You didn't know? He's always bragging about your exploits in his bed at night!"

Akinyi felt tears of indignation stinging her eyes but would not give her manager that satisfaction. Turning on her heels, she marched to the plush office that housed her deluded boss. With each step her hereditary instincts fought their way to the surface. The famous Luo wrath reached boiling point as she slammed his office door behind her.

***

That had been months before, and as she knocked the white sand out of her open shoes she smiled as she remembered the look on his face when she had finished tearing his morals and professionalism to pieces. He had sunk lower and lower in his leather swivel chair as though her words were physically assaulting him. She left him cowed and shaking as she marched out of his hotel for the last time. In hindsight, it hadn't been the wisest move. Word quickly spread through the hotel grapevine and she found herself either under-qualified or lacking the required experience every time she sat for an interview. Laughing, she remembered asking an uncomfortable-looking HR manager how a candidate with a degree in hotel management could possibly be under-qualified for the position of cleaner.

The answer she received had been a devastating blow to her psyche. Akinyi had been blacklisted; she was a pariah in the industry.

She sat one evening with her only genuine coastal friend drinking a cold soda in a small bar on the beach.

So what do I do now, Rasta?

He looked up slowly from the cigarette he was busy rolling.

You got two options.

She waited expectantly as he continued to roll. He was in no hurry, obviously satisfied his answer needed no more elaboration.

Well? she replied impatiently, what are they?

Reverently he placed the finished cigarette on the table in front of him and shook the multi-coloured bead bracelets around his wrists.

I see two ways for you. Again he paused. She loved him dearly but sometimes his relaxed attitude frustrated her.

One… you gotta find another job.

She started to protest but words failed to materialise, only her frustrated thoughts. I’ve been to every hotel on the strip and he knows it!

He struck a match and inhaled deeply. She could never be sure but his cigarettes always smelt slightly different.

I didn't say in a hotel. He exhaled with a satisfied sigh and blew on the softly glowing end. There's lots more work around. Talk to the restaurants and bars. Plenty of waitress jobs going this time of year.

And option two? she questioned.

He smiled and tapped grey ash onto the floor. Don't think you gonna like option two.

Go on, what is it? She had a sinking feeling he was probably correct. She hadn't heard it yet and already she knew she didn't like it.

How old do you think this Rasta Man is? He meandered from the point, but she knew he would get there in his own time, so she played his conversational game.

Forty-eight. she replied diplomatically. She had always placed him somewhere slightly north of fifty.

He chuckled and rearranged the huge woollen hat encasing his dreadlocks.

You see, girl, I've not had no blade close to these dreads for sixty three years. Her eyes opened wide in surprise. And since I was your age I've lived here on this beach. Good seasons and bad seasons, I seen them both. He blew a stream of fragrant smoke into the clear night sky. And you know what me did, to survive in those bad years? She shook her head as he chuckled at his memories.

They say the Muzungu comes to Mombasa for the beach and the beautiful ocean. She nodded, and he winked.

Not all, not all of them. You see, baby girl, some of them come for other entertainment. They always have and they always will. Akinyi shook her head. She wasn't following his hints.

They come for us, baby girl.

For us? she repeated, genuinely confused.

Again he chuckled. Was I ever that innocent? We're exotic to them, with our dark skin. They want to taste something forbidden.

Slowly, realisation conquered naïvety, and Akinyi spluttered.

Are you saying my only other option is to sell myself?

Striking another match, he relit the roll-up. Well, you could just go back upcountry and tell everyone you failed because you were too qualified to wait on tables. He chuckled again as he saw her mind weighing the options.

Akinyi, you don't have to sell yourself. Just find a job, an honest job. Maybe your wise old Rasta Man has kicked your round ass hard enough to get you looking for an alternative.

She smiled a warm smile. He’s a good friend. He had given her the lesser of two evils to concentrate on and compared to the alternative, waiting tables now sounded positively charming.

I will start tomorrow. I'll find something, she assured him.

I will ask around for you. He grinned. Me knows one or two people here!

So go on, tell me what it was like here when you were younger? Akinyi asked, intrigued to learn more about his life. Learning his true age was quite a shock.

Rasta sighed deeply. I came from upcountry too, you know. My home was in Siaya, not so very far from you. I was full of hope back then, young and enthusiastic, but there wasn't really any tourism here at the time. I started off fishing, harvesting coconuts, packing mangos, cutting sisal, just about anything to survive. It was a hard life but I managed. Years later the tourists started to arrive, just a few to begin with, but every year there were more. He laughed now. I became a beach boy.

She gave him a questioning look.

I waited for the Muzungu, arranged things for them: camel rides, dhow cruises. I had quite a good little business going on because I got paid a commission by the operators for bringing business, and the whites tipped very well. Then the people changed; most didn't want camel rides, they wanted other rides, so I took advantage of the change. I hunted for single white women and gave them what they wanted and in return I always got a nice gift. He struck another match and drew deeply. Those days are over for me. Now I just sit in the shade and sell me carvings. I don't want no more, I don't need no more.

She smiled. He made it all sound so civilized and she could see from his expression he had no deep-seated regrets.

I couldn't do that. She spoke mainly to herself as she shook her head.

He studied her through a cloud of fragrant smoke.

Then you've obviously never been that hungry yet.

***

Rasta had found her a job. It wasn't what she dreamed of, but it was a small regular wage, which meant she could manage to pay her rent. Cyber Café Attendant: it didn't sound so bad. In reality it meant long periods of inactivity as she watched over twenty or so computers. Everything was automated so without any input from herself, the second a client logged in, a meter started to tick. Her job was simply to read the total from her screen at the end of their browsing session.

She felt her brain turning to mush.

The saving grace had been free internet access, and at first her inquisitive mind had roamed around the World Wide Web seeking answers and absorbing knowledge. She was free to wander where her imagination could take her, but the novelty soon paled. Every day she struggled to find a new and interesting avenue of exploration, and eventually her searching became less focussed until social media filled her working hours. Hour after weary hour she chatted to faceless entities, names on a screen with no physical substance. They might not even have been real, but that mattered little. The banal conversations staved off the boredom. She marvelled at the global reach as she chatted to friends in Brazil and China and Europe simultaneously. Some people she chatted with only once or twice, but others became part of her daily routine, waiting for her arrival in cyberspace, for her little activity icon to blink from a dead, dull grey to bright green. Online. Green for go.

In her virtual world she met such a variety of disembodied humanity. Some were lonely souls craving interaction of any kind. Maybe they’re just like me, she often thought, tied to tedium and willing to talk to anyone, anywhere, about anything, simply to break the boredom of their working day. Others she quickly learned were more predatory. A conversation would start with rushed introductions moving swiftly to the standard statements of, What are you wearing? or Show me your web cam, or Send me your nude photos. These were the contacts she instantly blocked.

But there were a few special contacts in her ever-growing list. These were people she felt a genuine affinity for. She couldn't explain the feeling, but from their written words she gained some insight into their personalities and relished her daily interactions with them. One such friend was dave.b1985. She always felt a strange disappointment if she logged in and saw him offline. They often chatted for hours on end.

I'm a software engineer. he had replied to her question. They had been chatting daily for almost a week, yet a lack of confidence had held Akinyi's questions at bay, and thus he had driven the conversations.

So you work with computers?

In a way, yes, he replied quickly. I write applications for smart phones.

I think I understand, but I have never had a phone like that typed Akinyi as she glanced at her own mobile lying beside the keyboard, the cheapest and most basic model possible. Mine is more like a dumb phone she chuckled.

It's not a very exciting job. responded Dave as he deftly steered the conversation away from himself and asked about her family life.

Akinyi had a growing suspicion that he was glossing over how he earned his living. Maybe he thinks I'll be under the impression he's a geek? Silly. I'm not interested in machismo and muscles. Give me a man who uses his brain any day.

Her own thoughts gave her pause. Am I considering him as more than just a friend? The question hovered on the edge of a growing confusion and uncertainty. She did enjoy the time they spent chatting. She loved the way his questions lacked the condescension that usually raised its ugly head when she chatted with her shallower contacts. I may be African, black and female, but that doesn't make me slow or stupid. Questions posed often insulted because of their simplicity of structure, the sender obviously making allowances. Dave was different. She felt his words held respect for her, that he was suffering no preconceptions.

I do think of him as more than a friend. She sighed. But what can I do about it? How can there be any future? We’re on different continents, and face facts, I really don't know him.

He sent her photographs, 'So she would know who she was chatting with'. They were nice, pictures of him out on the wild moors of northern England, hiking. For someone who had walked for two hours simply to get to school each day, the concept of walking for pleasure baffled her, but at least she could put a face to the written word.

***

Then came the day he asked for her phone number.

Why? she typed, and watched the text window. 'dave.b1985 is typing', the tiny message hovered on her screen, and she waited.

You don't have to, I will understand, he replied. I just wanted to hear your voice. It appeared a harmless request.

I don't give my number to anyone, she replied. The chat window remained inactive for some minutes with no message indicating his impending response.

How do I know you’re not some stalker who will call me a hundred times a day? she typed, deciding to break the silence, but still no reply came. Customers dragged her from her chat as they waited patiently for her to calculate the total bill for the family of five. They were clearly holiday makers checking their emails and sending photos of Mombasa's famous beaches back home to envious friends and family.

That's one hundred and twenty five shillings. She smiled at the father as he hunted for change in the pockets of his baggy shorts. Her smile earned her a scowl from the wife. With a shrug she accepted the crumpled and dirty one hundred note and loose change. Some of the Muzungu women are very sour, she thought.

Her chat window was blinking, grey to green, green to grey, insistent, compelling. He had replied.

Sorry, I got a phone call. She saw he was still typing. I only wanted your number to check if you are real, lol.

LOL, she thought, laugh out loud, part of the cyber parlance she was learning daily.

For all I know you could be some fat guy in India pretending to be a woman. She understood instantly. Just because a profile said Male, 23, Chicago, the owner could be 63 from Bangalore or Cairo or Timbuktu.

Akinyi thought for a second before sending her number along with a little yellow smiley face icon.

Just promise you won't call me every five minutes.

That had been a deepening of their friendship. He called her almost instantly and she liked the sound of his voice. His accent was strange but appealing. It reminded her of the TV shows she had watched in college. He told her of his relief to confirm she was bona fide.

It doesn't matter so much in chat, he explained. Let people hide behind invented identity if they want… but when you feel a real connection to someone, it's so nice to know they are really who they claim to be. She heard him laugh, a small sound that clearly signalled to her his genuine relief.

Then came the day their new-found friendship was tested. Akinyi heard a knock at the door of her small rented room. Her landlord stood outside.

***

Rasta, she called as she hurried down to the beach during her lunch break. She found him in his usual spot, stretched out in the shade of a palm tree, a large sheet spread on the sand before him covered with intricate wooden carvings of lions and giraffes and hippos, single figures of Masai Warriors and stylised African women with enormous breasts and bottoms.

Rasta, she continued, I need to find another room, and quickly!

He opened one eye slowly and nodded.

They gone put the rent up? It was more a statement than

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