By Rebecca Njeri; Kenya
I became a bounty-hunter when I was thirty-three years old. The first time a woman approached me with a bounty on her man, I was shell-shocked. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how her love for this man had morphed into a loathing that could only be extinguished with the vengeance of death. She offered me fifty thousand dollars; twenty thousand dollars would be paid in advance and the rest after she had confirmed that he was dead. I had been a gun for hire before. Political assassinations were easy to comprehend: human greed and the want for political and economic power. Bounty-hunting was different. The women who came to me had calm eyes set in beautiful faces. They asked me to kill their husbands in the same unruffled motions with which they ordered a second shot of espresso at Java House.
My first client was Wanjiku Wesonga. She was an enigma of a woman. A highly successful business woman, she was a household name admired by many and revered by even more. After suspecting her husband of cheating for a little while, she had hired a private investigator who supplied her with enough incriminating photos and videos. I imagine she must have felt some hurt at the time. I imagine too that she must have cried at the betrayal. When she called me two months later—after unsuccessfully asking him to stop the affairs—she was beyond wrath. I saw a look that would become familiar during my years as a bounty-hunter. Cold hatred masked as indifference. Indifference masked as empathy. I learnt that calm fortitude with determination was the only way you could tell a woman whose soul was parched for human blood. The hysterics were long gone, and with them reason and remorse. The women would always greet me with warm, full-bosomed, Channel No. 5 hugs. They would smile as they explored the various methods that they preferred I use to eliminate their husbands. Wanjiku said she loved guns, but a gunshot wound would be too swift and painless. She said she was fascinated by accidents but she didn’t want any other people to get hurt during his demise. She cared! She said he had been struggling with his health. A heart attack would be perfect.
Wanjiku and I met twice; and that was as many times as I met any of my future clients. I was a retired assassin. I had been reluctant to come out of retirement but curiosity drove me to meet this woman. That cloudy afternoon at Java House, amidst the heavy aroma of imported South American coffee, she asked me if I had watched the Hunger Games. I hadn’t. She narrated it to me: her lovely sotto voice in dissonance with the things to which it gave voice. His disrespect for her had cost him his value in the chase. Emotional duress and the risk of AIDS had made him a liability. After years of creating her personal brand, Wanjiku Wesonga—and with her business clientele based on her reputation— a cheating spouse would end her career.
I thought then to recommend that she sees a counselor. She wasn’t the villain and she wouldn’t need to pay as high a cost for her husband’s indiscretions as she imagined. I told her so. She said it didn’t matter. I heard the vengeance in her voice. I had heard before that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I knew that even if I turned her down she would find someone else, so burning was her determination.
We slipped Potassium Chloride into his drink at a high-end pub where he had taken his other woman. The autopsy report said he had died of a heart attack.
She mourned at his bed-side. Her children mourned. She wailed the length of the mourning week and maintained a long face during the burial. The day after the funeral she met me at the same Java. She had the rest of the money with her. Her sotto voice had dipped even lower and her calm eyes were pits of sorrow. I told her the threat was gone and that her chase for the good life could go on uninhibited. “Happy hunger games, Wanjiku Wesonga. May the odds be ever in your favour.” A bleak smile spread across her face. I felt sorry for her.
Even though they were my first, the indiscreet men became a decreasingly small percentage of my victims. The women had such a capacity for love and forgiveness. Alcoholics and wife-beaters—they were most often both— became the bulk of my clientele. It was self-defense. I knew what I was doing was murder but if not this one I was committing; it would be that of the women who hired me. These women were my sisters and my mother, especially my mother. Their bruised faces bore the blows many paying and unpaying men had lain on her frail body. The drunken abuses to which their children were subject were the words whose echo caused me sleepless nights in my childhood. Their broken limbs were my bad eyes and their poverty my own poor vocabulary and bad Math skills. I was a God-father for these women and their children. Word of mouth got me multiple clients. I did some free kills: my own corporate social responsibility. Like Wanjiku Wesonga, the calm eyes would always be pits of sorrow at the second meeting. The calm voices would be a notch lower. It seemed like regret but I refused to believe it was. I felt some pride in being their vigilante and I was glad that these beautiful, industrious and loyal women were free of abusive husbands.
I once read somewhere that both the hunter and the hunted run out of breath. As I hear the mound of soil above my own mother’s grave give a sigh of relief at a premature yet welcome death, I feel glad that I have spared others a life on the run. A heavy and laden earth breathes easier as her children sleep through less-troubled nights. I imagine it must be easier to live with the weight of a murder than with a constant fear of it. I am glad I came out of retirement. I believe, as Charles Dickens mused in A Tale of Two Cities that “it is a far far better thing I do, than I have ever done. It is a far far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”
Rebecca Njeri, Co-founder of African Youth Journals, is a second-year student of English. She is an innovator, a writer and a voracious reader.