“Hallo Mr. Ibrahim!” the man bellowed, pushing four fat fingers into the Colonel’s shoulder. “Mind if I sit?” He was large, and stunk strongly of alcohol.
“Please do,” the Colonel said.
“Congratulations to you,” the man said. “I tell you, five months ago I tried working those same streets as you—Lenasia—and I couldn’t get a penny from anybody. I’d say, what the hell’s the matter with you? Don’t you want life insurance? What will happen to you and your little bambinos if you pass away? And the bloody fools would just look at me like I was an alien.”
The Colonel leaned forward. All night, the Colonel’s wife noticed he had relished the ability to tell people about his various sales techniques, his little mechanisms to earn trust and to ingratiate himself with his clients, but now, the large man would not give him the opportunity. He slapped the table.
“I tell you what,” and here the man leaned forward, “if more people were like you, keeping their heads down and making their living, we would be a different country. There’s a lot of complaining here but no one works hard and gets himself a forward momentum. No matter who or what you are, I believe you have to prove yourself, you understand?”
“That’s what I tell my son,” the Colonel said.
“Good man,” the man replied, slapping the table again. “I hope he’s like you.”
“This is my wife,” the Colonel said. The Colonel’s wife half expected the man to make some terrible joke, but his bleary eyes barely settled on her. Instead, he bent his face low to the table.
“I’ve got a wife too,” he mumbled, and reared up and shouted so loud that several people turned to look. “Anna!”
A smiling woman, with bangs that fell over her forehead like little sharp teeth, was bustling towards them, a concerned expression on her face. “These are the Ibrahims,” the man said, winking. “He’s the bastard who’s been stealing all our business.”
“You’re awful, Rodney,” Anna said. “Oh, Mr. Ibrahim, Mrs. Ibrahim, I hope my husband hasn’t offended you. He says whatever comes into his head when he drinks.” She sat down at the table. “Is that your little boy?”
“No, he belongs to our son,” the Colonel said.
“So you’re a grandfather! How nice. And what does your son do?”
“He is a doctor,” the Colonel said, hesitating for only a moment. “Almost. He’s only halfway through medical school.”
“Oh, wonderful,” Anna said. “It’s simply a marvel that your people always seem to be doctors, isn’t it? Just the most intelligent of the bunch, you must be. Our children don’t have any discipline. Lorraine is a dancer and Henry a lawyer, well, we’ll see if he makes it.”
“Bloody fool won’t make it,” Rodney said, thumbing the sleeve of a passing waiter and pointing at his glass.
“And you, Mrs. Ibrahim? How do you spend your time? Do you work?” Anna said, leaning forward over the table as if she intended to reach out and touch the Colonel’s wife. “I’m mad about book clubs. Host them for the mothers in the neighborhood. We raise money for charity. Recently we’ve been quite political. We spent at least four meetings discussing all the rampages. My word. Even Rodney was shocked. Our maid Onika’s daughter was there. I told her as soon as I saw the news, go home, find your daughter, don’t worry about the ironing, we were so shocked. They were just children, you know? To shoot at them like that! Lorraine was in London, she told me all about the BBC footage. But then what choice did they have? And we all said, where were the mothers? Would I let Henry go out that way, and act like that? Burning down your own school, not learning Afrikaans, how can you be trusted if you can’t act civilized? How can you get a job? That’s how you get respect. It’s absolutely essential. Look at you, Mr. Ibrahim, you are so successful.”
Download and read the full story on the Caine Prize website. The 2015 Caine Prize winner will be announced in July, and all the shortlisted stories will be published along with other 2015 Workshop stories by New Internationalist in July – the collection will be called “Lusaka Punk and Other Stories”.