Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Case of the Missing Bicycle - Part 2 of 2

A Detective Mpoto story by yours truly

The Case of the Missing Bicycle

Part 2 of 2: The much-anticipated conclusion!

(to read part 1 please click here)

Jim and Detective Mpoto drove up to Mpoto's gate and honked. Sam appeared from behind the mango tree he had been trimming. Mpoto asked him to sit in the front seat, and moved to the rear.

"We want to look for Jim's missing bicycle at your house," he explained. "So that we can clear your name." Sam nodded silently.

They drove down the bumpy dirt road to the main tarred road. The day was still sunny and starting to get hot. Jim and Mpoto tried to make small talk to put Sam at ease. "There's the lay-by to Macha where I always had to wait for a taxi last year," Jim offered. Mpoto said, "Yes, Jim stayed in Macha last year. And Sam is saving up to buy a farm there next year." After a few kilometres they turned off the main road again and soon found Sam's house.

"I'll stay here and buy some talktime at the little shop here," said Mpoto to Jim. "You go ahead and look around with Sam."

They were back in a few minutes. All Jim had seen was Sam's other white bicycle frame, which was missing wheels. There was no sign of the stolen bicycle.

"Great," said Mpoto. "You've been cleared. No more worries." He really did believe Sam was not the thief, although he also recognized the fact that Sam could have done anything with the bicycle yesterday besides take it home. More investigation was needed.

On Saturday, Mpoto walked to the nearby market to look at the bicycles for sale. He thought maybe the thief had pawned it off, as it was the closest place someone could sell a broken bicycle for parts. He munched on a ripe mango he had found on the ground outside his house. The day was quite hot already at 10 o'clock, for there hadn't been too much rain lately. He rubbed his sticky hands on the grass at the side of the dirt road and strolled through the market.

Radios were blaring outside the small concrete block shops. Trucks were maneuvering through the pitted ruts with their cargo of people, chickens, and merchandise. Mpoto heard several happy cries of "Mugua!" and "Muzungu!" which both mean "European," not a derogatory term. Mpoto nodded in the general direction of the speakers and found his way to the bicycle shops.

Frames and rims were hanging from wires beneath the grey tin roofs, supported by various sticks and poles. One man was busy pumping up a tire; another was adjusting some brakes on a shiny new bike. A third wiped his hands on a rag and addressed Mpoto.

"Mwabuka buti, ba boss!" he said with a smile.

"Kabotu," replied Mpoto, and returned the Tonga greeting. "I'm just looking at your bicycles. How much do you sell them for?"

"It depends on what you want, sir," said the salesman, gesturing to bicycles in different shades of repair. "I can give you this black one for five hundred. It will work well."

Mpoto pretended to think about it. Then, "My friend has a bicycle with a good frame that needs work; the gears are stuck, it needs new tires, the pedals are missing, the brakes don't much would it cost to repair something like that?"

"Maybe 60 kwacha plus parts. Three days work."

Mpoto did the conversion in his head and decided that six dollars wasn't bad. The parts would cost a lot more, though. He would have to tell Jim to just buy another bicycle. He had one more question.

"If my friend wanted to bring the broken bicycle here to sell for parts, are there any dealers who would buy it?

The man pointed to another bike shop a few doors down. "My friend there buys bicycles and refurbishes them. You can ask him."

Mpoto thanked the man and moved to the designated stall. "Good morning, sir. I hear you buy used bicycles?"

"Yes! Yes sir!" cried the owner enthusiastically. "Where is your bike?"

"I...don't have one at the moment," replied Mpoto smoothly, "but someone I know might have brought one here recently, and I was curious if you have already made it like new." It was a long shot.

"I have a few that are almost done," replied the man. "Come take a look." He led Mpoto to the back of the open-air shop where more bicycles and parts were hung from the ceiling; wheels and tubes and gears littered the sandy floor. Immediately Mpoto spotted a yellow bike. It looked like Jim's; he knew the make that God's No.1 Mission liked to buy for its workers. The frame was scratched up, but the rims boasted brand new tires, and the brakes looked new too. "I'm selling this one for seven hundred when it is done," bragged the man. "I only paid one-fifty for it. It was really sad, but it is looking much better already."

"It looks like my friend's bike!" said Mpoto. "Do you remember who the person was who sold it to you?"

"Yes, I do, because it was raining and I was surprised anyone would be out in that heavy rain. He had on those blue trousers with the white reflective stripes. He was soaking wet, and I noticed he had a large burn on his arm. Is that your friend?"

"No, that's not him," said Mpoto. "But I want to talk to the person that sold you this." He picked up a scrap paper from the ground and scribbled his cell number on it. "If you see him again, would you please let me know? Here's 5 kwacha for your trouble."

Mpoto walked home, satisfied with a lucky morning's detective work. The best clue he had found was the burn on the arm. He hadn't yet met anyone in the area with such a mark, including Sam.

After cooling off with lunch at home, Mpoto walked over to God's No.1 Mission Housing Complex and looked for his friend, Ben. He told him what he had found and asked him if he knew anyone with a burn on his arm. Ben looked at him for a minute, then shook his head. He promised to keep a look out.

As Detective Mpoto returned to his house, he counted the workers he saw with blue pants and white stripes. There were three. He gave each one a friendly wave, all of which were returned in kind. The third one, who was shoveling dirt from an anthill, had a discoloration on his right arm. Mpoto prepared to pounce.

"Afternoon, sir," he said. "How are you working today?"

"The work is okay, sir," replied the man. "I am making bricks from this anthill."

"I see that. It is good to have work, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir. My family is hungry. I am happy to be able to feed them today. I have been lucky to find work; a few days ago I was almost to give up because no one had piecework."

"So you sold your bicycle?" Mpoto asked innocently.

"What? How--What do you mean? I..."

"Oh, I thought you were the one I saw in the market the other day," said Mpoto. "The day with the heavy rain in the afternoon. I was walking in the market and had to take cover from the rain for some time. I thought I saw you go into the bicycle stall. I remember the burn on your arm, that's all."

"Oh, yes!" laughed the man. "You are right. That was me." He took another shovelful of sand.

"I hope you will not have to sell anything else," continued Mpoto. "I know it is difficult when you have no resources. You wouldn't want to become known in this area"-here he gestured in the general direction of God's No.1 Mission-"as someone who is always looking for more resources."

The man bent back to work. "No, sir."

Mpoto smiled. "I think we are alright, then. Mushale kabotu."

"Mweende kabotu. And thank you, sir."

As Mpoto walked the rest of the way home, the colours seemed to brighten. He noticed butterflies flitting in the tall green grass. Even the mangy dogs looked cleaner. The cool breeze kissed his sweaty head. Perhaps that's the miracle that happens when justice and grace are brushed gently together.


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