By Josephine Kinuthia, Kikuyu, Kenya
Sly Kimwaki lay on his bed, quietly listening to country music, which he loved. He was taking a break after a hard day’s work in town. It had been one of those fast-paced days.
A soft knock on the door made him slowly get up. He was expecting his girlfriend, but it was much too early for her to arrive. He opened the door and there stood a woman he had never seen. Dressed in blue trousers and a white, crisp blouse, she politely greeted him as he invited her in.
“Hello Sly. I’ve come to see you briefly” she said and proceeded to sit down on the sofa without waiting to be asked.
Sly wondered how she knew his name. He hoped she was not of those women who made bold moves on guys. He hated the type.
“What can I do for you?” he asked. He had no time to waste.
“You like mobile phones don’t you?” The question caught Sly off-guard but before he could answer, she spoke again.
“In the matatu this morning you-er… What do you call it, dispossessed me of my phone remember?”
Sly recoiled but showed no emotion. He had to play cool. It was one of the hazards of his job. You see, Sly was a thief specializing in mobile phones. It paid well but was fraught with risks. This was just one.
“Look, madam, this is not a police station and I don’t know what you are talking about”.
The lady spoke again.
“You still have not answered my initial question about liking mobile phones. But I know the answer. You do like mobiles so I will make you a proposal.”
“Madam, can you get out of my house, I don’t know you and you are starting to irritate me!” he responded impatiently.
The woman was far from intimidated.
“I will make this easier for you. Since you like mobile phones, I will ensure you get as many as possible.”
Sly did not understand what she meant and did not want to find out.
“Goodbye Madam,” he said coldly.
The lady walked out and Sly slammed the door but when he peeked out of the window to see where she was heading she was nowhere. She had disappeared!
Sly was one of the smartest pickpockets in Nairobi. Known in local parlance as Mbweha (fox), Sly and a select group were mobile phone thieves who worked in cahoots with licensed dealers.
It was a lucrative job since there was a high demand for newer sleeker handsets. Those who could not afford to get a phone on the open market would look for one on the black market, where prices were negotiable and payment terms easier.
It was here that Sly came in. He and his cohorts had perfected the art of stealing mobile phones, whether in public transport, restaurants, offices, and anywhere the opportunity presented itself. It was all too easy.
Sly smiled as he recalled just how easily he had made enough money to afford his creature comforts. He rented a two-bedroom house and had lots of money to spare. He ate and drank at reasonable hotels and interacted with influential business people. The fact that he was merely a thief was masked by his charm and all the knick-knacks that money could buy.
The visit by the mysterious woman puzzled him. Her conversation made no sense and he had never seen her before.
True he had stolen someone’s phone in the matatu that morning, but that was business. He made a point to call his contact at the police department. Like all clever criminals, he had reliable link men among the police, someone to keep him informed and to assist him when he ran into trouble.
As he enjoyed a drink that evening with friends, Sly completely forgot the wonder lady. He had made a killing that day. In the morning, he had managed to steal a very marketable model. There were two others in his house, which he was waiting to dispose of at the opportune moment.
It was a roaring business because getting the phones was very easy. Women, especially, were easy targets. They left their phones all over carelessly, with some even putting them in the outer pockets of their cardigans and jackets.
Although he was quite drunk when he got home that night, he still realized that the phone sitting on his bedside table was new.
Gleaming, the slim elegant gadget called out to him. Frowning, he picked it up and whistled in amazement. It was a very hot model and still rolling off the production lines. It was marketable, even in European capitals.
Sly tried to think where it could have come from. Surely he could not have “lifted” such a hot item and failed to notice it. He quickly called his contact to arrange or marketing of this latest phone.
Sure that the following day he would have over ten thousand shillings, he fell asleep with a smile on his face.
The next day dawned bright and clear. Sly woke ready to face the day confidently. It was going to be a busy day, what with trying to sell the wares and get others. His contact had informed him that a customer urgently needed a model, especially one which was popular with the younger people.
Humming as he took a bath and then breakfast, Sly dressed carefully and he was about to leave when a phone rang in his trouser pocket. The unfamiliar tone startled him but he quickly regained his composure. He curtly told the caller that they had the wrong number.
“No, I am looking for you Sly Kimwaki,” the person on the other end said confidently.
Sly was stumped. This was not his phone, and he had never seen the model before, yet the caller had addressed him by name.
Resisting the urge to fling the phone onto the floor, he switched it off and removed the offending SIM card, put the phone in his pocket, and headed for town.
On the bus to town, Sly was startled by a mobile phone buzzing in his pocket, and to his amazement, he removed a brand new chrome-plated model from his pocket
”Damn! Where did that come from?” he cursed. He quickly switched it off and alighted. Entering a nearby café, he checked out the latest phone. He wondered how drunk he had been the previous night not to realize the number of phones he had stolen.
Excited, he called John, his main outlet for the stolen phones. He gave him the details of the latest merchandise and asked him to organize buyers.
Later that afternoon, Sly and John sat in a back-street café sipping soft drinks. John had puzzled look on his face as he questioned Sly about the phones that had been delivered that day. Sly was always efficient, but this was extraordinary.
They had made nearly a hundred thousand shillings in one day and the man behind their operations, a shady guy operating from a secret location, was getting interested.
They knew him only as Lotus and dealt with him strictly by phone, so they did not even know what he looked like. But he was a good man who always delivered. He deposited their share of the monies from the phones in their bank account.
The criminal ring worked very simply. Sly acquired the phones, John checked them out for security details or defects then gave them to a messenger to take to Lotus for transmission to the buyers. It was a shadowy but lucrative trade.
John suddenly noticed Sly squinting into the afternoon sunshine.
“What is it?” he asked. Sly did not even hear him. He was like someone seeing a truly shocking spectacle.
“Damn!” thought Sly. “For a moment I actually imagined I saw a mobile walking past.”
He hurriedly bade John goodbye and walked out in the direction he had seen the phone go. The street was empty save for a few strollers and hawkers.
That night as Sly got ready for bed after a pleasant evening watching television, he opened his wardrobe to get out the clothes he would wear the next day. He got the shock of his life when a huge carton tipped over, nearly flooring him. It had been sitting inside the closet and inside were scores of cell phones of all types. Some were used but many were brand new and still had their cellophane wrapping.
Sly stood there like a stone, stunned and unable to understand what was happening to him. Before he could recover, one of them chimed and like a zombie, he answered.
“Hello, Sly. Enjoying yourself?” a female voice taunted him. The tone was vaguely familiar… his mysterious visitor!
“Who are you and what is going on?” Sly demanded, his voice shaking, his body cold.
“Oh, but you liked mobile phones so much you even took those that belonged to other people. I am simply granting you your wish. Now enjoy yourself and see you tomorrow,” the voice answered. The line went dead even as Sly opened his mouth to say something but he realized one thing about the woman. She was curt.
He scooped the phones back into the carton and tried to get some sleep but it was impossible because every time he turned he felt something small and hard prodding his ribs. Each time he reached to remove it, he found a cell phone.
“This is ridiculous,” he thought as he switched on the light at 2 am. He nearly tripped over another huge box on the floor right next to his bed. He did not need to know what it contained.
He went into a restless slumber in which he saw himself wrestling a Nokia 3310 phone as a crowd of others chimed in glee. By morning, far from rested Sly was a bundle of nerves.
A phone hit him on the head as he took a bath he skidded on another as he dressed and his kitchen shelves were filled to the brim with phones. A huge water container by the corner was bulging with phones.
By now Sly was like a man in a horror movie. He did not even flinch when he opened the door and there stood a muscled Samsung model, hands akimbo, with a scowl on its square face. The gadget slapped Sly hard across the face and then stalked off, chiming rhythmically.
“I have just been attacked by a mobile phone,” Sly said to himself, laughing loudly like a maniac.
Sly took the phones to John’s small office in town and placed them on the table. John stared at the goods incredulously. They were the latest models, beautiful little things that fetched five-figure amounts sold like hotcakes. He looked at Sly suspiciously.
“What is going on man?” he asked “Where did you get all these?”
“Look, shut up and get busy” snarled Sly. “This is what we do, isn’t it?”
Just then his phone rang. He reached into his pocket for it and found a phone he had never seen before. The voice at the other end taunted him softly daring him to tell his friend the truth. This only served to fray Sly’s nerves some more. He smashed the offending phone on the floor, much to his friend’s surprise. Then he stalked out without another word.
Around the corner, he bumped into a life-sized Motorola wielding a big whip. Sly screamed as the whip cut into his flesh. John came running to his rescue as a small crowd gathered.
They shook their heads when Sly said a big mobile phone had attacked him. So did his neighbors when later that night he shouted for help because a gang of Siemens was breaking into his house.
Today Sly is recuperating in hospital. He sits gibbering in a corner and occasionally screams that he is under attack. And who can guess who is attacking him?
The other day orderlies had to calm him down after he insisted that two Alcatels were waiting to attack him. They laughed derisively at Slyop‘s claim and ensured he took his pills.
© Josephine Kinuthia