What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Desperate Student, Episode 14: Rebel Fighter

This is the 14th episode of the Desperate Student series. Get caught up before proceeding.

There's something about looking down the barrels of dozens of automatic weapons that makes you wish you were back in America stapling pages.

I found myself stranded on an airport tarmac deep in Zimbabwe surrounded by rebels, clutching the triggers to a jeep-mounted machine gun. My comrades, Ned, Vince, and Xavier, just sat and stared.

The silence got awkward fast.

One of the rebels lowered his weapon and marched forward with his left palm facing us. He had a red scarf wrapped around his head and appeared to wield authority over the others.

"Don't shoot," It wasn't a request. The rebel's English was only slightly accented. "You get off jeep."

"What do we do?" Vince moaned.

"We do as he says," Said Ned, unbuckling. He stepped confidently out of the jeep, arms raised.

Xavier and Vince followed suit. After a moment of hesitation, I let go of the triggers and hopped down. "We come in peace," I said.

"No," Said the man. "You come for war."

"Oh no!" Vince screamed. "They're going to kill us! Oh, mama! I don't want to die out here!"

"Shut up," Said the rebel.

"Please don't shoot," Vince wailed, falling to his knees. "I'm too desperate to die."

This resonated with me, and I got down next to Vince. "He's right," I said, raising clasped hands. "Surely there's a way we can talk ourselves out of this!"

The rebel stared at us for several seconds. "You Americans?" He asked.

"Yes!" Cried Vince. "We're Americans! You can hold us for ..."

"Quiet!" Shouted Xavier.

"My name," Said the rebel, "Is Banga Banga. You cowboys help us win fight."

There were several seconds of stunned silence. Xavier was the first to realize what Banga Banga wanted. "Get off jeep, he say ..."

"We'll do it," Said Ned. "Where do we sign?"

"You have guns?"

"We have the machine gun and some explosives."

Banga Banga turned to his minions and shouted a few words in Zimbabwean. All the rebels cheered and fired shots into the air.

"You go blow up Mugabe's palace with explosives."

"We're going to die," Vince moaned.

"Keep it together," I hissed. Then, louder: "What do we get in exchange?"

"In exchange, we give you one million dollar!"

"Sweet mama," Vince whispered.

"Don't forget you have to split it four ways," Said Xavier.

"We'll do it anyway," Said Ned. "Where's Mugabe's palace?"

Banga Banga pointed at a pre-teen boy carrying an RPG. "This my son, Chipa Chipo. He show you the way."

Chipa tossed the rocket launcher casually at Xavier, who dove to catch it. "Go!" Chipa Chipo cried, hopping onto the back bumper. "Go, go!"

Ned climbed back behind the wheel and buckled up. "Okay," He said as the rest of us loaded up, "How are we going to do this?"

"We've got a box of dynamite and two grenades," I said. "Anyone know anything about demolition?"

Ned slowly pulled off the tarmac and onto the road. Chipa Chipo pointed north. "Go!" We accelerated slowly. I kept my eyes peeled for loyalist patrols.

"Seriously, you guys," Said Xavier. "You want us to ride an obviously hostile jeep straight into the capital of Zimbabwe, walk past a bunch of armed guards, and build bombs out of volatile materials we have no idea how to use?"

"Oh, mama," Moaned Vince. "We're going to die after all."

"We have no choice," Said Ned. "So let's find a way to do this."

"Why don't we just forget the rebels?" I asked. "Let's sell the jeep for tickets home."

"Tickets from where? The airport is gone," Xavier pointed out.

"And if we stay here much longer, Jane is bound to find us," Added Ned.

"I don't want to die," Vince wailed.

"Pull yourselves together, people!" I shouted. "Come on! There's a million dollars on the line. If we succeed, we can all go home on the black market and support girlfriends when we get there. If not, we die. So let's think calmly! Come on!"

"You're right," Said Ned, very sensibly I thought. "What are our options?"

"I say we divide up with specific tasks," I suggested, "Then make it up as we go along."

"Sounds fool proof," Said Ned.

"I call lookout!" Cried Vince.

Xavier sighed. "You'll make me light the fuse. I just know it."

Ned took charge. "I'll take Chipa Chipo into the palace to disable the guards. Vince, you keep watch."

"I'll lay the dynamite," I offered.

"And Xavier, you'll light the fuse. It'll be fun."

For a half-hour, we rode with only the sound of the motor and Xavier's quiet muttering. Then the jungle road widened and we hit pavement, and moments later we were zipping through downtown Harare. The citizens all stopped and stared as we drove by; even the police (who rode in white and red vans) seemed too surprised by us to lift a finger. Chipa Chipo's directions were flawless. He had Ned weaving in and out of traffic, maneuvering deeper and deeper into the city, taking every shortcut ever invented (which is a lot).

After another ten minutes, we parked at the edge of a lawn. Past the lawn was a high concrete wall. There was barbed wire ringing the top, and machine gun towers watched the whole area from every corner.

"Is this it?" Ned asked.

Chipa Chipo nodded eagerly and pointed at the gate, which was watched by six armed guards. "Go!"

The guards had noticed my machine gun; two of them peeled off and marched toward us.

"Here they come!" Vince shouted. "Shoot! Shoot!"

I squeezed the triggers. Hot lead poured from the .50 cal and strafed the lawn. Clods of grassy dirt were tossed into the breeze; the air heated and grew smoky.

Over the bone-rattling din of the gun, I heard Vince cry: "Frag out!"

"No!" Cried Ned. "We need that grenade to set off the ..." His lament was drowned by a deafening boom. I was unlucky enough to be looking straight at the grenade when it went off; I saw a flash of light and got pretty dizzy. Next thing I knew I was lying on the ground behind the jeep.

Chipa Chipo mounted up; his arms were barely able to reach the triggers. "Go!" He shouted.

"Okay, but I don't like this," Said Ned. He floored the gas. I was left behind in a cloud of dust, warm bullet casings, and monkey doo-doo labels. The jeep careened past the guards, through the gate, into the compound, and out of sight.

The guards stopped to reload. I noticed that no one seemed to be hurt.

All was quiet.

Then they saw me lying on the lawn.

I've lived a life full of social faux pas. I'm not good at handling people. I often say the wrong thing at the wrong time. But I tell you honestly that that was the most awkward moment of my life. For fully thirty seconds, we just stared at each other.

I was the first to break the silence. I raised my right hand and waved hesitantly. "Hey guys," I called softly. "What's up?"

As if snapping out of a daze, the guards all lifted their weapons and pointed them at me. I searched desperately for some form of cover. I was totally exposed. It seemed my desperate antics had finally gotten the best of me.

Then I heard a Vince's loud shout from inside the compound: "Oh, mama!" Then a massive boom; the sky was filled with red smoke, and pieces of jeep rained down all around. I took advantage of the distraction to turn and run for dear life.

My flight carried me into an angry mob of citizens carrying improvised explosives, old rifles, and of course, pitchforks. I struggled against the human tide, but for several seconds I found myself powerless against it. Then I heard the machine gun towers start firing, and my desperation conquered my etiquette (as usual). With a roar, I plunged into the human tide, kicking, punching, and shoving. The crowd parted like a wave before me; I sprinted down the street and turned a few corners. I didn't stop to catch my breath until the mob was just a distant roar. Then I clapped my hands on my knees and gasped for a few minutes.

When I lifted my head, Banga Banga and his rebels were standing all around.

Another awkward moment.

"I tell you blow up palace!" Banga Banga shouted.

"I know, I'm sorry. I was going to, but ..."

"You great hero in Zimbabwe nation." Banga Banga flashed a huge smile and slapped me roundly on the back. "Great hero! Very great hero. You understand?"

"I understand money," I said.

"Yes, yes. I give you one million dollar." Banga Banga reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He started pulling out bills and counting. "Two hundred, four, six hundred, eight hundred ... one million dollar." He pushed the money into my hand with another smile. "Great hero," He repeated. Then he and his men charged down the street and were gone.

I looked down at the massive sum of money in my hand. I had thought it would be bigger. It was just twenty little pieces of paper. Well, I wasn't about to go looking for my comrades to split up the loot. Nor did I have any intention of sticking around waiting for the rebels, the loyalists, or worse, Jane, to figure me out and invite me to a party. I could use this money to go home, set myself up nicely, and sweep Suzy off her feet once and for all. Life was finally going to be okay.

I made my way to the nearest bank and converted the money into US currency. It was the first paycheck I had received in Africa. The grand total: seven American dollars and eighty-one cents.


Grace said...

YEY! That was great! I haven't read anything that good since the last desperate student~!

Udontwannakno said...

Oh my, only $7.81? That's so sad.

Jesse said...

good thing you changed it before the expiration date.