The car sped off, rounding the corner in a cloud of dust. I stood there, bored; unable to comprehend it all. Everything was dusty – the trees, the grass, the little animals all suffocating under a layer of dust. Squinting into the dusty sunset, I could make out a small brick house 500m from where I was standing. I put my laptop bag onto my back, and tried to wheel my suitcase along the dusty road. It kept spinning, twisting my hands. At this point, I could not have cared less. Chances of using it again were slim. This was the beginning of the end of everything. Maybe, one day I would be able to use the contents.
It had been a collective decision, everyone reached a consensus. In order to protect everyone, someone had to be the sacrificial lamb. No-one would miss me for long, I would be the one to take one for the team. As Ben always kept saying, “Sophia, for this to work, everyone has to sacrifice something.” All these years, they each played their part; it was now my time on the stage. The stage looked bleak, dark and impossible. Props were missing or broken, and I seemed to have forgotten my lines. The teams going to Mars for the rest of their lives had nothing on me.
Brilliant young minds had come together one summer. We were college students, working as interns at local insurance firm. Passerine Insurance. They hired the best of the best, paying well too. Every year, insurance programmes from universities all over the country would submit names to Passerine, and wait for their students to be selected by this prestigious company. Once Passerine agreed to take on one or two of your students, this meant that you were doing well. They were known for being highly selective and competitive. In 2017, I – Sophia Chimbwa – was among the five selected. All in all, Passerine would admit five students to take part in their internship programmed every year. At the end, they would offer three students permanent employment upon graduating. In a country with above 80% unemployment, I was indeed lucky. Brainy, but lucky. Along with me were Benjamin Museve, Shinga Mudhuri, Ropa Dhonza and Angel Mercer.
One day at lunch time, we all rallied to go out for a cheap lunch. I could tell the conversation was guarded, not as free as usual. Ben, coughed and started speaking as the waitress was bringing us the drinks.
“Sophia, do you have family? Where do they live?”
We used to joke around, but this time his voice showed concern and sounded oddly intimate. I rambled on about how I was an only child, and my parents had migrated to Australia. Over the course of the lunch hour, we discussed how tough things were generally for everyone all round. In conclusion, Ben told us it was up to us to turn our fortunes. He had a plan, and everyone had a role. It was not going to be easy; maybe borderline illegal but not entirely illegal. Anyone who did not want to take part was free to walk away. Angel decided he did not want to hear what Ben had to say. That was the end of our lunch dates. I was broke and bored; and had nothing to lose. Shinga had 4 siblings to support, he was already forfeiting meals because he could not afford them. Ropa, well, she was just Ropa. Anything with excitement turned her on.
Lunch dates became more frequent. Ben, would try to carefully spell out all possibilities. Every morning, each one would be hard at work at their specific tasks. Somehow, Ben would get all sorts of insurance cases. He knew the people, from where? is the question which still baffles me even to this day. One day, a farmer walked in. He had insured his tobacco the previous year. A hailstorm came, shredded every leaf. Ben was the underwriter on the case, and I was sent to investigate. One Tuesday morning, we drove over to the farm – and I was surprised to hear Ben and the farmer laughing and joking like old mates. When we got to the farm, Ben pulled me aside and told me to follow his instructions; and that the farmer was an old family friend. Following instructions would benefit everyone immensely. I followed instructions. I never saw a single golden shredded leaf. It had not rained heavily in weeks at the farm. My investigation said otherwise. In a month, my phone pinged. I was confused at first, then I saw the tobacco farmers name appear. He had deposited money into my account. Immediately, I called Ben. He brushed it off, and told me, that was my payout for following instructions. This is what our lunch dates were all about.
Ben ran it all. Shungu, Ropa and I, followed instructions. Ben’s family friends were insurance savvy. Payouts for everything came out. Stolen cars, medical procedures, car accidents – you name it. These people were well insured. We four would underwrite or investigate. Ben would tell us what to write, and we would follow instructions. Weeks later, a loaded ping would sound. Shungu opened accounts in his siblings names, and school fees was not a problem anymore. Ropa, had money to burn. I was just there, stocking it away. Investing a little here and there. One rule, all paperwork had to be kept offsite. I was the offsite.
One of the insurance cases included a house which had been set alight by lightning. Shungu and I were sent to investigate. The house was there, and the payout was massive. The summer turned to winter, and before we knew it we had to go back to college. After graduation; Ropa, Shungu and Ben were called back to Passerine, I had to go and look for another job. Ben kept me in the loop. Over the course of the past year, I had finessed the art of looking for clients. From the comfort of my home, I staged the insurance plays. I was now the entry point. To get to Benjamin and the rest, you had to go through me. I had the paperwork. We had the money. Being officially employed persons, Ben and the gang were able to live vicariously without anyone suspecting a thing.