The Old Man and the Camaro (2)
This is coming late, but better late than never, right?
Note: This story is a sequel. If you haven’t read the first part, please do so here.
It had been four years since my encounter with the rambunctious Huenis Kiepenfocker. Whenever I saw a Camaro, I would think about him and what antics he was up to.
Sometimes, I imagined him surfing recklessly at Tarkwa Bay. In my reveries, the rebellious sexagenarian wore swimming goggles, and his surf board bore the inscription, “Age ain’t nothing but a number.” My thoughts often ended with me wondering if I shouldn’t have passed up on his offer.
My life hadn’t changed much since then. Although now, I had a steady day job as a leg model. I had finally found a part of my body that could work for me. If you have seen a billboard or print ad for men’s shoes, with just the legs, from knees to the feet, they are probably mine.
I hadn’t given up on acting. Occasionally, I would get a gig as an extra on a TV soap. Nothing permanent. Nothing to be proud of…yet.
On that particular evening, I got home exhausted. I barely flopped on the couch when someone rang the bell. I answered the door reluctantly. It was my neighbour, Bisi. While I was at work, she had received a parcel addressed to me from DHL.
“It is from abroad”, she said excitedly. I thanked her and shut the door.
The parcel was from Cape Town, South Africa. Bisi’s abroad. I tore it open. It contained a letter from Messrs Grothendick, Bendher & Pole. Who were they?
Apparently, they were the attorneys that managed Mr. Kiepenfocker’s estate. He had just died, and my presence was requested at his will reading. Why? Surely, they were not calling me to South Africa to jumpstart his car again? The only plausible reason was that he had included me in his will.
But I had other questions. How did they find me? What happened to the old man, and what was in all this for me? There was only one way to find out.
According to the letter, provision had been made for my transportation and accommodation. Inside the parcel was a first-class ticket to Cape Town, and a few other instructions. As much as this was good news for me, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad for my friend. I had only known Mr. Kiepenfocker for a few hours, but the chatty old man had left quite an impression on me.
The will was to be read next month. Thankfully, I was going to be off during that period. I had no photo-shoots, and my toned calves could use a break from the spotlight. It took me about two weeks to sort my papers. I packed my bag and boarded a plane to South Africa.
Until now, my knowledge of South Africa was from Big Brother Africa, Jacob’s Cross (the TV soap), and the now defunct Channel O. This was going to be my first trip to the Rainbow Nation.
I touched down at Cape Town International Airport by exactly 5:10 am on Saturday morning. At “Arrivals”, a young man was holding a placard with my name…upside down. Thankfully, one of my innate talents was upside-down reading.
His name was Khumalo, and he had been sent by Messrs Grothendick, Bendher & Pole. He would be my chauffeur while I was their guest. He didn’t talk much, except when he asked if I was okay with the radio station. Within 45 minutes, I had checked in and settled down at my hotel.
A complimentary bottle of Nayboth’s red wine was on the table with a note from the law firm. I was to feel at home and contact them if I needed anything. The reading of the will was in three days. I had enough time to explore.
Tuesday, 10 AM. Grothendick, Bendher & Pole’s Law Firm
The conference room of the law firm was quite large. Everybody was early. That was something I learned; nobody comes late to a will reading. Members of the Kiepenfocker family sat in front. I was ushered to a seat at the back, just by the window. The atmosphere was tense. I could tell that not everybody was happy to see a stranger’s face.
Few minutes later, three esoteric-looking men in suits entered the room. They reminded me of the Blues Brothers without the shades. I knew immediately, who they were. The tallest one introduced himself as Mr. Pole and proceeded to read the will. I glanced outside the window at the high-rise buildings opposite, and my mind wandered back to Saturday night.
The day I arrived, I got bored at the hotel, so I called Khumalo and asked him to drive me anywhere. He took me to Oblivion Bar, a cool place on Chichester Road. It had a mountain-view terrace and a cosy ambience.
Khumalo had intended to wait in the car, but I invited him. Not one to pass up an opportunity for free beer, he agreed. He might have been taciturn the first time we met, but after a glass of Castle Lager, Khumalo was telling me everything about Cape Town. Including the risqué fleshpots where I could get some weed, or a hoer (escort) if I wanted. But I had other ideas.
“Did you know Mr. Kiepenfocker very well?” I asked.
“Sure,” His face lit up. “I drove him a few times.”
“Really? I was genuinely surprised. “Tell me more.”
Khumalo went on to tell me everything about his former employer. You would be shocked by how much drivers know about their bosses.
Huenis Kiepenfocker was a very rich man. Not just any kind of rich, he was one of South Africa’s wealthiest men. He owned Nayboth’s Vineyards; one the country’s top 5 exporters of fine wines. His vineyards sprawled across Boberg region, from Paarl to Franschhoek and Tulbagh.
He was once listed in Forbes, as one of the most influential business men in South Africa. As Khumalo spoke, I was stunned. I googled him and confirmed it. Mr. Kiepenfocker was indeed a titan in the wine industry. Looking him up online had never crossed my mind. I didn’t imagine he was that relevant.
Khumalo told me that the last few years had been tough for the family. The wine magnate got into trouble with some foreign investors and started acting out. According to Khumalo, the details were sketchy, but Mr. Kiepenfocker flipped. He took long trips without telling anybody, splurged on luxury boats, cars and condos. Eventually, the family placed a lien on his accounts, and the board voted him out as CEO.
I nodded understandably. That was probably when his end-life crisis started. “What about his daughter, the one who married a Nigerian?” I inquired.
“What daughter?” Khumalo asked, confused. “Mr. Kiepenfocker has only two sons. One is married with children here in Cape Town and the other is in the US,” he finished with a quaff of beer.
“Oh, I see.” My head was spinning.
That means he was probably on one of his self-exiled trips when I met him stranded in Surulere that afternoon.
“How did he die?”
“Bungee jumping accident,” Khumalo said, motioning to a waiter for more beer.
“How?” I signaled to the waiter to not bother. Khumalo had probably forgotten that he would be driving me later.
“Sorry about that,” he apologised. “Umm…Yes, he jumped from Bloukrans Bridge, but he didn’t fasten the harness properly and it came off in mid-flight. They said his last words were, “Fuuuck mee…”
I tried to imagine it and shuddered.
“Well, he lived life to the fullest,” Khumalo said.
“True. He went out with a bang,” I agreed.
He raised his glass, “Here’s to Mr. Kiepenfocker, maker of Boberg’s sweetest wines.
We clinked glasses.
“….and to Mr. Alexander Kuma…”
I broke away from my thoughts, just in time to hear Mr. Pole read my inheritance.
“…A kind-hearted young man, who was there for me when I was stranded. He had no reason to help, but he did, and for that I am grateful. So…”
A few heads turn back to look at me.
“…I leave him, Celina, my beloved Camaro.”
“Next, I will read his barber, James Troost’s inheritance…” Mr. Pole continued.
Wait that was it? I flew over 2000 miles just to hear that I was getting a damn car?
I was angry. I thought it was a mistake but Mr. Pole had moved on. I felt betrayed, like an aspiring actor with dashed dreams, which is exactly what I was.
I booked my flight back to Lagos early the next day. The anti-climax of the will had left a bad taste in my mouth, like one of Mr. Kiepenfocker’s sour wines. There was no reason for me to stay in Cape Town any longer. Mr. Grothendick sent me a mail that my car would arrive in Lagos within 10 days.
He was right. I received it at Apapa wharf within 10 days. The law firm had paid all clearance and tax fees, and for that I was grateful. I had to admit, Celina was a beauty- with her matte black finish, double exhaust pipes and sparkling alloy rims. Too bad, I planned to sell her. I needed the money.
I put up an ad on Jiji.ng and listed it at ₦7.5 million. It racked up several thousand views and my phone wouldn’t stop ringing. But, each time someone came to inspect the car, something strange would happen.
One time, I was expecting a buyer, it rained hail all day and they had to cancel. Another potential buyer came with his wife, but after looking at the car, she changed her mind. Something was off, she said. The next person came with cash and was ready to pick it up but Celina wouldn’t start.
I tried and tried, but nothing.
“It was running fine just before you came,” I explained.
But he left. I started to wonder if I was ever going to sell the car. That battery again. I opened the boot and saw a pack of jumpstart cables. They looked new. I smiled. Maybe Mr. Kiepenfocker bought this after the incident at Surulere. I pried it open and saw a note neatly tucked behind the manual. It was written in cursive, addressed to me.
Dear, Alexander, I hope you find this.
I couldn’t put it in the will for fear my family would contest it in court. I told you I would return the favour. Take a knife and cut the upholstery of the back seat. Everything is yours.
P.S. Be gentle with Celina, she is still my favourite.
I was confused. My hands shook. I must have re-read the note a hundred times. It felt surreal.
I got a knife from my apartment, and entered the back seat. But I paused. I was about to deface the leather upholstery of this beautiful car. What if the note was wrong? Supposing it was a prank from those lawyers with the weird names? I wouldn’t put it past them.
My curiosity won. I put the pointed tip of the serrated bread knife on the soft cushion and dug in. Deeply but carefully, I traced an L shaped pattern in the seat, setting off some foam in the process. When I lifted the leather surface and parted the underlying foam, I froze in shock. There were dollar bills everywhere. Neatly laid, 100% genuine, hundred-dollar American bills. In my car!
Mr. Kiepenfocker did keep his promise after all.
I got a bag and packed every single note. Then locked myself in the apartment and counted the money. I didn’t finish until about 7pm because I had to recount a couple of times. It was $60,000. By my calculator, that was ₦21.7 million! To think I would have sold the car for a measly ₦7.5 million!
I quit my job as a fucking leg model. I finally had some seed money to start my own studio. It wasn’t everything, but I would buy filming equipment and start a web series. Maybe find sponsors too. I already had creative partners. Who knows, I could get some acting recognition from there.
As for Celina, I didn’t sell her. She was my baby now.
Today, we drove to Tarkwa Bay. This was something I should have done with Mr. Kiepenfocker a long time ago. I am not a great surfer, but I try. I patted Celina’s hood and gazed at the beach. The sun was peering out from the clouds and the winds pushed the whitecaps across the surface of the water. It was a good day for surfing.
“This one is for you, Huenis.”
I ran towards the white waves with a surf board under my arm. It bore an inscription;
Age ain’t nothing but a number