Free, But Not Free
The sky was a clear blue and the sun was already high up in the sky, an indication that it was noon already. However, even in the hot sun, the streets were busy with tourists, merchants and the residents. Everyone had one thing or the other to do, or one place or the other to visit. Naliria and Freda walked freely through the busy streets. They were extremely glad to be free. Being outside, amongst the people of Me, was indeed suddenly the best thing that ever happened to them. The elders had agreed to release the girls on the agqreement that they would send spies after them, but, Naliria was not to tell Freda about the agreement.
"There is nothing wrong if she knows." Naliria argued stubbornly.
"There is everything wrong if she knows." The first elder countered. "Will you keep your own end of the deal? Or will you not?"
"Well if I don't?" Naliria asked, trying to push her luck.
"I will simply order the guard to take you back to your cell." The second elder announced with a very grim expression. Already, he did not like the fact that the girls were being set free. Amongst all the elders, he was the only one who kicked vehemently against the idea. Unfortunately, majority wins the vote and so, the elders decided to go on with the plan.
"Naliria," called the fourth elder. "We agreed to let you go because I know your father personally. I want to believe you are your father's daughter and that you will keep your word. You will do everything possible to help us catch Mr. Agul. The money he stole, must be returned to the treasury."
"I will do everything possible sir." She assured them as she resigned to their decision. "I want my friend to be free because she is innocent. That is all that matters to me."
"Then be sure not to tell her we are spying on her."
"Is this your final decision, sir?" Naliria asked.
"Yes it is." The third elder confirmed. "Either you take it or leave it."
"Is there nothing I can do to change your mind?" Naliria said, with a pleading tone. "No! Its either this, or nothing."
Naliria accepted and within an three hours, both girls were released. "I don't know how you did it Nali," Freda said with so much excitement, "But you are a genius. How did you get them to free us? Really, tell me, I want to know."
"I simply told them we are innocent. I told them what you told me."
"And what's that?" Freda inquired.
"I told them your father is the thief. You shouldn't be suffering for his crime."
"Yes, that's true." Freda said, feeling sad. "I trusted him, I loved him, I respected him. I never knew he was just a common thief. The people of Me will never stop dragging my name to the mud now, all because of my father."
"Its sad, I know, but you have to be strong." Naliria consoled her.
"Yes. Nali, I will be strong. I don't have anyother choice."
The ladies walked through the busy street of Me, trying to look for a place to eat and rest. The merchants from different corners of the streets, cried out in loud voices, "Welcome to the ancient city of Me! For the best dresses or household items, for the best shoes and bags ever made, check out my one in all shop. They are all of high quality and of affordable prices." Almost every merchant or shop owner was saying the same thing. From one end of the street to the other, Naliria could hear their constant advert and marketing techniques.
"Don't they get tired of talking?" She asked, as she tagged along.
"No they don't." Freda replied without looking back. "Welcome to Me, Nali. These merchants will only keep quiet when its night and they have closed for the day."
"Oh dear, but they are making a lot of noise."
"Yes, but the elders allow it. There is nothing we can do. Besides, times are hard, they all have to make a living."
"What a way to make a living." Naliria hissed.
After about twenty five minutes walk, the girls came to a bakery shop which was located at the end of a less busy street. There was a sign board hanging from the roof top. It read 'Papi Bakes'. In front of the shop, there was a big, transparent, plastic box. Bread, pies of different flavours, design and shapes, as well as cakes, were displayed inside it. Naliria eyed the delicacies but she had no money to buy them. Since the day before, she hadn't eaten any good food. She thought about what to do or how to plead with the owner so she could get some on credit. Fortunately, while she thought about it, she noticed that Freda was walking towards the bakery shop.
"Is it possible that Freya is thinking what I'm thinking?" Naliria thought. "Or maybe she has some little money in hand." She concluded. However, Naliria was even more surprised when Freda boldly walked up behind the elderly man who was displaying more of his delicacies in the transparent box. She tickled him from behind and said, "I caught you Papi."
"Oh Freda!" The elderly man called out as soon as he turned around and set his eyes on her. "Bless the gods, they let you go."
"Yes they did." Freda said happily. She moved forward and they both locked themselves in a long embrace. It was like a father to daughter embrace, a sign that the man truly cared for her.
"How are you? When did they let you go? Did they feed you well?" Papi asked, all at once after they pulled apart.
"Oh Papi, you worry too much about me." Freda said. "I should be the one asking how you are coping with your shop, but I can see that old age hasn't slowed you down at all."
"Oh my dear girl," Papi said. "Its going to take more than age to slow me down." The duo laughed over his comment like two lost friends. Naliria couldn't help but admire their friendship. "And who are you?" The elderly man asked as soon as he recovered from the laugh and noticed Naliria for the first time.
"She is my friend, Papi." Freda said, happily. "She is the one who got me out of prison."
"Oh! My dear," Papi said to Naliria, as he took her hands in his. "Thank you so much for helping out. You have no idea just how worried I have been about my little angel."
"I'm glad I could help sir." Naliria replied. "She is my best friend, I couldn't just let them keep her there."
"Thank you child, thank you. What is your name?" He asked.
"Naliria, sir, Naliria Ladeal."
"Oh Naliria, its nice knowing you. You can call me Papi."
"Nice knowing you too sir." Naliria said.
The man said his thanks once more and then invited them in for lunch. The ladies were excited. Hunger was almost going to deal with them if they weren't invited in. Papi served them his beast bread, pies and cakes. He topped it all with fried meat, and pineapple juice.
"Oh dear lord," Nalirai said as she ate. "This is heaven."
"Naughty you." Freda teased. "I've forgotten what a sweet mouth you've got." The ladies laughed over it and continued with their meal. After eating, they said their thanks to Papi and he in turn invited them to come again whenever they pleased.
"Thank you sir," Naliria said. "You are so kind."
"You are even kinder Naliria." Papi said. "Thank you for helping Freda get out of that sink hole."
"I'm glad I could help."
Freda siad her thanks to Papi and then gave him a tight hug, before going off with Naliria. Papi waved at them and they waved back at him, until they finally turned into the next street.
"So where are we going to rest?" Naliria asked.
"We will find a place, don't worry." Freda assured.
However, they kept walking to different parts of the city. During their aimless journey, Freda stopped by several people's houses, saw them briefly and in privacy, before coming out to join Naliria. Naliria wonderd about the visits. She was also tired of moving form one place to another, she seriously needed rest.
"Why are we moving about?" She asked, after Freda came back from a private visit in another house. "Whats with the visits?"
"They are my friends Nali" Freda defended. "I had to let them know I am out of prison. Besides, they are working with me on the trade I told you about."
"Oh! So I'm gong to be their partner soon?"
"Nope! More like team member." Freda corrected. "Team work is always better executed."
"Okay, but why can't we just stay in one place and rest? I'm tired of moving about."
"We are waiting for night Nali." Freda replied.
"Night? But why?" Naliria was curious.
"My father's ranch will be heavily guarded in the day time, but when its night, we can go in quietly. No one will know we are inside."
"But that is wrong Freya, the ranch has been confisticated. The elders will surely arrest you again if they catch you there."
"Well, that is a big if my friend. But believe me, they won't catch me." Freda assured her.
For the rest of the day, they walked from one spot to other, from one street to another and finally, to Freda's father's ranch. By then, it was night already. Naliria's legs ached due to the long walk. Her waist ached too and so did her head. She sat under a tree with Freda, they both needed to catch their breath. The tree casted its shadow over them, therefore preventong the moon light from revealing their position. The night breeze blew gently, the stars decorated the sky and the moon shone brighter. It was indeed a beautiful night, but Naliria felt very uncomfortable. She didn't even know why she felt that way. However, one thing was sure. Being in a confisticated ranch was part of the reason why she felt so terrible. It was a property ceased but he elders of the city. Trespassing simply meant, breaking the law. Unfortunaty, breaking the law simply meant going back to prison.
"Remind me again Freya," Naliria said, cutting into her thoughts. "Why are we here? Remember we are prohibited to go in."
"Do you have another place in mind? A place where we can stay peacefully?" Freda asked. "This is the only place I know where we can be safe."
"No buts dear, make up your mind. This is my home, the only home I have known since I was born.
"What if the elders catch us doing this?" Naliria argued, "We surely would go back to prison. Why don't we go back to Papi's place instead."
"Papi lives far away, not in his shop. Look Nali, relax. They wouldn't see us and no one is going to tell them we are here either. We are safe"
"Well, I'm not going in with you." Naliria said firmly. Freda may not know, but she knew. She knew that the elders had spies on their trail. Although she hadn't seen anyone spying on them yet, she was sure that they were around, somewhere, just waiting for a slip up. The elders were not joking when they said they would send spies after them.
"Stop being a weakling Naliria." Freda said. "You have always been bold, adventurous and a risk taker. Thats why you are my friend. Don't chicken out now."
"Its not about wanting to chicken out Freya, its about making sure we don't go back to prison."
"Okay." Freda said at last. "Go away Nali. I wanted to trust you enough to show you a secret. One I have never shown any other person, living or dead. But since you are too scared to take the risk with me, sorry, I won't be showing you anything. I'm no longer sure you are fit to be my friend."
"You know, for someone who has just been out of prison and who's father is wanted, you are too careless. Don't you care about your safety?"
"I do Nali. But since you don't want to follow me, I'm beginning to think you are hiding something."
"What will I be hiding?" Naliria frowned, as she got to her feet." Whats all this? Why will I hide something from you?" Naliria felt very guilty as she argued. She did not want to hide anything, especially something very important, from her best friend, but, the elders insisted. If she didn't accept their condition, she and Freda would still have been locked away in the tower. She could not tell her friend that there were spies on their trail, even though she wanted to. If she talked, the spies could report her to the elders and then, she would be arrested again.
"Go where ever you wnat Nali," Freda said at last. "Since you are so scared, I can't show you what I wanted to show you." That said, she climbed over the small wooden fence, into the property and walked on. She walked under the dark shades of the surrounding trees, without looking back.
"Freya! Freya!!!" Naliria called, almost in a whisper. "Please don't be like this."
"Go back Nali and leave me alone." Freya said back to her.
Naliria would have gone back, but where would she go? Who else did she know in the city? Besides, Freda was her best friend. She wanted to be with her all the way and also, to protect her from harm of anykind.
"Oh Freya!" She whispered, "You are surely going to get me arrested." She walked towards the fence and climbed over. "Freya wait for me," She called out as she ran after her friend.
Behind her, over the fence where she had just left, a man came out of hiding and watched with rapt attention, as Naliria ran to catch up with Freya. Although he came out of hiding, he stood under the shade of a tree. As soon as the girls were out of sight, he sighed. Only then did he realise he was holding his breath.
"You can come out." He said. Immediately, four men, all dressed in black came out and stood by him. He picked two, out of the five men to follow the girls. The rest of them took another route. However, all route led to Mr. Agul's home, which was also in the ranch.