By Kemboi Victor
I had never thought that a day would come when I would end up at the dungy, sweat-smelling cells of Shimoni Central Police station. I had only seen people being ferried there in police vans and I thought they were always careless and daring in committing crimes. Little did I know that unexpected situations and circumstances at times forced people to go there, and that I was never right judging them wrongly as criminals.
I had found myself in a police van manned by armed policemen in an end that saw me spending a night with other inmates in the cell, hopelessly awaiting the morning to come so that we could be taken to court or released by paying fines.
I had been arrested along Shimoni Center that evening while I headed to town to meet my sweet love Tamara, whom I had not met for almost four months. She was coming from Nairobi and I really burned with desire to see her again. For those four months, I had never slept with any girl and my heart was full of excitement every time I thought about meeting Tamara again and finally in my bed making love. I knew that night when I would relinquish all my feelings on her was dwindling slowly with the ticking of my clock.
So being late in the evening, I hurriedly boarded an eleven seater Toyota Hiace matatu that suddenly came to a halt on the road where I stood, like it had been sent by someone who knew I was in hurry.
“Bro kalia haraka tuumerie, kuna ndai inatufuata nyuma,” the conductor said without even asking where I was going. I did not want to hesitate for that kind of hurrying was necessary for me. I inched towards the door of the matatu smiling. Then, my mind was aware that my sweet Tamara was thirty or so minutes away to Eldoret town and I wanted to arrive in town before her.
The conductor pushed me in and beat the body of the matatu so hard to signal the driver to start leaving. What a rough conductor! I thought as I entered in locating empty seats. However, in my attempt, I realized that every seat was occupied, and two people, a man and a lady had already started to sit on the sambazas (some block of wood often put in spaces between the seats to create more seats whenever the matatu seats have been fully occupied).
“You must find for me a seat or I pay half the fare.”
I realized that the only seat that had remained was a sambaza near the door and I hesitated to sit there, feeling mad. I never liked sitting on a sambaza due to its discomfort, which came with paying the normal fare like someone on a seat. Besides, I never wanted to be found by police on that wrong side and then be charged with overloading the car and risking my life for not buckling up with a seat belt.
I could tell that we were already 18 of inside, pressed together like bags of grains being transported to the market and with that I shouted to the conductor.
“You must find for me a seat or I pay half the fare.”
The conductor looked at me and chose to ignore me. However, another man who seemed to have run out of patience scoffed at me like he was the conductor himself.
“You would have used your personal car instead of complaining to us. But since you have none, save our time and sit down. We are in a hurry.”
I felt bad but since no one came for my support, with shame that came with it, I sat down. But anger started to blaze up in me like a raging fire, especially when that man’s voice retorting to me echoed into my ears. Even Tamara escaped my mind for a moment. Now, you don’t want to know the anger that was whirling in me. I looked at the conductor with a distorted countenance, as if to demand him to drop me, at the same time feeling like insulting him for letting me into an already full car. Like he didn’t see me he locked the door ignoring my noise.
In spite of that he seemed to have understood my anger afterwards for he convinced me that some passengers would drop ‘hapa mbele’ (a little distance ahead), and that he was kindly requesting me to understand the situation we were in for they were hurrying for a ‘line’ in town. Then the driver was revving the car on the road like it had been shot out of a gun.
I started to doubt whether we would arrive in town safely
The car hummed in a speed that almost made me to think I had boarded an electric train. The smell of a burning rubber wafted into our nostrils due to friction between the tyres screeching on the road coming in through the open windows. Sad, our driver would neither slow down on the bumps nor on the potholes of our peeled off tarmac road, the emergency breaks sending us forwards while we approached the bumps; and backwards as the matatu left the bumps.
I started to doubt whether we would arrive in town safely. I looked at my fellow passengers and I realized that they had all kept quiet, I think wishing for the end of the journey too. The Sambaza which I had sat on started to drop intermittently with potholes and bumps. I had fallen down severally and I hoped ‘hapa mbele’ came so soon so that I would take a seat with proper safety belts and buckle up. However, the matatu took forever to arrive at that place despite that it had overtaken several cars.
As we approached Shimoni Shopping center our driver tried to overtake a saloon car but unfortunately he hit it on its side. The good news is no one got injured but we would not go away scot free with that. The saloon car got scrubbed and was instantly disfigured on its body which made the owner come out ranting furiously. And like the police had suddenly been dropped from the sky into the scene, their police cruiser pulled out from the road and stopped a few metres from the scene. Three officers came out and two immediately started to divert other cars away from the scene, with one coming to examine the extent of damage, another one on the steering wheel ready to drive out.
Now, the situation had gone to worst from worse, and I wondered why bad things always happened during my best moments. It is there where the thought that one could easily become a criminal without expecting came true.
For a moment our driver assessed the degree of the offence, and then jumped out instantly running away with the speed at which he had driven the car, and disappeared into a bush along the road. I guess the conductor would have run too but the door refused to open. He remained inside whistling primitively and wishing for miracles. The police from outside, successfully opened the door and the conductor jumped onto the tarmac greeting him with the hand that had some money in it.
“Afisa tunaweza ongea?”
But alas, the bribe was apparently too small for the officer to take and not long after he ordered our conductor to sit on the ground, being manned by another officer that held his gun muzzle towards him. With what was happening, I knew I was already in hot soup and I started shaking and sweating at the same time as the police inspected us. The fine for not buckling up was 1000 Kenyan shillings but what about those ones like me that had sat on the sambaza? Well, I too wished I would run like the driver had run if I got the opportunity. If you don’t know how illegal sambaza is, then you need to find out from those that have ever been arrested for sitting on it. I was sure of being fined double to those ones that had not buckled up; or even more.
“Nyinyi wa sambaza tokeni nje haraka, wajinga nyinyi,” the serious looking policeman who seemed to have parted with mercy long time ago ordered us. He did not even understand the worry and the helplessness that were already written on our faces. Instead, he ordered us into their cruiser that had some desperate looking people inside.
As we started coming out, the man that had initially scoffed at me for not owning my own car started to murmur from behind that he was to catch a flight in the next one hour to Nairobi, before flying to America where his brother was graduating from university. The idiot had not buckled up. The moment we stepped on the ground, he walked toward the officer who was now walking round the car and peeking into it through the windows.
Through a whisper the man called the officer aside to where we now stood.
“Afisa tunaweza ongea,” he said. Other passengers who had remained inside now started to confirm whether their belts were properly buckled up as if they were not sure they had buckled up. It surprised me that they were not even coming out despite the accident.
“Aki sina imagine babe,”
The police, responding to the whisper walked near the police car with the man and spoke with each other for a little moment. We all watched them. But soon the officer shouted at us threateningly and cautioned us to hurry into the police cruiser and stop wasting his time. He was so furious that I got so scared that I dashed into the cruiser, shaking like a leaf.
From inside, I saw the man who had called the officer aside retrieve a bundle of notes from his wallet and hand them to the officer who looked at the money, smiled with glee and stashed them into his pockets. He walked towards us and looked at us as if to tell us the follow the suit.
Two more understood that look and decided to go that way. They managed to raise Khs. 5,000 instantly and greeted the officer with it. But unfortunate for me and the other lady and man who too had sat on the sambaza and seemed to be in one company, we did not manage to raise the bribe; our hopes lay on the officer having mercy on us. Both the man and the girl had five hundred shillings only and I thought I was better than them since I had six hundred shillings. However, I could not get out of the mouth of the crocodile for the police refused to take our “money” terming it as too small, and assuring us ‘to meet ahead’.
He walked back to our matatu and demanded everyone to get out so that the car could be pulled to the police station. With that it dawned on me that I would go to where I had only heard people talk about as cold and bad as hell: the police cells. It pained me so much that I might not have Tamara with me that day again, leave alone seeing her. Before long the police cruiser was full and it quickly rolled its wheels on the road to where I guess was the police station. Inside the cabin we were about twenty or so ‘law breakers’ being ferried away. From our matatu, we had now remained the three of us that could not afford the bribe, and the conductor who would accompany the matatu to the station. Then, it was three minutes to five o’clock.
“Pengine kesho jioni hivi.”
My first instincts told me to phone Tamara and inform her about my arrest. Would she help me raise two thousand five hundred shillings too, ‘until tomorrow,’ since I had six hundred shillings only with me, I would be happy and free. I dialed her number and made my request.
“Aki sina imagine babe,” she said in a tone of pity and regret, which sent enough desperation into me. “I have five hundred shillings only,” she added.
“Okay, send it right away please,” I said. She accepted and promised to come to the station immediately. But now, I realized the police cruiser was approaching the police station faster than I expected, and there was a likelihood of me spending a night at the station for the first time that night since it was almost five o’clock, a time I had heard people say police don’t release people, and I still had less than 2,500 shillings which the officer wanted for him to release us. I cursed my gods and expected miracles to happen too.
Before we entered the station I thought about my friend Kandie. He could save me from this if I told him; I concluded and phoned him immediately. Kandie had always been my last resort and I had always depended on him so many times.
“What!” he wondered, “which police station?” he asked, shocked. I could almost feel the sadness in his voice too, which suggested he had no money at that moment. “Pengine kesho jioni hivi,” he added.
With that I concluded that I would surely sleep at the cell. Why the hell was he broke today surely? I felt some steam of air wash my face and it got hotter all of a sudden. The police cared about no one here, not even that girl I had come out with, that was looking at officers with a face showing the dead end of her life. I was in trouble like she was, but with the countenance on her face I pitied her despite my problems.
Look out for Part Two