PAYBACK TIME

PAYBACK TIME

By Kemboi Victor

The six elders sat under the giant Mogoiywet tree of Kaimen shopping center, as they flashed glances on curious villagers who were seated on the grass. This was the village’s justice square and people gathered here to witness a trial whenever a crime befell the village. Last night there had been a robbery at the shops and here these elders, who were to look into the theft, the elders whom villagers revered sat pensively to do the needful.

Surprisingly this morning the case fell on Gerison Karori, a renowned lawyer’s son who had turned into a robber despite all the love and money his father gave him. You wonder what such boys miss sometimes to engage in crimes but people said David Kitimu, his father, never allowed Karori to interact with the world, and that he was now doing it by involving himself in crime.

It is in High School where Karori actually got spoiled. He was introduced to drugs and bad friends. Once or twice he was expelled from school and severally, he was suspended for indiscipline cases. After finishing school, he joined the Deadly Five Group and last night, with Okindo his friend, they broke into Musa’s electronics shop and stole several phones, airtime cards, and electronic accessories.

Come in here, Okindo whispered to him

That night was drizzling heavily. Karori wore his hood and a raincoat and leapt out in the rain with his umbrella. He headed to an unfinished plaza near Musa’s shop, where Okindo was waiting.

The entire place seemed free of watchman’s sight. And well, Okindo had actually confirmed that there was no one around. A few moments earlier he had seen Kibet, the watchman guarding Salama Investments near Musa’s Shop drinking some liquor, and he got cock sure that Kibet was drunk.

For a few moments Karori surveyed the entire place with great care. He made sure to use all the experience he had gained from stealing months ago.

“Come in here,” Okindo whispered to him. He smiled and went in.

As usual they would take their roles first. Okindo remained at the entrance of the shop to keep watch while Karori went in to pick items.

It is Karori that first stepped out but they noticed a flashlight scanning around in the darkness.

“Didn’t you just tell me Kibet is drunk?” Karori whispered to Okindo as he dashed back. In the process he hit a metallic pillar. Kibet flashed his torch around which seemed to be dying of battery.

In five or so minutes Karori had fetched all the scratch cards

Uko ni sawa ama namna gani Mutua? Kibet asked assuming the noise he had heard were from his colleague.

Huku ni sawa kabisa. Wewe angalia upande huo, nami upande huu,’’ Karori replied trying so hard to sound like Mutua, Musa’s watchman who had dashed home briefly to pick his raincoat. It amazed him how this trick worked for Kibet walked back to his sheltering place.

After the narrow escape, Karori and Okindo headed to Musa’s shop in confidence in their quest to cut the padlock and steal.

While they did, Okindo decided to flash his torch once or twice and wait to see whether someone showed up or not, the way Kibet had done. If anyone came he would quickly alert Karori and they would escape. But if no one came, they would steal as more items as possible and sell them the following day in town at a black market.

In five or so minutes Karori had fetched all the scratch cards, some coins that were in the safe and some mobile phones which he put in the bag he had brought. He took some telephone accessories and put them in an empty carrier bag which he found there and gave it to Okindo. They were determined to steal a lot in few minutes.

They were through shortly. You should have seen the way they were happy. Okindo held a bag full of expensive goodies just like Karori. They quickly glanced around and left. Each took out his dagger daring to use if anyone they met interfered with their mission. They would even kill to keep themselves safe.

It was now darker than before

And they managed to go away with goodies that could go for over fifty thousand, goodies they would sell far from the village.

It was now darker than before and they could hardly see a meter. They walked in an alley and joined the road to home.

Suddenly headlights from a stationary car stunned them.

Fright enveloped them, and even forgot about the daggers in their hands, which they dropped together with some items as their instincts told them to run.

Okindo dashed into a tiny path to some scattered buildings, and chose a path leading to his home. Gerison Karori too thought of a maize plantation few yards away. He made a swift dash which left a few of his stolen items behind. He ran until his shoe sole tore thinking he was being followed.

The remaining shoe disturbed him a few distance away and he decided to remove it. Why waste time when he had a lot of gadgets to convert into money and buy new shoes? He threw it away and felt lighter. And now even his foot sole seemed to step on the ground properly, his bare foot stepping on the moist soil like a car tyre with full threads as he sprinted in the farm. The maize too understood him and they moved sideways from his breeze. And the way his raincoat swung side by side, even animals would think a ghost had arrived from hell. He ran until he was sure no one was following anymore.

Roughly he still had 900 shillings

Then he slowed down when he realized something was amiss. Where is another bag? He realized that he must have dropped it the moment he started running. And the money! He inserted his hands into his trouser pockets and he could not find even a coin. All were gone.

Lucky, the notes he had stashed in his shirt were still there. Thank goodness! He had now realized that perhaps he was standing in the middle of the maize farm, some five hundred or so meters away from the fence. For once he decided to count the remainder money with the help of his phone light.

Roughly he still had 900 shillings. And now he realized one carrier bag, Okindo and his dagger were all gone.

But wait, did Okindo get caught? He wondered. Where was he?

As he wondered phoning him or not, a message came:

Are you still stuck or gone? On my way to my cubicle.

Karori smiled and decided to find his way there. At least he didn’t lose much. He hoped Okindo too didn’t lose much.

***

Tulo, the farm owner to which Karori had run to hide wondered why there was a line in his maize plantation and the stalks of some of his plants were broken and leaves destroyed. It looked as though a racing competition had been held there the night before. His maize plants bent sideways, away from each other so that a way could be seen.

He decided to enter his farm and follow it to find out what could have happened.

He was surprised to find coins as he went deeper and deeper into the farm.

The thief must have hidden here; he concluded flashing back to the meeting that had been called by elders at the shopping center. He remembered that it had been said that Musa’s shop got broken into the previous night and there was to be a village meeting that morning for investigation.

A few strides from there he found a shoe sole and he picked it. It must belong to the thief, he concluded. Few moments later he found the actual shoe.

Up to now he had collected several coins and he had found the full shoe. He decided to take it to the elders.

***

Karori and Okindo were dragged by angry men into the meeting. It was said that they had been found in possession of some things that were claimed got stolen the previous night, while they made plans to sell them.

Tulo too arrived at the meeting shortly carrying Karori’s torn and dirty shoe with coins. Even before he did anything he handed the exhibits to the elders who quickly examined and seemed to understand whose shoe this was. They shot one or two glances at Karori as they whispered among themselves. And in Karori’s place, the sight of his shoe made his heart lurch with worry.

Was it true that this shoe belonged to him? The lawyer’s son! The elders were struck with wonderment.

One of the elders stood up and walked a little distance away and phoned Kitimu, Karori’s father. Then Kalia the businessman who had seen some people like Karori and Okindo with his car headlamps stood up and briefed the session on what happened last night.

His car had refused to start and he had stopped to find out where the problem was. After a few repairs in the wiring, he flashed the headlights just when Karori and Okindo had hit on his car. He told the villagers and elders that the two left some bags there and ran away. One ran towards Mr. Tulo’s farm, and the other disappeared towards the shops, he told the elders.

Kalia asked one villager to bring the bags from his car. Then Kopilo, the village elder and spokesman stood up to speak. He ordered Karori and Okindo forward for interrogation.

Okindo didnt look at the elders directly

“Tell us where you were last night,” he Kopilo asked.

Okindo didn’t look at the elders directly on their faces. He seemed to be consulting someone in his mind and a voice was telling him to run. He looked around and saw a clear way to escape. He was about to dash away when another voice told him he would be pursued and he kept quiet as if he didn’t hear Kopilo well.

Ongea,” another elder spat.

“I was home,” Okindo said in vernacular worried. He could almost hear his own heartbeat. But when he remembered how he could recant all the information he decided to remain quiet. However, Kalia confirmed that he had seen them (Okindo and Karori) running after bumping into his car.

“It is said that a shoe sole, and a shoe hide claimed to be yours was found at Mr. Tulo’s farm this morning with some coins that is assumed to have been stolen. Can you confirm that?” Zakayo, one of the elders interrupted, addressing Karori.

The shoe sole was brought near them and Karori was told to say whether he knew it or not…

“I have never seen it,” he said. His response sent murmurs of disapproval around the meeting. Almost every villager knew Karori had a pair of shoes like that and he rarely left it except today when he was in rubbers. Some villagers stood next to him and quickly seized him demanding that they burned them. They were made to squat with their hands tightly tied with ropes as villagers started to surround them. One man poured paraffin on them. Where he brought the fuel from, no one could tell. Before he could switch on his lighter, some elders pulled him away and advised that Karori’s father arrived before anything was done. They had informed him of his son’s alleged involvement in robbery, and that he was on his way to the meeting.

What if it were a daughter of a commoner?

The paraffin and the lighter left Karori and Okindo in chills. Karori started to cry asking elders to have mercy on them. He was so worried until he urinated on himself. And for Okindo, it seemed his veins on his sweating forehead had decided to speak for him. They were all out showing his distress.

Some villagers slapped them; some kicked them roughly. The elders had a rough time calming the villagers.

“What if it were a daughter of a commoner?” an angry villager asked. “How many have we punished here? Why is this one exempted?”

“Let’s not burn them; let’s find another form of punishment. When you kill them they will not get chance to learn from their mistakes,” Kopilo said.

Instantly Karori’s mind went back to the punishments others had met before. The first that came to his mind was Mary, the witch. She had been caned twenty four times, and then got disowned from the village before her house was razed down for what people said she had bewitched a neighbor’s boy to madness. A few months later it was Kimai, the chicken thief who got seventy two strokes before he was handed to police. He is now in prison serving three years. Yet the hardest though seemed easy was Masella the changaa and busaa brewer who was made to drink her own gallons of alcohol to emptiness when the elders decided the village no longer wanted alcohol.

It sounded almost impossible, but Masella was given her drinks. Now you should have seen the way she was after clearing a few tins: she danced and danced elatedly swinging her hips and buttocks, as her blue dress which now looked like a rainbow due to its colors which she had used to seal holes, swayed side by side and at times being carried up and down by wind. The entire place got into peals of laughter. When Masella had properly got tipsy, and unable to take in more, the elders called the police and she was charged with getting drunk at the wrong time and causing disturbance in the village, and brewing illicit drinks.

All these thoughts reminded Karori that something terrible was about to happen to them. He regretted.

***

The elders were profoundly petrified. This case seemed to trouble them. How could they convict a lawyer’s son? Someone that had sponsored many children from poor families in the village, including some villagers that wanted Karori burned, get education!

Amid the tension Kitimu arrived.

“What have they done?” he asked after coming out of his car, his eyes glancing on Karori and Okindo. He knew his son’s behavior well but the way Okindo and he were tightly tied with strong ropes told him the villagers were determined to even hang them. But the smell of paraffin in the air and the container next to them with the wetness of Okindo and Karori’s clothes told him Karori and Okindo were waiting for a matchstick to be lit and dropped on them to burn. Was he going to see his son being burned? He decided to save them, at least from fire.

Kopilo spat on the ground and coughed twice. He rose up from his stool and supported himself with his walking stick, ordered for calm and spoke:

“We greet you Lawyer. We have called you here because of your son’s involvement in last night’s crime.” And he ordered the shoe be brought.

The lawyer looked at the shoe and understood it belonged to his son. He looked at Karori and Okindo, and shook his head desperately.

Can you prove it in court?

“My son might be bad but not to that extent,” he said feigning anger. “He is not even a thief. I give him everything and he cannot steal,” he said.

The villagers were stunned beyond expectations. Most of them had not expected him to speak in support of thieves. They got angrier and some almost succeeded in pulling out Karori and Okindo for burning. If it were not for Kopilo, the elders and a few villagers who blocked them promptly, perhaps they would have been burned.

“But he was found with the items that were stolen and his shoes were found in Tulo’s farm where Kalia saw the thief run to,” Kopilo, the most revered elder said, but in a creaky voice for fear of Kitimu and his actions that nearly worsened the situation.

“No problem Mr. Kopilo. Can you prove it in court? My son is not a thief, period,” he said seeing that it was hard for the angry villagers to get to Karori and Okindo. He also moved closer to them as if to care. For better or for worse, he told himself. It surprised everyone that still he could support Karori.

“You don’t take law in your own hands guys. It is against the human rights. Why don’t you prove it in a court of law?” he said.

“He is a thief, burn him,” some villagers shouted.

“Okay, I don’t refuse punishment. But they must be tried in a court of law first,” Kitimu demanded.

For a short moment the elders’ court went to murmuring. Eventually the elders spoke up and convinced the villagers to have Karori and Okindo’s case in the court of law. They doubted if they would win but still resolved to have that decision as final.

“Okay, let’s go to the court,” the elders said.

They called the police who arrived a moment later.

***

A week later the case was heard at Kapsabet Law Courts. That day the court was full to brim. Karori and Okindo’s families had come to follow the case. The villagers too had come in large numbers. They expected Kitimu to speak on behalf of Okindo and Karori, who stood at the dock glancing at him as if to ask him to save them. Surprisingly, those eyes did not bother Kitimu and the families. The villagers knew Karori and Okindo’s payback time had reached for like every other family member Kitimu followed the proceedings.

The villagers that stood before Judge Makori proved the allegations and convinced the judge that Karori and Okindo committed the crime. They were found guilty and they are now serving two years in prison.

END

 (C) Kemboi Victor 3/9/2019

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