Thursday, November 22, 2012


The sniffing had us scared for a while. The swarming was uncomfortable and the smell was getting much worse. I picked out the biggest guy I could find in the cell and made a beeline for him. This was going to be my guardian angel. Well a guardian angel who had been mugged by a bunch of drunk sailors and nibbled at by a hungry cat.

Pulling up my pants (boy was I missing my belt) I stood next to the guy. Lets call him Killer. Why? Check your dictionary. His mugshot is under the word killer. Killer was just staring at the wall. Barely moving. If he wasn't on his feet I would have assumed he was asleep. I inched closer and his eyes strayed from the wall and landed on my shoes then then travelled up the length of my body to my face.

"Una fegi?"

He asked it like it was the most logical thing to ask. The question caught me so offguard that I actually reached into my pockets to check. Nothing. Then I remembered. I don't smoke. I tried to figure out what to start with in terms of conversation. Hmmm. What would Killer's mind be stimulated by. What would he find palatable in terms of jail small talk.

"Ulifungiwa nini?"  My less than perfect translation of every prisoner's pick up line: "What are you in for?" I swear this was the translation of his reply. "I was robbing this woman and she wouldn't give me her bag. So I beat her up. And the cops found me beating her up." The tone of his voice made him out to be the victim. Like somehow the woman didn't understand the etiquette that goes along with the mugging. Like she was just a complete lunatic for not going through with the process. Like she owed him. I took a step back. Killer was crazy.

A few minutes later the cop in charge started calling people up. One by one, they would walk to him, whisper furiously outside the cell and then they would disappear and not return. The hawker was first. Then a steady stream disappeared. He called my name and, completely petrified, I walked to him. He said something incredibly complicated in Kikuyu and I stared back at him. He repeated it and the same blank look stayed on my face. Despite everything my first impulse was to laugh. Why would this man naturally assume I understood him. Exasperated, he threw me back in the cell and finished with everyone who spoke the lingua franca.

When he wad done with the others he beckoned me back. He was seething when he remembered my earlier question about the directions to the police station. My ignorance irked him more than my alleged criminal behaviour. He asked me if I was willing to pay the bail. Translation? Was I willing to pay a bribe to get me out of paying bail and showing up for a court date. I refused. I told him my friends were on their way to bail me out and I would answer to the charges. Bail was set at  ksh. 3,000 and I was sent back to the cell.

Minutes later I was called back again. I remember looking back to take a last look at Killer. He was still looking for cigarettes. I put on my manly face but it's so hard to look manly when  you have to hold up your pants so they don't fall. Hugs went all round. I had borne it bravely. I was now a man. Now to finish with the bail and then see if we could still catch the train.

We went to the clerk and he brusquely asks what we want. We tell him about the bail and he barks "Elfu tano!" All this time my girlfriend at the time had borne this with incredible grace and patience. She had been worried and been the strong silent type but this was the last straw. She basically LOST IT. Her voice rang out as her Tz swahili terrorised the clerk. It was a moment of absolute beauty. She was having none of it. Why would they stipulate ksh. 3000 then bump it to ksh. 5000? Did we look like idiots? I stood back and watched with pride as the clerk hastily wrote us out a receipt and a charge sheet which I was to use for my court date. And then we ran out to try catch the train. Obviously after I had gotten my belt and other personal effects.

We made it to the train with moments to spare. No one needed a holiday like I did. After being mercilessly teased by my friends, we took a look at the charge sheet. I had been charged with TOUTING. Really? TOUTING. And my court date was for the day BEFORE I was arrested. I was to travel back in time and go to court on the day before the alleged crime was committed. I still have no idea whether it counted. I will probably find out when I am my presidential swearing in when the cops will storm in with huge guns to execute the outstanding warrant of arrest. Till then...I wait.

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