Long post ahead.
Two Mondays ago, I was in traffic court. I spent the whole day, and I found myself wedged between a boy who really looked like a girl and another boy who smelt of piss and mouth decay. My crime: I didn’t have my seatbelt on. And as such I was putting my life in danger. At least, that’s what the fat policeman who took us in told us.
I suppose that matatu was trouble from the beginning. When I boarded it at the stage, there was a mechanic who had slithered under, with some tools lying on the ground beside him. And as the mat slowly filled up, two touts decided to go at each other’s throats. Some fists were thrown before they got separated by some more peaceful touts. When the mat finally filled and we got onto the highway I slid my window shut. A naked girl was lecherously moving her hips on the screen at the front and the music was deafening.
But, before I get to that, some father’s day stories, before June ends.
As a kid, naïve and flu-faced, I used to sit by BM as he worked on the computer. We had a massive monitor that had the screen brightness of a cumulo-nimbus cloud and the CPU made this loud purr that you could hear from all the way at the gate.
The machine was kept in a room up-stairs, along with BM’s other office stuff. I loved this room because it was always warm. There was a single window facing west, and when the sun went to set every evening the light would bounce off the glass and the room would get sprayed with a reddish glow.
For some reason there was always a bunch of bees busying around that window, and once in a while when I felt a bit immortal I would try to swat them with my hands. And for some reason those bees always went for my forehead.
Anyway, BM would come home from the office, hit the shower, and then go into this room where he worked until it was time for supper. Most times, he would already find me in the room, getting a really good kick out of hitting the thick space bar key and recovering painfully from a bee sting.
I’d watch him while he punched the keyboard, and I was often astonished at how a person could type anything without looking at the actual keys. It looked like magic to me and I badly wanted that ability: to type without looking. And after a few minutes of innocent envy, I’d soon get bored and return back to my toys and things.
Before I started writing, my typing speed was something of a sad story. I would mostly do it with one finger. I’d hover that finger above the keyboard like a waiting avalanche as I frantically searched for the right key and it was all very tiring, to watch and to do. In fact there was a time when I really hated typing.
Funny how life works huh?
Of course, with time my speed has increased a bit, but I’ve never really been able to type a whole sentence with my eyes on the screen. So a couple of weeks ago I was pattering my way through a piece when I surprised myself by writing more than a few words with my eyes averted from the keyboard. I was so excited over my small achievement I was ready to open a bottle of something in celebration. It’s the little things, really. I was taken back to those days, in that room up there.
There are things I haven’t quite picked up from BM, though. Unlike him, the beard is still missing from my chin, and I can’t say I share in his undying love for football. And I can never really negotiate things like he does.
I’ve always wanted to have his gab, his ability to drive a bargain and get a good deal out of things. I’ve always admired how he talks himself out of tight situations with hawkers and moody policemen. And on Monday it hit me how disadvantaged I am, not having this gift.
So this mat I was in, it had no seatbelts to start with, and the few that were there were torn and dusty and you really didn’t want to get your clothes soiled on a Monday morning. I was headed to class and my pits had already started to water. But I was on time, and, with a bit of race walking I could have arrived in school with minutes to spare.
Well, until the mat got flagged down and a fat police officer got in. And then my day quickly started to go south.
The police officer had a blue uniform. He was wielding one of those rungus, and subtly using it to flex his authority over us. When he stepped in –very coolly-he asked, “Ni wangapi wamefunga mshipi?”
“Kwa hivyo hakuna?”
Everyone looked at him with bewilderment and bitterness. He must have picked up on this angry energy and decided to salt the feeling by saying that we were all headed to the police station. And now everyone suddenly developed a voice box. Some pleaded and some tried to grease the guy’s hand, and he was having none of this. He just stood there with a smirk on his face.
And when it slowly dawned on us that our day’s plans were being single-handedly dissolved by this man and his rungu, some of the people seated at the back managed to jump out the window and make a run for it.
The policeman didn’t do anything to stop them. He just watched in amazement and then said, “Nyinyi rukeni tu lakini ni mazishi yenyu tutakuja.”
For a brief moment, and for the sake of my class, I considered jumping out as well. The mat was still trying to get through traffic, moving slowly. So I thought, “If there was ever a time…”
And then I remembered I have bad knees and that I’m about as flexible a wooden stool.
So me and the rest of the passengers who couldn’t jump were taken to the police station, where we were held in a small room that had plastic chairs and two tables. There was a policeman’s sweater and shirt hung on the wall there and I imagined myself putting them on and walking out of there unnoticed.
We were held in that room for about an hour, and it was at this point that I sent a text to BM, telling him what had happened. I wasn’t worried you see, I was convinced that he would somehow show up, talk to a constable and I would be set free. He texted again and said that he was on his way.
But the police had other ideas. They didn’t want a flock of dusty Kitengela folk hanging around too long so they gave us a chance to ‘negotiate’ our release. Those with smooth tongues and steely lies got off.
My attempt: I was just a student going to school and that I had an exam. And then the officer went ahead and asked for an exam card.
“Si ati ni main exam afande,” I said. “Ni CAT.”
“Staki kuskia hiyo.”
And with that he turned his back on me and listened to the next –well thought out- excuse.
Still, I wasn’t worried because I knew BM was en route, and I wanted to whisper to the rude policeman’s ear and say, winter is coming.
They took us out of the room soon after that, and marched us back to the matatu where we were whisked off to Milimani Law Courts. There we were told to pair up, make a queue, and follow another officer to the holding cells. Our names were written down a piece of paper.
A few minutes later another group of paired up offenders was added to our queue. And then another group. And then another. Then we were led to the court room, court no. 9. We were crammed in there, a hundred of us. It was made clear to us that the magistrate was in no particular hurry to come to work and that we should expect to leave there at 4pm. It was noon at the time.
Everyone else looked discouraged by this apart from me because my old man was on his way.
You see, there have been notable points in my life when the sight of BM put me at ease. Times when I’d see him and immediately get comforted, like in primary school when he’d pick me up from school, or when I’d see his car driving into the school compound during visiting day.
Long before the proceedings began, and long after everyone had taken a nap, I heard my name being called out from the back of the room.
And then I knew that everything was alright, that BM had arrived and all I had to do was sling my bag around my shoulder and walk out. Only, I wasn’t able to because apparently once you enter the court room, even the smoothest tongue can’t help you. So what BM did was, he slipped me the money to pay the court fine and then he went on to wait outside.
After we had all been sentenced to pay our fines, we had to wait for the court clerks to dish out the receipts. They were about four of them, the clerks, and they looked like they were straight out of preparatory school. They were slow as hell with those bloody receipts and by the time they called out your name you were ready to bash someone’s head in.
When I finally walked out of there, craving the taste of a cigarette, BM was there to put me at ease and ready to take me home.
This is for the dads, the ones who always show up.