Celebrating East African Writing!
He was careful to make the best impression on his supervisors because he was still a casual employee. He carefully tucked himself in his overall and helmet and sat beside the driver.
“Hey Chris, where are we going?” the driver inquired.
“To Mathare slums, we need to disconnect illegal connections of power.”
“You know that the residents might react and attack us,” the driver responded as he wiped the windscreen with a damp cloth.
“Don’t worry my supervisor has already called for police backup,” he replied optimistically.
The driver shook his head, reached for his miraa, bit a few more leaves and started the lorry.
When she entered the door, the editor was still on phone, and he motioned her to sit down.
“Now Chema, we got some good story for you run on,” he said while replacing the receiver.
“Okay, the power company is trying to disconnect illegal connections in Mathare Slums. Instinct tells me, the residents won’t take it lying down, the police will have running battles with the rioters and right there we got our headline news. So get the cameraman ready and the driver, and don’t be nervous because this is your first assignment. All would be well.”
“Sir, don’t you think it will get kind of ugly, with teargas, rioters and all?”
“Well, our job is to get stories from the muckiest of places. Don’t fret; the adventure will be worth it because I promise that your story will be on headline news,” he dismissed her with a wave of the hand and reached for the ringing phone.
When she arrived at Mathare slums, topless kids played around with mud and sewage, lactating mothers sat beside their mud-walled huts, their eyes popping out at the sound of the car while at the same time trying to calm the crying infants. Two policemen, armed with AK-47 rifles stood beside their Landrover smoking cigarettes. The power company lorry was within sight, with a young man on the pole trying to disconnect the wires from the transformer.
She wondered why the editor sought to send her to a place with no story at all. She thought of interviewing the police but then, again she knew they had nothing for her. The power company employees of course would just have a word or two. “Typical scenario, the editor trying to keep me busy so that I look like I am contributing something,” she sighed.
Chema just watched the hapless young man reaching for the high voltage wires. She pitied him; a tiny mistake was the thin line that separated life from death. “Why would someone choose such a career path?” she mused.
Chris was almost done with the disconnections, so he climbed down the pole to reach for a live wire that was still on the ground. Before he could reach for the wire, he heard a mob approaching his direction chanting a slogan. He signaled the police, who started moving in the direction of the mob. Chema too signaled the cameraman and they both trooped towards the story.
“Stima yetu! Stima yetu! Haki yetu! Haki yetu!” the mob chanted as they surged forward. Most of them were armed with stones and some with machetes. The police signaled them to move away but they defied and marched onwards.
One policeman fired in the air and that is when the rioters started pelting stones towards the police. Chris stood still unsure what to do. Chema, instructed the cameraman to take the best shots as they tried to dodge the stones.
“Haki yetu! Stima yetu! Stima yetu!” the rioters chanted with their number increasing rapidly as women and children joined them. As one of the policeman lobbed teargas canisters to the mob the other was busy calling for back-up. Chema urged the cameraman to move towards the crowd for better shots, while she figured out how to approach the mob for an interview.
The police completely overpowered started to retreat backward. As the teargas filled the air, Chema retreated too with her handkerchief in her eyes. The mob increased its speed and they threw more stones at that Power Company car. Chris became dumbfounded to realize he was caught up in the middle of the crossfire as the driver was nowhere in sight. He had only one option: To pull a Usain Bolt moment.
Chema in her high heels was soon forced to remove them as she ran for dear life. The mob too moved with an equally high speed. By bad luck, she hits a stone, tripped and then fell. With excruciating pain she tried standing up but to no avail. Her only option was to cry out, but the sound was quickly swallowed by chants from the mob.
When Chris turned back to see how far he was from the mob, he saw Chema on the ground writhing in pain and despair, caught up in a dilemma, there was only one right thing he could do. In split second timing, he turned back to save the lass. If he had thought that his speed was comparable to that of light, then he was wrongly mistaken, because as soon as he reached where she was, the leader of the mob was already there.
“Kwanini mnatukatia stima? Kwani sisi siyo watu? Hee!” the one-eyed and rugged leader growled out as he forcefully thrust Chris to the ground.
“OT kata hawa!” another rioter shouted out and this was chorused by the crowd.
“OT wacha kuzubaa, msee, hawatutakii maisha hawa!”
OT in his imposing stature gnashed his teeth in rage, and with a machete in his hand, he just seemed undecided which way to descend on the two with the weapon. Chris tried to raise his hands in surrender but the mob did not seem appeased, as a matter of fact the mouthy one, hit him back to the ground. Not even Chema’s tears could soften any member of the mob. Just as OT raised his machete, Chris, still in his gloves, swiftly reached for the high voltage wire and as the sparks rented the air, he directed it to OT.
As he jabbed OT with the live wire the man fell on the ground with rapid successive jerky movements before settling to undulating movements then finally remaining stiff. Chris then raised the wire again and directed it to the mob, but no-one was left standing as they all vanished to thin air.
“You just saved my life,” Chema whispered still in shock.
“We almost got killed on duty,” Chris replied while he aided her to stand.
A week later the two were on a date and went on a rollercoaster that ended up in a blissful marriage.
© Raymond Bett 2009
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