Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Patricia Awuor Andala
“ I’ve told you everything I saw. Why am I still here? Where have you taken my husband?”
Silence answered me.
“You promised you wouldn’t hurt me or my family. . .”
The incessant scratching sounds of miscellaneous sinister-looking tools being sharpened resumed. My captor did not bother making a secret of what he was; he proudly donned a threadbare, faded blue police uniform.
“What are those for?” In truth I was not entirely sure I wanted to know the answer to that question.
Predictably, he ignored me and proceeded with the sharpening and burnishing like his life depended on it. As far as the dim, single overhead bulb could allow me to see, the room was empty except for the chair I sat on and the table that held the police officer’s objects of concentration. It was spacious, probably twenty by ten or so metres but then I could be wrong. When you are handcuffed to a chair in a semi-dark room with only a silent, tool-sharpening police officer as a companion, measurements are the last thing on your mind.
“Please. . . let me go. I have a two year old girl. She needs me,” I begged “Please. . .”
He did not seem to hear me. The cramping in my wrists had reduced to numb aching. Purple bruises were visible on my fair skin from hours of struggling against the tight handcuffs. I had long realized my efforts were in vain. ‘Pinky needs me. She never sleeps until I get home. . . Why did I let Arjun convince me to get into those illegal dealings? I’d be with my baby right now.’ The lump forming in my throat seemed grow, choking me without actually bringing the relief of death. My heart bled for my daughter. It killed me infinitely at the thought of how scared she must be.
With a loud eerie creak, the door through which they had brought me here announced the entrance of three silhouetted figures. They stood in the shadows such that I could hardly make out a face. The tallest of the three seemed to be the leader and I addressed him. “Sir, please I told you everything I saw. Please. . .my family. . .”
“Tell us the truth, Mrs. Patel. The more you lie, the worse you’ll suffer.”
“Sir I’ve told you everything I know. . .”
The owner of the ominous voice demanded, “Everything you know or everything you saw? Which is which?”
“I-I-I meant everything I saw. What have you done with my husband?. . .”
“Tell us the truth!” he thundered. “ The Minister of Economic Planning was shot dead in front of your pharmacy. Are you telling us it was a coincidence?”
“I don’t know!”
“Unadanganya! (You’re lying). Something happened on the morning 5th July that led to the minister’s shooting. Something you and your husband did,” he alleged fiercely convinced his words held the gospel truth.
“As I told you before, he came into my shop with two other men. He bought some lotion, we chatted a little then he left and that’s when it happened. I swear I know nothing else.”
“You’re lying! I’m here for the truth and I’m not leaving until I get it.”
“We’re just innocent businesspeople. . . we had nothing to do with the minister’s shooting. . . all I saw was a man with a briefcase. He shot him twice. I swear I don’t know anything!” Hot tears blinded my eyes and rolled freely down my cheeks. “Sir, please I’m only an innocent witness. Please let me and my husband go,” I begged desperately “Please have a heart, sir. My daughter…”
“It seems you’re in need of some persuading.” His voice held a heavy sense of foreboding. To his two silent companions he ordered, “Endeni mumlete.” (Go and bring him)
After a few tense minutes, the two silhouettes returned dragging a fourth shadow with them. A familiar voice called my name.“Madhuri!” For the first time, the two subordinate figures stepped into the dim light, revealing them to be police officers as well. A chained up Asian man in his mid thirties was thrown roughly at my feet. Horrible bleeding gashes and burn marks covered his entire torso and his dark hair was caked with dried blood.
“Arjun!” Half conscious, my husband gave an incoherent response and shifted slightly. “We haven’t done anything wrong. Please have mercy, sir. . .”
My heart sunk as I watched the two officers grab my husband by the arms and hold him up firmly. “What are you doing? What are you doing to him?”
“He’s a tough one. He wouldn’t talk but you will.” The third policeman was holding Arjun’s mouth open with one hand what I realised was a pair of tongs in the other. “ You’ve lied to me enough times. One lie equals one tooth, Mrs. Patel. It’s your choice.”
“Please. . . I’ll tell you everything.” I pleaded “I’ll talk! I’ll talk! Please don’t hurt him.” My voice was drowned by my husband’s macabre screams as they began yanking out his teeth one by one until his face was a swollen bleeding mess. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll tell you everything. Please for the love of God, stop!” I kept crying feeling my resolve ebbing with each painful howl.
The leader finally signalled for his associates to stop. I could hear my husband’s painful whimpers. Unable to stand on his own, his body hung limply supported by his torturers. A small pile of bloody teeth already lay at his feet.
Quivering and in tears, I bared my soul incapable of taking any more anguish. struggling to free my arms. “We were using our pharmacy to help smuggle illegal drugs for some people. The business was failing. We didn’t have a choice. . .”
“One lie, one tooth Mrs. Patel”
“I swear I’m not lying! A rival cartel learnt of our activities when their profits were affected because of us. . . We got death threats. A lot of them. We tried to quit but our bosses wouldn’t let us. They said they’d kill us if we left. Both cartels wanted us dead. The minister was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m sorry that he died that way. It’s all our fault… Please I swear on my daughter, that’s the whole truth!”
“The minister was not supposed to be there.” I insisted. “ I’m not lying I swear, sir”
For the first time, the leader stepped into the light. From the shiny, obviously new shoes, pressed brown trousers and dark brown leather coat, I concluded he was some rich government official …and yet something about him was vaguely familiar. I could have sworn I recognized that greying beard and those strict brown eyes. The image of the beaded hat he wore floated somewhere in the vestiges of my jumbled memory. ‘I’ve seen this man before. . .but where?’ I wondered focusing on the beaded hat knowing at the back of my mind that it was somehow significant.
“You tell one more lie and you know what will happen,” he warned shaking in my face the signature fly whisk he always held in his right hand. His eyes held mine in a horrifying trance. “You know who I am, don’t you?”