Celebrating East African Writing!
The whistle sounded; shrill, frail and tired like the old major who was blowing it. From his one roomed tin house that was now fast cooling but had been like an oven an hour or so earlier, constable Wanga listened, dejected and unconcerned.
This routine was a devil; he swore and cursed under his breath as he tried to picture the maize-high major standing in front of the main station office building; a dark man of about fifty years, quiet in disposition-acquired disposition out of the storms of the police force life. He was married, the major, had about four children and a wife who he preferred to leave in the village, probably rearing chicken and selling their eggs. He was the station commandant and followed the rules so badly they would never be surprised if he ordered the whole station polish their shoes in the morning in front of their houses where he could watch. Anyhow it was time for the everyday meeting; the Tamam Parade. He wondered how his other comrades in the General service Unit survived since they had theirs in the morning, at noon and in the evening! Talk of being kept on a leash.
The meeting where officers, especially the young ones who felt uneasy with one or two at the station would air their views and receive orders for assignments and rebukes for this or that. Like any other day, constable Wanga was expecting nothing new; there would be a polite request for water supply to be looked into-which to any ordinary person should be a hell raising complaint. There would be a whisper of rescheduling of working time since the speaker would have worked for three consecutive night shifts-which to any ordinary person would have earned the intended receiver of the message a whip like tongue lashing. There would be the ever ‘so and so is not reporting to work’- which in a flower farm would be a life and death issue. Then all these complaints would be herded together and driven into the cattle boma under one statement of ,‘hayo mambo yenu nime yasikia na nita yashughulikia vilivyo’ where the major would feel his herd is safe. But not today. Today was going to be different.
He slipped into his boots, pulled his navy blue thick sweater over his head and walked out of the house taking care not to cut his arm on the sharp edges of the now rusting door which he now closed using a string. He was tired of talking about decent housing, he had long realized that it was not a priority of the police force; laughing at his past vain attempts of finding better housing he thought the problem lay with where the big men- the commissioners of the force- lived, in those fenced homes where they no longer felt like the police community.
‘’It is a tamam life out here,’’ he chuckled, remembering how it is a crime for one in the force to tell their superiors his mind, that would be neighbouring insubordination and part of the training he underwent in Kiganjo neatly killed that stupidity of thinking that you could just speak your mind whenever you felt like, out of the nine months of training, that session took ever three hours of every day. The consequences of speaking your mind were not so bad, just a transfer that matures between sunrise and sunset and you find yourself having an evening drink of dusty hot beer at Magadi Soda police post when you slept in Kilimani Police post, before getting used to the idea that you would have to bathe once in a week. Not too bad.
At the convergence area, he found everyone already there, that is except the three or four whose cases were known. The major came and every one came up at attention position,
‘’At ease!’’ He hissed and they all pulled one leg aside and kept mum with a familiar resignation and unconcern similar to that of an adolescent forced to endure a counselling talk on the dangers of alcohol when there is a leaver’s party next door.
Within ten minutes, the usual things had been said and as always they got the standard reply but before they could leave, constable Wanga said he had a story to tell, he said it was not part of the parade but he just felt like telling his comrades a story. The major, a colonially schooled officer said -yes. He recalled at the training in Kiganjo, an instructor had always insisted that Kurutus’ (recruits) should be listened to even if they vomited words out of their mouths.
‘’Habari ya wazee,’’ Wanga begun, “Mimi sina mengi, ila tu ningependa kushare na nyinyi ile kitu ilinifanyikia kwa reporting desk jana usiku kwa vile ilinifanya nikajiona katika mwangaza ambao sikuwahi dhani eti ningali jichukua hata! Basi saa tano usiku…’’
And so Wanga went on to tell the story of the man who had come to the station at night when he was on duty. The man had walked into the office with a casual walk of a man whose major preoccupation in life at the moment was how to live. He was wealthy by any standards and was healthy too such that when he talked, rolls of fat bobbled up and down his chin like that thing on the lower side of a bulls’ neck.
He had on both of his wrists gold bracelets and a gold watch, probably, Rolex. His manner was calm and Wanga put him in the category of those who had troublesome wives and assumed that he had come to report that she had sold their house without his knowledge. The man had two Sumsung phones, lived in Karen and had come, driving a range rover vogue to report that his mercedeze benz had been stolen and was requesting that constable Wanga look for it.
Before the man had left to sleep, he told Wanga that he would check on him the next day but that the search for his car must commence right then. But the man had hinted at a possible reward. The amount he suggested was what one of Wangas’ friends had taken as a loan from Equity bank and which he would have to work for twenty seven months to repay but Wanga had declined.
When he finished, he looked at the faces of those who were in the parade, one by one. Their faces spoke one language. The language of why can’t we be like them? The language of get me out of this hole of a career. The language of can’t we get better pay for what we do? The language of if we miss our sleep then we deserve respect from those we guard. The language of get me a decent house to sleep in even if I have to sleep during the day. The language of I hate this work but where else can I go? The language of we need better treatment from the government. The language of we are the boys in blue but cry in the same hue.
The major called off the parade and dismissed everybody and without a word he went back to his office wondering what the next Tamam Parade would bring.
©Peter Oduor 2011
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