Celebrating East African Writing!
Written by Renee Murrey
From where I sat, I could see him staring at me. He was standing a few metres away, looking through the grilled window. He kept his gaze steady, not looking away once. I decided to return his stare. I will not blink, I thought. What’s this, a game? He kept looking straight at me. I accepted the challenge. His eyes were blank, devoid of emotion. I wondered how that was possible considering his present circumstances. Shouldn’t he be worried? Remorseful? Agitated? He just stared. I did not blink.
“What exactly happened?” the cop seated in front of me interrupted our contest. I gave up staring to handle the more important matters at hand.
Thieves happened, sir.
It was raining when I got home a few minutes ago. I made to unlock the door with my keys only for it to swing open without so much as a nudge. I instinctively knew that I had been robbed. My sixth sense told me that my flat screen TV set was already fetching a tidy sum in one of the many black markets in Nairobi. Once I stepped into the living room, the empty TV stand confirmed that indeed it most probably was. It was one of those things that beckon at you to feel its slim frame and bewitching curves. She was seductive as she was beautiful. Just like a blooming young woman to a testosterone-laden lad, she was painfully irresistible. Her presence consumed the entire living room. Now she was gone! I had to contend with a living room that stared at me with pitiful coldness. I could, to an extent, understand why the goons couldn’t fight the temptation to steal it. Still I was mad. They had no right!
My guess was that the lock was picked by an expert. Had I not been a resident of ‘Nairobbery’ for a while now, I would have second guessed myself long enough to be convinced that I forgot to lock my house as I left for work that morning. But this is Nairobi we are talking about; you don’t live in this city and never think of being robbed in broad daylight, or in a dark alley. I see it happen all around me. I hear of carjacking, read about rape and murder every other day. It would therefore be a pathetic head-buried-in-the-sand scenario for me to think that none of those crimes could ever affect me.
All the electronics in the house were gone. I said goodbye Samsung, adios Sony, so long LG. I won’t deny the fact that it stung a bit to lose a chunk of my investments but I wasn’t lost to the fact that it could have been worse. Though I knew that chances of getting them back were slim, I went to the police anyway.
As I narrated the incident to the cop who scribbled on the infamous Occurrence Book, better known as OB book, I took a peep at my contender who was still staring at me. Not giving up, are we?
As if to read my mind, he smiled. It wasn’t so much of a smile as it was a mechanical parting of lips to show his brown teeth. He had evidently been listening to my narration. Did my story sound amusing? I wondered why he was locked up in the small police cell. Was he a traffic offender? A thief? Could he…? Nah, that would be too much of a coincidence. Did he know me from somewhere or was he just being plain rude?
“Rotich, are you through with the book bwana?” A head peeped in through the door from the adjoining room.
“Bado. Igany akaschi ngalek chebi korok” (Wait. Let me listen to this lady’s story first) Rotich switched to vernacular as he looked straight at me. I wore a poker face.
“Len ne?” (What’s she saying?) the other cop asked
“Kawaida. Chorset o” (The usual. Theft) Rotich replied
“Lenji kwo gaa ib koru.” (Tell her to go home and sleep) the other cop said as his head disappeared behind the door as unceremoniously as it had appeared.
Rotich went back to scribbling.
The smiling ‘jailbird’ kept his eyes on me.
“And your names please Ma’am?” Rotich wanted to know.
Now you ask!
“Betty…” I considered which surname to give. “…Chebet” I settled.
Like a well hidden wild card, I unleashed a name I rarely used, to my own surprise. Why? To put myself ahead of the rest? To belong? Was I hoping that he would help me because of my surname. I had not used the name Chebet, in a very long time because it clearly gave away my tribe. I always preferred using my baptismal name Christina. Betty Christina is what most people knew me by. Betty Christina is how I managed to steer clear of tribal stereotypes. Well, until today.
Rotich smiled and looked away briefly. When he had composed himself, he looked into my eyes with conviction saying “Mutyo missing (I’m very sorry). We will do our best to get your stuff back”
Feeling assured that my case would get a serious looking into, I slowly made my way home from the police post. There were pools of water all over the pathways courtesy of the pounding rains. Darkness had set in but the estate was still alive with revellers who had come out to enjoy the traditional ‘furahiday’ night out. Music was blaring from the many joints and I wasn’t enthusiastic about going back to the cold empty house anymore. I opted for a detour.
“How long has it been, twelve years?” asked a voice behind me. I was seated at the counter at my favorite local bar. The barman had served my drink and I had barely taken a sip when my peace was interrupted
I turned around to see the ‘jailbird’ from the police post standing behind me. The irritating smile refused to leave his face.
“Twelve years? Do I know you…?” I asked in puzzlement
Stalking me now, are you?
“We should get together again soon. For old times’ sake” he said, ignoring my question.
Old times’ sake? There was something about the way he looked at me…that irritating smile…
Then it came to me. His face. His smile. The brown teeth. I had seen him before.
“Get away from me, you animal!” I jumped out of my seat as the memory of him ripping my dress apart that night, twelve years ago, hit me with a jolt! I could almost smell his sweaty scent all over my shaking body. I could feel his heart beating furiously against my exposed bosom as he struggled with my pants. He had his way with me. Another thief, taking what did not belong to him. Only worse: something that could never be replaced with a trip to the electronics store.
He had been jailed. But just like tonight, he was released after a short while. How long had it been since the staring contest at the police post; a minute?
Now that I recognized him, I remembered that he was a ‘Rotich’ too. He spoke the language. He was an animal. An animal in a pack nevertheless. He belonged.
As I stormed out of the bar, the irony wasn’t lost on me. The ‘jailbird’ and I were from the same pack. He was the supposed villain and I was the victim. But who could tell the difference when both of us used our tribe to seek justice, or lack thereof?
“Hey, let’s talk! Maybe I can help you find your stuff” he was following me as I ran out of the bar
I stopped and looked back to see him standing at the entrance. “Come back inside. Let’s talk. I’m sure we can work out something. Who knows, you might get back what belongs to you”
I can’t get back that which matters most. That which was taken away from me twelve years ago. I could not even get justice for it.
It finally made sense why he was at the police post earlier. Here he stood a heartbeat away from a confession. I wondered what would happen if I was to hand him over to the authorities and present him as the thief. Who would Rotich help now; me or him? What came next in the pecking order after tribe?
Unable to control myself, I laughed hysterically at the thought.
“We are a pathetic people.” I muttered to myself as I walked away leaving behind a very confused Mr.Jailbird.
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