Thursday, September 01, 2016

Utumishi kwa Wote

I have been robbed three times in my life. The first was when I was ten or eleven, Madiaba was the Coca-cola of choice at 7.50 a bottle and my father had given me crisp 100 shilling note to go to Kwa Cucu to buy 10 of them. It never occurred to me that in the absence of pockets in my shorts, I could just as easily have put the change in the bag full of soda. Taking the last turn home, I was confronted by a scruffy, natty-dreaded boy not more than two years older than me wielding a butcher knife. He took the money, I ran home, my dad whupped my ass.

The second was just after Mwai Kibaki sacked Raila Odinga and his fellow malcontents after the botched 2005 constitutional referendum. I was going home late from work. All I could find was a Citi Hoppa. I should have known better, riding in a Citi Hoppa at that hour of night. The three hijackers got on board at the City Stadium bus sage, pulled out what looked like Soviet-era Tokarevs and , with menaces, got us to empty our pockets of phones, wallets, spare cash, IDs. It wasn't the best day for me; I'd forgotten my wallet at home that day, my Nokia N-something had inexplicably turned into a brick and the 100 shillings I'd borrowed from Joan from the chairlady's office I'd just spent on the fare home. The robbers were not amused and the swollen-shut-and-bleeding left eye when I got home taught me a valuable lesson: buy a Toyota Vitz if you must, but stop commuting.

Neither of those two events stayed with me for long. The first, because of the incredible capacity for young boys to forget all traumatic events, faded from memory as soon as I could sit without my butt reminding me that fathers can be sadists sometimes. The second, well, wasn't so bad. They even let me keep my IDs, bank cards and brick of a Nokia which turned out only to have run out of power. I never bought that Vitz and commuting has become an exercise in fatalism: while Michuki might have shot dead all the hijackers, crazily-driven FTs might yet get me. But the third, the third makes me break out in a cold sweat every time I think about it. I was robbed on a Friday at 11pm along Accra Road by four AK-47-wielding policemen.

It was one of those days when I had a few hours to myself, a kickass pair of khakis and Safari boots and my mind craved the syncopation of a phat bass-line that only the Monte Carlo Club could deliver. But by eleven, two (tepid) beers later and after being assailed by Tarus Riley, Richie Spice and Konshens, I thought I was better off at home with a litre of Absolut and a Bob Marley playlist. They literally picked me up the moment I stepped out of the club; the other bodies milling about the pavement might as well have been invisible for all they saw or cared to see. In fifteen seconds I was in an alley off Accra Road, boxed in by four armed policemen, in handcuffs and wondering whether my parents would be coming to identify my butt-naked remains at City Mortuary the following day. 
They didn't even bother with the rigmarole of accusing me of being drunk and disorderly and then suggesting a way out; they just lifted my wallet out of my pocket, emptied it of even the coins that I had in those small pockets, gave me back my ID and bank card and walked off as if nothing had happened. Whom do you report a crime to when you've been robbed by the police? Since then, no matter how suspicious it looks, I always look for an escape route whenever I see armed police in my way. Even if it is 12:00 noon. I am never putting myself in a situation where armed police could rob me. Every time I think of it, I wonder whether they would have murdered me if they had found more than the two thousand I had on me? What would they have done if they had known I was about to pay almost a hundred thousand for Law School the following week and that I had the cash in my house? It says something that the only criminal gang I fear most is the one that has a motto: Utumishi kwa Wote (Service to All).

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