“Robert Kiprono, unashtakiwa kwa kosa la kupatikana masaa za baada ya curfew katika county ya Kericho eneo la…..” the bearded judge said with difficulty.
He is not a Swahili fun from his stutter. He never made an eye contact with me until when he asked, ‘Unakubali mashtaka haya au la?” I thought he was going give me a strict look but bearded men have some mystifying respect for each other. It doesn’t matter if one is a judge and the other is a defendant. I stood in the dock as I took pleasure in the eye contact and the respect connecting these two bearded men. I took a while to answer because I was trying to put myself in his shoe. How does it make him feel when he convicts a fellow bearded man? Does it disturb him or has he no concern at all? Does he comfortably overrule the respect that exists between us? It must be hard for him. But again it’s fun, imagine sitting there and everyone bowing before you, just like that. It must be nice. Or just reading something and asking things like ‘How do you plead?’ or making someone’s life hell with ‘this court finds you guilty of…’ thus changing their physical address, just like that. Why did I not study law? Ever watched How to Get Away with Murder? Yes I know it’s just a movie but again, It’s not just a movie. It imitates reality and on one side, law can be fun… especially in this court where the judge is bearded, speaks Swahili like Jeff Koinange and decides effortlessly what to do with you. The eye contact and imaginations turned to reality when someone coughed at the back. The defendant pled guilty as he had been advised by the courts’ regular ‘visitors’. The day was on Monday 26th of April, 2021.
A visit to this place resulted from the events of 24th, two days before I pled guilty. I was in town, hunting for money and expanding my network when I bumped into Jack (I wished I used his real name).
“Happy birthday bro”, I gave him my wishes.
I knew of his birthday because birthdays nowadays spread more than memes, or corruption in Kenya. Almost all our mutual friends had posted him on WhatsApp, including himself. It reminds me how my previous birthday was a surprise to myself. I didn’t know until a text message from Safaricom appreciated my loyalty and showered me with 1GB data bundles. Thank you Saf.
“Nashukuru sana,” he said as we shook hands and pulled so that shoulders would knock each other, as men do.
“Kuna form?” I had to ask this. This question is always constant with men on Fridays and Saturdays, especially if there is a birthday.
“Tutaona hiyo story,” he said and off he went. I knew there wasn’t going to be anything. I mean, it’s kind of a busy week and the police here make curfew seem like World War I. So I continued hunting. Minutes, hours passed and evening arrived.
I was enjoying the sunset at the roof of some building in town when my phone rang.
“Ptoyot imi ano?”
There is only one guy who calls me ‘ptoyot’ and I knew something was about to go down. Something fun. Ptoyot, in this context is equivalent to the African American word, ‘dawg’. So if a friend says “Mwao ptoyot”, that in English is “What’s up dawg”.
So when he called he basically said, “Where are you at, dawg?”
I answered by asking him where he was. That’s the only answer to such questions. Depending on the tone and the background sounds of the caller, when asked where you are, you ask them where they are asking the question from. It has nothing to do with Tabia za Wakenya as Mejja puts it. No. It just saves time.
He pinned his location and my legs couldn’t rest till they stepped where he was. There was a form after all. There was a cake and water and things I can’t mention because my grandmother can read my blog and she is an assistant pastor in her church. This I say because the cake did not excite me as much. Inside this not-so-spacious room, which is also a retail shop for Dasani, Coke and the thing Jesus turned the water into, were fifteen of us- plus or minus two. I didn’t get a piece of cake but I got Dasani and everything else. Slow voices gradually turned into thunderous laughers. I was consequently shocked when I realized there was one who laughed louder than me.
“Na time inasonga mbio sana,” one guy was worried about the racing time. I looked at my phone and it read 20:56, almost an hour to curfew. We guzzled the contents in our tumblers because a terrible thing than a hangover is a police cell. As we wished Jack a life full of his desires, the undesired happened.
I didn’t see how the five men came in but I heard this;
“Ka chini kila mtu!”
They repeated those words even after everyone had their butt on the floor. Gideon sat on the water on the floor. He tried to move but a broom landed on his head. He sat on water for ten minutes. I pitied him a lot because that’s the most uncomfortable place to get wet. We did everything for them to let us go but the men were deaf and you could tell this was a mission they were on. They said no to money! Kwani nko chini gani! We begged more than we beg the mutura guy. We wanted to cry but it would have been a fake and of course ptoyot would laugh in the middle of it. I know that fool.
They led us to the car like couples. A pair of handcuffs joined two together and it seemed like two were walking down the aisle but truth was we were walking down to hell. We were loaded to the car in the most inhuman way but still we laughed. That’s what happens when friends get in trouble together. Trouble turns to fun, which is weird since the same trouble started as fun.
We were transported to the police station, offloaded and crowded in a cell slightly bigger than the lavatory. Five men were in already. Fifteen were added. Twenty men in a cube. Part of that cube was a no go zone because excreted matter rested there. Smell is nothing when you are in there. It’s not a matter of concern.
The content these gentlemen took manifested in different ways. That was 21:27. We knew we were going to get out either way before ten. So we waited for the police to name a price. As we waited, we laughed at our disbelief of finding ourselves in a police station- a place where most of us have never stepped.
The guy standing next to the door asked an officer outside, through an opening on the door, what we were arrested for. Do you know what son of a * said? Curfew. Eti curfew!
We had our phones with us (a shoe was taken from everyone’s one leg though, and belts) and looking at the time we laughed like fools. We didn’t stop laughing until curfew time. And when ten reached, we laughed even more. I am still uncertain who really got pissed off between us and them. Wtf! Curfew? The time of arrest was 21:20 or 24… And already reason for arrest had been written down- that we were arrested past ten. Hahaha. Kwendeni kabisa. Anyone who, before ten, came to our rescue was shown the way back with no reason given to them as to why we were in there. In fact they harassed my friend’s father and kicked him out of the compound.
It took us three more hours to lose hope. We weren’t going to get out of there that night. Listen everyone, in stages of grief, and this I’m telling you first hand, acceptance is the hardest. It’s tough. There was an hour of silence, when most of those who were high were sober, that broke everyone’s heart.
‘Are we really gonna spend the night here?’ was everybody’s question. Even when we knew we were going to spend a night in a smelly police cell, we still did not believe. We refused to accept reality. We were still laughing but at the back of our heads there were questions and disbelief. But we laughed.
We asked every officer that came by why they were doing that but most just laughed. We laughed too, regardless.
Hours passed and when most of us felt sleepy, we cursed the police. There was no place to literally sit. We were stocked in there like maize in a canter. We were dripping sweat. One guy decided to pee on an almost full container. And after peeing a piercing smell travelled across the room and we felt like killing him but we were going to all pee anyway.
“Sasa mbona umechokoza zenye zimetulia jamaa?” I don’t know who asked that but everyone made a amusing comment and laughter didn’t cease.
Eventually, those who slept did so in turns; five on their butts or backs for an hour, then another five, then another. I still want to go back to school to write a composition about the day I will never forget. That night refused to end. We stood, we sat, we sweated, we laughed, and we hated the system.
Morning eventually arrived. We didn’t wake up to the sun. The sun woke up to us. We had waited. If only it knew how long we had waited! We were certain nine wouldn’t find us there. So we psychologically prepared ourselves to evacuate that hell. 9 arrived and left. So did ten. So did eleven, twelve….five.
We got out of the police cell at five on a Sunday. Outside felt like freedom. The three thousand cash bail didn’t pinch at the time. The fragrance of freedom filled the air. I literally faced the heavens and took a deep breath. Free at last! Eighteen hours in a dark confined room filled to the brim with sweaty men is an experience you can never wish for. Eighteen hours! It is hell.
I didn’t have plans to appear in court the next day. I was going to let it slide and move on but when I was advised that a warrant for arrest can be issued to whoever fails to appear in court, I changed my mind. That Sunday, when I arrived home, I took off my clothes and thought of burning them. I didn’t. Instead, I took the longest shower ever in my life. I was cleaning something more than sweat. Something more than my skin. I was cleaning my thoughts. I was cleaning the memories. I wasn’t bathing. I was cleansing. That night, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I went out like a light. I slept like I have never seen a bed before.
The 5 a.m. alarm did not wake me up. I did not even realize the break of dawn. An 8 a.m. phone call woke me up. A call to attend the court.
Inside the compound silence spoke, and anxiety. We were advised to stay outside until we were arraigned. On what charges? Being found in town after curfew hours. In reality, curfew found us in a police cell. Kenya! Hakuna matata!
After hours of standing outside like vagabonds, our names were called. We went in, bowing. I wasn’t sure if we were bowing to the bearded judge or the system. We sat in silence in that cold room. The room was way fresher and brighter than the previous. Though both aren’t places you’d wish to be. After few minutes the bearded guy entered from the judges door. A clerk with a faint voice tried shouting something likes “court arise” and we rose looking at each other to really confirm if we should stand up. The judge didn’t say anything. He gestured us to sit and we sat.
One by one we were called to the dock. We had been already told to plead guilty and lose the three thousand than to sleep away from home, again.
“Unakubali mashatka au la?”
I pled guilty. I lost three thousand. Everyone we shared a room with that doomed night lost Ksh. 3,000. We left the court at around 14:30.
Some old guy, a mutual friend to most of us, told us as we left the court’s compound, “Welcome to adulthood”.