I had a strange feeling of taking another title for this article. This title would have been No Longer At Ease. For a few reasons, including the fact that Chinua Achebe might turn in his grave, I decided to stick to what I can truly justify. But what is really freedom, if at all it is coming tomorrow?
There was froth forming at the corners of his mouth, like that of a man who’s accustomed to the bottle. Beer to be precise. In a normal setting, he would have been doing a whole pack of ciggies, kuber, and some herb on the side because I’m sure he’d love to enjoy all these. He’d be having a jug of beer sitting by his right side. His face looked weary and you could tell he was carrying so much burden on his back, most of which might belong to others. He wore the same clothes he’d worn the first time we met, almost three months ago.
When we had appeared before the judge, he had readily pleaded guilty as he knew there was nothing positive that would have come out of this if he pleaded otherwise. He appeared tired and wanted the process to end quickly. Jail wasn’t bad for him after all- so he said. The magistrate sent him to remand (where he never wanted to go) and we never got to see each other again.
Seeing him again on this day made me wonder what he might have been thinking, or doing, or how he had been fairing on since we last saw each other. Before he was taken away, we had a long chat with the other fella who’d been accused of sleeping with an underage girl. It was mostly a chat of desperation and it wore all over our faces- the lack of power to influence an outcome to our favour. We all complained of the injustices the justice system was according us, and how unfair fairness seemed in a place where fairness should be fair.
We’d sat on these hard benches while I awaited my bail to be processed. The two were awaiting transportation to Nairobi West Remand. My butt was numb and itchy. I had spent several hours on the floor, counting the silence of my thoughts and hearing of things I’ve never heard before and witnessing things so profound that I was left paralysed with awe. I’d slept on that cold floor until my bones ached. Time had ceased to move and in that cold a long trail of thoughts had camped across the entire sprawl of my goddamned brain. The stench from the toilet had hung in the air with so much intensity and the clock had stopped, not a minute but for the entire night. Ten minutes had seemed like an eternity.
The mosquitoes had feasted on my flesh and left me emaciated. They had usurped my power to keep them at bay when they had come in huge numbers and attacked from multiple frontiers. In that moment, I remember of the guy who snored loudly throughout the night. He’d been brought in for running a bar past curfew time. He was nicknamed or known as Engineer at the time. He was the kind of person who would never keep cool. But what I remember mostly is how he was beaten up to almost a point of death by fellow cell mates who acted captain, rent collector and chief inspector. I recall how ugly he looked in the morning when we got to see each other in perfect light. One of his eyes was completely shut and swollen. His upper lip was twice the size of a normal cow’s muzzle. There he was, a horrible scene to look at, unbelievably beaten up and tired- yet he couldn’t shut up. He kept on and on about who he was and the kind of power he wielded- but no one was interested.
In the night, under the dim yellow light, I remember the guy whose bong was the size of a wheel spanner. And everyone who looked at him couldn’t avoid the attraction to his fly area. And you had to look a little longer, in disbelief. How could he have been blessed with all that! You’d wonder. Maybe he was hiding his wallet there, who knew!
Anyway, with his frothy lips, he sat far from me, in handcuffs. I wondered if he remembered me. I was catching a train of thoughts when the court clerk sounded my name. Almost instantly, my train stopped dead. I could hear my heartbeat picking up speed but I took in a deep breath and approached the front where the accused stand. I wasn’t feeling nervous as I had done in many appearances before. I felt confident and well in charge of the situation.
The magistrate begun- I’ll give you a new date….
I raised my hand to say that I hoped that the matter would be done with the same day as I, together with the … I kind of felt a sudden surge to stand up for myself, to fight the injustice and the deliberate slowness of the case.
In the end, all I heard was the judge saying- case withdrawn. That is what mattered. What she said in between felt like wind slapping against my ears gently in a way that doesn’t steal my attention. I was consumed by my own thoughts, asking myself- what now?
Honestly, I didn’t know what could happen on that day. During the previous mentions, everything was highly unpredictable, and such events had for long influenced me to have low or even no expectations at all.
That morning, I had asked God if he could intervene and end this misery for me because it had not only become stressing but also painstakingly expensive- in both time and money. It had turned my life upside down and I was no longer the man I used to be. After leaving the gallows, my voice and my words had drowned. I had adopted silence, one that just came naturally because in gallows you learn to stay quiet, not out of habit but because of both necessity and lack of things to talk about. You get to live in your thoughts and your head becomes your little world. It takes you to different places and most of them aren’t those where you’d want to go freely.
God had listened and the case closed. Coming to the end should have meant something- freedom for me. A surge of relief perhaps. Yet there wasn’t much that I felt after that. Everything remained as it was. I hoped that maybe I’d be able to sleep better, not to hear the clanging of the metal when the baton of the night guard hits it while doing his rounds, or the distant and constant coughs of fellows in other cells, or the silent sobs of my cell-mates that used to occur at night.
This moment should have been the one to free me from all these. From the taste of the white porridge that we used to have in the wee hours of the morning, one that left you hungrier than before; or from the dreary looks that some remandees cast at me, one that made my insides shudder with both fear and agony at the imagination of what their agendas were; or from the powerful stench of the toilet that camped in the air during the night.
Forgetting all of these would have been the freedom I yearned for. Sleeping beautifully throughout the nights would have been something to say amen to. Forgetting the arrogance of the officers of the court and police station every time I went to inquire something would have been freedom. Instead, written all over my face are signs of desperation, worry and sense of absent mindedness- all fitting perfectly as if an artist with a perfect hand had put his time to work. Often, when you’re talking to me now, you’ll realize that my concentration is no longer there. I live in my own world and sometimes I don’t know when I’m leaving for it. I am quieter than usual, and the casual forced smile only indents my worries even more.
It would be unfair if I fail to mention that this is a big step. It is some kind of freedom because now I am not going to court anymore. No more seeing of desperation and worry written all over people’s places, or hearing the constant heels knocking on the loud corridors of court, or listening to cases and testimonies and arguments that have nothing to do with me. I won’t be hearing senseless questions from lawyers trying to lie about their guilty clients. How does one muster that courage? Defend a murderer? And try to make it look less or nothing of a crime? And you’re shamefully wearing a nice suit and you’re intelligent?
My conversations which have largely been about court are bound to take a new course. Perchance now I can go back to talking about mating of birds or the couple I bashed while they were having a quickie and we (the couple and I) refused to budge. I can finally begin talking of my adventures and my lost cause. If there is anything I’ve been in the last few months, it is that I have been lucky to have people who stood by me. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing to talk about after all.
I would love to talk about the dude that comes to the shop in the morning, and then leaves to buy a drink, which he sips slowly while seated in our shop. Thereafter he’d enjoy a smoke, not in the shop because then I’d have to kick him out- but when he leaves. He’s told me of stories about Australia, his experiences and how, as a fortunate guy who went to Australia on a scholarship among others, witnessed others get drowned in the fast life of Australian cougars. He seems to be sober when he’s drunk and he enjoys life that way.
There are days I want to write about the lady friend I work with at the shop. We’ve recently started connecting and I’ve begun knowing tons of things about her. But tons of things I know about her are the ones she doesn’t tell me about. She probably knows much about my shadiness than any other person in the world. I do tell her stuff and I don’t think I worry about it. She tells me shit, but I know it’s not the kind of shit I want to hear. I want to hear about her deep shit. However, she knows how to play the superficial cards. Too superficial in a way that makes her clean. I don’t believe there’s one person who doesn’t have some dirty linen. The fact that she is my friend keeps me from throwing her under the bus. I keep my friends from this as much as I can, until I no longer can. Haha.
A former special branch officer will normally, almost on a daily basis, drop by the shop. He’s my friend and his stories are intriguing, mostly because he’s a collection of state secrets. He knows who killed who, why, where, how and when, and by whose orders. He knows of almost every other assassination that took place in Kenya and all these stories have found their way into my head. He coached me for my case and being a former police officer, he knew all loopholes and advantage points for us, although we did not need any. We appreciated his advice. If or when I start a Youtube channel to tell stories, he’ll be my main guest. The country needs to know what he knows. Not that it would be of help to you, but at least you’d know how the government is like.
On occasion, few lady friends will drop by. From these, I get nice, warm, long hugs and we get to talk about mundane things. Sometimes we’d laugh; sometimes we’d sit fiddling our fingers for lack of words, watch video clips on Youtube. There are days when they lighten my day. Some come because my partner is a handsome man. These, I talk to them rarely because I know why they’re there. The same happens when my type, the ones that like me, come. He hardly engages them. And that’s the kind of life we’re living.
We recently had an agreement that I will not be working there anymore. Not that I’ve amassed enough wealth. There’s nothing to do there. My desires have abounded and the place has become small for me. I’d rather be thawing away in the silence and misery of my crib rather than spend time in a small place doing what doesn’t excite me.
I’ve not figured what I’ll do next but now that the case is over, it is a start. Wherever time will take me, my arms are open and I just pray the heavens have a better path for me because as of now, I want to jump out of my own body.
Because, freedom is coming, tomorrow.
Where shall we go, we who wander in this waste lands in search of better selves?