Independent Slave

6

This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. We will rejoice, we will rejoice, and be glad in it, and be glad in it. Ooh! This is the day that the Lord has made, but we will not rejoice about it for there is nothing to rejoice about! Not when we have bills to pay, loans to repay, taxes to evade and certainly not when we have HELB sending police officers to arrest us.

This is the day that the Lord has made. But on this day, more kids will be rendered street children because their parents can neither afford shelter nor food. This is the day that the Lord has made, but on this day, more men will leave their wives at home to enjoy the pleasure of sleeping with vulnerable campus and high school girls. Girls who will do everything it takes to survive the challenges brought by UhuRuto’s razor sharp and cruel economy. Yes, this is the day the Lord has made indeed.

Perhaps we should pause for moment and applaud our members of parliament for setting aside Sh 6b to give us a second ID card in the name of Huduma Number. Aah! And don’t forget to say a word of blessings to the president as a vote of thanks to his family. Haven’t you heard they are somehow trying to buy JKIA? It’s named after his father anyway! I have spent immeasurable amount of time reading about our country’s conflict of interest laws but Kenyan’s are yet to say enough is enough! Someone says “how are you doing” and you gladly respond “I am fine. And with a smile of cause!” But fine where? How can you be fine when our country is being loaned and robbed away? How can you be fine when young people are guaranteed of unemployment as soon as they graduate from campus! Oh God of all creation, bless this, our land and nation, for this is not the way you made this day Ooh Lord!

This is the day I saw the weather guys (I never know how to pronounce their name properly. Metro!.. ooh sorry! Meteo…whatever they are) announced that the rainy season is coming. Basically, this is the day you got an alert that fares are about to hike again. But if you believe that this is the day many drivers and conductors look forward to, no! You are wrong! Like us, “even the touts suffer at the hands of the police.” Chege tells me. “We wish we could carry you for as low as 10bob, as long as we can fuel up and pay bills but sasa polisi lazima pia akule ama biz ikufe!” He says.

“It was my 4th squad from town (Nairobi) to Limuru when they landed on me. Afande! Afande ni nini? I ask them. They do not respond. I try to resist thinking it’s a joke. An electric like slap sends me straight to the ground. “Iko wapi?” One of them asks with sharp voice. “Iko wapi nini Afande?” I respond, shocked! Now what on earth had I done? I asked myself. What were they looking for? And did I have it? I had paid the 100 bob we pay the Askaris’ in that route every morning during the first trip but these ones were a different group. Yet, even if they needed more, normally they do not get violent. At least not in public!

They (five policemen) bullishly search my pockets and pull out my little kabambe and a Samsung note 8. They look at each other as if they have found something they were looking for. They nod in acceptance, and then look back at me. “Wapi bunduki?” one of them asks. I freeze. Bunduki tena? Ya nini? Or ya nani?

“Afande iyo simu ni ya mteja…”

“Mteja ni nani?”

“Customer aliiwacha kwa gari last week. Nmekua nayo just in case akikuja nimurudishie!” I explained but as if they hadn’t heard a single word I had said, they slapped me hard again, kicked me ruthlessly on the sides as they asked ‘wapi bunduki?’ passengers and other touts had gathered to watch helplessly. They watched as I got a cowardly beating. It was embarrassing Mbai. I cried but there is nothing I could do. It was my day to see red.

Chege stops speaking and looks at me for a while. I look back at him. You can always tell when a man is hurting especially after innocent suffering. You can always tell when a man is in love with a girl who does not love him back. You can tell when a man is happy and when he needs a beer. This being the day that the Lord had made, one beer is not a sin. Is it? In fact (since you all want to behave like pastors here), we will have two each. Didn’t Jesus turn water into wine?

“So what happened?” I ask him.

“They arrested me and took me to Tigoni police station. There, they treated me like a hard core slave criminal.”

“Why? What was your offense” I asked

“I came to learn that the Samsung phone belonged to a senior person at UN. According the statement he recorded, he was violently robbed by two young men who had guns. They took his laptop, phone and went away with Sh. 65,000, cash. The phone, as they had tracked is the one I had – the Samsung note 8.”

“Wow!” If the person you once dated ever cheated on you with your Bff, you understand this wow moment. The shock and the surprise! Then the smile that remains idle on your face… I can almost feel my heartbeat at this point. Maybe it’s the beer! (But am not a light weight) or maybe am starting to get afraid of Chege. But this is the day that the Lord has made, right? What’s there to be scared about, especially when you’re starting to get tipsy? “Why would you steal from someone Chege?” I asked him confidently.

“Mbai yaani wewe huona nikiwa mwizi?”

“Zii! Mi ata nimeshtuka. So you tell me!”

“I recorded my statement then they transferred me to Gigiri police station.”

“What did you say in your statement?”

“I said the truth!”

“What truth?”

“That I am just a tout! Naamka kila siku kulipisha gari! I don’t ask people who they are when they board and I don’t check mtu amepanda gari na mzito gani unless ni a big box or gunia. At times we carry young people; at times older people but that is not my concern. My work is to collect fare. So someone must have boarded the mat and left the phone in the car. Or maybe someone stole it, tried to use it and noticing its locked, they left if behind but I don’t know! Kazi yangu ni kulipisha gari!”

“Is it normal that people forget something in the matatu?”

“Yes. Watu huwacha ata pesa, others change and other mizigo. But we keep them because mtu akijua gari alipanda, atakujia change yake ama mzigo yake. So if the person returns, we give whatever it is they forgot back to them.”

I wish I can tell you the number of times I have forgotten to take my change from conductors. At times one just forgets and other times one is caught up in situations where you are forced to forget. Like you board a mathree and sit next to a not so beautiful girl you know. You start to catch up and along the way, the makanga asks for fare. You flash out 200 bob and since Nairobi to Limuru is 100 bob, you say “wawili.” You haven’t paid for her bro! She was in that car because she could afford it. So you just forgot your change.

“What happened when you were taken to Gigiri?” I ask Chege

“I realized I was an independent slave!” He responds

“Wait! Ati what happened?”

“The police there beat the innocence out of me. For two weeks. Every morning, they questioned my side of the story hoping that it could change. They hoped I would give in to their creation. That I was one of many young men being used by criminals to pose as touts with the aim of stealing from innocent Kenyans. I pleaded with them that I was the innocent one here but in vain. They said freedom retired with Moi!”

“But you are a free man now?”

“Yes, I am.”

“How? If all your pleading went up in vain, you should still be rotting in Gigiri, perhaps sending us Congratulations messages for winning millions!”

“Ehe! Stupid! The UN guy was asked to come and identify if that was his phone one fine morning. He unlocked it. He would then be asked if he could remember his abductors as was in his statement. He told the police that I wasn’t anything like them. He described huge muscular figures that did not reflect anything close to my tiny self. He saved me that day. His description saved me. The police released me later after insisting that I buy them tea. Being the day that the lord had made, I called a friend who agreed to part with 2k to set my ass free from custody.” I promised to refund him later.

“So you are not really free?”

“I am free kabisa.”

“But you have a debt of 2k that you need to pay!”

Today, Chege is back to business. He makes 12 squads on a good day (equivalent of 24 trips) to and from the city to Limuru. I still laugh whenever I board his matatu. I laugh when he tells me “I cleared that debt Mbai. I am a free man!” yet he has to make 12 squads to enrich someone who can’t pay medical bills when the hospital comes calling. I laugh because like many young people I know, Chege has become comfortable being an independent slave in a rich man has it all country. At times I feel there isn’t much difference between him and the poor mandem who was caught trying to smuggle his baby from the hospital. The Kenyan system unites us all under the struggle and suffering of the police officers who instead of protecting us, they prevent us from talking to our leaders.

Maybe one day we will sing Kumbah! My Lord Kumbayah! And rejoice that this is indeed the day that the Lord has made but today, let us dance to Tetema and wish we had mkwanja wa manoti like we do in Kwangaru. For who knows? Maybe that UN guy never really worked at UN! Or maybe he never really lost his phone! Maybe he forgot it in the matatu and reported that gunned men had attacked him! It’s an expensive phone to lose you know, especially if it’s an office asset. Maybe he only lost his phone but reported that a laptop and 65gs had also been taken away! Maybe we are a bunch of independent slaves living in a country where the rich must have their way! Maybe!

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