Sometimes at the peak of the rush hour when the Nairobi traffic decides to build up right from outside your office building all the way to your doorstep, transforming highways into large parking lots, times when you can even leave your car on the road at Uhuru Highway somewhere near Nyayo Stadium, check into Nakumatt Mega for shopping and return to your vehicle where you left it, times when you sit with the ignition on, watching other cars emit ozone-depleting fumes from their exhaust pipes into the atmosphere, times when you watch helplessly as your fuel gauge moves further down towards the Empty sign yet there is no fuel station on sight, what do you do?
But if you look on the bright side, perhaps waiting in traffic actually builds character. Because when the traffic cop finally raises his hand up and ushers on the traffic wave which you are a part of, you drive off a better person than you were, a person who has moved closer to achieving mastery in patience.
Speaking of cops, there was this one time I was headed to work. It was a sombre morning covered in the thick clouds of Monday blues. Music was blaring from speakers hanging from the ceiling of the matatu I was in, trickling into the interior decorated with graffiti, where the scent of different perfumes blended to form an intoxicating concoction. About four young people were hanging on the door of the matatu, dancing to the beat of the tune and doing acrobatic stunts as the vehicle sped along Jogoo Road. My seat was at the second last spot by the window, a seat on which I had comfortably reclined, typing away at my phone, oblivious of my surroundings.
In less than half an hour, we had reached the CBD, and were now turning onto Racecourse road hoping to join Uyoma Street which would lead us to Ronald Ngala Street, then Tom Mboya Street and finally to Commercial at the heart of the city. As soon as we joined Racecourse road, the tout and the other peeps who were hanging by the door suddenly shut the door in a panicky frenzy and scuttled to the back of the matatu where they took seats and blended in with the passengers. Some pretended to be deep in slumber, even snoring convincingly. The acrobats had suddenly turned into actors. A remarkable show of talent I tell you.
A few seconds later and as if on cue, I felt someone trying to force the door open. I looked out of my window to see a cop, adorned in blue uniform, his huge belly bouncing up and down as he went on with the futile activity of trying to unlock the door. Soon after he was joined by three burly officers, who kicked at the door until it surrendered and swung open, leaving us exposed to their mercy. They stormed into the matatu in a rage, armed with rungus and handcuffs, baying for blood. Their eyes darted all over the bus looking for a culprit, eyes that betrayed a repressed lust for action yearning to be expressed by any means necessary.
And after moments of pacing through the matatu, one of them walked to the back where I was, glanced in my direction and as if on cue, forcefully grabbed me by the collar while exclaiming ‘Ndio huyu‘ as if he had just unearthed the mastermind of the Eurobond saga.
The first thought that crossed my mind was that this was an episode of that Naswa show, a comedy show I was unwilling to participate in at that moment, because that commotion didn’t inspire any bouts of humor in my soul. So as I was yanked from my seat, I exclaimed ‘Guys guys, I’m a big fan of your show but today is not the day. I’m running late for work. Let me go. Tutafanya comedy siku ingine.‘ That plea fell on deaf ears. It was like a handicap match on WWE, four against one, a match that obviously wouldn’t last long, so within seconds I had been bundled out of the matatu and into another bus, a bus filled with ‘criminals’ like myself.
I looked around for the camera so that I could wave in a show of good gesture, wrap it up then walk away to tell my friends that I would be on Naswa that weekend. None. Kumbe I was wrong. I was being naswad, yes, but not by those guys of Naswa. I was being naswad by the long arm of the law. It was not a comedy show.
Before I could retrieve a copy of the Constitution and recite my rights, the bus took off, leaving passengers in the matatu I was in deep in shock.
An officer with bloodshot eyes, who struck me as being the record keeper of the crimes committed barked at me ‘Wewe ndio unasimama kwa mlango kabla gari isimame? Hiyo ni makosa. Sema majina yako.‘
I complied. My name was jotted down on a notebook. At that point that small notebook looked imposing, like the book of judgement.
By then I had fully realized what was happening, that I had been arrested on behalf of the peeps who were hanging on the door, teasing the grim reaper with their life threatening stunts. I had taken one for the team. The team of acrobats who had shifted into actors before my eyes.
At that time I’m thinking of what to do. Whether to call a lawyer or a doctor because I could feel my body going into shock.
‘Mimi sijasimama kwa mlango.‘. I retorted to everyone and no one in particular. The bus was now moving slowly along Moi Avenue like a predator on the hunt, allowing the officers to pick more offenders. Guests of the state.
Inside the bus a flurry of activities was going on. Calls were being made. Some people who had no phone, or no connections, or no airtime, sat in silent acceptance of their fate, while the rest of us scrolled down our phonebook list in a state of stubborn denial, to see if we knew people in high places, or very reputable lawyers, or friends with bail money to spare.
I didn’t have any single lawyer’s number on my phonebook.
In that one and a half hour ride on that bus turned police cell, a moment seemed like eternity. And after we passed the roundabout at Railways and took a right turn onto Haille Selassie Avenue, I realized that we were on the homestretch towards the Milimani Law Courts where we were to be arraigned. It was at that time that one of the cops came to me and asked ‘Ulikuwa unasema nini?‘
I told him that he had arrested me unlawfully, that I knew my rights and that I would sue his sorry ass as soon as I got out of there. Just kidding. Haha.
I actually told him what exactly had transpired on that bus, how the people he had come after, the peeps who were supposed to be in that bus heading towards the court on the hill, peeps who had outwitted him and his colleagues and turned from acrobats into actors before my eyes. And I asked him why I had to be the sacrificial lamb. He leaned back as if deep in thought then got up, went and whispered something in one of the other cop’s ears who then turned and looked at me while nodding profusely.
A few minutes later, I would walk down the steps of that condemned bus, breathing in the air of freedom.
And as I walked away from that scene of crime, I couldn’t help worrying about the fate of the people I had left behind, people who had gotten up that morning, said a prayer in sincere gratitude for the chance to see another day in this life before stepping out of the comfort of their homes into the cold streets to earn their daily bread, but ended up behind the dock at the mercy of a judge who knew not about their struggles.