‘I’ll add you to my list of ppl I need to forgive.’ Reads my text message to a friend who had stood me up on Friday. Heavy words, I know, but going into town that Friday had been something of a brave act for me (even with my mum having to give me a push to the matatu stage), seeing that the previous day had been one of the most daunting and intimidating of my entire life.
Below is a true story written by a guest writer that touches on the current theme of confrontation and forgiveness in the face of injustice and explores how one happening has the potential to profoundly affect our outlook on life for a long, long time.
I don’t always think about what I’m wearing as I walk, but that day my headphones were broken which made me very aware that I was in a red dress.
It was my first time ever to be clad in a red dress mostly because I have a phobia for red clothing. Therefore that red dress, picked out by me and paid for by my sister, is the only red piece in my wardrobe. As red dresses tend to have an aura of sensual class about them, I kept mine casual, finishing the look with a slim black belt and black leather ankle boots. Walking past a group of chokoras who are ever at that same spot near Mutindwa market, I decided that I would monitor my mood that day, see whether I would get angry because of what I wore. Red.
As I walked tiny pebbles made their way into my boots and I stopped to take off a shoe and empty the stones. After a few more paces more stones got into my shoes again. I resolved to empty them once I boarded a matatu. Briefly, I remembered how back in primary school a teacher once told us that red symbolizes anger.
But why is red the colour of love too? I wondered before answering myself. Because relationships aren’t that rosy. I smiled, finding my joke both genius and cheesy.
I boarded a Double M bus to town because they are usually cheaper than others, as well as quiet. It was while we sat waiting in traffic at the City Stadium roundabout that the commotion from the front of the bus began.
A man with a coastal accent, “Afisa, you are not being fair, wacha atufikishe town alafu waweza rudi naye”. (Officer, you are not being fair. Let him take us into town and you can go on with him.)
Another voice, “Sote hapa tuna makazi na twachelewa”. (All of us in here have jobs and we’ll be late).
I partly rose from my seat and craned my neck but saw nothing out of the ordinary at the front of the bus. And then the policeman emerged. He had been next to the driver’s seat, hidden from our view. He announced that we should all alight since he had to arrest the bus. Again people from the front of the bus were voicing out their dissatisfaction, this time being backed up by the backbenchers.
“We have done nothing wrong, so why are we being punished?”
“We know our rights, officer!”
I gave a slight chuckle at that last one. With the 2010 Constitution of Kenya in force, the phrase ‘I know my rights’ is heckled by anyone in whatever situation. I tried but failed to think of which right would be summoned by the lady who had shouted that out. For my part, I found it proper for the policeman to have the conductor give us back part of our fare so we could get off and take another bus. But no.
“Hapa ni wapi tutapata matatu?” One person yelled, protesting that course of action.
“Just let him get us to town then you take the bus”. Said another.
And then came our doom. A man shouted something of which I only heard the words ‘Isili’ (Eastleigh)* and ‘grenade’. The policeman, who I should at this point disclose appeared to be of Somali descent, instructed the driver to park the vehicle on the side of the road with the front of the bus facing Jogoo Road. Odd.
“Si angeiweka hivyo vingine ndio tukitoka twende tu town” commented a hopeful man behind where I was seated. (He should have just parked it the other way so that when we get off we can head straight into town.)
The police man got off the bus with a warning, “Msishuke!” (Don’t get off!), and returned shortly followed by another traffic police. The clearly angry policeman took out his handcuffs and pointed them at a man seated somewhere in the middle of the bus.
“Huyu ndio nimekujia!” (This is the one I’ve come for!) With that, he walked quickly towards the man and cuffed him. “Utanionyesha ni wapi izo grenade zinarushwa!” (You’ll show me where those grenades are being thrown!)
My hands grew cold with the thought that I’d been in the same bus as a terrorist. The idea that that man was a terror suspect who had been tracked down by the police was disproved by the policeman’s next utterances. Later on I would think of how foolish I had been. After all, if the man had been a suspected criminal his arrest would have been executed by some special branch of the police, not traffic police.
“I will go to court with you and utawaambia wapi uliniona nikitupa grenade!” he barked at the man. In English, you’ll tell the judge where you saw ME throwing a grenade!
The bus was an in uproar. People demanded to know why the man had been handcuffed. The second policeman, who was quite sober, took turns speaking to the yelling passengers.
“Let’s be civilized. Police are people too. My colleague has been called a terrorist just because he is Somali…”
“Tell him to stop bringing his emotions to work!” yelled a girl from the back. Her voice came out in a tremor, like that of one about to cry. That was precisely why I had resolved to only be a witness to the ensuing drama. Getting involved was bound to get one passionate and in my opinion, women are not good at concealing their passion.
In the meantime the bus was on the move again, but in the direction from which we had come from. I only began panicking when we passed the bus stop where I had assumed they would dump us. The bus made its way into Makongeni Police Station, which is off Jogoo Road.
Once at the station’s parking the first police officer, enjoying the freedom of being in his own territory, banged the sides of the bus. “Shukeni!” (get off!) he addressed us in a vile tone.
I got off the bus leisurely and noticed three or four police officers shutting the station’s gates. We were commanded to enter the station, all of us hesitant but under the threat to be forced in if we resisted. We all went in.
To be continued…
Story by Esther Kariuki, edited by Nadia Darwesh.
Note: Isili or Eastleigh, is an area in Nairobi that is also known as Little Mogadishu. It is reputed to be densely populated by Kenyan citizens of Somali descent as well as illegal Somali immigrants. It has been the site of several terrorist attacks in the past few years.
Please comment on the story with your thoughts. Until the next one,