Take One – drunk and disorderly.
The first time I was arrested was what can be described as the last day of university, when we made our final project presentations. We went out, naturally. We got drunk. We drove to town looking to get more drunk. It was about midnight and we got into a petrol station to top up. This one just happened to be opposite the police station and, as these nights go, a policeman took a walk to where we were and asked us to accompany him please. We were not handcuffed or herded in any way. In the state we were in, there was no point. We staggered into the station. Most of the night remains a blur. I do remember it was one of the few times I spoke my native tongues almost exclusively, to a big light-skinned policewoman. I like to think we were let go because I was a nuisance to her, not because… Well, you know why we were let go. She literally ran me off from the station. So, yes, maybe, drunk and disorderly on my part. I was peed up at that point so I went around the front fence of the station and relieved myself in a bush. A final fuck-you, as it were. As I was walking back to the car, I stepped into a puddle and I spent the night trying not to think of what I may have stepped into.
The rest of the night we spent outside Spree Club in Eldoret, eating smokies and fried chicken. We were too broke to get into the club, we were not broke enough or happy enough to go back to school. Something was salvageable. Things, however, got more exciting. One of my friends’ phone was stolen: a slit was made in the pocket of his jeans and the phone was slid out. This happened as I was engaged in an altercation with a woman who I was later told was a prostitute. She said I owed her money. I do not remember exchanging bodily fluids, or anything else, with her. I was later told that it was a hustle: find a guy, pretend to be interested in him then threaten to get him lynched unless he pays up. What I remember most vividly was the following day.
We went back to school at about six in the morning. I found my then girlfriend furious at me for staying out all night, but more so for not inviting her along to my debauchery. I had promised I would be back at a goodish hour. Admittedly, I was a horrible boyfriend. She did not leave and instead wrote me a letter to express her anger, the short of it being that I was only with her for the sex. Not true. At that point in our relationship, the sex was nothing earth-shattering. The days of “mind-blowing” were behind us. Why were we still together? The fear of loneliness, of starting over? I still do not know. Somehow, I managed to placate her, unfortunately she did not let me sleep off the previous night and part of that morning with her constant chatter. We were supposed to have lunch that day, Friday, biriani, a special something for just the two of us. She did not let me forget this. I could feel my guilt on my eyelids, weighing my eyes and body down. From then on, that night always came up whenever there was any hint of selfishness on my part.
Take Two – crossing the road at a non-designated area (pronounced: jay walking.)
It was a beautiful morning, cold and more quiet than usual because it was August and schools were closed. I walked to the usual stop. Not even five minutes later I was in the back of the police van headed to Kasarani Police Station. On some level, I knew I was on the wrong but I could not admit it, not even to myself. I had been doing it for three months, boarding matatus there. Most of the time, everyone takes them from there. Sooner or later someone was going to get caught. That day, it was me. One of the ladies I was caught with had screamed when the policeman grabbed her, an incident both the cops and I found amusing. In the van, another lady was quietly crying and making frantic phone calls to her, what I imagine, are boyfriend (the conversation in slang), supervisor (the conversation in halting English), mother/ father (the conversations in Kamba), and girlfriend (when she mentioned she had sent a selfie taken in the van in Swahili. She had stopped crying at this point).
Some Causes of Insanity in a Police Station
- Bad body odour.
- Bad breath.
- People trying to make small talk with you by asking what they got you for, how much the fines are, when they will let us go, where we will be taken.
- Listening to people make calls about how horrible their lives are now that they have been arrested.
- People trying to make small talk with you by asking what they got you for, how much the fines are, when they will let us go, where we will be taken, in what they assume is also your native tongue.
- Someone asking whether you will sort them out because they do not have any money and giving you a sorrowful look.
- A combination of all the above.
- Someone getting out before you (Most insidious. Why them and not me? I was arrested first!)
The cryer and the screamer had somehow gotten out before we were taken to court. A good number of people were there because they did not have their seatbelts on when the matatus they were travelling in were stopped. An ironic charge, seeing as we were taken to court in the back of a lorry with wooden benches and air to grab on to. It was a lovely serene ride. When was the last time you were in an open-top vehicle speeding along with the wind whipping in your face? When we got to Milimani Law Courts, where the traffic court is, we were corralled into a cell, number four, while our files were being processed (if you could call two sheets of badly-printed paper with scribbles of a hurried handwriting files). For the first time, I was handcuffed to be led into the court, to a more composed guy, who luckily, did not have a nodding acquaintance with personal hygiene. What gets to you, aside from the feeling of injustice, is the waiting and what that waiting comes with. Sharing an enclosed airless space with scared people for extended periods of time slowly squeezes out whatever resolve you have to get through the ordeal.
You can understand why the traffic court magistrate has an abrupt manner: she has to sit there everyday and listen to all sorts of inane descriptions of traffic infarctions and pleas and excuses from matatu drivers, touts and witnesses and other everyday driving folk and road users: the arrogant, the daft, the guilty, the cannot-speak-anything-but-Kikuyu-to-save-their-lives, the very rare innocent person. I gathered she had already made up her mind about all of us offenders and the reading of our charges to the court was an additional formality, after which we paid the five-hundred shilling fine (for some of us, others were unluckier) to a cashier in the room. I will use my yellow receipt as a bookmark. It was a relief to be out of there, and an even bigger one when I got a small laugh, or a big one, when I told people that I had been picked up, after which they shared their own tales of terror and inconvenience. It seems that everyone has been a guest of the boys in blue at some time or other.