Paul walked faster, trying to put more distance between him and the man in the incongruously heavy jacket walking behind him. Paul figured that this guy was a cop and the cop had seen him emerge from Mama Juma’s house. Mama Juma sold weed.
It had been Jacob’s idea to procure the ‘herb’ from Ziwani, a dilapidated neighbourhood near the city. Jacob said it was cheaper. It was cheaper, but Paul had not contemplated being on the run from what looked a lot like a plainclothes police officer. Paul walked faster still and turned a corner into what looked like an alley. He was not very familiar with the neighbourhood, considering that the last time he had been here was more than ten years ago when it was still considered a safe place to visit. The alleys had been blocked, gates had been erected where panya routes had existed and the whole network of footpaths had been revised. Paul found himself at a dead end, a tall hedge blocking his way. He had to turn around.
Officer Hezekiah of the Administration Police had been on a personal patrol of Ziwani Estate. His official patrol had ended four hours ago when he had returned to the AP base at the DC’s office near Kariokor Market, signed off and returned his government issue G3 rifle to the armoury. He had then gone to his government issue steel hut, changed into civilian clothing, tucked his trusty old Tokarev pistol into his waistband and embarked on his daily perambulation of the estate. There was always someone to hustle; the chang’aa brewers, the petty thieves who fenced their booty from various houses, the drug peddlers and of course, their often hapless customers. Such as the one he was following now.
Paul headed slowly back to the mouth of the cul-de-sac. Loud reggae music came from beyond the corrugated fences that lined both sides of the narrow path. Ghetto music for ghetto people in ghetto situations, he thought. How fitting.
“Habari kijana,” said the man in the large jacket. He was standing impassively at the corner, smoking a cigarette. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Paul felt his chest heave, a temporary distraction from the pounding that immediately followed within. His vision took on a darker hue as if a fine sheet of gauze had been pulled over the sun and his mouth went completely dry.
“Er, no. I was visiting a friend and I guess I got a bit lost,” Paul said. His voice seemed echoey in his head, as if he was listening to himself speak from far away. The cop took a drag from his cigarette.
“Can I see your ID?” Hezekiah asked.
Paul handed him the small laminated rectangle. He contemplated asking the man for his. Then thought better of it.
“Paul Oloo,” mumbled Hezekiah, looking at the card. “Tell me Paul, where does your friend live?” Hezekiah asked. A small smile was playing on his lips. He knew this boy was lying and was frightened as hell. “Could you take me to his house?”
Paul hesitated. He figured the cop had seen him leave the weed house and he had no defence. He figured he’d try for a bribe.
“How much?” Paul asked the man.
“How much what?” the man replied. He was staring at Paul, like he would a small and interesting creature. He kept twirling Paul’s ID in his hands.
“How much will it take for you to not spoil my day? Tell me, so we can get this over with.” Paul was feeling brazen, but he knew it was a false front. If a gale blew in, it would collapse.
“Are you offering me a bribe?” Hezekiah’s tone was incredulous. The hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth betrayed him though. Paul didn’t notice. Hezekiah put Paul’s ID in his back pocket.
“I’m not offering you a – bribe,” said Paul, worried now that he might offend this man who would then handcuff him and frog march him to the DC’s camp. The Bab busted buying weed in the ghetto. Not that Paul considered himself a Bab, by the way.
“I’m just trying to find out how we can both have a nice rest of the day. It’s a nice day, isn’t it?” Indeed it was; the sun was out and somewhere birds were chirping. The reggae thumped on behind the fence.
“Where is it?” Hezekiah asked. That half smile was beginning to unsettle Paul. Maybe he’s not a cop.
“Where’s what?” Paul countered. He immediately felt silly for asking.
“What you just bought. Where is it?”
Hezekiah unzipped his large loose fitting jacket and squatted on the ground. He looked up at Paul as he lit another cigarette. He blew out the match but did not throw it away.
“I know boys like you, Paul. You come here to buy weed. You think nothing of it. You come from the nice place where you live, to the ghetto. For you, it’s part of the thrill, going into the underbelly of Eastlands. I’m pretty sure you and your friends will have a laugh about it when you get home. You will exaggerate the events, the description of the neighbourhood to make yourself look cool. Then you will get high. Am I right so far?” Hezekiah doodled in the dust with the spent matchstick as he spoke.
“I know I am. But today – today you had a turn of bad luck. You got caught. And you think since you are not from here, throwing around some cash will get you off. Am I right?”
“So, Paul, how much do you think your freedom is worth? I mean, you want a good story, right? Put a price on it. I know you can afford it.” Hezekiah looked up and blew a cloud of smoke. “I mean, just by appraising your attire, I can figure about twenty thousand, if I include the watch and the fancy phone you probably have in your pocket. Make me an offer.” Hezekiah stood up and patted Paul on the shoulder.
“I, er, have a G. Will that do?”
Hezekiah laughed loudly. “Come on, rich boy. Your shirt cost more than that. I said ‘make me an offer’, not ‘insult me’.”
“Well, officer, how much do you want? Remember, I asked before.” Paul reached for his own cigarettes, the pack of whichwas in his back pocket. Next thing he knew he was pressed up face first against the sheet metal fence, something harddigging into the small of his back.
“Are you stupid or what?” A raspy whisper in his ear. “Do you want to die?”
“It’s just – gaffs, man,” Paul breathed. It was a gun! It was a gun! In his back! His mouth was dry again. Hezekiah let him go and stepped back. Paul’s cigarette pack dropped on the ground between them.
“See,” Hezekiah said, pointing at the pack of Rothmans lying in the dust. “Even your cigarettes are expensive.” He secreted the pistol somewhere under the jacket and stooped to pick the cigarettes. “I’ll keep these.”
Paul was trembling. Fuck this shit, he thought. He felt nauseous and dizzy and thirsty at the same time. He even swayed a bit on his feet.
“Can I go now?” he asked in a small voice. He was staring at the ground which was bobbing and weaving in his vision. “Seriously. Look, I’ll give you two thousand bob if you let me go now.” He bent and pulled up the right leg of his jeans. He pulled the tissue wrapped joints from his sock and held them out, in a quivering hand, to the cop. “Please. You’ll never see me again. Please.”
Hezekiah laughed again. He took the weed and pocketed it in his jacket. He then gave Paul his ID back. Paul took it and as he put it back in his wallet he pulled out two crisp thousand bob notes. He handed then over, still staring at the ground. Hezekiah took them.
“I can go?” Paul asked. “Now?”
Hezekiah had already started walking away. He didn’t reply. Paul ran all the way to where he had parked his car. Before he jumped in and sped off, he noticed his parking lights were missing.
© Steve Mwangi 2010