It all happened so fast. I was trapped before I could think straight. I was going to the bus station after my evening class in campus at around 9:00 p.m. when a guy in an overcoat popped up from the passenger seat of a saloon car with tinted windows. “Kijana (Boy)”, he called. I stopped in my tracks. “Where’s your ID?” he asked. He pulled a badge from an inner pocket and brandished it as he waited for me to display my own identity. He wasn’t in police uniform, but he could be a karau from the plainclothes division, so that is what we will call him.
It didn’t occur to me to check the car’s number plate for the letters “GK”: Government of Kenya. Before I knew it, the Karau’s friend from the backseat had circumvented me. He sneaked behind me like a shadow, so let’s call him Giza. Karau ordered me to enter the car; they would take me to the police station. I protested that I had the document they requested, but Giza shepherded me into the vehicle. I thought I was being subjected to the bribe-seeking police harassment I’d often heard about. I could imagine the charge: loitering with intent. I had a mind to argue but I didn’t want “resisting arrest” added to my offences. I was sandwiched at the back between Giza and a guy whose face was shadowed to the nose by the brim of his kofia (khaki sun hat). His hands rested on his lap, as if cuffed. I assumed he was a crook who’d also been nabbed. As the driver took off, Karau asked if I had an ATM card.That’s when the gravity of the situation hit me.
I said I was just a student. What was I doing in town at night? I’d come from campus. Which one? University of Nairobi. Kofia broke his silence. “You youths are the ones who make trouble,” he said in heavily accented Swahili, lumping me together with the students who stone cars whenever there’s a strike. “Today you will know us. We are Mu-ngi-ki!” Beads of cold sweat sprouted on my forehead. My underarms grew damp. I was remembering reports of beheaded bodies being found in farms. They belonged to the victims of this extortion mafia. By now, we’d turned into the highway. There were people under the streetlights waiting to cross the road to the railway station.
The traffic lights turned red before we could pass. In a moment of bravado, I leaped to the left window screen and started banging it and screaming. I’d hardly knocked the screen once when Giza grabbed me in a stranglehold and bent me forward until my head was between my knees. Kofia pulled my arm back and twisted it behind me. “Urgh!” I groaned as a pang of pain shot up to my shoulder. “Who are you making noise for?” Kofia asked. He used his free hand to cover my mouth, getting a yelp-inducing bite from me. Karau placed what felt like a barrelled object at the back of my head. Self-preservation made me freeze. The traffic lights must have changed just then because the car got back into motion. My heart sank. As the city’s lights faded behind us, Kofia pounded my head and back with a blunt, metallic object for my troubles, calling me a dog for biting him. I raised a hand to shield my head and my index finger got smashed.
I apologized profusely but my pleas fell on deaf ears. Meantime, Giza locked my torso between his legs and began to empty my pockets of a mobile phone and wallet. Several rounds of frisking ensued while Karau interrogated me about my family, as if planning to demand ransom. After about an hour, I sensed the car drawing to a halt. Giza opened his door and a grassless field greeted my eyes, hazy in the crescent moonlight. “Get out and don’t look back,” Karau said. With blood matted in my hair and smeared across my fingers, I climbed out and staggered away, holding up my unbelted trouser to keep it from falling. After about fifty metres, I dared to glance back and saw the taillights of the car retreating into darkness. Fighting back tears, I began my long walk of shame to get help. I doubted I’d get any justice. I’d just become another statistic of the crime that lurks at night around the city in the sun.
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