MY WEEKEND: Nothing equalises like a cell

MY WEEKEND: Nothing equalises like a cell

Date: 13 May 2017 11:56

So, last week I recounted how I got myself on the wrong side of the law and was ordered to report to court the following week.

As it was, I did not have enough money on me to pay the fine, having expected much less, but even worse, that day was the Monday that M-Pesa decided to take a break the entire day. The policeman standing guard whispered, “Madam, umepata pesa?” He wanted to know whether I had managed to get the money. I said, “No,” and explained why.

“Utangoja kwa cell basi mpaka upate pesa…” he pronounced. The panic I had been gallantly trying to stifle exploded at the thought of being in a “cell”.

You see, all my life, I have generally been a Miss Goody Two Shoes – besides a brief period of rebellion in my late teens and early 20s, I am the kind of person that is prone to toeing the line. So, no, I have never been arrested, and no, I have never been in a police cell.

I think my tears are always on standby because I briefly teared up at the thought of being confined to a cell. I managed to pull myself together and begged the policeman to allow me to wait in the courtroom, but he explained,  that it was against procedure.

He pointed to the door that the prisoners who had been transported to the courtroom that morning had emerged from when their cases were called out and directed the policeman guarding the door to let me through. Behind that door was a narrow corridor, that was lined with prisoners, mostly men, some handcuffed to each other, waiting for their cases to be called out.

The space was so narrow, I could smell their breaths (and they mine, I would imagine) as I literally squeezed my way through, praying to get to the cell fast, avoiding eye contact. I finally got there. At a corridor on the right were two policemen.  The first thing that assailed me was the overpowering odour of urine that gave me heartburn within minutes. The toilet was right next to the cell. 

“Sema madam…” casually said the policeman standing.

“Nimeambiwa nikuje hapa…” I explained.

“Kufanya nini? “To do what?” he asked.

When I gave him a blank look, he asked, “Makosa yako ni nini?” (What’s your offence.) When I told him, he nodded with understanding and said, “Wewe ni wa fine? Karibu.” (You have been fined? Welcome.) A policeman with a sense of humour. Haha.

I don’t know what I had expected, but I had certainly not expected a clean room. The floor of the medium-sized square room had been washed clean and had five wooden benches lined against two of the three walls. Had there been no graffiti covering the bare walls, (you know, “Kabudaa was here…” and the like) and a sturdy-looking iron door with a small window in the middle with bars, this might as well have been a waiting room, albeit with no frills.

I had eight cellmates. A woman who had been accused of chasing her neighbour with a panga, two matatu drivers – one charged with dangerous driving and the other obstruction, a man who was caught cutting down trees in a restricted area, a prostitute who had been here before because I overheard her telling one of the drivers that she had scratched her name on one of the walls the last time she was here, so why couldn’t she find it?

There were also two young women who had been arrested the night before for being drunk and disorderly, and a young man of Somali origin who I found snoring under one of the benches.

If you’re wondering, I know what they were “in” for because after spending hours locked up in the same room with nothing to do, a kind of camaraderie sets in and you feel the need to fungua roho, to confide in the person next to you. Nothing equalises you like a cell, whatever your offence is. I was even almost tempted to scratch, “C.N was here, 2017,” on the wall.

I was in that cell for almost three hours, from around 12pm to 3pm. By then, we had already been warned that if we had not paid our fines by 3.30pm, we would spend the night in prison.

And I would have, had it not been for my good friends, Ruth and Peris, and Barasa, the pleasant young man they sent to pay my fine, and who patiently waited for the cashier at the bank where fines are deposited to return from a long lunch.


If you missed Part 1 of this story last Sunday, please read it HERE.


[email protected]; Twitter: @cnjerius. The writer is the Daily Nation features editor

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