“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness….” (Charles Dickens, A tale of two cities).
It was the worst of times. A dark period in our recent history that is now sometimes referred to as the Error.
The powerful official from The Party HQ arrived for an early morning meeting with the senior most Commander (Operations) at City Police Headquarters. He was ushered into the smart offices where they were served tea and biscuits before getting down to business.
With official business completed, the Party boss shifted forward in his chair and lowered his voice. ‘There is something else’, he said, his voice barely audible. ‘There have been complaints at the highest levels in the Party. One of your senior officers at the homicide division is causing some concern. Babu is his name, I think’.
The police commander, a Party member, said, ‘Babu is an excellent officer, one of the finest. He is very good at his job. We’ve never heard of any wrongdoing on his part.’
The Party officer looked earnestly at his host and said, ‘I tell you all this as a friend. They are saying strange things. Things like Babu is too keen. Too thorough. He is annoying some very serious people. I am concerned for his continued well-being. Can’t you give him early retirement, fire him?’
They continued this discussion for several minutes. The police commander pointed out that it would be impossible to terminate a senior officer without very good cause. It could cause serious problems within the force. He declared that Babu was not due for retirement and would decline any such offer. The party boss was not smiling. He repeated that it was in Babu’s best interests if he left the force. After further discussion it was decided to post an officer within Babu’s unit who would report directly to the commander and use every opportunity to trap Babu on a procedural issue. They could then suspend him and put him through endless disciplinary procedures ending in dismissal or worse, demotion.
They laughed at their clever plan and toasted their future success with their cold cups of tea. The Party boss was in good spirits when he met his beautiful wife for lunch at Cinitta’s.
Joseph Pume had always associated bread with wedding reception parties of his childhood. Every child loved going to these. There would be all kinds of traditional dishes on offer at the table, many of them were based on some type of beans, peas or potatoes mashed up and served in huge metal basins. If the couple were well off there would also be tea in white cups and saucers with trays and trays of jam sandwiches.The centrepiece of course was the wedding cake. The kids loved the hard white icing.
Growing up, Joseph Pume did not generally eat bread at home. At tea time their mother would prepare chapati or mandazi for her three boys and two girls. Other times she gave them sweet potato or arrow root. The children rarely had bread in their home from one year to the next, save for Christmas time.
In adult life and in his own home Joseph Pume remained loyal to the starch options that his mother had always prepared for him and shunned bread completely. Until seven years ago.
Now every morning prisoner #5446 Joseph Pume picked up a mug of tea and a small tin plate with half a loaf of bread split into four chunks and smeared in margarine. He would go back to his prison cell to finish his breakfast. He found it pretty agreeable and now he always looked forward to the hot tea and bread at 7.00 a.m.
Today despite all his efforts the bread seemed to stick in his throat. Sitting on his narrow bed he tried again but found that even the tea would not go down. His emotions were all over the place. Today April 13 1994 was his release date from Kamiti maximum prison.
At 08.30 they called him to the governor’s office. He was escorted there by a prison officer who told him to bring along his personal belongings, and these he now carried in a large Bata paper bag. The officers carried out the necessary checks on their databases. Two other prisoners were going to be released. They looked uncomfortable dressed in civvies which were way too big. Thirty minutes later Joseph Pume signed his release papers and another prison officer escorted him to the gates.
He stepped out into the access road just as the prison gates shut behind him with a loud bang He walked along the Kamiti road until he came to the junction with the Ruiru road. There was a three storey building with a bar and some shops on the ground floor. He entered the bar and went straight through to the courtyard at the back. He knocked on a door and was admitted into a small room. There was a single window across which hung a fading curtain. The only light in the room came from a single light bulb hanging from the centre of the ceiling. There were several people in the room. It was difficult to make out how many, as the air was heavy with tobacco smoke.
The man seated on the bed, wearing a striped dressing gown, coughed and a young bar-maid who had been lying beside him under the covers got up. ‘Bring us beer.’ he grunted and the girl was gone. The coughing man had a cigarette that he was biting between his teeth. Tears caused by the smoke streamed freely down his rugged face. ‘Joseph Pume, ssssssss,’ he hissed as his eyes stung. ‘I think I have what you came for.’ , he wheezed. He knelt down slowly and pulled out a small shoebox from under the bed. He opened it on the bed to reveal a small Beretta semi automatic pistol. There was also a substantial sum of money wrapped in small bundles. Joseph Pume looked at the gun lovingly.
Coughing man was now ruffling some papers in his bedside drawer. He pulled out a folded A4 piece of paper which he handed to Joseph Pume saying, ‘Here you go, as requested. His name and where he lives.’
The bar maid returned with half a dozen bottles of pilsner.She placed them on the bedside drawer in order to fish out her bottle opener from her red apron pocket. She opened the first one and handed it to one of the other drunks in the room. She finished opening the bottles.
Joseph Pume placed his bottle on the drawer. He said to them, ‘Seven years ago I made a promise to a certain man that I would kill him on the day that I got out. I have not tasted a beer since the day I made that promise. I may have come out of Kamiti today but I will not be free until I have made good my promise.’
He picked up the shoe box in some haste, accidentally knocking the bottle of Pilsner which emptied all its contents into Coughing man’s bedside drawer.
‘Oops sorry!’ said Joseph Pume as he hurriedly left the room. The rest of the drunks burst out laughing. Coughing man got another fit of coughs and wheezes which only made the other drunks laugh more.
There were taxis for hire waiting at the market square. He got into the back seat of the first vehicle in the queue and asked the driver to take him to South ‘B’ Nairobi. As the taxi driver negotiated the busy streets Joseph Pume looked again at his piece of paper. They were heading to South ‘B’. The man named on the paper as Detective Inspector S E Babu had no idea.