She was quite sure that her friend had said “Half-way up Loita Street.”. Her feet were killing her, but she walked on in the mid-October heat. She crossed the road and hurried past the ghastly Nyati House, Nairobi’s infamous chambers of horror. She walked on towards the Libyan Embassy and it had occurred to her that this was an odd place to have an embassy, but then again, Nairobi town was odd like that. There was no diplomatic district as such; embassies and consulates were scattered about all over the city.
Rubina saw the coffee house and walked up the short flight of steps leading up to the entrance. It was cool and welcoming inside and it took a moment for the eyes to get accustomed to the low, soft light. There were few customers in the restaurant and her friend was not there. Rubina smiled. She was always the early one. She chose a seat by the window, looking onto the street. When a young waitress came over to take her order, Rubina said she would have a bottle of water as she waited for her friend. She sipped the cold water watching the world go by.
There was a quiet, pleasant hum of conversation in the restaurant. That and the cool breeze from the slow moving ceiling fans above offered Rubina a chance for quiet reflection.
The day in court had gone very well. Both sides had finished their submissions and the judges would probably issue a ruling in the morning. There was pressure from many quarters for the matter to be concluded speedily. Any further delay would be a case of justice denied.
It was clear to Rubina, if not to all the other participants in this tragic affair, that this was one of those cases that would never have got to this point, but for the various shortcomings of our justice system. She considered the old quote: the wheels of justice grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine. In this particular case a totally corrupt and ruthless man, who had bullied, bribed and bought his way throughout his adult life had died at the hand of his wife, thus cheating justice. When the judges considered all the facts presented before them, the only conclusion that they could reasonably arrive at was to uphold Mrs Indania’s appeal and quash her conviction. Nothing else would serve to heal the tarnished reputation of the justice system.
The facts were very compelling. Everyone and their dog had heard some version of the story. The daily papers loved this sort of thing. It sold papers. Targets were met and people received fat bonuses. The main papers were all carrying a special ‘High Court Section’ dedicated to the big trial of the year or as one editor had put it: Kenya’s OJ moment. The public’s appetite had been worked up to a frenzy. Everyone wanted to read about the wealthy, former cabinet minister and advisor to leaders, Nowa Indania, who had cheated friend and foe alike for most of his adult life, whose life now had suddenly been cut short by a blow to the head administered by his wife in a domestic violence incident.
The masses had bayed for blood. This case was not helped by countless stories of men suffering death and mutilation at the hands of their spouses across the length and breadth of the country but most notably in the county of Nyeri. Julia Indania herself was, quite understandably, in a state of shock following the death of her husband and in that state, could hardly take in the full implications of being a defendant in a murder trial. Her defence team at the time seemed overwhelmed by the public storms and did not, in Rubina’s mind, have a snow flake’s chance in hell of putting forward the woman’s side of the story. Their case was tossed about like a small boat in a violent sea and Julia Indania was convicted on the lesser charge of manslaughter and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
That would have been the end of the matter, as Rubina recalled. Mrs Indania spoke little during the trial save for answering questions. In this same air of quiet disinterest she accepted the court verdict and went to prison without ever protesting her innocence. It was a little while later that Rubina learnt that Mrs Indania’s father-in-law wanted to launch an appeal on behalf of his daughter-in-law. In his papers Mzee Indania Snr had stated: The boy has already lost one parent, surely that is a burden enough, for someone so young. He added, my daughter is not a murderer. I will sell everything that I own if that is what it will take to see that she is set free.
Rubina recalled how thrilled she had been when they asked her to lead the appeal. If proof was required that they held her in high regard back at the firm, this was it. She knew that this would finally put to rest the demons that stalked her following the leopard attack. She smiled at the thought of her pals visiting her in hospital back then, all crowded in that little ward. Babu was scared as hell, but tried not to show it. Woolie’s eyes were filled with sorrow and he looked out through the window most of the time that they were there and Ruby – she was just angry beyond words. Angry that someone could have done this to her.
Back to the appeal. The original case, as Rubina had suspected, was handled poorly by both sides. The prosecution believed what the police had told them. It was an open and shut case. A murder victim, a weapon a suspect and some sort of a motive. Mrs Indania was portrayed as an angry woman, jealous of her husband’s wealth and success. The defence argued that this was a most improbable motive. They claimed that Nowa Indania had attacked his wife in a fit of drunken rage, a fairly frequent occurrence, and that she had struck back in self defence. His death, therefore, was an accident.
Rubina had met Mrs Julia Indania for the first time at Sharwama Women’s GK prison. She wanted to hear her story. In the course of the conversation Rubina had realised that something was missing in this woman’s life. They went through the events of that fateful night. Rubina was making notes and would ask a question here and there. Julia answered as best as she could. She told the same story again and again with very little variation.
Nowa Indania had come home angry and very drunk. He had come straight to the living room where Julia had been seated near the fireplace, watching a television thriller with their ten-year-old son. Julia sent the boy upstairs. Indania had just poured himself a double-whiskey when his cell-phone rang. He had answered it and exchanged some angry words with whoever it was on the line. He threw his whiskey glass at the wall shattering it into a thousand pieces. Julia knew better than to speak to Nowa when he was in that state. She stood up to leave the room and go to bed. He grabbed her roughly by the arms and pushed her back into the seat. He declared that Julia had poisoned his boy against him. “I will teach you a lesson tonight!”
He beat her, first with his belt and then he used his fists and his feet. She was screaming at him to stop and he taunted her saying “Scream all you like, nobody will hear you, except your gay little son.” Julia was lying on her back in the sofa as he rained blows to her body and face. She thought she was going to die. She reached her had out and grabbed the fire poker, and whacked him on the head. His eyes rolled over and he fell back, blood gushing from a big wound just behind the left ear.
Julia’s story was accurate in almost every detail. This was because she had told it to herself so many times that she had come to believe it. Looking at Julia, Rubina realised what it was that was missing. There was no light in her eyes, no hope, no future. Now she understood. Mzee Indania Snr had completed the jigsaw.
When the police arrested Julia Indania on the night of the murder, officers also kept the boy at the station over night before taking him to his grandparents the following day. The despondent ten-year- old told his grand father how his mother had sent him to bed when Baba came home. He had sat at the foot of the stairs listening to Baba say some really awful things to his mother.
“Suddenly Baba started hitting my mother again and again. I opened the door and shouted Baba, stop! He didn’t stop he just kept hitting her with punches and kicks. I jumped on Baba’s back and put my arm round his neck. He growled at me like a bear and threw me to down the ground.”
That was when Julia had picked up the poker. Nowa had turned back to her and in the shoving about she had dropped it to the floor. Nowa continued with the beatings. The young boy launched himself across the floor. He picked up the poker and stood over his father and said “ Dad forgive me.” As he brought it down, Indania turned to look up and the blow caught him just behind the left ear. That must have been was when the lights had gone out of Julia’s eyes, Rubina thought.
A white cab drew up on the street alongside the restaurant. The occupant got out and took the steps up to the entrance two at a time.
Rubina called to her, “Ruby! Over here.” The ladies hugged and sat down. The police commander raised a hand to attract some attention. “Hope you haven’t waited to long, Rubina. The traffic is manic on the highways, you’d think someone important is coming to town. Shall we order?” Rubina smiled and nodded. “Let’s order.”
They had coffee and chocolate cake. The commander watched as Rubina stirred her coffee, deep in thought. She asked, “You said you had some news. Is it work related?”
Rubina smiled and looked at the commander. She said “I have been short-listed for an interview for a teaching post.” “ Oh, how thrilling!” said the commander, showing real pleasure. “When’s it for?” Rubina said “In about five weeks. I’ll need all that time just to organise everything!”
“You’re the most organised person I know, my dear, it will be a walk in the park. A piece of cake.” the commander said this as she picked up another piece of the lovely chocolate cake.
“I dunno, Ruby. I need you to tell me how I’ll break it to the guys that I’ll soon be off for an interview for a teaching post in Toronto……”