SOMETHING nasty nearly happened to me on a day that I try my level best to remember to forget. It is a day when my heart narrowly missed being rendered as useless as a deflated balloon.
I was taking an evening stroll after doing my bit of UWT – Ujenzi Wa Taifa, as opposed to the short-form for the ladies’ wing of the BP: the Big Party. I own rabbit-shaped ears whose superb signal-picking abilities almost match those of the handsome, quickthinking, speedy little animal.
They led me to a spot where a group of mainly young men were administering mob justice on a fellow citizen whose attempt to snatch a lady’s handbag had aborted. He was being punched, karatekicked, slapped, scratched cat-like, and called names that ranged from a cockroach to a hyena.
Someone philosophised that, physical punishment was ‘kazi bure’ (a gain-less undertaking) and invoked, instead, the ‘hapa kazi tu’ slogan, in the form of an impromptu ‘harambee’ to raise money for kerosene.
The idea was for the liquid to be sprinkled on the chap, who would subsequently be set ablaze and be consumed by the flames.
It would serve as a punishment for misusing his hands to steal instead of doing honourable things like shamba work, or using his muscles honourably to deliver bucketfuls of concrete from Point A to Point B at a construction site. The ‘kazi’ operatives would presumably be heroes for making Tanzania one petty thief less.
Their temper differed only slightly from that of Sudan’s Janjaweed militiamen. Hence total rejection of my appeal to spare the captive. They shouted me down in a chorus that produced enough noise to have burst the eardrums of a baby strapped at the back of its mum who may have happened to be passing by.
I was branded a tired, useless, frustrated, most probably penniless old man who should focus on retiring in peace, instead of poking his ancient nose into critical affairs about which he was totally ignorant.
One of them, whose eyes were red enough to rival the colour of a partially ripe tomato, warned that, if I did not shut up, the intended fate of the petty thief would be transferred to me.
I shut up, reckoning that in spite of my advanced age, life was still sweet enough to continue enjoying. A minute or so later, the mob encircled a ‘boda boda’ which the fundraiser for the kerosene for ‘roasting’ the petty thief had just mounted.
He was put under arrest as he intended to flee with 25,000/- that had been raised as kerosene fund. In the ensuing confusion, the would-be handbag snatcher fled. He certainly became God-fearing, if he hadn’t been, up to that point.
The fundraiser cried louder than three babies combined, when someone proposed that he should be roasted for having tried to con them .
They scattered at the sight of an approaching police patrol car. I retreated to a pub. Half-way doing gradual rather than instant justice to beer (someone slightly more intelligent than me says it is beer and not a bottle, that is drank), a piece of drama unfolded.
A fattish man slightly taller than a Congolese pygmy, wearing a T-shirt bearing a ‘Dog Trainer’ announcement, pointed at me and half-talking; half-shouting, declared: “Yes; it is him; he’s the one who has been fooling around with my wife.”
Two of his three accomplices – all of them critically starved of smiling faces ‑ grabbed and shoved me into a car.
One of them, a proud owner of a baritone Manu Dibango-like voice, informed me that, I was being led to a forest beyond Kibaha. Like someone giving another very good news, he said I would be taught a lesson that would make me wish that, I had at best not been born, or, at worst, been born as an innocent animal like a rabbit .
I felt that electric currents were playing hide and seek within my body. ‘Dibango’ disclosed that, kerosene would be sprinkled over my body, which would then be set alight. I wailed loudly, fooling the gangsters into loosening their guard.
They laughed heartily at a death-fearing soul. I picked a knife carelessly left on the car’s floor and stabbed the gangster next to me twice. He yelled and loudly appealed to his absentee mother to rush to his aid. The driver careered off the road, hit a l rock and the car stalled.
One of the doors swung open; I slipped out and, fake commandostyle, dived into a carpet of grass. The bandits were cornered by police officers in a patrol car.
To cut a short story shorter, they were convicted and jailed, and it turned out that I had a striking resemblance to the man who had been playing the unholy role of alternative husband to someone else’s wife!