You’ve heard the saying “Out of the frying pan into the real fire,” which was coined back in 1985 inside Justice Erastus Wepekhulu’s courtroom. My skin recoiled as the judge, whose scarlet red gown reminded me of the blood drenched airstrip during ‘the assignment’, condemned me to three decades in a maximum security prison.
“After carefully considering all the evidence and testimonies presented before this court by both the accused defence and the state, the Court of Appeal finds the ruling delivered beforehand by the lower court to be in error.”
At this point, the judge paused for effect and the quietness that engulfed the courtroom was so tangible you could cut it with a knife. Even the once bustling traffic outside was stilled as though to order. My eyes landed briefly on Sofia and she gave me a smile which I thought it was dutiful rather than spontaneous. Besides her sat Mrs. Kaprot, the window of the man I had killed six months ago.
“The defence has failed to conclusively prove that the suspect’s felon was indeed a crime of passion, as had been decided by the lower court. Testimonies by colleagues point towards sour relations between the accused and Sergeant Elias Kaprot ever since the accused joined the force, thus pointing towards the probability of a premeditated murder. The notion that the accused killed Mr. Kaprot while experiencing temporary insanity does not hold water, and I have directed that the charges be reversed to voluntary manslaughter.” Another long pause.
“It is in the same vein that I revise the lower court’s sentence of 17 years to 30 years of incarceration in a maximum security correctional facility. It should be noted that the decision is final, this being the highest court in land. I officially bring to a close the case of the State versus Jarso Jillo.”
Sofia’s face is all I can remember from after the ruling. The astonishment seemed to have wound five or seven years on her face. I could tell she wanted to cry, but she couldn’t because she was a prosecution witness and that would have raised eye-brows. To the court, she was just a woman I had had an affair with. Affair! How I hated that word with its cheap sordid connotations!
I regained sanity inside the prison bus fighting for breath amongst a phalanx of other convicts. I had appealed a 17 year jail term and had instead been sentenced to almost double the time. How exactly did I get here?
My ephemeral career as a police officer had been the exact antithesis of what I had hoped for when I showed up for the recruitment exercise in Wajir Stadium. Barely a few weeks after I had been enrolled at Kiganjo Police Training College, I discovered that law-enforcement in practice was akin to gutting a pig. I would have quit right after the pass-out parade but the will to impress Sofia, a girl I had met in Kiganjo, kept me toiling on.
After two years in the service, Sofia and I re-united at Buder village outside Wajir town. That was when the so called affair blossomed. It did not take long for the corporals to start murmuring that Kaprot (or SS as we called to him in reference to his rank of Senior Sergeant), was drooling with saliva over my babe.
It was an open secret that there was no spoon long enough that could make me share a meal with SS. I couldn’t cuddle up with my fellow corporals either. Ever since that wretched assignment, my relations with the boys in blue at Buder had only gone south. It was their supremo, SS Kaprot, that I loathed the most. I only related normally to Sofia, who had been curiously transferred to Buder a few months after “the assignment.”
I had been assigned at the dispatch on the fateful day. It was a night shift and since most of the officers were either drinking beer down at Rahima’s or snoozing, I became bored stiff. It was then that I decided to sneak home and while an hour or two with Sofia then get back to duty when the officers were booking drunks in.
I know you’ve already guessed the scene that greeted me upon my arrival. There on the couch were naked Sofia and SS. Before you could say “afande,” I had already uncorked my SK G36 Airsoft rifle and pumped seven fatal bullets into the despicable sonofabitch (excuse my Greek).
The weeks that followed saw me become very (in)famous. My bail hearing, for instance, was attended by a battery of reporters and citizens who filled the courtroom to the brim. Normally, such banal hearings would only attract the accused and his mother.
If there was a moment I had felt a modicum of regret for playing God by consigning SS to His waiting room, then it was when I constantly saw Mrs. Kaprot often break down in tears when we met before the judges and outside for the cameras. How could she have harboured so much love for Mr. Kaprot, a man whom it was common knowledge that he slept with everything female? To quote the trite, wonders will surely never cease.
Anyone who has ever slept in the same room with a policeman will tell you that we all have nightmares. Over thirty years after ‘the assignment’, images of the blood-bathed airstrip writhing in pain still conjured themselves whenever I shut my eyes.
“Jarso! Jarso! Wake up!” Screamed Rasta, my cellmate, as he pulled out the travesty of a mattess from below my body. “Jeez! You’ve been having those nightmares of yours again! You really need to tell me what’s going on today. Who is this Goddana?”
My mind ran back to the meeting we had had after the assignment that fateful night of 1984. SS had gazed at us with a look that we all knew and revered. His message had sunk; nobody was to ever utter a word concerning ‘the assignment’ from that day onwards. “If anyone as much as whispers, I’ll find them and smoke them out like a cigar,” he had threatened while making eye-contact with me.
Back then, it would take balls the size of hot air balloons to ever discuss ‘the assignment’. But seeing it was my last day in prison, I decided to spill the beans.
“Goddana,” I begun, “was a childhood friend. I watched as the police doused his clothes with petrol and use them to set his body on fire. Our eyes locked when he was flailing around trying to put off the fire. It is his face that haunts me to this day.”
“Holy Christ! That’s so messed up!” exclaimed Sungura, who had also been awakened by my screams.
“Ever heard of the Wagalla Massacre?” I asked. Both men shook their heads. It was my cue to break into a soliloquy.
“It happened in 1984. Bandits in Wajir were giving people sleepless nights and so the government decided to show them just how long and strong its arm could get. Senior Sergeant Erastus Kaprot was head of the operation. ‘Round up every male of the Degodia clan and put them in a van,’ he had ordered. We then drove the van to Wajir airstrip, where the men were ordered to undress and lie face down on the tarmac. There on the macadam, naked and defenceless, Kaprot ordered his officers to open fire on them. Just for good measure, all the bodies were to be burnt to eliminate witnesses. It was then when Goddana, who had been holding his breath amidst the pile of bodies, turned into a ball of flames and shouted at me for help…” I broke off at this point, tears streaming down my face.
“That’s so messed up,” repeated Sungura. “What didn’t you do something?”
“If I had as much as protested, I wouldn’t have lived to see the following day. The government issued an official statement putting the death toll at 57. I had personally counted three hundred bodies being stuffed onto a lorry. My body would have been among the ones dumped at River Tana.”
“So you just kept quiet?”
“With the help of a few friends, I revenged Goddana’s death.”
The sun was at full wattage when I walked out to freedom the following morning. All I wanted more than seeing Sophia was to listen to Michael Jackson’s Heal the World which had been a great hit back in 85. Luckily Sophia played it for me as we drove off in her car. She had risen over the ranks and now served as a Senior Assistant Inspector General. Though she was now married with four fully grown kids, she had been faithfully visiting me in prison every Christmas.
“Your money is on the backseat,” she said. “Thirty million shillings. One million for every year spent in prison as per the deal. A dollar currently exchanges at 100 shillings, so your money has lost nearly half its value as you rot in there.”
“How much was it worth in 1985?”
“Back then a million exchanged for one silver, so your money is worth thirty pieces of silver in ancient exchange rates,” She replied with a hint of sarcasm.
“I still love you Sophia! You haven’t changed at all! Are you now ready to tell me who the mystery person is that contracted us for the job?”
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“Ignorance has never been blissful to me.”
“Mrs. Kaprot, SS’s wife herself, is the one who just paid you thirty million.”
I was taken aback. You mean the woman who had plunged into a grief-stricken despondency after the death of her husband and given me hell in court was actually my contractor?
“It was easy to use you for you had personal scores to settle with SS as well. She had been deeply wounded by her husband’s philandering ways that she decided to snuff him out,” Sophia explained.
“Then I guess it was a crime of passion after all.”