I once wrote about a former gangster turned teacher here. We stayed in touch and chatted once in a while. The other day he told me that he was carjacked. I said, “Who jacks Soprano?” [That’s how I call him]. People with guns, that’s who. It felt like poetic justice. I asked him to write his ordeal in his own words because at that time we were chatting I was reading a story about a gypsy written by a gypsy in a voice that was very authentic and stripped bare. You can read that here, after you have read this one.
So, Soprano did his thing. Not half shabby for a former gunslinger.
No one loves their horses like Arabs. Arabian horses are akin to royalty – adored for their ripped muscles and sturdy bones. Galloping at full speed, their hooves hitting the ground in reckless abandon, lulling the earth with an enchanting, pulsating rhythm. Isn’t it interesting then how different books talk of death as a rider…like, if you are good with your Bible, the “fifth horseman”? Like a galloping horse, death is fast and swift, you can feel it coming, almost hear it, but can’t stop it.
You wake up every day not knowing how fast the grim reaper is galloping towards you, shrieking in the cold night, scythe hoisted high in the unforgiving air, coming to collect your soul. As everything comes into perspective, your breath bending to life’s whimsical, begging the question, how would you live if you knew …today is the day?
I woke up early as usual because I had work and chores and I knew I had to leave the house but you know that little voice? It kept asking, nay begging me to stay home. I am my own boss, and therefore I decided to heed another call – the voice of money, of contracts cooing my name, of errands begging to be run, of a business that only speaks one language: Action.
It’s 6 pm. I am bored and tired and want to go home. My lovely wife is meant to arrive in town at 7 pm but as fate would have it, her flight is delayed and I decide to shop for dinner and the next day’s meals.
The voice gets louder. I can’t just shake off the feeling that I should be home. I am not happy that the flight is late, I was looking forward to getting home early. Yes, I am one of those few men who love the house and the company of my children. Give me a warm fluffy throw blanket, my fave seat, thunder and lightning outside, a cup of hot freshly brewed coffee, a great book – Wilbur Smith maybe and my last born on my lap and that is a night made. I hate any calls, other than business. I prefer texts, if you can’t say it in 140 Characters, do you really have to say it?
I load the groceries in the boot of the jeep and sit by the mall, watching people wondering how to kill two hours, then I decide to get some nyama choma. I do not understand how people, okay my wife, can eat nyama choma with fries and raw pepper. But because we are maintaining world peace, I drive and pull up at a popular meat joint. Within minutes, I am done and I walk back to the car to head to the airport to pick her.
At this time, the voice is literally shouting. Every human being can tell when they are being watched. It is an inbuilt predatory hunter – hunted skill that is honed in some and ignored by others. I ignored mine.
I open the car door and immediately I feel a gun pressed to my rib. A voice says, ‘be good’. Be good? Be good? You have a gun pressing against my ribs and you want me to be good? If it is the car you want, take it! He steers me inside the car and tells me to drive towards Machakos. He is tall, has a baseball cap with the NY initials. His belly shows a lack of discipline and a salacious affair with beer or meat, or both. He is dark in complexion, dark like the night, dark like the grim reaper galloping towards me. He looks strong, but, minus the gun I can easily take him on. Should I take him on? Almost as if he was listening in on my thoughts, he cocks the gun.
We are now passing Machakos junction and he asks me to pull over and pick his three accomplices. They are all armed with pistols and I’m quickly tied up. The younger one asks me to put my hands together. He ties the knot, burrowing deep into my elbows, and coils the sisal rope tightly around my forearms to the wrists. Not done, the rope is then roughly wound twice around my neck, another knot then pulled tightly around my mid-thighs forcing me to a bent forward position. Another rope binds my ankles and I am thrown into the boot. The rope is eating into me, surely even roasted animals are treated with mercy?
I can feel the car speeding and trucks zooming past us. The rest, probably knowing the hit was out for me, ask him to take it easy. Even criminals fear death. My phone rings. They pull over, brandish the phone in my face and ask me who that is. Can’t you read? That is my wife.
“Ongea nayeye na ukisema ujinga tunakumalizia hapa hapa.”
She is put on loudspeaker.
“Hi, where are you?”
“Hi baby, I am on a trip to the coast.”
“Trip? Coast? Saa hii?”
“Heee. Okay, si….”
I disconnect the call to discontinue the conversation. In my mind, I am pleading furiously with the gods that my wife will tell I am lying. This is where the investments you make in her come in. Does your wife know when you are lying? When in trouble?
Bundled back into the boot, we drive on then I hear the car turn onto a rough road and it is flying in the night and am pretty banged up until they pull over abruptly. Is this it? No, not yet. They have found three ATM cards that are still razor-new in my wallet, because this is 2020 and all the rage is internet banking.
They want the codes yesterday. When three burly men are raining blows on you, you’d say anything just to get free. There is no way to explain the feeling of a steel-toed boot driving into your mid-section, right where it hurts, every blow feeling like 1,000 galloping horses kayaking on your body. I blurted out fictitious pins and sent another prayer to the gods: Please let them not get a chance to confirm. Out to make a kill, I see the irony in that statement now, they take my phone. I give them the password and they transfer cash. The thing with money is that the more you get, the more you want. It is an abyss, and I can see them falling into the gaping hole as they take an Mshwari loan of 30,000Ksh.
They switch off my phone and off we go, recklessly driven in the boot. My stomach is churning and I want to throw up. I am not religious but spiritual. I believe in God and that night I prayed like never before. My prayers ranged from pleas to desperation to daring God. I remember asking Him to stall the car or break it down. I negotiated for my life reminding him of the few good things I had done and asking Him to forgive the bad and crazy. He is a merciful God, is He not? I reminded Him of the pain my family would feel. When He didn’t stop the car, I got angry and dared Him to do His worst. I don’t think He liked that.
My wife knows that I never go offline. She’d know something’s not right. She could feel it. I am resigned to my fate and begin to drift off. I long stopped trying to pick a direction. It was an exercise in futility. Ploughing the sands. The crew starts squabbling amongst themselves. At least if I die, it was not for a lack of adventure. Among them is this old guy who is busy berating the driver on why he spared me instead of killing me. The driver is reiterating that bodies complicate matters and isn’t clearly for it but the old geezer is having none of it.
He insists I have to die. I resume my feverish, gibberish, repetitive prayers. They are now almost fighting and the driver stops the vehicle as the old geezer has apparently hit him. The conflict escalates and I am praying it continues. I realise I have been a bit selfish and adjust my prayer; praying for my wife, children and my mum. I am praying they cope well after I am gone. I am praying she gets strength. I am praying my children live long and get to be successful.
The young lad seated back right is fed up with his elders’ childish behavior and cocks sense into them. We are losing time, and besides there is a police patrol just around, let’s get this show on the road! The elders listen and we divert into the woods.
Funny, the things you think about when thugs are debating your life worth as if they are discussing the rising fuel prices or picking the black cap over the blue one. It is really a non-issue for them. An irrelevant bump on their plans. Something to flick on and off.
I am in intense pain and sweating even though it is very cold. I am donning a t-shirt and khaki pants. I have run out of things to say to God. I am just thinking of things I will miss: family, moments, how my wife will cope after I am gone, my mum, my gals, I miss my bed (I know), and how I love my pillow. I travel with my pillow. Something that used to baffle and deeply confound as well as inspire angst from my wicked step-mother. I don’t do random pillows. I carried my pillow to boarding school and graduated from Uni with it. I sadly had to dispose of it when my stepmom tried to kill me with it at night. You can’t script this stuff. My wife bought me another when we were dating…I have it to date.
When the car starts hitting a rough road followed by twigs and branches, I know my time is nearly up. I muster the energy for one last prayer. I ask God to forgive me for what I had done and make space for me up there. I don’t want to die, but I am making my peace. Send in the reaper, collect my soul.
The old geezer makes the decision and asks the young turk to alight with me and go finish the job. When you are done, we’ll be waiting for you at our usual. You may laugh, but even criminals have their kalocal.
The car pulls up in a silent, abandoned road. The young turk pulls me out, and I get to have one last look at him. If I am going to die, I might as well remember the faces of my enemies. Just in case I decide to come back and haunt him. He looks boyish with very neat dreadlocks. I have no problem with him – he is just doing his job – expect that he is taking my watch. An exquisite genuine Swiss Military Timepiece that was a honeymoon gift. That, that pains me more than what is about to happen. He probably doesn’t even know it’s value and attachment to me. My wife loves that watch. Loves it. He takes milk and bread from the shopping bag and the car zooms off. This is it. One clean swing from the grim reaper. Don’t make it messy.
He drags me into the forest but I am a heavy man to pull. A burden? Well, in this case maybe. His suede boots are getting muddied, and his dreadlocks keep getting out of place which annoys him, and he keeps tucking them which makes him grimace. Clean boy this one. Probably a millennial who is conscious about his image, you’d think we are headed on a date. I could jump him and strangle him but I am tied up and he holds the gun like a pro. Every burden eventually gets tiring to bear and he unties my leg and makes me follow him, hands tied tightly with the rope strangling out any effort I have to try and escape.
Deeper into the forest we trek then suddenly stop.
“Ni hapa,” he says. Ah, this boy. He’d serve you poison and you’d drink it and ask for more because of his manners.
I plead with him asking if he wants blood on his hands when he is clearly so young and well abled but I might as well have been talking to one of the trees because he just stares at me, through me, I can’t tell. In a vicious blur, he whips out a pistol and butts me. I can feel warm blood gushing into my mouth. Damn. My teeth could be rearranged. The pain starts to kick in.
Not such a good boy after all.
He asks me to make a final prayer and reads me the riot act.
“This is not personal, it’s just business.”
“Who sent you to me? At least tell me that before you kill me.”
“Hatukutumwa, tunataka tu gari na pesa lakini sasa umeona mdosi kwa hivyo lazima tu you die. Sina ngori nawewe lakini imebidi.”
He says it the same way your dentist looks at you and explains that the molar has to be pulled out after that root canal procedure you had last week. He blames that Valentine’s chocolate you insisted you had to have…now see…it is really your choice, not me…my hands are tied.
No, my hands are tied! I want to say.
“Just be good and lie back,” he says.
I could feel my face wet up. Me? Crying? Life has come full circle. I thought about my wife and what was going through her mind right then, I thought of my children and how they would cope. My comfort was that she knew my schedule and I always kept her looped on my movements so she had to have raised an alarm and tracked the car. Had she?
But the job had to be done. The horse had stopped galloping. The scythe, sharp and menacing, ready to draw blood. At least I was alive. I obliged and knelt. But before I go, let me run through my scorecard with God. Quickly? Yes, I know we don’t have time. I prayed that my short good list would weigh enough for the pearly gates and that my shortfalls would be covered by my mum’s prayers. I even remember asking my late dad to wake up and protect me. I was incoherent and sweating beads despite the fact that it was freezing.
My t-shirt stuck to me. I was soaking in sweat. Barefoot, bleeding, hurting and tired. Just get it over with!
“Twack!” he whipped me. “Wacha ujinga, unadhani nitashinda hapa nikikuchunga!?”
I could feel settling peace descending upon me. Nothing mattered anymore. He could beat my body but he couldn’t reach me. I was in a serene bubble and I was seeing everything happen. Can I have one last word?
“Please make it one shot. I don’t want to die of bleeding alone in a forest. Give me a merciful death – let it be a headshot. Please.”
“Sawa boss wacha tukafunge!”
I could feel the pistol cocking. That is a sound you can’t unhear. It stays with you. Everything else falls silent. It gets stuck in a loop in your brain, cocking-uncocking-cocking, like a ticking time-bomb, with no way to switch it off. The forest, silent. Even the creatures, the crickets that would punctuate the terse atmosphere coiled in silence, all of them knew there was a great evil lurking. Deathly quiet.
I closed my eyes. This is it. My lips cracked dry. The only thing I was thinking waas whether they’d find my body. Do I really need to be tied up? Anyway. Do it.
“Bill, I am not going to kill you but I want you to be very quiet and don’t move.”
I nodded in agreement and relief. Someone up there must have pulled serious strings for my sake and family.
He tied me up to a tree and started walking away.
“Please, ata usiponiua hii kamba itaninyonga tu. Please loosen shingo tu pekee. Please.”
“Bill, nikirudi hapo nitakuua.”
“Sawa, nimenyamaza. Pole.”
He walked away. I listened to him as he pushed through the dense undergrowth. Then, eerie stillness. I counted silently to ten then started feeling the rope slowly as any movement tightened the noose on my neck. Summoning raw guts, I started eating at the rope on my legs since it was closest to my mouth.
I am struggling to breathe, but I must be free. It was a sisal rope and it cut into my hands. It is stupidly cold. I manage to free my legs. But my hands and neck and thighs are still tied up. I somehow managed after so long and my legs were free from that damn tree. So my legs are free but my hands are not and the neck and thighs too. I am moving but doubled over. I didn’t know which way but at least I am moving. I can only walk for so long before I collapse from exhaustion. But not for long. I am woken up by sharp body pains and rain and cold. Pain is washing over me in torrents. If I lie here I will die.
I gather myself and start trekking. Anywhere. Everywhere. Somewhere. I try screaming but my mouth is dry and my breath short and labored. I slump down.
The voice comes back and whispers gently:
“Give it up man….rest…sleep, or…fight…you can do this.”
How can I do this?
The kind that goes to the bones. I slept. I woke up to find it was still dark. I move again for some time until I start hearing vehicles. I somehow make it to a tarmac road and desperately flag down vehicles who zoom past me on seeing me tied up.
I get desperate. I move to the middle of the road – desperate times do really call for crazy measures. I didn’t make it this far to make it this far. Everyone is swerving past me but none is stopping. Until an adventure biker rides and stops some distance ahead shouting:
Told him I was carjacked and I don’t know where I was. He turned around and came to where I was. He bundled me on top of his luggage and off we left, each one of us fearful for what lay ahead.
He gave me some bottled water and informed me that I was in Shimba Hills. He only offered to help me up to a police roadblock five km away and I was okay with that. I had survived a forest and could wait.
We got there and he explained where he picked me. They made me recount the ordeal. They were amazed when I told them I was carjacked in Nairobi. They informed my shocked self that it was Wednesday. I had been taken on Monday at 7:30 p.m. They offered to take me to the nearest police post as the place is remote.
I recorded a statement
They radioed Nairobi and were informed that the car was tracked to the Kenyan – Tanzanian border where it was stripped after madam disabled it via car track. There was an ongoing alert and search for me. The OCS offered me his phone. I called my wife and told her I was okay amidst bowls of tears.
On the way home, my mum calls to confirm that indeed I am alive. She is hysterical and I cut the call.
We get home and I stand in the shower for eons, scrubbing hard and furious to get rid of the stench of evil. Rope burns scorch like hell. My bruises are tender and raw, and I fall asleep in my wife’s arms and wake up to find her crying. She says I was dreaming and calling out for her in a dream. In my dream, I was back in the forest.
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