EDWIN KIPTANUI CHIRCHIR email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
PHOTO CREDIT: pixaboy.com
Sometime last year, I was walking along that railway line, not far from Poa Place (Eldoret). It is the place where people who have seen the hand of God in their pockets relax and enjoy their abundant wealth. That is no place for Hoi Polloi.
I was minding my own business, singing along to the music from my KaDuDa phone, my long suffering and faithful servant in matters related to communication. It is a phone which I have molested severally trying to force it to open some memory twisting and impossibly large web pages. I would have loved to dance to the music, right their by the railway line, under the heavens, illuminated by the bright sun. I would also have liked to engage my loyal and faithful shadow in some dancing competition, but the problem is my employer has always insisted that all employees should conduct themselves with utmost decorum, within or outside the workplace.
From a distance I saw him approaching. He was a middle aged man. His face looked pale and solemn, his hair unkempt and his clothes old and tattered, but at least they managed to cover the essential parts. I am also suspecting that his trouser was either borrowed or inherited, because it was clearly oversize.
"Hello my son," he mumbled some greetings, particularly stressing on the word 'Son'
The use of the word son, made it clear to me that he needed some help. I was on my way to attend to the call of duty, in the process of building the nation, but I decided that duty could wait. How could it not wait, when an older person had just called me son?
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The man went on to tell me that he had just been released from prison. My ears shifted a little bit, out of the eagerness to hear more. You never know what you might hear from a prisoner. Things like, "I used to kidnap people, slaughter them and feed on their internal organs." But instead, he said he was hungry, though he need not have said it. His wrinkled face seemed to tell it all. His mouth was open, exposing his teeth, even when he was silent, a clear indication that he was hungry. It is very difficult to close your mouth when you are hungry. You think I am kidding? Try going hungry for two days, then let us see what happens.
He went ahead to inform me that he had five children back at home. Did you get that? Five children! And that he had been in jail for five years.
He talked about many things concerning prison life. He talked of how tough life is in there, the cold cell floor, poorly cooked 'Ugali' and beans soup for dinner, the half cooked cabbages and beans for lunch, the milk-less tea and one slice of bread for breakfast, not forgetting the lice and bedbugs to keep them company at night. (I thought bedbugs only exist where there are beds!).
To drive the point home, he proceeded to lift his worn out T-shirt so that I could see how flat his stomach was and as if that was not depressing enough, he lifted it higher so that I could count his ribs and indeed, the ribs were clearly visible, but I had not the strength to count them. He had no belt on, so to prevent his trouser from falling, he had creatively and carefully folded it by the waist.
After all those words and actions, all of which I listened to and observed patiently, he had only one request. He wanted me to assist him with only ten shillings.
I reflected on the issue. I would actually have meditated on it, complete with a yoga pause if I had the time. Can ten shillings really feed a wife and five children? Can it even buy a banana in the current state of the economy? What do you tell your family, when you arrive with only ten shillings, after a five year absence, prison not withstanding?
There was another thing. A bible verse to be precise. "I was in prison, but you did not come to visit me." and yet another one, "I was hungry but you gave me no food." I have always nurtured a dream of one day ending up in heaven, to mingle and brush shoulders with the likes of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and please, take note that I am not referring to Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton and Jacob Kaimenyi. I know I am not perfect, but I always dare to dream.
Now, come closer and listen. I don't normally carry a wallet because I am not about to conform to anybody's standards. So, I checked my breast pocket, nothing! I checked my back pocket, nothing! I checked my left pocket, I found twenty shillings. I checked my right pocket and found nothing at first. I took out and unfolded my handkerchief and out emerged an old fifty shillings note. I handed him seventy shillings in total.
And the man was happy. In fact, so happy was he that he kept on looking at me as I walked away, saying thank you continuously until I disappeared behind some bushes.
Well, I met the same 'former prisoner' today and he told me the same story. He had forgotten that I had pitied him last year. He went ahead to tell me he had just been released from prison after five years and that he had five children. (I guess the number FIVE is his lucky number). It is less than three months since we last met and there is no way he can claim to have been a guest of the state for five years, unless prisons allow prisoners to go home for half term nowadays. Damn, I always believed I was clever, but today I felt as if whatever is in my head is not a brain, but a mugful of porridge.