Like every Kenyan, I have been critical of our government over runaway corruption, and therefore I fully supported the recent onslaught on the vice; particularly the policy of arresting all suspects — CEOs, finance and procurement officers, and even suppliers.
“They should arrest everyone involved, including those who received the money, however little,” I said at Hitler’s two weeks ago. “I totally disagree,” said Sapphire. “The government is playing to the public gallery. Why take the small people to court when the big fish are not touched?” he asked. “They should only focus on the big people, and we know them,” he said. He also added that this was all about politicians settling scores.
“It doesn’t matter if they are fighting each other or not,” I said. “As long as thieves are being arrested, and sleeping on cold floors, it is okay. It will deter others from stealing.”
This conversation came up before I got into trouble and almost spent a few days in the same cold cells I was wishing the corrupt people to go to, yet I am an innocent poorly paid teacher just trying to make ends meet.
It all started a few weeks ago when Maina, the local hardware owner, bought trees from me. If you remember well, Maina had gotten a lucrative county government tender to supply timber. The number of trees he asked for, and the amount he agreed to pay, surprised me.
We had agreed on Sh500,000, which we later negotiated to Sh400,000. I could not believe that trees I planted nine years ago, and did nothing except watch them grow, could earn me so much. At the time, I had no plans for the money and I knew that even if he just paid me half, I would not chase him for the balance as that was enough to sort my life for a long time.
But things changed. Even now, I can’t tell how I found myself buying a car. But the long and short of this is that with Maina and Bensouda convincing me, I agreed to buy Bensouda’s Nissan Sunny. I thus urgently needed the money. At the time, Maina gave me only Sh100,000, all of which I gave to Bensouda as deposit.
With Bensouda demanding her money, I started pushing Maina to pay me the balance. “Hiyo tender ya county imeleta joto sana,” he told me when I visited him a few weeks ago. He was very anxious, and seemed to be hiding something. “But usijali, pesa ikiingia nitakutumia yako.”
But shortly after, Maina started closing his hardware often, something that rarely happens. He would open it early in the morning, or late in the evening, but it would remain closed for the rest of the day.
Even when operating, he would only open one door, quite the opposite of normal times when all doors are usually wide open, with wares placed outside for display. “Ma-customers wangu wanajua hii hardware,” he said when I asked him why he was not opening the hardware fully. “Hata nikifunga watanipigia simu na nitawasaidia.”
Two weeks ago, we received news that police had been in Mwisho wa Lami looking for Maina. They, however, did not find him, and no one knew his whereabouts. From then onwards, his hardware remained closed. And calls to him went unanswered. We did not know why the police were looking for him, but everyone who has ever bought something from him felt that he needed to be arrested.
“Siku za Mwizi ni arubaini,” said Saphire at Hitlers two days later. “Maina ametuibia miaka nyingi sana.’
“It’s true Maina is not straight,” said Kuya. “But what could he have stolen from you Saphire and you have never built anything in life, even a chicken pen.” It was true, Saphire stays in his younger brother’s house, and in the mother’s kitchen when the brother is around. “When I say tumeibwa, I mean the Mwisho wa Lami community,” he answered Kuya. “You are reasoning like a despot. You can never understand revolutionary language like mine.”
A day later, Bensouda was on my case, asking for money. This is despite the fact that the car she had sold me has never moved. -“How can you be asking money for a car that has never moved even an inch?” I asked when she insisted. I told her I had already spent a lot of money on the car.
“That car had no major problems, except a knock on the engine, and engine knock is a small issue,” she said. “The big problems with that car started when you came with your people and slaughtered a ram.” We argued and finally, because she really needed the money, we negotiated farther, such that I now only owed her Sh80,000; which I found manageable. Even if Maina does not pay me in one year I can have the balance paid.
But things took a different turn last Wednesday. I left work early and went home. I was busy playing with Sospeter when someone knocked on our door, rather loudly. I was shocked to see police when I opened. They were with Maina.
“Are you Andrew?” they asked. I responded in the affirmative. “Vaa twende.” I was wearing shorts and a vest. They did not explain what the problem was. “Is this the Andrew that you send over Sh600,000?” Maina was asked when we arrived at the police station. He said I was the one.
“Mlifikiria hamtapatikana mkiiba pesa ya serikali?” asked the officers. “Wewe sasa utaozea jela.” He wanted to push me to the cell, but I was lucky that the OCS, whom I know, arrived and was asked to see me in another room. He asked where I had taken the Sh600,000 that Maina had given me.
“Ongea vizuri tutengenezee wewe maneno,” he said.
I told him Maina had sent me only Sh100,000 for the trees I sold him. I added I had used the money to buy a car, and showed him all the M-Pesa messages. But Maina insisted that he had given me over Sh600,000.
Initially, he said he had sent me the money via M-Pesa but when he could not show the transaction messages, he said he gave me Sh300,000 in cash; which I denied vehemently.
Having changed his story from the amount and how he gave me the money, the OCS believed me and released me, but not before I parted with something small.
I may have won my freedom, but I am certain I will never get my money from Maina, for it appears he will be away for a long time!
And I now agree with Saphire, if the government wants to fight corruption, let it only focus on the big fish, not the omena!