11 a.m. Kitale.
My cousin had added a little weight and looked really well.
His bachelor pad was typical of a young dude with some cash. Lots of electronics. Leather seats. He handed me a cold glass of juice. Relieving. One thing with family is that they intuitively sort of know you. Stuff you like since you were a kid. How harsh you are when pushed. The only problem with my cousin was that, with older members in the family, especially male, I found them hard to deeply cruise with, the way I did with some of my friends. I talk very little. Less humour. No talk about Jay Z’s latest album. All they always talked was politics. Family. School. Why did I drop out? He understood. He didn’t judge or get preachy about education being the key to whatever locks of success and all that jazz. So I went mute staring idly at the screen until he got bored. Good. He showed me to my room.
The annual Kenya Police recruitment was taking place on March. Mato had gotten me a job as a care taker in Ukwala supermarket. After a year, I was already bored. For a Form four dropout, Mato had to exploit his friendship for my sake, greasing the palms of the fella was part of the package. Six thousand shillings wasn’t enough for me. On Thursday I was off-duty. Mato suggested I give the police thing a try. People always thought I look athletic. Not the Paul Tergat type but a well masculined body some college chicks would run their tender fingers on.
On the eve of the recruitment, Mato came with a marker to my room.
“Before I forget, you gonna need this.” He said. “Show me the sole of your feet.”
He scribbled something on the sole of my right foot.
“I talked with a friend in the force and you should count yourself a cop from tomorrow for the rest of your life.” By “talking” I knew he meant some fat-nosed senior cap had pocketed a wand of shilling notes.
All the while I didn’t say a word.
“Don’t worry about the ink. It won’t dry up. All the best and goodnight.”
The recruitment was taking place in Kipchoge Keino stadium. As told by Mato, I armed myself with sports shoes and some track suit. Never enjoyed running in my life. It got my lungs on fire. Plus I didn’t like the way Paul Tergat looks. Those guys looked malnourished.
On arrival at the field, I was shocked at the reality of how many Kenyans had no jobs. They formed queues of ten lines. Some held on tightly to their envelopes that apparently contained CVs I was sure the police were not interested in. Some of those cops never went to school. They were recruited on the basis of their physique early in the eighties. Big tummies and funny moustaches. Funny attitudes. I hated the police. Funny here I was at the mercy of their egos.
7.30 a.m. “Line up!” The would-be OCS barked. Everybody stood alert. It was funny the way the guy in front of me acted like he was already a cop. Stood erect like a post, electrified to the ground. Some had their shirts off. Some bare-footed with funny feet, trousers rolled up to the knee. Scarred legs and shit. Girls were there with make up, minis and tight jeans. One wore stilettos that enhanced her ass. Was she expecting the police to notice? None of my business.
“You are going to run and I mean run around this pitch thirteen laps as warm up. Any quitter can carry their things and go home. After that you would be told what to do next. Shoes off, put some canvas on if you have a pair. As soon as the whistle blows, dart.”
Thirteen rounds. Whose lungs and legs were going to be subjected to the ordeal? Could have borrowed any Kalenjini pair then. We formed a gigantic file and as the whistle blew, the craziness began.
Several lazy-legged guys were trampled upon as bare-chested and hard-faced fellows competed on the tracks like they were on some Olympics. I took the outer line for fear of being knocked over. Two rounds and my lungs started wheezing. My knees buckled like rusty hinges. I needed a handkerchief. I sweat like a pig sometimes. My armpits felt like they had been rubbed on with jelly. A girl ahead of me panted like a burdened donkey uphill. Her blouse formed a ring of seat around her lower back. As I kept my eyes on her ass, she wobbled to the ground like an empty sack with froth oozing from the corners of her mouth. I surged forward like a possessed demon as I saw some runners negotiate a corner 50 meters ahead of me. My mind told me I needed the job. My lungs retorted saying the doctors say, to live longer without ever setting foot in a hospital, unless you are visiting a patient, is to listen to your body always. And I have been ignoring my breathing vessels for too long. The spirit told me only the weak give up. My body needed one more round to adjust itself and I would soon be running my eyes closed on high heels and tight pants backwards.
Somebody was breathing heavily behind me. The bastard blew his nose right on my vest. His bare soles thudded heavily as he passed me by with a smelly sweat. I wanted to kick his thick-veined legs viciously. Before I could spit off the smell of unwashed bodies and cheap body perfumes, a skinny boy fell on me from behind. That set me off-balance and I fell as well. Getting up, I couldn’t resume running. I walked toward the officers who were barking at feet draggers in the tracks.
One sneered from beneath the cap.
“I tripped and I think I have twisted an ankle.” I lied.
“Hm…” He muttered and walked away, his baton flipping in his fingers.
I had forgotten to carry some water.
We assembled again for more scrutiny. To his word, those who fell by the way side during the race were sent packing by the OCS some crying, yelling, rolling on the ground in disbelief. Poor souls.
We went through height checking, teeth check, chest measurement, academic qualifications and finally our soles. There is a theory about how the shape of your feet determined how fast one can sprint. Crap. We were commanded to stand on one leg, hands up, no looking behind, exposing the soles of our feet. The officers checked the soles from behind. The unlucky ones were shoved ahead with some remarks like,
“Is this a leg or a maize cob? Never heard of bathing stones, huh?”
“Christ! Jiggers must have created a colony in your feet, boy! How do you even manage to wear shoes? You have a girlfriend? Yes? Does she massage your feet or you always make love in the dark?”
“Holy Mother of God! Even my grandmother has better legs. And guess what, she only wore shoes during my wedding!”
“What happened to your toe? Accident? What accident? Were you stealing? No? Raping your neighbour’s maid? Go try something else.”
“God! Are you gay? Then why do you paint your nails like a woman? Get out of the line!”
“I’m a Catholic but, man; do you think God was fair when he gave you feet that are as flat as a palm of a chimpazee? Those feet can’t run fast enough to catch a goat rapist from your village, can they? Then go home and tell your mother to bribe a local chief maybe you could get a job as a local school watchman. I hear they pay better nowadays. They even ask for high school certificates. Thank God I was born taller. Didn’t need certificates back then.”
When he reached me, he said nothing. I remembered the ink. What had Mato written?
“Those of you, who have reached this stage, count yourselves lucky. You can go home and wait for your report. Meanwhile you can count yourself a law enforcing person who will put his country’s integrity first by ensuring that the security of the country is safeguarded. You’ll receive notification on attending further training, your duties, dispatchment to respective areas in which you will be expected to perform your duties in accordance to the protocol of the Kenya Police.
For some strange reason, I was not excited about passing the bar. I was more interested in committing crimes, not stopping them. I wanted to rap or sell drugs.