I found myself in a very peculiar position yesterday. I had a meeting in the morning to pitch an idea somewhere. It went well enough. The town was full of people, with the young ones all over the place as their parents took the them to the Show Ground. I hate this day. Everybody is out to make a quick buck and the result is chaos all over the place.
There were few vehicles around and on missing those that plight my route, I decided to check in on my good friend R who lives some 100 metres from the Central Business District. I walked over and I found him in. I had no seen him since I started studying CFA and there was a lot to catch up on, especially since he is planning to leave the country for Australia.
While we were sitting on the bench in the garden catching up, some lady on her balcony in the next building shouted R’s name. R stood and said hi and then sat down again. She called him out again and this time round, talking a little bit louder told us that there was a thief.
I stood on the bench we were sitting on so that I could see her over the fence properly and see what she was going on about. That was when I saw her pointing behind us to the next house. I turned, too quickly, and in the process breaking the bench. I saw this guy stuffing a jeans beneath his shirt and trying to walk off.
He sees me and freezes. I rush for the gate and R is in tow. This guy makes the brightest decision – he does not run. In Kenya, a quick way to die is to run and then somebody shouts THIEF! I approach him and though he is quite big, fear makes him shrink in stature. I don’t even feel the slightest urge to punch him but my friend R is shaking with anger, eager to beat this guy’s face in.
I approach him, look him straight in the eye and he goes down thinking I was going to pounce on him. I don’t hit him but he is now sitting down with sorry eyes that are watery. The fear in his eyes is evident – and without saying a word, you could see he was begging for his life. His fear spreads to the whole of his body as more people start to assemble surrounding him. Mind you – nobody has yet called out or yelled thief!
I kneel on one knee, take off his hat so that I can see his face and ask him whether he wants to die. He shakes his head meaning no. I tell him to look around… which he does. He looks at the assembling people, some already baying for his blood. I inform him that there is garage on one end, a place where manambas sit on the other, and no other way to run. And that these people are the kind that will brutally kill him on a whim.
And he was bald. I ask him what the hell he was trying to do! He was bald meaning that he was old, too old to be stealing jeans from a wash line. He nods saying yes.
I tell him that I am not going to hit him because I have seen plenty of men like him die. I tell him that my hitting him was all the go ahead those assembling needed to finish him off and I was not going to be that person that will grant him his death sentence; over a pair of jeans. I tell him that if he steals again, the person that catches him next will not be me and that he will most probably be killed. I ask him if he is listening to what I am saying. He nods. I tell him that he is surely going to die and a painful death at that; just not under my watch.
I walk off leaving him there. But he reaches out for me, gives me a very firm handshake and slips through the crowd which does absolutely nothing as he walks away. Keep in mind that I never asked or even requested the crowd not to beat this guy up. Therefore in my mind, how the person who catches a thief decides to act determines a lot whether that person will live or die.
We head over to the bench once more, which I repair. But R is still shaking, telling me that he thought I was going to kill this guy (he saw me mad and get out of control when I was younger and that is the image that he still has in his head.) He had even given me the space to beat this guy up when we first got to him. He had backed up and was utterly shocked when I instead hunkered down to have a talk with this guy. I guess I grew up.
It is not everyday that a thief can get caught and walk without a scratch but with a word of advice in Kenya. He knew it and hence the firm handshake he gave me. I had just saved his life and he knew that better than anybody else. On my side, I could only hope that he would take this as the chance of a lifetime to reflect and walk some other path in life. But I can assure you one thing; if he steals again, he will get caught an he will go up in flames.
I cannot have the death of a Human Being on my conscious…