Serving the Nation

I punch him hard. My knuckle hits his kidney. Blood spurts from his mouth. He makes a gurgling sound, throws his head forward trying not to choke on his own blood. I move back and watch him. His eyes are closed, the muscles on his face tightened. He is trying to contain the pain. I punch him harder at the same spot.

His body coils back with each hit. The men holding him struggle to keep him from moving. I hit again on the same spot. A rib cracks loudly. He still says nothing, makes no sound. He can no longer lift his head up when I am done. The men that hold him lift him up. His eyes are open. His eyes look like my grandfather’s; as if they know something I don’t.

His hair is long but clean and although he was brought in dirty and in rags, he looks like an educated man. He looks at me. His nostrils widen as he stares. I return the look but he does not blink. I want to hit him on his face but restrain myself. I need him alive. “Put him on the seat and tie his hands behind his head,” I tell them. I watch as they pull him onto the wooden seat and help him on it. I am not angry, just disappointed. He should have talked hours ago. I turn and walk out, closing the wooden door behind me.

I head to the bathroom and wash the blood off my hands. He has wasted too much of my time. The image that stares at me on the mirror is tired. My hair is rough, my shirt is creased and it has a few blood spots. I try washing them off but it doesn’t help. I take it off. I have a spare somewhere in the office. The shirt in my office is an even worse state but at least it is not stained. I put it on and try to straighten it. I had a lunch date with Maryam. I had promised to take her to that fancy new place for Africans near the University.

She had agreed to go if I picked her up in the government car. She has this thing about being seen in government cars, not that it bothers me although I wonder how it would be if I left the government. I brush the thought aside. She is not that type of girl. I look at the clock. It’s three in the afternoon and I am yet to have lunch. I will have to make up to her on another day. I have a soft spot for Maryam, if that can be classified as feelings. She is my type of girl; young, educated and humble.

She is the type of woman a man like me should marry. The thought of her pretty face lightens my mood. Soon, I will be in a position to ask her to marry me. My knuckle hurts. I wipe it gently with a handkerchief and make my way to the canteen. The smoke that could be seen from the canteen grounds still floats on the west side of the town where the rebels hit the city. I can smell burning tires and the emptiness at the canteen is proof that things are not back to normal.

The smell of the tires brings back the memories of the fight. I remember the machete wielding painted faces, the war cries, the stone throwing youths and the sounds of gunshots. I can still see the faces as they fell. I swallow a knot. I should feel guilty. I should be sick but am not. I wipe the sweat on my forehead. Mkuna is the only person at the canteen. His cap is at the table next to his gun. He has a bad habit of putting his gun on the table. I sit next to him without saying a word. He is having chicken soup and gulping it down in his usual way. He has the skin and bones on the table and is working his colored teeth through the thigh.

I raise my hand at the waitress and she sways herself to the table. “Usual,” she smiles. “With a soda,” I ignore the smile. She walks to the kitchen counter, swaying her hips harder. I find myself looking at her until she disappears. I turn and Mkuna is pulling the chicken meat off the bone roughly, his eyes still on me. “Don’t say anything,” the tone of my voice is commanding. He puts the broken bone on the table. “There is nothing to say,” his mouth is still full as he speaks. His statement annoys me. I want him to say something annoying but he doesn’t. He has a way of saying everything without talking. The soup comes and I gobble it down.

We do not talk for a while. “Still at it?” his voice is a contrast of his huge physique. It is more of a high pitched squeak. Every time I hear him speak, I fight the urge to laugh. First time I met him, I laughed and he bloodied my nose. I can count the number of men that have been able to do that on one of my hands and I have fought a lot of fights. I nod, trying to give him the same feeling he gives me when he answers without words. He looks away content. I drink the soda softly, watching the west side of the city and wondering about Maryam. I turn and find him looking at me. “They are going to win this,” he says standing up.

Mkuna has been having this deep notion that the rebels would win the war. It must be the large amounts of beer he drinks after work or the number of times he has hit his head. I shake my head in disagreement and get up. I don’t want to get into an argument with him. He gets up slowly. The knee must be paining him again. I pretend not to notice. We leave the canteen together. His limp is more pronounced today although he acts as if he doesn’t feel it. We head towards the interrogation room. I know what Mkuna plans to do. He is going to try and make the suspect talk. Under normal circumstances, I would try to stop him but these are not normal times. Nothing is alright and we all caught up trying to return life to normal. Mkuna is more affected because his leg would never go back to its normality. Although he doesn’t say it, I know he is not okay. Six months ago, he was fine. Everything was fine.

There were murmurs and complains about the government but hadn’t that been the case since the coming of the Europeans? Then Mpanda, the rebel leader that the idiot in the cell refused to give his location to us, happened. My department, the anti-rebel department, had heard of him for years. We even had records of him but back then he was a University student with nothing more than a loud mouth and an ambitious character. Our recommendation to the police department had been that there was a need to neutralize him but like other recommendations in the past, it was ignored. Now the orders on him were shoot to kill. He has shaken not the government but the British Empire. Word was that the rebels joked that the queen increased her security after she had heard about him.

There were too many rumors. Some said bullets could not hurt Mpanda as he was the chosen one, the son of a chief. Others claimed that he had been shot numerous times and every time he died, he resurrected. I would love to shoot him and hear what they say when his body rots in the grave. To claim he had resurrected was going too far. Someone needed to kill the idiot and the rumors. Mkuna was the only one I knew who had met Mpanda after he had gone into the bush and lived to tell the tale. There were rumors that Mpanda had personally used an axe on the leg, damaging the knee as a message to the department.

There were others who thought that Mkuna got hurt while running away from the rebels and coined that story to get promoted. Mkuna said nothing but I knew his story. I had checked the files. We head towards the cells. They are located on the left side of the police station. Guards in khaki shirts and shorts man the cells. Usually we have about 6 for the 70 man cells but the rebels have forced us to keep twenty. Its dark inside the corridor and we pass several cells as we walk towards the interrogation room. Two guards stand outside the room, they salute and one pushes the heavy metal door aside. The room is poorly lit and it takes a few seconds before our eyes are used to the light. It smells of urine. Its dim, the light coming from the small widows might have you think its evening all the time.

The suspect looks up when we get in. He looks at Mkuna’s limp and for the first time since we brought him, I could see he is terrified. Mkuna looks at him and then points to his knee. He speaks slowly, the squeak more threatening than his size. “You were there when he used the ax, weren’t you?” he doesn’t wait for the answer. “I will do the same using this,” he points to the baton. I walk outside anticipating screams.

Seconds later, they come; loud, frightening.

I smile. The idiot will talk.

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