The results of a radio call-in poll in a sunny February evening of 2005 were: four-fifths of non-residents would avoid Eastland as long as it took and two-thirds of the residents would move out soon as Ranger did.
The driver of the Corolla 102 Series killed the radio and matched his speed to that of a handcart heaped with refuse.
‘Lastborn,’ the driver addressed the boy pulling the cart said.
‘One day you’ll be too old to pull that thing.’
‘One day I’ll be too rich to understand why I am doing this.’
‘Paulo, what do you think?’
‘Adam and Eve owe me an apology,’ the boy pushing the cart said.
‘School is free, boys, if at all you want to be somebody.’
Ranger accelerated. His keen eye minded the humanity buzzing about more than the tar strip ahead. He knew what had just taken place here, the very activity unfolding up ahead, of signalling and scampering into the woodwork. He pulled up near a boy with his hand cuffed across an electricity post, grabbed his AK47 and stepped out.
‘Junior,’ Ranger said. ‘How does it feel to see a phone and not be able to snatch it?’
‘That I can change and live,’ the boy stammered. ‘It has been a six-hour life-changing thought.’
Ranger cocked his gun. ‘A world less you would be paradise.’
‘Not when I am a good, honest cobbler.’
‘The Junior I know lives off manna off other people’s pockets.’
The boy got a thousand bob on top of his freedom. ‘If you become a cobbler there is more where that came from. If you stick to crime you get a bullet.’
In the next stop Ranger bought a packet of milk and a loaf of bread. He entered the plot opposite the shop and knocked on door No. 3. The woman who answered the door could not hide her surprise.
‘How can I help you, officer?’
‘A cup of tea will be a great start,’ Ranger handed over his shopping.
‘Where I come from it is selfish of a visitor to do his own shopping.’
‘How did you know?’
‘I am paid to know.’
Tea took longer to cook than it would have had Mrs. Kenga been at ease with her visitor. Like most residents she had seen one or two of the many corpses produced by Ranger’s rifle. But this was the closest she ever came to the man. As Ranger giggled between small talk he was the ardent fan of Zeze, but she knew better. Her heartbeat adjusted to near normal when her husband walked in.
‘Mr. Kenga,’ Ranger said. ‘Here I am as promised.’
‘What is up, officer?’ Kenga asked.
Mrs. Kenga served tea. Mrs. Kenga observed that Ranger only sipped his tea after her husband sipped his.
‘Let’s talk about your sons.’
‘Are Gabu and Kasee okay?’ Mrs Kenga said.
‘What is that supposed to mean?’ Mrs. Kenga asked.
‘The two are involved in bad things.’
‘What things?’ Kenga asked.
‘Kind of things that catches the eye of a policeman,’ Ranger said.
‘That can’t be,’ Mrs Kenga said. ‘Who is feeding you the lies?’
‘How predictable,’ Ranger said. ‘Next I’ll be the cop who kills boys because I have none. Why don’t you investigate on your own?’
‘We know all there is to know about our kids,’ Mrs. Kenga said.
‘I would readily agree were the two in your womb or on your back.’
‘You should protect, not harass my family.’
Ranger got to his feet. ‘Mom, in these situations things go terribly wrong whenever emotions win over reason. We are duty-bound to protect those we love against others as we protect others against those we love. Thank you for a cup of tea.’
‘Are you mute?’ Mrs. Kenga asked her husband after Ranger was gone. ‘That animal just threatened your sons!’
‘Spare some breathe for your sons, woman!’
Gabu, now at sixteen and a giant in the making arrived first. He was in Form Three at Eastland Secondary having picked day over boarding, a perfect choice to his father for the lower fees and his indulging mother for his stay at home.
‘Where is your brother?’ Kenga asked.
‘Sit down,’ Kenga said.
Kasee arrived ten minutes of his brother. Now at fourteen, Kasee showed no intent to match his brother’s physique. He joined Gabu in the sofa that Ranger had sat in an hour before.
‘What is up?’ Kasee, the cunning of the two, asked.
‘Ranger has just left,’ Kenga said.
‘Who?’ Gabu, the less talkative of the two, asked.
‘Wait a sec,’ Kasee said, ‘is he the trigger-happy cop? Why was he here?’
‘You tell me.’
‘Tell you what?’
‘Don’t play games with me boy!’
‘I saw it for what it is; a witch-hunt,’ their mother said earning herself a first-and-last-warning look from her husband. To Kenga she was too sentimental to find fault, if any, with her sons.
‘You can kill me over and over but my answer will still stand: I have no clue what this is all about,’ Kasee said.
‘What is my crime?’ Gabu said.
Kenga wished now was when all it took was a good beating. He had no hope of squeezing out a confession to acts significant enough to attract the dreaded cop’s attention. He should have pressed Ranger for specifics.
‘No one leaves without my say so.’
Kasee and Gabu nodded.
When Kenga left the house his plan was to face Ranger. Instead he called a colleague at Ushindi Primary School and entered Arrow Bar.
‘You quit drinking, didn’t you?’
‘I have a perfect excuse. It is about the boys. Ranger was at my place.’
‘I don’t envy you, Kenga. What are they mixed up in?’
‘I’ve been too deep in the rat race I barely know people closest to me.’
‘Been there, seen that,’ Sam said. ‘By the time they hit fourteen they know what you want to hear. They are too old to be turned inside out for truth and hurray!, finally they can fend for themselves so you can chase your dream all you want. A couple of years ago Ranger arrested this boy from my neighbourhood. His parents – obviously armed with a bribe- dashed to Ranger faster than the fire brigade. Ranger prescribed an Italian cuisine in a posh hotel for the parents ‘to celebrate your son’s rebirth’. The judge, a product of the same cloth as Ranger, handed the boy five years or a hefty fine. The parents moved mountains to buy his freedom. Upon his release he was in every bar and every gathering scoffing at Ranger for turning down the bribe. ‘To me an arrest is no more than a stop at the urinal,’ he said. He was part of a four-man gang that was gunned down in a robbery at Eastland Filling Gas a month after. When Ranger coughs you better pay attention.’
‘Someone wise created the police, the judge and the executioner. Now it has taken a cowboy cop and a despicable public to trash that order.’
‘The head of the fish started rotting the day you talked your way out of the noisemakers list. If a policeman won’t take a bribe his boss will. If the boss won’t the judge will. To get the work done with a defective conveyance belt you need creativity; self-defence, links to serious crimes, bonoko. To the public an execution is to security what the chopping off of a chicken’s head is to a full stomach. They are so sick of living in fear to side with a victim of police execution. Guilty or otherwise you expect family and friends to hold a different position. In this hell-hole you either have been or are about to be mugged. In our day we smoked weed and chased the girls, now every youth is a star in Catch Me If you Can which calls for someone to do the catching.’
‘I didn’t know you are his fan, Sam.’
‘Don’t be callous. It would do a lot of good to see Ranger as a cop who shoots people every day but never the innocent, a cop who funds criminals to mount honest enterprises, or to move upcountry. A cop in whom two-thirds of the residents have such faith to be his eyes and ears. A cop who will put his life on the line for yours, day or night. A bull’s eye that criminals have missed for such a time they are tired of trying.’
‘What would you do in my shoes?’
‘Take the boys home. You won’t believe how much I save every month.’
Komako Market is the gateway of green groceries to the Eastland and the surrounding estates. You’ll find traders arriving as early as five for their wares. As the adage goes, you are either early to Komako Market or absent.
To fight the biting cold each of the six women was under at least three layers of clothing, a beanie, woollen socks and gumboots. Four of them had made this trip together for years. Each had been mugged separately before they joined hands. Occasionally some traders squeezed themselves in the group. Much as a bigger group size boasted one’s perception of security one had to be sure of who they were letting close. Today this quiet woman was keeping too close everyone was jittery.
‘Money and phone,’ the first boy said.
‘If you want to die it can be arranged,’ the second boy said.
In a move that catch the boys unawares one of the women raised her dress to reveal a gun. The boy with a gun was the first to fall.
‘Ranger?’ one of the women said.
Ranger approached the boy with the gun and studied his face. He dialled his phone and said, ‘Mr. Kenga, time to take Gabu home.’