23rd August, 2009 | JKIA, Nairobi, Kenya
The Departure Bay at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport can be a tad too crowded, especially on Saturday afternoons. It can also be hot, despite the state – of – the – art air conditioners fanning the Embakasi air up and about. Having lived at the foot of the Aberdare Ranges for nearly all his life, Stevie was not used to these warm temperatures. His white sweatshirt was already drenched at the armpits. The two Kings Collection suitcases he was dragging did not make it any better. He could not wait to get past the security clearance and catch the breeze of the First Class lounge on the Kenya Airways Flight to London.
Being the top Student within the borders of the then Nyeri District, he had won himself a fully – funded scholarship at Oxford University to study Philosophy. He had not the slightest clue what Philosophy was or where Oxford was located. All that mattered was that he was finally waving Nyeri goodbye and going abroad, the land of white people and money, as his relatives referred to England. His entire village had escorted him to the airport and sang themselves sore to the renowned Gikuyu celebratory song ”Mwanake Ta Uyu, Mwamonire Kuu?” Translation, ”A fine gentleman like this one, have you seen or heard of any?”. Gentlemen, if you have not had this anthem dedicated to you, you might need to take someone who is not a man to your home and trust me, the brigade of women will gather and boom! You are the fine gentleman that has not been seen or heard of anywhere else.
But now, it’s the turn of this fine gentleman from Nyeri. He has never been on a plane before. He can’t wait to board this big metallic thing with wings and all. Ndung’u, his favourite uncle had warned him to carry a polythene bag because apparently, people vomit when the plane takes off. He knew this because he had been flown to India for specialized treatment back in 2003. It has been 6 years but due to the countless times the story has been told, you might think he had his kidney transplant just the other day. Stevie would miss Ndung’u. He would miss picking tea from the tea – fields of King’ong’o. He would miss serving mass at St. Jude King’ong’o Parish every Sunday. He would miss Judy Wangui, his King’ong’o girlfriend. But now was time for the land of milk and honey. Or Not.
He got to the luggage screening area and was startled by the sharp continuous barking of three giant sniffing dogs. They glared at him menacingly as they galloped around his two suitcases, nearly breaking off from their leashes. Their ears were pointing north and they were drooling uncontrollably, heavy drops of thick saliva. From his High School biology, Stevie recognized this as a sign of alarm. The dogs were alarmed by something in his bags. But what? His three pairs of trousers and five shirts? His certificates from King’ong’o High School? Or maybe it was his small pocket radio that he used to listen to his favourite reggae jams. Maybe they have a radio on the plane and they don’t like many radios turned on at the same time.
‘Steven Kinuthia?’ The officer read out his name from his passport.
‘Yes? ‘ Stevie responded, confused.
‘You will have to come with me.’ The officer asked him, politely.
They walked down a narrow dimly – lit corridor into a small room that looked just like the principal’s office back at King’ong’o Secondary School. Two other officers followed them carrying the two suitcases, donning white pairs of gloves. The three dogs tried to follow suit but were restrained as they had hundreds of other passengers to embarrass. Stevie felt like would puke. His uncle Kinuthia was right. He had never been this close to not one, but three police officers. A suited gentleman walked in and went straight to the bags. He zipped them open and frantically threw Stevie’s items out, including his small radio. And behold, there it was.
A Supa Loaf loaf of bread. The suited gentleman tore open the wrapping and removed the top slices, and right in the middle, was a small package. He tore open the package and lay it on the table for everyone to see. There they lay, sparkling brighter than the small fluorescent lamp on the principal’s look-alike desk. Hundreds of stringed – tea bags stashed together. The suited gentleman picked one and tore it apart, pouring thousands of particles of a smooth white powder. The only smooth white particles Stevie had seen in his life were of Wheat Flour, but from the look on the officer’s faces, this wasn’t it. It was also too smooth to be salt. What could it be? Am I in trouble? Is this what everyone going to Oxford passes through? Stevie grabbed the polythene bag his uncle had packed for him and let out all the chicken and fries he had eaten with his family at the airport cafeteria.
13th January, 2019 |Kamiti Maximum Prison, Kenya
The gates of Kamiti Maximum Prison buzzed open and out walked one Steven Kinuthia. He had finished serving his ten – year sentence on two counts; Possession of 5000 milligrams of Cocaine and Intention to Traffic the same. The magistrate had referred to him as a ‘Moral Hazard and Booby Trap to the society’ who wanted to ruin the lives of young people. The events leading to his incarceration were brutally traumatising. Firstly, at the time of his arrest, Steven was 17 years and five months old. Surprisingly, three weeks later at the time of his trial, he possessed an Official Identity Card and the date of birth indicated that he was 18 years and three months old. The Date of birth coincidentally matched the one on his birth certificate, his passport and Oxford University Admission letter, produced in court by the prosecution.
Mathenge, Steven’s Lawyer went to school with Steven’s father. Steven’s father had dropped out in O – levels while Mathenge went on to study law at Makerere University back in the 80s. Being the only lawyer from King’ong’o, he was the go-to person for all matters Justice for anyone from that part of Mt. Kenya. His plan was to plead that Steven was a minor and therefore face the Juvenile Justice System instead, which was easy to navigate by. There is an old adage that a good lawyer knows the law but a great lawyer knows the judge. Mathenge was a great lawyer. He knew all the judges in the Juvenile Courts and had worked out a plan to get Steven out as an ”Innocent Bystander”. Then all of a sudden, Steven was an adult and his little plan was thwarted.
In addition to this miracle, Steven’s father who was in perfectly good health, suddenly developed respiratory complications and died of Heart Failure. Steven’s mother lost her job as a teacher at the local primary school, owing to the negative publicity that had surrounded her family. Steven’s siblings became the subject of ridicule at their respective schools and village – hangouts. On top of all this, Steven was handed a ten – year sentence for a crime he did not commit. And that became the first case that Mathenge ever lost. Now Steven was out. Nobody was there to receive him. Not that he expected anyone anyway. He boarded the taxi that his good friend at the Prison gate had said was his farewell gift and off they drove.
Mathenge’s office was on the 4th Floor of Muthaiga Square. It had pellucid glass walls and very high chandelier-lit ceilings. The dense blue carpet made you feel as if you were on a trampoline. The palish – white walls made you want to touch them, and so did the crisp pieces of art hanging from them. The aureate golden lighting contrasted sharply with the dark clouds gathering over Muthaiga Golf Club, whose virescent – green grounds could be seen in all their majesty. ‘Mathenge Muchiri – Managing Partner, Mathenge & Co Advocates” read the sign on the sliding door. Steven knocked and entered. The two looked at each other for a while before Mathenge stood from his revolving chair and hugged him endearingly.
‘How did you know where to find me?’ asked Mathenge.
‘The Address on the letterhead of the last letter you sent me.’ answered Steven.
‘Smart guy, you are,’ admired Mathenge.
‘I earned a scholarship to Oxford, remember?’ joked Steven.
And that brought back all the memories of where all this started. That scholarship had been the pedigree of all of Steven’s troubles. It had snatched ten years away from him, his father, his mother’s job, his siblings’ stature and had broken Mathenge’s perfect winning record. For the 3655 nights Steven spent inside his cell, he always played it over his head. Truly, someone had set him up by placing the drugs in his suitcase. But why? He had no enemies, or none that he knew of at least. He was a staunch Christian, serving mass at St. Jude Catholic Parish every Sunday. He did not drink nor smoke. He did not engage in sexual promiscuity like every other Form four – leaver as they used to call themselves.
One night, in the cold peaceful quiet of Kamiti Maximum Prison, he told the story to his cellmate and it all started to make sense. The only reason someone would go through the trouble of setting him up with drugs, then later coercing with the authorities to add up his age and make him face adult charges was if they really wanted him away. But why? So that they can have what you had, answered cellie. The only thing Stevie had, that anyone else would want so badly, was that scholarship. Oh, and Judy Wangui, Stevie’s girlfriend from King’ong’o.
24th June, 2019 | Oxford, United Kingdom
Oxford University sits on a hundred-acre piece of land in the city of Oxford, 60 miles north – west the English Capital of London. With 39 Colleges scattered across the city – centre, you may easily get lost. The Bodleian Library stands 120 feet from the ground, towering over the rainbow of colours from the plants, trees and vegetation tranquilly cohabiting in the 70 – acre Oxford Botanical garden. Strolling through the University environment takes one down a historical path dating back to the year 1096 when the University had its first lecture.
Stevie took it all in, picturing his younger self, ten years younger, in a navy blue pair of jeans, a white T – shirt and a black hoodie, with an Oxford – branded bag strapped across his chest, probably in a bike and a helmet on his head, jumping from lecture room to libary to student – centre, doing this Philosophy thing. He breathed heavily, his lips trembling at the pain that that little story he created in his head could have happened but will never happen, just because someone took it from him. It was now time to find out who this person was.
After being busted with drugs, Stevie could not get a VISA to any part of the world. He still had five years left on his ban. So he came up with a meticulous plan. He enrolled at a city college for a three – year paralegal course and had Mathenge give him an Internship position at Mathenge & Co Advocates. Then he had Mathenge nominate him to represent Mathenge & Co Advocates at The International Paralegal Convention to be held in London between 24th and 25th June, 2019. That way, he earned a two – day Visa to the United Kingdom. Two days was all he needed. And he was right in the middle of the first one.
‘Hello Steven, My name is Margaret. How may I be of help to you?’ She has an English accent, of course, like everybody around here.
‘As I explained in my email, I am working on a case on the disappearance of one of your former students.’ Steven pulls out his golden – embossed business card and handed it to Margaret, the Head of Admissions at Oxford University, a position she has dutifully served for the last seventeen years.
‘Well, Mr. Steven, we have admitted thousands of students over the last years.’ Margaret responds.
‘This particular student is quite peculiar..’ Steven interjects
‘Tell me more about this alumnus’ Margaret asks.
‘He was admitted on a fully-funded scholarship on the Summer of 2009 through the International Students Scholarship Fund. The country of origin is Kenya.’
‘I see. But I may need more than a business card to justify wiping the dust off a 2009 File.’
‘I got it.’ Steven opens his briefcase and pulls open an affidavit signed and stamped by one Mathenge Muchiri of Mathenge Muchiri & Co Advocates requesting for facilitation in the investigation. Margaret has a look at it and makes a call to the University legal office. They have a small discussion and she goes over to a separate room and comes back with a file titled, International Students Scholarship Fund – 2008/9. She flips the pages over and over and closes the file.
‘In the Summer of 2009, only nine students were admitted on the ISS Fund. Only one is from Kenya but the name is not the one you are looking for.’ Margaret responds.
‘Well. What’s his name?’
‘Actually, it’s a she. Her name is Judy Wangui. She was handed the scholarship after the initial awardee of the scholarship was a no – show.’
Steven does not hear the rest of Margaret’s statement. His mind is racing. Judy Wangui! The girl he had promised to come back and marry after the four – year stint he was to spend in England. The girl he had given his virginity right in the middle of the tea fields of King’ong’o. The girl who sat in court during his sentencing and shed tears when they took him away. The girl who also never visited him in prison and only wrote to him once, saying that she had moved on and that Steven should forget her.
‘Steven, are you okay?’ asks Margaret.
‘Yeah. No. Uhm. I need a drink. Uhm, water will do’ Steven responds higgedly – piggedly.
‘I think you need more than a glass of water. You are nose bleeding,’ Margaret notices the bloodstain on Steven’s shirt, ‘Come on, I’ll show you to the University clinic,’
To Be Continued