[Dear Readers, in a bid to improve the quality of stories, I have altered the structure of the stories. Unlike before, this story is not a chapter of the novella that I will publish next week Saturday. It is a stand-alone story. Similarly, next Friday’s story will neither be a continuation of this story, nor a chapter of the novella I will publish the following day. But the three stories are related, so the setting is the same and the characters will overlap. Thank you, and happy new year!]
Job watches with growing dread as the green and yellow pickup truck stops on the roadside near the farm where he is working. The colors and the logo depicting three oranges inside a triangle make it clear that the truck belongs to Macunkwa Orange Farm, the three-hundred-acre fruit farm that is the largest commercial enterprise in the area. Oranges are the main fruit planted on the farm, hence the name, but the farm also has avocados and mangoes on a smaller scale.
There was rampant theft of fruits at the farm, which were then sold at the local markets. This prompted the farm, known by locals as the Estate, to hire a small army of guards to patrol the farm and the roads surrounding it. This has somewhat controlled the theft, but not eliminated it. Still, that is enough to please the owner of the Estate, though he demands more vigilance from the guards.
The guards, however, have over the years turned rogue, and are known for their brutal tactics. They are known to beat up people to death and there have been claims that they do rape women and girls who they find bear the Estate’s boundaries. Sometimes they are even said to molest casual laborers inside the Estate. Villagers know that it is pointless to report these claims to the police because nothing is done. The Estate’s owner is a wealthy man with connections in high places, and this gives his guards cover to do whatever they please.
The brutality is usually not just limited to thieves. Whenever the guards are patrolling the roads neighboring the farm, they are known to victimize people working on neighboring farms. They demand bribes, but if none are granted, they beat the victims up and take them to the police station, accusing them of theft.
That is Job’s fear.
He has done nothing wrong, but he knows that the pick-up truck has stopped because the guards have spotted him. They want a bribe, but Job doesn’t have money. He knows that he has two options: he can either run, or he can wait for his beating. He chooses the former.
Job is physically weak, but he hopes that adrenaline can power him to safety. As two young guards step out of the pick-up truck, Job drops the fork jembe he was using the plough the land and takes flight.
Job runs as fast as he can, but knows he will not make it to safety. He is fifty years old, and he can feel the heavy steps of the youthful guards closing in on him. What is worse, however, is the growl of a guard dog that is closing in on him even more quickly. Macunkwa Orange Farm has several trained German Shepherd dogs as part of its security apparatus, and the guards use them to patrol the farm.
In addition to being frightened, Job is tired, hungry, and thirsty. He has been working on the farm for the whole day, and he has had nothing to eat. The mangoes across the fence on the Estate had been tempting, but Job restrained himself both because he is a born-again Christian, and also because he knows that the price of getting caught is too high.
The day is almost ending, and Job had been looking forward to the one hundred and fifty shillings that Lundia would pay him at the end of his shift. It is 4.30 pm, and Job had only half an hour to what would have been the successful end of the day. He had already started considering himself lucky. But then the guards have struck.
One hundred and fifty shillings is way below the current rates that casual farm workers are getting these days in the area. Most farmers pay between three hundred shillings and four hundred shillings per day. Some farmers, such as Hezron in the neighboring village, pay as much as five hundred shillings a day. But those jobs are few and very competitive.
Lundia’s real name is Lydia, but it has over the years been ‘Africanized’ to Lundia. She is a stingy 72-year-old woman who lives alone on her two-acre farm next to Macunkwa Orange Farm. It is rumored that she had tried to sell the farm to the owner of the Estate, and he had made a decent proposal, but she turned it down terming it “ridiculous and insulting”. She did not try to negotiate upward, and the matter ended there. Many people do not like working for her because she pays very little, and because she does not offer food.
Most of the farmers in the area, including those who are not as well-up as Lundia, offer their casual laborers ten O’clock tea as well as lunch. But on Lundia’s farm, even getting drinking water is a problem. She keeps whining about the cost of living, and how exorbitant everything is, including “greedy workers”. Lundia is not poor. She is a retired secondary school teacher and runs a private secondary school that she and her late husband founded when he retired about twenty years ago. She also manages the rental houses that he left behind.
When her husband was alive, their two-acre farm was prosperous, as he grew various vegetables that he sold at the local market. But ever since he died, Lundia has let the farm be overrun by weeds. That is why she wanted to sell it and planned to retain only the quarter acre where her homestead stands.
Besides poor pay and lack of food, the other reason why many workers shy away from Lundia’s farm is because of the brutality of the guards who patrol the boundaries of the Estate. It is well known in all the villages that border the Estate that the guards are brutal and corrupt, and that they frequently stray from the Estate into neighboring farms to solicit bribes.
Most farmers have resulted to paying monthly “protection fees” to the cartel of guards so that they can leave them and their workers alone. But Lundia does not pay protection fees, so working on her farm is risking either being extorted or beaten. Job took the risk today because he is desperate. His employment at the Estate was terminated last month when he fell ill, and other jobs have been difficult to come by.
Job is recovering from a month-long fight with pneumonia, and it is showing. His body has been left weak and many of the farmers in the area prefer not to hire him even though in the past he has proven to be a reliable and hardworking farm hand. Throughout the period he was bedridden, it was his very pregnant wife Martha who was feeding the family by doing laundry jobs for the more well-up families in the village.
But Martha gave birth yesterday via C-section, and while NHIF paid for her hospitalization and surgery, it will not feed the family. Martha will not be able to work for a while. That is why Job knew that he would have to start working again, even though his body was not ready for it.
He has been job-hunting for a week. He tried getting back to the Estate, but he was not even allowed past the gate. The other farms also declined to hire him, stating that he was not strong enough for the work. Yesterday, he finally swallowed his pride and fears and approached Lundia. She told him to come to work today, and he did.
That decision is the reason he is panting heavily, his feet growing increasingly weak, as he tries to get away from two ruthless young men and their equally ruthless dog.
Job’s feet give way as the dog’s powerful forelegs land on his shoulders, pushing him to the ground. He screams, expecting the dog to sink its sharp teeth into his neck. But the dog is trained, and it does not bite. It merely brings him to the ground, restrains him, and waits for the guards, who are a couple of minutes behind. Job tries to shake himself free, but the dog is too strong for his frail body, and it snarls threateningly at him.
The guards arrive a couple of minutes later and shoo the dog away. One of them hoists Job up by the collar of his shirt and slaps him twice on the face.
“Where are the oranges?” he snaps.
“I don’t have any oranges.”
The answer is followed by blows and kicks. Job screams and gets more blows on the face. His gums start bleeding.
“Tell us where you have hidden the oranges you have stolen from the Estate,” the same guard continues. Both guards are young, probably in their early twenties. And true to their reputation, they are mean, although one of them, the one who has been silent all along, strikes a placating tone when he speaks.
“Mzee, we don’t want to hurt you or cause you trouble. Just tell us where the oranges are and we will leave you alone.”
“I haven’t stolen any oranges, and as you can see, this part of the Estate doesn’t even have oranges. Just mangoes.”
“So, you are admitting to stealing mangoes?” the first guard asks, kicking him hard in the groin.
Pain shoots from Job’s groin area and fires its way to the rest of his body, eclipsing all the other pain points in his body. He groans loudly and doubles over, but that only earns him kicks on the buttocks and more slaps on the face as the meaner of the two guards lifts him.
“Where are the mangoes?”
“I don’t have any…” He is cut short by more kicks and slaps until he collapses onto the ground in a heap.
The gentler of the guards leans over and speaks with mock kindness.
“Mzee, we know you stole the mangoes. But we can forget all this if you buy us lunch. Just give us two hundred shillings each and we will forget your theft.”
“My son, please believe me. I did not steal anything. And I don’t have money. But I can ask Lundia to give you the one hundred and fifty shillings I have worked for today.”
“I am not your son!” the “kind” guard suddenly growls, kicking him repeatedly in the ribcage. Job coils his body to protect himself but that only angers the guards more and they both kick him even more viciously, their heavy boots connecting heavily with various parts of Job’s body. Job tries to scream but he has no strength left. His entire body is on fire.
Finally, the kicks stop coming and the guards drag him across the farm to the road, where the truck is parked. Job’s ordeal is far from over, as the guards intend to take him to a police station, where he will be arrested for theft. But he doesn’t know this, because he is floating in and out of consciousness.
Lundia is in her kitchen blending a smoothie when the screams fill the air. She has been expecting it all day long, but as the day came to a close, she was almost resigning to the fact that she would have to pay Job his one hundred and fifty shillings. In fact, she had started scheming a plan where she would ask him to come again tomorrow, and then for the rest of the week. She planned to convince him that it would be best if she paid him at the end of the week. That way, he would have more money as a lump sum. She hoped that if he agreed, the Estate’s guards would catch him before the week was over and she wouldn’t have to pay him a penny.
Lundia is a penny pincher, and it was the only thing that used to cause a strain in her otherwise very loving relationship with her late husband Luka. Luka was generous to a fault, and Lundia could not understand why he spent money so freely.
After his death six years ago, Lundia used Covid-19 as an excuse to lower the salaries of the teachers working at her school. When schools were closed by the government due to the pandemic, Lundia fired all the teachers. And when they were re-opened, she made those who were willing to return sign new contracts…with lower salaries and without benefits such as free lunch and the ten O’clock tea that they had been accustomed to. She argued that since she was paying them, there was no reason why she should feed them. They should use their own money to feed themselves.
She also started rationing the students’ food, arguing that the reason they were not performing well was because they were overfeeding- never mind the fact that when Luka was alive, the school was one of the top schools in the area. As a result of her stinginess, her school has lost the best teachers and students, and it is struggling to remain operational as a going concern.
Lundia refused to pay ‘protection money’ to the Estate guards, arguing that she was a Christian and would not bribe. As a result, few workers dare to venture into her farm. And the few desperate ones who do, she underpays them. Eventually, they stopped coming altogether. The farm was officially abandoned, save for the quarter acre where her house stands, and that is taken care of by the underpaid house help.
When Job came asking for work, Lundia did not want to pay him the one hundred and fifty shillings, as she completely lost interest in farming ages ago. Besides, he looked frail and she knew he would not do much on the farm. Lundia always insists on getting “value for her money”, a term she uses to justify her habit of underpaying workers. But she is a Christian and is a church elder in the same Presbyterian Church where Job serves as a deacon. It would have been bad optics to turn him down, especially since she knows about his illness, and his wife’s pregnancy and childbirth. She could have given him some money, or foodstuff, as an act of compassion, but the Bible says that those who do not work should not eat.
She gave him the work, but she knew that chances were high that he would be harassed by the Estate’s guards. True to form, the guards have come to save her from paying the one hundred and fifty shillings to the desperate man.
She watches from her bedroom window as the two guards beat him up, drag him through the farm, and throw him onto the back of the double cabin pickup truck. When they drive away, Lundia goes back to the kitchen to finish blending her juice.
It is not her fault that Job wanted the work, she tells herself. He took the risk knowing what might befall him.
A bucket of very cold water is what rouses Job into full consciousness, and after being disoriented for a few minutes, he realizes that he is at the police station. He wants to groan but the pain shooting from all over his body stops him. Once he comes to, he is dragged through the reporting desk where he is booked and thrown into the dirty cells.
Immediately he lands in the cell, the stench causes a wave of nausea to strike him and he promptly vomits. The effort causes him even more agony, but there is nothing he can do about it. Unfortunately, he vomits on two suspects, who are not impressed and they promptly rough him up. But it soon becomes apparent that he is too ill, and they leave him alone. All the suspects in the cell promptly start shouting to attract the attention of the police.
Two police officers come to find out what the problem is, and the suspects inform them that one of their number is very ill. But they dismiss them and tell them to shut up, before walking away. The suspects, however, take it a notch higher and start shouting even more loudly.
Ten minutes later, a small contingent of armed police officers show up at the cell. One of them, an Inspector, warns that any of them who tries any mischief when the cell door is opened will be promptly shot to death. He opens the cell door slowly, and two officers drag Job out. The other suspects start complaining about the vomit in the cell but the Inspector tells them to shut up, and then he firmly shuts the door as his colleagues drag Job away.
Job is fully conscious when he is taken to a vacant room within the police station, but he wishes he could black out again. The pain is unbearable. He is certain that the guards caused him some internal injury, considering the pain he is under. But it is obvious that the police have no intention of taking him to the hospital; they have moved him to this store to silence the other suspects.
“Please give me some water,” he says feebly to the two police officers who have dropped him on the thin mattress that seems to have been hastily placed in the room. Job’s mouth and throat are dry, worsening his already dire situation. He thinks that a tumbler of cold water might ease his severe discomfort.
“I am not your mother,” one of the two officers snaps, and both of them walk out of the room and lock it from the outside.
Job has lived a hard life, with poverty clinging to him and his lineage like a leech. He did not manage to go to school beyond class eight, just like his siblings. His father inherited four acres of land from his father before him, and that had to be divided nine times. Job has thirteen siblings: eight brothers and five sisters. He and his brothers each got a small portion of the land, while the ninth portion remained in the hands of his parents. After the death of his parents, the piece was registered in the name of his one unmarried sister. His father had decreed that the piece be held jointly by the five daughters after his death and that of their mother, but the four married ones agreed to cede it to their sister, who has two children out of wedlock. She is the one who had been living there anyway, taking care of their aging parents until they died.
None of Job’s siblings became rich; even the married sisters got hitched to peasant farmers. The curse of poverty seems to follow the next generation: Job’s nephews and nieces have mostly dropped out of school, got married early, and became casual laborers. A few have been lucky to get manual jobs at the Estate which, even though the pay is poor, gives them a semblance of financial stability.
Job was a drunkard in his early life, and that is the reason he delayed getting married. He probably has children out of wedlock, but none of the women he slept with has ever tried to tie him to a child. He was a loser anyway, and cheap alcohol coupled with poverty made him an unattractive proposition. Besides, the women he slept with were drunkards like him, and they were sleeping with other drunkards as well, and they probably did not know the father of their children. They simply dumped the children on their impoverished parents and returned to the clubs of offer sex in exchange for cheap alcohol…and the cycle would continue. Job depended on small-time jobs like fetching water for restaurants and splitting firewood to sustain his drinking habit.
Since Job gave his life to Christ, however, he has tried his best to turn his life around. He quit alcohol and became a hardworking, trustworthy, and reliable farmhand. He married Martha, a local girl from his church, and she has turned out to be a blessing. They are still poor, but Martha is just as hardworking as he is, and together they are determined to ensure their children complete their schooling and break the chains of poverty. Job was fortunate to get a job at the Estate, which gave him stability and enabled him to plan his finances. But he lost the job when he fell sick.
As he lies on the cold floor, however, Job realizes that the curse of poverty will follow his children. The eldest is in class eight, and the youngest was born yesterday. Due to the pain he is feeling, Job is sure that he will not survive the night. And if he does, then he will be sent to jail for a crime he did not commit.
Either way, Martha and the children are ruined.
A police officer opens the door in the morning. Job did not sleep a wink. He suffered agonizing pain all night through, and many times he asked God to take him away and ease his pain forever. He asked Martha and the children to forgive him in absentia for his selfish thoughts, but the pain was just too much.
Now, when the police constable opens the makeshift cell, Job is too weak to sit up, and the officer has to support him. The officer has brought him a cup of thin tea and a slice of bread. He is kind, and when he sees how much Job is struggling, he decides to help him feed. He dips the bread into the tea and places it in Job’s mouth, who swallows with great difficulty. The officer patiently helps Job until the latter finishes his breakfast.
It is the same policeman who comes half an hour later to help Job into the police lorry that will take him to the law courts.
“Are you taking me to hospital?” Job asks when the middle-aged cop tells him it is time to go.
“No man, I wish I was,” the officer says kindly. “I asked the Inspector about it after I served you breakfast and he said that orders from above were that you be taken to court alongside the other suspects. You must have wronged some very big fish.”
“I did not wrong anyone. I am not sure why I am being persecuted.”
Job winces and groans all the way to the lorry, and on to the court cells. Besides the dull aches in his muscles, he has a splitting headache and his chest is on fire. There is also a sharp pain in his ribcage that becomes worse when he moves. He doesn’t know it, but his face is swollen. He is also suffering from nausea and is using his entire battered willpower to stop himself from vomiting.
The suspects are brought into the courtroom just a few minutes before the magistrate gets in. And when she does, Job struggles mightily to stand up with everyone, and struggles even more to sit after she has sat. It is while he is trying to sit down that he finally loses the battle against nausea and vomits on the floor. He not only vomits the breakfast he so painfully took, but he also vomits a river of blood.
The magistrate looks at him in disgust for a second.
“The court will take a 30-minute recess so that the courtroom can be cleaned. We will be back at 9.30 am,” she says.
“Your Honor if I may,” a young female lawyer says, quickly springing to her feet. “I think that our primary concern should be this man, who obviously needs urgent attention. I think that is more important than the cleaning of the courtroom. Your Honor, I pray that you make an order for him to be rushed to hospital.”
“You cannot tell me what I should or should not do. Who are you anyway?”
“I am Miss. Rotich.”
“Are you this man’s lawyer?”
“Not yet, your Honor. But I am going to represent him pro bono, in the event he doesn’t have other arrangements for representation.”
“But you are not his lawyer as we speak.”
“No, Your Honor, I am not. But I am human first and a lawyer second, and I can see that this man is in urgent need of medical attention. I am moving this court on compassionate grounds to assist this man and possibly save his life.”
“Go and get proper instructions Miss Rotich, and then move the court after the break.”
The magistrate rises and walks out of the room as everyone scrambles to their feet.
“You Honor, if it may please the Court, Miss Rotich once again…”
“I will stop you once again counsel. You are not going to run my court. There is a way courtrooms operate, and you know or should know that. Your case has not been called out, so you should wait for that before rising to address the court.”
“Your Honor, with all due respect, a man’s life is at stake here. I have spoken to the court clerk and asked him to start with plea-taking, but he has advised me that your instructions were that the court will mention civil cases before handling pleas.”
“That is correct. You have a problem with that?”
“Yes, Your Honor. My client needs urgent medical attention, and that is why I am moving the court once again on compassionate grounds…”
“Sit down counsel and wait for your turn.”
Angela Rotich is seething. She doesn’t understand why the magistrate is being so unreasonable. During the recess, she spoke to Job, and he told her that he was falsely accused of stealing mangoes at the Estate and that it was the Estate’s guards who beat him to a pulp.
Angela is 29, and she has been a practicing Advocate for five years. She used to run a small law firm, but she struggled financially because of the number of times she used to represent people for free. Whenever she felt that someone was facing an injustice and was poor, she found it difficult to turn him or her down. Her boyfriend kept telling her that she should find a proper balance between her commercial interests and her pro bono work so that she doesn’t end up poor like her clients.
But Angela could not help it. She cannot let a person she believes is innocent go to jail just because he or she cannot afford a lawyer. She cannot let an old woman lose her property to a greedy developer just because she doesn’t have a lawyer. She cannot allow a woman to be disinherited by her brothers just because she is poor and illiterate. She believes that law is a calling and that justice comes before money.
Her boyfriend, seeing that, helped her transition her law firm into an NGO and has been helping her fundraise from donors. He and a couple of their friends sit on the NGO’s board, but she has a free hand to run its operations. At her boyfriend’s urging, she hired an investigator to do background checks on her clients to prevent people from taking advantage of her services. Angela has for a year now only been taking indigent cases and handling them pro bono. The money from donors settles the bills of the NGO, including her salary and that of her staff.
It is her boyfriend who told her about this case last evening. He didn’t give her details, but he told her that someone had been badly beaten by Estate guards and then taken to the police station, and would likely be taken to court in the morning. Her boyfriend didn’t give her details, but he told her that he had been informed that the man might need urgent medical assistance. He promised to give her more details in the morning but asked her to check the man out and try to get him bail or at least get the cops to take him to the hospital.
It is not often that Kennedy refers cases to her, so Angela took it up without asking too many questions. She immediately drove to the police station, but the police denied having such a person in custody. Still, Angela came to court early, and when she established which courtroom pleas would be taken, she took her position.
When the suspects were brought, she recognized Job right away, even though she had never met him before. He is badly injured and seems to be in a lot of pain. She knew right away, even before speaking to him, that she would represent him. She spoke to him over recess and explained to him how she works and he agreed to take up her services. Because of his pain, he did not speak much, but he told her enough for the court session.
Her most urgent duty, in her view, is to get him medical attention. He has obvious external injuries, but the fact that he was vomiting blood suggests that he has internal injuries as well.
But she is angry and frustrated at the magistrate’s stubbornness. She does want to profile the magistrate as probably corrupt, even though she has heard that the Estate corrupts judicial officers to sway cases its way, but it is difficult to explain this particular magistrate’s behavior. Angela has handled several other cases against the Estate, and she lost all the ones that were in this court station. But she promptly appealed all of them, and they are all going on in the High Court. So, she shouldn’t be surprised. But she is because, in this particular instance, a man’s life is at stake. And she is not even asking for a decision that goes to the heart of the case. All she is asking is for the court to instruct police officers to take the accused to hospital.
She sits still, a scowl on her face, for about an hour before the case is finally brought up. Job can barely stand on his feet when his case is called, and when he is formally charged with theft, he feebly pleads “not guilty”.
Angela springs to her feet once again and verbally applies for bail.
“Counsel, I need a proper, written bail application filed before this court so that I can consider it. Serve it on the prosecution and let’s have a mention in seven days.”
Angela is stunned. This is a mere theft case, not treason, terrorism, or murder. Bail applications, especially for less serious crimes such as these, are dispensed with verbally. But she knows challenging the decision will be a futile effort.
“Most obliged, Your Honor. In the meantime, however, I pray for an order instructing the police to take my client to hospital before he is taken to remand.”
“I don’t see any urgency for such orders, counsel. If indeed your client is unwell, and not playing tricks on the court to avoid going to remand, then let him speak to the remand authorities. If he is not assisted, then make a formal application before this court. Let us not jump ahead of ourselves here.”
“That is all, Miss. Rotich. See you next week. Next case please.”
As the police officers take Job away from the dock, he suddenly collapses and starts convulsing. That causes a ruckus in the courtroom, and several police officers rush into the room and carry him outside. Angela follows quickly.
“Let’s take him to hospital,” she tells them urgently.
“We don’t have authority…”
“This is human life we are talking about here, James,” she tells one of the officers whom she is familiar with. “Are you going to let this man die as you wait for the OCS to tell you to take him to hospital? You can cuff him to the hospital bed if you have to but he needs to go to the hospital. In any case, are you going to throw him into the cell when he is unconscious?”
Sergeant James sighs after seemingly making a decision.
“We cannot use the police van because that will land me in even more trouble. Can we use your car?”
The sergeant tells one constable to go with him and the others to remain behind. Angela jumps behind the steering wheel while James and his colleague sit on either side of Job in the back seat of Angela’s Toyota Fielder.
Angela drives like a mad woman, and within minutes they are at the sub-county hospital. By then Job has stopped convulsing and is lying still. He is taken by nurses and rushed to the emergency center with the two officers following closely behind. Angela is left looking for a parking spot.
When she enters the emergency center several minutes later, she finds a doctor covering Job up with a sheet.
“What are you doing?” she asks, panic rising within her.
“I am sorry madam,” the doctor says. “But there is nothing we can do for him. He was dead on arrival.”
Angela sits on a bench and cries bitterly. She knows she shouldn’t get emotionally entangled in her cases, but how can she not? This is an innocent man who was failed by the system. The government that is supposed to protect him failed him, and that is why he is lying cold in the mortuary. How is she going to break the news to his family? During the recess at court, she met some of his relatives and they told her that Job’s wife gave birth two days ago and is still in hospital. How is she supposed to tell that woman that her husband is no more because police officers and a magistrate refused to get him medical help?
“I am so sorry Angela,” Sergeant James says uncomfortably, not knowing what to do.
“Tell me that from here you are going to arrest the guards who did this to Job.”
“I don’t have the authority…”
“Then get out of my face,” Angela cuts him off angrily. “And don’t tell me how sorry you are, because you are all hypocrites. And by the way, you need to find your way back to your miserable job because you are not riding back in my car. You and your colleagues plus that magistrate are all murderers, just like the guards, and I hope Job’s spirit haunts you forever.”
She walks away angrily, tears still streaming down her feet. She knows that Job’s relatives, the ones she met in court, are on their way to the hospital, so she decides to wait for them. Angela isn’t ready to break the news to them, but she knows she will have to.
She walks to her car, slides into the driver’s seat, and cries even more.
(Why would someone deliberately hurt another? Read the story ‘Guards from Hell’ to find out. And if you want to find out more about the whole cartel system around Macunkwa Orange Farm, please buy the novella, ‘Intrigues of the Orange Farm’ at only 150 bob.)
Image by Tim Hill from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/trees-farm-fence-farmland-2900064/