My Country, 6 Gates Behind: A Prison Memoir.
By: Luka Binniyat
. . . continuation………. from Part 1
All eyes were on me as I made my way to the frontal side of the congested room jammed with people who each was a ‘scoop’ for news and features as my reporter minds told me.
Surprisingly, were I was told to sit has more room than from here I was coming from. The fellow with the loud voice came over and shook my hands.
“Welcome to the home of men,” he said, “after the dinner and prayers, we shall have a lot of talks sir,” he said looking happy with himself as he made his way back to end side of the classroom-size cell holding 97 of us.
I was ensconced by two young men, who murmured greetings at me. The one on my left soon started to scratch bum irritatingly in response to what must the biting of lice or ticks or maybe some itching rashes.
I felt I could breathe a bit better here, because it was bit roomy.
Beside the wall was a double deck six spring bed served with mosquito nets and foams .
A fellow lay on the top bed, smoking a cigarette and looking unperturbed about what was going on.
Underneath the lower bed, I saw assorted ramshackle looking stuff: Dirty plastic plates, small opened cans of milks containing palm oil, charcoal in a dirty small sack, pots, rubber shoes, leather bags containing God knows what.
The fellow on the bed would pass for anything around 25, but was already balding and also spotted a goatee. He seemed to be an important man, because once a while an inmate would come over and whisper something into his ear, in which he would stretch erect on the bed, survey the room and nod approvingly. Another guy came and whispered and he deep his hand in his pocket, produced a packet of cigarette and offered him a stick.
“This would be your last for the night, you bastard!,” he playfully cursed the guy. The guy crossed his two hands in the air, and thank him, saying, “long live my IG” (Inspector General).
Now it had gotten dark outside, but the cell was lit by a single electricity bulb.
The ‘service’ again came back with several very dirty looking plastic bowls on a large tray. He made about three trips of these. The bowls contained Tuwon Masara – a swallow made from powered maize. The plates were kept on top a rectangular table of concrete.
Soon, the Muslims picked some kettle and went to the door to perform ablution. A man came over to where we were sitting and told us squeeze back into the crowd to make room for those who would pray. He then called the Muslim prayers to mean that it was something around 7pm.
In no time, six rows were formed with what an Iman in front ready to lead the prayers.
Just before then, the man with the booming voice warned against disrespecting or interrupting the prayer session with any kind of noise or distraction.
“We take the issue of God very serious here. If you try to break this rule, even during Chriatin prayers, you will discover that you are fool after we are done with you,” he warned.
And if by magic the cell became eerily silent. Those that were smoking put off their content of nicotine.
As soon as the Muslim prayer session was over some activities stared again. The plates of tuwo were shared and a greenish soup, which was miyan kukah was fetched in a dirty cup and poured over the tuwo.
Newcomers were told that they had no ration yet; that they had to wait for breakfast. I was grateful that I was not partaking in that kind of meal. I saw some people bring out different brands of seasoning cubes and sprang over the food and ate barehand. How someone could open his mouth and eat in that repulsive stench in the cell, worried me as much as how I could survive the odorous night and probably more nights and days. But they ate comfortably, poking fun at each other and carrying on without a worry.
The important guy on the bed was not part of that dinner. As a VIP, he had his arrangement. A boy with exaggerated bow legs came over to his bed after his meal and asked if the boss wanted to eat rice or beans.
“Cook rice,” he said, “Make it for four,” he instructed, “the Judge, Police Commissioner and the Iman will eat with me,” he told the boy, who was obviously his private valet.
The boy said, “consider it done, IG” and went into work.
Underneath the bed, the boy produced a stove creatively made from an aluminium dish cut by the side. The top was a mesh of iron wire. He poured Charcoal over the mesh. A single burning coal that had been by on a wood by the side of the bed was dropped into the dry charcoal and the boy started fanning the coal rigorously with a large hand fan I later learnt was called pakapaka.
Again from under the bed, the boy brought out a pot, added some water into it then poured an already cooked plain rice fetched from a polythene bag under the bed. He poured oil and added salt and seasoning and kept fanning. Soon food was ready.
The important man sprang down from his bed. He patted the boy on the back and told him to retire to his position. He then called out at his ‘guest’ who promptly found their ways to the steaming pot, each with a plastic spoon in hand. They sat in a circle and started eating the fire hot food directly from the pot.
As they ate, they made a lot of jokes, some very bawdy and used swear words with ease. But, they could also be rational too.
“He went to rob and then he raped. That’s very dumb and wicked,” the Commissioner of Police (CP), who was fully bearded and wore a blue T-shirt, mentioned of a certain robber probably in another cell in the prison.
“Why must you rape a woman that you robbed when you can use the money and buy the same thing from a willing, more young and beautiful woman,” he asked.
After condemning the immorality of the act, they bandits agreed that it was cruel to rape a robbery victim. They also concluded that were finer and noble gangsters than the said ‘demon’ robber.
But I also eavesdropped on discussions on religion, politics and day-to-day happing in the prisons from those within my earshot.
I also noticed that there was always a small queue at the entrant to the single toilet. It was as if at every second someone was using the loo. Even from afar i could hardly bear the smell, I then shudder at the thought of going there to relieve myself. That was the home of the cockroaches that had been impudently moving all over the cell. I had shoved aside a few who had crawled up to my blazer.
Again, it was time for the second Muslim Prayers and the same ritual was observed. I then sensed that it was somewhere around 8pm. After the Muslims have prayed, the same area was cleared, and I heard the man with the voice of a gong announce, “it is time for Christian brothers”
Silence again fell over the room again.
A stream of the strayed flocks of The Lord came forward. The itchy man besides me told me to join since he didn’t see me at the Muslims Prayer session. I found it hard to discern whether it was a command or suggestion.
The import man happened to be a Christian. He was the man who played the ‘drum’ which was an empty gallon. His gallon, an empty dish and gravels in an empty bottle water for rattles were all that was need. Gently played, they managed to produce a mellifluous sound upon which we sand and praised the Lord.
Among the song sang was “Who has the final say/Jehovah has the final say. . . “ It was to later become my favourite prison song, especially when I was to lapse into depression. The song is truly a wonder on my soul till date.
The Pastor of the cell, a tall, huge man with clean shave could have excelled as an athlete. He spoke in very bad English, but his message was clear.
“The Lord is talk to us to thinking about why he bring us to prisoners,” I remembered his say.
“But some here no have common sense to beg God to forgive us and remove us people from this condition, eh!”
He preached about hope and Faith and the need to show remorse for the wrongs that brought us to prison. After that, a hot prayer session ensured. It was raucous session as a riot of voices rent the air. Being a catholic, I did not close my eyes, though there was nothing wrong in shutting my eyes also. I saw the big man quavering and shivering as he prayed lost in delirium. He sweated as he prayed as if he was holding the garment of Jesus, asking him for mercy. There was indeed ‘casting and binding’ . . . We stood throughout the period.
After the final prayers, we went back to our positions around 8:30pm.
The important man climbed his bed, roamed under his pillow and brought out a wrap.
To my horror, it was marijuana!
He put a portion of the weed on some a small papers and made a fat wrap of the stuff. He lit it and inhaled deeply. Thick fumes of smokes blasted out through his nostril like from the silencer of an ailing car, after which he cough a little. Then he inhaled again. I watched agape.
How could a man who displayed so much fervour to the Almighty return so fast to kiss the devil?
What is the nature of the relationship between our Creator and such kinds of creatures? Could he have been mocking God? But, I saw his total devotion to Him. He wasn’t making a show of it.
I was in that thought when from the end of the cell, the announcer-in-chief coughed loudly to clear his voice and grab attention.
“If you a new comer to this cell please stand up and move to the front of the cell,” he said in his thundering voice.
“This is Introduction time,” he said.
It was around 9pm, from guess.
. . . . to be continued . . . .