ZAMBIA: JAILHOUSE BLUES, or SAX IN THE CITY.

From despair to a love of the saxophone…

The week passed slowly, but finally I returned to Court, optimistic about my imminent release. The white owner of the Robin Inn motel in Kafue, the victim of Grand Theft, Clock, was there to see that justice was served. I was surprised that he insisted in pressing charges for such a petty crime, but I guess it takes all sorts. Standing in the dock, looking around the court with a writers’ curiosity, I almost missed the pertinent happening. A date was mentioned and I was told by the, this time African, magistrate to step down. I was being remanded for another fortnight!

I started to climb over the wooden rails of the dock in protest and the cops had to restrain me. Another two weeks in jail for a bloody stupid alarm clock! I couldn’t believe it. Stunned, I decided to escape.

At the end of the court session, the ‘black mariah’ brought us back to be booked in again. Surrendering only my tie, I stuck my passport into my underpants along with the couple of coins that I had left. I was,  of course, searched as I went through the inner gate and felt the corner of the passport dig into my stomach as the deft fingers searched.

“Hey, what’s this, Pitta-jawn?!”

Heart pounding, I nonchalantly looked down. He had felt what he thought was a club-like weapon in my trousers and was delving into my pocket, trying to pull the ball out of my hip socket!

Nearly faint with relief, I started laughing and the guard joined me, totally embarrassed. But the passport was safe. Once inside the privacy of the Prohibited Immigrant quadrangle, I started planning how to get over the wall. There was a sturdy table, which the guards used to iron their uniforms, which would reach a fair way up if I leaned it against the wall. A run, and a jump from the top edge would easily enable me to reach the rusty iron bar embedded near the top, and the barbed wire that had once adorned it had long since rusted away. I would do it just before lock-down that night…

“The guards patrol with shotguns,” a voice said laconically.

The English P.I. prisoner had soon figured out what I was about after my bitter explanation as to what had transpired at court. He dogged my heels and would not give me the privacy I needed, threatening, in the kindliest of manners, to give me away if I tried it. That, and the thought of shotguns, put paid to my escape plans.

Then something else of import happened.

MADMAN OPENS FIRE ON BULAWAYO TRAIN! was the Times of Zambia, I think, front page headline.

And because the Madman, a white man, was incarcerated in Lusaka Remand, I was moved from the P.I. block join him in the Remand block in the main quadrangle. There were about fifty of us sleeping on the concrete floor by lock-down. Being Remands, they were mostly awaiting trial and as far as I knew, no hardened criminals amongst them. Another block held those with prior convictions and a third held about twenty convicted prisoners that worked to assist the staff, like cooks and cleaners.

On one side of me was the mat of a man accused of murder. He told me his story, which in its tragic simplicity has always stayed with me.

He came home to his hut from work early one day to find a strange bicycle propped up against his hut. He burst in on the scene of his wife with another man on their mattress, grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed the man, killing him. Like a thousand other murders of passion around the world, clothed in simplicity and just as sad…

On the other side of me lay Gordon. (I think his name was Gordon Ramsay, which a leaky memory may have cooked up. Ha ha.) His muffled sobbing kept me awake and concerned. My empathy finally un-bottled his whispered story.

Gordon had been a blacksmith from Rhodesia, contract-working on the Copper Mines, at Kitwe, I think. For the weekend, he and his wife came to visit a friend who had a smallholding near Lusaka, in Makeni, about seven miles south of the city.  He and his friend left his wife alone there to go to a few watering holes in Lusaka. At length, leaving his pal, he hiked back to Makeni, only to find his wife in a state of terror and distress. She had been raped by a couple of black guys who were long gone by then.

There was no phone, so Gordon, now in a state himself, got a lift back to Lusaka’s main police station, needing help. Being a weekend, there was only a skeleton staff of junior officers. Demanding help, red faced and angry, he was met by blank, fearful stares which really tipped him over the edge. Being a blacksmith, he was a solidly built man. When he smacked the constable, the few others on duty tackled him. He smacked them, too. (There was a later report of a policeman hanging by his fingers from an upstairs windowsill outside, to avoid Gordon on the rampage.) He broke into their armoury with a screwdriver and tried an Uzi out on the wall. Whether there was an open window so that stray bullets found their way to the station, I don’t recall, so I’m not sure where the newspaper headline came from. However, Uzi in hand, Gordon persuaded a man driving by to lend him his vehicle. He returned to his wife in Makeni.

Several hours later, a truck-load of cops with rifles surrounded the property. Gordon threw down the Uzi and surrendered. When the officer in charge grabbed Gordon to cuff him, Gordon knocked him out. Incredibly, nobody fired. Amongst a host of other things, he was charged with assaulting a police officer.

Gordon was a bear of a man; mostly kind and gentle. Now he was fearful of what would happen to him, and it was his wife who, requiring his support herself, found that she was needed to comfort him. She arranged his lawyer, brought him food.

And his sax.

I would sit with him against a sunny wall and he would introduce me to the Blues. Autumn Leaves was one of his favourites. He also taught me the words to Pretend, which was an especially meaningful song in our circumstances.

…the world is mine, it can be yours, my friend,

 if only you pretend…

About peterjearle

Writer of thriller novels. 4 Published: 'Purgatory Road', 'The Barros Pawns', and the Detective Dice Modise Series:'Hunter's Venom' and 'Medicinal Purposed Only', all from Southern Africa.
This entry was posted in Backgrounds, developing characters, Shaping a writer, Writing novels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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