A cautionary tale from my very first day of driving alone here in Nairobi:
Doing an illegal – I discovered – right-hand turn onto Valley Road, I was stopped by Legoman A.
Legoman A, who, incidentally, had a gargantuan and rather bulbous protusion sticking out of the middle of his face, aka his nose, declared my turn to have been illegal, and insisted that I accompany him to the Legomen’s Station to face the wrath of the law.
I pleaded innocent – it was my first day driving in this new country, I didn’t realise it was an illegal turn, a Kenyan had told me it was ok to turn right there, my husband was a man of God, I was a woman of God, I had an impeccable driving record to date…It all fell on dead ears. Big-Nose told me I must follow him in my car as he drove on his Beee-Bah Lego motorbike down to the Legomen’s Station. He insisted that if I came with him to the station, I would be ‘pardoned’.
Now bear in mind that since the first day we arrived in Nairobi, everyone had told us that the Kenyan Legomen were the summum of corruption, and that in an emergency, and I quote, Legomen are ‘the last people you should call’. But here it appears I was faced with little choice – I was compelled to be sucked into the dastardly den of corruption.
So off I sheepishly, gingerly and apprehensively drove, following Legoman A on his bee-bah bee-bah motorbike.
On arrival at K- Legomen’s Station – a pile of random shacks, assorted vehicles and all manner of dubious characters (the Legomen, that is, not the people they were hauling in) – I was taken straight to Shack A.
Corporal Legoman B was sat at a desk in Shack A waiting to receive me. Unctuous, charming and dripping with the oil of all those accumulated years of bribery and corruption, he sat there with a sleazy smile on his face while I did everything in my powers to convince him I was but an innocent, nice, sweet ‘girl’ who had made a harmless mistake, and could he, in his endless bounty, ‘pardon’ me.
As I warmed to my task, he casually mentioned how I would need to hand over a pile of filthy lucre (5000 Kenyan shillings) so as to receive my pardon. I flaggled* sycophantically like I had never flaggled sycophantically before (putting aside, of course, the urge to laugh or cry at the sheer Kafkaesque bizarreness of this scenario – I mean, imagine haggling with a law-enforcement Legoman over the price of a driving offence down at Hendon Police Station?)
My flaggling prowess apparently reaped some rewards – Corporal Legoman B agreed to lower my penalty by 2000 bob to 3000 shillings. I was getting somewhere.
(*’flaggle’ – a neologism combining the words ‘flatter’ and ‘haggle’.)
With a little more than a soupçon of bitterness and resentment, I handed over the dosh, thinking that this would be the end of the sorry affair.
With more than a glint of malice in his beady eye, Corporal Legoman B handed me back my receipt and casually mentioned how this sum was ‘bail’ for my release and how, on the morrow, as this ‘receipt’ stated, I was to appear in court at 8 am prompt for my offence.
In a state of utter shock, this abject heroine, hailing as she does from the quiet vale of Golders Green, burst into floods of loud, undignified tears. With her nose a’streaming and her eyes a’gushing, she spluttered how he had hoodwinked her, that she was a good person, not a criminal, that she was scaaaaared to go to court, how she was new to this strange new land and how she just wanted to go home to her family and put this whole mess behind her.
Corporal Legoman B, said, as all awkward males say when faced with the awkward scene of a female in floods of tears in front of them: ‘Pull yourself together’.
I was whisked off to Shack C, where Grand High Comptroller (GHC) Legoman C was sat, attired, rather uncomfortably to my mind for a large man inhabiting such a small shack, head to foot in full military regalia. As my loud undignified sobs continued unabated, GHC Legoman C berated me and also told me to ‘pull myself together’.
Apparently my histrionics had the desired effect. GHC Legoman C instructed Corporal Legoman B to downgrade my 3000 shillings from the bail/court combo back to the fine/warning combo.
I was a free woman! Albeit an abject, snivelling, snotty poor excuse of a woman.
I shuffled off to my offending four-wheeled vehicle – and drove home with no further incident.
PS If you are wondering about the title of this piece, I was told by a friend who has been living here for many years that the Kenyan Legomen will stop you for just about any half-baked reason. She has been stopped and asked, apparently in all seriousness: ‘Do you have a licence for your car radio?’ And driving with her dog one day, she was stopped and asked: ‘Do you have a licence to carry livestock?’
Kafka would have had a field day in this country.