It takes a village to ruin a child
Koyati is a talented woodcarver, but after a bank robbery gone wrong, he finds himself on death row. Can his art save him from the gallows?
The judgment of Koyati, a poor herdboy from a remote village in Tanzania, is often clouded, as if he were a crocodile lurking under muddy waters.
He would rather be quick and clear-eyed like Rabbit. He goes to the city and soon lands in prison. A parole officer calls him a baboon.
Insulted to the core, Koyati starts incorporating a baboon in his woodcarving. On death row he discovers that he has world-class talent. Can his art save him?
At that moment my life split into before Captain Ndulu and after Captain Ndulu. Seeing such a huge man for the first time made me forget my manners. I just stared at the mass of humanity in front of me with my mouth hanging open. I wasn’t going into that office. I started braking with my feet and clutching the door jamb and begging to be taken back to the cell.
The guard clicked with his tongue and said, “Don’t be stupid, man, he’s the RPO.” That made it worse, because I had no idea what an RPO was. Wasn’t that the guy who wore a black hood and pulled the lever when they hanged you?
I think the RPO could hear my teeth chattering. The giant stood up, blotting out the sun that came into the office through a large window. If my first meeting with the RPO had been filmed like a rugby match at the Uhuru Stadium, the cameras would go black for a moment before they adjusted to the darker area under the roofs. His voice came from close to the ceiling like a thunderclap: “Prisoner Koyati, I have ten minutes per misfit.” He looked at his wristwatch. “If you don’t come in right now, I’ll come and get you.”
For the briefest second, I saw Charlton Heston standing on the mountain with thunder and lightning all around, and heard the RPO’s voice saying, “Moses, come up here right this minute!” I’m sure I saw some sort of flash. My rubber legs staggered in all by themselves.
The guard tried to force me down on one of the two chairs that stood opposite the desk, but I fought him with all my remaining strength. I grabbed hold of the chair’s arm rests and gently lowered my tender behind. The RPO put two and two together and laughed. As I leaned over forward to lower my backside into the seat, my face was inches away from his empty teacup, which, I swear, was tinkling in its saucer. As I put my hands on the chair’s arm rests, I could feel the vibration.
The RPO said, “State your name and surname.” I was too scared to utter a sound. Out of pure panic, my mind veered off and I thought, These arm rests would have made good tone plates for a marimba.
Seconds ticked by. He asked, “Are you catatonic, boy?” I wasn’t a member of any church, but I said, “Yes, sir” not to offend him. Captain Ndulu gave up on me stating my name, which he had on my file anyway, and said, “As you have heard, I’m the Regional Probation Officer. The RPO. I am also currently the prison minister, the chief and only social worker, the pastoral counselor, and general inmate nursemaid. The only thing I don’t do by myself is make tea.”
From that day on Captain Ndulu towered over my world like a baobab over the dust at its feet.