He was appearing in court for the first time, and it was easy to tell that from the way he was furtively glancing around as the court awaited the arrival of the magistrate.
Public prosecutors were busy leafing through voluminous, hand-greased and dog-eared files of cases while chatting amongst themselves. A court interpreter arrived and started preparing documents for the magistrate as prosecutors organised their witnesses, calling out their names.
Finally, there were three loud knocks on the door to the chambers. The interpreter barked, “Court rise!” With one accord everyone stood up. The magistrate entered, bowed piously and took his high-backed seat. The rest of the people sat down after him.
There was silence except the rustle of papers and an occasional cough in the public gallery. The accused sat on a bench in their section.
“The case of (his real name) versus the people,” a prosecutor called out and handed over a case record to the male interpreter, who passed it on to the magistrate, spent a few minutes studying it and scribbling some notes.
Ba Joe stood up and faced the bench. The magistrate looked up and asked him to confirm his particulars, after which he read out the charge to him.
“Do you understand the charge?” the magistrate asked Ba Joe.
“Yes, your worship. I understand,” Ba Joe responded gravely.
The magistrate continued, “How do you plead; guilty or not guilty?”
“Ndekano mulandu mwemfumu (I deny the charge, your worship),” he answered.
The magistrate said he had entered the plea of not guilty and, in consultation with the prosecutor and the interpreter, adjourned the matter to later dates for mention and commencement of trial.
When he was ordered to “stand down” Ba Joe raised his hand. “Ndelombako beo mwemfumu (I am applying for bail, your worship),” he said.
The magistrate asked the prosecutor if he had any objections to the application, and he said he did not. He granted Ba Joe bail with two working sureties.
“You are remanded in custody until you satisfy the bail conditions,” the magistrate said and ordered him to stand down.
Unfortunately, Ba Joe could not immediately satisfy the conditions of the bail, which meant that he was headed for the dreaded Kamfinsa Remand Prison, then known as Kukave among the underworld.
After the last case had been called and adjourned the magistrate stood up, bowed sagely and disappeared into his chambers. Members of the public rushed to the accused booth to talk to their relatives and friends, and hand over whatever they had brought for them.
But the prosecutors chased them out of the courtroom and told them to hand over whatever they had through the windows for security reasons.
Ba Joe looked distraught and hopeless, almost crying. The words of comfort from his relatives and friends fell on deaf ears. It was as if he had plugged his ears with wax.
“Ba Joe, Lesa wamaka (Ba Joe, God is great),” a female cousin consoled him, but Ba Joe was not moved. As far as he was concerned it was the end of his world. In response to his cousin’s encouraging words he just shook his head hopelessly.
“Awe naizanda ifwe sister (I am in trouble, my sister). Ati twalaya fye ku Kamfinsa ayi (just imagine, I am going to Kamfinsa),” he croaked lamentably.
A brother gave him a packet of cigarettes and four loaves of bread, which the kapitao ‘cell captain’ received on his behalf. His aunt also handed him a basketful of goodies, including clean clothes and food stuffs, to the delight of the kapitao.
Suddenly Ba Joe’s spirits seemed to lift up a bit. He could even afford a smile and a dry joke.
“Twaya mukwanshika mu hotel lelo (today we will be sleeping in a hotel),” he joked and a few onlookers laughed, more out of sympathy than mirth.
Then he lapsed into self-pity, believing all the hogwash the ‘old timers’ had fed him with as they awaited the kasalanga (personnel carrier) to ferry them to Kamfinsa.
“Bati ama gaisi yalelanda ati ka kesi kandi ni porridge aini. Ati limbi kuti umulandu wafuma shautu (my friends are saying I may be acquitted because mine is a very simple case),” he said, revelling in a sudden bout of self-consolation.
Finally, the kasalanga, a blue Tata truck converted into an ominous looking personnel carrier, arrived and there was a frenzy of activity as the security officers cordoned off the loading area. Ba Joe was Kamfinsa-bound. Read on next Sunday.