Thieving street kid tastes bitter sweet

IT WAS around 06:30 hours. In case you didn’t know, Tuesday is cleaning day for those who trade on the streets and corridors of the capital city, Lusaka.
I had just alighted from a taxi and was about to head for my work place on Longolongo road. No, Longolongo River.
Several southbound motor vehicles had stopped on Lumumba road, waiting for the traffic lights to turn green at City Market.
A horde of ill-dressed, dirty jenkem sniffing street kids were rummaging around the area as usual.
But two of them had big ideas, inspired by the effects of the jenkem.
A deflated spare wheel was strapped with a cargo fastener to the bed of the trailer of a 30-tonne long-haul truck. The youths were walking beside the trailer.
One of them stopped, fished a knife out of his trouser pocket and started furiously cutting the cargo fastener so that they could steal the spare wheel. His friend stood a few metres away.
Mind you it was cleaning day. The whole city centre was crawling with street vendors, hawkers and marketeers with brooms, shovels, wheelbarrows, dust pans and wheeled bins.
A group of women saw what was happening and did not waste time in raising alarm.
“Kabwalala, kabwalala uyo [thief, there is a thief]!” they shouted while pointing at the street kid.
People began surrounding the trailer from different directions. One of the two street kids managed to melt out of harm’s way by crawling under vehicles. But his accomplice wasn’t as smart. The jenkem, maybe.
He tried to bolt towards City Market but a group of male vendors who had been sweeping the other side of the road formed a barrier with their arms to prevent him from escaping.
The frightened street kid was ‘beautifully’ cornered.
Realising his helplessness he threw away the knife he had been using to cut the cargo fastener and tried to slip through the barrier of arms.
But two strong men ‘captured’ him without much ado and immediately started slapping and punching some manners into his head. Then the baying mob arrived. It descended on the rogue, in his early 20s, like a pack of starving hyenas.
For over a minute I couldn’t see him. I could only catch fleeting blurs of his red T-shirt because there were just too many people trying to express their disapproval of his thieving. It was a ‘hailstorm’ of fists, slaps, kicks, swipes and elbows, stones, brooms and what not.
Women were using whatever they could lay their soft hands on.
People who could not remember the last time they had kicked a football were bleating with glee as they exercised their kicking skills on the hapless thief.
Some even tried to show off their kick-boxing and Kung Fu skills, but often ended up kicking or punching innocent targets, who protested by raining more blows on the ‘sinner’.
The street kid somehow managed to break loose from the brutal mob and tried to escape by crawling on all fours, but a kick to the head cancelled his desperate effort.
He was again at the mercy of the pack.
One vendor callously rushed in with a shovel, his eyes twinkling with murder. He raised the tool-turned-weapon high above the milling mob, waiting for an opening.
His patience paid off. For some seconds the mob observed a unilateral truce, and the thief’s head was visible once again. He looked dazed, glancing here and there trying to figure out where to run to.
Then the back of the shovel came crashing down onto his head like a thunderbolt. Mbaaaa!
He staggered forwards and fell on his hands and knees. Before he could heave himself to his feet the bloodthirsty vendor unleashed another blow to the back of the head, this time around with the edge of the shovel opening a nasty cut in the scalp.
Some people winced. The mob was taking no prisoners today.
Another man clobbered the squeaking street kid in the right side of the head with a paving stone as kicks landed in a flurry on his unprotected body from all sides.
By now he was too weak to make any attempt at escaping. He seemed to have accepted his fate. The youth was bleeding from the mouth, nose, fore head and the back of the head.
“Bakacita bwino [it serves him right], these are the people who give us a bad name. People always blame us when they are mugged by these street kids,” one woman said.
Another one chipped in, “This one will also die soon the same way his friend died. At least this area will be safer.”
“What happened to the other ka thief ba sister?” I asked.
“Oh, inakabunka motoka [he was knocked down by a vehicle],” she said and laughed as if she was talking about a stray dog. Another woman holding a hard broom in her hand explained:
“He had snatched a hand bag from a woman and a mob was chasing him. When he saw that they were about to catch him he threw down the hand bag and tried to cross the road.
“A speeding vehicle hit him, and he died on the spot. People praised the motorist for the good job. Some even bought the driver talk time as a reward.”
“What a way to die,” I said hunching my shoulders. But the women had a different opinion. They said the street kid had deserved to die because he had been a habitual thief.
As we chatted the mob had thought it had succeeded in imparting some discipline into the thieving street kid, and had released him.
He was staggering across the road towards us, but when he reached the island four vendors seized him and rained blows on him, attracting protests from onlookers. They reluctantly let go of him.
The bleeding young thief hopped to a makeshift wooden stall, took off his T-shirt and started inspecting the results of the instant justice mob’s handiwork.
Lesson? Society doesn’t take too kindly to deviant behaviour.

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