"South & East Africa 2011" story # 13

Roma, Lesotho           May 21, 2011

I returned to the town of Roma following my big trip around Lesotho. I continued to live with a family of seven adult brothers and sisters, the family that had taken me in after having once been orphaned themselves. I continued to sell my stories in the capital, Maseru. And I continued to be fond of a pettite girl named Maple, a girl firm in her beliefs, a girl who liked hanging out with me.
     But, Maple took her final exam at Roma's university this past Monday. She went back to living at her uncle's place in Maseru. We were going to remember each other forever; but, we were back on our own again. I only planned to spend one more week in Lesotho, anyways.
     That same afternoon, I went in the university's computer lab. I watched as a female security guard got up from her seat and disappeared somewhere. I didn't know why.
     Forty minutes later, I was writing an email to my little brother when two police came in. They came to me. They told me to step outside. They said:
     "Get your things. You're going to have to come with us to the police station."
     I had a notion as to what this was all about. And I felt myself being surrounded and controlled, a terrible feeling. I began resisting the policemen's authority. "I don't want to go. Why? What's the reason?"
     They wouldn't tell me. "Just come with us." They lied, "We just want to talk to you."
     "I don't want to go with you. Why should I? What's the reason?" I repeated myself once or twice.
     "We suspect you're an illegal immigrant."
     "Oh," I said. I wasn't surprised. I'd overstayed my allotted time in Lesotho by fifty-two days. I got my backpack and started walking with them.
     I might've made a run for freedom once we exited the library. But, I wasn't sure that I could outrun them without ditching my backpack.
     I asked, how'd they come to suspect I was an illegal immigrant?
     It seemed they'd heard, from someone in Maseru, that I was living in my tent on the university campus. They'd been looking for me for a short while.
     I guessed that someone whom I'd met while selling stories had disliked what I was doing and reported me. A lot of people knew me in Maseru. Maybe it had been one of the dozens of people who'd bought my "A Believer in Tlhatlhamacholo", in which I said the people of Lesotho shouldn't be Christians? Maybe it was the grumpy woman who'd said angrily, "You're selling these?" because my story included a fact which I hadn't verified with the Bureau of Statistics?
     "Have you got your passport with you?" the police asked.
     "No, it's in Maseru." I told my only lie. I said it was in the apartment of an American guy, who would conveniently be in a distant part of the country for the next two days.
     Halfway to the police station, I began calling the policemen names and insulting their work.
     "We're here to protect you," they lied.
     "You're oppressing me!" I said. "You're telling me what to do."
     "No, we're not," said a stupid one. (Amongst policemen, that description shouldn't narrow it down too much.)
     "You're not? Okay. Then, I'm going to go back to the university." I turned to go. The other policeman grabbed me by my jacket.
     "Now, you're using force!?" I said. "Violence?" They wouldn't let me take their picture.
     I looked at the huge man holding me. "Man, you're big. I'll bet if I tried to run away, you'd punch me right in the face."
     We reached the wooden police station, and I was taken inside. I was made to go to the office of a large woman. I started to feel very uncomfortable, due to the claustrophobic feeling that accompanies being held somewhere against my will, and also due to the heat caused by a warm furnace. In an effort to make the police want to let me go, I took off all of my shirts.
     "Why isn't he wearing a shirt?" said a fatter woman who entered the room.
     I was questioned in regard to the passport which I said I didn't have. To my astonishment, the smaller large woman said that, although I was needed at the Maseru police station in the morning, I could go sleep at my home and then come back.
     Ha ha! I thought. These suckers were never gonna see me again!
     I put on my shirts and jacket. But, before leaving, I said: "Could I have something in writing - so I know why you need me?"
     There was some shuffling of papers and hesitation. The fatter woman re-entered the room. Gradually, it was determined that the police weren't going to release me. At one point, I heard the fatter woman say: "I don't trust him."
     I was taken to another room. Perhaps this was the interrogation room? A young officer - who was stout, stupid, mean, and dishonest - began questioning me. I'd already begun reading a book I had with me. And I'd already answered these same questions regarding the purpose of my stay in Lesotho. So, I said I didn't want to answer his "STUPID questions". He claimed to be offended by this.
     Oh, the poor power-hungry oppressor!
     Meanwhile, the underhanded police had called my host, Delphina, to leave her work and come to them. She was scared and very concerned. The police questioned her about me, only to find that her answers matched mine.
     They also asked her, "Why do you let him stay with you for free?" The police, in my conversations with them, often seemed perplexed when I said I was staying with "friends" - as if they didn't know what the word meant. I was reminded of the fact that police almost never gave me rides when I hitchhiked. They, along with politicians and drug addicts, seemed capable of feeling no sympathy nor understanding for others.
     Of course, that was more or less what we paid them to do.
     They asked Delphina, "Would you invite a Mosotho (native of Lesotho) to stay with you for free?" I didn't see what right they had to question innocent Delphina's character!
     They told Delphina I'd be spending the night in the Roma police station. Sure enough, caring Delphina and her brothers came in the evening to bring me blankets. But, they found that I was no longer there. I'd been moved to Maseru.
     The useless police asked Delphina's brother, Paul, "Why don't you have him (me) make a business, so you can get some money from him?"
     But, Paul - my roommate with a squarish head, deep voice, and dark eyes - already hated the cops. He'd said on his way to the police station, "If I find they have Justin there, there's gonna be a fight."
     A gentle farmer, Paul had once been force to sleep at the police station himself. This had happened when he'd been suspected of stealing a radio from a shop he worked at; in reality, he'd just taken it to get repaired.
     It seemed to be the custom in Lesotho for the police to detain people without giving them any chance to clear their name. This seemed to indicate that, even in democracies, police oppression could happen to anyone at any time.
     In my case, I knew someone who knew someone in immigration who could've helped me to clear my name. I also could've gone to the Immigration Office on my own; I'd once observed that the fine for overstaying one's visa was only 50 rand ($7) a month. ... But, above all and most importantly, I meant no harm by coming to Lesotho - indeed, hundreds of people were happy I was here - and I didn't deserve to be treated rudely.
     For his part, Paul had told the rude police, during his night in captivity, "I'm not afraid of you. Do you want to beat me? Beat me," and, "F--- you!"
     "You're a f---ing!" I told the stout, stupid, mean officer, on our way to Maseru.
     He'd continued to question me. And he accused me of lying, after I'd answered his stupid question, "What do you eat in your tent?" Prior to that, he'd called me a liar when I said I wrote my own original stories. He'd seen me reading a book in Sotho, and he accused me of simply rewriting other people's stories.
     Paul, my roommate, would later I say I should've responded thus ...
     Policeman: "What do you eat in your tent?"
     Paul: "Food. I eat food! What do you expect me to eat? I can't eat stones."
     Policeman: "What food is it?"
     Paul: "Food! Are you so stupid you don't know what food is? What do you eat?"
     Policeman: "Papa and rice."
     Paul: "It's up to you."
     In reality, this human feces of a policeman said to me, rather unsurely, "You're calling me a f---ing? You ... Shut up!" We rode to Maseru in silence.
     Minutes earlier, it had looked like the police were going to let me ride all the way to Maseru in the back of their truck. If so, I would've jumped out near a forest and run away into the dark evening.
     Instead, I got out of the middle seat of the truck's cab once we reached the Maseru police station. At least I didn't have shackles on my ankles, like one captive whom I'd seen in Roma.
     We went inside. A somewhat-likeable-looking policeman informed me I'd have to spend the night locked in the lobby of the police station. This was what I hadn't wanted to happen. I needed to be free tonight! Having failed to achieve my objective, I figured I now had nothing to lose by admitting that my passport was on me.
     The stupid, mean officer tried to get me to admit I'd lied to him. I ignored him. The more handsome officer checked to see that my Lesotho visa had expired. He said I'd have to stay in the wooden lobby tonight.
     Tomorrow, I'd have to go to court to pay a fine. I said I only had 9.90 rand. The police had seen my stash of dollars hidden in my passport; but, I said I wouldn't use them until later in my travels.
     Back in Roma, the fatter woman had said, of dealing with me: "This is too difficult."
     I asked the handsome officer why he was upholding bad laws. I said I needed to be free. If I was locked inside all night, I just might throw a bench through a window and escape.
     This was enough to get the police to lock me up inside a cell. I brought my backpack with me. They closed the door behind me and turned the key.
     Locked up.
     I was alone in a six-foot-by-twelve-foot cell. It smelled of urine and cigarettes. There was a bucket for me to pee in. I checked the green walls for any meaningful or revolutionary graffiti. But, mostly, I just found the names of people - such as "RASTAFY".
     If I would've had my marker with me, I would've written my "ANARCHIST'S POEM" on the wall.
     I was content here. It was better than spending the night in the lobby, beside other men and women spending the night there, beneath a loud TV, with no place to lie down.
     I had three filthy, wool blankets to myself. The lighting was good enough for me to read. I read from the novel, "Chaka". It told of a Zulu warrior king who basically took on the whole world by himself. It was very good.
     But, as my time in the cell increased, my bright and limitless world gradually became replaced by this closed and friendless one.
     To be continued ...

Modern Oddyseus.

"They're useless." - Paul, on his country's police

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