cayley - Posted on 28 September 2010

Challa Tabeson

That afternoon at the living floor we squatted like three Muslims at Ramadan.  My mother faced the wide open door.  My sister sat right next to her, while I had a mounted ‘akoo’ bowl on my lap.  The evening sun was blazing against my spinal column.  I gave the blessing prayer; my mother had suggested the guidelines as to what I should ask the good lord:  something to do with forgiving the sins of those who disobey their parents.

I had stayed out late, roaming with my friends on the far side of town the night before.  But the silence that shadowed our dinner hour was hardly a sign that God was about to punish me for my sneaky ways. I swallowed my bites of couscous with the harried air of a kid who couldn’t wait to go back to playing catch.  Across from me, my mom was giving me the silent treatment.  “Close your legs, Barou,” she urged my sister who sat adjacent to me.

“Godwin…get up and pull down the sun screen.”  Her voice sounded so stern and brisk at once.  Godwin is my Christian name. Only when I was in some kind of trouble did my mother call my middle name.  I had considered my night out a well-kept secret because it was dark and quiet throughout the neighborhoods where my friends and I had been roaming.

Dinner had an eerie, sermon-like serenity.  The crashing rush of the Manyu River echoed against the carpet green hills overshadowing our boisterous college town from the intense tropical heat.  The drumming rumbles of the lake-sized tributary in her mysterious churning of three streams combined to derive the name Mafe, after my district and tribe, meaning “let’s put it here.”  The evening was still young; red orange rays slashed through the rainbow colored blinds, its effects were melancholic to my heart, as if some tall stranger was walking back and forth about the doorway.

The clanging noise of empty dishes announced that dinner was over.  We rose from our prayerful postures.  A shadow covered my movement toward the kitchen window.  The peaceful evening was shattered by two strong hands landing heavily on my shoulders.

“HI, Sister Susan.”  The uniformed man in his middle age spun me round so I had to face him squarely between amber dark eyes.

“You are Godwin Tabeson, is that correct?  Let’s go! C’mon…move!”

“Can I ask my mom if…if…she’ll let me…go with you?”

“Yes, Godwin, you must follow orders,” came my mother’s shocking words.

Out the door, we stumbled onto the dusty streets and headed toward the police station.  The cop kept a two-foot walking pace between he and I.  All the while a steady stream of tears kept my swollen eyelids and checks moist, but I still had no clue as to the real cause for my arrest and detention.  Was it so bad that even my dear mother who sat beside her precious son would watch some stranger drag me away?

When I dared to demand why and where we were headed- “Sir, I did not do anything wrong; you must have the wrong guy” – he ignored my innocent protest and told me I should find out while at the station.  I kept sobbing and screaming and demanding to know the cause of my detention.  As we marched through the station double ebony doors, one junior policeman, whose demeanor has stayed with me, quickly told me to shut up; he added that I wasn’t leaving the station any time too soon.

That was on a Sunday late evening; Monday morning it would be school for every young person in town.  I was always popular among my peers; more like a ringleader, say.  Thoughts of my friends finding out that I was ‘doing time’ at the station brought more tear, sweat, and shivers down my chest; it was taboo.  Only violent adults and petty thieves were often at the station, doing their time and paying their dues.

Until that evening, I had always imagined what it was like to be one of those fantastic looking policemen.  My fear and respect for law officers; their neatly striped uniforms, flashy badges, swinging batons dangling from side to side during their wild rushes through town if an intertribal feud was at hand.

Pat did-night.  By weather standards the night was mild and cool.  Part of why I dreaded being stripped naked and kept behind bars, inside an open space without doors or window shutters, was that I worried I might catch a fever.

An unfamiliar police officer took the reigns on duty.  “Young Tabeson,” the expression on his face showed mild surprise at having an unusual suspect – a good kid.  I then responded with a drawling, “Siiiiiir” and turned to avoid facing some the recognizable passerby on their way to work.  I even caught sight of one or two classmates hurrying off to school.

“Were you caught stealing?”  With those sharps words the kind officer demanded to know the nature of the crime.  I just couldn’t help pouring out a fresh round of tears.  “Here,” he threw my pants and shirt between the cross bars, “put on your clothes then come out; we must have a little talk.”  I felt a wave of relief. I just might be able to catch up with school!  “You were seen loitering around Bansu quarters two nights ago.”  His voice came across more calming than that of the cop who picked me up the previous evening.  But why had my mother failed to show up to rescue me?  As the friendly policeman ushered me on to take the seat across the table, he continued with, “Your mother asked the station to teach you a lesson for staying out very late…”

Challa Tabeson created this piece in POOR’s New Journalism/Media Studies Program.  He is currently enrolled in “The Raising Our Voices” program at Media Alliance.


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