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Jambo Paulo - Jambo Mykoli: 28 - Pillipilli bin Pesa

...there came a loud bang from the house, and a few moments later Dhall Singh emerged with the thief. Like a listless doll, loose limbed, the intruder was dangling against Dhall Singh, who had the poor fellow in a very tight bear hug...

Kersi Rustomji continues his enthralling account of growing up in East Africa.

Mwanza like any other town had its spat of thefts and burglaries. Mostly the police knew the offenders and it did not take long to catch them. Even the town people knew some of the more regular and incorrigible offenders. The shopkeepers were especially on the lookout, for if any of these characters were noticed loitering about, they knew that something was being planned.

One such notorious burglar was Pillipilli bin Pesa, Chilli son of Money. Whenever he was in town, the kids chided him about where he planned to strike next. In fact one day he pointed at me and said, ‘Mara hi, nyumba yako, this time your home.’ We of course shrugged it off with a big laugh, teasing him further that he would again end up in hoteli ya kingi jorji, King George’s hotel, as the prisons were locally known.

One afternoon mum and I were at Lalitaben’s our next door neighbour. While the women sat in the back courtyard, Kanti and I played on their mango tree until mum called out to go home. As mum undid the front door padlock, she noticed a figure move through the living room. Thinking that Simba the house help, might have returned earlier from the market and shops, she called out but there was no response. Again, we saw a figure move out of my bedroom and into the dining area leading to the back door.

Immediately we came out of the house. Sliding the hasp in place, she asked me to check the back door. When I got to the rear, I found Simba standing close to the back door with the fire wood axe. The wrenched padlock on the back door lay on the step.

‘Mambia mama iko mwizi ndani. Tell mum there is a thief inside,’ he said. I ran round to tell mum and immediately we returned to Lalitaben to get some help. Her husband rang the police station while a crowd began to gather in front of our house as the word spread.

We too returned to await the arrival of the police. In the midst of all the chatter, we suddenly heard Dhall Singh’s voice. Pushing his large bulk through the crowd he called out, ‘Aare Jeroobai, kya taklif hey?’ ‘Oh Jeroobai ,’ -bai being a term of respect for ladies- ‘what is the trouble?’ Without his turban, hair done up in a knot, dark beard reaching his chest, wearing khaki shorts, a thin white shirt and his kirpan, the dagger, on his left hip, he looked a very formidable fellow. After mum explained about the thief, he nodded his head and approached the front door. He undid the hasp and went in as everybody waited with hardly a whisper.

Several minutes passed and there came a loud bang from the house, and a few moments later Dhall Singh emerged with the thief. Like a listless doll, loose limbed, the intruder was dangling against Dhall Singh, who had the poor fellow in a very tight bear hug. As they stepped out the huyo, huyo chant began. Dhall Singh explained that the thief had tried to hide in the food store. There was no bolt on the inside, to prevent me from further pilfering the storage tins. The thief was leaning against the door, which Dhall Singh had pushed open, which was the bang we had heard.

As Dhall Singh explained all this, he hit the thief a couple of very hard smacks on the head. The crowd of course was enjoying the tamasha, the do, as everyone jostled to have a closer look at the culprit, forced to squat on the ground. Dhall Singh kept a huge hand on the fellow’s head as we waited for the police to arrive. In the mean time mum pleaded with Dhall Singh not to beat up the poor fellow, which he was threatening to do. The wretched man was so frightened of Dhall Singh, that as soon as two policemen came through the crowd, he rushed into their arms to the great amusement of the crowd.

All the kids and a group followed the two policemen as they walked the handcuffed fellow to the prison. When they reached the high jail stairs, we waited at the bottom, calling the huyo, huyo, as they climbed up, and disappeared behind the wide metal door.

The thief, as you may have guessed, was none other than Pillipilli bin Pesa. Sentenced to a month’s term, we often saw him work in road gangs, and as we called out to him, he always waved and smiled.


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