Something quite nasty happened to us a few months ago. 2011 was pretty hectic and dramatic, with a variety of vehicle accidents (I crashed in pretty much every mode of transport except an aircraft), illnesses, arrests, desert escapades and so on.
If you can call having a baby, buying land and building your own house undramatic, 2012 was fairly mellow and passed without major negative incidents. Nearly.
Towards the end of the year, a fellow that both Khady and I had trusted deceived us. I’ll call him “Derriere”.
Derriere stole some money from us. Khady had known him years, he had a wife and baby in the village, friends and a life here – since this incident he has not been able to return and is now separated. We had just offered him a job. Although it was a relatively large amount, I hadn’t thought it big enough to risk losing your life, especially given that we’d just offered him a decent secure job with a good wage.
I entrusted Derriere with the cash to purchase something. He disappeared and didn’t return. We gave him the benefit of the doubt for a day or two. It was Christmas day, 2012, when I realised he’d scammed us. His wife arrived tearful. Last Christmas was pretty miserable.
So, we went to his home town of Bignona and found him at his mothers house. Obviously young Derriere is not the sharpest tool in the box – heading for his family house in a dusty junction town. He greeted me with a smile and attempted hand shake. When we asked what had happened, he sat smiling and then whistled a jolly tune. You can imagine how well that went over. His brother said he’d spent all the money on women and booze. Meanwhile, I didn’t have any cash coming in for another month and was wondering how I was to feed my family.
His family are related to Khady’s and they begged us tearfully to give them a chance. “Wait two days and we’ll return the money in full” – they had a son in France who’d send it via Western Union. I agreed and went home. Two days came and went and we were fed more excuses. Khady told me she wanted Derriere put in prison, but couldn’t be seen by the family to want that – it had to come from me.
A few of Khady’s friends told her that he’d stolen from others before and always got away with it- “so why didn’t you tell us when you knew he was coming to our house?” she asked. Vacant shrugs. I needed to show I’m not a soft touch within the village, where news had spread about what had happened.I was trying to figure out the justice system. It seemed that if we reported this, Derriere would be jailed until the money was repaid. I strongly suspected he still had the money – we’d heard a rumour he was going to use it to buy a motorbike.
So, we went to the police in Bignona. I sat in front of the chief of police – a large man with a tremendous walrus mustache, who made me feel like a silly little boy when I said I’d trusted someone with my money. “This is Africa!” I’m beginning to hate this phrase that is always used if something happens – bad or good.
“Don’t worry”, he told me, “he’ll pay”. He gave me a shifty smile and his mustache twitched – I knew I was in safe hands.
I was given a police summons and we went off to Derriere’s house where he was sitting, drinking tea and looking smug. When I handed him the paper, the grin was wiped from his face and for the first time he’d looked scared.
Yes, I’m an easy going friendly guy who likes to think the best of people. Derriere had obviously seen that as a sign of weakness and, along with the family connection which he thought would make us more lenient, decided it could be exploited. Big mistake. He pleaded with Khady as I strode back to Kermit.
Derriere was required to be at the police station at 3pm. We arrived, chatted with the gendarmes and when the Chief arrived, Derriere was called in.
At this point I was thinking, this is my word against his. I had no evidence. Perhaps he’d come up with some excuse. But no – the police just automatically believed me. Given the fact he was guilty, I was happy about this, but I realised I could actually accuse anybody of anything. On this occasion, the system worked for me, but there could be, and probably are, some horrendous miscarriages of justice.
Derriere gave some excuses but the police just laughed. Every time he looked up, they told him to lower his eyes, he was not worthy. They sent him out back and ordered him to strip, then called him back in. He walked back in, holding his hands to cover himself and looking thoroughly humiliated. I almost started feeling sorry for him and wondering if I could live with myself, thinking of him locked up in what I presume are horrible conditions for the sake of some cash. His older brother was there and pleading us to be lenient. The police advised me to demand return of all the money and only then would he be released from jail.
This was Friday afternoon. We were back home on Saturday morning when the police rang us to say the family had delivered the cash in full.
Derriere has never returned to Abene as his former friends and family, who call Khady their sister, are too angry. His wife thanked me and said he needed to be taught a lesson. Five months later we’ve heard that he has stolen from somebody else.