The Spark: Den of Inequities by Kinyanjui Kombani
The Spark is a weekly guest blog series by African writers talking about what inspired the big idea for their new novels.
Want to write one? I’m open to submissions for 2015. If you’re an African author or publisher with a new book out or coming up (or that came out in the last six months or so), please email me a query after you’ve read the guidelines here.
Kinyanjui Kombani is a creative writer, banker, entrepreneur and business mentor based in Nairobi, Kenya. His published works include: The Last Villains of Molo, Wangari Maathai: Mother of Trees, We Can Be Friends, Lost But Found and Den of Inequities.
In this installation of The Spark, he talks about a scary personal encounter with pool halls and police.
It is 1997, one evening, a year after high school, and I have just been arrested by police.
It seems like a dream: Only a few minutes ago we were noisily playing pool, without the slightest care in the world, and now we are subdued ‘arrestees’, each trying to talk their way out of the situation. It’s a Friday, and if we go into the police cells, the earliest we can be brought before a magistrate is Monday. The idea of a weekend in police cells is not welcome to any of us.
There are two policemen against the four of us. Each policeman has a pair of handcuffs. Naturally, they have had to look for alternatives for the two of us. So here I am, my own belt wrapped around my hand against my co-arrestee, and my free hand clutching my baggy jeans lest they fall off. And I am thinking: how the heavens did I get myself into the mess?
I am a pool addict, and we have been playing pool since 6 am, until a few minutes ago when a fight broke out at the pool den, and before we knew it plainclothes police raided it. I have been one of the unlucky ones who did not escape in time.
Eventually, my brothers will receive the news that I have been arrested, and they will come rescue me before I am bundled into the police Land Cruiser infamously known as ‘Maria’. One of the other arrestees is not as lucky, and he is taken into custody.
As I grow up, go to campus, find a job in a bank, get married, have kids and all, this incident is to fade away. Until 2013 when I am writing a novel, and suddenly it all comes back to me. I have to finish the story!
What happened to the man who was arrested? What if he had no money to bribe the policemen, and was sentenced to time in jail?
More importantly, what if he was a casual labourer, taking an all-important drug to his ailing child? And what if the doctor had proclaimed that the child would die if he dint take the drug by end of week? What if his wife had no way of knowing he had been arrested? What if … ?
Thus, Den of Inequities is born. The novel is a series of ‘what ifs’. It is a story that talks about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.
The three part novel talks about the aforementioned casual labourer, the local mugger, and a university student. The latter, a ‘socialite’ daughter of an influential politician, thinks she has everything – the looks, the money and fame – until she realizes that everything is not as it seems.
So, what if … ? What if the local mugger was to be reunited with his long lost father? What if the father has all sorts of intentions for him? What if the university student was to fall in love with the poorest boy in the university? What if all these stories were connected?
Against this background is the story of police extrajudicial killings, rampant in Kenya. The UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Prof. Alston, released a report that incriminated police squads of unwarranted killings. So, what if the perfectly crafted our-men-challenged-them-to-stop-but-they-fired-at-us-so-we-returned-fire-two-toy-guns-were-recovered story police tell us is not true? What if there are a few rogue policemen? Or even lazy ones who, knowing that dead men tell no tales, want to get away with murder?
What if I wasn’t arrested way back in 1997? Would I have found the spark?