Tiema Haji Muindi
4 minute read
2 Oct 2008

Being streetwise helps

 Tiema Haji Muindi

Two and two doesn’t always make four, sometimes the answer gets converted to money

I like the police. Really, I do. Without them, the people in prison would be out on the streets making our lives miserable. And if that wouldn’t be bad enough, there would be a lot more competition for jobs in the underworld.

Despite this, I’m tired of meeting the police on the street. On at least five occasions they’ve stopped me for questionable reasons while hurling questions at me that caused me to lose the little bit of confidence I have in my looks and intelligence.

Maybe I just look questionable even when I’m trying not to. Maybe the police can’t help themselves. When they see my face, a single, emphatic word flashes through their minds — suspect.

Take for example the most recent incident. My brother of another mother from another country had invited me for lunch in Point Road, Durban. Being not so stupid and not so clever, I decided to take along a security precaution by "borrowing" a kitchen knife from the kitchen of the mother of my six daughters. I intended to use it for self-defence, just in case somebody thought that he or she should relieve me of my cellphone or wallet. I have heard spine-chilling incidents of muggings in the area and I wasn’t ready to become a statistic.

Anyway, to make a short story long, as I began walking along Point Road at seven steps per minute, just above the walking speed limit but no faster than other traffic, a police patrol vehicle began to follow me, while the policeman inside the vehicle radioed his patrol station something along these lines.

Policeman: "I’m in pursuit of a bespectacled man. The man looks like a suspect."

Radio operator: "A suspect in what case? Please advise."

Policeman: "Not sure, but by the looks of him, it could be to do with armed robbery or drugs. Perhaps even espionage."

After a few paces, the vehicle stopped and the policeman got out and stopped me and some other pedestrians who were in front of me. He said that I was walking too fast and too close to the right shoulder of the road, with both my hands in my pockets, it gave him probable cause to ask me to put my hands on the back of my head.

Instead of frisking me, he asked: "You don’t have a firearm or anything, do you?"

"No," I said nervously.

The policeman asked us to stand against a wall and said: "I just want to see if there are any arrest warrants on any of you."

As he radioed for the information, my heart began racing, not because I have a criminal record but wondered what would happen if it became a case of mistaken identity? I decided to keep quiet and, thankfully, nothing was found to detain me.

"Before I let you go, can I see your identity document," the policeman said.

I produced my identity document, my business card, my credit cards and my electricity and water bills that I had in my pocket. I even turned out my pockets to show that I was a good person. But the other people didn’t have any identification papers with them, so I believed that I was the only one who was "not guilty" and that I would be "released".

This was not to be and instead the policeman started asking the others questions. "What’s your name, where do you stay and what do you do for a living?"

They answered these questions, but the next question puzzled me.

The policeman asked one man: "What’s two plus two?" To my amazement the one pedestrian answered: "One hundred and fifty rand." Then he asked the other man the same question: "What’s two plus two?" and the man answered: "One hundred rand."

I knew that arithmetic was not my strong point, but these two men were below sea level.

I stepped in to save them and gave the policeman the answer as being four. But by the look from the two men and the policeman it proved to me that I wasn’t streetwise at all.

I like to believe that the incident had nothing to do with my IQ or memory lapse that normally comes in handy whenever I am supposed to remember to whom I owe money and when I am supposed to pay it.