I made a decision never to let road rage take control of my faculties when I was a third-year medical student at the University of Nairobi. We gathered in the Pathology Museum to witness an autopsy on a man who had been shot in the head.

The medical history went like this; a man unwittingly rams into another in a traffic gridlock on Langata Road. A nasty argument ensues. Police arrive and amicably sort out the case. But the ‘wronged man’ takes it a notch higher. He drives home, picks his pistol, and drives back along the same road, looking for the perpetrator. He thinks he has spotted the culprit. He shoots him in the head. Only later did he realize that he had made a fatal mistake. The man he shot was not the one who had caused the accident.

An innocent man lay in a pool of blood. He went into a coma for days and eventually died. The wronged man surrendered to the police. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one year in jail. There was no malice aforethought, said the sentencing judge.

When I watched as Prof Rogena worked on the body of this innocent victim of devilish rage, I made a conscious decision that if I will ever drive, I would strive to keep my calm. Until one day, I ran into a nasty lady. 

This happened on a bright Friday morning, on Mombasa Road,  below the South C overpass. I was driving my brother’s car to Alliance High School, where I was a guest speaker, alongside great personalities. It was 9 a.m. and my talk was slated for 10 a.m. I must have been lost in thoughts, perhaps ruminating over the content of my talk when I slightly rammed into the car in front. It was a Toyota Voltz, brand new, crisp, perhaps a few days from the showroom.

I stepped out my car and offered my kind apologies to the lady driver, who elected not to speak to me.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry it happened.”

Silence.

“My mechanic works in South B and I will cater for all repairs.”

Silence.

All this time, she was furiously searching for her phone, and then she made a call.

“No! He must have the whole car painted afresh!” I heard her bark.

“He must have had other motives, this idiot,” she said.

Without even looking at me, she got back into the car, and started off, as traffic moved at snail’s pace. I must have thought she saw the damage was minuscule and decided to let it go, but I was proved wrong a few minutes later.

I saw a car pull up on the opposite side, and three men, strong and menacing jumped out. I sensed danger, but seeing policemen in the Nyayo Roundabout a few metres ahead gave me some hope.

They did not utter a word, as they came over and forcefully took the keys from me. One of them held me by the collar and got me out of the car. I struggled to remain calm, remembering the tragic encounter in my third year of university.

Another man bent over and started deflating the front left tyre. 

“What’s up my brothers, why don’t we talk about it? There isn’t anything we can’t agree on,” I offered.

“You wanted to kill my wife! And on top of that, you want to beat her. How can you be so rude to a woman?” One of the men asked.

“I swear I wasn’t rude to her, and I have never been rude to any woman in my life,” I tried to soften the tense situation.

“You will regret your action today, stupid man!”

I saw the woman get her handkerchief and start wiping tears. The three men looked bewildered. They swarmed around me begging that I pay something to paint the car. I told them to proceed and sue me in any court they saw fit.

They inspected the dent, which was no more than a small crack made by the bolts on my car’s number plate. They took several photos at various angles. Then they made the demand.

“You must produce forty thousand shillings to repaint the whole car.”

I was a poor medical officer intern, and forty thousand was just about my entire monthly pay.

“Well, my car has insurance. If it comes to that, we will consult them.”

The man who posed as the husband re-inspected the dent and came back even more furious.

“The angle of the dent shows this was not a normal accident. You either wanted to kill my wife, or you were sent by someone. You must tell us who sent you,” he said as he pushed me around.

I sensed that things were headed south. My brother was in Tehran, and my sister-in-law lived at least 40 kilometers away. I called my uncle, an engineer, who by coincidence was at Embakasi driving to town.

By this time, my phone was incessantly ringing as the principal of Alliance High School called. It was already eleven o’clock and it seemed I would be held up in this melee for the whole day. I told him to give my slot to someone else, and I would try to arrive by 2 p.m. if I sorted the case.

The stand-off had lasted over 2 hours. I had been pushed around, insulted, ridiculed and threatened, but I did not have the money. They must have realized that I was a poor boy, driving a borrowed Nissan Sunny.

“Now, boy, you will walk to the roundabout and call the policemen. You must spend the weekend in police cells!”

“This accident happened 500 meters from here, and we’ve been driving before you came. I will not call the police. Instead, we will drive until the roundabout and report the case there,” I told them.

One of them walked to the policemen and came with a young officer, Ahmed. Bless Ahmed, I will never forget him.

“Kijana, where do you work?”

“I’m a doctor.”

I saw him mellow.

“Is this the man you just told me is drunk and disorderly?” Ahmed turned to the man who had fetched him.

I looked stunned, for I had never sniffed, leave alone taste alcohol in my short life.

“Let’s drive to Industrial Area Police Station,” Ahmed ordered them.

He sat at the front as I drove.

“Daktari, I know many people think the police are the bad people. Now you can see for yourself who is bad.”

“How much do you think I should pay them?” I asked.

“No more than five hundred shillings,” came the curt reply.

“If they insist?”

“Tell them to go to their insurance.”

With that statement, I felt an emboldening of my senses. I was determined to claim justice for the three-hour ordeal I had suffered.

When we drove to the station, the woman stormed the Traffic Commander’s office and demanded I be locked up immediately. She was politely reminded that the accident I had caused was not a criminal offense. By this time, she was hysterical and was shouting at the police officers.

The Base Commander came out to inspect the extent of damage and was shocked to learn that a small dent had caused all the fracas.

My uncle arrived and immediately shifted the momentum to my side. He told them I was a senior doctor, who instead of engaging in petty cases should be attending to patients. He informed the police officers that these men had harassed me and threatened to kill me.

“In fact, you are the ones who should be locked up,” the Base Commander threatened the woman and her men.

I sensed a loosening of spirits when the ‘husband’ took me aside and begged that I pay Sh 3,000 for the repair of the car. I told him I would not pay a single penny.

The man who had deflated one of the tires whispered to my ear that I should pay Sh 1,000 to end the case. I told him I would only pay one shilling over my dead body.

The woman was increasingly getting hysterical. She shouted how her car was spotless before this omen, how she couldn’t drive a car with a scratch, how I had spoiled her day. But the police officers had already formed an opinion, and they would not budge.

“Daktari, where were you going?”

“I was headed to Alliance High School for a motivational talk,” I told him.

“Leave them alone, proceed for your duties. They can report to their insurance, or sue you,” he said with finality.

I saw the woman get her handkerchief and start wiping tears. The three men looked bewildered. They swarmed around me begging that I pay something to paint the car. I told them to proceed and sue me in any court they saw fit.

I got into my car, and as I reversed, the woman threw herself behind me, to be run over. She was ordered aside by the policeman. I left her crying hysterically.

I got to Alliance High School in time to give my talk at 2 o’clock. I looked lost and haggard, but I composed myself and gave a good speech.

That evening, I dropped by the Industrial Area Police Station, looking for Ahmed. The duty officer gave me his number, and when I called him, he was nearby.

For the first time in my life, I felt obliged to give a police officer some money. Call it a bribe, but to me, it was an appreciation for honesty and courtesy.

We became good friends with Ahmed. And I learnt one more lesson: arrogance does not pay.

 

Dr. Paul Bundi Karau is a Consultant Physician, Internist and Anatomist 

 

 

 

 

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