A Taste of Freedom

a short story by David Njuguna

The ground was wet underfoot, the grass slick and slippery.
Walking across the yards, he took care not to fall. The sudden

showers had done him the advantage, keeping the people in-
doors but he knew he risked leaving a clear trail if he didn’t

watch his step. They would be searching for him now, he knew,

but in which direction? Would they know where he had head-
ed? He had used the tactics like they did in the movies, where

the person would go one way then double back and go another
way just to confuse his pursuers. He’d have given anything to be
there just to see if it worked.
He walked what he felt to be forever before deciding to
leave the open and use the bushes instead. That way he might
reduce the chances of them finding him before he got to the
main road. On the smaller paths he’d at least known where he
was going and now he risked going around in circles or worse,
turning around and finding himself back where he’d begun. It
was better than getting caught though.
Two months they had kept him, two whole months. He
hated every single one of them for that. How much could he
have done in that two months that was now all wasted? If they
caught up with him they might even lock him up longer…No. He
wouldn’t allow that to happen. Never, he swore to himself.
How was it that he had ended up there in the first place?
Ah yes… the wallet. That cursed wallet. He’d been caught trying
to assist a man spend money and all he had done was take the
man’s wallet without his knowledge. At the time, he felt lucky
there hadn’t been a huge fuss. The man who caught him had
smacked him a few times then together with the other guy, had
marched him to the police station. Getting arrested wasn’t the
worst thing that could have happened to him but he still tried
negotiating with the two men, promising all sorts of things. If
they had let a mob do him…sometimes if you were lucky and you
died. If you were luckier and you

pretended to be dead then the people just left you alone but
you still got arrested. Getting arrested meant court and court
meant being locked up. Nothing was worse than being locked
up.

Growing up, he’d gone through the usual number of fos-
ter homes. He’d liked some, hated others but ultimately he got

thrown out of all. He never knew why, he always tried his best.
One day he’d be walking out the door to school, the next he’d
be back at the home. One day he decided he’d had enough so
he quit and went out to be his own family. And that was how
he’d lived; helping himself to whatever could, whenever he could.
He’d kept away from the drugs and gangs. He’d kept away from
the fights. He knew where he could sleep and where he could
get a free meal if he looked pitiable enough; after all he was
homeless, not stupid. And he’d gotten along well thus far, only
four years now to becoming an adult. But for that cursed wallet.
They had kept him at the police station jail for weeks
as his case went through the courts. It was for his own safety,
they said, since no one could place a child in the adult remand
system. Who knew what would happen? So he’d travel to court
to make his appearances then it would be back to his cell. it
wasn’t too bad in the cells but all the same he hated it. Being
the youngest residing inmate, it was his duty and responsibility
to clean out the cells and in particular the toilet buckets, and

the stench would stick on him all day. He was also the but-
ler around the place. If any of the policemen wanted anything,

they’d send him. If he was too slow he’d get a knock on his head
from a guard. His cellmates were the drunks who would be gone

by morning, leaving him to clean their mess. But they let him lis-
ten in on their (obviously made up) stories of vulgar escapades.

Perhaps it was the monotony and the familiarity of everyday
that sowed the seed in him, or perhaps it was the years of living
free in the street. And when the judge again pushed forward his
sentencing, he already knew he would try and escape.
And here he was now; in the woods with the station
somewhere behind him.

Escape had been easy. He had simply walked out of the
door and never looked back. It was the luckiest thing. Being a
low threat prisoner who’d almost become a permanent fixture
at the station meant the guards treated him much softer than
the others. This time he’d been called up and given a packet of
cigarettes to take to the guard at the gates. The guard at the

gates had in turn sent him to buy matches from the station can-
teen just beyond the gates with threats to scalp him if he even

thought of running off. Even now he laughed as he threaded his
way through the bush.
What was it that he saw ahead of him? Was that the
road? He approached, careful to look both ways just in case.
Stretching both ways like a black snake was his freedom at last.
No police cars in sight, just the familiar buses. He saw another
chance. And this time he wouldn’t muck it up. He flagged down
a bus. He was headed to a new future.
Back at the station the policemen were laughing as they
wrote up the report.
“You know, he probably thinks he was lucky. That we
must be the dumbest people he ever saw.”
The officer at the gate roared with laughter.
“He would have been dumb to pass up a chance like that.
I gave the poor fellow two hundred shillings, to buy matches
worth only five. I just hope he buys a ticket for far, far away.”
“Yeah, if I see him I won’t be so merciful again. If we hadn’t
let him go the courts would have kept him here for a year at
least, the damn bastards. So what should we title the report?”
“Call it ‘Wrongful Release.’ That should keep them off our
backs…”

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