The mobile phone kept on ringing. Lodule looked at the phone screen but the incoming number was unknown, as it was not registered in his phonebook. He ignored it. There was a number that kept pestering him in the past weeks. A male voice always asked for a “Mohammed” every time heanswered. He kept telling him, that he was not Mohammed or anyone close enough, but to no avail. He then decided to ignore the number whenever it called. He looked at the number again when it rang for the umpteenth times. It looked different. Lodule decided to answer.
“Hullo,” Lodule said, not sure who was calling him.
“Lodule, this is Wani,” a voice answered.
“Oh, how are you? Whose number are you using?”
“Lodule, there had been an accident. I hit a woman with a car, an old woman who is now in a critical condition. Come quickly.”
“Where are you? How did it happen?”
“We are at the junction of Street 15 in Amarat, near the petrol station. Come quickly please, I am using someone’s phone and he needs it.”
“I know the place. I am quite near and am on my way.”
Lodule sprang from his desk at the shop in Souk al Shaabi Khartoum, the vast market in Khartoum South and ran outside. He had a small business there that had seen better days. His assistant,a man from Darfur, who they came to refer to as the Al Darfuri, had gone out for coffee. Outside, Lodule called out the man and he came from behind the kiosk where he had been taking his coffee.
“I am going out to Amarat,” he said. “My brother had an accident and I am going there. Look after the place.”
Lodule walked to the nearby street and hailed an Amjad mini bus taxi.
“Street 15,” he told the driver. He did not even bother to ask how much. He cannot afford to haggle over the cost of the journey. There was no time. What the man asked later, he would pay.
When he got there, the place was crowded with people. A small crowd gathered in one corner of the junction looking at someone seated on the ground. From the look of it, the police had not arrived yet. It was curious onlookers who were crowding around. Lodule hurried on to see. Wani sat on the kerb, his head buried in his hands. Lodule moved the people aside and sat next to him. He put his arms around him. When Wani raised his eyes, they were swollen, reddish. He had been crying.
“They took her to the Khartoum Hospital,” he said, between sobs. “I don’t have a driving license. What will I do? What will happen to me?”
Lodule’s nightmare had come to pass, his most dreaded fear had occurred. Wani had always been driving in Khartoum. He learned driving when he was very young indeed. He had grown up in Mayo slums, where he worked as a turn-boy in a bus for an Arab business. He learned to drive and was given the opportunity at night to transport passengers on his own, despite the fact that he had no driving license. It is no surprise though. In Khartoum, many people drive without the right papers. If you are caught in one of the numerous random police checks, you only have to pay the fine and you go free. The problem would be when you had an accident, like what Wani was facing.
The mini bus he was driving was still parked in the middle of the road. Traffic had to pass around it. As in many accidents, the car couldn’t be moved until the police mapped the accident.
“Look here bro,” Lodule said. “Be calm. I will handle the situation. I will say I was driving. I have a license. Everything will be alright. You are lucky the crowd did not beat you up.”
“But they will know it was not you,” he argued.
“Don’t worry, just be calm. Let us go over there and wait.” Lodule picked him up and moved away from the crowd.
A few minutes later, a police car pulled up by the side of the road. Its blue and red lights flashing, but the siren was off. Two policemen came out of the car and walked over to where Lodule and Wani were seated. One of the people still lingering around had pointed them out to the police men. Lodule stood up when he saw them approaching.
“Who was driving the car,” one of them asked. The guy was a mean looking man. His clothes were shabby, like he had been sleeping in them. He must be having a rough day.
“I am,” Lodule said, confidently.
“Can I have your driving license please,” he ordered.
Lodule pulled out his wallet from the back pocket of his trousers and fished out the driving license. Although he had no car, he always carried it with him. The driving license had served him well, as he could use it as an ID. He did not have the national ID Card. Ever since it expired four years ago, he had never bothered himself to renew it. The license worked just fine.
The policeman looked at the license and looked up at him, as if to verify that the picture was indeed his. Satisfied, he put it in his breast pocket.
“Where is the vehicle registration?” he wanted to know. The other policeman was already by the side of the car, examining the screech marks on the tarmac.
“In the car,” Lodule said.
Lodule walked self-assuredly over to the car. He was not sure where to find it, or whether he would even find it. He had only the faintest idea where it could be. He had seen where many drivers kept their vehicle registration papers. The car keys were still in the ignition. He opened the driver’s side and look into the pocket on the dash board. It was not there. He pulled down the sun visor over the drivers view. Stacked in a role were some papers. He pulled them out and spread them on the seat. He looked through them and found it buried between the papers. He handed it to the police man. The policeman looked at the papers closely.
“It expired yesterday, my friend,” he said, his face breaking into a sardonic smile, as if he was pleased with the find. “You are in deep trouble.”
Lodule just looked at him. The expression on his face betrayed nothing. It is simple mishap. Maybe, it would be overlooked, since it was only a day old.
“I was actually on my way to renew it,” he lied.
“Tell that to the judge,” the policeman replied. “You must come with us to the station so that we record your statement. After that we shall come back here to verify the accident and draw it.”
“I will go with you,” Wani said. He looked much calmer, much himself, not the sobbing little man.
“Never mind, take my phone and call home,” Lodule whispered to him in Arabi Juba, the colloquial form of Arabic used in by Southern Sudanese, so that the police men would not know what he was saying. “Don’t see around too much. Tell them what happen. I shall meet them at the police station. And don’t come with them please. You should keep away from the police station.”
The police station was bustling with activity. When they got there, Lodule was taken to a desk where a man registered his particulars. He also narrated how the accident happened. Most of it was guess work, since he was not actually there. They recorded everything as he told them. In the end the policeman at the desk told him he will be remanded in custody until the attorney general came by to post bail. He will review the case and decide on the bail amount to be paid.
The police officers took everything from his pockets and handed them over to the desk police officer who painstakingly recorded every piece of item: his wallet, two mobile phones for different networks, the car keys, pen, belt, and the gold necklace. He was especially poignant at having to give away this priced possession. He had never taken the necklace off from the time when he bought it four years previously. It had always adorned his long neck. Now he had to part with it as he went into custody. He wondered whether he would ever see these things again. The police officer stashed everything into a large kaki envelop and stapled it. He wrote is name across the back and put it in a shelf behind him.
One policeman led Lodule to the cell. The holding cell at the police station was no bigger than a bedroom. It was crowded like a fish market and the foul stench emanating from inside through the grated steel door was a mixture of sweat, dust and urine. He fished out a bunch of keys, like the proverbial jailer he was, and opened the door. Lodule walked inside and he locked the door behind him. The inside was damp likethe toilet with no doors. The many people inside were crowding near the door as if they were gasping for air. He found a corner, squatted and began the long wait.
The attorney came late in the evening, when he had already given up hope. His family had not arrived yet. He wondered where Wani was. He could be anywhere, trying to locate his mother in Mayo area and get some friends and uncles. He would do that, that boy. Since he knew quite well that Lodule is inside instead of him, he thought. Wani remained the only brother Lodule had. Their mother raised them when they were still very young in the slums of Mayo, brewing illegal alcohol to make ends meet. Their father, a registered drunkard of the first degree, had died. He was found dead at the door to his own home. The coroner had told them that he died from severe alcohol hangover, a condition locally referred to as ketuk. Their mother had taken care of them all this time. They grew strong together, as inseparable siblings, playing football in the slums. They have also participated in some mischief together. Wani had been his brother and friend. That was why it came easily to him to bail him out of his predicament.
A police officer called him, breaking his reverie. He was led to small office at the back of the cell. He found a smartly dressed young man, with a white shirt and blue tie sitting behind a narrow desk. In front of him were heaps of papers he was reading from. Without looking up, he motioned to Lodule to sit down on the metal chair in front of the desk. The police officer stood behind him, after handing over another piece of paper.
“What is your name,” the attorney asked. The man was very young for the job. It was like he had just passed his bar and coming in here to practice. He wore a striped tie on a white shirt. He had no coat on. His complexion was fair and looked as if he had a fresh haircut. The hairline was sharp like that of a marine corp.
“Lodule,” he answered.
“Foursome please, Rubayi,” the young attorney said, raising his voice louder.
“Julius Lodule Carlo,” Lodule replied.
“I know Mayo, but where is the Tawidad?”
“It is part of the new extensions of Mayo, southwards, near the canals.”
“What are you in here for?”
Lodule knew very well that the attorney had all the information. The fact that he was being cross examined like he was a murderer was about to get into his nerves. After all, it was just a bloody car accident, he thought.
“A car accident,” he answered, trying hard to keep his voice down. He knew very well than to irk the people of the law. They could slam one with some ridiculous charges and you would rot in jail for the rest of your life.
“It said here in the hospital report that her condition is critical. The bail will be set high, at one thousand pounds. As the case stands, you will pay all the expenses for her treatment in the hospital. If she recovered fully, there will be a hearing in front of the judge.”
Lodule gave a long sigh of relief. The bail terms were acceptable, as long as he had his freedom. He could not afford to go back into the dingy cell.
“The car will be impounded until the insurance is paid and the necessary fine paid,” he continued.
Lodule was not listening. His mind was already preoccupied with the issue of the money. From where will they get such an amount within a short time?
“You can go,” he added.
The attorney signed some papers and handed them over to the police officer standing near the door. He took them and opened the door. Lodule walked out and the officer followed to the desk.
“You will get your belongings once the money is paid,” the officer behind the counter said.
Lodule was led back into the cell. Just then, he heard some commotion and moved to the door. His neighbour Tombe had arrived with an entourage. There was his mother too.
“Are you OK, did they do something to you? Did they beat you?” his mother started asking. Her voice was hesitant, the tone bore sad feeling to it. She had been crying, he could tell.
“Nothing Mama, I am fine,” Lodule answered.
“What happen next? Will you go home?”
“Yes. The attorney set a bail of one thousand pounds because the old woman is in critical condition.”
“Do not worry. We have already spoken to your Uncle Daniel,” his mother said. “He is coming soon, with some money.”
The mother of Lodule was looking terrible. She had been crying, Lodule could tell. Her eyes were swollen and scarlet red. The long multi coloured flowing tobe she wore was dangling and trailing on the ground, collecting dust from the dirty floor. She never seemed to mind.
Presently, Uncle Daniel came waddling into the waiting area. He was a heavy man, grossly overweight. He had a round face with deep black eyes that seem to penetrate inside the thing he was watching. He had the habit of looking you square in the eyes without blinking when speaking. It could be disconcerting some times.
“How are you,” he asked, not addressing anyone in particular, his eyes darting from Tombe, Mother and back to Lodule, who was still holding on to the metal grates of the cell.
“There is a bail of one thousand. Do you have it?” his mother asked.
“Yes, I have enough money with me.”
“You can pay over there, at the counter.”
Uncle Daniel ambled off to pay the bail. Shortly he came back to the door with a policeman who opened the door and Lodule walked out. He was marched to the desk where he found a different man than the one who had taken his possessions. Lodule was given a paper to sign and handed the kaki envelop with his name on it. He opened it and pulled out his things. The necklace was missing.
“I have a gold necklace. It is no longer here.”
“Are you sure,” the officer asked. “Let me check the records.”
He pulled out the big book marked Records in big Arabic letters. He opened it and flipped to the current date. He read it silently and looked up.
“There is no mention of necklace in the records,” the officer said.
Lodule was startled. How could his necklace disappear just like that, off the records? He was sure he saw the other officer noting it down.
“Are you sure this was the correct record book? I saw him write it down.”
“It is not here,” the man said. “If you have any complains, you will need to file a case for missing necklace. Other than that I cannot help you.”
Lodule felt as if the world had shrunk. His heart started beating faster and faster like a drum gone wild and his face broke into sweats, tiny little drops that cascaded all over his body. He had lost his most prized possession of many years. The way the officer spoke, he knew he will never set his eyes on it again.
“Let us go,” his mother said. “You will find another one. It is good that you are out of this place.”
Lodule followed them outside. The sun had already gone down as darkness took over. The street lights were like pools of colour, sprayed from wide bored hose on the ground.
They decided to go to the hospital where the woman was taken. She had been transferred to the intensive care unit. Lodule, his mother and Uncle Daniel were met by the family of the woman. The daughter of the woman was seated on a mattress in the veranda of the ICU. She was crying. Maybe the outcome was not that good, he thought. When she saw them approached, the young lady stood up and shouted at them.
“You murderers,” she cried. “You almost killed my mother, what are you coming here to do? Are you coming to laugh at us?”
She lashed out at Lodule, who was closer to her. She hit him square on the face and his head spun like he was hit by a hammer. A man standing close by jumped up and restrained the lady, struggling to calm her down.
“You better leave,” he said. “Please, we will talk later.”
The man seemed reasonable and understanding. The group backed out of the place. Lodule was shocked at the experience. It was a bad sign indeed.
“It would have been better if we had not come at all,” Lodule’s mother said. “Look at how they treated you.”
“It is understandable Mama,” Lodule said. “They are still in shock at what happened. They will understand later.”
The knock at the door was deafening. It was not even six o’clock yet. The cold November morning had winds crushing on the corrugated iron roofs, making hissing sounds that resembled a snake in the bushes. Lodule struggled to get up from his bed. His body was still aching from the troubled week he had been going through. He had not even been to the business in Souk al Shaabi. Things have not been going fine for him. The costs of treatment for the lady in the hospital kept rising. The demands kept coming and he just wished everything would end soon. He got up from his bed and sauntered outside, still sleepy eyed. He struggled to open the gate. There were two police officers standing outside. A patrol car was parked some distance on the opposite side of the road. The full moon was just setting in the west, giving faint light that reflected off the shiny linings of the car. A man in plain cloth spoke first.
“Are you Lodule?” he asked
“Yes I am. What is this about?” Lodule asked.
“The woman whom you hit with the car died last night. The attorney had left a standing order that you are to be brought in if anything happen to the woman”.
“How did it happen? She was quiet well the last time we visited?”
“That is not for me to tell. I am no doctor. All I know is that she is dead. So you are coming with us. Get dress properly.”
Up this moment Lodule did not realize that he was in his boxer shorts that he slept in. The white T-shirt he wore was thin and he started to feel the cold. When he rushed back inside, Wani and his mother were awake.
“What is it Lodule,” his mother asked. She came out of her room after hearing Lodule opened the gate. She was still in her night dress. She wiped her eyes and looked at the Lodule.
“The police. The woman had died. They want me back at the station.”
“Oh my God. God have mercy. What can we do now, my son?” She started to cry again.
Lodule held his mother for few minutes. He could not believe that the whole story would come to this, that the woman would die. And this has now complicated the whole case. He put on a pair of faded jeans over his boxers and picked his shirt from the hanger by the window. He went outside and his mother and Wani followed. The police officer grabbed his arms and let him to the patrol car.
“Where are you taking him?” his mother asked
“To the police station in Khartoum II,” one of the officers replied.
“Get me a lawyer,” Lodule said, turning to speak to Wani as he was shoved into the vehicle.
“Why did you insist that it was you who hit the old woman,” the lawyer asked.
Lodule thought they found a good lawyer for him. Bambu was a good lawyer, but Lodule thought he was asking the wrong questions now. He should try to get him out of the predicament he was in, instead of focusing on who should have been in the dock. When they took him back that day, he spent the whole day behind bars, waiting for the attorney to come. However, being Friday, he was not expected at all. Lodule spent the night in jail. The attorney came the following morning to hear the cases. He was sent to appear before the criminal judge at the court in Khartoum.
The judge heard the case and Lodule was found guilty of manslaughter, reckless driving and having a car without insurance and license. For these issues, he was fined five thousand pounds. The manslaughter charge remains. The family had refused blood money or diya and asked for him to be sentenced to death. Their lawyer insisted he had evidence that the driver hit the woman deliberately, thus, meaning a premeditated accident. The judge adjourned the hearing until the witnesses were brought.
“I was doing it for my brother. I wanted to save him from the problem of the license.”
“That was a stupid thing to do.”
“I never knew it would come to this.”
“The judge had it wrong. A traffic accident does not warrant a death penalty. We will launch an appeal. We will talk about that when the time comes.”
A few days later Bambu came back to visit Lodule at the Kobar prison where he was awaiting the trial. He sat with him at the visitors’ corner, where many other people were visiting relatives who were in prison. He had a very distant look and seemed to be carrying a heavy load in his heart.
“What is it today, Bambu,” Lodule broke the ice, after a long time spent looking at the table. A lady making tea in the compound brought them two steaming cups of strong, black Sudanese coffee. It filled the cramped place with sweet smell of heavily spiced coffee.
“It is not good news,” Bambu said. “You are up against some formidable opponents. The accident had turned nasty, my friend. What I found out was that the family had big connections in the government and one relative is a minister. They are up to get you hanged. The judged had already been paid off and they are bringing false witnesses to prove that it was no accident. It is getting more complicated.”
“I know this kind of people,” Lodule answered. He was shocked at the turn of events and how it was being portrayed by the other side. They have turned it into a racial and religious issue, a Southerner versus a Northerner, the Kafir, infidel, versus the Muslim. It did get nasty alright, he thought.
“There is no way we are going to win this case.”
“We can appeal.”
“Yes, it will buy more time but what else? They control the system, my friend.”
“So what are you saying?”
“There is the option of claiming mental problems. It will at least lead to the charged being commuted to a life in prison.”
“I am not mentally disturbed,” Lodule barked. “How can you say that?” His voice rose every time. The other people sitting around him looked up, and went back to their talks.
“Calm down. I am being hired to save your neck. That is what I am trying to do. It may sound weird, but is a legal loop hole to hold on to.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Lodule answered, his voice now subdued.
Bambu got up and picked his brief case. He at looked Lodule and walked towards the door.
“I will be back soon. Take care of yourself.”
When the judge came into the chamber, everybody rose up. He sat on the high table and everyone else sat down. Everyone was there. Lodule was brought into the court room hand cuffed and made to stand in the holding area behind bars. The family of the woman were sitting on the right side, subdued, but unrelenting.
The arguments have already been done several times in the previous court appearances. The woman’s lawyer had presented witnesses who claimed that they saw the driver swerved to hit the woman intentionally. One even claimed that he knew Lodule because he worked with him before. He said he had grudges against the family.
Bambu presented his client as an innocent man who was going about his business and got involved in a car accident, which could happen to anyone. He insisted it was not premeditated, as the driver had no knowledge of the victim, or of her family. It was sad the lady died, but it was an accident. Pure and simple. Bambu’s earlier request that his client was mentally unstable was rejected by the court. They did not even try to petition the client to be examined by a doctor. So they are not awaiting the final verdict.
“How is Wani doing?” Lodule asked.
“He is taking it very hard. He wanted to come but we told him to keep away. He still did not know what you just told us?”
“I did not tell him anything. You are the first people to know of it.”
Lodule’s family had come to visit him at the prison. His friend and lawyer Bambu, his mother and Uncle Daniel were all there. Bambu was silent. He got up from the table and paced around. Lodule’s mother and Uncle Daniel sat there, listening without saying a word. The visitors place was exceptionally empty that day. The usual horde had diminished. The emptiness was eerie and weird. The hot afternoon weather kept many people at home. The sole fan turning in the ceiling could barely cool the place.
“Why do you want to do it this way?”
“I have no choice. I don’t think I have much long to live. Let him have the chance.”
The appeals had all been rejected by the court and the sentenced remained that Lodule be hanged. The family of the victim was overjoyed, while Lodule’s family were sent into wailing and crying. The date for the execution has also been set.
“Wani is my brother, my twin brother.” Lodule said. “Nobody, apart from us could guess that he was the true driver. I am doing it for him.”
“You could have a chance too, the diagnosis could be wrong, there could be a cure, and some things may change. You cannot throw your life like that.”
“What ever happened, it will still be within the family, a loss in the family. I don’t have a future anymore.”
Lodule’s family were still in shock at the news he was telling them. They could not believe that he had been suffering silently, alone, all this time. The fact that he himself was dying was more shocking. Lodule told that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the stomach. The doctors said it was a late stage and gave him a few months to live. His symptoms had been troubling him for a long time with bouts of diarrhoea and constipation. Many doctors gave him drugs that only relieved the symptoms briefly. When he started losing weight, his doctor become alarmed and referred him for an endoscopy that revealed an abnormal growth in his stomach. A biopsy showed it to be a cancerous growth. Subsequent body scans revealed spread all over the body. An operation would not benefit him.
“I am ready to give up my life for my brother,” Lodule added. “I will take his place to the end. There is no going back now.”
Lodule’s mother stood up and came to stand beside his son. She took him in his arms, as tears flowed down her cheeks, wetting Lodule’s back. Her loud sobs echoed through the empty room, reverberating off the damp walls, and venturing through the windows into the corridors of the prison. She cried her heart out until she went limp and collapsed to the ground.
“Lodule, you are my blood,” she said, between sobs. “You were the one who was going to look after me when I get old. Your father died when you were children. I had high hopes of you. Now you want to leave me. I will certainly die.”
“Mama, please,” Lodule started to say, but could not continue. He too was consumed by grief and the colossal decision he had taken. From the outset, it looked so unnatural, so weird. But Lodule knew deep inside him that it is the road that he would have to take.
On Monday, January first, the country was waking up to an independence day celebrations. The brand new national flags were flying high in the early morning winter breeze. The president was to address mass rally at the Green Square in Khartoum at ten o’clock. There would be a military parade with fly-over by the air force. The small TV at the reception area in the prison was playing and showing nationalistic songs and black and white pictures of the founding fathers and the Republican Palace. At exactly five o’clock, Lodule was led to the gallows inside Kobar prison, while his twin brother Wani in Mayo was consumed by remorse and self chastisement at the weight of the sacrifice his brother had made.