“Dan, I need to go to the washroom,” Santi stated, euphemistically, as we sped out of Lake Nakuru National Park. The grey SUV stopped on the dirt road and he alighted oblivious to the two buffalo we had just passed a hundred meters away. He walked into the bush and behind a concrete water tank to attend to the call of nature. Cornelius the ever alert driver now seated at the back next to me also alighted and stood watch. The two buffaloes as if on cue started moving closer, slowly, as if predators, “Santi! Santiago! Santiago!” ,called Cornelius, in apparent alarm. Our Politics and Governance lecturer Professor Santiago Legarre emerged holding high the skull of a male buffalo, a wide grin plastered on his face.
We watched apprehensively as he brought his trophy to the car. Dan was first to voice his concern, “Sir I do not think we can take it”, Cornelius more animatedly said that the game rangers might have seen us, I mumbled something last also in disapproval. However Santi was not going to miss this opportunity, in view that he had missed seeing Simba. “I want to take it to my office to scare students”, he said in excitement as he opened the car trunk and put it in. The car was stiff with nervousness as we proceeded to the gate.
“If we are caught am an advocate,” added Santi;
Cornelius bent back and covered the skull with a blanket then pilling our luggage on top of it.
The guard at the barrier casually glanced at our entry receipts and directed us to the main gate to have the entry card swiped. We were eager to leave but fate had other plans in store. As we parked a white Kenya Wildlife Service pick-up truck came speeding towards us stopping in front our vehicle. Two gentlemen in uniform alighted with faces that read grievous intent and motioned for Dan to step out. A heated exchange ensued between them. We waited with bated breaths inside; Cornelius in foresight began to uncover the buffalo skull in quick small motions. Dan later narrated that they had asked him why he allowed a passenger to alight from the vehicle and whether we had in our possession anything from within the park, having spotted us from a distance.
Three uniformed armed rangers opened the boot to find our trophy there, a look of disapproval crossing their faces. Another, more senior, called out for Santi from within the vehicle and instructed him and Dan to hold the skull by the horns as they took pictures. A more thorough search was then carried out on our small pieces of luggage but no more goodies were to be found. It was at this point of final discovery that Cornelius and I alighted from the vehicle to join our fellow comrades in the parade of shame. Passing tourists also seemed to have found a new attraction in us, ‘the poachers’.
Two men then presented themselves as to be in-charge of our case. One in uniform unhappy that we had ruined his afternoon and another who acted with an air of seniority but dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and bathroom flip-flops also unhappy with our intrusion and disturbance to his peace. The uniformed one then engaged in some form of interrogative conversation almost as if we were mere acquaintances. Indeed it was not lost on us that he might have the intention of receiving adequate consideration for his light treatment of the matter.
The T-shirt clad ranger then instructed us to hand in all our documents and called us three citizens to follow him into his office. Our advocate Santi was left seated by the curb of the parking lot looking very much in dis-belief at the happenings. He would now definitely miss the mass we had been trying to rush to; his state further injured by the words of the uniformed ranger “This is as bad as being in possession of ivory, or poaching!” Words that seemed potent at that time of distress but mere bluff in retrospect.
The office was filled with files arranged from the floor up and three work stations. The ranger in flip flops emerged from an inner office and instructed the one in uniform to attend to our case as he had other engagements. The officer in uniform protested vehemently also stating that he needed to go to the on-going Nakuru Agricultural Show to pick items from their KWS stand. However his opinion on the matter was dismissed and he was left entangled in our drama.
‘’What is the maximum penalty for this” Dan asked in shaky voice.
“Shut up! Don’t make the situation worse,” the ranger barked, obviously this was turning out to be a foul day for him too.
The ranger made a call to someone who seemed more senior, a lady; from his words we made out that he had been instructed in stronger terms to attend to us until the arrival of another ranger also his senior.
”You shall write statements,” he told us as we left the office. He called on another ranger who took Dan and myself into another room while he went on with Santi and Cornelius to a separate building. (We later learnt that the office he took Santi into was full of different game trophies including rhino horns probably recovered from poachers; his message was loud and clear)
It was the first official statement I had ever written, my name Leon Tororey heading it, with all angles to prove innocence explored. It spanned the whole A4 page; Dan Maina’s reached somewhere halfway. As we finished a ranger entered the room. The senior we had been waiting for. He instructed us to go wait outside while glancing at the sheets of paper we had handed over. Santi and Cornelius were also outside; we stood forlorn, men without much hope.
The two rangers finally emerged, kings in their kingdom, simba on lion hill, flamingoes in the lake. The most senior spoke and we listened, to words previously we could not even dream of. “..We might also come to your school to speak on park rules…” he said to Santi. We nodded hands clasped back in humility, muttering thank you, God bless you after each phrase. We had been pardoned. The junior officer overly eager in his boss’ presence explained how he had had to follow due process as he handed back our identification documents.
Dan relinquished the steering wheel back to Cornelius on our drive back, the pressures of that seat having had its toll on him. Passing through the gates, Santi affirmed not to step back into the park again and then asked us to join in a word of thanksgiving prayer.
“Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses…” we said in unison. It would later be described as luck or providence but simpler still, a miracle.
Leon Tororey (21)