There is crime here. Only a little in our village compared to the big city of Luanda but even that metropolis compares favourably with London, Paris, New York and especially Johannesburg. The local plods spend more time eating breakfast in my place than investigating crime, not through idleness but because there is simply nothing for them to investigate. They are all tooled up to the eyeballs and, especially the ones fresh out of training, are itching to shoot someone. Instead they spoon scrambled eggs down their throats and finger their pristine Glocks. As this is a maritime zone, their responsibilities also include anti smuggling patrols (this is a perfect place to bring contraband in) so I once jokingly suggested that I could easily arrange for a boatload of laptops or fags to come up the river and instead of outrage or at least a friendly warning all I got was a ‘Could you? Could you really do that for us?’ You have to understand, these are nice guys doing a very difficult but generally boring job.
Some weeks ago my generator along with two others in the neighbourhood were nicked and that caused a ripple of gossip. We all knew it had to be an inside job and, sure enough, at his fourth attempt the guy responsible was collared and turned out to be the village crook so now we wait with eager anticipation the results of the police enquiries. Unlike UK, I suspect, the Second-in Command of the local police force came round to fill me, a victim, in on progress (this is real Community Policing) but politely declined my offer to dangle the guy’s feet over a lit barbecue and subsequently dispose of the charred remains in the river. It was not because he, as an individual, had any objection to this, it is just that Angola is trying very hard to embrace Human Rights and as an officer of the law, he was bound to uphold them. I was sympathetic to this impediment to the rapid conclusion of his investigation but since its outcome would only be an opportunity to see castrated justice served rather than the return of the generator, the relief I really craved, what’s a few more weeks or months? I have already ordered the new one anyway.
As a village shopkeeper, for that is what I am, I am possibly in the best position to pull together local rumour and gossip into a coherent version of events. And last night, murder cast its shadow over us.
I have to confess, murder is good for business. You can’t discuss murder in church so the only other places to congregate are the street, which is long and unfocussed, or my shop with its endless supplies of cold beer, fruit juice, tinned tuna and bread, enough to sate even the most voracious gossipy appetite. It also has the only working generator after nightfall.
Oh, I can joke about the fact I had a bumper night, a week’s worth of takings in just a few hours but all this was tempered with the knowledge I had just lost two clients. One dead and the other incarcerated and God only knows what will happen to the kids. As a shopkeeper, it is my job just to sell what is on my shelves or in my freezers but with every beer or packet of biscuits I sold last night, I was reminded of a very troubled and abusive man married to a very patient wife.
The police have been in, made their enquiries and drawn their conclusions from the cold, salient facts. Some of the details, the more human aspects bother me though.
I sold a man I was never too keen on half a dozen beers and then a bottle of whisky and watched him get tanked up to the eyeballs and ever increasingly belligerent. He went from affable to alternately homicidal or suicidal, switching between whiningly servile or outright aggressiveness with bewildering rapidity. I was delighted, as were my other customers, when I could finally push him out the door and set him on his path home. I don’t have to like all my customers. This one he has cash. He asks for beer, I give him beer. He asks for whisky, I give him a bottle. He pays, so why should I care? Suddenly I am social services as well as a shopkeeper? As he staggered off, I really thought he would never make it home. Now I regret that he did.
On arrival, he beat the crap out of his missus. One of the neighbours tried to intervene and was threatened. The neighbour suggested to the woman that she should take her kids and stay with him, which sent the nutter right over the edge. Clearly, the woman was too terrified of the consequences and sent the neighbour away.
According to the neighbour, the fight died down and eventually all was quiet, our lad presumably having fallen into drunken slumber.
Sometime during the night the missus went into her kitchen, hooked the best knife she could find and planted it right in the middle of his chest.
The gossip this morning was all about her courage. The guts it took to kill in cold blood, everyone was impressed. After all, she let the guy fall asleep first so technically it was not self defence. And this gave the police a problem. If only she had stabbed him while he was beating her.
‘Who says she didn’t?’ I said as I served up the scrambled eggs and bread for their breakfast.
‘She did, she’s admitted everything’
‘Admitted what?’ They like their tea sweet here so I poured half a packet of sugar into the teapot and gave it a stir.
‘That she stabbed him while he was asleep in bed’
‘No. That’s where he lay down to die after she stabbed him in the kitchen while he was beating her, the neighbour can testify to that.’ I poured the tea.
‘How do you know that?’
‘How does anybody know anything? All the court will know is what’s in your report and all you have to do is ask the neighbour the right question so you get the answer you want’
I could see they were thinking about this.
‘I would be happy to testify that I threw him out of my shop because he was drunk, violent and abusive and those who were in my shop at the time and want to continue shopping there will be my witnesses’
I may not have done his wife any favours by selling him so much booze in the first place but I would damn well perjure myself if necessary to make some sort of amends.
The guy was a thug, a waster, a very disturbed violent wife and child beater. I am sorry it had to end this way but I admire the woman’s courage. I agree with the gossipers. It takes a hell of a lot of guts to choose a knife, walk into the bedroom and take the life of the father of your children. But then I guess that whatever connections short circuited in her brain defaulted to protecting her children regardless of the consequences she may have to face.
There is a lot less paperwork required for a clear case of self defence than that required to prove pre meditated murder. I just hope the Police draw the same conclusion. If not, I’ll spit in their porridge.