© Victor Ochieng’
Umirah son of Keya escaped death by a whisker. His four friends were felled by the bullet at around twilight before night dawned. The police ambushed the criminal gang on their way from Tingare Yuaya. It is in this remote village in those sides of Siaya that a certain medicine man had his humble habitat. It is said that he played a Luo traditional musical instrument called nyatiti as he attended to his clients.
Umirah and his accomplices also visited a one-breasted witch who lived among the Sukuma people in Tanzania. They were given talismans that would make them immune to the rain of bullets. They believed that could also make them steal and go scot-free.
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The son of Keya served as a driver before Satan seduced him to join crime. He cruised cars from the season of attempted coup de tat to the time John Robert Ouko withered like a festoon of faded flowers. He was a driver in a mattress company. After that, he became a personal driver of a Medical Doctor who lived in Kisumu City, and worked at the Old Nyanza General Hospital (Russia).
Umirah was enlisted in a gang made up of eight robbers from different parts of the country. They rented a house in Kampala, Kisumu, Nairobi and Mombasa. They acquired weapons, and entered into crime full throttle.
They did this for two years until the day they had a date with death. They robbed in a broad day light. Escaped from the scene of sin. Drove at a swift speed up to Tingare Yuaya to greet and meet the witch doctor who played nyatiti with stupendous skill.
Mzee Mayamba was advanced in his craft. His fame had traveled far and wide. People trekked – from Alego, Asembo, Uyoma, Gem and Sakwa – to the vast homestead of the old man who reared juogi, spirits, inside a gourd. When the client came. He simply played nyatiti and invoked the spells of juogi.
That day, he treated his clients, and assured them of safety. But no sooner had they left the home of Mayamba, than the police ambushed them. It was not even a spit-throw distance. The men in blue rained bullets on them. Seven died on the spot to lend credence to the adage: Crime does not pay.
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The brutality of the bullet divorced Umirah’s hand from his mortal body. He bled profusely at the rate of a leaking pot. Blood oozed from his body to an extent that he nearly lost his life. But God rescued him from the cruel claws of death. He escaped death by the skin of the teeth. It was: Mercy, God’s decision not punish us. And, grace: God’s decision to save us.
The cadavers were packed into the police vehicle; the way a fisherman packs sardines in a can. They were taken to the morgue. Their lives had come to an end. For as the sage said: When life is lost, all is lost. Meanwhile, Umirah was put in a fast-footed ambulance whose siren blared to scare flesh and blood to pave way.
At that dark hour. You could smell the spell of death. The stench of death was so strong. You could smell it from far. Tension tightened like a rope. You could cut it using a kitchen knife. Umirah lost many gallons of blood. It was quite evident that anything could happen. People who are autochthonous to the sultry shores of Lake Lolwe say, ngimane ne nitie e kind akuru gi asumbi. That is, his life was between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Death was staring at him without blinking. The grim reaper was standing there. The way a farmer stands close to the ripen millet farm carrying a sickle. He was treated. While on the hospital bed, a certain Jesus-loving-lass approached him. Talked to him about sin and salvation and urged him to surrender his life to Christ that snatched him from the ginormous jaws of death. But his heart was hard like a stone. Before the lady left. She said.
“You will go to court. The judge will sentence you to life-imprisonment because you will be charged with a capital offence – Robbery with Violence. But you will go to jail, and rot there for only a decade. For it is in prison that you will be saved and set free from sin.”
The lady tip-toed towards the door. As these words hit Umirah hard like sledgehammer. Indeed, he went to court. He was charged with seven cases, the seventh one, was the one that jolted him to the grim reality. Prison was going to be his new home. What a change of lifestyle! The man was going to be a guest of state. As he reports to court once in a blue moon to seek justice.
He found himself at Kodiaga Prison in Kisumu. Then, he was transferred to the Kamiti Maximum Prison. A place he suffered for ten solid years. These were the dark days of Nyayo. These years of yore, prison wardens did not want to understand that people go to prison as a punishment. They don’t go there to seek punishment. There was a lot of brutality.
The legend had it that sudden raids by wardens left a trail of lifeless bodies in that hell on earth. The outbreak of cholera killed people like flies. One silent night. Umirah heard a voice. It was crystal clear. It said.
“Umirah! I am Christ. I am the one who saved you from death. The day your six friends died. But I’ve come to save you from the stain of sin. Rise up. Go! Serve me.”
It looked like a trance. But it was so clear that he had to call the wardens. When he explained to them. They told him that it could only be explained by the prison pastor. When morning came. He went and got prayed for. The pastor read for him the words of John-the-Revelator enshrined in Revelation 3:20.
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. If anyone hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him. I will enter into the house. I will eat with him, and he with Me.”
At this stage, he had won 6 cases. Only one was remaining. He petitioned the President through the Chief Justice. It was a man of means called Bernard Chunga. By God’s grace, through amnesty of the President. He escaped from being hanged. For those days, criminals sentenced for life had a date with the gallows. They were hanged using the machine.
Umirah left prison unscathed. When he arrived at Jina Village in Gem Yala. The place where his umbilical cord was cut, and placenta buried. His village mates did not believe their egg-like oval eyes. They thought he was a wraith (ghost). For ten years ago, sad news reached them. That the man died. Therefore, according to Luo kitgi gi timbegi, customs and traditions. They buried a banana trunk. For they feared to be haunted by the spirit of those who were dead but alive.
The man was rejected, but he did not feel dejected like a wet hen. He found refuge in Church – the ground and the pillar of Truth. His trust was in Christ – the hope of glory. He was received by brethren. His wife that had gone back to her maternal home came back. It was now late. But they said better late than never. They started to put the bits and pieces together like siring children.
Now, as I write this story. Umirah son of Keya is no longer a robber but a pastor at the Christian Outreach Ministries – Anyiko Church in the Gem of Siaya. A small congregation that needs support of kind-hearted people. Umirah has visited a few prisons across the country to preach to the inmates, and to caution them against the dire consequences of crime. He believes that with flow of resources, he can do more. Touch more lives. He is a zealous preacher.
In case you want to support Pastor Umirah son of Keya. This is his cell phone number – 0711300588.
The writer is an editor, orator and author. [email protected].