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Spyglass: When Common Sense Dies! 

By Azore Opio

When the police interviewed me on March, Wednesday 17, for five hours, after having basked in the erroneous belief that I had the monopoly over interviewing people, whenever it pleased me, a flurry of fond memories of earlier interviews rushed up to me. But let me tell you this first; men make mistakes; which is why laws are made.

But take my word for it, don’t ever let the police interview you, because it doesn’t matter whether they get it right or wrong, which is not much fun when you are old and have responsibilities. It is okay when you are young, brash and exuberant.  Anyway, let me bring up to date my sorry tales of interviews. I remembered way back in 1976, when we had to donate our loving grandmother to the worms and we needed a handful of cement dust to give her underground lodgings a patina.

Unfortunately, Amin, the da da man of half a million deaths, had practically murdered everything including cement. I remembered how we used to stand in long lines stewing in the glutinous heat to buy a tablet of soap or half a pound of sugar or salt. Anyway, I had located a bag of encrusted cement; encrusted because it had been hidden for fear of it being detected as black market commodity. The route I took, rolling the bicycle with its dangerous load, passed directly in front of the gate of the military barracks. I couldn’t have escaped notice.

"Hey, you!" a coarse military voice boomed, "What have you stolen? Bring it over here!"
I made to hurry, which was a mistake because it just reinforced the soldier’s suspicion.
"Follow me," he commanded. "Sit down!" he added in a gruffer voice when we passed through the gate; then he turned to chat with another soldier. The hilarity of the soldiers did not ease my fear of my fate. The hefty .45 Special Army Issue at the waist, the hobnailed, steel-toe-capped boots, square, vice-like jaws. My wits left me!

"I know English too much?" the square-faced one with a scar running from the right eye to his mouth growled. That was his way of saying I knew English? I was already thinking of the "lesson" I was going to receive; washing my hands with scalding hot water from a tap; eating from a fiery hot mess tin, then strokes of the cane on a salt-watered back. A squad marched past. Infantry men they were, in steel helmets. On each shoulder, a Russian G3 rifle, each ending with a wicked round eye, watching me it seemed.

A dozen cruel eyes. Was it a firing squad? I had never doubted my physical courage, I had always been bold, never fearing a fight and there was much fighting among the boys. Then the interview. Four hours until a "grugru" hawker who had joined the army and was now dating a girl in my village rescued me. That was my first-ever interview I granted the "harmed forces"; extempore.

The second interview I granted was solicited at the Horohoro Tanga border crossing in Tanzania. This time they thought I was bad enough to steal a wig from a judge’s head. Two hours there as the ferry waited. Third interview. Kapolo, Malawi. This time I prepared to meet my Maker when I remembered Hastings’s crocodiles.
"Anything in your possession about Banda?"

"No, nothing." I thought about resident presidents and let it go lest they read my mind.
Fourth and most frustrating interview. Mutukula; where I felt sorry that I was going back home. Fifth interview; Hong Kong, where the Chinese proved their ignorance of tropical fruits. Later I would become a regular kind of guy there. Sixth interview; Kuznica, Poland. I saw it coming and whispered to my German friend in the train: "train will delay here."
I stuck my thumb in my chest. And surely as Jesus Christ hasn’t yet come back, they stepped up to me. They didn’t give me much of a chance. For an hour, I sat outside the police post waiting for the Polish verdict with a bottle of the congenial vodka and a Reader’s Digest for company. A thick voice jolted me out of my trance.

"Where you get visa?"
"Hong Kong."
"No, no, no no, no!"
"You tourist or something?"
"Something, da?"
"Da, something."
"Happens you from Amin’s country, huh?

"So it is said; he is dead."
"You Obote man?"
"Happens so." What are they going to do to me now? Imprison me? Flog me? Turn me over to a tough cop to teach me a "lesson?" The truncheon, the handcuffs.
"You have family?"
I nodded.
"You are aware if we lock you up, they may starve?’
"I have thought of all that long ago."
"Wait outside!"

Outside, I started to write my genealogy; my grandmother was born in 1800…then the door flung open and a smiling border guard was expending an enormous amount of time and energy trying to rationalise their guilt. Suddenly, I had migrated from a very suspected person to a very important person as I was escorted back to the train in a Land Rover, my backpack carried for me.

Interview number seven. Accra, just next door even when I had a visa, valid for a fortnight! Two sweltering hours at Kotoko Airport. I was given a hint of "grease" which I pretend not to notice. I would fall into the lovely embrace of akpeteshi at midnight in Ho. Interview number eight; Buea Police House. The policeman who welcomed me looked at me kind of disgusted like, asked me to have a seat. He looked upon me with a severe and dreadful countenance. I took that interrogation cheerfully and forgave it cheerfully.

I have done a lot of things and have often done them very well, except I seem to always get into trouble about the same time things start going good. I am beginning to think that there is not a more dangerous and troublesome way in the world than quarrelling with the mirror. I suppose this is the penalty one pays for being a idiot.