The Mute



By Lawrence Kadzitche


They called him the Mute.  An old thin man, he spoke to no one, doing everything silently. Some of the inmates in the prison joked that even if he was tortured he wouldn’t scream.


He was the prison’s longest serving prisoner, being in the prison for thirty years.  No one knew exactly why he was there.  He didn’t say anything when he was brought in.  But rumours went around that it was because of murder with violence.


And the rumour was correct.  On 20 September 1974, John Njiru, the prisoner they called the Mute, went to town to collect money from the bank to pay workers at his farm.


He didn’t know what made him do it.  But instead of returning the same day, he decided to spend the night in town.  Maybe he wanted to relax a bit.  He made two mistakes that day.


The first one was to show his stuffed wallet when he was paying for his beer at the Safari Motel.  He had seen a smartly dressed man glance at him and then away.  Very quickly.  There had been a look of surprise in his eyes.


The second and grave one was the girl.  When he had taken a bottle or two, a girl appeared at his side.


John was dazzled by her beauty.  He blinked several times, the glare of her beauty blinding him.  She was tall, her curvaceous figure clad in a shimmering green satin dress that fitted her like a stocking.  Her hair, black and curly, framed an oval face with big coal black eyes and full red lips.


John was married, with two children.  And since he had married Clara over six years ago, he had never cheated on her.  But he felt the tug of this young woman.


“Hi!”  the girl purred.  “You’re Martin Phiri?”


John stared at her.  “No,” was all he could say.


“Sorry, but you look so alike,” the girl said.  “You could pass for twins.”


“Well, don’t they say we all have doubles?”


The girl rolled her eyes and laughed.  “If the doubles can be handsome men like you then it doesn’t matter even if they can come in triplets.”


John felt flattered.  “Why don’t you sit down for a drink?’


The girl sat down.  Her short skirt went up exposing her smooth thighs. She took some time before pulling it down. John licked his lips and swallowed.


They drank while chatting.  Liz, that was the girl name, was easy to talk to.  Normally, John didn’t drink a lot but Liz kept drinking and he didn’t want the girl to beat him.  So he kept drinking too.


He was soon drunk, the girl sitting on his lap and he trying to get his hand into her skirt.


“Not here, sugar,” she told him.  “Let’s go to your room.”


From there, John remembered nothing.  But when he woke up the following morning, he was surprised not to find the girl in bed.  He thought maybe she had gone to the toilet.  But when five minutes elapsed, he grew suspicious.


He swung his legs out of bed.  They landed on something soft.  He looked down quickly.


What his eyes saw shocked him to the roots of his heart.  Lying in a pool of blood was the dead body of Liz.  Her body had been mutilated.  John stated screaming!  The receptionist was the first to come.  But he found the door locked.  John opened it after the receptionist heavy knocking.


The matter was immediately reported to the police.  A search in John’s luggage revealed the murder weapon – a knife.


John was immediately arrested on suspicion of murder.  A trial began, it was an open and shut case.  The room was locked, so nobody had been in.  Even if someone had been in, John should have been aware, looking at the way the whore had been murdered.  So the foregone conclusion was that: he had murdered the prostitute.


He was sentenced to death by hanging.  Due to mitigating circumstances it was commuted to life.


His wife who had been attending the trial, made it clear that she was through with him.


“I can’t have an adulterer, let alone a murderer for a husband,” she had declared after the trial.


John wept.  If his wife could not believe his innocence, who else could?  So he decided not to tell his story to anyone.  It would be useless.  With that began his life of silence.


It was now thirty years since he had been committed to prison.  A new prisoner came in, a smooth looking man in his early fifties.  This inmate slept next to him in the overcrowded cell.


“You know what, old man, this world is funny,” began the man lying on his back on a mat.  “I’m here for a crime I didn’t commit.”


The Mute did not reply.


The new inmate still seemed keen to start a conversation.  “I bought a cell phone.  I didn’t know it was stolen.  When I was found with it and could not say where I bought it, I was charged with theft and brought here.”


The other inmates glanced at each other with amusement. They knew the new prisoner would not get a word from the Mute. But they let him try anyway.


“What makes me mad is that I have committed crimes that should have made me hang, yet they never caught me!”


The Mute stared at him, a flicker of interest in his eyes.  Encouraged, the convict went on.  “May be because I executed my crimes with perfect ingenuity.  Like the one I committed about thirty years ago, would you like to hear about it?”


An interested stare was all he got.


“There was this stupid farmer from the village who showed a fat wallet in a nightclub.  I set a prostitute on him,” he paused, obviously enjoying what he was saying.  “The man got dead drunk.  In the night, the prostitute opened the door for me.  I stole the money and killed her to leave no witnesses.  It was easy to find the spare key for the room at the reception and lock it.”


The Mute sat up on his mat.  There was a strange look on his face that the new convict found frightening.  He laughed, as if to comfort himself.  “Do you know what happened to the foolish farmer?”


The Mute got to his feet.  “Yes, I do,” he said in an ice-cold voice.


The new prisoner’s eyes widened.  “How… how do you know?”


All was lost now.  He had lost everything, his family, and dignity.  Even if he made this criminal confess and he was released, it would be useless.  He didn’t have anything to gain.  But now he would finish his life sentence serving for a crime he had really committed.


“I should know,” he said, a terrible look on his face.  “I was that stupid farmer.”


The prisoner was shocked like someone who has heard the voice of a dead one.  At the same moment, something snapped in John’s brain. He lunged at the astonished convict, pinning him spread-eagled on the floor.


With strength that is given to madmen, his hands settled on the murderer’s neck.  He repeatedly slammed his head against the floor until the man was lifeless. The other convicts watched as if hypnotized. It was something they had never, even in their wildest imagination, thought the Mute was capable of doing.


The Mute got up and kicked the body.  It didn’t stir.  Then he banged the door of the cell.  A guard appeared with considerable haste.


“What’s the matter?”


“Guard, I have just killed a murderer,” he said proudly, a look of satisfaction on his face.  “Now I can serve my sentence in peace.”


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Lawrence Kadzitche

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