Abishai was already running late when he saw the portly outline of a traffic cop on the stretch of road just ahead. ďPlease God,Ē he prayed. ďLet him wave me on by!Ē
It was not to be. The policeman extended his hand and Abishai grudgingly applied the brakes. His lorry slid to a stop just feet from the arbitrary check point.
ďLicence and registration book!Ē demanded the policeman. He was already sweating profusely; the heat of the day and the absence of any shade had put the officer in a foul mood. He scrutinised the heavily creased paperwork, irritated not to be able to find any fault with the documentation. Grunting a command to remain parked, he prowled around the lorry, poking the tyres and banging on the suspension with his swagger stick. The moment he returned with a smirk on his podgy face, Abishai knew that he was in trouble.
ďThere appears to be a problem with your rear lights,Ē the man asserted. ďLooks like a stone has cracked the lens on the driverís side. Itís an offence to drive a vehicle in an unroadworthy condition. Youíll have to pay a fine.Ē
ďThat must have just happened, officer. If you let me off with a warning, Iíll see that itís sorted out later this morning.Ē
ďIím afraid itís much too serious for a warning. The fine will be five thousand kwacha.Ē
ďThatís ridiculous,Ē Abishai protested. ďI could replace the lens for less than a thousand. Besides, thatís more than two weeksí pay for me. My boss is really mean: he insists that we have to pay our own traffic fines.Ē
The policeman made vaguely sympathetic noises but Abishai wasnít fooled. He knew what was coming next.
ďItís a very warm day. One becomes very thirsty in this line of work, not to mention feeling hungry. If you could afford to part with enough for a light lunch, I might be willing to let you off with a warning. Iím sure that 500 Kwacha would cover it.Ē
Abishai hated this stage in the proceedings. It was always the same. No matter how well maintained you kept your vehicle, the police would always find something minor to complain about. They werenít even that interested in giving you a fine Ė all they ever wanted was some extra cash that they neednít declare to their superiors.
ďIím very sorry, sir,Ē Abishai explained nervously. ďBut Iím not allowed to do that. Iím a deacon in my church and we take a very firm stance against bribery. For conscienceís sake I really canít give you any money. If necessary, you can write out a ticket and give it to me.Ē
The policeman looked as if he would explode. His jowls were quivering violently; his eyes seemed almost to shrink back into their sockets, leaving only two smouldering pits, dark with cruelty and spite. Abishai jumped at the clang of the baton striking the cabís door.
ďAre you accusing me of soliciting a bribe?Ē the policeman demanded to know. ďWe have strict laws against corruption in this country. People have lost their jobs for less.Ē
ďIím not accusing you of anything, sir. Iím merely stating that for conscienceís sake I canít give you any money. If you write me a ticket, Iíll take it to the police station and pay my fine there.Ē
ďYou can pay it here and now!Ē The manís voice dripped with malice.
Abishai glanced down to check that the officer wasnít armed. ďIím sorry, but I canít do that either. Itís been on the television and in the papers. How the government changed the law. The justice minister was very clear that all fines must now be paid at the nearest police station.Ē
The expletive didnít do justice to any of Abishaiís relatives. The traffic cop threw the licence and registration book through the window. ďGet this heap of rust out of here!Ē he yelled. ďOtherwise Iíll be forced to impound it for blatant infringement of the traffic ordinances.Ē
Abishai didnít hesitate. He shoved the transmission into gear and rolled off. Looking in his rear view mirror, he watched the policeman waddle back into the middle of the road, his hand already raised to stop the next oncoming car.
ďFather,Ē he prayed, ďthanks for getting me out of that one. But you know, Lord, sometimes I wish it wasnít so hard to stay faithful to your Word.Ē
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