JUST before he opened the gate to allow the passengers through to board the waiting Copperbelt-bound train, the lanky young railway policeman at Lusaka Railway Station shouted above the din, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please!” He waited until the noise had died down before he continued, “I assume that all of us here are respectable men and women. I will thus expect total orderliness from you all. The policy here is first come, first served. Don’t try to be clever by jumping the queue because you will leave this station in disgrace. I have been specially trained to deal with such characters. Have I made myself clear?” he asked. “Eeeeh!” the passengers replied in unison. “Very well, very well,” the young policeman said. “Then we can now start getting in. But please try to move like soldiers. Don’t get in as if you are mourners going to a cemetery. The train doesn’t wait for slow coaches, so do it quick-quick! Now let’s go and have your tickets ready.” Once the gate had been opened, the passengers streamed in to board the waiting train. Meanwhile, the young policeman just stood there, keeping a close watch on each passenger. One plump male passenger with an imposing personality and smartly dressed in a cream Safari suit was about to get through the gate when the policeman pulled him by his jacket and asked him to produce his ticket. The policeman looked at the ticket and shouted, “But this is a used ticket! Show me the ticket you bought today. Where is it?” But the man, who carried a bulky red travelling bag, was unable to produce the required ticket.  “Boss, are you seriously telling me that you have no ticket?” the young policeman asked. “Please, don’t embarrass yourself like this. Just produce the ticket. I am sure you produced an old ticket by mistake.” But all this was of no use; for it was a fact that the man had no ticket. “I can’t believe this,” the policeman said. “At least I don’t expect a man of your stature to behave like a compound crook.” “Please, please, forgive me, sir,” the plump man pleaded. “Forgive me. I am your brother.” He deliberately spoke in low tone so that the other passengers would not hear him. The policeman looked at the now trembling man from head to foot and said somewhat sarcastically, “He says I should forgive him. Forgive you for what? The last thing I would do is to forgive a thief. Old man, you are in for it. Prepare to urinate in your trousers after the train has gone.” “Please, please, forgive me, sir,” the plump man pleaded. People who had stood close to the suspect in the queue could not believe what was happening; for only a short while earlier, the same man had been telling them how, many years back, he used to travel free on trains “because railway authorities were very sleepy in those days.” He recalled how, as a primary school pupil in the 1960’s, he could travel all the way from Lusaka to the Copperbelt or Livingstone and back without paying a single ngwee for his train rides. “What I used to do was that I would jump on a train in Lusaka and drop off at the next station, then jump on another coach which had already been checked by ticket inspectors. I would repeat the process at every station. Sometimes, I would simply hide in a toilet when I saw inspectors coming. Somehow, the trick always worked.” However, according to him, he always made sure that he had enough money to cover the fare for a particular journey in case he was caught. “So I did not squander the money until I reached my destination,” he said. It was thus surprising that the same man had been caught trying to board a train with a used ticket! After the train had left, the policeman turned to the plump suspect and said, “Did you think that I was sleeping and that I would not discover your trick, er? Why did you want to trick me? Tell me!” But all the man could say was, “Please, please, sir, forgive me. I am your brother. I won’t do this again.” It was nice hearing an older man referring to the young policeman as “sir.” The policeman slapped the man across his face, saying, “You are very stupid! Don’t you know that I would have been in trouble with my bosses if you were caught using an old ticket on the train? They would think I was sleeping on duty.” Asked whether he had money to pay for his fare, the man confessed he had none. “You mean you came all the way from your home to have a free ride on the train?” the policeman asked in obvious disbelief. “You really astonish me.” Just then, a certain middle-aged woman arrived on the scene and, to the surprise of everybody, including the young policeman, she slapped the plump suspect across his face. “You thief!” she shouted. “Where are you taking my travelling bag? You wanted to run away with it, ha?” Another slap. To prove her ownership of the bag, the woman mentioned some of the items inside it, which included several dresses, three pairs of school shoes, two bedsheets and a bed spread. She said the suspect had been with her at the nearby Inter-City Bus Terminus waiting for a bus to Kitwe. At some point, she decided to visit the loo and left her red travelling bag in the custody of the suspect. “I was with this man for some hours at the bus station and he seemed to be a gentleman to me. I didn’t stay long in the loo. But when I came out, I found he had disappeared with my bag. Then someone told me he had seen a man in a safari suit going in the direction of the railway station.  So you wanted to steal my bag, you cruel thief!”  A third slap. The woman then shook hands with the young railway policeman, saying,”My son, I don’t know how to reward you. All I can say is may God richly bless you so that your superiors recognise what you have done and promote you.  I don’t know how I was to explain to my husband if this thief went away with the bag.” The suspect was subsequently taken to Lusaka Central Police Station where he was remanded in custody to answer several charges….. The author is a Lusaka-based media consultant  who also worked in the Foreign Service as a diplomat in South Africa and Botswana. For comments, sms 0977425827/0967146485 or email: