My driver, Atticus, led us back to town after I witnessed that man’s execution. Atticus said he knew of a route that would help us avoid the busy northern checkpoint of Port Selao. I was exhausted and desperate to steer clear of any more contact with either UFLL or APR.
Unfortunately, this was perhaps our worst decision of the day. 10 kilometres outside of Port Selao, we arrived at a makeshift checkpoint set up in the middle of nowhere. I’d been warned about these random roadblocks. They’re often manned by a roving band of mercenaries looking to make some quick cash.
This checkpoint was run by a young Port Selao police officer wearing a tattered uniform. But he didn’t look right to me. I scanned the area looking for other officers. That’s when I spotted something smoking in the field to the left of us. It was hard to make out, but I saw enough to recognize it as a burning Port Selao police cruiser.
I looked back at this scruffy police officer. A rogue mercenary. I told Atticus we must be careful. I would do all the talking. But Atticus became very agitated. He started to turn the vehicle around and this brought the officer running towards us. He fired several shots in the air, slammed a fist on the car and pointed us back to the line.
I wanted to smack Atticus. He’d get us killed. I would now need a significant bribe. I had 200 American dollars on me. $100 should be more than enough to get us through. I quickly separated the money, tucking $100 into my other pocket. I was carrying more than 5 times the amount I’d normally need for payment so I was sure we’d get through without trouble.
When the man arrived at our vehicle, he immediately started in on Atticus, “Why did you try to leave?” He punched him hard on the head. I jumped in and offered him $100 as a fine for the slight. He grabbed the money and snapped his fingers, “More”. I gestured to indicate I had no more. Not a smart thing.
He started smacking Atticus repeatedly again and again and again. I shouted to stop as I grabbed my last $100. Again he snapped his fingers but I explained that was all I had. He grabbed Atticus and drew his pistol into the air making clear his intent. I pleaded with him to believe me. I couldn’t bear to witness another execution…especially Atticus. I suspect the terror in my eyes spoke the truth. He released Atticus and waved us on.
And like that, we were free to go. As we drove away, I saw him dragging a driver from the next vehicle. Those people would not be as fortunate as I, if you can call what happened ‘fortunate’.
I feel ill over the whole affair. I’m embarrassed by my privilege to offer bribes. I’m sickened that I could do no more than save Atticus and myself. But what more can one do? He was only one man, but one man with an AK-47. And like it or not, the AK-47 appears to be the diplomacy of this destitute country.