The map showed we were coming up on a town known as Sumbawanga. It seemed a good bet that the town would have a police station. The three of us made the decision to stop and tell the police what had happened, and settle the matter for better or worse.
The road followed a plateau and we could see the village down below in the distance. Just before we began descending we reached one of those now or never points life sometimes offers, knowing that going to the police was the right thing to do but not sure if it was the most savvy. No guidebook I have ever read includes a section on wise things to do after striking a pedestrian and fleeing an angry mob in a foreign country.
We stopped the car and sat there in silence, not sure what lay around the corner. We prayed aloud. "Let's go,' Dave finally said.
But Chowa didn't put the truck in gear. "I am very tired," he said to Bill. "Would you mind driving while I take a nap?"
Bill lost it. "You have got to be kidding me, Chowa. You hit a child. You hit a little girl. Now we are going to drive into that town and tell the police what happened and you are going to pay the piper."
Chowa put the Landcruiser in gear.
The road turned right almost immediately. Waiting, just a half mile in front of us, was a police roadblock. Three policemen in tan uniforms, automatic rifles balanced on their hips, stood before a log that had been laid across the road. We came to a halt.
Chowa rolled down the window. He spoke to them in Swahili.
"Is there something wrong officer?" Bill asked sweetly, playing the part of the naïve tourist.
I don't know what felt worse: lying to the police or being in a position where lying to the police seemed like a good idea. Either way, Dave and I joined Bill in donning a befuddled look.
That the cops not only saw through the lie, but didn't so much as address it made me feel even more foolish. They took us into custody. Chowa was instructed to proceed to the police station, and a policeman sidled into the backseat next to me. Chowa said something interesting in Swahili to the policeman, who was carelessly pointing the barrel of his AK-47 at my head. There was gravity to the words, which were delivered in a hushed tone. I assumed Chowa was affecting contrition for his wrongdoing or asking about the girl's fate. Not for the last time that day, I was wrong.
In fact, we would later learn, he was telling the police that he'd been sleeping when the accident occurred, and that I had been driving the car.
Sumbawanga was surprisingly large. For a town surrounded by hundreds of miles of empty savanna, the streets were well maintained and there were numerous restaurants and businesses. Several of the buildings had more than one story, something we hadn't seen since leaving Dar what seemed like a lifetime ago. They were whitewashed and made of mud. Most had an awning of corrugated tin or branches lashed together.
A police motorcycle escorted us to the station. Shopkeepers and pedestrians gawked at the vehicle. I felt like we were in a weird parade, passing in review. I looked into the distance and saw the bush, hot and arid and unknown. Our fate was totally in the hands of the local police. I felt helpless.
Worse, I was anxious. If only the police would let me slip on my shoes and go for a short run around town. Maybe then I would feel more calm.
The police station was a yellow building with a jail next door. Chowa was taken into the interrogation room while Bill and Dave and I were left to sweat on the police station's porch. It was the only patch of shade within sight, other than the car, but we were forbidden to touch the car or touch our belongings inside the car. When Bill, ever the optimist, tried making friends with the police by taking their picture, they grew angry. If he ever tried to take a picture of them or the police station again, Bill was warned, there would be grave consequences.
Which is why, to this day one of Bill's favorite photographs is the one he discreetly snapped two minutes later of the Sumbawanga Police Station.
As I waited my turn to be questioned, I watched local prisoners marching off to a work camp. They were chained together in a straight line, each man wearing a white cloth around his waist and nothing else. Was that to be our fate?