|A Motorcycle rider at work|
You are running late, last night you did not sleep so well. Your neighbour came home late. He uses a stove to cook. He forgot he ran out of paraffin so between the cussing and lighting his charcoal jiko- whose carbon monoxide almost literally killed you in your sleep, he woke you up. It took you tossing and turning, gazing at the ceiling and two hours to fall back asleep.
So you hastily call your bodaboda guy (most people have one nowadays). They come in handy when you are running behind your schedule. Its 6am in the morning and you are freezing out of your mind so you tuck your head and hands in your warm cardigan. You tell him to speed up as you have some urgent issues to attend to at the office. You pass through the frail wooden bridge. You close your eyes tightly as if a slight glance at the flowing mess will thrust you in, but you can smell the stench and you can hear the sewage roaring as it flows downstream.
It’s Tassia, so you swerve potholes and heaps of garbage. And your motorist begins a conversation, that judging by his anaemic tone stokes bitter feelings. His voice is laced with a defeatist attitude as he lament the shoddy work of a contractor who was working on that road, three months down the line, it is worse than before.
He attempts to que to into the conversation but it’s too cold and you are running late so your brain is scattered all over the place. “Mm”, you respond strongly and persistently to assure him you are listening and that you agree.
Its 9pm. You rush to catch a matatu back home. It has been raining so the traffic jam is nuts. You seat quietly and transit from a reverie to a trance then finally to a slumber. Suddenly someone taps you roughly at the shoulder, it’s the conductor collecting his dues.
Then there is this man seated behind you. He is most probably in his mid-forties. He has four kids. The eldest finished his secondary education last year but missed the set mark to join the University as a regular student. There are two who are currently in high school, and he has not cleared there fee arrears. Then there is the last born. He is in a private school. He wanted to give him the best chance in life so he enrolled him in a private school. I mean! Let’s face it public schools are quite crappy. This man is loaded- no I don’t mean the ‘sponsor’ kind of loaded, I mean loaded with puzzles about his four children’s future. “Will he afford to pay college? Will his children have a better story than his?”
He hands the conductor seventy shillings without making eye contact.
“mzee gari ni mia, lipa ama ushuke” he retorts
What follows is a nightmare of a conversation that hinders you from any sleep. Finally the man hesitantly reaches for his pocket, grudgingly hands him a ten shilling coin, then a five and a ten.
“Hizo ni ngapi?
“Nirudishie hiyo nikupe hii mia”
You mean all this while he knew he had a hundred shilling note?
But he is not done.
It’s late and cold, every passenger is quiet and in some reverie or deep thought. This time he begins to rant about the sky rocketing of the prices of basic commodities-
“When fuel prices go high you matatu people are so fast to hike the fare prices, but you can’t bring them down when the prices stabilise.”
He tries to get the woman seated on his left to join the conversation. She just flashes a tough look that melts down to a brief simple grin. May be to signify she agrees with him. After which she goes back to her world that she keenly gazed into before she was interrupted.
The man now turns to the guy seated on his right. He hopes he can save him from having a monopoly. He does not even flinch he is on his earphones- maybe he is listening to some loud music or he is not listening to any music at all.
And he finally taps your shoulder. But all you want to do is just sleep since the traffic has come to a complete halt. Not that you don’t have anything to complain about but you already had your share of the conversation in the morning.
Your mhindi employer has finally agreed to give you some time off work and you want to use this opportunity to visit your parents in Kitui. You wake up early to catch a bus at Machakos country bus. You have carried a lot of paper bags and the conductors hustle you trying to get you to board their vehicle. You are scared you might be pick pocketed. So you put on a stern face and tell them off. It still does not help. Either way you make up your mind and board werewolf.
Unlike the monster figure of the mythology of Hollywood that turns on a full moon, this one never turns. It is simply the fastest bus with a bad ass driver that could get one to Kitui in the shortest time possible. Although just like the monster ‘animal’, this one is also scary especially when you put the ungodly speed into consideration.
Just before the driver leaves, a man hops in. You notice him because he first scans nearly every passenger in the thirty three capacity bus. As the driver swerves past men hurling carts and pot holes in Kariokor the man stands up, holding a gigantic New International Version bible on his right hand.
Obviously he is the fervent evangelist who is going to read you some scary verses about judgement day then persuade you and the other passengers to ‘Endeleza kazi ya bwana’ through giving.
He introduces himself, but for sure he does not need to; you know them, and so does every passenger aboard. He reads from (a verse on giving), and you wonder- this one is well experienced, he cut to the chase! He goes on and on about how giving to the good works of the lord is important. The message not stoical, because you have heard it double digit times. But oh! How grateful you are to God you are not the passenger sitting right next to preacher man, the spitting- if she knew she would have carried an umbrella.
Then comes the prayer part, he insists that everybody closes their eyes. No he does not- he scares everyone to close their eyes by throwing verses about the punishment that awaits those who do not respect the lord. Now that you are scared (most people cave in upon the mentioning of judgement day). He prays for every parent aboard (unmoved- you are not a parents), then he prays for every passenger to have a promotion at work (oh! Now he has your full attention your expectant heart is touched in fact you are tempted to lift your hands), he curses accidents and covers the road with the blood of Jesus Christ- then he finishes up.
But it’s not a day unless there is offertory. So preacher man hammers his final point- “Tutolee bwana sadaka ndio mtumishi wake aendelee kufanya kazi.” Ninety percent of the passengers aboard, sink in to their activities completely ignoring the man of God.
The young man next to you who has been chewing miraa the whole time, mumbles something in a heavy Kao accent “Kwani lazima aitishe sadaka?”
The evangelist resorts to his favourite mechanism- “The day you die only the work you have done for God will matter” (These threats!) And it works, as always. In fact that moment your mind takes you to places you do not want to go-
Just before Kitui town there is an accident black spot. It has been said that every 7 days there is always an accident there. You don’t know the last time there was an accident, you feel cornered and for sure you do not want to gamble especially with your life. You reach into your pocket and assemble all the coins you received as change, it’s mostly in one and five shilling denomination, you almost feel embarrassed but you give it to him anyway. He looks at the money, at you and proceeds to collect from other passengers. With that look you feel he has moved from raffling your feathers to plucking them, because that look spoke disdain. May be even a hex.
Isn’t it perplexing to really think about what we go through in a day as Kenyans from different walks of life? (I should just say financial walks of life, right?) One needs to take a first class photo for Instagram, another is hoping to get that job they interviewed for seven days ago, another is hoping his boss at the construction site pays him his three week wages, another is making plans for a business trip to Dubai, or a farmer is preparing to till his land.