The queue is long. From where I stand, it meanders round and round and terminates where the next person to enter the bus stands. I hate when I find these long ‘lines‘. Imagine you are just from a very tight day, and instead of heading straight into your cosy Benz and being chauffeured to your home, you find yourself in the cold, standing behind another person who is also standing behind another person who is standing behind another person…..(infinity).
There are no matatus this evening. Rumour has it that there is a lot of traffic just before cars get into town and that is why we seem to have a shortage of buses. This means I am going to be here for quite a long time. Unfortunately, I forgot to carry my earphones and my phone is at 14% (which is basically zero), so I will have to listen to all the noise pollution while staring at all the tamasha going on around me until the bus comes. I decide to keep myself busy by thinking hard about what food I will cook for dinner – a topic that every guy hates.
Thankfully, a matatu comes and I am delighted to be among the 2 people who will sit at the two front seats. By appearance, the matatu was no many’anga. It looked old and weary, just like it’s driver and conductor. I watch as my fellow passenger struggles to open the left door. After several unfruitful attempts, he signals to the driver who is at this moment inside the bus to help him open it. “Vuruta nje na nguvu” instructs the driver, who is pulling the door lever from the inside. The damn door opens. Fellow passenger hops in and I follow.
The bus is stuffy. It is old. It is filthy. As I enter the space, part of my mind (country of the North left) is increasingly resisting while the other part (country of the North right) argues that it’s too late to be in town. As this battle wages, the short wise man inside my head (who I visualise as having a bald head and long white eyebrows and beard, who I also think is the ruler of the internal bodily realm) gets fed up and restores sanity by ordering the two stop it and advises that it is best to leave for home in whatever means because it was not safe.
I settle on the left most front seat, after a frustrating process of closing the rusty door that required several attempts to lock. The air inside this chamber was filled with dust which I rightly guessed was from all the commotion with the door (that had no padding at all). I immediately knew that this was not going to be a smooth ride when I picked the strong pungent smell of my neighbour’s armpits! I dare say that if harnessed, this smell had the potential to become the most dreaded chemical weapon on earth, that would kill hundreds of thousands of lives and wipe out entire generations. If you think it is not serious yet, it would require world leaders to meet and come up with an agreement similar to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (the “no nuclear weapons agreement”) in oder to prevent, control and eventually end its production. I knew better to open my window (another struggle) and face away otherwise okagwe.com would have no author – a sad circumstance that would cause great grief to the world.
“Gari ni 50 na inapitia Ngong road, BP, Setti na mwisho ni Kabiria. Safari Njema. Toa gari dere.” says the ‘kamagera’ (one who fills buses but is not the condutor) as the driver starts the engine and steps on the gas. The vehicle feels heavy and drags as it attempts to ‘pick‘ but eventually catches on and off we go. I will not complain about the potholes on our roads, but I’ll tell you that for more than one occasion, I found my hands instinctively holding onto the dashboard as I feared it would fall off. It was shaking dangerously as if loosely attached to wherever it’s supposed to be attached to. And it was not the only thing shaking.
As we approached a bump, the driver stepped on the brakes and I felt my seat slide forward! Like almost every other thing on this bus, the seat was not fixed. This meant that I had to press my feet hard onto the floor to maintain the seat’s position – and my position – every time we had to brake. And braking is what this driver was trained to do! He’d step on the gas so hard in traffic, only to brake just millimetres away from the car in front. During this time, ‘umekaza haga’ while sweating profusely.
Going up Valley Road is something I’ll not forget. The old thing started struggling just after we passed Shell petrol station. You could hear the engine rev with all its strength, but when you look outside the window, you’re trudging at 10kph! Changing the gears was also another struggle. You’d hear him shift, then it doesn’t engage, then he’d repeat, a weird noise is produced, it has engaged, then the engine makes so much noise and produces so much heat you wish you walked. Every time he engaged the gears, the bus would almost start reversing. I will not mention how the other drivers of faster cars looked at us as they overtook. Honestly, this is not how a human being should go home, not even in a 3rd world country.
God is good. He gives the driver wisdom to know his bus will not last the entire length of that bluff. We turn to Ralph Bunche road which connects us straight to Ngong road – an easier climb. Apart from jumping all the bright red lights on the road and overlapping, the rest of the journey was bearable.
“Pesa mbele..” requested the tout. I reached into my pocket and produced a 1,000 shillings note. You should know that touts hate this note with a passion. You’d rather say you don’t have any money to pay. As I give it to him, he asks me if I have any loose money, I respond no. I can testify that he muttered some unkind words to himself, before asking me to wait for him to get the change.
About 10 minutes after, I turn back to ask for my change. he replies rather rudely that I should be patient, and that it is not his fault that I have given him a 1,000 shillings note. I am patient. We get to junction. I turn back and ask again. This time he says “Sawa. Ngoja kiasi. ” I was to alight at Multiple, which was less than a minute away. Kenyan touts have a nasty habit of getting away with peoples balances, so I knew this was potentially one of those cases. I was weary, but I braced myself for a struggle.
I alight the jalopy with the attitude of a lioness who’s just lost her cub. I was ready to show someone a glimpse of hell.
“WEH IKO WAPI CHAN……”
He stood there, holding out my change. I was a bit embarrassed. I had to retract my claws. Nothing is as bad as having an erection but you cannot do anything about it. Anyway, I had had a long enough day already. I took the money and went on my way.
As I walked, I wished for my own car. I declared my hate for matatus. I could not handle old buses, slow buses, heavy traffic, jumping lights, bad roads, uncouth touts, smelly passengers…
“Or maybe it is the entire transport system that should just be transformed into a better one?” Interrupted the little wise man who rules the internal bodily realm.
“Well you have a point, but I’m too tired now to think about it. Let’s discuss later.” I respond.
<Scene fades away and you now want to comment>
I came on with intention to critique,my oh my…
I identify completely with all you have said,kwanza jana, I sat next to this “msweery” on the ride home,she looked ok..she opened her mouth to ask for her balance, i immediately wished she had tipped the donda all her money,it didn’t stink…it was worse