I travel home every day. Travel. Not catch a bus ride home. Needless to say, I enjoy my journey home. What with views of the graciously long-necked giraffes nibbling away at leaves atop the trees. Shy warthogs munching dry grass by the roadside. The strong buffaloes grazing around in herds, casting wistful glances at their cousins the cows grazing just outside the electric fence.
On this fateful evening, the skies are grey. Grey and heavily pregnant. I can make out the subtle signs of a prolonged labour. The delivery of rain will not happen until after midnight. I laze around the bus stop. Pretending to be utterly uninterested in boarding a matatu. This is a ploy I have devised in order to pay less bus fare. It usually plays out like this: I retrieve my phone from the bag. Pretend to ‘haha’ and ‘hehe’ at those whatsapp messages I have studiously ignored the entire day. A really desperate tout whose matatu is empty or half empty approaches me. ‘Tuskys mia‘. I cursorily look up from a long forwarded message and ask so calmly. So inaudibly that the poor guy has to bend to catch a word of what I am saying. Then right there, I go for his jugular…ha ha no. I go for the kill.
The man looks around. Refuses to budge. He goes on hollering at people to board his matatu. The Kenyan rule number 1 of boarding matatus is : Never board an empty matatu. In case you are tempted, walk over fast, to the sooty lady roasting some Mexican maize a few metres from the bus stop. Buy half a cob. Then wait. Wait for a matatu that only needs one or two passengers. As you munch happily on some Mexican happiness.
As you must have correctly guessed by now, the tout will come back and whisper conspiratorially.
Ingia na eighty. Wewe pekee. As he slips a twenty shilling coin into my palm.
Whoever still thinks I am not street smart. Please go and sit at that corner over there. And think on your ways. Then come and pat my back. Touch your heart/hat…ha ha and say, “I accept. You are street smart. Very street smart.”
Only that this evening the touts refuse to budge. Not even after I have removed my glasses and employed my pleading eyes to convince them. After a while, a middle aged bespectacled man riding shotgun in one of the matatus beseeches me to board the matatu and save them all from the agony of waiting. A metallic walking stick sticks out above the window. It reminds me of mom. I smile and walk over to the front door. He lets me in. I am sandwiched between this slightly big man with a walking stick and the driver who has no cardigan to brave the cold. We start the long awaited journey…lol.
I pull my headphones over my head and listen to some good old gospel music. Eyes closed. I soak in the love in that music. Music so warm it feels like a warm embrace. The man beside me shifts a little. I open my eyes. The driver is busy looking for a contact in his tiny winy black phone. I cannot close my eyes after this. I want to tell him that whoever he wants to call can wait. Or I can do him the honours. However, I do not voice my thoughts. This blog is one of the safe spaces I can comfortably voice my thoughts. Suddenly, a turquoise blue Nissan Note in front suddenly brakes. The driver notices too late. We are on high speed. He risks braking we risk overturning. So he risks less and moves to overtake the Nissan Note. Another matatu misses hitting us by a whisker. Can you visualize that. A whisker. The other matatu driver shouts obscenities at this driver. I assume it is obscenities since I can read his facial expression and the movement of his hands. An expert of non verbal cues, you would aptly call me.
Surprisingly, I am not moved. I do not feel scared. The music pouring through my ears still feels warm and sweet. I sense the eyes of the man on me. At some point, he cannot take it anymore. He speaks. I notice the movement of his lips. I slide off my headphones and listen to him.
Mimi na wewe tungekufa. He says.
Hapana. Siku yetu haikuwa imefika. Mungu hangekubali tufe kama kazi yetu hapa haijaisha. I reassure him. Calmly.
We get to a point in our journey when we are forced to make a decision. Both in life’s journey and this journey home. The driver asks the passengers which route to use. A number of them choose a route that runs through palatial homes and some equally palatial schools. The woman seated directly behind the driver shouts at the driver in strained nasal English. Opining about how she hates indecisiveness. Why the driver is asking for the passengers’ opinion. I feel a retort boiling up in me. I slide my music over my head to avoid listening to the pent up stress of angry and hungry Kenyans. The driver decides to take the route dotted with all things palatial.
A quarter way down the way, trouble starts en-route Canaan. A massive build up of traffic can be spotted from where we are, all the way to the bend until oblivion. The shouting woman resumes her rant. Now she has a helpmate in form of her seatmate. The female battalion continuously berate the driver.
Shortcuts are very wrong. I told you. Now turn back and get us back to the main road. This is a very wrong choice. I warned you. Turn back. See, everyone else is turning back. Do you think they are stupid? What else do you want us to tell you. The lieutenant starts.
You cannot hold us hostage here. Give us our money and let us find our way back. The private 2 quips.
Since I cannot take on this battalion heads on, I tell the driver loudly. Calmly. Authoritatively.
You make your decision calmly. Soberly. Devoid of pressure. Either way you will have to take a risk.
The seatmate looks at me apologetically. He says he knows I blame him for convincing me to board this matatu. I feel a strange sense of calm and responsibility. I reassure him that I am comfortable with the decision I made. I do not blame him. I tell him, loud enough for the other disgruntled passengers to hear, that my wise father once told me that everything happens for a reason. Perchance we might have caused a grisly accident had we followed the main road. And caused scores to die. That is why we are stuck here in the middle of a posh neighbourhood. He nods appreciatively. Joins me in reassuring and shielding the driver from the bullets raining on the driver courtesy of the female battalion.
Passersby give contradictory accounts. Most of them come bearing negative news. The road is blocked by a huge lorry. There is no hope. A few are positive. They tell us that the lorry is being moved and very soon we will be out of here. The negative feedback fuels the bullets which continuously shatter the driver’s calm. The calm is completely shattered when a few others join hands with the battalion. He hits back. I cannot take the tension anymore. I hate tension so much. I calmly and loudly tell everyone to relax. All is well. We will not achieve anything by throwing words back and forth. This placates everyone for a little while.
After about half an hour, the vehicles in front of us start moving. The female batallion resumes firing almost immediately. Do not rejoice yet. They tell us. The seatmate tells me that the imani we have has come to fruition. I want to pull both the seatmate and the driver in for a group hug. I do it in my head.
A few minutes later, we come to a stand still. The naysayers are more energetic than ever. Asserting that they were right. On my end, I am absolutely sure that come what may, I will get home in time. Nary a worry in my soul.
Soon enough, we resume our journey. I get home( promised land) by 7.pm. As I alight, I thank the driver sweetly. I have had my fair share of rough days. I know how it feels. This is one of his. The female battalion might have had a rough day as well. I say something witty to the lieutenant who also alights while laughing.
Following this arduous journey, I get an epiphany.
Such is life’s journey. You have this clear goal in your head. It drives you crazy. You visualize it. You dream about it. You make your well informed decision. It is a risk. The naysayers battalion fire furious bullets your way. Sometimes this battalion is in the back of your mind. Others are in the form of friends. Relatives. Mentors. Peers. Learn to discern between constructive criticism and sheer negativity. Do not be afraid to dream big. Maintain a positive attitude. Take risks. Stick by your guns. Keep the faith. Just like that driver and his tout. It won’t be long before you get to the promised land.
Believe in people. I am fortunate to have a positive battalion of people who have such faith in me, it has taught me to have faith in people in turn. Whoever you meet. Be it a matatu driver. An old woman in the brink of giving up in her dreams. The child with the lowest score in class. Give them a nudge in the right direction. Forget your own struggles for some two minutes, and help lift someone an inch higher in life’s broken ladder. We will all get to the promised land. Some earlier than others. Others later than some.