This story starts like most of them, really. I was in a mat. I was drunk. And I was on my way home. I was riding shotgun in a white van. I lost the window seat to a bulky chap whose breath smelt like boiled eggs and smokies. I was wedged between him and the driver.
More than 14 people were on board. And as we set off I turned to the driver and asked, “Kwa nini mnabeba excess? Si serikali ilikataa hiyo maneno?”
(I only say serikali when I’m drunk)
The mat had automatic transmission. The ride was smooth and quiet. The car was obviously in good condition and the driver kept it below 80. It was only natural because Namanga Road at night is soaked in black. The last street-lamp is at the tip of Kitengela. After that you go with the Lord until you can smell mom’s cooking.
The driver was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Unajua, petroli imepanda.”
(Okay. I don’t remember what he said exactly. But he basically said overloading was a necessary evil if the van was to make any profit. He walked me through some quick Math and I pretended to understand)
His name was Lucas. He works under Naekana Sacco and this was his last trip of the day. I chatted him up for most of the way, and at some point I could feel all the other passengers listening in. I could hear their deep judgmental thoughts; I could feel them staring at the back of my head and thinking things like:
“Huyu kijana ako na maswali mingi aje?”
“Ona manywele kwa kichwa.”
“Hizi gari usiku zinakuanga zimejaa tu walevi.”
Lucas told me he has five kids, the oldest of whom is about my age. He asked what school I go to, and what course I’m doing.
“Journalism,” I said.
And the other passengers were like: “Ooh, ndio maaana.”
Anyway, before alighting I asked Lucas if his work makes him happy. And, in verbatim he said, “Yes it does. Plus it feeds my family, and it gives me joy to take people home at the end of the day.”
That last bit stayed with me. Lucas’ face sat in my head. He was the most agreeable fellow. And if he noticed I was intoxicated he didn’t make a face or look at me funny. He answered my silly questions the best way he could, and when I got carried away he said, “Wewe unahitaji muda.”
I loved that. I felt like such a student of life. And Lucas here had his own curriculum. I thanked him on my way out, and then I stood to watch the van disappear into the inky darkness. I thought I heard a universal sigh of relief coming from the passengers, but my thoughts were stuck with Lucas -ferrying strangers home after a long day.
But not all drivers are like Lucas. And I’m not drunk every time I’m in a mat.
Take last Wednesday for instance. I was still riding shotgun, and this time I had the prestigious window seat. I could freely stick my elbow out and get the wind in my hair –sober as a judge.
I had boarded at Railways. And there I found a girl with a nose ring. She scooted over. The music was set to reggae. And I settled myself in for a pleasant journey. Journey mercies.
(Why do people say it as journey masses?)
But the ride wasn’t pleasant at all. It was terribly long and dreary, all thanks to the bugger who took the wheel as we were leaving the stage.
He wore a disheveled blue shirt and his face was angry and his eyes were bloodshot. The tout would come around and say something to him but he didn’t do anything in response. He just sat there and looked straight ahead.
It was so weird.
And then the music stopped. The fellow didn’t bother to bring it back on again. Only until the tout asked him to resume play did he start fiddling with the stereo. And even then he put the wrong track and we were subjected, for the rest of the time, to HipHop. Trap. Gucci gang. The devil’s own playlist.
The tout didn’t say another word to him. And, usually I’d request they put on some reggae but this guy looked like he didn’t give a rat’s ass about music. He was a man removed, and I wondered if he saw me staring from the corner of his eye.
He drove slower than what rush hour dictated. What was he thinking about? Did he have kids? What was up with the bloodshot eyes and the numb disposition?
I almost started feeling sorry for him. Until he started playing with the horn, then I despised him a little. It was the ugliest horn you’ve ever heard. One of those blaring noises that stretch for ages, the ones they use when approaching a stage. But this driver seemed to enjoy it, honking at anything and everything on sight.
In traffic he’d hoot at other drivers, even though he could see there was no way through. He honked at every stop and at every motorbike. He honked when he was overtaking, and when he was braking, and when he was shifting gears.
After a while he became too much. He even woke up nose ring girl, who had taken a blissful nap shortly after we hit the highway. I figured maybe this guy was pulling our collective legs. How could someone be so excited about a horn? What could he possibly be gaining from all that hooting? Was he not loved enough as a child? Didn’t he have enough of Ring n’ Run?
I’m probably being unfair, though. Maybe he was like Lucas and he had a family to feed. He ferried strangers to and from work, he took people on dates, he carried people to their important meetings, people who, as they ride along –looking out the windows- are dreaming of owning cars of their own. Here was a guy who ferried drunken riff-raffs like me, and sometimes he couldn’t even do it while listening to the music he liked.
Whatever it was, I’m certain he loved tooting that horn, even though calling it a toot is mildly misleading. Perhaps he’d finally found a way to liven up his job, and I’m happy for him. I’m a little jealous, in fact.
If only I could find my horn for this blog…
Have a Blessed Easter, friends.
This story ends like most of them, really. I remember I haven’t posted in a month. I rush to write something flimsy. I’m in my underwear. I’m drunk.