It started like every other bad idea begins. I asked myself,
“What could possibly go wrong?”
Of course, at that point, I was certain of my invincibility. I was unwavering in my belief. I was… I was stupid. See, I had just come from a barter trade with a friend. He was going to get me bootleg wedges at half price in exchange for free beer(s). Hahaha, Bata[i] trade.
Anyway, I was so pleased with myself for having made this chini ya maji[ii] trade- cheating The Man for his exorbitant shoe prices. I was an agent of wealth distribution. Heck, I was a court case away from asking to prove that I was a descendant of Robin Hood. And after cutting my Bata trade short early so as to get home early enough to watch the rerun of the Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs game, I decided to board a tuk tuk.
The matatu taking people to my first stop was taking too long to fill up and the tuk tuk already had two occupants. Fare prices were the same as the matatu and it usually doesn’t take as long to fill up. It was like an answer from the benevolent public transport gods. I should never have prayed.
I joined the three people sitting in the only “bench” of the three-wheel glorified cart. Thinking that was it, I settled in for a short ride from Bomas to Karen. But we weren’t moving. Another person joined us on the “bench”. Still, we didn’t move. I briefly contemplated alighting and going to the matatu but it was still basically empty. So, I continued to wait. Eventually, a woman and a man joined the driver in the front seat. The engine wasn’t rumbling. So, I had to wonder if the driver was waiting for divine intervention to turn the key in the ignition.
Suddenly, a dry, cracked, blackened hand shot through the tarpaulin behind me which I had though was a metal door! It tapped around looking for something. It tapped and tapped, wriggling around like a creepy headless snake until it found an equally dry, cracked, blackened rope. The hand slithered out of the tarpaulin- much to my relief.
I heard the distinct sound of an engine being started. The way a rudimentary chainsaw is started. A rope is coiled around the motor, tugging happens, witchcraft makes the round things go “Vroom!” and the thing coughs to life. The driver leaned out the window, nearly pushing the woman out, thanked his engine starter and settled in to drive us off. With a jerk, another jerk and a rumbling cough, the little tin can that could ferried us to Karen.
It was ok at first. We moved at a dazzlingly slow pace being passed by everything that had blessed four wheels. I momentarily wondered if I should have waited for the matatu but as it had still been waiting to fill up when we left the terminus, I decided that I had made the right decision. But I hadn’t.
When we joined the main road, there was a bump. Only it felt like an earthquake. As though the Devil was letting out a burp. My entire body juddered uncomfortably. The tin can went on swiftly, blissfully unaware that it had just started an agenda to rearrange my internal organs. We picked up speed. Even passing one car- at a bump. My head bobbled as though trying to escape my neck. I had to stiffen it to keep it in place. My stomach decided to go hide somewhere in my thighs. My lungs had liquefied.
Smoke filled the interior of the cabin as we trundled along Lang’ata South Road. Hitting bump after bump with my head and neck at severe risk of detachment. I turned my entire torso to look at my other seatmates. To my surprise, they were calm. The one at the furthest end was busy on SportPesa checking the latest odds on his cracked Infinix. The other two between us were equally unbothered. One was watching the front of the road through the metal railing that separated us from the driver. The one next to me had shoved his elbow into my breasts, his fingers digging for something in the back of his cavernous mouth. When I tried to turn to face forward again, I shoved myself and ended up dislocating my left boob.
The pain was nothing compared to the shake we felt when the tuk tuk hit a pothole. Kenya’s finest speed governors made the tuk tuk slow way down. But the impact was no less great than being tossed into the path of a moving stampede. I could no longer feel my internal organs. My cheeks felt like they were falling off my face. My shoulders had frozen, along with my neck, trying to keep my head intact. My feet didn’t know they were feet any more. Leaving the pot hole behind, we caught momentum that allowed a bit of stability. Until my seat mate said he had to alight.
The tuk tuk has only one line of sight.
The windshield. And since I was a bit off to the side, I couldn’t exactly tell where we were. Until the passenger opened the door latch and I saw the petrol station. We were at Kenol! We were nowhere near half way. To make things worse, the matatu I had so unwisely rebuffed stopped, dropped someone and left. Meanwhile, the driver and the passenger were bickering over who had to go look for loose cash for change.
I thought about getting out. But I had already spent a lot of my money on beers and didn’t have enough money to spend on two trips to Karen. So, I decided to bear it until the end. Again- I was stupid. I should have alighted and walked. But that would have defeated the purpose of getting home in time for the GSW v Spurs repeat. The driver and the passenger came to an agreement and we were off again.
Rejoining the road almost made my head join the metal scaffolding behind the driver. A gear change made my stomach reposition itself. Only for it to be dislodged again when we encountered another bump. What was with all the bumps? Is Karen NTSA’s experimental facility for bumps? Why were they so many? Why were they so different? Some were long, making my internal organs get suspended in mid-air while the tin can traversed the continent of a bump. Others were an example of bumps. Miniature prototypes meant to remind me that my teeth were made for chattering. I could not stand another moment of it. Smoke continued to billow in the cabin. My lungs gave up. Rebelliously refusing to expand so I could take in more air. The smoke built up in my nostrils and my mouth. My eyes watered. My body felt like it had been through an obstacle course designed for demons who specialized in torture. I had enough. I begged the driver to stop and let me out. Although, beg is putting it delicately. I banged on the meshed metal and screamed for release.
“Let me out! Please let me out!” I cried. He turned to look at me and nodded- alarmed at the state of my face.
I crawled out of the tin can with none of my dignity intact. Almost collapsing while my internal organs reassembled themselves. I shoved his money at him and ran to a nearby bush to throw up. I saw the little tin can chug away, leaving a trail of black smoke in its wake. I waited for a proper method of transport for nearly twenty minutes to cover the remaining ten minutes of journey left.
On my way home in a full bodied- spacious matatu, with four wheels, light streaming in from the windows on every side and enough space for my seatmate to play with his teeth without hurting my chest- I realized I wasn’t built for this. I desperately need a car. Where I would even get my own personal air-conditioning.
DT Dobie, RMA Motors, Toyota Kenya… We need to talk.
[i] Bata Shoe Company
[ii] Under the table