You see a lot of things early in the morning when you are seated in a matatu getting late for class. A man wearing a large wooden buckle on his waist rumbles by and a policeman freezing in the cold stares at you. He is young and his uniform is new. And as you stare back all you see is his want to make a difference. You hope it does not drain away. But you can only hope, because you remember being drunk and being harassed by Sheng speaking cops.
As you speed way in the matatu all you want is for it to go on faster and faster because you are a Kenyan and never keep time. It helps not to own a car because the matatu will cut corners for your sake and make a way where there is no way. To hell with the poor sods who face harassment on the road.
“Who told you to buy a car? you should have stuck to matatus like the rest of us!”
You meanly shout in your head. The driver of the matatu lovingly hoots at a small yellow car with the label L in red. The poor poor learner. But you sigh and realize it might be you one day. You want to buy a car so that at least you are in your space when they harass you.
The drunk-in-the-morning makanga shouts at him. “Nunua gari mzuri, hiyo ni mkate buda.
I laugh because there is something ironical about that statement. I don’t laugh much though, because everyone else in the matatu is grumpy and I look a bit mad laughing by myself.
I thank God when I get halfway through my journey in ten minutes. There is a round-about at Karen where matatus from Karen and Ngong converge. There is a lot of hooting. The matatu stops right on the road to pick passengers and an angry motorist hoots loudly to protest. Other matatus are hooting to attract passengers. You wonder why they bother with the hooting, they even have special-hoots that sound like cows and all. Their hooting is a bit senseless because it’s early in the morning and people have to go to work and therefore they will have to take the matatus to work whether they hoot or not.
“So much noise in the morning. Like a market on a Saturday morning,” I think to myself.
We speed along faster and faster and the road gets rougher and rougher. I am thrown left right and everywhere. It excites me because I know I will get to school soon. Not in time but 15 minutes late isn’t so bad. I bet the teacher won’t be in class yet.
I get out of my reverie as I realize that we keep stopping too much.” It’s not twenty bob to tao, it can’t be…… or wait for a vehicle that will accommodate you at lunch time. The long and short is stop wasting people’s time. We need to fly along! Bye!”
Angry thoughts at people who need a ride to the city but are not willing to pay the fair price for the ride. I get angry because the matatu keeps stopping to get passengers who are not willing to pay their asking price and I am running late. I think some more on it and I realize that I must be paying too much for the trip. I quickly push the thought away.
“ I am paying too much for this ride”.
No jam yet. Thank God. I hope my luck holds out because I could be at the city centre in ten minutes and save an hour. An hour! Is that how much time I waste every morning in jams? I shake my head sadly. I could be sleeping all that time! And God knows I could use some sleep.
It seems to be a morning of revelations today.
The driver and the makanga put on their coats. I wonder why they keep wearing and un-wearing them. Maybe they hate their uniform that’s all. And why would they hate their uniforms? Maybe the colours………… It reminds me of my relationship with my uniform in high school. Could it be the same reason? But then I was a teenager being rebellious for the heck of it… What are they rebelling against?…..Who knows.
I get a tap on my shoulder. I look for my wallet and open it to pay my fare. I do l this absent mindedly until…. Ooops! I realize, I have too much money in my wallet and the man sitting next to me gasps in shock. Why do people do that? Staring into another person’s wallet will only make you feel worse. You will become poor in an instant! When you realize how much emptier your wallet is. A feel good glow spreads through me even though it’s not my money. I was sent to pay bills.
I pay with a thousand shilling bill- thousands are all I have and lucky for me the makanga doesn’t shout at me. “Ah! Where the fuck do you expect me to get change this early in the morning?” By the way kwani where do coins go to in the morning?
For five minutes I go on an adventure as a coin. I am angry at the world for not valuing me like they value the money bills. I hide until everyone misses me and I reappear in the afternoon. But people are only grateful to have me for a while after which no one wants me in their pockets.
As we get near the city center the matatu slow down. And so does my mind. No more thoughts in my head, they have dried up. I blame the pollution it’s not good for the creative observance in my morning. The man with straying eyes gets out. Now I have a new sitting partner and I have a curiosity problem. I can’t tell their gender. He looks like a pretty girl. I say he because she is chewing her nails. He, she huh? Oh! Who cares who or what this person is? May be there is a third gender out there……
As my mind gets polluted into not thinking, the driver asks for a newspaper and I wonder how and when he will read it. Probably in the jam. Have you noticed that there is always a newspaper in every matatu on the dashboard?
“He is a matatu driver and what can’t a matatu driver not do? They are Kenya’s modern day miracle workers and who knows maybe famous one might start a cult that might one day be a major religion….. Anyway he can read the newspaper and drive. It shouldn’t be too hard. “
My thoughts remind me of a soap advert where a matatu driver known as Man Maish attempts to reverse through three pot holes and crashes. All in the attempt of attracting attention to himself. I wonder who Man Maish wants to charm with his antics. The observation makes me feel like laughing out loud but as I said I have a fear of looking mad.
The jam moves and we beat the traffic lights. Yeah! Let’s zoom on dere! There is no traffic policeman to supervise the traffic because……well the traffic lights are working! But you know how us guys are, some guidance wouldn’t hurt. Never mind that it cost money to put up the traffic lights and for that reason we don’t need cops.
I start singing to a song playing in another matatu. “….. Moving my body from side to side….moving my body…..” what a song! But I am nearly there and there is no more jam. Then there is a song by Biggie and he is singing about breast stroke and back stroke and I say to myself, “Kumbe that song by Luda was just a copy cat!” Some of these things I can only learn because I use matatus. I vaguely remember a story about someone bitching that Lady Gaga is copy- cat and I know it must be bitching because a lot of songs in the matatus have been copied from someone else. Take Luda for instance…..
There is a short jam up ahead and drivers and makangas start chatting across matatus. I try to eavesdrop but I can’t understand much of what they say. Why? They are cool that way. They invent the cool sheng words you know. I guess you need something if all you do all day is ferry people- most who can’t wait to buy a car so that they never have to see you. Come to think of it, no wonder they are such drunkards. They earn above average- hell much better than some lawyers even- but how exciting is it to be a matatu driver?
I consider all this and promise myself to do a documentary about the lives of people in the matatu industry…….if I ever will.
At the city- centre at last! I have enough time to catch another short matatu ride to school. It will be another adventure I am sure because the personalities in every route differ according to where that route goes. But that is an observation for another day.