I’m in a matatu on the way to school when it makes an illegal stop to pick up some guy. I’m sitting on the only truly comfortable seat in Kenyan matatus, the one in front, near the window not near the driver. I hate giving up this seat as will happen when someone is picked up who wants to sit in front. When the matatu stops I usually get out and let the other person in, this doesn’t always work. In fact it only works with men my age. For people of age I feel to guilty, for people of girth I understand why I have to move, for people of a certain mien I move without being asked.
This time I move for 2 reasons, we have stopped in the middle of the road and there you have to move since there’s no time to stop and the guy is using crutches. He enters and this conversation ensues between him and the driver
“Usijali hauwezi shikwa juu yangu.” Don’t worry you can’t be caught on my account. I laugh because I assume he’s making fun of his injury
“Eh wao ndio watashikwa” yer its them who will be caught
“Na we umetoka wapi?” and you where are you from?
“Hapa tu, kukunywa kabla tuende nyumbani. Ongeza volume” just here, drinking before we go home. Increase the volume. He says this as he makes a tippling gesture, then he lurches to the radio control knob and adds the volume by a few factors.
“Hapa hatufanyanyangi hivyo” Here we don’t do it like that. The driver says reducing the volume, mildly irritated.
“unataka nilipie ashu ya volume? Shika….” You want me to pay ten shillings for the volume? Here…
We get to his stage and there’s a lady in a red top which most Kenyans know is the colour of choice for one half or our ruling coalition. “Ah atanimefika. Ambia huyu we ni mtu wa TNA na ataingia, mama ni matatu ya TNA. ” ah I have reached. Tell this one you are a person of TNA and she will enter. Lady, it’s a matatu for TNA.
He gets off and I get to school 90 minutes later than I should. The reason I’m so late is a different, uninteresting story having to do with feeling lazy. Class ends early and I decide I’m not going to town. It was Friday and there had been a downpour during class, the kind that sends you off into daydreams. The kind that rattles the roof and (at least that day) blows open the door to the classroom and sends in sprays of water, tiny droplets that moisten the floor and break into almost gaseous atoms. I’m sure that it will take me 3 hours to get to town and anyway I can go through ngong road and get off near the nakumattt junction walk that long, long hill and be near a place where I can get home. You see our school is in
Rongai Karen and the last few days it’s taken me hours to get to town. This
is something I don’t want to repeat, plus this really hot girl is taking the
matatu to Karen.
This decision is in many ways the most stupid one I made last week. First thing, it’s stupid to think you can plot to sit next to someone when matatus are as packed to the rafters because of the rain. We get packed in, she sits in front and I get sent to a pre-Michuki seat. The one in the third row of the matatu found in the space between the two seats. A place where your ass just stays in the air and all you’re really doing is being supported by the ass bones of those near you. It starts to rain again. The rain rattles the roof of the matatu and streaks its windows. Quickly the matatu gets that kind of stuffy that only happens when it rains. The air outside may be fresh but inside it’s hot, stuffy and mono-oxidant. I look out the window and I am surprised by how quickly it’s flooded. Karen wasn’t a place made for drainage; the water has turned a sludgy brown and rushes along. I can’t hear it but I imagine it makes that sludgy sound that only deluges can.
We get to Karen and I need to get another matatu. This is when I realise that maybe I made a bad decision, I have to walk to get to the next matatu and it’s raining felines and canines now. Quickly I’m wet. It soaks through the short sleeved shirt that I’m wearing and completely wets my hair in the 5 minutes it takes to find a matatu. I sit there and let the wet fall off my hair, rubbing it off, feeling some of it get into my right earhole. This sends shivers up and down me. I’m cold and miserable right now. I’m shivering and wondering why I ever liked the rain, I sit as still as a statue because something tells me this will make me feel better. Out of the window people have given up on pretending about the rain, they tread through ankle length water, taking off their shoes in order to do this.
A construction crew comes into the matatu. I can tell because they are all wearing those construction hats. They all take their seats and begin to talk. I should have listened but I had something to read and decided to do that again. Currently I am reading the last book by Douglas Adams, a book published posthumously (he wrote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and is one of the funniest writers I have ever read.) The section I’m on features all these articles that he wrote while he was alive. The one I’m currently on is a foreword to the last book by P.G. Wodehouse. This is another funny writer who I don’t remember actually reading but created the character Jeeves. The book being foreworded is also published posthumously. He (the dead funny guy whose book I am reading and not the dead funny guy whose book I am reading about) makes a case for the other dead funny guy being one of the best English writers. In this case English actually means from England. He says that the most common criticism is that the books are not about anything but farce,
“beauty doesn’t have to be about anything. What’s a vase about? What’s a sunset or a flower about? What, for that matter is Mozart’s twenty-third piano concerto about? It is said that all art tends towards the condition of music and music isn’t about anything unless it’s not very good music. Film music is about something.”
It keeps getting dark, well a weird kind of dark because the light in the matatu is blue and I can’t really read anymore. I put away the book and hear one of the construction workers say.
“niliambiwa france wanaweza ua mtu mara mbili.” I was told in france they can kill a person two times
“wamuuue alafu waue maiti” they kill him and then they kill his corpse.
Unfortunately the matatu kicks us out and I don’t hear where this is going. I am however caught by the feeling that I missed out on a lot of interesting conversational banter by reading dead writers write about deader writers. Even though both streams seem to have the theme of death not being permanent or at least have the element of two levels of death in them.
We are dropped off at Kona , which is the stage just before the junction. There is a big advert for KFC right in front of me otherwise I was lost, I have no idea where we had been for most of the journey and I am understandably relieved to getting off at somewhere I know. The sunlight has been leached by the showers and it’s already dark though it’s only 6:30. Twilight is with us and I find it strange that almost exactly ten months ago I was in a place where I could take a picture like this
|the time on the phone is the important thing.|
There’s a lady selling maize and she’s not just selling roast maize, she’s selling boiled maize too. I’m so cold that this is all I need right now. I buy one cob for 20 bob, already imagining the soft way they squish against my teeth and the salt that I will spread liberally over them in order to bring out the taste that I miss so much. It warms me that maize as I walk towards the junction.
By the time I get there is no light left and it has started raining again. I begin walking down the road to where I can get a matatu. I’m not sure what this road is called but it’s the one shaped like a valley, you have to descend to a place where (at least for anyone living in the pancake city that’s Nairobi) feels like you got to hell and then you rise again. One side of the road is completely free and the other is in a gridlock.
It’s raining again but it’s that soft rain, the kind that seems more like mist and settles on your hair instead of falling on it. The maize has warmed me enough that I’m in a good mood. It’s dark except for all the lights of all the cars. I’m wearing my glasses so the rain has wet them too. When it rains on your spectacles this strange thing happens where it feels like you are living in a dream, your vision becomes cloudy and foggy. The line of cars stretches as far back as I can see first of all lined down the descent then all the way to the top of the hill. The lights are red and yellow and make a contrast against the darkness of the night, the lights catch the rain drops and if it wasn’t for that it would have been easy to forget that it’s still raining, the rain is that soft. Because of the drops of water on my glasses the lights are also broken up when they reach them into tiny diamond like puddles. The cars are in so much traffic they nearly stop and its quiet as I walk there, peacefully quiet like the sea. There is only the sound of the puddles of water I step on and the muted engines of the cars.
As I begin to walk up the hill it starts to rain hard. Now I can see the puddles of water flow down it and the water is muddy and brown. It’s impossible to avoid it and I feel my trousers getting wet. I can feel my socks get muddy and my shoes become pools as I walk on up. The rain this time doesn’t stop. I continue to increase its tempo until its flooding from the sky again. I have to cross the road when at last I get to that bridge and I do it by jumping and other foolhardy measures. There’s too much water on my glasses for me to properly see, now any light is too refracted to be of help and I take them off. I go to wait at the matatu stage and it rains harder and harder. No umbrella, no matatu, no hope. A guy comes to wait and he looks like he’s just come from basketball practice. He’s in shorts and sleeveless shirts and doesn’t seem to know its raining. I know this is the only thing I can do too. We wait at that stage. We wait until it stops raining. We wait until Mr. basketball decides to walk. We wait until I’m not shivering anymore. Then a matatu comes and I walk into it.