Celebrating East African Writing!
6 am. Monday morning. November 16th. 14 passengers. Route 35/60 Komarock. Kayole.
At 42 years of age, Otieno Kich had been employed with the Kenya Railways Corporation since he left school 22 years back – the last 12 years as a train driver. He had risen through the ranks and was a living proof that hard did indeed pay.
Otieno woke up at 5 am sharp, his reliable alarm in the name of body clock never letting him down even once. His one roomed house was a far cry from the palatial apartments that the company had built for senior managers proving his point about the pathetic condition that unionasiable members had to live through.
Otieno’s family of 4 children – 15 year old son, a 12 year old daughter, a 10 year old daughter and another daughter – a 1 year old – all lived in Siaya town with Peres, his wife of 17 years. Otieno took a quick shower, dressed hurriedly and then left his room and walked by Nyar Kiambu’s kiosk where he took his daily breakfast.
A few colleagues, who lived alone and found cooking a hustle, joined him. At 5.45 am sharp Otieno was at the Nairobi Railway Station. He clocked in and made his way to the train. His assistant was already there. Together they climbed the stairs to the engine of the train.
“Today is my last day as a matatu driver,” Macharia ‘Live’ muttered to himself. At 30 and having been in the matatu industry since he was 18, Macharia felt that it was now time to move on and purchase his own matatu. He was tired of being employed.
“It’s a bright new day!” he sung as he moved out of his one bedroomed flat in Umoja estate just adjacent to Mutindwa, the place where the footpath crosses the railway line. On the staircase, Macharia met Mweni, the neighbour’s housegirl ferrying water for her early morning chores. Almost fifty years after independence, running water was still a mirage in most estates of Nairobi City. Mweni smiled at Macharia and he in turn playfully and sensuously slapped her bottoms which, from the sound produced, led Macharia to conclude that Mweni was not wearing any underwear. She giggled knowingly. They had a serialised soap opera between them.
Macharia ambled his way to the Kobil petrol station, the meeting point of all Umoja matatu drivers and touts. It was bee hive of activities as drivers identified their vehicles and drove off to start their day. Macharia met with his tout Mutinda Muli, a 24 year old young man who was too polished to be a tout.
“Praise the Lord,” Mutinda told Macharia who just grunted a reply.
“When are you going to get a decent job and stop touting?” Macharia asked, not understanding how a religiously ‘saved’ man could work in the rowdy and ungodly matatu industry.
“All jobs come from the Lord. So none is superior to the other,” Mutinda replied as he boarded the passenger side of the 14 seater Nissan van. Macharia took to the driver’s seat and started the vehicle, christened DESTINY.
“How was your wedding?” Macharia asked softly.
Mutinda went ahead to give a monologue of his village wedding to 22 year old Mwikali. The function, held at the hall of Machakos TTC, had attracted the entire village bringing life to standstill. Such weddings were rare.
“How much did you spend?” Macharia asked as he negotiated the bend to join the main Outer Ring road and drive down towards Donholm. It was 5.50 am and the estate was already alive.
“Carry those two passengers,” Mutinda told Macharia who pulled by the roadside for the young couple to board the matatu.
Mercy Nerea had just completed her last ‘O’ level exam and she had decided to graduate from school into real life in style. After all, she was 18 years old and a fully grown adult, though she had not acquired a national identity card. But that was not a problem as her 21 year old boyfriend, John Rono, a graphic design student at Nairobi’s Polytechnic, had promised to help her with the formalities.
“Was it painful?” Rono whispered amorously to Mercy, their hands romantically interlocked and they made a grand entry into the matatu. The driver smiled.
Mercy giggled. “Yes! In fact it’s still hurting,” she replied as she rested her head on Rono’s shoulders.
“I know my parents will wonder why I left without taking any breakfast,” Rono chipped in smiling at the freedom his parents had granted him by gifting him the whole of the one bedroomed servant quarters whose entry was through the back gate of the main house, hence making sure that contact was minimal between Rono and his parents. No one was allowed to enter that room and only Rono was privy to the mischief that took place right under his parent’s nose.
“Where is your wife right now?” Macharia asked Mutinda as they spotted another passenger.
“She is still with my mother as I sort out my accommodation problems,” Mutinda replied as the matatu came to a stop and he opened the door to a well dressed tall man.
“Welcome aboard,” Mutinda opened for the man who just went in without acknowledging his greetings.
Mutinda spotted another potential client slowly walking towards the bus stop. They decided to wait for her. It was still too early to rush for the passengers at the ever busy Donholm roundabout.
Peter Ntutu boarded the matatu and went and sat right behind. He was a troubled man. Just when his car import business was picking up, he had to go and get involved in a freak accident that left his wife slightly injured and admitted in Nairobi Hospital for observations. He, luckily, had escaped unhurt.
Peter removed his two phones – a blackberry and an iphone. He chose the blackberry and dialed a number. Two rings later, he was through. “Good morning angel,” he purred.
His wife croaked on the other side before Peter took over. “The car is a write-off, so I will need to sort it out with the insurance company first thing in the morning. The second car refused to start, so imagine I have to board a matatu.” Another pause before he continued. “And by the way, I should be signing the mortgage papers today!”
Mercy and Rono giggled as their hands playfully explored each others body. The passenger who was being waited for boarded the matatu. “Welcome aboard sister. How are you this morning?” cooed Mutinda respectfully. The passenger ignored him.
Serah Muhato had not slept the whole night, but she did not mind the sacrifice. Just one more song to go and her debut album “Inabamba” would be over. She could not wait to get it over with. She was grateful that so far the music producer had been very helpful guiding her in every step of the way. Serah sat next to the driver, her hair a mangling mess of a lion’s mane. The driver stole furtive glances wondering about her shaggy and knotted nut brown weave, puffy red eyes and stale breath.
“Say it!” Serah challenged the driver who smiled; his daily encounter with different people would make a colourful collection of who is who in the estates. This one was different. Beautifully different.
“Where are you from so early in the morning because from your dressing you are not going to the office?” the driver replied as he engaged the lower gear to slow the vehicle and pick another two passengers.
“I am a musician,” Serah replied proudly and then went into the long story of the challenges of producing her debut album. She removed a CD from her bag and gave it to the driver to sample it. Macharia removed the DVD that was playing and inserted Serah’s CD. The thumping beats send Serah into delirium as she started a rhythmic slow motion of her hands and body. Rono and Serah joined in the swaying of heads and hips.
The matatu stopped to pick the next two passengers. “Karibuni,” Mutinda told the old man and his companion.
“Thank you very much my grandson,” Andrea Otoyo, a studious 78 year old veteran of Nairobi city, addressed Mutinda. The smile on his face was genuine. He then turned to address his 15 year old grandson and namesake. “I will be fine,” he told the young boy as he boarded the matatu.
“Dad gave me specific instructions to make sure that I take you up to the country bus terminus and not to leave until the bus has departed,” Andrea Junior repeated his father’s instructions. He followed his grandfather in.
The two Andreas took the back seat, next to Ntutu. “Your father is very stubborn,” the old man thundered and he went ahead to give his grandson anecdotal episodes of how life was some 50 years back.
“These were bushes and forests,” he pointed towards the water tower that was on Outer Ring Road. “We used to come all this way for our hunting expeditions. There was no problem with water at all. All these unsightly extensions and tall structures have made Nairobi very ugly,” Andrea Junior smiled, believing his grandfather a more reliable source of information than the history books they used in school.
“Please lower the volume,” the old man told the conductor, who shouted at the driver to decrease the decibel levels. Serah snorted and the driver decided that it was time to try his luck with another girl. He banished the memories of four of his known scattered seeds wandering the face of the earth.
“How many more?” the driver asked the conductor in reference to filling up the matatu with passengers.
“Four more and we are set,” the conductor replied.
Otieno started the heavy train engine. It smoked and like a dragon that has just come from deep hibernation, it made its way out of the station slowly gathering momentum towards Eastlands to destination Dandora. It is a route that Otieno had taken for the last five or so years, knowing it like the back of his hands. The mass of people who woke up early to walk to work was already on its way. In less than an hour, the sun would be up and Nairobi would be lit and finally awake and alive to challenge the very meaning of existence. The happiness on these pedestrians’ faces always gave Otieno the extra energy to see it to the end of the day. Daily he noticed groups of people in animated discussion and laughing heartily as they trekked to work, most of them in industrial area.
At the Donholm roundabout the number of passengers was swelling. Already there were about ten passengers and the number was increasing. An old ramshackle matatu, what one columnist called a distant relative of a vehicle, rambled to the bus stop. The passengers rushed to board it but the vehicle stalled and the five passengers who had boarded it from Fedha estate and Pipeline estate were forced to alight.
……to be continued
©Clifford C. Oluoch 2010 Read more of Oluoch’s work.
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