Celebrating East African Writing!
The usual banter was going on at the terminus bunge. Bruno, the terminus officer was at his best element that day.
“Hii country ni ya masonko, wasee mahustler kama sisi ni ma aliens!! Si ulicheki Grogon, mechanics walivurushwa ka madogie!! This country belongs to the rich, poorp people like us are just aliens. Didn’t you see how the mechanics in Grogon were chased off like dogs?
The other drivers and touts were all in agreement. The issue that had so rattled Bruno and his colleagues was the forceful eviction of mechanics from a prime plot which had been allocated to a private developer.
The debate went on and on, but my mind only sifted a few words. It was teetering dangerously towards a dark horizon of impending doom. As I scanned all the faces seated there, I was forced to admire their serenity amidst all the problems; the council askaris, the administration police and now the new kanga unit against militias who were harassing us up and down, to them anyone in the blue and purple uniform was either a member of the illegal gang or planning to join.
Their faces never betrayed the pains and struggles within. But did they have problems like the one I had? Had they ever faced a monstrous problem of such magnitude? No, I told myself. The debate was now on the budget that had been read a few weeks back and their laughter belied the gravity of what they were saying.
“Hey, Ray, you have a bad day man?” quipped one tout in my direction. I had already guessed that sooner or later they would note my dimmed countenance.
“Bibi amehepa au? (Has your wife has left you?) asked Jaymo, a driver whom we had just bailed out of the “gourd”, the cells as we called them. His charge had been drunk-driving though he swore he was as sober as a protestant bishop.
“No, I am just thinking about how to make money,” I glibly lied to put them off my case.
“Money, money!” It was Bruno again. “If the economy has improved how comes then I can’t support three wives like my grandfather did?” he cleverly observed.
I was happy that their attention was now off me. My mind was in no state for verbal altercations. It was calm in its own way, knowing that though the fight ahead was gigantic, the solution was there.
Talking of a solution, I remembered my matatu was the one in the waiting spot. l went round to check just in time to see the last passenger boarding. It was a pregnant woman and I was glad that the passengers in the front cabin were in no mood to offer her the seat.
Kaluku my conductor was trying to “beep” me. I was feeling exhilarated in a funny way though I didn’t want to show it. The journey from Kikuyu to Nairobi was one I had made numerous times but this one was a special in a big way. It was a trip, yet salvation, so to speak.
“Lay, Lay, tuishie”, Kaluku called, substituting the R in my name with an L. He could never get my name right, not even on a special day like this! I was ready and walked across the crowded terminus to my matatu.
It was a favourite especially with “teeniez” and its graffiti said it all “Stealth, the king.” Its rasta colours had cost the owner a fortune but it had made the car unique and a big hit on the Kikuyu- Nairobi route.
In a minute I was moving out towards the road. Nothing could stand in the way, I thought, except, of course, a few potholes before I hit the highway. I turned on my favourite radio station and cranked the volume high to wash away doubts that seemed to be attacking my conscience. Next to me were two youths, University graduates of course, with a lot of confidence oozing from them. How wrong their expectations will turn out to be!
My mind was now heating up as the Matatu picked up speed towards Nairobi. Oh! I remembered, I had to be set for everything. I zoomed into a nearby petrol station and got off. Kaluku was busy collecting fares and he never saw me dismantling the speed governor. I felt better now, nothing could possibly fail.
I guided the matatu onto the road again as I carefully manoeuvred the potholes littering the road. I avoided the gazes of the two youngsters because I knew I had a crazy smile on my face. I tried to clench my teeth but they were clattering like empty debes in a mixer.
My legs were trembling and I noted my hands were sliding on the steering wheel due to sweat. In my mind, I had not deceived myself that the task would be easy so I accepted everything with a steely resolve, after all, a man got to do what a man got to do, I comforted myself.
We were now past ABC. Place racing down the highway at about 120 KPH. The towering houses were whizzing at the corner of my eyes. I could clearly detect the fear in the two passengers at the front seats.
As we approached the Westland’s roundabout, my mind was like heated atoms. There was a bit of a commotion at the back but I had no time for side-plays, mine was the major game. Thoughts were crashing on each other at an amazing rate but my luck held, as the usual nasty jam at the spot was nowhere to be seen.
It was time now! My evil conscience wailed.
I eased the car to the fifth gear, as there was no traffic. The legs were now tense, pressing on the pedal unceasingly. My shoulders were no longer shuddering. It was as if my whole body was now one particle, all in unison. Thank God! I thought. Nothing could go wrong… the speedometer was at 130 K.P.H and I could feel the lightness of the machine. Still I could sense a bit of noise at the back but that was no interest to me. It all seemed to be in another world. Even the passengers next to me had ceased to exist. I was like a Buddhist who has reached Nirvana. I obviously knew that at the Museum Hill roundabout, there would be a few cars at this time… what if there were none? Calm down, calm down, everything is gonna be alright, who sang that now? Why am thinking at all, no more of this nonsense! It will all end in a few minutes… No it won’t…. yes it will! Let me show you how! My mind was now a jumble of confusing signals. No single strand of thought was standing alone.
The roundabout was now in sight, I tightened my grip on the steering wheel … my heart was palpitating and shaking even my left hand.
“N’gee…. N’gee…. N’gee…” What! My tense legs quickly switched to the brake pedal. The matatu swayed and swerved. My brain was trying to focus; yes, somebody was calling me. But I had to control the car first … “Lay, Lay, Dere, dere stop.”
“N’gee…. N’gee…. N’gee….” My journey to freedom was coming to anti – climatic halt. The serene body was now fighting to calm down the raging matatu. I looked at the side mirror and behind me was a heavy truck coming down with the lights on, horn blaring … No! No! It can’t happen, I can’t kill a new life … I have to save it.
I made a last swerve into a bus stop just in time. The truck driver was cursing me; women were screaming at the top of their voices, some pedestrians at the bus stop were baying for my blood. How I wish they knew how close they had come to…
“Hey, Lay kuna mama amejifungua, tuishie hosi.” (Hey, Lay, a woman has given birth, let’s rush to the hospital!), Kaluku was calling.
I couldn’t control myself. I hastily opened the door and threw up. I sat on a nearby stone clutching my head. The two students were staring at me now.
“Are you okay driver?” No words could come from my sticky mouth. Kaluku was trying to shake me but I wasn’t myself. I collapsed into a heap as the world started seeming dizzy. I was shaking all over and it was as if my mind was punishing all my nerves for harbouring such a nasty idea. So close, yet so far, I thought. Why did she give birth at this spot? It was supposed to be my freedom, now I will be in manacles all my life! I mournfully thought.
A crowd had now formed and though I couldn’t see their faces, I knew they were all staring at me like I was an alien with no head but with eyes. Their words were slowly taking form.
“Please take the woman and baby to hospital!” A woman begged.
“Kaluku,” I called weakly “Get a driver from the crowd and take the woman and me too to the hospital.”
It was at that time that I realized just how weak I was. I attempted to stand and fell again. The two students caught my arms and put me in the matatu. A driver was found and off we went to Kenyatta National Hospital.
My mind was now fully registering the whole scenario, from its genesis. I didn’t want to remember Mama John’s tears and her razor sharp words. I remember looking at John as he had tried to calm his mother the previous night.
“Baba, please tell mum not to cry. Why is she crying?” the small boy had asked. How I had wished he would never know, the betrayal, the bleak future ahead for him. The words of my wife were now coming crashing into my jaded mind,
“Baba John. I …I … have to confess something,” she had cried. “I once had an affair with a man … and …. He died last week from HIV/AIDS. I got checked and was shocked to realize I am also positive,” she had continued.
At first I had thought I was dreaming as I faced my wife. My anger at the betrayal was so much that my brain had just switched off. What to do, I had asked myself. My hard earned life was being brought to an end! The decision to crash my matatu had come as I tossed and turned in my bed. My wife could not even come to bed. The pain I was to cause was not enough to assuage the one I was feeling then. That morning I had even promised my boy a gift with tranquillity painted all over my face.
Then, when I had thought everything was going on my way, the squall of the newborn had violated my numbed mind. In a flash my mind had awoken. How close to death and freedom I had come, I wondered. I now knew I had to start a new life, a life knowing soon I would die and leave my young boy. But I had to try.
I opened my eyes and some nurses were holding me.
“Are you the father of the new born?” One enquired. I didn’t answer but I noted we were outside the maternity ward. How ironical I thought. From a designated morgue to a maternity!
Then a thought struck me, “I am the father in a way, I gave him life” I laughed weakly as they carried me into a stretcher. I realized I had saved a life and also given myself a new life.
© Chrispus Kimaru 2009
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