Celebrating East African Writing!
“Return the full amount that you took from us!” thundered David Kisia, a 55 year old bank worker who had a month to the end of his 35 years service to the same employer. He had risen through the ranks and his pension was a staggering Kshs.7 million. He had just completed paying his 15 year old mortgage, making feel free and extremely proud of himself. David was really looking forward to his retirement. He needed to spoil himself during his retirement.
The conductor stood his ground and told the passengers that he would talk to the next matatu to carry them at a subsidized fare.
“Matatu are just con,” shouted Mama Ndavi also popularly known as ‘Sukuma Wiki’ because of the vegetables she sold at the junction of Pipeline estate and Mukuru kwa Njenga, the populous slum that had just refused to disappear. “Today I am late and I will get all the bad vegetables,” Mama Ndavi lamented as she glanced at her watch. 5.58 am.
They saw the ‘DESTINY’ matatu coming and all the fifteen or so people started angling themselves to rush to the matatu.
“Town fifty bob,” shouted Mutinda as Macharia increased the volume of the music, making Serah a happy girl and feeling like telling everyone about her CD.
“Manner-less young men,” Andrea Snr. muttered as he tried hard to cover his ears. Much to his annoyance, his grandson seemed to be really enjoying himself, shaking his body to the heavy beats. “We used to pay five shillings to town, now it is a whooping fifty shillings. This Nairobi, people will die of hunger!” the old man’s lamentations continued.
A man wearing shades forced his way to the front to join Serah who moved more towards the driver. The driver took one look at the man and immediately recognized him.
“Please alight,” the driver politely told the man, Kinoti Kinywa, one of the known hustlers and car jackers of Eastlands. Most of the matatu drivers and touts knew him and whenever he struck they all knew how devastating he could be. Macharia was shocked to see Kinoti so early in the morning.
“I am not working. Just meeting some friends at City Stadium,” Kinoti replied. “I never work in the morning.”
The shoving aside, Mutinda had to shout at the top of his voice. “Please let the expectant lady board first. Shame on all of you!” There was muttering of discontent amongst the passengers as they let the heavily expectant Esther Wakesho board the vehicle. This was her first pregnancy in 10 years of marriage, childlessness and heartbreaks, endless tests and pressure from her in laws. Her husband, Muturi, a real gentleman, had stood by her and told her that he was not going to marry another woman and neither would he walk out of their marriage. Esther was 7 months expectant.
As Esther made herself comfortable, Wangui Wamae, a 14 year old std.8 pupil squeezed herself and made the last of the passengers. Wangui’s school was going for a trip to Mombasa, an 8 hour road trip. She had to be in school by 7am. She was sad as she boarded the matatu, still debating whether the shs.7000 trip was worth the dent it had made on her widowed mother who had insisted on Wangui’s attending the trip.
“The vehicle is packed!” Mutinda shouted at some passengers who were still trying to make their way to make the excess number that the touts were commonly known to favour.
“I am sorry, traffic rules have to be followed,” Mutinda said as he gently shut the matatu door. There were 14 passengers inside. They all heard the distant hooting of the train. It was 6.03am and the train was three minutes late.
The train gathered enough momentum, Otieno admiring the view of Kaloleni estate. From some distance he could see early morning risers rushing to cross the railway line before the train. One thing that still shocked him was the utmost recklessness with which most people carried on with aspects of their lives. Otieno pulled the lever again, letting another prolonged hooting that sent a message more than a kilometre radius away. From Kaloleni the train snaked its way to Makongeni where many of the Kenya Railway staff lived.
After almost six years on the same Jogoo Road route, Macharia knew how treacherous that highway could be. Already there was a queue of cars that had stopped at the cross over where the railway crossed Jogoo Road, thus separating the west from the east. If Macharia did not make it to the other side of the railway, he would lose valuable time and miss almost half the trip’s amount.
“Okay, time for offerings,” Mutinda sang a church hymn to signal his intentions. The amused group of passengers responded in kind as everyone dug into their pockets or handbags for money.
Otieno pulled the hooting lever again. Louder and longer the hooting sent a loud message to all those who were still asleep. From his position he could already see a long queue of vehicles on either side of the railway lines. He felt good that the drivers were living by the book. Once upon a time there used to be a barrier on either side of the railway. These used to be manned by personnel from the Railways and their work was to physically block the roads the moment the first hooting was heard. This action stopped the moment the company started experiencing financial problems and a big number of staff were retrenched. The barriers were burglarized and what was left now was the hut that personnel used.
The opposite lane was clear and Macharia, a seasoned driver on the Jogoo road route decided to take the risk and take the opposite lane so as to beat the morning rush and reach town before the more than fifteen matatus that were ahead of him. That meant an extra trip of earning. He heard done it many times before.
“Don’t do it,” Mutinda jokingly warned the driver. Mutinda knew how reckless and daring matatu drivers could be. In more than 99% of the cases they managed to pull off the stunts. But there always was that lingering 1%.
“What is the hurry for?” Andrea Senior asked too loudly. “These children of nowadays. No wonder you have so many funny illnesses like baldness at thirty years of age!” he remarked in reference to Macharia’s clean shaven head.
Esther’s baby kicked and her hand quickly went to the side of her stomach. A proud smile spread across her face as she wished that her husband was there to feel the baby’s movement. Tears welled in her eyes. Two more months.
Kinoti fiddled with the gun in his jacket. It was just a confirmation that it was still there. He needed to change his areas of attack as he was too well known on Jogoo Road. It was time to have an exchange programme with some of the car jackers from the other areas like Ngong Road, Kileleshwa or Kawangware.
Macharia stepped harder on the accelerator, the speedometer moving from 80kmh to 90kmh in such a short span of time.
Otieno looked and saw the lone matatu zooming on the wrong side of the road. He was used to them, these crazy drivers who cheated death on a daily basis. He cursed under his breath and the train was now at full speed and there was no way of stopping it. The long hooting sent another message to the motorists.
Macharia was fifty metres away from the crossing line and he knew that he would make it. Mercy and Rono were still locked in each others embrace, completely shutting out the rest of others from their cosy world. Mercy’s head was comfortably rested on Rono’s chest.
Forty metres. Peter received a call on his blackberry. “Hi honey!” he cooed as he took the call. “We are on Jogoo Road near Makadara. Some mad matatu driver is trying to pull some crazy stunts over here!”
The train was now at ‘The Bridge’, that notorious dirty and dark club that old men frequented against the wishes of their wives. Groups of women, known as chamas, often organized impromptu raids at the place engaging bar maids and young girls in endless fights all in the name to save their husbands. The club had suffered various infernos but each time the same men who were meant to be saved from the club are the ones who ended saving the club.
Thirty metres. Macharia hit 110km/hr well aware that he had made it. Wangui Wamae changed her Facebook to “Good Moaning”. She smiled to herself as she read all the other crazy status that had been put up. Facebook was just the bomb.
“Fuck!” Macharia shouted loudly as the red light on his speedometer flashed. The van’s engine went dead.
“What?” asked Mutinda rather too calmly. The loud incessant hooting of the train was blaring in everyone’s ears.
“I think the timing belt has snapped,” Macharia shouted, his voice heavily loaded with panic. He looked to his left and saw the train was just twenty metres away from the crossline. Macharia tried applying emergency brakes but the van, which had been cruising at almost 120kmh, just skidded right into the path of the train.
Otieno knew that there was no way he was going to stop the train at such a high speed.
“Oh my God, I thought he was going to stop!” Otieno shouted is despair as he covered his eyes with both his hands.
Then he heard the piercing screams first. They seemed to come from everywhere and Otieno did not dare uncover his eyes. Then the smashing and sickening sound of colliding metal to iron hit the air. It is a sound that Otieno had never heard and as the startling sound made him open his eyes to check what had happened, what Otieno saw permanently became etched in his mind. He saw the mangled wreck of the matatu flying along the railway line. This was followed by a crunching sound as the train continued dragging the matatu along the railway line. Otieno’s mouth remained agape and he decided not to stop the train. He drove the train all the way to Dandora where he alighted and took off never to be seen again.
The accident caused a massive traffic jam on Jogoo Road as wananchi came out in numbers to rescue any survivors. Unfortunately there were none. The police arrived in less than thirty minutes and took almost three hours to clear the accident scene. Most of the bodies were smashed beyond recognition. All the leading TV stations sent their crew to cover the horrific accident.
By mid day, news of the accident had spread across the country but in all news bulletins, the accident did not feature as a leading item. By evening, the news had been relegated to a footnote: 15 people perish in a road accident.
The following day, none of the dailies had the news on their front pages. The accident featured somewhere hidden on the inside pages with a picture of a policeman trying to control the crowds. All newspapers had their headlines screaming about politicians, YES and NO camps and the new constitution.
© Clifford C. Oluoch 2010 Read Destiny Part 1
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