Celebrating East African Writing!

My Evening Matatu Ride

Written by Doseline Kiguru

Dusk is falling over the city like a blanket. I don’t know what time it is. I don’t have a watch but I can always rely on the city clock, if it is working. But on this particular evening, the city clock’s face is dressed in campaign posters. A large grinning face stares at me from the clock’s post. Behind it, the clock is fast asleep, its arms taking a break.

I reach down into my underwear’s pocket and take out my old Alcatel mobile phone. It is a quarter past seven. Gosh! I’m going to miss my favourite soap opera on TV tonight. I have to rush and get a matatu quick.

At the matatu stage there is only one of them. People are fighting to get in and head home. The matatu tout takes advantage of this and hikes the fare.

“Eastleigh fifty! Fifty Eastleigh!” shouts the young man. “Kama hautaki enda mguu!” he adds arrogantly.

I weigh my options between trekking to Eastleigh and parting with my fifty shillings for a distance where normally I would be charged twenty shillings. It is late, dangerous, and above all, by the time I get home, my favourite soap opera will be over. I wouldn’t know whether Alejandro decided to confess his undying love to Maria or whether Camilla came in and spoilt the magic moment when they were just about to kiss.

Clutching my handbag close to my chest, I push and shove near the door but the men are too strong. I give up and decide to wait for the next matatu. But just then, the Machine, sitting at the driver’s cabin, beckons to me. “Psst! Psst! Mrembo, come ukae hapa.

My luck. I will seat comfortably next to the driver where I won’t have to endure the congestion in the passengers’ side of the matatu. The Machine opens the door and steps out. He does not wait for me to get in. Instead, he lifts me up swiftly and before I can say ‘No,’ I am seated next to the driver and the Machine is lifting another pretty girl to sit next to me. He then jumps in.

A signal from the tout and we are on our way out of the city. The Machine turns up the volume and I can feel the music vibrating in my ribs. The girl next to me reaches for her lipstick from her bag. She tries to apply it but she misses her lips and ends up smearing her nose with red lipstick as the driver swerves to avoid an oncoming boda boda.

We are then temporarily held in a traffic jam. The tout jumps out of the matatu and tries to create a space big enough for the matatu on the pedestrians’ pavement. He joins other matatu touts who are busy harassing a young woman driver stuck to her Vitz steering wheel. “Madam, Kama hujui kuendesha gari tutakuonyesha,” they shout. The young woman is too scared to drive away. The touts join hands and pushing her small car of the way, into the other lane.

We continue on our journey and now we are at an intersection. The driver stops suddenly in the middle of the road and the tout jumps out, runs ahead and spies the traffic on both sides. He then indicates to the driver to follow Kirinyaga Road. We swerve to the left, over the pavement and into the wrong side of the road.

A handcart pusher crosses the road, completely ignoring the speeding matatu on the wrong side of the road. In his handcart he pulls a bag of potatoes, a plastic paper bag that seems to be stuffed with clothes, and a baby. The goods’ owner runs behind, trying to catch up with the handcart puller. She too does not seem too concerned with the oncoming matatu. Her goods are more precious and you cannot let these handcart pushers out of your eye for even one moment. Our driver suddenly brakes and we are thrown forward. As the handcart pusher and the woman passes, a young couple takes advantage of the opportunity and cross the road, holding onto each other tightly. Our driver and his companion’s eyes follow the couple but I guess they are just focused on the girl.

Then we are on the move again but before I can regain my composure, the matatu stops again as suddenly. The tout is out and calling in more passengers into the already full matatu. From the rearview mirror, I can see him helping only the women into the matatu, by gently holding onto their waits and hips.

The tout then comes to the window and shouts to the Machine to increase the volume of the music. His laughter is swallowed by the noise and he ends up looking like an actor miming out a scene in a play.

The matatu is on the move again but the conductor is left behind. I then see him run and jump to grab the iron pole by the door. He then swings his body into the already full matatu and he is hidden from my view in the rear view window.

I am still thinking about his dangerous game when suddenly there is a scratch on my shoulder. I turn back sharply and a big, hairy and muscular hand is outstretched. The girl beside me tries to hand over her fare but the Machine restrains her hand. “Leo usilipe. I’ll pay for you,” he says. The girl throws a side glance at him and giggles. She pushes her money back into her bag.

Slowly, I remove my money from the bag, hoping the Machine will say the same thing to me before the outstretched hand grabs it. Who wouldn’t want a free ride anyway? But the Machine is not even looking at me. He has started a conversation with the girl. They are talking about something to do with the high cost of rent nowadays, especially for people who live alone.

I slowly watch as my five hundred shillings note disappears behind me. A huge television screen has been used effectively to block the driver’s cabin from view of the rest of the passengers in the matatu. For the same reason, I don’t see the conductor except for his huge hand.

Karao! Karao!” the shout comes from the Machine and the tout at the same time.

“I have already seen his blue cap but I’m not going to let him arrest me,” the driver answers calmly.

Pita na yeye!” the Machine shouts to the driver as the police officer moves to the middle of the road, his baton raised high to indicate to the driver to pull over by the road side.

But our driver does not stop nor slow down. Taking the advice of the Machine, he steps harder on the gas and we are flying towards the lone policeman standing in the middle of the road. When the blue uniformed officer realizes the danger he is in, he jumps to the pavement, cursing the driver and the matatu. In anger, frustration and shame, he throws his baton at the matatu and I watch in horror as the rear view window is smashed.

Kumamake!” the driver curses adding, “Who does that stupid policeman think he is?”

“He is just a junior officer! Doesn’t he know the owner of this matatu is a senior police officer?” the Machine offers an answer.

Huyo karoa anacheza na job yake sana,” it is the girl beside me. I also agree with her, though I don’t voice my comments. That young policeman must be very naïve to think he could arrest his senior’s driver and take his matatu in.

We are now getting into the residential areas and the passengers start alighting one by one. The Machine temporarily forgets the girl beside me whom he was chatting up and concentrates on his work. For each passenger that drops off from the matatu, his machine clicks once. But not for every passenger though. One young man drops off as the matatu slows down at a bump on the road. He does it in a style where he puts his left foot on the ground first and lifting his left hand above his head, drops off without waiting for the matatu to stop. Then the conductor shouts, “Sare!” He is the only one, beside the girl, who gets a free ride.

We are almost home now. But just before we get to when I usually alight, the driver makes a u-turn and stops.

Mwisho!” he says looking further ahead.

“But you have not reached the end of the route. How am I going to get home in the darkness?” I ask.

Before I can get an answer, the Machine is out, and the girl too. The few passengers left in the matatu are also alighting. No use arguing with these matatu people. We have to walk the few remaining blocks home.

I get off from the matatu and hurry to keep up with the other passengers. It is always safer to walk in a group especially at such a time. Then the matatu rushes off to town for the next group eager to go home.

It is only when the matatu disappears behind the corner that I remember I did not get back my change from the conductor. And by the time I get home, my favourite soap opera will be over.

©Doseline Kiguru 2011

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Sunday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week on the next Monday. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


15 comments on “My Evening Matatu Ride

  1. angie
    January 10, 2011

    Nice one Doseline…i give it an 8 for really good setting


  2. Minneh
    January 10, 2011

    It’s a nice story that reflects on part the day to day incidents that most of the mwananchi has to go through. I would give it a scale of 8.


  3. Namushi Obindah
    January 10, 2011

    Nice one Doseline, Keep it up!!! The story is interesting, for it shows how life can be cruel in the city. This is what not only ladies go through, but also men, in trying to make ends meet in the city. 7/10 is my verdict.


  4. Githimo Esther
    January 10, 2011

    Doseline you are so creative, relating your story on the daily -life experiences in the transport sector. i scale you 9


  5. mlami
    January 12, 2011

    So real..excellent


  6. KK
    January 13, 2011

    Engaging through and through… So real. I say 7.


  7. Orato
    January 14, 2011

    I had my reservation at the beginning thinking perhaps the language was rather simplistic and you’d quickly deviate from the theme but I gotta agree, you’ve done nicely throughout. Great setting and real-time description of the daily matatu ride. The characters are also developed quite nicely. The only point of criticsm in my opinion is the occasional use of repetition otherwise you’ve done brilliantly.

    Good stuff. An 8 for me!


  8. macharia
    January 15, 2011

    An engaging piece.Well-written.Keen observation of matatu culture.An 8.


  9. Odero
    January 17, 2011

    Not a bad piece I’ll give her 7/10….good work…


  10. Anne Musuva
    January 18, 2011

    I give you a 9.5. Excellent piece Doseline. Sad but hilarious at the same time. You’ve captured the horror of our daily matatu rides, yet with a lot humor. You’ve got talent! Keep writing.


  11. idy
    January 18, 2011

    i love this piece cos even in Nigeria we face this and is part of our lives i wish i can grab a copy and read it over and over again.Good work


  12. Brian
    January 25, 2011

    Reality caught and craftily done. A bit sharp at a point though. 9.


  13. lissing
    January 25, 2011

    i love it! .. soo remember forgetting to ask for change… it is so alive… went back i time!


  14. LKP
    March 23, 2011

    Love it! So real. I was in the mat with you. And sort of praying the driver didn’t pull a stunt…


  15. Macharia
    February 20, 2014

    9.5 Good Work Doseline. That language is sharp; Keep Up.


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