Inside a Nyekicha Mat

***Allan ShadowRine***

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1300 hrs.

Shit! I have foolishly forgotten my luggage in the car. I can’t trace the car I was in that I did not cram the number plate. I know what road the car has disappeared to, but I am a dumb ass tied to my gas cylinder. So, I can’t pull an EliudKipchoge and catch up with the Nyena Sacco mat to get my luggage. I let it go, just like that. Am on my light brown Khaki and faded denim coat, clear confusion refusing to disguise on my face. I am walking towards the other end of the crazy stage, trying to calculate the magnitude of my loss. In the sack I have forgotten in the car, there was dried maize, a comb, a needle and a string, and a pair of gumboots which I took from the store this morning. Meanwhile, a dozen of I-am-the-honest conductor run towards me, wooing me to their cars. One grabs me and pulls me towards his empty Nakuru shuttle Nissan, like I am a cart of ripe avocadoes for sale. Another tout with a maroon t-shirt and no button pushes me towards another direction, saying that he just has one vacant seat so the car can depart. I have just lost a luggage, and it seems I am going to lose myself too.

Like an m.p in Russia watching international soccer, I “bite lemon”and shovel a fake stone-faced self through the new streets of Nyeri town, trying to act like I have lived here since The American Civil War ended, just to escape monolization in the new town by these crazy ‘makangas’.

Nyeri town. Cursed Monday.

We had an argument with my dad last night about a chicken I had badly injured until we had to slaughter it. It wasn’t a deliberate act, I just hit it with a stone to get out of the kitchen. Fortunately, I got it on the head.Our argument with dad heated up, so he ended up daring me to go injure our cow too, so we could slaughter it as well. That’s why I am in Nyeri alone, anxious to be admitted in campus. As per the road sign I have seen, the college is 6 kilometers away from town. Right there at the nucleus of the busy town, the most obvious means of conveniently going to school is hitching a NYEKICHA SACCO matatu at the stage. With the economic crises hitting our country so bad, and the China debt escalating to scary heights, the price of maize flour, my staple food since I stopped suckling, has skyrocketed. I had some maize in my lost luggage, with plans of visiting a posho mill ASAP, now it seems am going to buy a few kilograms of maize flour, eat for a few days and upon completion, wait to die. I am sure as death I can’t hire a private taxi, leave alone a bodaboda. So, let’s go to Dedan Kimathi campus from town in a matatu.

I am walking down the busy lane that leads to a small stage literally on the shoulders of the main stage, which is packed with numerous Toyota Hiace matatus. With me, I am carrying an emptyWajiko gas cylinder and on my back rests my cheap Somali-imported backpack, if not smuggled. Most cars, I can see even before I cross the road, are encrypted NYEKICHA Sacco along their belt with a yellow paint. The yellow belt is inscribed with multiple town’s names, Nyahururu, Nakuru, Nairobi etc which I highly suspect the cars can reach, judging their ability by virtue of their physical appearance.

So, I look right, I look left, I look right again, just to confer with the shit that got our buttocks spanked in primary three by our teachers. I wait for some old gigantic Kenya Prisons UD bus to pass. The Kenya prisons bus has huge steel metal bars diving the driver’s quarter with the convict’s section, like a border separating the free folks and the chained bandits. I frantically leap across the tarmac road before an incoming Toyota Fielder from the opposite direction beeps at me. Which will attract unnecessary attention, and attention will unveil my unfamiliarity with Nyeri.

What was the essence of drawing black and white lines for the whole damn lesson, christening it a zebra-crossing? No cars stop to let pedestrians pass, who the hell has all that time to waste anyway? Just cross the road and handle the consequences later, that is if they come, to either be safe or to land in a morgue if not a death bedof the referral hospital.

There are so many matatus parked in the small stage that some have to drive out of their parking space to let out the departing ones. From the small metallic signboards placed on top of the matatus, I trace to car that is ferrying people from town to campus. I squeeze myself through a bunch of drivers who are standing by a black chalk board arguing loudly what car goes what turn, one of them is gigantically huge, on a super buggy t-shirt written ‘I will die when I want’. Well maybe that is true, but for me, I know I will die when the flour I will buy ends. After killing a chicken at home, nobody will bother about a mature guy I am now.

Upon getting to the old Nyekicha Sacco matatu, and with the co-driver’s seat vacant, I opt to sit my ass there, only that the door knob is missing and I cannot open the door from outside. So, I stand there waiting, the gas cylinder in between my skeletal legs, gazing aimlessly with hope that the conductor of this matatu will catch a glimpse of me and open the broken door for me.

After a while, the driver himself shows up from nowhere, with a wrapping of fried potatoes, and two toothpick sticks in his mouth. And hey, for those of you who never had an interesting grammar teacher, they are called French fries. He opens the driver’s door, leans over the seat and opens the broken door for me. First thing I do is tuck in my comfort, for Nyekicha is not the place where comfort is an asset. The dusty seat itself, is torn, that the clothing and the fur sewn in it is scattered all over. The spiraled seat belt is more of a tattered rope, coated with a fat layer of dust, so I decide not to buckle up. Between my seat and the driver’s seat is a big dirty pillow, with patches of something that resembles some spilt porridge. As I naively imagine how much this driver loves comfort, a moment later I will be seeking solace in the dirty pillow, or I can choose to trek the 6 kilometers if I think that’s unfair.

From my vantage point, I can clearly see the entire madness of the Kimathi stage, with a whole bunch of occurrences happening simultaneously, all at once. A collection of conductors is ceremoniously gathered under a wooden shed with a cemented bench across the parking lot. Are we the only people who advertise the little we do and hide the big we don’t? “This shed was donated by the m.p of blah blah blah constituency.” Apparently, there should be bill boards along the streets too, confessing, “This bulk of money was embezzled by the governor of blah blah blah county.

One of the conductors has a completely small butt of Sportsman cigar lazily hanging from his red lips. He must be smoking the cotton bit of it now. Another one has a ball of miraa rolling through his mouth, chewing the herb nonchalantly like a Torggenburg breed of a goat, beside him is another conductor with a thin moustache, visibly drunk, with a bottle of Stoney soda in his hand. They are all arguing that some Marcello should be the striker to some Arsenal team, the other one protesting that Degea is from Finland, and that he was born with a polio related disorder because his religious parents denied him a vaccination, which is why the ball dribbles through his legs putting water in a hollow sieve.

One of them has the loudest voice, I guess he would make a very perfect politician.He is on a confusing-color pair of trousers, maroon-reddish I guess, a grey shirt with nearly all its button missing, the blowing winds are displaying his bear chest, nothing on his bones apart from a thin extension of a pale skin to cover his tiny frame, and a white-grey cap which must have once been black. He is shouting something like he nearly got himself in a court of law. He escaped from his area chief, who threatened to arrest him for making his donkeys drink alcohol with claims that donkeys work best under influence of several tots. The way he puts it, I am convinced he can make a very good veterinary. He even throws in words like stimuli, insemination and DNA here and there. If I were the president, I would appoint him minister for agriculture, so we can make all donkeys drunk and pay our foreign debts. I immediately fall in love with his idea.

Am almost absorbed into the spirited argument when the conductor to this KBA matatu emerges, where from I can’t tell, banging the butt of the mat with his hand so strongly that some spider falls on my lap. The scared spider crawls down my foot as I helplessly try to wipe it off. A man with a bloody lab coat and a sinister look calls out for me to buy a sausage, how can I be sure that he did not butcher a dog or a kitten? So, I snob him, sluggishly trying to focus on something else and send him away. Following him a carton pulls close to my eye. It is full of biscuits and other snacks. My uncle told me real men don’t eat candies in the streets, in fact he told me that he would rather spend his lifetime in a stinking cell than walk in town chewing a gum. So, I snob the short lady with a shuka winding up her head and already calling me her son. Shortly later a girl with a bulk of calories on her behind is shown towards my seat by the conductor, and the what-the fuck-is going-on dude- conductor signals me to create some space for her.

Fuck, I want to protest but to whom do you complain to when you don’t own a two-wheeled bicycle? I hesitantly jump on the dirty pillow with porridge taints, pressing against my gas cylinder with my foot so it doesn’t get seen by the conductor and get charged more than the fare I will pay. The girl is technically so plumb, that I squeeze some half of my skeleton to the driver’s side, with the gear lever erected in between my legs. Am clinging onto my backpack, which you can notice from a distance is so packed beyond its capacity.

From the rear-view mirror, we are already 20 in the 14-seater matatu, packed together like Copenhagen cabbages in transit for sale at the Karatina market stalls. The driver comes back, this time with a cob of roasted maize, with a few lines of grains coated with vinegar and red cinnamon. He adjusts his staggering side mirror, hits his shirt pocket to grab the keys and whoops, the keys are missing. The tout signals his to pull out the car before he angrily shouts that he has forgotten his keys at the restaurant he was having lunch.

He summons the driver in the next car who is in deep slumberto lend him his car’s key, which he inserts into the start and the old engine thunders to life, with borrowed keys, a weak noise wheezing from the car’s belly like its suffering from some asthmatic disease. He presses on the weary fuel pad and a thick cloud of dark smoke diffuses into the thin air. The girl next to me pulls out a hanky and covers her face, while I effortlessly try not to cover myself. The conductor on the outside shouts the road is clear so the driver can pull out. I had not noticed the broken gear lever until he engages a gear, there is a wide hole through the gear box, I can even see the mechanisms inside the gear box. Am breathing so hard, praying to the gods that the mad driver doesn’t hit my innocent balls while engaging the gears.

There we are, crazily driving an old noisy overloaded matatu with another car’s key. Across the post office, he pulls out a stereo system from his pocket and inserts it in it’s place on the dashboard and it lights to life. Well I bet he plucks it out for safety, it feels like these cars are communally owned.

Some Konshen roar up in the speaker which is tuned to maximum volume, and boom the music goes. At least it will give me some headache throughout the way, I hate idly sitting in between some huge persons and hardly breathing. The tout demands for money as we approach the Oilibya petrol station, I can’t move an inch, so I politely tell him I will give him when we alight as I sink into my Am-just-holding-up-to-reach-the-damn-destination cocoon.

On approaching some corner, the driver pulls out a fifty-shillings note and folds it so perfectly. He pushes it underneath the doors knob, as the fat-police officer with a stern demeanor flags our car to stop. Did Michuki say we should be fined Ksh. 500 for not putting on our seat belts? Sorry for him, fifty shillings will do for all of us, all 20 of us.

The old engine slows down as we approach the King’ng’o police stop. The driver and the police officer greet each other so formally, as the officer grabs his catch from the door knob pretentiously. Does he notice that I am just about to suffocate? He tells the driver to keep building the nation, before he signals him off to proceed.

We are riding down the steep slope past some P.C.E.A church when it starts drizzling. The driver grabs the window pane and pulls the pane upwards so the showers stop bustling in. I guess the knob for the window pane is broken too, just like nearly all parts of this mat.

On the windscreen are some stickers. ‘Jah the Mighty one’, ‘Rastafarians never dies’, ‘We kill dem wid the tunes, nd’ de tunes never hurts’. Some stickers have the hotline number just in case the driver goes past 80km/hr. But this car cannot accelerate past 50km/hr. One more sticker says, “Hakuna stage ya kumi, shuka utembee.”

Finally, a few minutes later we arrive at the round about across the campus gate. We slowly alight, as if we have travelled from British Columbia across the Atlantic ocean, through Congo forest, past Museveni’s herders and finally to Dedan Kimathi University.

Part of my nerves are numb; I feel like I am disabled and the world is forcing me to enable myself. I reach out to my pocket and pull out my one and only a thousand shillings note as the no-nonsense conductor stares at me. Have you ever watched how wild a donkey becomes when stung by a bee? I look at the note in my hands again, just to confirm its Kenyan currency.

The conductor stares at me, with clear intentions that he is not going to take such ‘big’ money from me. Well, logic states that as a customer, it is the conductor’s responsibility to give me balance to whatever amount of money I pay his service with. Before I am done imagining how I will have a delicious lunch and a steam hot sugary porridge in a restaurant at the expense of this fortune, he grabs me by the collars and pushes me inside saying, “Mbona hukusema tukiwa town? Tunarudi tao kutafuta change! Ata sikuwa nimeona ukona gas.”

And off we are again. We are headed back to town. We have gone to find lose money for Ksh.1000 note so the conductor can get his Ksh30. Or should I mpesa him? He will demand that I send the withdrawal charges as well. And Safaricom will never spare you the transaction cost even if you are at your death point. Am afraid the conductor will charge me the fare back to town, back to school and the empty gas cylinder too. That will be like, 2kg of maize lost. 2 kgs can take me for, 4 days at max. So, I deduct 4 days of my life.

That is how I know that the devil is real. 

ShadowrineAllan.

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