It’s 9.17pm. I’m sitting in a home-bound matatu, waiting for it to fill up. I’m at the window seat behind the driver. I prefer it because I get to watch people outside and makeup stories about their lives. A slim, tired looking man gets in and takes the seat opposite mine. He’s wearing shiny shoes and a shabbily tucked in chequered shirt. The hem is sticking out of the waist line of his faded grey khakis. He has an old leather folder in his hand. Must be a land broker from Banana. Probably goes by the name Kimani wa Migunda.
My mind quickly shifts to my growling stomach. I haven’t had a chance to eat all day, and I’m looking forward to getting to my small house to eat my indomie and ngumus as I binge watch Friends for the umpteenth time. I slightly worry about Kimani. He looks hungry too, poor soul. Today must have been a hard day for him. That thought quickly vanishes as it’s replaced by a picture of his wife, Njeri, angrily pointing at me with a mwiko, telling me that her husband’s hunger is none of my business. She picks up a jug filled with what I assume is hot water and hurls it at me. I shudder and run.
Let me deal with my own problems. I will not die for Kimani.
My mind goes back to the bus. Now I’m bored. Sleepy even. Luckily, the matatu is quiet. After the long day I’ve had, I’m grateful that I’ll have a peaceful ride. Good thing I’ll be alone on that seat because Covid protocols dictate that seats should not be shared in a matatu. No more getting stuck next to sweaty men chewing muguka or talking loudly on the phone. I take a deep breath and secretly thank the crazy person who ate that covid-ridden bat. (Well, just for the extra space in the matatu, every other thing is a shit show)
Time passes and as I’m calculating, the bus is full. This guy carrying an army green sling bag pops in and doesn’t know where to sit. The bus seems full.
“Kaa hapa brathe” The tout says pointing to the seat next to me.
Darn! What happened to respecting the law? I hope this one is not sweaty. I don’t look at him and just stare out the window.
The tout goes back to the door and continues shouting “Mmoja wa mwisho…“
The journey starts and I take my phone out of my bag, to try and find something to keep me busy. I can’t focus on Kimani wa Migunda anymore because my view has been blocked by this guy sitting next to me. I try looking again. Wait. Maybe I can focus on this one. He looks better. He is not sweaty. Probably doesn’t have a scary wife called Njeri. Hmm, let’s see. I put my phone back in my bag because it’s at 3% again. I really need to start charging my phone before leaving the office. Anyway, back to man. He is wearing a faded denim shirt and navy-blue jeans. His army green sling bag rests on his lap and he takes out his phone to do whatever men who don’t have scary wives do on their phones in matatus.
He looks like a Steve, or Chris, or maybe Brian. I hope he’s not a Kevo. The tout taps on my shoulder, interrupting my thought process. He asks for my fare and I’m tempted to ask him whether I can pay half, because Steve, or Chris or Brian is sharing my seat. I dismiss that thought because I don’t want to him to give me a witty makanga-wa-Nairobi answer. I give him 100 shillings and he gives me back my change. Guy-who-I-hope-is-not-a-Kevo pulls out a 200 shilling note and the tout goes to the back without giving him back his change.
The journey goes on. Maybe it’s the boredom but I feel like I should vibe him. Maybe not. No, this daughter of the soil is social but also shy.
I decide to wait until we get to the highway, I will tell him, “Waaah, anakimbiaa“…that might get him talking. We’ll see.
My stomach growls again. Crap! Not now, you idiot. I lean back on my seat and my mind shifts to food and the unwashed dishes in my house. My subconscious sees Kimani’s wife giving me a judgmental sneer. I can’t even take care of myself.
We’re on the highway now but the gods of courage fail me. I can’t get myself to chat him up, so I let it go and decide to close my eyes and continue thinking about food. The way he’s engrossed in his phone, he’s probably trying to distract himself from thinking about the 120 shillings that the tout hasn’t given back to him yet. Times are tough.
I give up on Steve or Chris or Brian. I’m not very good at these things. I’m about three bus stops away from my stop, and I decide to take out my phone and check the time.
He sees me fidgeting with my bag and asks, ” Unashuka?” …My heart stops.
Ladies and gentlemen, HE TALKS!
My subconscious winks at me and I pull myself together. I answer softly “Apana“
He goes back to his phone, then remembers that the tout still has his change and turns to call him. He still doesn’t give it to him.
The bus trudges on slowly amidst slight traffic, and a few minutes later, he leans back on the seat, turns to me and asks, “How was your day?”
(HALLELUJAH!) My subconscious breaks into a dance.
“Long, how was yours?” I reply..
“Well, mine too. So what do you do?”
Oh wait, we’re actually talking.
“I’m a designer…Branding. You?”
“I’m a designer too”
Huh, what are the odds?
We exchange a little more banter and as it turns out, we have so much in common, it’s almost unreal.
We’re nearing my bus stop now and I’m a little bummed that I have to alight and leave Steve or Chris or Brian. I still don’t know his name. The bus stops and as I’m gathering myself to get up, he tells me he’s alighting there as well. Whoa! Is this a sign or some form of good sorcery?
He gets out before me and asks the makanga for his change. Haha. He wasn’t going to forget it. 120 shillings is a whole kilo of sugar.
I step out and we walk away from the main road. We reach his drive and he tells me he’s arrived. I still have a few more steps to go.
He asks for my number. My subconscious spins around in her red dress. I give it to him and he rings my phone, so I can save his.
“I’m Jabathi…It was nice meeting you.”
“Well, hello Jabathi, I’m Suthan“
“Have a lovely night”
We both turn and walk away. I’m smiling. Interesting name though. Jabathi, really?
Let the journey begin….