When the Japanese automaker Toyota designed the PSV vans loosely referred to as ‘Nissan’ or matatu by many of us. You will agree with me that they did it suitably to accommodate a given number of passengers. A guarantee of comfort and satisfaction to those aboard.
However, Kenyans with the inappeasable appetite for money invented another means of ‘sitting’. This was in a bid to increase the number of passengers who could board the vehicles. Of course this is a two pronged fork. In equal parts a reward and a punishment. A greater catch to the conductor and discomfort to those aboard.
This saw the advent of ‘Airtime’. Which I think was in reference to the credit sold by Safaricom and maybe Airtel. No perhaps Zain. Airtel is a bit young. Or was it because it facilitated easier expulsion of flatus? Here you just sat on space. Yes space. Only a few inches on the lateral aspect of your buttocks had a chance to interact with the seat on either side. Airtime evolved into ‘Sambaza’. Again an airtime sharing service by Safaricom. I guess because you share a few inches of your seat with whoever chooses to sit on the Sambaza. Or, more accurately, perhaps because the ‘in between passenger ‘ hutumia mbao ingine hapo from which exudes a generous gesture by extending a few inches of the piece of timber to the adjacent customers on either side. In the long run all and sundry are in their stuffed up like cabbage. Owe unto you should you be travelling for a long distance. For the discomfort will be unbearable.
Today I was travelling somewhere in Nyanza. This route from Uyoma all the way to Kisian junction. A T-junction. From here you can either decide to proceed to Busia or Kisumu. Whatever your intentions. First I must appreciate the good state of this road. SBI did a laudable job. I did not say it’s the best. It’s good. It’s one of the few roads, apart from the Thika Superhighway where a speed lover can comfortably clock 140km/h. A pleasurable moment albeit short-lived. The road in front of you always tends to be clear. When you look ahead you see no vehicle . No vehicles. And you’re gas-happy. You gas pedal will never idle. But watch for some confused cows padding their hooves across the road. What if you hit one? You don’t want to lose your femur in the name of settling damages. Here even if you noticed some vehicle trailing you in a manner likely to suggest…… You can pull a 155km/h. But hey! Don’t do these things lest you find yourself giving God a high-five.
I stood by the road side and a matatu pulled up. The conductor unusually had a conspicuous supreme coat. You see these oversize coats that extend up to the mid-thigh. Yes those ones. Conspicuous because of the checkered fabric with screaming colours. Unusual because in the glaring hot sun. I expected to spot someone in a maroon uniform. After negotiating the fare he showed me in and there I was seated right next to the window. Here you don’t just get into a matatu and wait to be asked for the fare. They may ask you for double. Making your life miserable here on earth for no credible reason.
We drove for about a quarter an hour and all of sudden a good chunk of humanity alighted. Sasa ilibidi gari imenyonga papa hapa. Coincidentally, a certain school had held its annual general meeting. Lately I’ve learnt that these occasions have degenerated into money minting avenues. There is no way you will wake up to a text informing you of an AGM and that (1) You’re expected to attend without failure (2) Arm yourself with 6k. 6 not even 5. Contrary to which you will be ‘allowed’ to take your child forever. All in the name of motivation. No way. No. This is not only a sin against reason but also savagely cruel. Whoever drafted that message must have been fed on a thin educational diet. The birds of profound intellectual deprivation must have found a roosting place. Therefore, the parents and guardians had to be ferried back to their respective destinations. Business was booming here.
The vehicle made a U-turn. I dared not complain otherwise I be told how sana sana nyinyi wenye mnatoa pesa kidogo ndiyo mnajua kuongea. Anyway it was now a free ride. Who doesn’t want one? The vehicle stopped to pick the passengers. One by one they got in and took their seats until the matatu got full. Full by conventional standards. It was not leaving yet. The conductor said it was not full. There was still room for more people.
Then came a big woman. She went to the back seat to make the number four. The people there were squeezed.
Then another woman came.
She was bigger. Larger. Well endowed.
A short conversation ensued between her and the conductor.
(Standing at the door)
Conductor: Mama nafas nitiere. Donji donji…Kisumu (Mama there’s more sitting room. Get in. Get in… Kisumu bound)
Mama: An gi mia ariyo. To nafas miwacho no toere. (I’ve got Ksh. 200. And where is the space you’re talking of?)
Conductor: Donji kacha. Donji wadhii. (Get in there. Get in we go.)
(The conductor signals her the space in between my seat and the adjacent passenger on my right. He then hands her a certain piece of timber meant to serve as her seat. The woman then starts advancing into the vehicle….)
Kwiza mimi. Catastrophe. I knew I was finished. She was coming right next to me.
Even before she assumed her seat. I heard the passengers at the back say ‘Ero jodiere go ema koro oyude. Moloyo to jotung’ go’. (Ndiyo hiyo. Hawa wa katikati ndiyo sasa wameipata. Kwanza wale wamekaa pembeni). You know things are bad when people unknown to you start sympathizing with your plight.
I thought she could obviously acknowledge that she was too big to fit in comfortably and would rather wait for another vehicle.
She was the type Jackson Biko sensationally describes as having an imposing girth and an ample behind. Were I to be asked. What I saw was imposing yes. But it was more than ample. Ample drumsticks would suffice. I know someone is big when the conductor laments that they have paid a single person’s fare yet they have grabbed two seats. He didn’t say that here. We were dealing with an isolated case.
She had gracefully transformed from a nyako (girl) into a dhako (woman). You see in your salad days motherhood sets in. And your pelvic girdle is weighed down by various factors in addition to the effect of gravity. Many things, even humans want to pass through its windows. My people say ‘Ineno kaka tinde dende obiro’ (Watch how her body has blossomed). Thank God the compliance of her anatomy to those dictates and whims of nature was so elaborate.
Mama placed her mbao in its place. Then she started the process of sitting. When she reached at my shoulder things became tough. She couldn’t descend freely anymore.
That meant one thing. I had to clasp my hands together around my chest. With the meager legroom,raising my knees up. Something mirroring the fetal position. Then she forced herself down. I felt it. Life has never been difficult. Then she asked ‘Adiyii?'(Nakufinya?). Wearing a grin on my face I just looked away through my window which was equally pressing hard against my shoulder. At least to confine my attention to the ‘immersive’ scenery outside. I should not miss Kit – Mikayi( The stone of the first wife). At least I didn’t answer her. Those are questions you don’t answer. It’s like your employer sending you an email like… “Show cause and why you should be retained in this position”. I will not reply. It’s a criminal insanity to bang the keyboard to such.
To worsen the situation she decided to let her arm rest on my chest. I don’t know but things become heavy at rest. It felt like dead-weight. Meanwhile her hips down there were doing me a great disservice. Serving me a raw deal. She had filled up her space and mine. Rendering my discomfort unbearable. She squeezed me hard against the vehicles body. The vehicle being rickety and worn out had some metallic thing. Till now I haven’t clearly figured out whatever it was. But I know it rubbed incessantly against my left greater trochanter. Thanks to the centrifugal and centripetal forces that visited whenever we negotiated bends.
Things became more difficult when now she started making calls. She flexed her elbow joint much to my chagrin. I had to look away. Still through my window. Else if the vehicle hit a pot hole I would bite her elbow. She kept adjusting herself as if to sit comfortably. The more unsettling. Kindly if you’re big and you’ve chosen the sambaza be still. A little movement causes your adjacent passengers trouble. Use your sambaza modestly.
From the calls I learnt a few things. That she is called Min baby. That she sells maize. That she was making a broken journey to Muhoroni via Kisumu.
At Kisian, I had to alight for the love of my greater trochanter. I felt her ache a little bit and cursed that metallic thing. I comforted her hoping she would regain normalcy.
Min baby I hope you reached Muhoroni safely. May your maize business hit the skies. You squeezed me hard though. Do I really have juice anyway? I will remember you. But avoid sambaza at all costs. Not meant for you at all. And spread the gospel to your circles. And say hi to baby.