“Kisumu?” a man asked me as soon as the matatu I was on came to its final stop and I alighted.
I ignored him and continued walking.
“Unaenda Kisumu?” he asked me once again.
I pretended I hadn’t heard him and was oblivious of his presence. I continued walking faster.
His prediction was correct. I was going to Kisumu but his help was unsolicited. I didn’t need assistance getting around. Plus some of these guys act like they genuinely want to help you but they are masquerading as pickpockets. I speak from experience. Kikulacho ki nguoni mfukoni mwako. Moving on…
These guys are common to almost all bus stages in every major town in Kenya. I’ll never fathom their role. I mean you know where you’re going to board the vehicle to your destination yet they insist on getting you there. I find them annoying, don’t you? You’ve got to admire their tenacity though.
On second thought, maybe we need these guys. To someone unfamiliar with the Eldoret stage it can be like a labyrinth. Navigation could prove challenging. I’m not one of those guys though.
I may have been familiar with the stage but getting past the human traffic wasn’t easy. The bus stage was a beehive of activity. Travellers scrambling to board vehicles, people assisting travellers to load their goods, hawkers persuading potential buyers to buy their wares and pickpockets trying to make a quick buck; the bus station was bustling with life. Travelling over Easter may have been a bad idea.
“Size!” a man pulling a cart with bananas shouted impeding my movement.
Funny how these guys with carts expect to have the right of way, right? Anyway, after jostling, bumping into and shoving a couple of people out of the way, I finally got to the place I was to board my vehicle. Destination: Kisumu City.
You know you are in for a long journey when the vehicle’s registration reads KAG xxxx and anything below. Come on, when is the last time you saw a vehicle with that registration or lower? Also, you know you are in for a long journey if you get the last seat in the vehicle. Travelling over Easter had gone from being a bad to worse idea.
After parting with a whopping 750 shillings I got into the matatu and took the remaining back seat. Isn’t it unfair how the matatu industry exploits hapless commuters during the festive season? Fares skyrocket! But as Kenyans we don’t obey the law of demand over festive seasons, do we?
To add to my misery, I was sandwiched between two fat guys. I felt trapped. I thought I was going to suffocate. Really, they were massive! Obesity is risky. It’s risky because it is unhealthy. Obesity often leads to a myriad of other complications like diabetes and hypertension. For your own good if you are obese exercise, will you?
The hawkers circled around the bus stage like vultures looking for their next meal. In an attempt to ward them off, the man seated on my left tried to close his window but it didn’t budge. He pulled harder but it defied his strength. Defeated, he decided to give up. Then the unavoidable and inevitable happened.
“Maji baridi, soda, biscuit?” a hawker asked him giving him an imploring look.
“Asante niko sawa,” the man politely declined.
Shortly after, the man purchased a newspaper from a newspaper vendor. The hawker who had tried to sell his wares to him was still nearby and he looked at him with a sneer. Like why would he buy a newspaper instead of something edible? Information is a worthless commodity. Besides, newspapers are only good for wrapping meat and groundnuts, aren’t they?
More hawkers came and went. Some were successful but most were unsuccessful. Their wares included: Dawa ya mende, primary school books and past papers, clothing, jewellery among many other things. I badly needed airtime but none of them was selling it. These guys really need to sell fast moving goods. I regretted that thought later…
Ten minutes elapsed and we hadn’t left yet. Where was the driver, I wondered. I was losing patience. To pass time, I read the stickers pasted in the matatu. Hilarious stuff! Here are a couple of the ones I remember:
- Kama unachelewa si ungesafiri jana (I should have instead of on Good Friday).
- Kama una haraka shuka ukimbie (Running from Eldoret to Kisumu wasn’t an option).
- Kupanda ni popote kushuka ni stage.
- Hakuna stage inaitwa hapo dere (This one is so true).
- If you miss the driver, kiss the conductor.
I wasn’t about to kiss the conductor, where was the damn driver?! After waiting an additional five minutes, he finally arrived. He revved up the engine but it refused to budge. He attempted again and it made a choking and wheezing sound. It’s like it had asthma and terribly needed its inhaler. Several attempts later, the engine finally came to life and the exhaust pipe left a large cloud of black smoke in the air. Phew! I could finally breathe easy knowing at least I was going home.
No sooner had the journey began, than the man seated on my left began to sleep. It’s like the beginning of the journey was his cue. Or maybe the sound of the moving vehicle lulled him to sleep. It couldn’t possibly have been the latter though. The engine made an irritating and noisy whirring sound. How he slept was incomprehensible.
As the journey progressed, his head swayed from left to right several times hitting my shoulder.
“Sorry, sorry,” he apologized numerous times for being a disturbance and tried to stay awake.
However, he failed miserably and he was soon fast asleep again and the cycle of his head thumping against my shoulder and apologizing after doing so continued.
I continued to tolerate him but I was getting agitated. He became intolerable when his head came to rest on my shoulder. I was now like a firecracker that was about to explode. He finally lit the match to the cracker’s wick when he began to drool on my shoulder. Yuck!
That was the last straw! Alikuwa ameleta kichwa sana na alikuwa kichwa ngumu. Literally!
“Tafadhali wacha kunilalia!” I told him in the harshest tone I could muster.
“Sorry, sorry,” he apologized once more but this time he looked shaken. My words were a wakeup call to him. I could see his heavy eyelids but he managed to stay awake for the rest of the journey.
Later an awful hunger pang struck me and we were barely halfway. How I wished I had taken breakfast before I set out. To add injury to my already insulted stomach, the mouthwatering aroma of what smelt like chips and chicken then filled the matatu. One of the passengers had decided to start digging in insensitive to the plight of other hungry passengers. Okay insensitive towards me. Why did the hawkers hawk fast food?! When would the agony end I wondered.
The journey continued without a hitch albeit at a sluggish pace. The driver must have been doing a constant 40 km/hr. My stomach refused to comprehend the situation and it began to rumble. It didn’t care. It demanded food. Unfortunately for it, I couldn’t meet its demands just yet. “Kama una haraka shuka ukimbie.” The matatu sticker’s words echoed in my head. Alighting and running was beginning to look like a plan.
One particular section of the road was particularly bad. It had potholes the size of craters! The driver skillfully evaded most of them but he was unable to manoeuvre past some. Worse still, the matatu didn’t have shock absorbers. Passenger’s heads hit the roof of the matatu numerous times. People probably got home with severe migraine.
“Ouch!” one lady cried out when the vehicle hit a pothole. It was a massive one.
Suddenly, the matatu began to jerk until it came to a halt. Worst case scenario had happened. The vehicle had got a puncture. Like the wheel, I was deflated. I rued why I had decided to travel on a holiday.
The driver and conductor disembarked from the vehicle and went to probe what the problem could be. I was certain it was a puncture.
“Si puncture,” the conductor came back to address us so as to alleviate our worries and concerns.
“Basi ni nini kama si puncture?” one of the fourteen passengers demanded to know the reason for our sudden halt.
“Eeeeee shida ni nini?” another lady chipped in.
“Ummmm….mafuta…eeee…mafuta imeisha,” the conductor fumbled.
He should have kept his mouth shut. We were in the middle of nowhere. There was probably no petrol station for miles. The passengers were furious. The conductor was met with a barrage of insults which he took without putting up any defence. The mood was so tense you could cut it with a knife. For a moment I thought the passengers would lynch the conductor. Luckily for him, he was spared. Maybe his ego wasn’t but sticks and stones, huh?
Where was his partner in crime anyway I wondered. Perhaps he had taken off. The thought was inconceivable.
“Dere ameenda wapi?” I asked the conductor genuinely concerned and considered hitchhiking. He remained mum.
“Dere ameenda wapi?!” one man repeated my question in a gruff voice. He still remained mute.
Was he rude or was he buying time as he pondered an answer to my question, I wondered. About 20 minutes later my question was answered when the driver arrived on a motorbike carrying a jerry can. He could have at least had the courtesy of telling us he had gone in search of petrol. I thought of immolating him using the petrol he had brought but at least my thought of hitchhiking dissipated.
The journey commenced again. It continued smoothly with no interruptions until the unexpected happened.
“Luanda mwisho!” the conductor said after the vehicle had come to a stop signalling to the passengers to alight.
“Sishuki gari!” one lady shouted in defiance to the conductor’s directive.
“Sawa madam lakini stage ya Luanda ndio mwisho,” the conductor coolly replied.
I was in utter disbelief. The conductor and driver were sellouts. After another 15 minute delay, the conductor negotiated with another conductor and sold us. We were then transferred to another vehicle headed for our final destination.
Travelling over Easter, Good Friday to be precise was the worst idea ever! Do yourself a favour and avoid travelling over the festive season. As for me, I’m ditching public transportation. I’m buying a car. If you see me cruising in my car stop me, will you? I’d be happy to give you a lift.