There’s always reason to yearn for the end of a matatu ride. If it isn’t squeaky windows that won’t open, it’s paranoid passengers that almost want to nail them shut. Like seriously, let’s all recycle each other’s air until someone passes out or catches Tuberculosis!
You can plead all you want, but those windows are staying shut. Believe me, I’ve tried it. And it’s no better when you keep your window open – the persistent taps on your shoulder will wear you out “Funga dirisha.” It’s only a little wind, for Heaven’s sake!
One wonders why we can’t channel some of that window closing resolution towards the conductors. I have seen people fold to their will like pieces of paper. “Fare ni 40!” We just pay up. Never mind the fact that before we boarded, fare was 20!
And why ‘sit’ in those invisible aisle seats? Your butt will be suspended in thin air, and your legs will cramp before the ignition even starts! There will be lots of traffic to make the journey even longer and the driver will weave in and out of lanes like a bee through the flowers. Your eyes well up from the sheer effort of holding on. And just when you’ve gotten the hang of that half squat, half bend position, you come face to face with the conductor’s open palm.
You make eye contact, and hope he empathizes with the impossibility of your position. But nay! The palm remains open. So you pry one of your hands from the metal you’ve been clinging to for dear life. For your sake, I pray the money is in your front pocket. Because the torture of retrieving your wallet from your back pocket or your purse – oh my goodness! You make painful movements, until you find the money. Then you pay the fare in full! And then he asks you, no, orders you to pass him the money from the unfortunate fellow squatting behind you. And you oblige, meekly. What magic this lot of people must possess!
Woe unto you if you get the front row seat to the conductor’s armpit. Whatever your reason, you believe that you have no choice. So when this matatu stops and you notice that even the invisible seats are taken, you jump in and gratefully share his seat. You sit there like the brave Kenyan you are, and count the seconds till you get off. He raises his arms many many times, to give and receive money.You hold your breath many many times too. You could totally win a breath-holding tournament! And yes, you pay the fare in full!
Sometimes the conductor is in a foul mood. He spews unprintable insults, and yes, you sit there in silence because you are never going to win a foul mouthed match against any of those guys. Fine. Sometimes it’s just easier to ignore the garbage.
What I don’t get is the radio silence when our lives are at risk. Try to speak up because the vehicle is going too fast? My friend. Chances are, you will be on your own. The rest of us will stare meekly at our phones, pretending not to notice.
You’ll only know that they noticed when they give accounts of the accident to the reporters. “He was driving dangerously…I even told my neighbor, this vehicle will roll.” Not to make you feel bad because you’ve just been through a really bad experience, but why not speak up sooner?
I know. These guys have a way of putting you in your place. One dose of “Buy your own car.” Could very well bruise your hustling soul. But words never broke any bones.
When the matatu stops and the ground meets your feet, you will be relieved or furious or simply too hard pressed for time to dwell on the ride that was. But, there is something, I dare say, to be learned from the matatu experience.
Like the conductor, be bold and unapologetic – the universe has a way of caving in, even to the demands that seem totally ridiculous. Pick your fights – some insults are not worth anything; but some could make all the difference. Put your foot down – I never saw anyone get forced into those invisible seats. Squat if you must. But don’t let anyone keep you in that position. Squeeze through that restricted, in-existent space and emerge better on the other side.
In a word – Scooch!