Only two types of people you’ll meet in matatus:
- The ones whose chilly auras blare a simple message: Sit down, shut up, and leave me the fuck alone!
- The ones you see and every cell in your body screams: Sit down, shut up, and leave me the fuck alone!
Bottom line; if you’re in a matatu, just keep your creepy thoughts to yourself. That goes for your limbs too. Don’t be putting your arms on my headrest. What is this? Your living room? Why must your thigh lean so comfortably against mine? It’s a twenty-minute ride, not a walk down the aisle. And no, I’m not looking to buy roach kill. See all those hawkers out there? They have tonnes of roach kill. If I wanted to buy any, who do you think I’d pick: The chap who displays his wares in the open-air market, or you – the guy who corners me in the back seat of a 28-seater matatu and shoves sachets under my nose?
Really, I don’t ask for much, just sit down, shut up and leave me the fuck alone!
That’s what I do, and it works just fine. Most of the time anyway. And when it doesn’t, it’s hardly ever my fault. I have good eyesight, and some people just beg to be noticed. Like this chap who took the seat in front of me last Saturday.
The first thing I noticed was his phone. It wasn’t a cool phone or anything. But it begged to be noticed. I’ll explain in a minute or two. But first, a disclaimer – I’m not a phone starer. The only phone I stare at is mine. Trust me, there’s plenty in there to keep my eyes glued. It wasn’t even about his phone. It was about the way he ate roasted peanuts – straight out of the sachet. He’d look up and hold the sachet over his mouth, and then the peanuts would flow – like water. He was drinking peanuts. It was quite the sight. It held my attention for all of two seconds before I noticed his mustache. Now that, was a spectacle! It was longer at the edges. Well, the one edge I could see towered like a little shrub in a grassy plain. And it kept rhythm with his peanut crushing mandibles. Two more seconds gone.
That’s all I wanted to give him. But then he held up his phone and a beautiful girl smiled at him. He smiled back. Then he did it again:
- He drank the peanuts.
- The little shrub at the edge of his mustache moved.
- He held up the phone and smiled at the beautiful girl.
I was mesmerized. Not by the peanut drinking or the shrub dancing. I was mesmerized by the way her picture instantly made him smile. Aww, he’s in love! I thought to myself.
Then he dropped the sachet unceremoniously on the floor – empty. The sequence was dead.
With the peanuts gone, I suppose he had no choice but to turn his attention to the girl on his left. He dragged his eyes from her bare legs to her shaggy afro. Like real slow.
- Smile at the girl in the phone.
- Drag his eyes real slow, from the bare legs to the shaggy afro of the girl in the next seat.
Did I mention it was raining on Saturday? Traffic was building, windows remained firmly closed and I was starting to panic because confined spaces frighten me.
I looked around anxiously, my window was the only open one. I’m serious. 14 people in that matatu, all getting oxygen from the tiny crack in my window. The closed windows were getting misty, what with everyone recycling everyone’s air! So the driver called the conductor to go to the front and wipe the windscreen.
Deep breaths Martha, deep breaths!
Of course, the only way I could actually take deep breaths was by leaning my face towards the window. I knew my jeans would get wet from the water coming in. I didn’t care. I had to have air.
In short, I had my own little sequence:
- Turn my neck at a really sharp angle.
- Deep breaths.
- Assess the damage to my jeans.
- Deep breaths.
- Steal a glance at the guy stealing really slow glances.
This is probably how I missed the part where the girl with the bare legs moved seats. I was just leaning in for a particularly deep breath when I heard a voice raised in anger. I turned, and voila! The girl was in a new seat, and the guy was yelling at her.
He’s mad because he can only see the top of her shaggy afro now! I thought.
“Ukiangusha hiyo kitu, tutakosana!” He threatened. Loose translation – If you drop that thing, we’ll have a problem.
So you can undress her with your eyes but she can’t drop your shit? That hardly seems fair! I scoffed silently.
She didn’t respond.
He had a new sequence.
- Smile at the girl in the phone.
- Raise head to look at the ‘thing’ (which I imagine must have been leaning precariously against the door.
- Threaten the girl he was previously devouring with his eyes.
Then she turned and told him she wasn’t the keeper of his shit. He repeated the threat. She dared him to touch her. He wagged his finger and went back for a breath of fresh air aka a smile at the girl in the phone.
All this time, I was just gulping air in the back, yearning and dreading the end of this.
I wanted out of the matatu.
But I was afraid that the door would open and the ‘thing’ would fall and then the girl and the girl-starer would kosana.
I must confess though that part of me was itching to pull the shrubs at the edge of his mustache if he tried anything.
That could have been a whole new sequence:
- A few of those window-closing-air-recyclers hold him down.
- Girl with the bare legs stares icily at him.
- I pluck a few roots from his shrubs.
- He yelps in pain.
- He stares at the girl in the phone and smiles.
Gone to his happy place… until something pulls him back…
The matatu stops.
The door opens.
Nothing falls off.
The girl steps off.
I get up to leave. I’m curious to see what all the drama was about.
He is just ahead of me.
I get to the door, and he’s holding the precious cargo.
A metallic birdhouse.
He steps to the side and glances one last time at the girl in the phone. He smiles and walks away.
I wonder if that’s a gift he’ll one day use to clobber her.