Keeping quiet is a powerful exercise to the mind. But the girls sitting next to me don’t know anything about this. Over the last hour they’ve howled, cried, shrieked, mooed and I don’t know what else is in store for the remaining distance. I’m traumatised already. Next time I’ll think hard before accepting to sit in a bus next to girls with small painted lips. Instead of planning how to take progress to the village, I’ve been reduced to a man in need of a psychiatrist’s number.
But why are some people so inconsiderate?
“You did?” the one next to me asks.
They are going to shop for her birthday party tonight and her friend is telling her how she dumped a poor boyfriend who forgot her birthday date.
“You did?” she repeats.
“To his face. Just like kabooom! And…”
“Wait, where did he buy the apology cake?”
She goes ahead to mention a spot in Westlands.
I know the place. It is where expats take the loot they collect from the UN after sending abroad photos of poor Africans. It is not the place for ordinary thieves in the civil service. She says how she blackmailed this particular ‘him’ with abc and xyz until he fell into shape. Poor man out there. Someone threatens you with abc and xyz, probably in your own house, and then goes to boast about it at the wrong place and you still sit and count yourself a lucky man because she has painted a rainbow on her lips and because you have money! That is not good. What if you were a broke youth struggling with books?
When we were in college we were not just broke; we panelled our lives to conform with the extent to which we could scratch ourselves. In the corridors of thought we discovered the truth about rites of passage; and singled out birthdays as the most reckless experience a man should spend his age on. No man worth his beard should walk fifty metres into a birthday. The beard tells you that life is to be celebrated every passing day and any year deducted from one’s age must be regretted. But now listening to the girls I realise how the world can suddenly evolve to a scene of first-rate betrayal. It suddenly feels like the idiot in their story is one of those with whom we serviced tough labour at that remote university. For this I open the window and spit out.
“Someone tried it on me and he got what he wanted. Remember Mike?”
“The broke guy?”
“No. The one with a head.”
“The one who… ”
“Took us to Mombasa.”
“Aaah, I get him. Was a great guy except the head. By the way where is he these days?”
“How could I know? You forget my birthday, I forget your arse completely.”
“Be kind Ste eish! Be kind hahaha.”
Haha. The two things don’t realise an entire bus has gone quiet just to listen to their gossip.
I’m made of resolve. When we reach the next stage I’ll ask them if they don’t mind keeping quiet. The day is still young. They can mute now and use the remaining hours to scream at each other. Nobody will care. If they do so on the streets it shall be dismissed as noise from mad women. If at home, the landlord deserves it as a reminder that he houses terrorists in his house.
We are now at Mathare Valley. Brown roofs join hands in the valley to our right in a quiet gesture of their charity to the poor and forgotten of the city. On the left is the Airbase gate around whose gate stand uniformed soldiers on guard. As the bus pulls into the stage, only one person alights. Three more hop in and stand at the aisle gripping the rail. We continue rattling our smoky thing towards town as the two girls grease their tongues.
At St Teresa the bus almost knocks down a street boy crossing to Eastleigh. He darts to First Avenue and continues to walk like nothing just happened. On his back is a sack blackened by serial layers of life and death. His hustle. If Freud wasn’t a fraud then there is a story of a woman to that sack. In his near miss of death, the woman dominates the equation. Did his mother also celebrate when he came to the world? Did she hold him like a gel and show off to family?
His fate and that of a rat is one. They both leave in the morning to look for the world, certain that their death lurks out there. But they still leave anyway. If they come back, well. If they don’t, well. It is always well with them who know the danger of living another day.
A scream from the girls returns me to the present. Everyone in the bus must be looking at them. It is surprising that just two small people should wreak havoc and pretend to not notice the frowns around them.
I want to tell them they are annoying. That the bus is tired. They should change the topic. But again these don’t look like that clique of girls. They look like they can face a big muscle and smoke him out of the bus themselves. In the village, they are what we call women who went to Beijing and came back. History will be glad to record that the biggest mistake our grandfathers did was to send girls to school. Now look.
We can still beat them up and shut their mouths for them. By the time feminists move in with their gender-based violence song, the world will already be a disciplined thing and humans will be humans. They will find us waiting.
At Kariakor the girl next offers me a biscuit. I can’t decide whether to be shocked or turn it down. Ordinarily I don’t eat biscuits. Never since they broke my tooth. But with these girls things have just changed. It’s like when you are broke to the spine and while walking home you meet Satan who offers to give you some coins and a ride home with no strings attached. That is how I feel. Should they invite me for the bash, I’m now sure where I’ll like to cast my dice.
“Men are so beastly. How do you forget my birthday and want me convinced of the crap?” the other one says, oblivious that they have just fed a beast on biscuits.
“You should have called me you!” cries the friend.
“But men just don’t know what a birthday is to us,” this one here says.
We know, I think. It is a celebration of death with the wrong attitude.
Why are girls so crazy with birthdays?
To all birthday queens, drama queens, slay queens, queen cakes – Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday Ninzili.