It is 8:30pm Kakamega time when the bus finally arrives. A whole hour late. And no single apology. Do these bus people know what a full hour is? An hour is an era these days of the month. Doctors can rescue you in an hour. Your house can be demolished in an hour. A woman can get twins in an hour. Government money is stolen in an hour. Tell me what you can’t do in a whole hour.
And the driver doesn’t bother to apologise, that’s what’s eating me. Some people were created with hearts in their chests. Others have porcelain cups and this man has a tumbler.
I walk between the rows and finally find a seat near the back. There is already a girl in the seat next to the aisle while the seat next to the window is empty. The girl is of legal age and style. The kind of girl you have to wash your hands before you greet. Short locks find a way through the cap she has on. She smiles at me and I smile at her and start imagining what burnt offering I made to God to deserve this. But you don’t question God, do you? He loves us all and wants us to love so let’s love and be loved.
To show I am a person of values, I wait for the bus to start moving and when I’m sure of her attention, I start (or rather pretend to be) looking for the safety belt. Then I buckle so loudly the underworld can hear. The girl should start clapping.
Nobody claps. I begin to sulk. But somewhere near Makunga she also starts looking for something in her seat and I beam when from the corner of my eyes I see her trying to fit the buckle. She fails miserably. Then she turns to me and asks that I help her press the lock, please. Who said this is a tough month? And the buckle is on the other side of her.
God has either mistaken someone’s libation for mine, or he didn’t record the sins I committed last month. Even prophets didn’t live like this. Did a woman ever smile at Musa, no. At Daudi, no. At Nuhu, no. Then why aren’t we agreeing that I have been anointed here? Anointed with oil from freshly pressed palm fronds and water from the Jordan.
We reach Kakamega town in some thirty minutes of love hunting. When critics talk, they should be listened to. Yet this town has grown swiftly since the time I was here last. You don’t eat streetlights and pedestrian pavements but it is great to see your hometown neat and clean even in the stare of the night. We make a right turn at Oilibya near Superloaf and then turn left up past Western Star Hotel. God, even the Indian temple shines this night. When I grow up I want to be an Indian temple in Kakamega.
We ascend further and finally stop at the Western Express office.
Only one guy boards at the Kakamega office. The man is thin with a thinner goatee. Maybe never eats. Or they rear an ogre for a pet. But looks decent with a tie and a high-waist over a calico shirt. One of those from THOSE families, by village standards. He has a big bag on his back. He has a bigger one in the left hand and carries a perforated carton box with a noisy chicken in the other. Some chicken are so unlucky they are transported through hundreds of miles to be eaten by thin people.
Now he walks from the first row back. I think he is looking for his seat. Not to lose touch with my girl I’ve reached that place where I’m asking her what she does in Nairobi. Tells me she is a fresher at the University of Nairobi. Fresher, fresher? Fresher is good. I lie to her that I came back to the village because our doctor leaders are still fighting for our salaries. I hope I sound poor handwriting and chlorine, not the grease and rust at the Indian’s. She complains slightly about us doctors but I get she is happy.
The man who entered gets to the back and then to the driver’s cockpit again. Then he starts moving to the back a second time. All this time the bags make it a big deal moving in the aisle and he was to stretch a leg ahead before he comes back to collect his little body weight and a world of luggage and an unlucky chicken. He might as well be carrying a whole generation in there, who knows. If I were to judge, here stands a man who qualifies for every bit of sympathy.
But talk of the hunter becoming the hunted, because I’m the one in trouble. He stops next to the girl and checks something at the back of her seat. He then reads his ticket and checks again. Then he says:
“Es-choose me mkhana, this is my seat.”
The girl says no. They argue a bit and I almost poke in to tell him to go to hell. Then she sees the mistake. She is of seat number 9, not 19. I feel so bad as she stands up to leave and there is nothing I can do.
“I am very tired,” he says as he drops his bones into the seat. I struggle to hide the fact that I don’t like him. In a few minutes he has told me how the drought has affected crops in the village and how something needs to be done quickly lest we famish to death.
Before the bus leaves he has located a maize vendor outside and bought six cobs of maize. I know it is six because I hear them calculate and bargain. Two are roast while the rest are boiled. Eventually the young man sells him five and adds the last as overtime. That’s how they call it.
Everybody should expect he is buying maize and overtime for the whole bus. I’m not a fan of maize though I find myself beginning to prepare for a feast just after he thwarted (thwarted) my plans with the girl. Where I come from, it is very wrong to reject a meal invite from a kinsman even if he be your enemy. You’d rather sleep with your uncle’s wife or gossip the chief but ensure the food finds justice. For nothing travels to the grandfathers faster than the curse and cries of rejected food.
So I get really disappointed when the bus finally sets off and my brother from another grandfather stuffs all the feast into his bag. I don’t know how fast this reports itself to the ancestors. All I know is that it is also very bad not to invite a grandbrother for a meal.
At around Mukumu the bus stops. Two women get in. The first looks oldish like sixty and I lose touch immediately. The second one is somewhere in her thirties and something interesting about her is that every time she moves, the big live hen in her hands squeaks. She should come take the carton from my friend. Let chicken travel with chicken.
My neighbour is restless though. He keeps looking outside and once plants his forehead into my jawbone when my reflexes work slowly. And when he spots a woman with a tray on her head, he pokes my ribs hard and points. I push the window glass and whistle to her. My friend first confirms the eggs are not expired. He munches loudly. Then he extracts a note from his wallet and hands the lady. He picks more eggs and a sachet of groundnuts then drops them in his bag which he has placed between his legs and covered with the carton. By now I’m convinced he either runs a food kiosk or is expecting guests where he is going.
At Mudete he asks me to hold his carton. He then digs his hand into the bag in his legs and rummages for sometime. When the hand comes up, it is carrying a collage of food. That’s when my real troubles begin. What will you understand when I say he begins to eat furiously? He begins to eat furiously.
Every moment I hate him. I don’t know where my university girl is.
When I wake up we are past Lessos. At first I think a sewer pipe has burst somewhere. I look outside at the naked Kalenjin night. Somewhere someone has drunk mursik. Somewhere someone is making love. It cannot be a sewer pipe. Kalenjins don’t even shit strong shit like that. It is something from real stuff. Real food assembled in a real rectum.
Then as the smell begins to die, another gust of it takes over and things get clear. My brother is farting.
It’s 1:30 ei-farting-em. I wonder what a sane person does at 1:30. Class, what do you do in the heart of the night when you find yourself travelling next to a farting African from Kakamega? Don’t tell me suicide because I am religious. Say something quite good like texting your girlfriend to leave her a will just in case you die before you reach home.
Or an ambulance.
I actually contemplate calling the police, only that the bribe I have is not very enough. So I decide to sit and wait. God dwells with those who wait.
The bus stops at Nakuru.
People alight to go get light services of nature. I think my friend really needs those. I am trailing him when he disembarks. But instead of going to the gents, he takes the route left. Despite the hate, I rush to him and say, it is this way, Kuka.
He looks back and says, what.
The gents, I reply, feeling he needs every single second of this time he wastes.
He laughs. Not the light laughter. He laughs hard like I said something funny. Then he tells me to watch the window while he is away. Says someone might steal his bag. Then he disappears behind the wall to the main street.
He reappears almost immediately. He is with a young man of around 18, if 18-year-olds of this place are also defined by funny hairstyles and sleeveless shirts.
They stop next to the bus and my kinsman starts selecting from the merchandise. He picks biscuits, three bananas and locally made orange juice. I look at them and sympathise first with his small body, and then my nose system. He adds boiled groundnuts. At this rate I start fearing he might buy rat poison. You know people of Nakuru can sell you anything provided change comes home. So when I see him pick some sachets, I lean ahead to make sure no corruption happens in my midst.
The girl. Where is the girl?
In the middle of darkness and ammonia, the bus is caught in a hoarse shout. Someone is asking the driver to stop. My person wants to go out to the bush. When the bus stops at a bend, he rushes out and I see him disappear behind some leaves. He takes his time and when he returns, he is laughing.
I think he is what they had in mind when they were inventing the horror movie.
He will later repeat the call on two more occasions, and each time the driver will have to stop at a less threatening thicket since we are miles away from civilisation.
When we reach Nairobi it is 6 in the morning. I tap at his shoulder to wake him. Sleepily he asks where we are. I say Nairobi. He asks Nairobi where. I tell him Nairobi Kenya. He clicks, and starts laughing.
He collects his luggage slowly. I am impatient but there is nothing I can do. I scan the bus for the girl. I think she is asleep. Seat 9. I will find her and take her contacts. At least I don’t buckle safety belts for free. Not as long as I belong to the ancestors.
I touch down and wait in front of the bus. I come just in time to catch the girl descend the stair. Another young man is ahead carrying her handbag. He helps her get down, and they take the route down River Road without looking my way.
“Poss,” he calls as I get the last glimpse of the girl. He has his two bags and carton with chicken. The goatee plays when he talks. “Poss, do you have 20 bob? I’m going to Kawangware but I’m 20 bob down.”