Journeyman is in Nairobi! No more luxury tube networks for this guy, no no. He’s making his way across the country just like every other hard-working individual of this town; the infamous Number 11, javing, kupanda ma3.
If you do or have ever used public transport in our fair city of lights then at one point or another you are sure to have been pick-pocketed or robbed. It’s unavoidable. It’s bound to happen. It’s like an unofficial tax from the public transport system.
After losing your valuables to the friendly individual that you were sitting next to, you start to get wise to the ways of the thieves. Certain situations start to look familiar and you know how to watch yourself. I didn’t like getting robbed and I’d never want to see it happen to someone else so I’m going to tell you about a ride in a matatu that Journeyman was recently on. Please bear in mind that I am telling you this at great risk to my own personal well-being so least come to pay your respects at my funeral after the conductors’ association sends in the Mungiki to hack my face off.
So, Journeyman was working his up the Karen stretch of Langata road when a green van with the yellow PSV stripe pulled up beside him and the conductor stepped out before the vehicle had even stopped.
“Karen C na mbao, Karen C na mbao” said the conductor.
There were no other commuters in the van and the conductor ushered Journeyman to sit on the front row of the main cabin, right behind the driver. He was forced to tuck his knees uncomfortably close to his chest as there here was very little leg space thanks to the dock that had been installed behind the front cabin to accommodate the extra speakers. Allowing himself to be ushered into this seat was a mistake.
Journeyman passed the conductor a heavy note which he took with a slight frown. The matatu then pulled back onto the road and bounced over speed bumps and swerved round potholes as it made its way west towards Crossroads. A typically uncomfortable ride with his head bouncing off the roof and the side of the van almost falling off the tarmac a couple of times. Some way before Kuwinda road, the conductor stuck his head of the window and yelled something out.
“Mbebea hapa!” said the conductor, perhaps a little too loudly.
English is a language where many words have multiple meanings. In fact, most people learning the language find it difficult to grasp because of the sheer volume of synonyms. And swahili is a language where one sentence can mean a whole host of things. It was the way the conductor said it… ‘mbebea hapa'” that made Journeyman feel comfortable, like there was an inside joke going on and everyone around him was in on it but him. But he put his reservations aside and when the matatu stopped, a non-descript character stepped into the vehicle and sat right behind him.
The matatu continued on his way, breaking right before each bump so that Journeyman was rocking back and forth like a baby in a cradle. It was at the top of one of these bumps that Journeyman felt the unwelcome presence of five fingers making their way into his right pocket. Never one to cause he a scene, he did the simple, responsible thing and gave the offending hand a quick slap on the wrist.
Slaps on the wrist aren’t supposed to hurt but they do send a clear message across: stop being naughty. Well, the message was received and the hand withdrew back in between the small space between the backrest and the side of the van with haste. Journeyman turned his head around over his shoulder, gave the non-descript character a cold stare dead in his eyes and shook his head three times. Slowly and firmly.
“Not today,” that look said.
Mr. Non-Descript looked back at him, raised his palms to shoulder level, produced his finest shit-eating grin and shrugged.
The would-be thief dealt with, Journeyman felt that maybe he could relax and enjoy the rest of the ride. He placed his hands on his lap and leaned back. As the car approached Karen Hospital, Journeyman’s wandering eye fell upon a pair of cuties as they crossed the road. He locked eyes with the dark-skinned girl on the left and she held his gaze, sending sparks across the air.
They rounded the matatu from the back and the dark-skinned lady reached her left hand forward to hold onto the side of the rail as she led her friend into the matatu. The back of the matatu was empty but they chose to take the front row anyway. The dark-skinned lady nuzzled up close to Journeyman with her soft hips pressed up against his left hand which was still protecting his pockets. Journeyman is weak for the ladies. We all have our kryptonite and this is his. Physical contact already made, she tucked her chin into her neck and turned her head ever so slightly to the right with her eyes open wide.
In his mind, Journeyman had already come up with names for these two ladies. He called them the Ultimate Distraction Number One and the Ultimate Distraction Number Two.
The matatu veered back onto the road and with each bump, UD#1 got closer and tighter to him. He could feel her body heat now and their breathing was in sync as they contracted and expanded into each other’s spaces. Journeyman relaxed, enjoyed her presence and turned his upper body slightly towards her. He started to daydream and think of ways to find out more about this woman when he felt that unwelcome presence of five fingers going where they are not supposed to be again.
He reached his right hand down to his side and grabbed the pinky finger of the hand that already had its thumb and forefinger inside of Journeyman’s pocket and on his phone. Journeyman twisted, hard, and the non-descript character behind him let out a surprised yelp then pulled his fingers back. Journeyman didn’t even bother looking back this time. The point was made.
For whatever reason, UD#1 to his left lost interest in him after that and started to pull away. Her loss.
The matatu started to approach its final stage in the busy economic hub of Karen and it slowed down as it entered the traffic at Karen Plains. The conductor stuck his head out of the window and then pulled it back in hurriedly. He glanced around the people in the matatu with a look of fear in his face.
“Kanjo,” he said. “Kanjo wako mbele. Ebu vaa seatbelt.”
An air of panic took the rest of the passengers in the matatu. Everyone, including UD#1 and UD#2 started to bustle around, looking for the seatbelts on their seats, digging into that space where backrest meets ass-rest, trying to get their hands on that leather strap and its accompanying buckle. In truth, those seatbelts were purely for show. People had learned long ago that being buckled up in a matatu was by no means a guarantee of safety. Most matatus are so rickety that in the case of an accident, the chair itself detaches from the car and you would find yourself bouncing around the inside of a metal death trap with your seatbelt secured and the seat itself anything but. The Ultimate Distractions in particular made a show of looking for their seatbelts and Journeyman could see them watching him out of the corner of their eyes.
Now, I myself have fallen for this trick in the past. The aim of the game is to get you so caught up in the commotion of buckling up that you don’t notice your pockets or bag being raided and by the time you realise that there aren’t any cops around (or even seatbelts for that matter), Mr Non-Descript has alighted the vehicle with your valuables.
Well, Journeyman is much smarter than I am. He calmly placed his hands in his pockets with his thumbs sticking out and kept his gaze directed outside the window. After a while the Ultimate Distractions as well as the conductor must have started to feel stupid because they stopped bustling about and sank back into their seats. Journeyman looked at their laps and saw that neither of them had their seatbelts on. Dumbasses…
The matatu reached its final stage at the roundabout and people got out. The Ultimate Distractions bundled out without so much as a playful glance in Journeyman’s way. He waited patiently and made sure that everyone else, especially Mr Non-Descript, exited before him and then alighted.
The conductor was stood next to the front cabin. Journeyman stood beside him and cleared his throat. The conductor pulled his head out of the cabin, looked over to Journeyman with his head tilted to the side and one eyebrow raised. Then he put his hand to his forehead as if he’d just remembered something, started to rifle through the bunch of notes in hand, picked out a few, handed them to Journeyman and then went back to his conversation with the driver.
Journeyman examined the notes, stuffed them into his pocket and then held out an open palm to the conductor and cleared his throat again. The conductor gave him a dirty look, reached into his own pockets, pulled out a pair of coins and dropped them into Journeyman’s hands. He pocketed those as well, gave a curt nod to the driver and made his way to the next stage with one thought in mind…
“I have to get my own set of wheels,”