This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Supa Metro Bus
Bound to Nairobi
I’m standing in line as passengers board the bus. This is a first in Juja, passengers standing in line.
Before, well even now, you can’t afford to stand in line as you wait to get into a matatu— a bus you could but not a matatu. Because of these young guys that at times when they are being paid a 20-30 shillings worth of pay after jazilishiaing a mat, they have to jog for it. Picture this: the conductor is hanging on the matatu, which is in motion, and this sweat soaked guy is jogging, hand in a give me gesture. The tout drops a ten shilling coin on his palm and the ninja goes berserk. He bangs the body of the mat and shouts for the driver to stop. He is now close to sprinting. Shouts of, ‘acha madharau’ to ‘buda ongeza kumi’ fall on deaf ears. He is only asking for a ten coin. The driver accelerates and speeds off. A cloud of dust hovers around a dissapointed chapped lip man.
I’m in. I spot a seat next to the window, three double seats from the back seat, and head towards it. One double seat away, a guy from the opposite side shifts and sits on it. I inwardly curse. People of my kind, the car sick kind, don’t just sit anywhere fuaaaa. We need, not want, the window seat lest we rain torrents. He looks up and notices my disgruntled look.
Him: You wanted to sit here?
I nod. Repeatedly.
Him: Well, that was vigorous.
Me: Vigorous enough to ask you to kindly allow me have that seat.
Him: No problem but on one condition.
Me: Ati condition?
Him: Don’t be a silent passenger.
An impatient species stands behind me.
Me: Sawa, sawa. Songa basi.
We are on the road. Six days after the general election, the mood is still hovering around. But not a solicitous one. It’s a, it is over, so where were we, mood. Picking up the pieces and resuming to build the nation.
The silence in the bus, save from the engine, is swallowed by Christina Shusho’s mellow voice. Nipe Macho plays on Classic 105. But this woman is grace. Quite soulful.
Him: Which side did you wake up from, left or right?
Me: I think left. I’m in an ugly mood but it will wear off in fifteen.
Him: I’ll be here when it’s beautiful.
Well, my ugly mood is because it’s in the morning and I hate mornings. Especially if it’s a rushed morning, today being one, and I’ve not had my fifteen minutes reboot. You know bring myself back to life. Like don’t talk to me, give me space, I’m resurrecting here.
He gives me space by taking out a People Daily that is sandwiched between the two seats before us.
I squint my eyes to read when the paper was published but the guy turns to the next page. I notice the rustic bracelet on his arm. Kora is carved on it.
Maina: (on radio) The question for today is: Why do men chose to be silent after being emotionally abused by women? How does it even get there? That a woman, your woman perhaps, can demean you? Ruthlessly. And does it get physical? Why? That’s my question. Actually the guys, that is a question I’d want to ask you.
Caller: Hello Maina? My name is John.
Maina: Talk to me my brother.
John: Maina, let me tell you, these women waogope! A woman can either break or make a man. And in this case, a man somewhere is being broken. Waogope Maina!
Maina: Why my brother?
John: A man is nothing without his ego. You’ve crushed it, you’ve killed him. Totally. How will a dead man talk, Maina?
John: Yaani a woman anakukanyanga ata sikukukalia, kukukanyanga! Unajua thigiriri Maina? Unakanyangwa kama thigiriri, hausikiki tena! Your story ends there. (A woman steps on you like an ant till you can’t be heard)
John: Don’t blame a man that choses to keep quiet. Mocking him nikuharibu. I think we should try and act more like humans because at times I think we don’t.
Maina: OK! Have a great day!
The song, See Beneath Your Beautiful by Simon Brett ushers in the break.
Me: Man, I feel sorry for that man that is being mocked and jeered. It’s even worse than the abuse itself.
Him: Trust me, if a man’s abusive story was aired today, it will not make an impact, much than that of a woman. A politician was abused by the wife juzi, I don’t know how true it was, but either way, what did some goons do, they mocked him. Made fun of him. I think at times we are quick to humour such situations. Don’t be surprised when memes are created, hashtags are trending on Twitter. And someone will lamely comment, ‘from this day forth, I wouldn’t want to be departed from this great country’. Bullshit!
Me: Then we wait for the next hot, intriguing topic and the cycle continues.
Him: On and on. I swear we are fucked up!
Me: But maybe people are tired. We are tired of everything that is happening around us, which is taking place so fast, and we chose to instead laugh.
Him: Not tired. We are broken. We are afraid. And that’s why people talk a lot, most which is shit, you know why? It masks the fear. We are all grown ups, we are aware of all these situations but since it is not someone I know, I’m not related to them, they don’t feed nor clothe me, why should I care? Sometimes you’ll even find that the one you thought cared, never has.
Me: (groaning) We are fucked up.
Me: And the conversation ran down a steep hill.
Him: Such conversations scare you?
Me: I don’t know, maybe?
Me: Do you go around asking the people you meet which side they woke up from? And depending on the response, you decipher whether or not to have a conversation with them?
Him: No, I don’t go around— thank you for the compliment but I’m not that fit. I sit or stand, depends, next to them and ask. And of course not everyone gets to be asked. Sura zingine make you think twice.
Me: Ah, so this face made you think once.
Him: Thrice actually.
He holds together his thumb, fore and second finger and shakes to gesture. People of mbeca farifari are accustomed to this gesture. (Quick money/ Lots of money)
I feel your knife as it goes right in
Cut to my core but I’m not bleeding
All that you say trying to make me small
Well the bigger you get, the harder you fall
You use your words as a weapon, dear
But your blades don’t hurt when you have no fear
You think that you’re deep under my skin
You’re trying to keep me suffering
If you use your words as a weapon
Then as a weapon, I’ll shed no tears
You have my heart but I lock it up
This burning flame has been burnt enough
My window’s cracked, but they can be replaced
But your arm will tire throwing stones my way
Maina: (on radio) It’s Birdy’s, Words as a Weapon. Good things-
Him: My father was a victim of emotional abuse
Me: Your father, your father?
Me: Wow. That is-
Him: Please don’t say the wrong thing. (chuckles)
Me: No-no. It just caught me off guard. I didn’t expect it. Who abused him, your mum?
Him: His dear wife. My mother. And those that drank with him but laughed and mocked him behind his back. On his face even.
Me: How often was the drinking?
Him: My man loved whisky, blended scotch especially. Even before the abuse began, he used to have it sparingly. Then after, it became an addiction. A love – hate relationship. Everyday.
Me: How old were you?
Him: I was twelve when it started. When I noticed, I mean. Like the time he would snore on the sofa and my mum would pat him and say, ‘rîu ûrakomia kî? Kaî ûtoe kûrî ûrîrî ûrî? And she would laugh. He would smile. (Now why are you sleeping? Don’t you know where the bed is?)
Him: Or the time she would find him sitting outside, doing a simple thing like basking and she would say, ‘We Kimani ûmakagia mûno. Rîu nî kî ureka haha ugîciria? Athuri agima tawe, mena kûu, magetha ido. Nawe no kuzubaa ta jagathi!’ You understand? (I nod) (Kimani you surprise me very much. Now what are you thinking about? Grown up men like you are out there hustling. And you, you are just gazing like a lizard)
Me: You own mum used to talk to your own dad like that? But why?
Him: He lost everything. Everything he owned. One morning, all his properties are frozen and taken away. Fast forward a month later, we are living at a piece of land his father left him. Life changed not just my mother’s. Me, my sisters and my dad as well. But I think mum’s was extra. Which does not make sense. He was her husband for crying out loud. What happened to for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse?
Me: Did your dad ever say anything? Like refrain her?
Him: Of course he’d fight back when accused wrongly. But my mum would blame him for everything, remind him of what he lost and the miserable life he had subjected us. Then my dad would take it in and shut up. Kidogo kidogo, I think he got tired and did not fight her anymore.
Him: Emotional abuse is worse than physical abuse. I could slap you right now and you would forget about it after two days or even one. Cause the pain will be gone. But if I insulted you, you can’t forget those words. You will even tell your granchildren. Insults are a stain. A stain that won’t go away. You are killed while still alive.
Him: He was a quiet man. A man of few words. Not hot tempered. Even when he got drunk, he was quiet. A peaceful drunkard. That gave my mother the power.
Me: I don’t even want to imagine the kind of damage it did to you and your siblings.
Him: It was bad. Toxic. I was even happier in school than at home. My sisters, one is an year older than I, the other was a toddler during that time. My elder sister was in a boarding school, so she did not see much but she knew. Ours was not a home. It was something else but not a home.
Him: There was this day, I was helping my mum wash the dishes in the kitchen, it was outside the main house, and she told me, ‘We wî mûthûri ona gûkîra kihî kîu mûîtaga thoguo.’ (You are more of a man than that boy you call a father)
Me: No way!
Him: Yes way. And that was just the little I heard and knew. So you can imagine what she used to tell him without us being present.
Me: And where is he right now? Your dad.
Him: He died. Suicide-
Me: Christ! I’m-I’m, I’m so sorry. I really am.
Him: I was fourteen. This Friday, my uncle, his brother, comes and picks me from school. ‘Muthee nîaretirwo. Tanî tuthii tûkamûthike’, that is what he said. (Your father is dead. Let us go and bury him)
Me: That is what he told you?
Him: Right when I walked up to him. You’d think we were burying rubbish.The burial was the next day.
Me: That had to have been very tough. And wrenching.
Him: One time he looked at me and could not recognise who I was. I was afraid he’d go mental. But I loved him anyway. I loved him despite everything. And I regret that I did not tell him that.
Me: And your mum?
Him: Well, she is alive. I hear she’s okay. I’ve forgiven her. I can’t say I’m healed, if I still haven’t told her that, you know. But I still don’t know how to talk to her. We have no connection. I don’t even know where to start when it comes to her.
Me: You telling me this, all this, is a lot. You are strong. And brave. So when you are ready to talk to her, you will.
Me: I think we care too much of what people think about us. Our stories. We overthink. Well not you, me and a hundred others who should feel tagged. I don’t think I have the courage to bare my soul out like that. To a stranger especially.
Him: What is the worse that could happen? Death maybe. We are here to live, not survive. Live. But most people are surviving.
Me: What is the most awkward thing that has happened to you during your random convos?
Him: You won’t believe this. I was once offered sex right there and then. By a man.
Me: Jesus! What! NO!
Him: Yes! Fuck! That was some crazy shit. You wouldn’t want me to go into detail.
The bus has stopped at the alighting point. People are getting out. We are both seated.
Me: Is Kora your name?
He holds the headrest in front of him in a bid to stand up.
Me: Short for?
Him: (standing up) Is it that obvious that there’s an ugly name behind it?
Me: Well, Zipporah is an old and ugly name. I answer to Ora.
I move to his seat.
Him: Wamukora. Wamukora is my name. Kora is what my father used to call me.
Featured image: Pinterest