I am cooped in a rickety matatu galloping down Thika Road, perched precariously beside a window, dusk looms. Buildings and trees run against us, eventually being diminished by distance. I’m seated behind the waif driver, deflecting the thoughts diffusing off the back of his head. The only thing between us; that barrier propped behind the driver and shotgun seat. A disheveled hat (what is it with drivers and worn out hats, a mojo perhaps?) sits insipidly on his head. His ashen hands grip the steering wheel; somehow, I feel a tad safer when the spaces between a driver’s fingers are slightly ashy. It denotes grit. It says I have been through the wringer. It screams I have been in the trenches. It says I’ve been doing this for a minute. Oft-times, it isn’t that deep and just says; get some Vaseline on me damn it. He talks in a slimy drawling local accent. I’m aptly placed to absolutely blindside him if I was to take him out, hit his prone head and send his oblivious existence out cold. Only, he’s a driver protected by virtue of being in control and these things only happen in my head. I wonder how drivers sit tranquil fully cognizant anyone could be sitting behind them. Wild thinkers like me who reverie on knocking them out. If I were a driver as my 8 to 5 I would stew in trepidation and perpetually dart at the rear view mirror to catch the most tenuous whiff of malice in the air. You know, self-preservation.

The driver executes knee-jerk breaks to pick up potential passengers, everytime, my knees hit the aforementioned barrier. Aggravating as he takes on road bumps, each time we approach one I clench my teeth and brace up. I’m huddled behind him, a little more, I’d be a curve ball. Matatus are hell for folk with long legs, hell, they’re like punitive accessories to tall-ish people sans cars. We sit tight. Later on, I sit with my legs slightly apart but that’s not economically viable for the ‘conda’ so I moor my legs on the bottom bar of that barrier. Femmes loathe blokes who sit legs apart in public limited spaces, their nuts hanging under them jaded. At times, it’s simply respite for the knees. But if he is stocky and infringing on your personal space, he is an entitled wazzock. Hang a leg on his or deck him in the gut. The world is on your side, the courts are too (Disclaimer; I am not responsible for any subsequent actions).

Somewhere along the way, amid my knee wrecking the matatu picks up this woman with two kids in tow. One, an infant pouched onto her like a kangaroo, the other, a 5 year old boy give or take. The matatu is brimming; we are packed tight like cereals in a sack, disregarding social distancing, flouting measures to curtail the malignant COVID-19. I scooch over to let the little boy have a piece of the seat. A knits beanie studiously sits on his head. A navy blue yellow Eminem like tracksuits flows on his fragile frame. His left hand clenches the barrier, his right, overprotectively grasps a shopping bag. I hunch forward to furtively peek inside, mangoes. Good old mangoes, purple skinned ilk. If you have to hold onto something that intently please let it be carrying mangoes – well – and secrets.

The matatu mauls the highway, patrons alighting and boarding, loose pieces of metal give a soundtrack to our journey, rattling and clanking like were in a hardware. If the driver’s hands are anything to go by, we are.

At some point the young blood sleeps off and slips forward. I grab him, he jolts awake from his doze to meet his mother’s flashing stern eyes. That in itself, obliterates the sleep from under his eyes. He’s seen those eyes before, he knows what they can do. He knows what might come after that. It’s a potent power only African mothers bear; the aptitude to talk unequivocally using facial expressions. All this while, even as he slept, his right hand never once let go of the bag of mangoes. He held on it dearly. Arguably protected it more than he did his life.

Soon after, the mom beckoned to alight. She stepped out clutching onto her baby. I held my breath, anticipatory music playing in my head as I waited for our protagonist to follow. The bag seemed heavy, I wanted to help. I didn’t. I let him stretch his limits. He heaved it slightly off the ground, I swear you’d have seen a vein pop on his forehead as he lifted it. I read the determination on his face, he exerted and stepped out of the vehicle, his mangoes intact. His mom relieved the bag off his hand.

I watched the diminutive macho walk up a footbridge and disappear as the car revved away, I fill the inconclusiveness with my imagination. I want to have the resolve of that young lad. The ability to falter but not lose plot. The fortitude that no weight is too heavy to carry. The deftness to step up when need be. The gist is, imperatively, with Valentine’s Day shimmering horizon, I hope to overtly love like that boy loved his mangoes.

Image Source: Pinterest

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