Sometimes, I share half of my seat with a random person and our skin touch, leaving a tacky sensation on me. Worse even, it is a smoker whose odour makes me want to grow my nose out of the window. Other times, it is a stranger who attempts to engage me in chit chat which I am tempted to ignore but I usually decide to engage. In between, the vehicle undulates, swerves and breaks with no alert to the rhythm of the deafening lewd music throbbing out of the low quality speaker.
The word ‘safety’ does not apply. Seatbelts? For who. Go with the flow, even when the vehicle threatens to do a flip. Amidst all this, I struggle to keep up with an irrelevant conversation I can barely hear while at the back of my mind, I record a reminder to ask the conductor for my change.
When the talkative stranger asks me to recite my number, I suddenly pick up amnesia and the conversation makes a sudden halt, like the breaks of the vehicle I am in. I now look out the window and for a moment gasp as I think night is closing in. I laugh inwardly when I realize it is only 4pm and that the windows are tinted. Finally, the talkative stranger alights and I am relieved that I have the seat to myself.
My respite is cut short when three more people board. The conductor asks me to move up and then places a wooden block between my seat and the one adjacent. Then, a beefy man actually falls on the wooden seat, and no, it does not break. He rests his shoulder on my small frame that I am suffocating and can barely be seen. I wonder why they would bundle people like sacks of potatoes. Is counting heads an equation? Or has innovation reached its peak, making chairs out of wooden blocks. I for a moment wish the talkative stranger was here instead.
I try to break free by pushing myself forward, but I do not move an inch thanks to the heavy weight champ leaning on me. The beefy man seems oblivious of my existence – leave alone suffering -and decides to open a newspaper, and now his elbow is on my face. I peep through and scan through an article that claims drinking a pint of alcohol a day increases your risk to cancer. Being a teetotaller, I do not read through the whole article and settle on the looming elections hullabaloo. At least I am getting value for my suffering, I think.
When the vehicle makes a turn, I look out the window and see unfamiliar surroundings. Before I can make out where we are, a woman holding baby at the back shouts and asks the conductor in a mixture of vernacular and Kiswahili where we are. The conductor replies that they are escaping traffic and assures her she shall reach her destination. I heave a sigh of relief, and continue with reading the newspaper.
As I draw close to my destination, I tap the conductor to ask for my change. I have heard being short and precise is most effective when interacting with vehicle accountants. So I decide to use the magical words, ‘Boss, change’. He tells me to wait a bit since he has no lose money. I deflate and continue eyeing the newspaper which is now on the sports section.
Finally, the vehicle makes a stop and I am relieved that I am finally out of the vicious vehicle. Half of my body seems numb and I walk slowly. When I am a few metres away, I remember that I have forgotten to take my 160 shillings change. I cuss, but immediately become grateful that I have reached my destination, alive.