Saturday, 15 February 2014

The Big Snake Corporation

I am standing here on its trucks thinking to myself, "I am early enough for the 8:15 a.m. snake, I am early for my task of building the nation". I had a hard time adjusting to the early mornings. There was a time not long ago, when I used to run after the snake all to no avail. It would leave me, yet I was so close. I would try my best to run after it, yet I only managed to limp. Sadly, the snake has to be on schedule and cannot wait for one slow person. The secret is be an early bird.

Oh! How I remember the snakes in Canada and China.  The ones I read of in books, magazines and watch on TV. Those ones with sliding doors and lowering stair cases that fold back after people get in. This will one day be the reality in Kenya, perhaps in a vision dubbed 2050. Just this morning, I saw on the news that the government wants to build a standard gauge railway from Mombasa to Nairobi. They were complaining about it and I did not understand why. These adults are complicated.

 I wonder why they did not think of people like me who are not that swift. They made the stairway too high up making it difficult to climb. One day as I was running after it,  when it suddenly stopped. I tried boarding the big snake and my foot slipped. I was so scared that I decided to let the snake go. My mind quickly raced to the countless casualties that the big snake had either crushed or cut into two. I did not want to end up as mince, like them.

I start singing so as to keep busy, people casting suspicious stares at me as if to say that I have something loose upstairs. I keep on singing and smiling to myself because there are not as many people yet. I think it is safe if a few think I have lost it. They don’t know me after all. We are just united here by the cheap fare of forty shillings, and the desire to beat Nairobi Jam. Matatus at this time charge at least sixty shillings, not to mention the traffic that would see one spend up to two hours on the road. With the big snake fifteen minutes is enough. That is why even huge men in sharp suits would prefer to wait for the snake.

More people are gathering along the track. Boy! Aren’t they many? Some of them are silently meditating- probably on the job they hate and have no choice but to go to. Some listening to music from their phones through earpieces, yet others are with company.

There is a couple that has daily been at the track; they appear to be so much in love with each other. Talking intimately facing each other always- Today they appear to be going to town together. They are both dressed sharply, the man in a white shirt, black half sweater and navy blue trousers. All these have been accessorized with pristinely polished black shoes. The lady is in a beige figure flaunting blouse and a dark brown skirt, with matching beige wedges.

Her choices of colors compliment her light skin. Brown must be her favorite color, the other day she wore a dark brown and beige leopard skin patterned long skirt with a show through beige sleeveless top, and the same beige wedges. She still has the afro hair she had last week. Her companion appeared to be escorting her. He had a white t-shirt on with black trousers and sandals. My eyes wander and leave the lovebirds.

I see a very pregnant lady in a long green and white dress, that appears to have reached its threshold and would burst open at its seams. She has golden braids on that look rather disorganized, but a pregnant lady can get away with anything. She has a black coat on and brown flat open shoes. She too has company today. A tall man in a black leather jacket, white t-shirt, black trousers and black shoes- he has black sunglasses propped on his forehead. They are conversing with the pregnant woman, both of them facing my direction. Perhaps after you get married, you need not maintain eye contact when talking to each other.

There are several sounds in the busy morning background. But there is a distinct hum of an engine coming from the direction of the air force. A short haired, light skinned woman in grey skirt suit approaches me and interrupts my train of thought.

“What is that sound?”

“I guess it is an aircraft”

“Why is it making such a noise?”

I answer reluctantly appearing to be as polite as possible, “The Air Force is just nearby and they are probably fixing the plane”

She keeps on at it, “The sound makes me think there’s a problem there, and I wonder what the children in the schools nearby are going through. If it is that loud that we can hear it here, what of the people near it?”

I smile politely thinking to myself “really, like the 1982 military coup that we hear stories about? Oh! Kenyans are so pessimistic. Can you really blame them for that? They have had some nasty experiences to put them on the edge”…….

Hoot! HooooooT!  There it comes, majestic as ever. Run down yes but still carries the pride of Kenyan civilization history.

People strategically place themselves in readiness to jump in. I wonder if I’ll be lucky to get a seat today. The snake slows down and comes to a stop. Immediately, the swift ones scramble for the door. I also get to one door and manage to hold the handrail while other people get in. I have to hold the rail to keep others off until I enter, otherwise, I would not even get a good place to stand. I then lift my left leg about one meter above and place it on the stair entrance. I know my limitations very well, so I am careful enough not to slip. I have become good at this! With one quick movement, I lift my body and step on the lower stair with my other leg. In record time 30 seconds, I enter the snake and throw glances around to survey the available seats.

I see people running to get the few empty seats. I know they are so close to the seats that moving to the direction of the seats would be a futile exercise. One must always arm themselves with plan b, plan b is particularly important for the big snake users. I immediately turn my glance the opposite direction and see an unusual spot. Which snake have I been using? I have never seen this spot. The spot looks like the power center with all these ancient fuses, the good thing with the spot is that it has a window and provides a perfect view of the scenery. I rush and take the spot, I am glad to be standing today.

On other days, I try to go near the signs written, “PLEASE RESERVE THESE SEATS TO PREGNANT WOMEN AND DISABLED”.  I then stand so near making it obvious that I am unstable due to my right hand which cannot hold the rails for support and my weak right foot. Someone would eventually be merciful and leave the seat to me.

Today I do no such thing; I am fully content standing in my corner. Normally, people stand in lavatories like the one opposite me. Sometimes they reek of strong urine, and a gaping hole that should your phone or shoe fall into, they would get crushed by the wheels of the snake. The usually dusty lavatories fit about four to five people.

After one minute, hooooot! Hoooooot and the engine starts, with one jerk, it starts moving. I enjoy the fresh air from the window vantage point. You know the cocktail of smells cheap perfumes, some smelling good others just irritating to the nose and mixed with the odor of sweat from someone who was in a hurry to get to work that they forgot to take a shower. No! Today I am spared of that.
The short haired, light skinned woman in grey skirt suit stands next to me. She too is among the unlucky that have missed seats. As we move, we see various high-rise flats that are coming up. They look so beautiful, but they are being built on swampy ground. My talkative neighbor starts again,
“Why do these people build houses in such a swampy place?”
Again I try to maintain my calm and be polite, she has done it again! She has interrupted my train of thought. I quickly think of a response so as not to appear absent minded. “The houses are very beautiful, but do not make a mistake of living on the ground floor”……
“It is not only the ground floor; those houses are damp no matter the floor you live in. These people are just after money.”

To be continued

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