MAN IN THE HOOD: Conductors and their selective amnesia

Thursday June 14 2018

Matatus along Accra Road in Nairobi CBD on May 27, 2018. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU

Matatus along Accra Road in Nairobi CBD on May 27, 2018. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU 

By PHILIP ETEMESI

I love matatus. My love for them can only be equated to that of famous couples in history such as Antony and Cleopatra or Lancelot and Guinevere.

I am mostly intrigued by the music and appearance. I am one of those people who can’t enter a dull-looking matatu. I’d rather wait for the boom-twaf type.

Another thing worth noting is that of all the relationships I have been in, two of the best were with ladies I met in matatus. So, you can understand why public transport holds a special place in my heart.

However, I really don’t like makangas. Their outright discourtesy to passengers gets on my nerves. It’s as if they attend the same institution where they are given the same template and taught how to behave the same way. I bet they take units such as Fundamentals of Rudeness, Dishonest Accounting, Statistics and Overloading, Door-Hanging Studies and so on.

I have had a couple of minor altercations with touts. Most of the time, I usually manage to calm myself down before things get out of hand. After all, the great Kenny Rodgers once sang, “Son! You don’t have to fight to be a man, so walk away from trouble when you can.”

MY NEW CAR

About two years ago, my relationship with touts had reached its lowest point. I vowed to change things, so I began working really hard and saving.

Eventually, I bought myself a very cool car. I thought my parents would be impressed that I was making huge strides in life at such a young age. I was wrong.

My mother sulked. She summoned me to her house and sat me down for a lecture. She said it was foolish to buy a car before you even own a piece of land. She said only a half-witted person prioritises depreciating assets over appreciating assets. She concluded by insisting I should sell the car. I voiced my displeasure but she would have none of it. What I thought would have been a ‘Mama I Made It’ moment had been blown to pieces.

My dad agreed with her, he always does. It’s no surprise that their marriage has lasted all those years and I’ve never seen them arguing.

My mother’s pieces of advice are always coated with subtle threats. She uses the arm-around-the-shoulder approach by talking softly. But at the same time, she makes you feel like if you don’t abide by her directives, something bad is going to happen to you. She likes saying ‘wakati utakua unapitia shida usiseme sikukuambia’ (when you will be suffering, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

With words, like those, you have to really consider what you are being told.

Did I sell the car? Of course I did. I then bought land somewhere in Ngong. I don’t know if that makes me a mama’s boy, an obedient son, a scared puppy or just a person who follows good advice.

I was thus forced to go back to the world of matatus.

There are times when I’d just like to relax on my seat and enjoy the Rick Ross song that is booming on the speakers but I can’t because I am thinking of how I’ll confront the makanga over my change.

BEG FOR CHANGE

I have never understood why conductors are very enthusiastic when it comes to collecting fare but when it’s time to return the change, they suddenly contract selective amnesia. 

You give the tout a crisp bank note. You can clearly see that he has coins in his hand but instead of giving you your change straight away, he moves on to collect money from other passengers.

For the rest of the trip, you are forced to keep an eye on him. When you see him looking in your direction, you raise your hand like a smart school kid about to answer a question. You shout to remind him about your money but whether he gives it to you right away depends on his mood.

Sometimes, he dashes towards you and hands it over. At other times, he decides to lecture you on the important virtue called patience. It’s frustrating.

Then there are those touts who keep telling you to wait. Before you know it, the bus has reached its final destination. When you try to locate the fella, he is nowhere to be seen. Then the driver also pretends to not know where is. 

If someone decided to list all the misdemeanours of touts, the resulting document might be a book as big as the Bible. However, the most fitting descriptors would be occasionally nice and mostly annoying.

Because of unprofessional makangas, the great love I once had for matatus is dwindling once again. I know I sound like a slay queen right now but it is what it is.

But I am not going to take a cab everywhere. In fact, I hear cab drivers nowadays are as rude as touts. So I guess there’s no safe heaven unless you are in the driver’s seat. 

Do I regret selling my first car? Yes, I do, even though I know it was the wise thing to do. The land I bought has doubled in value right now but I somehow still don’t feel good about it. The priorities of a young Kenyan are messed up, I know.

The next time I buy a car, I’ll spend a year with it first before I let my mother know. Haha. I don’t want her to tell me to sell it and start a company instead. I have a feeling that’s what she’ll do. 

I’d like to finish with a brief closing prayer.

Heavenly father, may you help me buy another car soon! Amen.