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GIRL ABOUT TOWN: Kind conductor saves me from myself

Thursday September 27 2018

I still had on my head scarf. I quickly removed it and stashed it in my bag. PHOTO | FILE

I still had on my head scarf. I quickly removed it and stashed it in my bag. PHOTO | FILE 

SALMA OYIER
By SALMA OYIER
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Surely, surely, my neighbours, what did I do to you?

They say do unto your neighbour what you’d like them to do unto you. I don’t know if that’s what people ascribe to, but it is what was beaten into my head and I live with it to date.
But the other day, I realised I am on my own.

It was early morning and I was running late for work. I don’t know what I had been doing since I had taken a shower -- so, maybe I know, because I was on YouTube and Facebook for quite a while -- and it was past my usual time of leaving the house.

It was a dress-down day at work so I just pulled on some jeans, threw on a T-shirt that did not need ironing, picked up my favourite pair of Ngoma canvas shoes and literary ran out the door.

STRANGE LOOK

I was in quite a hurry but I greeted my neighbours outside. Mama Anne was hanging clothes while Mama John was tying John’s shoelaces near the gate where they usually waited for the school bus.

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I noticed they looked at me strangely, but perhaps it was nothing and I was just in a hurry.

Baba Boi, our guard-cum-caretaker, looked up from the car he was washing to say hello. Then, with a puzzled look on his face, he asked if I was okay.

Niko sawa. Ni kuchelewa tu (I’m okay, I’m just running late),” I said as I waved goodbye. I wished them a good day as I walked hurriedly towards the bus stage.

I waited anxiously with other passengers, looking quite out of place on a Tuesday morning as most of them were in sharp suits and the women in beautiful high heels. But what made us feel as one was the impatience written on everyone’s face as we all kept checking right and left, stealing glances at our watches and sometimes even pacing about and sighing as time flew by and no bus came round the corner.

NOISY MATATU

After what seemed like eternity -- it was just about 15 minutes or so -- we heard loud disco-like music and one of those noisy matatus turned the corner. I avoid these matatus like the plague, but I was not getting late for the strategy meeting.

So, I fought my way in, got a window seat not far from the front, and plopped myself down on it, relieved to be on my way.

The conductor began collecting our bus fare and when he reached where I was seated, he took two quick puzzled glances at me and then moved on. Something was wrong, I knew, but I could not pinpoint it.

I opened my book to read a chapter or two, as I always do on my morning rides, and settled down for the short trip to town. After a while, the lady seated beside me alighted and the conductor came and sat next to me.

CHATTY CONDUCTOR

He started a conversation and I felt irritated because I was at a section of the book that was quite intriguing. Not wanting to offend him, and also out of respect because he lives near my place and has once given me a free ride, I closed my book and listened.

He told me wonderful stories about his girlfriend and how he plans to propose. He talked about how she appreciates him and how he works even harder because of her. I asked him if that was the reason he stopped working in the older matatus I had seen him in, and he said the noisy, flashy ones pay better -- and he needed the money.

Then he started talking about head gear and how it is evolving. Looking at me, he said I might have tied the wrong head scarf for that day.

I blinked, breathed in and touched my head.

Yes, I still had on the head scarf I use when going to sleep. I forgot it on my head and nobody -- not my neighbours, not the people I stood with at the bus stop for 15 minutes, or even the woman who had sat beside me -- told me about it. But this humble conductor did. Bless his soul.

I quickly removed it and stashed it in my bag, thanking my Maker that I had long gotten rid of stockings for my head. I have heard so many horror stories about women going to bed with hideous head gear and forgetting horrible stockings on their heads. I never thought I would be one of them.

The conductor excused himself and went back to the door where his colleague was calling for more people to board the bus as we got closer to town.

I remained frozen in my seat, feeling embarrassed, and I was among the first people dashing out the door when we reached the stage in town.

And thank God I did not get to work with my head covered up; my colleagues would have never let the matter rest. I probably would have been the talk of town, or worse, had my day as a meme on social media or some secret WhatsApp group.

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