“Kwani hii basi inatumia chai? Kwa nini inashinda ikistall?” He walks up to his friend and leans on the front of the bus. They need at least two other people to push it backwards up the hill so they can jumpstart the old rusty thing. “We Kama kwenda”
That’s the first time he saw her. She was standing in the queue for buses going… he forgets where. Just in front of the tea ladies. She was staring at him as he leaned on the bus. Staring, but not really. He’d never seen anyone look so lost before. This was a bus station and had its fair share of confused characters. She knew where she was going, standing in line and all, and yet, she looked as if she didn’t belong there and she knew it. Lost.
“Niaje, mi ni Kama”
He was standing next to her now. Well, next to the tea ladies if anyone was asked. No one asked.
She turned her head only slightly then turned it back, shutting him out.
“Wacha kuwa hivyo…”
She barely turned to look at him.
He’s pushing the bus now. All four of them are; Heaving and grunting under its weight. Slowly, step-by-step, they push the giant obstacle out of the way.
She didn’t seem averse to him, just not quite interested. Almost like the things going on in her head were more important than anything he could care to mention. And he mentioned a lot of things. Waited at her stop everyday at 5.00 pm. sometimes she was late, but she was never early. She didn’t look well to do. Her clothes were clean and they were generic. Brown skirt, black skirt, jeans skirt and a vast selection of white blouses to go with them. She was dark, and tall. She was not fat but you couldn’t call her skinny either. Her hair was long but always pushed back. Controlled by a beaded Maasai hair clip. So he waited for her and mentioned things. He didn’t talk for too long though. Just something about the weather, sometimes the Ocampo 6 and more recently, fuel process. She didn’t quite smile. She wasn’t averse to him. She would listen and nod. Sometimes agree and sometimes all he’d get for his effort was a blank stare; like he was speaking a foreign language.
The bus moved a few meters up the slope: A short distance by most standards, but enough for it to roll down and, if the driver did his job right, fire the engine to life. Besides, they were tired of pushing the old deathtrap anyway. They moved out of the way and it began to roll down.
One day she turned up looking more distracted than usual. The more he spoke, the more she seemed to retreat into herself and the more frustrated he became.
“I wonder if she ever gets excited about anything” he thought.
“Ah! Wacha niende tu. Nice day” He said and started to walk away. For the first time since they met two weeks ago, she spoke up without his prompting.
He didn’t say it out loud but those were his thoughts. Definitely. He must have said it with his face though because she was still speaking.
“Line bado ni refu. Unwaza enda nikiingia basi.”
The bus slowly gathered momentum and about ten seconds after it began to roll the driver gunned the engine. It jerked a few times, sputtered then roared to life. Phew.
He walked back to her slowly. Still unsure she’d actually spoken up or if he’d imagined it. Searching her face for a sign, anything. Her eyes were searching his too. Looking for, well, just looking. He saw it flash then. I that moment he saw that lost look again. She was drowning and she would not be free. He knew he had to save her and so he stayed. He talked bout the weather and matatu strikes and inflation. He talked and she didn’t ignore him. Before she boarded the bus she shook his hand, almost smile (was that a dimple?) and said goodbye.
The driver was revving the engine now. He smiled at Kama and thanked him for his help. Kama smiled bak. “Na this time nunua battery ya maana. Hii kazi ya kusukumasukuma basi… hatuwezi ishi hivi…” Kama walked away, hands in his pocket. It was 5.00 pm. Time to pick up the wife.