By JOE OMBUOR
The Kitale-bound bus from Lodwar had hurtled on the badly rutted road for close to six hours now, leaving passengers bone tired, thirsty and pressed for calls of nature.
The stop-over at Kainuk, minutes past midnight was a welcome respite indeed.
But a longer stretch lay ahead, warned the crew and regular commuters on the lunatic route. Kainuk, they said, marked the beginning of bandit-prone Pokot territory ahead.
I felt my adrenalin rise.
Bandit-prone? Now, that is scary! It was in the vicinity of Kainuk that a Kitale-bound passenger bus was attacked by armed youth and a passenger killed on November 29, 2013.
The incident defined the preference for night travel by bus companies plying the route. With only the headlights on, armed bandits intending to rob passengers find it hard to distinguish buses from other vehicles. Bus passengers are more vulnerable travelling by day.
I was mulling over this revelation when aloud bang wracked my nerves. The side window next to me crumbled at the impact in the wake of the bang, spraying shards of glass all over.
Screams from terrified passengers filled the bus that instead of stopping, picked up speed as the driver accelerated at a precarious slope leading to a bridge.
The conductor was quick to reassure us that a bullet — as initially feared — did not cause the bang. It was a stone or another blunt object hurled from the bushes hugging the road.
“They never waste bullets if they are not sure of their target,” he explained and advised that it is always prudent to dive at the sound of any bang or explosion.
My adrenalin levels rose as the bus slowed down and came to a stop at a roadblock in the entrails of the bush.
Then, a sigh of relief. The roadblock was genuine and the police officers were dressed in Administration Police uniform.
This was Kambi Karai in West Pokot County. I had heard it mentioned by Lodwar-bound passengers at Kainuk as the place where they had wasted a lot of time to irksome police officers out to make a killing from buses capitalising on the ban on night travel.
Apart from our voices and distant howls said to be emanating from hyenas, an eerie silence prevailed, broken only by the high-pitched sounds of cicadas and other insects of the dry bush.
The initial feeling of safety in the presence of armed policemen turned into anxiety and anger when they seemed to be adamant that our bus should not proceed. Why? Night travel for buses had been banned.
His body language and the tone of his voice betrayed the obvious alcohol-slurred speech. He rubbished the fact that all buses plying the Lodwar/Kapenguria/Kitale route were entitled to a waiver from the blanket night travel ban “for security reasons”.
Our patience snapped when another bus christened Dahya pulled up and was soon given the greenlight to proceed after a “friendly talk” between the driver and the police during which money changed hands.
We formed a human barrier at the roadblock, blocking all movement. It was then we learnt the police were collecting Sh5,000 from every bus they allowed to proceed.
On sensing danger at the pile up of buses and other vehicles because of the human barrier, the officer in charge of the roadblock pretended to release all the buses. But our bus could not leave as the driver had been detained.
“What do we do?” I asked my colleague, Lucas Ng’asike. I think we should come to the rescue our fellow passengers by identifying ourselves to these greedy chaps and threatening to expose them,” I opined.
We did not have to go that far. The officer in charge smelt a rat the moment we walked up to him. “We are at work much like yourselves and can identify ourselves if need be,” I said.
He looked panicky as he stammered some orders to his juniors. Soon, the driver emerged from his cell in the bush.
We were free to proceed with our journey.
We went through the feared Marich Pass without incident to the safer areas of Ortum where the tarmac road improves en route to Kapenguria.
From Lodwar town, the road transforms into troughs, ditches, hollows and craters soon after the suburbs across Turkwell River. The ride through Loturerei, Kimabur, Gold, Lochwa-ang’ikamatak, Karusoi, Lokichar, Kalemng’orok Kakong and on to Kainuk is a nightmare.