I am on the right of the third row of a matatu on my way back to beat the curfew or face a possible thorough beating by the prison officers manning Kamukunji Estate, Eldoret. Like a typical Kamukunji estate matatu, the vehicle hits a pavement while overlapping, and the loud music runs into a dead silent halt. Kamau (not his real name) bangs the dashboard severally, but the incoming sound is too distorted for our ears.
“Nkt!” he clicks before switching the radio off while lamenting about the meager pay he has been taking home since the pandemic hit home.
“Na hata hiki kimwanamke hakijui, nkt!” he murmurs to himself as the sassy lady next to him looks on with rolling eyes, the afrocinema style, while he navigates the Paul’s Bakery corner carelessly as expected.
Two “heavy” women sitting behind him start to whisper in a local dialect well understood by me. They boast of how their husbands wamewezwa with Corona. This turns out into a discussion of lost husbands brought back home as that guy deported from America last year, forcefully. One woman astounds us when she alleges that even her bedroom life has really improved that she’s soon hoping for a third born. She confirms that for the first time, she feels married and that everything in her marriage is perfect. The topic is altered when an older woman complains that she can’t stand her husband anymore. But why? The husband is claimed to be eating more than he can provide. She has been the sole provider since the second week after “Mandago closed west.” Meaning the waste market where the husband was a used shoe vendor. Everyone sympathizes with the husband and bashes her for being too materialistic.
“Unigongeshe hivi nikifika nyumbani Caro anigongeshe tena?” The conversation is disrupted by a lamenting drunkard sitting in the oblivion of the back row seat as the driver hits the notorious pothole arena, touching the speed bump at Kidiwa center.
“Si mtaniua?” he shouts furiously at the driver as a passenger alights amid deep laughter.
“Caro ni nani?,” I inquire from him in the midst of his drunken whispers. He tells a tale of a love of Caro; the love of his life now turned a villain. He tells us of how he had the best wife in the world until he paid the dowry, got a son, and then Corona happened. He shows us a mzinga of vodka, his newfound love. He gives us his strategy as stage ya kwanza passengers alight as his phone calls. He is too drunk to even pick a call, so he blames Caro for calling him all the time.
“Nikiangusha hii ntalala hadi morning nitoke kama amelala. Na wakieka total lockdown I’m done.” He rants as we alight. He looks me in the eyes and asks:
“Si ni heri ukuwe jela kama umelala kushinda uue mtu.” A man planning a drunken stupor as he goes home is a lost puzzle.
I walk home thinking about his prison and his warden, Caro. A love story that built a home that is now a prison. Yet a man lives another day to write a new story of hope. Stay home.