Get into the half-empty bus.
The usual noise will greet you; murmurs from passengers and shouts from touts. Ignore the noises. Find a seat not too far behind. Sit next to the window and hope that whoever will sit next to you will not be some horny guy who will be rubbing his knees against yours. Hope hard because you are wearing a short skirt. Hope, not because you are of perverted mind but, because it has happened to you more times than you care to count.
Sit. Rummage through your handbag for that book. But first, let your hand find something else. Something that smears your hand with a sticky substance. Fish it out. Discover that it is a left-over bar of chocolate which has melted in the heat.
Notice that today is a hot day. It has been months since it rained. Wonder, is Kenya about to experience a drought like it did in 1995, 1996? Hope not.
Wrap the chocolate nicely and put it into a smaller compartment inside your handbag. Remind yourself to eat it later when it is not so messy.
Use your clean hand to find a serviette. You always carry one somewhere in the handbag. Look for it. Find nothing. Remember to look in your handbag’s side pocket. Find it here. Use the serviette to wipe your chocolate-smeared hands clean.
Get out your book; Back To Blood by Tom Wolfe. Before you close your handbag, check that you have no missed calls or unread messages on your phone. Notice that the two ticks next to your WhatsApp message to Eddy have still not turned blue. Wonder why he is offline today. Consider calling him instead. Decide not to.
Look around. Note that the bus is not yet full.
Make yourself comfortable. Open Back to Blood and start reading from where you last stopped. Magdalena had gone to see her boyfriend Nestor. Read how she broke up with him. Sympathize with Nestor. Wonder how he did not see it coming though.
Look around once more. Notice that the bus is almost full.
Keep reading. Nestor does not understand. How could Magdalena do this to him? Be impressed by Magdalena’s honesty. Be thoroughly impressed by the fact that she does not lie about dating both Nestor and Dr. Norman Lewis, her boss. She thought Nestor knew about the good Doctor. Allow yourself to be amused. Don’t suppress that smile. Still, sympathize with distraught Nestor.
Look up and see the man that sits next to you. Hope that he has a girlfriend as you move to give him more room. Hope that the girlfriend does not suffer from headaches every night. That she gives him some frequently enough so that your knees do not get assaulted. Wonder if other women go through this shit you go through. Make a mental note to ask around.
Notice the woman who gets into the bus and takes the seat next to the door. Notice the girl and the young boy who follow her into the bus. Notice that the girl is carrying a small baby of say, one and a half years? Two years? That the boy sits with the woman next to the door as the girl carrying her sibling (you assume) goes to find the only remaining seat at the back.
Check to confirm that the bus is in fact, now full as it makes its way out of town.
Go back to your book.
Get distracted by a crying baby. “Mummy! Mummy! Mummy!”
Look behind you. See the crying child sitting on his sister’s laps. See her trying to console him.
Go back to your book.
Hear the crying child now wailing.
Wonder why you are reading the same sentence over and over and still not getting anything.
Lift your head up to see the woman seated next to the door looking behind at the crying baby. Hear her mumble something. See her distraught face.
Try to keep reading.
Hear more wailing.
Notice that this is not the usual cry of a little one. This is not how they cry when hungry or when their diaper needs changing, or when they are sleepy. Conclude that this is the cry of a child in emotional pain.
Close your book.
Look behind you again. See the young girl trying frantically to comfort her brother.
Hear the woman seated next to the door mumbling some more.
Listen as she narrates something to the person seated next to her.
“He won’t keep quiet…doesn’t want me to carry him…”
“…their mother admitted in hospital”
“…chased them out of the house…told them…their mother. I don’t know…expects his children…their mother in hospital. Who does that really?”
Notice how the others passengers’ curiosity is piqued. How they all perk their ears trying to hear what the woman is saying.
Look at the woman seated next to her. Look at how she throws her question after question and how she keeps shaking her head at every answer.
See the conductor asking for your fare.
Reach inside your handbag and fetch thirty shillings from your purse. Hand it to the conductor.
Shift your attention back to the woman. She is still being asked questions by the curious woman seated next to her. Don’t worry about not hearing the questions as long as you can hear her answers to the questions.
“Si…put her in hospital! That fool…beat…sister…almost killed her!”
“No…children to leave … went…hospital…found them…don’t know what to do.”
Hear her click her tongue. See how visibly angry she is as she hands the conductor fare for two.
“Huyo mtu…mnyama” She is furiously shaking her head.
Notice how the conductor hangs around a while longer to listen to the conversation before moving to collect fare from the other passengers.
Focus on the wailing child. He just wants his mother.
“Tulijaribu…hospital…not let…stay with…mother”
Notice the tears in the woman’s eyes as she speaks.
Wipe the tears from your own eyes.
Swallow the lump that has formed inside your throat.
Curse the father of these suffering children!
Bless this woman who takes in her sister’s children at short notice.
Pick your book from your lap and put it back inside your handbag.
Look behind you and see the wailing child now crying softly while his head rests on his sister’s chest.
Notice that you are almost home. Stand up and ask the conductor to ‘shukisha’
Extend a grateful look to the man who sat next to you without trying anything.
Ask yourself which is better; a man who disowns his wife when she is still pregnant or a man who having known his children still has the heart to walk away from them.
Marvel at human beings’ ability to be so heartless.
Curse that idiot one more time. Him and any other man who neglects his children because of another woman.
Add another curse for any woman who neglects her children because of a man.
Let the bus come to a stop.
Step down from the bus.
You are home.
Now carry your heavy heart home with you.
Illustration by Elsardt Kigen. Elsardt is a talented artist and a senior student of The Arts and Design at The University of Nairobi. He has won several Art Competitions including ‘Experiencing Kenyan Heritage Through Art’ (2013) where he was accorded a visit to the UK.