DATE: February 7, 2017. TIME: 11:49pm. LOCATION: Hurlingham, Nairobi.
I have just dropped a young lady off at “The Hood” when the request comes through. An unwanted request because I wanted to go home after dropping this client off.
Before I go too far, let me dispense with the introductions. My name is Daniel and I am an Uber driver. I come from Githurai 45. I wanted to go home at around 23:00h because my wife doesn’t like it when I go home past midnight.
As soon as the request comes through on my phone, it is followed up by the next client’s call which I answer reluctantly. And the client’s name is Charles.
Him: Hello Daniel. I was hoping you could pick me up at the Department of Defence Headquarters ASAP.
Me: Where to?
Him: I don’t know yet. I was thinking Utawala. Maybe Machakos?
Me: Um, Charles, I was actually heading home to Githurai so maybe you could do me a favor and cancel your ride then request another one? Please? Just say the driver asked you to cancel.
Him: Home, huh? And where is home?
I guess it is at this juncture that I start recognizing the confidence in his voice. A certain kind of sharpness and metallic substance that is used to throwing orders around.
In my line of work, I meet many people. Students, lawyers, doctors, business folks, and they all talk the same. Though some lawyers can be a bit arrogant. And students can be irritating especially when they travel in groups and are collectively drunk as sailors.
And there are soldiers. These don’t make requests. They order you around if they speak. Mostly they just ride in silence. Especially those who have seen combat.
Me: Githurai is my home.
Him: Which one Daniel?
Me: Githurai 45.
Him: OK. Then that has just become my new destination. Pick me up right away.
It takes me less than five minutes to drive from The Hood to the Department of Defence (DoD) gate where I find him waiting for me.
As he walks towards me, I notice that he looks different from his voice. Whereas his voice is authoritative and intimidating, his frame is a bit small. He must be about five seven and weighs around sixty five kilograms. Considering he looks thirty, he is of a small build.
He is in a trench coat with the collar turned up, khaki trousers and brown boots like those won by the United States Marines for those who watch movies.
He walks, or rather’s marches stiffly towards my car, leans against the codriver’s side and peers in through the open window.
Him: You’re Daniel, yeah?
Me: Yes. You must be Charles?
Him: Last I checked (He opens the door and climbs in swiftly). Let’s go.
Of course I have questions because obviously, the man in my car has no clear destination. He just wants to go wherever.
I have carried thousands of passengers in my car, but I have never carried one without a destination. Is he running away from something? Is he a criminal?
Me: So where in Githurai do you want to go?
Him: I don’t know. Any sites you might recommend to me? I have never really been to Githurai before. I just see it from the comfort of a car as I drive by.
Me: No. Not really. It is just an overcrowded little place with cheap housing.
Him: I was just joking. (He smiles. His smile seems sad. Lonely. Painful even)
Me: Oh. They must have just invented a sense of humor where you come from.
Him: (Laughing) Where I come from, they only have bullets, guns, bombs, khat and prostitutes. Humor is something they are yet to discover.
Me: Look at that. You just might be the Issac Newton of humor where you come from.
Him: Who’s Issac Newton?
Me: (Lost) Oh. (I cast a glance at him to see if he is kidding. His stone face tells me he is not) He’s the guy who discovered gravity.
Him: I was just kidding.
Me: (Smiling) Really? Coz your face told me you were bloody serious.
Him: Where I come from, we have perfected the art of a poker face.
Me: Yeah? Where do you come from?
Him: So Newton discovered gravity, huh? What does discovery mean to you exactly?
Me: Excuse me?
Him: Gravity. Surely it existed before Newton noticed that apples don’t fly around in the air when they are thrown up but they come hurtling down to the ground. All he did was give that a name. Is that what discovery means? Giving a name to something that already exists?
Me: (Wondering where this conversation is headed) I am sure it’s more complicated than that.
Him: Like this other dirt bag who apparently discovered Mt. Kenya. Weren’t there people who were living around that area when he “discovered” it? Or was it invisible to them? If memory serves, the Kikuyu people used to face it when they prayed because they believed that their god lives up there. Then comes a white guy who sees it and says; drumroll; “There lies a huge mountain that the natives don’t give a shit about. But because I’m the first white guy to see it, I have discovered it and I have named it Mount Kenya!! Yay! Now my name will be in history books forever! I’m awesome!!!”
Me: (Chuckling) Are you always this radical?
Him: Radical? No. What does discovery mean to you?
Me: Finding something that hasn’t been found by anyone else before?
Him: I would say that is kind of right. Then I must ask, have you discovered youeself?
Me: Discovered myself?
Him: Do you know who you are?
Me: (Laughing uncomfortably) I guess I’m just a normal guy.
By now I am driving globe cinema roundabout and then up to Ngara where I speed down Murang’a Road towards Thika Superhighway which starts at Pangani. It is going on 23:00h and there is no traffic around this hour.
Matter of fact, driving around Nairobi at 23:00h can be quite therapeutic.
Him: Just a normal guy, huh? With a normal job and a normal relationship and normal friends and normal beliefs, right?
Me: You question me like there’s something wrong with normalcy.
Him: I have nothing against normalcy. It is what our ancestors fought and died for all those years ago. It is what soldiers are dying in Somalia for. For the right of Kenyans to lead their normal, boring lives. Because that’s what peace involves, you know? Peace is normal. Peace is boring. You wake up from your boring bed in the morning and say “good morning” to your uninteresting wife and she smiles and says good morning to her uninteresting husband.
Maybe you have a quickie before it is time to jump of out bed and grab a shower. Which is quite normal. Or she is on her period and you’re horny so you masturbate in the shower. Which again is normal. Then you have to make sure your normal kids are ready for normally uninteresting school and then they are off.
And you have to come to your uber driving job which forgive me for saying, is pretty boring. If I had to drive around Nairobi for a living, I’d probably turn into a serial killer and follow my passengers home and kill them in their beds just to sweeten my life up. I mean, who’d ever suspect a taxi driver, right? At night, you drive back home to your wife and you’re both too tired to have an interesting shag so you just grab another shower and collapse in bed like a log.
Before you know it, you’re sixty with one foot in the grave. And that’s OK because you have lived an entire lifetime. But the thing about peace is that people forget to live, you know? I mean, when was the last time you smelled a rose and realized it doesn’t smell good? When was the last time you went to watch a performance at the Kenya National Theatre? Leave that. When was the last time you spanked your wife’s ass? When was the last time that the both of you played around like children? When was the last time you chased her around that cheap apartment of yours? Peace will do that to you. You will get comfortable with life, focus too much on earning a living, then completely forget to live. What’s the essence of living then, huh?
Me: So what would you rather we do? Go to war with Uganda over Migingo Island?
Him: No. But forget the rules every now and then. Have fun. Live a little. Because you know what, there are people dying for you to live. Everyday. Because when your life is in danger, that’s when you start appreciating it. When you discover you have cancer or other terminal illness, you start living each day like it means something.
Me: That’s deep.
We are at Survey now along Thika Road and we’re right in the middle lane. Which is why I’m shocked when he says,
Him: Stop the car. I want to take a shit. Do you have toilet paper?
Me: We’re right in the middle of the highway.
Him: Just stop the fucking car Daniel!
Maybe it’s the way he says it that gets me to pull over at the side of the highway. I don’t have toilet paper but I have some wet wipes which he grabs, gets out of the car, walks to the back, pulls down his pants and squats. Right there in the middle of the biggest highway in the country.
He takes one long dump without any hurry or care in the world. I have my ‘hazards’ on but two minutes into his unhygienic business, I decide it might be a great idea to place the triangle on the road for safety. But the moment I step off the car, I’m hit by such a stench that I fall back inside.
It takes him a whooping five minutes to conclude his business and get back inside the car. And I make a conscious decision not to have a conversation about it. But at this juncture, I start wondering whether he is crazy.
Me: Are you a soldier?
Me: Just asking.
Him: You didn’t ‘just’ ask. You must have asked for a reason. What reason was it?
Me: Forget it.
I am growing increasingly uncomfortable with him being inside my car so I press the fuel pedal to the floor because I want to get to Githurai as quickly as possible and be rid of this Charles character.
Him: Why are you driving so fast?
Me: There’s no traffic. Besides, I’m getting sleepy so I need to get home quickly and sleep.
Him: Why did you ask if I’m a soldier?
Me: (Snapping) I said forget it!
Him: OK! But just so for your information, I think any man who drives an automatic car is a coward.
Me: (After witnessing him conducting his “human dignity” business in public, on the highway, I have lost my respect for him. So I have no intention of engaging him in a conversation) OK.
Him: And you sir, have a shitty car.
Me: (I am driving at 140km/h now and we’re just approaching Roysambu) OK.
Him: Have you ever cheated on your wife Daniel?
Me: I doubt that that’s any of your business.
Him: Aww. Are you sulking now because I did something you deem inappropriate?
I turn on the radio and normally I listen to Inooro FM because it is MY radio inside MY car. Currently playing is Sammy Muraya’s “Dictator”
Him: (Pumping up the volume then yelling above the song) I love this song! It makes me feel sad!
I’m surprised that he has an opinion about a Kikuyu song. I didn’t think he knows it. Then it hits me. He’s just jerking me around. So I reduce the volume and press the brakes pedal because we’re approaching another set of bumps.
Him: (Singing along) Dictator wayuni, watuire uthaka waku silaha unyarirage arume… (Dictator Wayuni, you weaponized your beauty and used it against men)
Looks like he understands the song after all.
21:08h. Githurai 45.
I pull over at the Cooperative Bank and ask him again where in Githurai he needs to be dropped off.
Him: (Seriously) I have changed my mind. I have decided I want to go to Donholm via Kangundo Road. That means you will travel to Ruiru and use the Eastern Bypass.
Me: (I am beginning to get my first rush of fear. This looks like trouble) Look, just pay me then request for another ride, OK?
Him: You didn’t hear me. (That metallic taste in his voice again) I need to get to Donholm. Now!
Me: (Putting my foot down) No.
Him: (Chuckles and runs his palm down his face. His smile no longer seems sad. Or lonely. Or painful. Now he looks like he’s having fun. Finally) Daniel?
Me: (Hoping he’ll say, “I was just kidding”) What!
Him: I am going to dip my hand inside my trenchcoat. Then when I pull it out, I will be holding a 1911 Colt .45 semi automatic sidearm. I will cork it, then I will slowly lift it to your head (points at my temple) right here and I will not even count to three. I will just shoot you dead. (He looks right into my eyes so severely I am downright scared now. And he seems so calm like he has done this a million times.) Do you want me to kill you right now Daniel? Because trust you me, I will kill you. Then I will drive myself to Donholm with your headless body bleeding in the seat I’m occupying right now. Because that’s what a Colt .45 will do to you. It Will Behead you.
I don’t even pause to ask myself if he really does have a gun. I start the car immediately and drive fast towards Ruiru because the last thing I want is for him to ask me to take him home to where my wife and children are. So I drive him out of Githurai as fast as possible.
Him: So, why did you ask whether I’m a soldier?
Me: I um… I um… I just saw your boots.
Him: Come on Daniel. I thought we’re friends. Friends don’t bullshit each other. If you answer me honestly, I’ll answer your question honestly.
Me: Well, if you must know, I asked if you’re a soldier because I wanted to know what I’d be dealing with if you posed a threat to my life. Guess now I know..
Him: Why do you think I’d pose a danger to your life?
Me: Because you had no destination. I thought you were a criminal. A fugitive.
Him: And what would my being a soldier have anything to do with my being a criminal?
Me: I would have asked if you’d seen any combat. Then maybe I could conclude that you’re probably suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Him: I’m Captain Charles Gachora. And yes I have seen combat in Somalia. Do I have PTSD? I have no idea. Maybe. Maybe not. Ask me that question that you really want to ask
Me: What question?
Him: Don’t think I am an idiot. Ask!
Me: Will you kill me?
Him: No. I’m done killing civilians. But am I done killing? I don’t know Daniel. Am I?
I cast him a defiant look and maybe that’s what prompts him to dip his hand inside his jacket and pull out a pistol. And this is the point where I realize that I am very scared.
Him: Just in case you’re wondering, yes I have a gun. You’re driving too fast. Slow down.
(I am driving at 110km/h. I slow down. I have just left Kahawa Sukari and now I’m driving up the Kenyatta University hill and driving at 100km/h, I should be in Ruiru in a minute or two.
My feet and hands are trembling and I’m feeling cold all of a sudden.)
Him: You didn’t answer my question.
Me: Which one?
Him: Have you ever cheated on your wife?
Him: Do you love her?
Him: When was the last time you had sex with her?
Me: What? Why?
Him: (Frustrated) OK Daniel, here are the rules. If you don’t answer my questions, or if you answer with an attitude or if I realize you’re lying to me, I won’t even warn you. I’ll just shoot you in the head, throw your body out of the moving car and drive on like you never existed. And do you know how they’ll report your death on the morning news? (Imitates a newscaster) “The decapitated body of an unidentified male was found dumped along Thika Superhighway last night. The body which is unrecognizable because of being ran over by motorists, was taken to Kenyatta University Funeral Home. The police suspect that he was trying to cross the busy highway when he was struck down by a speeding vehicle. The areas OCPD Mr. Reginald Omwamo has requested pedestrians to be extra careful while on the road. We’ll take a short break and return with the sports news shortly.”
Me: It’s been a few months.
Him: How old are you?
Me: I will be forty in an hour.
Him: Aww! Daniel!! Happy Birthday!
Me: (Mirthless) Thank you. You’re far too kind.
Him: (Smiling) Look at you! Even with a distinct threat against your life you still have a sense of sarcasm. Good for you.
Me: Please. I have kids. I have two young kids who rely on me.
Him: Oh, really? (Meekly) I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize that a man of your age had kids. Oh my bad. Please turn the car around and drive home to your kids. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience Daniel. (Grabs his chest) I have broken my own heart. How dare I carjack a father?! I must be a terrible terrible person.
I realized he was being sarcastic five minutes ago so I keep driving. I’m now speeding down towards Outering Road along which Donholm lies.
Him: How long have you been married?
Me: Twelve years.
Him: And in all that time, you have never had sex with a woman who wasn’t your wife?
Him: Well, well, well. You’re one of the good ones, aren’t you? Are you happily married?
Me: I.. I… (At once I ask myself, “what does happily married mean? As opposed to what? Sadly married?”) I like to think I am.
Him: Yes or no, Daniel? Yes or no?
Him: Have you ever been tempted to lie with another woman as you would with your wife?
Him: Tell me about them. These other women.
Me: There was only one. Her name was Sharon. We went to the same church.
Him: Did you ever attempt to act on your temptation?
Him: You’re lying to me.
Me: I swear on my life I am…
Bang! The gun goes off and in my terror, I swerve the car to and fro all over the road and fight really hard to regain control of it. Charles is screaming at the top of his voice;
Him: By all means, fuck up the car! Crash it! Crash the car! See if I care! Go on! Drive us both off the road! Kill us Daniel!! Kill us both!!
But I manage to focus on regaining control of the vehicle and as soon as I bring it to a screeching halt at the side of Kangundo Road, I turn to him screaming as loudly;
Me: What do you want from me Charles??!! What the hell do you want from me??! Do you want the fucking car? You can have it! You want to kill me? Put the gun on my head and do it right now!
Him: Do you want that? DO YOU WANT ME TO KILL YOU?
Me: Yes! Do it! Do it!
He points the gun to my head without any hesitation whatsoever and I am sure he will kill me without any second thoughts or regret. This is a man with nothing to loss. With no conscience at all and no regard for human life. So I scream;
Me: Wait!! Please wait!
Him: (Pressing the gun against my head so hard that my head is being pushed against the window on the driver’s side) For what Daniel? For what? Do you want to pray? To what God? To the one of the Jews? Or the Christian one? Or Allah? Or Buddha? Or do you want to turn to Kirinyaga mountain and say “Thaai Thathaiya Ngai Thaai” to the God of your ancestors?
Me: (I’m confused. And scared. I’m thinking of my children and my wife.) Please don’t.
Him: (He’s still pressing the gun against my head really hard) Huh?
Me: Please don’t kill me.
Him: I can’t hear you begging Daniel! Beg Daniel, beg!
Me: Please don’t kill me. Please. For my kids. Please don’t take my kids’ daddy away from them. (I don’t know the point at which tears roll down my face.)
Him: Have you ever cheated on your wife?
Him: You’re lying! (He must be pushing the gun against my temple with all his might now because the hot muzzle starts cutting into my skin.) NO!
Him: YOU’RE LYING DANIEL!! YOU DONT DESERVE TO BE ALIVE!! No soldier should be in Somalia dying for you!!
Me: (I figure he’s about to shoot so I yell) She is the one who cheated on me, OK? She cheated on me. (The pressure of his gun against my head relaxes) She cheated on me, OK? (Then the weight of my words hit me) OH my God. She cheated on me.
Charles gets the gun off my head in silence, puts it back inside his trenchcoat and pats me on the shoulder like we’re buddies and asks me to get out of the car. He doesn’t order. He requests nicely like he genuinely cares about me and I find myself appreciating the gesture. Maybe I’m developing a case of the Stockholm Syndrome.
I get outside the car and he sits behind the wheel as I walk around and sit beside him.
He starts the engine and drives slowly and in silence towards Donholm.
To Be Continued…