It is Thursday morning, twenty four year old Esther is traveling to Kitale from Nairobi. Like most people in Kenya, she uses the public transport, one of the famous shuttles on the Western Kenya- Nairobi roads. It’s an 11 seater shuttle, a luxury one at that. The journey will take approximately six and a half hours to Kitale.
The shuttle is quiet, everyone minding their own business. Unlike most shuttles, this one has no music or radio playing in the background. Two young men are sitting in the passenger’s and co-driver seats at the front. One is reading a daily nation newspaper while the one sitting in the middle is busy on his phone. Behind the driver are two women. A young boy, about five years, sits in between them. He keeps telling her mother, the one at the shuttle’s door, to buy him something from the hawkers at the window. The other lady, middle aged, is sitting directly behind the driver. She keeps checking her phone then returns the phone back to the bag. She looks restless, like she wishes the shuttle would move faster.
Esther sits at the back, on the right side, of the shuttle. A sit she has come to fall in love with. It is most comfortable for her. Next to her is a young man around 20 years old who is fully engrossed on his phone. On the far side of Esther is a young girl in a high school uniform. She’s looking outside the window while chewing gum like her gums are in a battle.
There is a middle aged man sitting in front of Esther. He also has his face inside a standard newspaper mirroring his seatmate who also has his face in a daily nation newspaper. Everyone is quiet except for this man who looks to be in his late forties. He has been talking over the phone since the journey started. The shuttle has reached Nakuru and all this time the man has been on his phone except for a 10 minutes break he has had twice. All the other time he has been on the phone with different people. He sounds like a very important person in reference to his talk. Giving commands over the phone and promising on-time-cheque deliveries.
“I have seen the tractor Mr. Pundo. It will be delivered to you in two weeks’ time. Just be a little patient with us…”
He talks and mentions millions of money. Esther keeps wondering why he’s not scared of mentioning big amount of money in a public transport.
When they reach Nakuru, the conversation stops. Everyone gets out for a bathroom break while others have go to get something to eat. Thirty minutes later, they are back in the shuttle and the journey continues. This time round the shuttle is totally quiet. The young boy behind the driver is fast asleep. The big money man is also done with his phone calls. The journey is now smooth until a weird ringtone cuts through the buzz of the moving car. It’s the restless lady’s phone.
“Hello,” the woman shouts on the phone.
“Watoto wako wapi?” she asks the person on the other end of the line.
The conversation becomes longer and the woman is becoming agitated. She starts to plead with the person on the other side of the line to be patient with her. Her voice cracks and its very clear that she is trying her best not to cry. The conversation goes for about 12 minutes all this time the woman begs the person to be patient. Finally the phone ends and the shuttle is thrown back to silence. But two minutes later, the weird ringtone splits in between the silence once again. This time it sound like it’s a different person who has called but the context of the conversation sounds the same. It seems the lady’s kids are in danger and she is trying to plead with the person who is with them to be patient with her until she arrives and takes care of everything. The second phone call breaks her and she actually cries on the phone trying to plead with the person. When the phone call ends, Esther is shaken. What could be happening to the woman’s kids? Questions are running in her mind and she wishes she can help the lady, but something totally different brings her back to the moment. She can’t believe her ears and eyes.
“Wee mama, hauoni hii ni public transport? Hauna haya kumwaga siri zako za nyumbani kila mtu akisikia?”
This rude comment comes from the big money guy. He asks the rude questions as he looks at the men sitting next to him as he smiles. The men join him in laughing, which incites him to more rudeness. He goes ahead laughing and mocking the woman about her airing her dirty laundry to the public. That she should learn to avoid letting everyone know her business and she should also learn to speak quietly over the phone so people wouldn’t know her business.
Esther cannot believe her ears. She turns to look at the young man next to him. He is oblivious to what is happening since he has his earphones on. The girl in the uniform is fast asleep. The two men in front of her are laughing, their newspapers discarded on their laps. She can’t see those in front, except the woman who is being mocked. She has turn to look at the big money guy, a painful expression on her face.
“Haujui shida niko nazo sasa tafadhali wachana na mimi,” she says, which makes it even worse. It’s like her words have sparked more rudeness from the big money guy.
Esther cannot take it anymore.
“That is very rude of you mister,” she starts nervously.
The man turns to her, surprised.
“What did you say?”
“I said that is very rude of you, can’t you see she is distressed. That call was not just a greeting from a friend,”
“This is none of your business young girl. You are too young to talk back to an old person,”
“It’s none of your business either, if you have a problem with people airing their dirty laundry in a public transport, you should get yourself a private jet, clearly you can afford it.”
The shuttle is now quiet making Esther more nervous, but she doesn’t back down. Even her seatmate has removed his earphones and is now looking at her in awe, which gives her a little bit of confidence.
“We have heard all the conversation you had when we started this journey and no one has said anything because it’s your damn business, but now you have the audacity to attack this lady just because her conversation was loud enough for everyone to hear. How pathetic is that?”
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that, I am old enough to be your father!”
“First of all you can never be my father and second do not bring my father to this conversation. If you claim to be old enough to be my father then act like one. Stop harassing people like you own the world,”
The other men have stopped laughing and now they are looking at Esther, shock written all over their faces. The lady in question turns ones more and says,
“Usifanye nikulaani wewe! Watoto wangu wako kwa shida na hapa unajaribu kuniongezea shida. Ombea wako sana, kama una watoto.”
The man stops smiling and doesn’t say a word at all. The shuttle is back to silence.
The young man next to Esther turns to her.
“I have never seen such a courageous young girl. Weren’t you scared he would attack you?”
“I hate bullies and I can tell he is all mouth and no action.”
It is so sad and shameful that people have stopped hiding behind a phone and a pseudo name to attack others (not that they shouldn’t stop hiding behind a phone and a pseudo name) Now they have the courage to bully someone physically on our streets. We need to be our brothers’ keeper because it does affect us if an individual is in pain. The world is already full of people in pain, what we need is one more happy person and not one more bitter person.
The big money man is very angry at Esther, that she is worried he might attack her. But it never happens. It seems he has been shaken by the words from the lady. He ends up in silence for the rest of the journey, he does not receive any more call. Makes Esther wonder if those calls were even real. The best part is, he stops attacking the lady.
Please let’s learn to protect each other.