The first scenario happens some time in December last year. In it is a couple in the backseat of a cab, heading home. Somewhere during that night one of them thought it was a good idea to jump from a whiskey tasting (which turned out to be a whiskey turn up) to a vodka party where they were serving a different poison. An idea as terrible as the concoction itself. The only good thing in that scenario was that, in as much as the plan was to simply nip in and out of the whiskey event, they did not take the car. At the back of their minds they knew that there is no such thing as ‘one for the road’. Roads are no longer one way anyway. They are mostly dual carriage. So you would have to take at least two. And the general rule of thumb for going out is that if you are not going to drink a little, then hail a Little. They did. Which was the only good decision they made that night. Now they were on their way back home with too much blood in their alcohol circulatory system. The dude tells the cab guy, “Sorry, I would have directed you lakini siko pazuri. Fuata tu map please.”
That couple was Jaber and I. We drifted in and out of intoxicated consciousness, just to make sure that we were headed in the right direction. Usually, I would take refuge in the fact that Little Cab has an SOS button for emergencies, just in case we feel threatened. Those chaps had the presence of mind to think about safety of the customers. This was the festive season, after all, and yes, Nairobi is bae, but there will always be those people with sinister motives prowling about. But then there was just one issue. My phone battery was at 1%. Just dangling on the edge of the precipice. I kept praying that it would not go off. Not at least we were done with the trip.
Lakini you know how Murphy’s Law works right? Everything went wrong. We got home just fine. Fortunately for the cab driver, our diggz is not that hard to find via Google Maps. Only that by the time we were done and the driver had ended the trip on his app, my phone was already off.
“Fare ni 300,” he says.
I take out my wallet to see if I have anything left. There is nothing there. I turn to Jaber and ask her if she has cash on MPESA to send the driver, only to find that her phone is also out of juice.
“What about cash?”
She shakes her head in response.
“Charger yako ya gari ni type gani?” He shows me the cable he uses. It is a USB, alright, but his tip does not agree with my port.
Were this before the age of mobile app taxis, there would most definitely have been a row. First, the fare from Westy to Langata Road would surely have been more. Then this guy would have thrown a fit of biblical proportions that would wake up the entire flat. He would have thought I am a conman of sorts, trying to make away with his money. Understandably so because there is kidogo trust between strangers in this city. The ensuing drama of me pleading and him shouting angrily would have attracted the attention of the guards, and God knows what would have happened next. But these days, ever since the advent of taxi apps in which drivers already have all the necessary information they need, I can promise to send the payment later and they understand.
“Sawa, you can go charge and then MPESA me baadae,” he offered, as I profusely apologized for the umpteenth time, and swore by everything that inebriated people swear by, that I have given him a 5/5 rating.
I would love to lie and say that I actually remembered to send the cash immediately, but what reason do I have? I plugged in the phone, all right. I switched it on, all right. But some tiny devil lied to me that I could just place my head on the pillow for one second. The moment I listened is the moment the world went black. I only came to hours later because of a ring that started in my dreams and then got louder and louder as I drifted back to Planet Earth. It was an unsaved number.
“Niaje. It is Alex. Ndio nafunga jobo saa hii…naenda kulala.”
I looked at the phone again, this time with eyes open kiasi. It said 9.17 am. I do not know any Alex. Neither do I know any Alex who was supposed to call me at basically midnight. And I certainly had no clue about any Alex who calls me to announce that he is about to retire to bed!
I was about to tell him that he got the wrong number, then he says. “Alex. From Little Cab…from jana usiku?”
And that is when I sent him the money for the cab. I felt so horrible for having forgotten to send it, so I sent 450 bob instead, just to like relieve myself of guilt. But the most excruciating part was that he sent a message to thank me anyway. In this town, we survive on courtesies we do not deserve aki.
Enter stage left.
Two jamaas are inside a taxi talking about life the way guys in their 20s usually talk when quarter life crisis strikes. That is me and Jamo. We are coming from his office, and because it is Friday we are headed over to my place for a sleep over, but not before stopping somewhere in Hurlingham to pick a KC Coconut and soda.
We are at that age in our lives when the fun part of our twenties is quickly running out. We see people doing better than us and wonder if we are lagging behind or they are the ones who are in a hurry. While quarter life crisis is always about money and careers, this time, as we are being driven, we find ourselves reminiscing about campo days. And when that happens, it is impossible not to miss the current trend from UoN School of Law Class of 2014.
It is as if there was a memo that went round and we missed it. Guys are getting married bana! It is almost like a fad. And it is made even worse by the fact that every single one of those people who are getting hitched are those in our circle of friends. Many times we do not even see it coming. You just scroll down your TL one day and so and so got married. Nani just proposed. Ng’anene is taking cows. Mara ooooh the girl from our campo study group has already gone to cook.
Then the conversation takes a turn.
“Lakini wewe Magunga si you have been with the same girl for sijui three years?”
“What is your point?”
I know exactly what his point is.
“Fungua jam buda!”
“Sasa wewe, nifungue jam na huna hata gari?” We laugh.
“Aaaah men! Me my moti is now with someone else.”
A silence follows that comment. The unwelcome, unseen guest gets in and shares the seat of the cab, making itself so comfortable between Jamo and I, you’d think it is also changaing for the fare. I want to say something smart about that situation. About his ex who got married and then posted on Facebook ati the hubby is the first person to have ever given her a real kiss. I want to ask him, “Aaaai Jamo, kwani what were you doing? You are not supposed to eat the mouth it like you are devouring a ripe mango from Ndori!” But I do not. Instead I tell him, “Let them settle down. Our time is also coming.”
The cab driver speaks for the first time since the ride began. He says, “Majamaa, hakuna cha kusettle in marriage bana. Hiyo story ni works, babaa.” I cannot remember exactly what his words were, but they were along the lines of something like this: there is no such thing as settling down. It is amazing how that phrase settling down came about to be used in such a context. It was probably invented by someone who has never been married. Because you can never settle when you have a wife, and certainly, not when you have a wife and kids. When you settle is when your union crumbles. Getting married is not settling down. That is when work begins.
Or something like that.
Sometimes I sit back and wonder about what the everyday lives of cab drivers look like, you know. When you come to think of it, they are the people with the front seat to this theatre called Nairobi. Hell, hebu just imagine all the shades of mankind that cabdrivers have had the privilege of observing. They are the ones who get to enjoy the nuances of living in this city. They look at the rear view mirror and see the guy at the back rehearsing and prepping for an important meeting, or the chick who is fixing her makeup one last time for some hot date that she has been looking forward to all week. There is the old lady whose son hailed a cab for her, but she does not understand how this whole thing works. The family heading to the airport, one of them is flying out to what feels like a lifetime of miles away, the other ones are staying behind, and they hold each other as close as letters in a novel. The roommates who are fresh from an argument and neither wants to say sorry, so they sit on extreme ends of the car, watching the world rush by in the opposite direction. And then, when parked somewhere on Kimathi Street, waiting for a request to come in on a day when the weather did not quite behave as expected, he spots the girl covering her hair from the elements with a sheet of newspapers, desperately running in jumps in between buildings.
If only she knew that Little Cab does not hike its prices just because Mother Nature’s mood changed!
Then there is the other side of the equation.
The mama who hails a cab while stepping into the shower, making him wait for minutes that he could have spent taking another ride. The drunken couple at the back who look like they are about to return their dinner back to sender. The guys who send payment via mobile money and then reverse it. The long stares from regular taxi guys that are clearly not meant to be well-meaning, still angry that this new technology has revolutionized an industry as old as the wheel itself. The annoying stock questions from people who keep asking ‘do you like your job?’, most often thinking that everyone who drives a taxi has some juicy tea on struggle or a fall from grace, when they really just face the same everyday work struggles like the people in the office. The fear that some quick fingers might emerge from the dark and grab his navigation phone. That customer who orders for a taxi, but instead mistakenly inputs destination as pick up point and vice versa. And then, perhaps the worst of us all, the people who refuse to understand that Nairobi is a fast evolving city and not everywhere is mapped accordingly, and so when a cab driver calls to ask, ‘Where are you?’ (ever so politely, no less) they do not do it because they enjoy making people repeat what they have already told the app, but just to get a clearer picture of where they are, to avoid confusion.
Perhaps that should be the story here. I mean, we have all had our day in court telling our side of this story, and maybe it is time the jury also heard from the drivers.