Sometimes he would come in a taxi, on other times he would show up in the government car. It did not really matter to us because the most important thing was that William was coming home. On such days, I would not stay outside for long. And if we had to play, I would insist on playing somewhere close to the house because I wanted to see how he would arrive. I’d tell my friends, ‘today my father is coming,’ and they would help me keep a watch out. It was important to them because William being around meant I always had money for chipo and samosa and packets of Bibo. So it was in their best interests to be nice to me. And I milked that attention for all it was worth.
The days he arrived in a government car, we all knew it had to be him. Because nobody else’s father rode in like he did. I did not know, then, what model of a car it was. I just knew important people were driven in them. It was big. Too big for my young eyes because it filled up the view of my sight. And apparently too big for William, because the vagaries of old age had him struggle to climb in and out of it. It was squared with round lights, and instead of the number plate being in middle at the back, it was on the sides. And I always wondered why it always carried another tyre at the back like a school child does with a backpack full of too much homework.
It would not stay for long, this car. It would drop my William at the gate and then pull away, taillights blinking in the cloud of dust it raised. And I would rush to jump on this taxman who worked for KRA at the Kenya-Uganda border, insisting on carrying his heavy suitcase – because important men do not carry their own suitcases -and make a beeline to my mother’s bedroom.
I did not know it then, because I have never been much of a car person. But in hindsight, that is my earliest recollection of my interaction with a Landrover 110.
Over the past few weeks, I have listened to people speak about this specific car because the manufacturers decided to phase it out and develop a new one. The people who were up in arms against it were not particularly angry because the new 110 is awful, but because they had a deeper connection to the old one. And if you threaded it out, you will find stories of children and their fathers.
You will find stories of a little girl delivering produce from their family farm in Embu. Or a boy who was taken camping from time to time. Or a girl who’s dad knew the car so well he spent all of his morning hunched over the bonnet with greasy hands, and her job was to hand him spanners and screwdrivers and rev the engine when he asked.
Then there are people like my little cousin Peter. His father did not own a Landrover Defender. Or any car for that matter. But he is a car enthusiast. He is one of those people you do not want to go on a drive with because the only thing they will talk about is other people’s car on the road. It is both amusing and annoying at the same time. Amusing because when he speaks of cars, he is like those hoity wine or whisky people – the ones who smell the drink and can immediately tell you the maker’s blood group, complete with rhesus factor.
But it is also frustrating because Peter will say everything amazing about all the other cars on the road except yours. And you will resist the urge to stop your moti in the middle of the highway to kick him out so that he can go chasing after those other ones he is raving about.
When I heard that I was going to drive the new Landrover Defender 110, I took him along. As expected, homeboy wouldn’t shut up about the old 110. As expected, he too doesn’t understand why they had to make a new one. The one that was invented before he was born is just perfect.
So if it is not broken why fix it?
But he forgets that nothing is broken and nothing is being fixed. Hell, the original Defender 110 was built to last.
It’s just that things evolve. People grow taller. Phones become smarter. We use emails now, not the post. And we can now send and receive money in a snap like this. The Mushrooms left the stage and now we have Sauti Sol. Michael Jordan retired and now we have LeBron James.
And if evolution is true for everything in life, then it must be true for the Landrover Defender 110. This one is younger, hungrier for adventure, and built for these times. The corners are rounded, it has like 15 USB ports that I counted, could be more. The rear view mirror is not just a mirror, but actually a camera. It is shinier, so you can also drive it around in the city for a while – but not for too long because this is not a car built for traffic jams. It is not meant to be domesticated. It is a car for the wild, or for shagz (for those of us whose shagz is a wilderness). Unlike many Nairobi men, it can grow taller at will. No, for real. You press a button and it raises itself so you can get around depressions and those rift valley sized potholes in Kileleshwa. You do not even need a handbrake, it does that by itself.
The whole point of owning a Defender has never been about all the snazzy things it can do. It is about moments. Like forehead kisses, walks on the beach and sitting on the verandah in your grandmother’s house. But since you can’t go back to the 90s and relive those old memories with our fathers, you can make new ones in 2020.
I imagine that there is kid somewhere, waiting for his father to come back home. He may or may not be a taxman. I am not even sure fathers carry suitcases anymore. But I am sure the best part of his drive is when he gets back home. When he alights from his car, and his little girl runs towards him with arms stretched wide as is trying to fly, and he receives her with a lift as they walk into the house, swearing to himself that he would never let anything happen to his little girl.
I guess there is more than one way in this world to be a Defender.