People who grew up in families that had personal cars did not understand why I celebrated getting a Driving License. I imagine that they were one of those kids we used to envy – those whose folks dropped at school every morning, and then sat in the waiting area after school, chilling for their dads to come pick them up. Sometimes their dads delayed and we got home before them. Other times, after eating our fare back home, we would watch them zoom past us in their Pijot (Peugeot) as we walked. Since we had the half-brains to walk the main road from M.M. Shah Primary School to our diggz in MIgosi, there were times when Mother Karua would catch us red handed. She’d spot us around Kondele area from a matatu on her way from work. And you know how sly African mothers are, eh? You get home and you find her in the sitting room watching TV and then she asks you, “So how was school today?”
“It was fine,” you lie, because there is no school that has ever been ‘fine’. School can either be two things; “horrible” or “unbearable.”
“Good. And why are you late today? They kept you for tuition again?” (aki and you used to fall for this bait every single time!)
“Eeeeeh. Si unajua exams ziko karibu so lazima tusomeshwe sana?” you said as you were going next to her to greet her, but as soon as you extended your hand, she would make as if to greet you back and then all of a sudden a slap would land on your face. I do not know about your mothers, but for me, my mother’s slaps were invincible. They did not come like rain. They came like lightning. Very swift, out of the blue and thunderous, leaving you with nothing short of a mini heart attack in their wake.
Also, Mother Karua would not explain why she beat you. You were supposed to find out for yourself why. That is when you would go to the help – an old mama from ocha – who would first laugh at you by saying, “Kawuono Karua omayi network?”, before telling you that she saw you walking home, yet she gave you fare.
Then, there were those rich kids from Kenya Re. Back then when Kenya Re was still the glowing hubbub of Kisumu middle class, and not the dying decrepit it is now , lying on its deathbed with one foot in the grave, coughing through an oxygen mask of despair. In those days, kids from Kenya Re had fathers with cars. Mostly government issued, but who could tell the difference then? These dads would put their kids on their laps and then drive around with them holding the wheel. Shit, I used to envy those people. I really wished we had a car. A functional one, that is, because we had an Opuk (ancient Latin for Volkswagen Beettle) that was always spoilt.
So for me I never sat behind a steering wheel, however much I longed for it. Until one day when I was in Form 4 and my elder brother, Nimrod, who had just started working for CFC Stanbic came home with a Premio. The kind of excitement that leaped in my heart can only be understood by someone who had always wanted a car he could point to and say to his friends, “Hii ni gari yetu.”
Naturally, Neem asked if I wanted to learn how to spin and I looked at him wondering why he had to ask.
The moment I sat on that driver’s seat, I wished I had not agreed to it.
By a show of hands, how many here have been taught how to drive by their elder siblings? One…two..three…okay, put your hands down. And how many actually had a fun time while at it? None? None at all? Well, me I get it by the way. There is no doubt that elder siblings have immense love for us younger ones, but I believe I speak for all last borns when I say that when it comes to teaching, older siblings are monsters. Terrible, otherworldly, creatures.
Imagine it was my first time holding the steering wheel of a moti.
“Brake ni gani?”
“Nkt. Hiyo ya left.”
I step on the brakes.
I turned the key and the Premio came alive.
“Haiya, itoe kwa Parking mode into Drive.”
He looked at me like my IQ quotient was smaller that parking slots at Yaya Center and then said, “Vuruta gear from P hadi ifike kwa D.”
“Haiya, wachilia brake. Halafu ukanyage mafuta.”
I pressed on the gas ever so gingerly. The moment the Premio began to move, I wanted to jump out of the car. Never mind that it was crawling at 5kph and gaining momentum pole pole. Then we came to a junction and I think he had forgotten that I am a first timer and he said in a bit of panic, “Stop!”
Who can blame me for panicking at the stern instruction? Who? When he said “Stop!” what I registered in my head was “STOP THE FUCKING CAR BEFORE YOU KNOCK THAT PREGNANT WOMAN!” and so my reflexes came into action and I slammed on the brakes. The car stopped, but we didn’t. Inertia pulled our heads forward until my forehead almost kissed the steering wheel.
That was the end of that lesson.
I never touched a car again until I met Jaber.
It is funny dating a girl who has a car. In as much as you may want to pretend that you are the modern man who does not have the baggage of societal expectations breaking your spine, there is still that itching feeling that reminds you that it is supposed to be the other way round. When you go for dates, you are the one supposed to pick her up and drive her around with your elbow sticking out of the driver’s window like a samosa. Actually, the first time we spoke and she told me she drives, I excused myself and went on Google to check what kind of car a Cami is. And since I know fuck all about cars, I saw that the Cami has a tyre at the back, meaning it must have been a RAV 4 or a Prado, which is practically the same as a Discovery, which is somewhat equal to a Land Rover, which must be the sister to a Range Rover, which means that chick came from a family dripping with money. Which means, my insecurities heightened. Makes sense, right?
Suffice it to say, I was taught how to drive and park by my girlfriend. Meaning, if someone was to tell me that I drive or park like a girl, I will take it as a compliment. It is from her that I learnt the joys of making 3,487,913-point turns. And you cannot really spite the hand that feeds you, now, can you?
Lakini she only taught me how to drive her automatic. Then one day last year, when we were still neighbours with Ian Arunga (Doris’ squeeze), I asked him if he could teach me how to drive a manual. He said sawa. Then, he was spinning a green Mitsubishi Lancer that he called Esmeralda. You know, I had gone to Ian with the arrogance that I knew how to drive an automatic, so how difficult could it be? Wueeeeh. Sijui I am supposed to balance the brake with the clutch sijui how. I have no idea where Ian got the patience to teach me. Every time we approached a bump or pothole and I pressed on the brakes even small, the car stalled. When I tried to reverse, she stalled. When I tried to change gear and step on the mafuta, Esmeralda gave a yelp the way chicks do when you mistakenly enter the wrong hole.
By the end of that Sunday lesson all of us were tired. Ian was developing a migraine, my left foot was begging for a massage and Esmeralda, oh no, poor Esmeralda’s clutches were nursing third-degree burns.
Ian never gave me another lesson. Of course, I understood. I wouldn’t give me another lesson. Until after he dumped Esmeralda for a European. A BMW so resplendent you can look at it and see your soul. So that you know that Ian is a great guy, even after roasting his ex, he still allowed me to drive his beamer bana. It was that day we were coming from the launch of the Jaguar F-Pace and he was driving me home. We got to some place in Kile and he asked me, “Magunga, do you want to try this one?”
“Are you sure?”
He stopped the car, stepped out, walked around to my side and told me to go drive.
The beamer (I do not know if he has named it yet) is German, meaning, everything is on the wrong side. When I tried to dim the lights, it is the wipers that moved. And then it is a low car. I had to knock its bottom once or twice before learning how to drive horizontally at bumps. This BMW is also swanky. Sijui ati it can sense things. When it is hot, it turns on the AC automatically. When it senses something ahead, it slows down by itself. At first me I thought the car was possessed, and in dire need of holy water and prayers. Kumbe it is just artificial intelligence. I do not know this for sure, but I think Ian’s car cannot allow you to drive it when you are wearing Bata sandals. It must be like those fashion cops at Strathmore University who will tell you to go back and dress appropriately. You cannot drive a car like that when you look like a jakwath. A bit of nyadhi is required, which you can easily get at when you visit www.dappermonkey.co.ke for something debonair. Preferably, one of those bespoke suits that, when you wear it, you feel like you are wearing a second skin.
I got my DL last week, just before the long weekend. I had to go to a Rocky Driving School that is near our diggz. There used to be a time when driving schools were as rare as steak at Sierra Brasserie. It was easier for Donald Trump to have a good hair day, than it was to find a driving school in an estate. But these days they are like mosquitoes. The most memorable thing for me was the CAT exam that students are given. Mind you, these exams have questions that they do not teach you – but that did not scare me, because 8-4-4 ensured that I was prepared for such things. If you went to Maranda High School, then you must know how to write exams freestyle. The motto is simple; if you cannot dazzle with brilliance, baffle with bullshit.
Question: What is Coasting?
Magunga: Going to Mombasa.
Answer: Driving for a long distance on a single gear.
Question: What is the first thing you are expected to do when you receive your DL?
Magunga: Take a photo and post on Instagram.
Answer: Sign it.
Question: How many eyes does a driver have?
Magunga: Depends. Is the driver a pirate?
Answer: Three (two natural eyes and the mirrors).
Question: How does a driver abuse other road users?
(Aki I am not shitting you this is a real question)
Magunga: You insult their mother.
Answer: Press and hold horn for continuous hoot.
Question: What is the difference between a ‘street’ and an ‘avenue’?
Magunga: Aaaaaai. Pass.
Answer: An ‘avenue’ is straight road with a line of trees or shrubs running along each side, while a ‘street’ has buildings on both sides.
Magunga: Oh please, stop carrying me foolishness bwana! Which trees and shrubs have you seen on Moi Avenue? Dhie na kou! Mnirudishie school fees, priss.
Finally getting my DL means a lot to me. It means that I can borrow the Cami when I am in a hurry, without worrying about the cops. However, it also means that the fun of being chauffeured around is over. For example, when we go out to the club, I am usually the one who can get drunk and Jaber cannot drink anything other than water/juice because she has always been the designated driver. My excuse was that I could get busted by the fuzz and the fact that I did not have a DL would aggravate my charges. Now that my little red book is here, it means that there are nights when I will be driver.
Fair enough, change spares nobody.
Here is the best thing about getting my license, though. You know when you are in the passenger’s seat and the driver receives a call and then you are given the phone to deliver a message to whoever it is on the other end? I blahdy hate that job, man. Always have. But my God does not sleep. A time is coming when someone will call me when I am spinning, and finally, after centuries of being the car secretary, I will turn to Jaber, pass my phone to her and say, “Please tell Jamo that I am driving. Nitampigia baadae.”