Now usually I like to tell you stories from the office but today I have a different one. You see, sometimes strange coincidences happen where you go and climb a bus to head home in the evening traffic jam and you suddenly notice that several people sitting inside it are fellow toilet cleaners from other buildings. Usually you just smile and wonder what the yellow-yellow office women pressing their smartphones would do if halfway home, in the middle of Jogoo road, you suddenly announced to them that they were sitting in the middle of a crowd of shit cleaners. Without our blue overalls, we are just regular people. You cannot tell us apart from the people whose shit we clean.
So last evening, I entered an Utimo after my shift. I prefer them because they are not as noisy as the Umoinner matatus that were blaring loud music outside. I would have sat down without noticing but Mogire was sitting a few rows back and he called my name. On looking up, I was so surprised I started to laugh. I couldn’t sit down for five minutes. I just kept laughing and pointing at them one by one. There was Merida, the patron mother of Nairobi’s shit cleaners. She worked at the KICC and was the person to see if your person died and you wanted collection cards to be taken to shit cleaners in different buildings. Two rows back, Mogire and Jabes Wagolo from our building were sitting together. Behind them in various places among the unsuspecting civilians were Fidelis, Boniface, Lynetta, Miriam, Wainaina, and Munene. And the bus was still filling up.
“Kwani tumeanzisha chama?” I asked laughing.
They looked around and spotted each other and also started laughing. Merida got up and immediately started greeting them. Among shit cleaners, she behaved like a politician and truly, we considered her some sort of representative. For what cause and to which authority though, those questions we had not answered yet.
“Nyinyi wa Nation Centre ndio mko hapa watatu,” said Miriam pointing at us. “Hebu tuambieni.”
“Tunaita maandamano,” Mogire jumped in. “Kuna waluhya wengine hapo kwetu wanatuua na mafi.”
The bus exploded in laughter.
“Excuse me,” protested the office lady Merida had been sitting beside. “Me I am a Luhya and I don’t appreciate such tribal statements about my people.”
You see, they didn’t know that we were all shit cleaners and we were speaking from experience. It was common knowledge among shit cleaners that Luhyas shat the most of all tribes, followed closely by Luos.
“Ni ukweli,” said Jabes. A luo himself. “Ni nyinyi waluhya number one halafu sisi wajaluo.”
Again the bus exploded in laughter. Even the woman who had protested was laughing. She was determined to be difficult though.
“Haki mkiendelea kuongea hivyo mimi nitashuka.”
I thought I would explain things to her. She needed to know that we were not being tribal or offensive, just observant.
“Madam,” I ventured. “As you see us here, we are all office cleaners so we are speaking from experience. What office do you work in? I am sure we know somebody from your office.”
“Kwenda huko,” she spluttered. “You want me to tell you so you can investigate my toilet habits? Haki mimi nashuka. Siwezi kukaa hapa sasa vile najua mnaosha choo nyinyi wote.”
“Aaah, kwani tumejipaka mafi? Si ushuke.” Mogire grumbled.
The situation was getting out of hand. I looked to Mama Merida for support. The tout was also poking in his head to see what all the commotion was about.
“My dear,” Merida began as she walked back to her seat from the back of the bus. “Even me I am a Luhya, and I am like your mother. I can tell you it is true what they are saying. You know our men. When they make a little money, they like to eat big ugali. And it is ugali that makes good mavi. So our people are the tribe that shits the most, and it means we are building the nation. It is not a thing to be ashamed of. Just the truth.”
And then she settled her large bulk in the seat by which the woman would have had to pass in order to alight and by blocking her path thus, settled the matter. The woman sat down. The last bus passenger walked in. It was Hadija, the lady who cleaned toilets at Equity Bank, Kimathi Street Branch. She noticed us all immediately.
“Alhamdulillahi!” she exclaimed in her nice Mombasa accent. “Kwani subordinate staff tumefungua kanisa.”
As the bus pulled out, we were laughing so hard we must have drowned out the music from those loud Umoinner matatus. Everyone was staring at our bus.