So this is what happened yesterday.
Kasichana Nyar Namchumbi and I walk into the Kisumu stend, dragging our suitcases like we are trying to catch an Emirates flight schedule for 1400hrs. We have just stepped out of the Ka’Akwacha that is located at the stage with a mixture of kwon bel, ojuri, Coca-Cola madiaba and kachumbari laced with teargas feeling at home at the bases of our bellies. We are headed to Homabay, but not in a hurry. This Nyar Namchumbi does not know this our Kisumo very well, so I tell her that we are better off getting into the next matatu ndio we get the ang’owa? The front seats with the driver. Otherwise we would have to be squeezed at the back, packed like matchsticks, forced to share a percentage of oxygen so little you’d be forgiven if you mistook it for Ekuru Aukot’s presidential results. The first matatu fills up in a matter of minutes. Seems like there is a Homabay rush. Passengers start trickling into ours. And that is when it all begins.
This manamba comes to our window and demands for fare. Not ask, demand. As if he had told me to pay and I refused. He has a big stupid mouth, whichever way you look at it; takes up too much his face, and it also speaks like it was not trained to. His eyes, red and drowsy, leak secrets of something cheap in his blood stream, and the moment the air from words hit my nostrils, the secrets are confirmed. I give him the six hundred he asks for just so that he can get out of my orbit.
A woman comes with two children. She seems to have settled on a bus fare with one of the manamba’s colleagues (you know how there is never just one conductor at a time?). She is supposed to pay 400 bob. She gets in, places her kids on her laps and somehow still manages to occupy only a portion of her seat. When Mr. Manamba goes to collect money from her and she gives her the 400 bob, he returns it to her.
“Four fifty mathe, saa rach.”
“But I have losod with that jama and you two even listened to one another that I pay 400. Kendo en wach mane?”
“Four fifty.” Then he turns to address the rest of the passengers, “This car is only for those ready to travel.” Being ready to travel here means there is no negotiation. “Madam, add me pier abich or you get off.”
I mean, look. I get that every job has its own frustrations, but what would it hurt to just ask that woman nicely? I guess it is naïve to expect professionalism from someone who is already drunk at work. The woman and her children alight from the matatu, takes her 400 bob and walks away. I watch her go until beats a corner and disappears into the other side of the stend. Mr. Manamba continues with his trade. Talking shit to people about fare because he thinks he is the shit.
Then a guy right behind me starts to demand his change. Usually, these kondaz collect all the monies then come back to give change to anyone owed. But this chap has refused to wait. I remember he had been arguing about the fare with Mr. Manamba. He is alighting at Kadel, which a few stops shy of Homabay. Manamba had told him to pay 300 but JaKadel was adamant that it is 250. After a push and pull the Manamba, surprisingly, is the one that conceded, took JaKadel’s 500 bob, wrote him a receipt just like the rest of us and then moved on with his nastiness.
Jakadel kept asking for his change. Manamba ignored him, did not say a word. The matatu got full and we were about to leave, and this man was simply not shutting up about his change. The rest of the matatu now joined in. Why can’t the Manamba just give this man his bloody change?
So, for context, this is how money is handled at The Stend. There are many parties involved. The driver of the matatu does not touch money. He sits under a shed chewing kangumu and washing it down with a cold Fanta madiaba. When the mat is full, he is called, given his cut and then drives off. The conductor who collects money is not the official matatu conductor. The official one is the one in maroon uniform. This one comes with a notebook and a pen, asking every single person how much they paid, adds up the sum and then reconciles it the amount the manamba has given them. Then there are reps from the Saccos who I do not know what they do.
That is why when JaKadel said he was owed 250 bob, a problem arose. Someone amongst them had that money. Our official conductor was a woman. Tougher than calculus. She had massive hands and a face that did not seem to entertain any kind of bullshit. She came to the matatu and asked the people around whether the manamba had given this JaKadel man his change and we all said No. Since I was seated at the front and was not privy to what had happened behind me first hand, I kept saying “Bwana jama ni has been asking for his change nyaka nene.”
Many of us passengers sided with the son of Kadel. Not so much because we knew 100% that he had not been given his change, but because that son of a bitch manamba guy was too foul to us to give us any belief that he could be right. But it is not that we lied. We simply said that this man has been asking for his 250 bob change ad nauseam. Surely he must be owed. It also did not help that the manamba was drunk. The other passengers now came after that, saying that he wanted to squeeze JaKadel’s change to go buy cham.
The conductor went back to the manamba, pointing at him with her note book, shouting, “We walo kodwa omera. Mi ng’ano change! Patia huyo mtu change yake!” Manamba naye refused, saying he had given JaKadel his change. He came to the matatu so furious I even got confused as to whether the red in his eyes was still from alcohol or from this spell of fury. To his credit, though, the Manamba stood his ground. He had given back the change, and given away the loot to the conductor.
One of the Sacco big men came back with the notebook, did the Math all over again. Perhaps there was a mistake in the kwano. Nope. Everything added up except for this 250 bob. If I was the official conductor, I would have also taken singular offence. I mean, here are two men between whom one was definitely guilty, and then instead of focusing on them her proficiency in Math is what is being brought to question? Really? Sexist pigs. #MenAreTrash
It was now a he said-he said. The Manamba’s word against the Passenger. In other words, dondruok. Then there was the word of not so credible eye witnesses whose testimonies could not believed by virtue of our feelings against the accused.
“Omera bwana mia change na!”
“I gave you change then wrote for you your receipt”
“No you did!”
“Yes I did!”
It went on for about 20 minutes. In my head I was like, si we just settle this matter the old school way. Tutashinda hapa hadi lini?
“I PROPOSE TRIAL BY COMBAT!” I shouted over the voices of these two boy babies.
OK, I am lying. I did not. But I wanted to. I was this close. We just put this two– or their champions – to fight it out to the death and whoever the gods favour will be right. Ama namna gani my frens?
But before my million-dollar proposition was fronted, a man showed up. He was bigger than the NYS scandal and wore a RESIST Tshirt. Punda jasunga wuotho go tielo abich! I do not know whether he was one of the Sacco guys or the security. The moment he appeared, everyone hushed. He raised his hand, I sank deeper into my seat, Nyar Nam Chumbi squeezed my hand tight (most likely to squeeze in a leak of pee).
“Omera, lor piny.” He said to JaKadel. He did not even raise his voice. He said the words, but it was his eyes that passed the message. The son of Kadel got out of the car immediately.
The two culprits were made to stand facing one another. In between them, a prominent #Resist fist. Baaaas, we knew today this manamba man was going to know that omena is also fish. No mercy. JaKadel was asked to remove his wallet. There were a few a hundred shilling notes bundled together.
“Are you sure this is not your change?” Big Man asked.
“No.” JaKadel said. “These are all 100 bob notes. My change was 250.”
We all shouted TIBIM!, but in our hearts. Mr. Manamba had picked had picked his hand for firewood. And even as he stood there, shiting his stupid pants, I felt no remorse for him. Instant karma, baby, instant karma.
“Is that all the money you have?” Big Man asked JaKadel again.
OBJECTION Your Honour!! Badgering the witness!!! Why are you only asking the innocent passenger questions, why not this spawn of a bedeviled oliktiga?
“Yes,” JaKadel was confident. He did not even stutter.
“Try your pockets again.”
OH COME ON!!!! THIS IS A WITCH HUNT!!!
Son of Kadel tries the left pocket.
Tries the right pocket.
JESUS IS LORD!!!
Tries the back let pocket.
Then he tries the right pocket.
This time my heart does not even wait for a result. It just starts signing and chanting. But just before I can even say OSEMOKE!!! Kasichana Nyar Nam chumbi taps my shoulder and says, “Magunga….Look.”
And right there, at that very instant, a collective sigh of disappointment swept across the matatu, as the son of Kadel removed two notes. Genuine notes. Kenyan currency bearing Daniel Moi’s face. One worth 200 and another worth 50.
What a waste. You were our redemption, JaKadel. You had the hopes and dreams of 18 people perched on your shoulders and you simply fucked it all up. Ma ng’ama nade? The people of Kadel are the reason the revolution will never be televised. Where will we get the courage to broadcast nonsense like this? We are trying to change the world here, not diapers please.
The Manamba was livid. He wanted blood. He wanted to skin a motherlover. His other colleagues had to hold him back as JaKadel scurried back into the matatu, as Mr. Manamba shouted all the obscenities nobody should be yelling even when drunk that he had forgotten to shout when collecting fare. “Ok inyal kwalo manamba!” he added. Then went on and on about how his reputation was now injured and his honour questioned, and as the driver brought the matatu’s engine to life, all I could think about was, “What honour?” There is a difference between found not-guilty and being innocent. Ask Josephine Kabura.
Later as the nose of the matatu turned left into the highway, someone asked the man from Kadel why he lied about the change.
“Wiya no wil Nyasachiel. I forgot.”
Oh God. In an era where other people are robbing banks through tunnels and escaping with millions, these people from Kadel are merely thinking of stealing from a manamba based in the Kisumu Stend (very hard) who is drunk (impossible). Drunk men may lose control of their bladders and manners, but three things they will never lose are, one, their way home and, two, their hidden singing talents and three, control over their money. I thought this was common knowledge?
Jo South gi! You have enoughed me jadha.
Kasichana and I are doing a tour of South Nyanza in preparation of the Rusinga Festival 2017. Check out our Facebook, IG and Twitter timelines for updates, and if you can, please show up for the festival. The more the merrier, donge?
Cover photo: View of Homabay County from ACK Guest House