The Man With A Book


Sometimes I wake up with a bright future. The alarm goes off and I don’t smash it to the wall. I get to the shower quickly and then afterwards, sit on my bed, still covered with the towel. Then I apply oil on my African legs, hands, back, stomach and even the ass in an organized way. Afterwards, I stand in front of the mirror and smile and tell myself, this is my day! And these words have been so powerful. Monday the 21st I woke up with a bright future. I didn’t switch off the alarm; I didn’t dance in the shower, stamping my foot heavily. I didn’t leave the shower without the towel and most importantly, I didn’t dance in front of the mirror. I maturely dried myself and dressed up for work. One day, this mirror will tell you her story of my insanity.

I sat in the matatu, my future still bright. I was holding my cheap handbag like a female CEO who will be going to Italy next Wednesday for Women in Leadership Conference. I don’t usually use make-up but my skin was looking bright, like a commercial model’s and it shore in the intermittent rays penetrating the stuffy matatu. The day was very promising and I smelt fresh, very fresh. My neck was craned, looking at every single passenger who boarded the mat, as if waiting for someone. I didn’t check my phone and get amassed in stalking people, smiling when I saw women’s status condemning men for all deeds, checking what people have been up to over the weekend, who is pregnant, who proposed, who is angry at the world. No. I perched on the seat and got lost in my imaginations of what could have happened if I was Esther Passaris on JKL. Oh, I would have rolled my eyes at Miguna, told him he always looks horrible in his cheap agbada and… Somebody came and planted himself next to my seat.

He was wearing a black official trouser and a black cardigan so I didn’t see his shirt. He had beards, but struggling sideburns, but if he doesn’t shave for 2 months and lands in the hands of a capable barber, they should be pronounced sharply like Meru men. Or maybe he had sideburns, but his barber is jealous. Predictably, he wore good masculine cologne which must have been keenly selected by his girlfriend. His shoes shore proudly and you could tell he brushes them religiously. He must have been going for an interview in KPMG or Deloitte or a bank or he was working there. He smelt accounts, his poses looked mathematical and even his eyes were economical in their movements. These bankers and accountants love sweaters and official wear, unless they are senior and graduate to suits. So he must be a practicing banker, accountant or those complicated careers that involve balancing sheets, determining market shares, stock exchange and other such difficult things. I sat still, all my senses now very alert, checking him from the corner of my eyes, my ears very alert like a dog’s.

I clasped my hands together, as if I was a news anchor and adopted a new sitting posture. As the bus cruised through the super highway, two strangers sat, not saying a word to each other. This urbane man did not check his phone contrary to what I thought. He did not check his IG for girls on holiday, some just down here in Mombasa, in big hats, having sun screen in their floral handbags and saying “thank God it is summer again” as if we ever have any other season. The sun is always hot here in Kenya, isn’t it? And we don’t go praising the weather. We just curse when it is freezing cold and curse more if it is too hot. He did not run to Facebook to comment on hostile politics. He didn’t even put headphones on like he is on a plane. You know these people who wear headsets in matatus are my amusement. They are alighting in 2 minutes’ time, after a bumpy and loud ride, but they will wear headsets, like teenagers. Maybe they do it to avoid any chit-chat.

The accountant sat still, but seemed to have everything under control. He took a novel, from his bag pack. Yes, you heard right. Do people in Kenya do that? On a Monday morning? Well, I feel weird getting out a book because I feel people will hate on me. Si hio ni maringo? I cannot emphasize enough how I looked at him with admiration. He reads books? He doesn’t care a dime who is watching? And he is not a social media addict? No headsets? He is quite something, isn’t he, women? I read books, yes, but thin books with simple language.  As Mr. Accountant kept opening pages of Graham Greene’s book, I felt alienated from him. We just didn’t belong to the same world. Even his being in a mat looked accidental.

Then as my future was getting shaky, the kondaa reached to get my fare. I dug into my cheap handbag. I opened all the zips, nothing. I checked all the holes in it, in case they swallowed up coins. Nothing. My head was almost getting buried in the handbag as I rummaged through it for money. There was nothing. I shook it to hear any jingling of coins. There was nothing. I had forgotten my purse which had ten fifty bob notes for the week. The kondaa stared at me with his blood-shot eyes, chewing loudly and ready to rough me up. Before he began his long monologue of how they know such thieves and that this is Nairobi, as if we don’t know, the accountant turned to him and said, kata wawili. The kondaa smiled wryly, at the back of his mind probably convinced I was a con. I stared at the accountant, but he was now buried in his novel. Thank you. I told him. No problem, he replied and smiled, then went back to his silly book. We women get embarrassed at such things. You feel like the whole bus has marked you and will post it all over about how broke Nairobi women are. My handbag was now lying dejectedly on my laps, all zips still open and all pockets inside out. Some strands of strings peeped from the sides. Suddenly, I wanted to jump out and never see him or that kondaa who almost humiliated me. The accountant started preparing to alight and kept his book. I asked him what his name was. There is no harm in knowing a name and later repaying the money, is there?

Am Jackson.”

“Honestly, thank you Jackson. I will repay the money once I get to the office and…”

“No it’s okay. It’s nothing. And you are?”

I told him my full name (in case he searches for me on Facebook, if he is signed up) and he alighted, waving at me and smiled. My future was bright.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I read novels in matatus , its funny how people look at you when you read. At some point I decided to stop reading but then what else can I do in a traffic jam apart from reading Jeffrey Archer and John Grisham? Good read!

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