Back in high school we had a bell rung at 5.00 AM. This bell meant it was time to pull your blankets closer. Close your eyes tightly. And wait for the teacher on duty to yank you out of bed. It doesn’t matter what month it is. July or November. At 5 in the morning, it’s cold. A biting cold. The kind of cold that freezes even your assets. Our only comfort then were those pieces of dusty blankets and matresses. The mattresses were so thin your heat permeated through it warming up the cold wire mesh. That bell would pierce through your dreams. Waking you up. Reverberating through corners of your brain. It reminded us that only dreams were warm and cosy. Reality was loud, obnoxious, rude and cold.
Years later and I don’t have a bell. Actually I thank God. The mattress is also thicker with a duvet to boot means I’m not as cold. My alarm could count as a bell. But I doubt B.O.B’s out of my mind passes for one. People have weird alarm ringtones. I’ve heard crowing cocks. Stock house phone ringtones. Mugithi. Tony Nyadundo. Heck there’s this girl I know whose alarm is a recording of her shouting wake up. If you think about it she gives herself a wake up call every damn morning. Then there’s the girlfriends and female friends that would make you call them at whatever time they wanted to get up. Absurd. I’d ask them to set an alarm. But in good old damsel in distress fashion; they’d whine “but I don’t hear my alarms”. Funny how they’d hear the phone ring but that’s none of my business.
In school you’d do anything for an extra ounce of sleep. You’re probably wondering why ounce. But weight is the measurement of sleep. Only way it would explain “lala unono” or “heavy sleeper” right? It could also be height because of “deep sleep” but weight carries the day for me. So ounce it is. Back in school you’d kill for that extra ounce. Pretend to be sick. Hide behind a cupboard until the teacher on duty left. Skip breakfast. Even sell your soul. But now, not so much. There’s this little devil called money. Bills. And whisky. They all need you to wake up. Sleeping means forfeiting all those. I don’t know about you but I could do without bills. Not whisky. Especially in this cold. Chei!
So it’s morning, around 6.15 and I can already hear the traffic from where I’m seated. Nairobi traffic has a monotonous drone to it. Like the engines are complaining for being up that early. There’s a half cup of tea in front of me. Half eaten kaimati. Unpeeled banana, and a slice of avocado. I decided to join the whole “eat healthy” bandwagon. Someone told me that a lemon slice in my coke or after a tequila shot doesn’t count. Touts are busy shouting over each others voice. Trying to woo passengers. Or rather intimidate them into their buses. Then there’s the characteristic blaring horns. Which have a very funny sheng’ name. I can’t even pronounce it let alone write it down. Sounds something like paraphernalia. Ask a conductor the next time you talk to one. Cheery chaps. The goal is to be out if the house by 6.30. 6.31 means I’m late. One minute is what it takes for the roads to flood, traffic cops to have seizures and the world to end. So not 6.31 not 6.29 but 6.30
Outside, the cold breeze first slaps my face. Hard. Like I called it fat and ugly. Then it seeps through my jacket and t-shirt, spreading goosebumps all over my body. But it has a refreshing minty feel to it. Air in the morning has that effect. It wakes you up and you feel alive. Sleepy. But alive. There’s a clarity to your thinking. The morning air makes you feel invisible. Like you could solve a quantum physics equation in the time it takes you to walk to the bus. Identify a new element and have a planet named after you. For people like me you want to take out your pad and write. But it just doesn’t work. Walking and writing. It’s like the creatives drinking and driving. You might get there, yes, but you’re never sure. Drinking and writing however, a story for another day.
Eastlands teaches you that in the morning, with traffic, you don’t just board any matatu. There will be the 14 seater with rickety chasis that’s hanging on the blood of Jesus and the drivers grip on the steering wheel. If you love yourself . And your job. You don’t even give it a second glance. Then they’re the mini buses. Blue and white. Infamous among women with a penchant for short dresses. Those are not bad. But after incidences they are more inclined to following the law. That’s not a bad thing but with Nairobi traffic, it’s the last thing you want. Then they have their younger, bad brothers. These are tricked out. Loud music. And notorious. You can get into one. Should actually. Alternatively, their rival, the black and yellow branded ones. Royal. How they do it is a secret between God and the driver. But you get to town in record time. That’s what you want.
So I get into a Royal. It’s at the stage. Sitting there quietly. It knows it’s the shit. They don’t even haggle for passengers. That’s common matatu problems. It’s the lightskin of matatu. The rich kid. It just waits. And soon enough it’s full, revved off and snaking it’s way through inches of space avoiding Nairobi traffic. The one I’m in has these chairs that are kind of reclined. So it feels like you’re at the barbershop. Next to me is a burly woman. Black skirt. Black shoes. Cream top, scarf and a red sweater. Her handbag is on her lap and she has a black paperpag next to it. I don’t pay much attention to her.
As traffic moves she opens the paper bag. I catch a whiff of fresh mandazi. It’s so engulfing. Enticing. And warm. She takes a bite out of it. Doesn’t feel squirmish about it either. Then from her bag pulls out those mugs that double up as a thermos. Takes a hug sip. Slurps it while she does. Maybe because it’s hot. Maybe because she likes it. Who knows. In a mat it’s normal for a guy to be on their phone. Even normal to have fries and kuku. But mandazi and tea… I can’t. I’m trying not to look at her. It’s rude. Plus I don’t want to come off as hungry. I’m not. And I think maybe I should write about her.
To wake up in the morning, shower, dress up, make up and god knows what else; then to carry your breakfast in a mat, says a lot. What goes through her mind. What time does she sleep. Does she make her breakfast with handbag in hand? What time does she wake up? Maybe she snooze her alarm more times than is necessary. Maybe the mandazis she buys from a lady at a corner before the stage. Maybe that lady just opens as she’s leaving. So she doesn’t have an option. Maybe they’re that good. Good enough to force her to carry tea for her mandazi. That’s when mandazi is the shit. Usually people carry mandazi for their tea.
What kind of music does she listen to. Does she dance to it. Does she make her boyfriend dance to it. Does she have a boyfriend. Or is it husband. Do they know she carries her breakfast in the matatu. Or do they also carry theirs. Maybe it’s a thing. Then they compare notes at the end of the day. Maybe they carry different foods every week. Maybe different days she has weetabix or cornflakes. Other days kawaida bread. Brown or white?
Where does she work. And what does she do. Is she a funny person in the office. Starts jokes with “the other day my mandazi and I…” Are they penalised for being late hence breakfast on the go. What does her boss look like. Are they intimidating. Or happy go lucky. Does the boss watch sponge bob in pajamas eating cereal like a snack.
Too many questions. Not enough traffic.