Kenya Cab Chronicles (Part 2): An Uphill Task for the Faithful

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Njenga is a 35 year old Nairobi cab driver who’s been in the business of transportation for just over a decade. This is part of a series of events that chronicle both his experiences, and those of his taxi driver friends, in a rapidly changing Safari capital of the World

In our previous episode, Njenga was left frustrated after a drunk damsel duped him and fled with his money…

Mackintosh Ogolla was perplexed, annoyed and resigned: Perplexed at how he’d landed himself into this mess – muddy and wet -, annoyed with how he’d gone against his own better judgement and opted to pick his regular client, and resigned to the fact that he may just spend the next two hours of his time and life drenched under the torrential downpour and flood of emotions.

You see, desperation is a terrible thing. Clothed in end-of-the-world premonitions and a thirst for a quick buck, the adrenalin it exerts is as swift as it is crushing. And thanks to further technological advancements and a difficult economy, the wells that were once overflowing in delivery and client business for his modest taxi business, were now perfunctorily running dry. Therefore, when a ‘regular’ client comes calling, one must heed the call and come running.

His calloused hands, now watery from the downpour, gripped the wrench in his grasp firmer as he leaned against his Premio in defeat, stuck in the mud with a flat tire, in the middle of nowhere: Well, at the heart of Nairobi’s Kitisuru suburb to be precise. Mack slipped his right hand into his pocket and pulled out his mobile, not caring that it wasn’t waterproof, but in dire need of assistance from his closest friend and colleague, Njenga.

***

In the wee hours of a chilly April morning, the engine of Njenga’s Tiida purred to life as the dejected man that he now was, curled his tail in between his legs and retreated, exiting Suranji Apartments in the Kilimani area, cursing and not understanding why God made some people the way they were.

Having grown accustomed to almost every trick in the book, it still surprised him when clients pulled a number on him, even in as inebriated a state as Kate had been. But one thing he was sure about is that karma has a way of working its magic. The Christian in him urged him to let that KES 1,000 go and let God, but the sinner in him seemed to be winning this battle by keeping the grudge and plotting her downfall – he’d plan to be back at her doorstep the following Monday morning, bright and early, at 7.00am. For now however, there were other fish to fry and recoup his losses.

Matthew 6:14 – ‘For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you’ – his father, Bishop Gatundu, always used to say, and especially from the day when Njenga came home from school, utterly dejected by the wrongs done to him by senior aggressors in Class 8, and whoever it was that pickpocketed his new school bag and took his beloved brand new fountain pen.

It seemed lady luck was smiling down on him following the harrowing experience, as the impregnable skies above suddenly unleashed their fury, with a swift and sudden torrential downpour piercing what was once a calm and still early morning. Njenga glanced at his watch and saw the time was 3.00am. Ungodly for any uprightly raised Christian such as himself, but perfect for any cab driver, such as himself. His life was a continual conflict.

The white sedan snaked through the dark alleys and damaged roads of the suburb, akin to a lioness on the prowl. He’d heard of how Kilimani Estate was once a preserve for bungalows and willowy sidewalks, but had now metamorphosed into a concrete residential highrise jungle laden with office suites, petrol stations, apartment complexes, thieves on motorcycles and a prostitutes prime property by night.

His phone rang then, the blue haze it created, lighting up the plastic and polyester interior of his cabin.

Mack Premio read the Caller ID on the screen of his mobile. It was his good friend Mackintosh Ogolla. They went way back, the last two and a half years in fact.

‘Mack, sema. Uko wapi?It’s odd how Kenyans kept asking where one was the first thing when they answered the phone. Force of habit.

‘Njenga, I need your help.’ He sounded destitute, with heavy rainfall audible in the background.

‘Is everything alright?’ Njenga inquired, just to establish whether this was a life and death situation or just a mishap.

Wacha nikutumie pin on Whatsapp. I’m counting on you brother.’ was all Mack said in a stable but in-need tone, and he hung up.

The Tiida made an immediate exit at the next turn near the Department of Defence, going towards the State House area to exit further ahead at the Arboretum.

***

Earlier that night, or later as a biological clock would have it, it had been a sluggish period for Mack. His aging taxi didn’t get much attention these days, from a more technologically advanced and particular clientele.

It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t get a loan from his Bank to finance a sleeker model to boost his decade-old venture, but his 2004 model still had some juice left in it, and he would definitely milk it until it was dry. These days, what kept him going was the regular clients who he’d been ferrying across the capital for years, because of his relatively fair pricing, compared to some newer apps. He refused to acknowledge that it really was mostly because they could ride with him on credit.

Like for instance Joel, a short, and short-tempered man, with both a quick gait and loud mouth. He had high cheek bones and slender eyes, with shrubby but smooth hair which was always kept trim to compliment the safari suits he seemed to have an endless supply of. Joel was calling Mack on his cellphone. He really didn’t want to pick it up, but this could be his only business for the night. And he did tip well, on occasion that it was not mid-month.

It was mid-April.

Nonetheless, they agreed that he would pick him up from the Aga Khan Walk in the CBD, right next to Re-Insurance Plaza, and drop him off at his home in Kitisuru. That was the other problem. The access road to Joel’s was a steep and slippery murram road.

Mack mustered up his wits, made the pick-up and got to the edge of the tarmac in Kitisuru about 25 minutes later. Joel insisted this was Kitisuru, but in essence, the County was now different, and even Google maps disagreed. But then came the literally uphill task of getting to Muda Hills Apartments, at the apex of a steep gradient. He glanced at Joel as if silently hoping he would alight and make his own way up, but there was no way that was going to happen in this downpour.

The automatic began vaulting up the steep incline, with a deeper bellow of engine sounds, as its tyres skid furiously, trying to grasp a single pathway up the ruddy slippery murram road. Concentrating on getting the car up the hill, he was happy with the preliminary results of getting halfway up the 400 meter stretch to the apartment block. Then all hell broke loose.

With Joel yelping like a lunatic on the passenger seat, the deep growl of the engine was soon overshadowed by a more insisent sound of metal grazing rubber and rock, as the left tyre of Mack’s cab ripped open, forcing the car to jerk and slide towards the edge of the road in a perfunctory sigh of defeat.

‘There’s what I owe you, Ogolla’, Joel broke the silence, which was preceeded by cries for help; placing two one thousand shilling notes on the dashboard, unlocking the door and trudging out onto the mud and rain. He scampered towards the green gate ahead, with his blazer raised over his head, then disappeared into the compound.

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