Kampala Express….short story

I am seated at seat number 14B in the bus, at least it’s next to the window or else I’d be roast meat by now. I can hear the other passengers’ still scrambling to get in, even the smart ladies have put their ladylike behavior aside, because they know that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
I move protectively over the seat next to mine as I see a half-drunk man stagger towards it, this is going to be a really long journey and the last thing I need is an un-pretty face beside me.

My eyes are fixed on the door and I immediately decide that she is the one who will get the opportunity to seat next to me now and in future if possible. She is tall and plump, with a full face and over-jelled hair, she is almost beautiful. One brow arched up, she sweeps the whole bus with a scrutinizing glance, possibly searching for a suitable seat mate. Having checked out the other passengers for possible competition, I calmly put on my headphones, slide on my seat and close my eyes; beauty will have to find her way into my palace.
‘Is this seat taken?’ I hear her almost sing song voice and savor it for a moment before opening my eyes. I find her already seated even before I answered; she probably asked the question more out of habit than courtesy. These Nairobi girls!

Like all the other passengers, I am here because I want to catch a free ride to Kampala to watch the football match between Kenya and Uganda. Some big politician, whose name I cannot recall has paid for all the passangers, all! Imagine! These politicians, when it is time for elections, they become so generous, wait till the elections are over!

Mose let me have his ticket because he has exams next week, how can one leave going to watch an international match because of college exams, Ha!and they said school is supposed to remove stupidity?

With everyone settled down, I look around at the other passengers.
A middle aged man with a radio next to his ears, a red eyed young man who looked like he is high on something, an averagely good-looking girl in
Ridiculously skimpy tight clothes, a few rastafaris and of course a crowd of urbanely dressed university students, probably Mose’s friends.

The bus finally takes off with most of the passengers chanting the Harambee stars song; even the crazy traffic onWaiyaki way is not enough to dampen the already very high spirits.
We veer off the turns on Nairobi- Nakuru highway and travel for 4 hours peacefully. The chanting has gone down and the bus is very quiet as evening approaches. A few kilometers’ after Nakuru town, the bus stops and the driver and his Makanga get out for a few minutes. Most of the people who were asleep are awakened as the bus is not moving anymore. The conductor walks back to the bus and announces that everyone has to pay five hundred shillings to help cover the fuel cost because the money given by the sponsor did not put into consideration the rising cost of the dollar.

Most of the people start swearing that they will not give an extra shilling, not even if they had a gun pointed at them. The university students are particularly the loudest, one of them, apparently an economics student ,states categorically that there is absolutely no way the rising dollar will affect the price of fuel that had been imported earlier and kept in oil reserves etc etc . The conductor simply stands there, staring at the people talking and repeats that anyone who wants to reach Kampala in time for the match should have their five hundred shillings note in hand and that he didn’t have change for ‘big’ monies.
I remove my wallet and count everything, including the coins, three thousand one hundred and fifty shillings, if I gave out the five hundred, I am not sure I would have enough to put in my fixed deposit account this month, and then there is food to be bought in Kampala!

My not-so-beautiful seatmate stares at me counting the money, ‘and you, you already want to give him the five hundred, you think the rest of us cannot afford it ama? This is called comrades power, we all refuse to pay and no one pays! I remove my headphones and stare at her, hands on hips, heaving like a donkey. Her well-made face now smudged by the sweat streaming down her once covered facial pores. I immediately change my mind about her being by my side forever; life is already too complicated without this kind of drama.

I pull out the 500 shillings note as she watches and return my wallet in my back pocket. Probably not used to being ignored, the girl also settled on her seat and removes a smaller bag from her huge bag, she glances at me probably hoping I would offer to pay for her, but I once more slide on my seat, headphones on and close my eyes.

We find out from the Makanga that the driver wasn’t coming back until everyone paid, so, people start paying their fare or extortion fee as my seatmate calls it, before long, we are ready to go but not before the driver warned that anyone who wanted to help themselves was to do so now or forever hold their piece of shit until we reached the land of bananas, a few individuals laugh but I don’t even care anymore, am weary from all the stopping and I just want to reach my destination, we take off once more.

In Bungoma, we pick up a woman and three kids who follow each other like do re mi’s, no wonder Africa’s population is growing faster than the economy! I wonder when our bus became a PSV but say nothing. Prudence, my seatmate quickly offers the newcomer her sit and says she will squeeze herself at the back with the university students, attention whore! I wonder how her 80 kg chubby self will manage to squeeze on a seat, it reminds me of a tab of almost finished toothpaste that is being squeezed to empty its contents.
The woman moves to seat herself comfortably on the seat and in the process, pushes me to the edge, I am now the proud occupant of a quarter of the seat.
‘Please hold Junior for me,’ she says in her heavily accented luhya english, already seating junior on my lap, what impudence!
Junior, smiles broadly at me, exposing his toothless gum and runny nose, thanking ‘his uncle,’ that is supposed to be me, for being so kind.

Another stop, this time, the traffic police, the conductor alights with a one thousand shilling note; I think of the newly formed anti-corruption commission and its vocabulary speaking head.

‘So, young man, which side of the country do you come from?’ mama Junior bluntly asks, I am appalled at her obvious tribalism, of all the questions she could have asked? I don’t bother to answer; I am just not in the mood.
I turn to look outside at the passing road, Junior starts playing with my headphones.
We arrive at the border, leaving the pot holes filled road behind, the woman thanks me profusely, wakes up her children and off they lurch towards the door, peace at last.
‘So, have you been to Kampala before?’ Prudence again, this time with a broad smile on her face! I shake my head, ‘ooh then may I be your tour guide for the two days,’ she says. I want to tell her I was the best map reading student in my class but then change my mind, a little company for a couple of days in a foreign land does not sound too bad after all.


Gloria Mwaniga.