It was exactly 7:03 am. I remember clearly because the events that followed that random glance at my watch left quite an indelible mark on me. It was a Monday morning, the June weather as chilly as never before. I barricaded myself within the confines of my scarf, desperately trying to cover as much of my lanky frame as possible.
It wasn’t working.
That’s when I lifted my can’t-we-just-go gaze from the overly zealous conductor, to the area beyond my malfunctioned window. My eyes instantly landed on the first inspiring phenomenon I had seen that morning.
She ambled gracefully towards the ‘ma3’, swaying her curvaceous body from side to side, utterly oblivious of the trail of gazes she left behind her. I was transfixed, my shivering body suddenly warming up, my beloved scarf forgotten. As she edged closer to the ‘ma3’, I did a quick scan around my vicinity. If she boarded this vehicle, she would have one of two choices; either sit between those two rugged looking men in the row ahead, or sit next to me.
I had already subconsciously conjured up my opening statement, ready for the grand dispatch. She disappeared behind the ‘ma3’, and I could have sworn I saw her smile slightly at me, just a little bit. If she was a girl who knew what was good for her, then next to me is where she would sit.
After brushing her flowing hair to the side and holding it in place on her chest, she boarded, and slowly inched her way through. The conductor had totally forgotten what he was supposed to be doing.
My heart was now racing at speeds that could only be described as breakneck. Not for one moment did my shameless eyes steer away from her. One of the rugged men in the front row swiftly turned to provide her with ample room to get in between.
Yes! Here was a girl who knew what she wanted, and she announced it in flawless Swahili! The poor rugged man grudgingly let her pass, and there she was, settling her made-for-goddesses-only behind right next to me.
Before I knew it, I was subtly gasping for air. For a moment it seemed like I couldn’t breath. Then I realized it. I didn’t want to breath. I was breathless. So was the old lady at the extreme end, and the rugged men in front of us.
It wasn’t the smell of stinking feet, or stale sweat, or fresh human waste. It was a very strong combination of all of the above. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my stubborn malfunctioned window was stuck shut.
Was it….? Noooooooooooooo!! It couldn’t be! But before she came in, it had been the usual smell of stale sweat that is characteristic of most PSVs. This wasn’t happening. So this is what it felt like just before a heart attack! My head was now spinning. Five more minutes and I was quite sure I would have fainted.
She sat there, staring straight ahead, once again seemingly oblivious of the disturbed stares around her.
“Msichana, kwani umeji……Mbona unanuka hivyo!!?” That was the old woman at the extreme end of my row. The rugged men in front, obviously without sufficient man balls to confront her, decided to direct their rants at the conductor.
“Wee, Boss!! Mbona unaingisha Mala… kwa gari? Hawa watu hawaogangi bwana!!”
“Ashuke ama sisi wote tushuke!! Juma tatu asubuhi kwani ametoka wapi!!?”
The weird looking lady at the front also had an opinion. “Tunajua kule ametoka!! That one has been kicked out baada ya kupeana”
“Haki hawa wasichana wa siku hizi!! Mi nimeshuka, I can’t bear that stench anymore!!”
One by one they got off, to the chagrin of the conductor and his aging driver. I was sort of imprisoned in my corner both by her and the haze of thoughts haunting my mind at the time. This was one of those times when I make a really short but passionate prayer to he who collects and services them.
‘Why God, Whhhhhhhyyyy!!!’
“Madam, tafadhali shuka. Unatuharibia Biashara”
It was now six minutes later and I hadn’t fainted yet. The only explanation was that all my smell glands were dead, probably permanently.
As casually as she had boarded, she eased her way out.
There I sat, mind totally blank now, staring at nothing in particular as the rest of the passengers re-boarded, hurling demeaning remarks at my smelly princess in the process.
“Madam, enda pale kwa petrol station uombe maji!”
“Na next time ukipatiana uliza kwanza kama iko maji na sabuni” This remark was followed by a hoard of mocking laughter.
“Na twende sasa, tunachelewa kazi!!” That was the old lady, now seated next to the driver.
The ‘ma3’ slowly started moving, the conductor trying to salvage one last disgruntled passenger before departing. I caught one last glimpse at her. If she had any idea how smelly she was, then she had opted to go into her happy place. That kind of embarrassment would have left me
fatally distraught. She wasn’t.
“Excuse me. Boss hebu simamisha gari”
“Nini mbaya tena!!?”
“Simamisha gari nishuke!”
“Aghrr! Weka weka! Hii ni kazi gani mnafanyisha mtu sasa!!”
I walked back towards her, not sure why I was doing this. She turned her face in my direction, and if she noticed my approach she didn’t show it at all.
All passers by had kept their distance from her, leaving her in her little smelly island in which she was obviously queen.
I inched as close as my nose could allow.
“Uhm, Hi!” Seriously, why was I doing this?
“Hi” She replied, turning towards me, as non-chalant as anyone could manage to be.
“Look, I don’t know what your story is… But I can tell this is not how you normally are. I live across the road, and if you want, I could let you use my shower. I have some of my girlfriend’s clothes there which you can change into”
She scanned me from head to toe, and all I could think was, ‘Are you sure you have the privilege of choice right now?’
“Ok.” She said feebly.
I walked on and as if reading my mind, she followed at a safe smell distance.
“Akikupatia kataa!! Hiyo ni Kifo! He he he!!” The things people say when in crowds.
Curious stares from the watchmen, Judging stares from the neighbors, and finally a confused facial expression from my house girl as she put her hand over her nose was just a few of the things I had to endure during the short walk home. I too had obviously gone into my happy place.
Without giving much thought to it, I picked the first top, trouser and under garment that I laid my eyes on in the Wardrobe.
She was still standing at the door, awaiting her next instructions. My house girl had vanished into the kitchen maybe.
“That’s the bathroom; towel and soap are in there. You can change into these” I placed them on one the sofas and moved aside. Without saying a word, she moved closer, picked the top and the trouser, leaving the undergarment. Into the bathroom she went while I launched into a frantic effort of opening all possible air outlets.
After about 15 minutes, during which I paced around the sitting room, my thoughts ranging from the excuse I would give my boss for being late, to how I would handle the resulting gossip around our notoriously gossipy estate, to how Daisy would take this piece of news, she emerged back into my life.
I turned around and paused midway. My mouth was agape as I beheld the renewed sight in front me. Suddenly life was beautiful again. I felt weak.
She broke into a slight smile and muttered a relieved Thank you.
“You are welcome. And don’t worry about the clothes; my girlfriend won’t even notice they are gone.”
“She is lucky to have you”
“Oh, it’s actually the other way round”
She moved closer, looking straight into my eyes, held up my hand and took my phone. I stared blankly as she dialed something into it, and handed it back to me.
“If you ever have the chance, call me. Maybe we can laugh about this then” The smile was now more radiant as she moved towards the door.
“Uhm, what did you save your name as?”
“Ok…just before you go, I need to know. Are you…?”
“No, I’m not. It’s just a huge misunderstanding. When you call me I’ll tell you all about it” And out she went.
Whether this had been just a weird dream or it actually happened I didn’t know. Seven minutes later I regained my composure, and for the second time that morning, I walked out of my house just like I did every other weekday morning.
“Swity, have you seen my red top!!?” That was Daisy, around two months later.
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