I hope you dance (Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
I hope you dance (Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder?)
Lee Ann Womack
Wacha corona iishe- Kenyan Proverb, 2020.
The line between life and death is a thin one. Death is the one thing we are sure of in life. But when it knocks on our door, it surprises us. We act as if we didn’t know life would end someday. Can we ever be ready for it though, to greet it with a “took you long enough”?
This brodaman Papa Kevini and gyaldem M-Tinah were getting married on the 1st of June 2019 in Bungoma. My blue suit was ready and I had one dance move ready to impress as I went down the aisle before the groom.
The wedding was happening at the foothills of Mt. Elgon. We started our end of year examinations on May 30th (Thursday) with a paper on the afternoons of Thursday and Friday. I had 5 more papers in the coming week and I excused self from attending the wedding, albeit grudgingly. The end of year examinations time is the tensest period in our academic calendars.
Friday morning. I can’t get my mind to settle on the last-minute cramming. It was soaked in excitement. It thinks of the cake I would miss and I yell “YOWO!”- You Only Wed Once (hopefully). Brodaman would not have another wedding. (Insert Luhya accent) Baane! Yet I could redo those papers if the board of examiners decided my scribbles had not made enough sense (Please do not do this at home).
I hurriedly booked a seat at 7 pm for a 9 pm Modern Coast bus. It chanced that it was the bus that the other groomsmen had also booked, only that they sat a few seats ahead of me. I was on the backseat, by the left window. I could hardly keep my calm on the bus. I was gay, full of jitters with juvenile excitement. To add to it, the bus was so new that the seats still had the paper-wrappings on them.
I had only gone as far as Eldoret on the Trans-Africa highway and I wished it was day time travel so I could enjoy the scenery. We made a short stop at some interchange near Webuye that looks like Thika road. Sleep deserts me and I was content with staring at the faint vegetation outlines. It was a few minutes to 5 a.m. We were to alight at a town called Kanduyi and head up to Chwele. The landscape was flat with few smooth corners. We passed a trotting sugarcane trailer and a kilometre later, a crawling cargo trailer. As we got back to our lane, I imagined a miscalculation by our driver would have seen me grinning into the lorry driver’s cabin.
I suppose I had tempted fate because we had hardly travelled three kilometres when I heard a loud bang and the bus was dancing off the road. It swings and people are piling on me. Another swing and I am piling on them. A scream here. An “ouch!” there.
Swing! I am grinning out my window. Spring and bang! I am on the air wondering why I had unfastened my safety belt earlier. My mind is on a roll too- So this is how it all goes down…this is how I take my bow… on a spin… not quite how I pictured it. I imagined the bus rolling and feared my body would get mangled and it would not end up on an anatomy dissection table. If I die though, let it be a quick death. Lemme not be pulled out with a broken back.
The engine roared then went mute. The bus made a final swing to the left then settled on its creaking hinges, slanting dangerously to the left. We held our breaths, afraid they would topple it. Nothing happened. We judged that it had made up its mind to stay put and we scrambled out of the bus. We exited through the driver’s door as the boarding door was jammed. Some knelt on the dewy grass and uttered their thanksgivings while others praised the driver for his bravery and remaining calm in the face of death.
Ghafla bin vuu! is how it can all be explained. One second we are cruising smoothly, our destination less than 10 kilometres away. The next second, there is a loud bang and the bus is thrown off the road and if our collective gods had not been awake then, we would have joined our ancestors. What had saved us was the gently sloping road shoulder that allowed the driver to negotiate our safe crash-landing on a maize farm.
My heart was pounding like the Bukusu’s isukuti drums, but the sight that greeted us on the tarmac had it pausing momentarily, then it beat erratically. Someone vomited. Grotesque may not adequately describe the scene. A 14-seater matatu’s shell stood across the road behind a stationary cargo trailer, streams of steam rising from its engine, visible in the glare of the headlights of the traffic that was piling on both lanes. Fingers, arms and legs were littered the scene. The matatu’s conductor had been stunned to death on his seat, appearing to be in deep slumber. Others were compressed to a pulp in their seats and the familiar smell of blood drenched my nostrils. The smell mixed with that of burnt rubber, engine oil and chang’aa’s1 pungent smells. There were 3 jerry cans of it in the vehicle’s boot. The viscous fluid washed off the road. Surprisingly, the driver was groaning on his seat and was trying to pry his door open.
I had been to postmortems that academic year but they could not compare to that gross scene. My mind was reminding me that I was a medical student and should have sprung into action and tried to administer first aid to the survivors, but all I did was stand there taking it all in. Imagining we had narrowly missed such a fate. I dialled the Kenya Red Cross EMS hotline number saved on my phone and asked them to send ambulances and whatever else they do in such a situation.
A gathering crowd wailed as they pulled the maimed survivors out of the wreckage and begged the drivers on the scene to take them to hospital. Dawn’s light was shyly trickling in, unwilling to expose the blood-curdling sight.
The overloaded matatu from Bungoma had been speeding and the driver had caught sight of the stalled trailer on his lane a little too late and swerved to overtake it only to meet our bus’s blinding headlights and our driver swerved, managing to give it that peck that threw us off the road. The matatu wasn’t so lucky and the conductor’s side crushed into the trailer and he went out not knowing what had hit him.
We hopped onto buses heading west and somehow got to our destination a shaken lot. My fingers were trembling and my stomach runny. They warmed us up with tea and maandazi before serving ugali and ingokho2. By then, my appetite had made its comeback and I did as the Luhyas do. I did not embarrass my folks on that table but I did embarrass my girlfriend as we made our dancing entry down the aisle. I did not break a leg but a few ribs were let aching because my moves registered only on the funny scale. Remember I had mastered one move? It was a move to a slow jam and the DJ played a song that forced me to improvise on the go. Oh! And did I improvise.
I went back to school resolving to always seize the day. That nothing would hold me back; to live large. To take bold risks… and yada yada. You know how we are saying “wacha corona iishe?” Hivo sasa. Or how we make our new year’s resolutions; or are inspired to live big when we are hit by the demise of a titan like Bob Collymore. Or how we are motivated when we watched Kipchoge making history in Vienna.
When faced with a choice though, I remember that day and remember I only live once and ghafla bin vuu can happen ghafla-ly.
Taking stock one year down the line, I ask myself if I have danced or sat it out.
(Sisi kama kamati ya wanywa- chai tunasema Happy anniversary Brodaman and gyaldem)
(I did a short interview that good Juliet wrote in a flowery way here. Have a read if you would)
Fellow Kenyans… Belated Happy Madaraka day. We shall achieve that desired independence someday.
- Chang’aa- A local Kenyan brew
- Ingokho- Luhya name for Chicken