“Imagine if a blue Land Cruiser pulled up, the windows rolled down and the guy seated on the passenger side told us to jump at the back for a ride to town. What would you do?” Shrieks and peals of laughter sliced through the otherwise quiet night as we walked down the lit pavements of Processional road. We stopped momentarily; one guy developed a Harlem shake like seizure and quickly progressed to a ROTFLMAO (Rolling on the Floor Laughing My (his, in context) Ass Out) routine. The other two guys I was walking with also seemed to be in a similar fit but on their feet. One held on to one of the streetlight poles as he held his ribs, pain and amusement rocking his body. The other guy just stood there, his hands in his pockets and heaving in intervals with laughter as if what I had asked hit him afresh after every so often. I, well, I just stood there amused and confused.
My question was not supposed to be funny, if I knew it was I would continue with the onslaught of funny questions. I looked around, we were alone. This would be embarrassing if anyone who knew us passed here. A light went on in the nearby apartments, jolting people back to sanity. They shuffled amid snuffles of laughter, continuing our slow procession to the CBD. “Dude, you got jokes!” came the friendly pat on the back. Note to self, add that to catalogue of jokes under “may induce fits and seizures”. Self agrees hesitantly with a raised eyebrow. So once people catch their breath, I invoke my most serious voice and re-ask the question. They laugh again, but I figure the laughter is a way of re-evaluating my seriousness.
I give them time, and it dies down. “You know that’s like a goat hitching a ride on a KMC (Kenya Meat Commission) van or a pig a Farmers Choice van.” They burst out hysterically again; at this point I think this lot has been deprived of laughter for quite a while. I indulge them in the impracticality of such occurrences, silently bookmarking the analogy for future use. I try not to laugh at the thought, but a chuckle betrays my amusement. Then again, what would a goat or pig be doing on a pavement? Or a sane person be smoking to ask a goat/ pig to hop in the back of a van? Would the goat even consider… I shrug and stop to let my serious self catch up with me; he smacks the back of my head in disapproval and assumes command.
I walk on, letting them decide to answer when they do. “I have had enough experiences in Land Cruisers to know that if one pulled up, the passenger will find my bewildered shadow standing here by the time his window has fully rolled down.” He of the goat rides started laughing but the serious tone with which the response came stifled his laugh in his throat. Crickets egg on the guy with a slow shadow to continue with his narrative, he obliges. Turns out he was actually pretty scarred by the passengers and drivers of the said blue land cruisers. He had three experiences, all cases of being at the wrong place at the wrong time but with valid reasons at least to him.
First time, he was a freshman at the University and green to the night life. As all nights go, it always starts with a house/ cubicle bash in one of the hostels. Cheap hard liquor is bought, someone contributes a music system for the necessary ambience and the other procures willing company in form of classmates or random girls. You cannot afford to be picky. Their lack of taste/choice or both saw them headed to Nakumatt Lifestyle at midnight to restock on the supply of alcohol. With the huge turnout of company, the few “mzingas” had run out. Some of them had scored but the girls said they needed to dance before they called it a night. Besides, everyone (except them at the time) knows that clubs allow people in for free past 2 am, with no obligation to buy any drinks.
As the gracious (and naive) hosts, they trudged slowly to town. It was pre-mututho era (I should mention the nostalgia in which he recounted this part), so it was easy to get affordable non-counterfeit drinks over the counter. A few meters from their destination they encountered a blue Land Cruiser, with their equally blue uniformed occupants surrounding it. He continued with normal conversation and approached them; never noticing the lack of response to his questions. The alcohol in his system had made his mouth a motor anyway; he did not pause or care for responses. He also saw no wrong in walking the streets at night, it was Friday and there was plenty of life in the CBD. He was confident he was a law abiding citizen, brazen with knowledge of bill of rights and the constitution.
He was stopped obviously and he quickly realized that once in the snare, escaping scot free was not part of the deal. After a baffling Q&A session that left him tongue tied, he was introduced to the back of a Land Cruiser for loitering as well as being drunk and disorderly. A cold night in a cell and less a HELB procured smartphone later, he went back to school to laughter and mock sympathy. Two other instances happened at home, but less dramatically and he had learnt to walk around with money for “tea” since then. In fact, the other two times he was dropped near his place for cooperation, but in a not so obvious way. His only regret was both times he refused to pick a cab for KSh 1000 from town, only to board a matatu for KSh 100, and part with the same amount he would have spent on cab fare.
In an effort to chip in to Slow Shadow’s story, Goat Rides decided to give an experience he had heard from his friend. Apparently, the poor guy had walked his cousin to downtown where the Coast bound buses are boarded when things turned sour. He had just crossed into Luthuli Avenue heading to Archives to pick a bus home when he was yanked from the shadows and a silver brace attached to his arm. Shocked, he was added to a procession that included drunks, ladies of the night, street kids and other unlucky people like him. He was accused of having evaded capture as a hawker earlier that evening, and the heavily accented boy (man really) in blue might as well have been deaf. That is until he was given a lecture on how hard the blue life was, the long hours, cold nights and thankless public. He asked the man in blue to stop one of the hawkers selling hot tea in mugs. The uneasy laugh and heavy slap that met his jaw nudged him on cue to part with some “tea” money; surely a big boy/ man like him knew where he could buy himself tea without budget constraints.
Some more rambling about Land cruiser blues saw us past the towering AON building and into the bright lights of Serena. I noticed one guy had been particularly quiet, looking at his phone nervously once in a while. I taped him and asked him why he was so quiet. He said he had just asked his dad to pick him up at GPO and that he was almost there. We switched topics, started discussing the traffic lights and how ornamental they looked at the GPO round about. Drivers in Kenya must be colour blind we concluded, as affluent Range Rovers and BMWs led the convoy of Toyotas in running the traffic lights. Our conversation at the bus stop at GPO degenerated to politics, how our salaries (when they eventually arrive) are doomed with taxes for such ornamental purposes and funding protests abroad.
We were too engrossed debating if our two day president was our fifth president to notice a blue Toyota Corolla pull up slowly and a window roll down. The silent guy started saying his goodbyes as we shared puzzled looks. The man in blue waved at us and had a hushed conversation in the car with the silent guy. He asked if anyone was headed to Thika road, which we all declined. The GK number plate disappeared into the night. “So, boys in blue also have sons?” Goat Rides really needed to have a governor in his mouth I thought.