‘Let men be wise by instinct if they can, but when this fails be wise by good advice.’
The inside of the rickety matatu is sweltering. Passengers are trickling in slowly. James shifts for the umpteenth time in his seat. He can feel his armpits soak in sweat. It does not help that the fastened seatbelt is restricting his movement.
‘Damn this matatu, why is it taking forever,’ he mutters angrily to himself. The Michuki rules. All PSVs have now been fitted with seatbelts and speed governors as required by the new law. He imagines the prolonged journey to Murang’a. This half full matatu will probably stop at every terminus along the way. He pulls at the seatbelt.
‘Dad, do I really have to use this thing?’ he turns to face his dad who is busy reading the paper.
‘Why do you ask that?’
‘Because it is uncomfortable. Plus, I could just fasten the belt when we come across a police check point.’
‘My son,’ he looks up from the paper, ‘the seatbelt is not for the police, it has been put there for your own safety.’
James shrugs his shoulders and turns to stare outside his window.
23rd December, 2006,
Festivities. James is stoked. Christmas is only one day away. Even the air seems charged with excitement. Everyone looks happy and full of smiles. Christmas cheer he had recently had someone call it that. Who wouldn’t be excited about the birth of a child? And not just any child, but the savior of mankind.
He playfully strides back home with the paper bag in his hand fluttering in the wind. Kariba Estate in South B is now almost deserted. Everyone has travelled to the countryside for the holidays. The prospect of them going to Chuka to spend Christmas with the dad is beyond exciting. Packing is in full gear when he gets back home from the shops. They are to leave in the late afternoon.
The weather outside is confusing. There is a mix of dark clouds and blue skies. Uncertainty. You cannot make out whether the sun is about to shine or if there will be a downpour. The sun sometimes shines for the tiniest of moments, and even then on the skin surface you feel the heat but from within this cold rises and makes you shiver. Confusion.
He is the man of the house. James feels like thumping his chest. This mere fact warrants him the chance to ride shotgun. He gladly helps to load the luggage. It is now seriously threatening to rain.
The driver is struggling to switch on the engine. The car has come to a sudden stop at a junction as they are about to join the main highway. They are in a bad position since the front of the car is already on the highway. The drivers behind them are hooting furiously. The driver frantically turns the key on the ignition stepping on the accelerator. James turns to his right. He looks out the driver’s window and through the rain he makes out a matatu that has just turned the corner and is coming straight towards them at full speed. Panic.
Split second. Lives have been changed. Wars have been lost. History has been rewritten. Hearts have been won and others shattered. Sound and light. One travels faster than the other. Or does it? The impact. Breaking glass. The car spinning and scratching the car on their left side. Landing in a ditch.
Slow motion. In a movie the purposefully serve to prolong the effect of a scene. This was no movie. In that instant as the car spun, James stares at the tarmac and holds on to the seatbelt that is holding him back from being thrown out through the windscreen. The words of his dad ring through his mind.
BE SAFE ON THE ROADS.
ALWAYS FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT.
REMEMBER SPEED KILLS.
DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE!!!
Image courtesy of Dr. Berenblit’s site
**Inspired by true events.