A SMARTCARD BUS FOR PREGNANT WOMEN
I am writing this inside a matatu. Matatus are a necessary nuisance most Kenyans have to put up with. The matatu crew thrives on the laws of the concrete jungle. They pick passengers anywhere but drop them on designated stages. The matatus, which are always in a hurry, don’t come to a standstill while they pick or drop passengers. Pregnant women are not an exception. As soon as the woman sets a foot on the first step inside the matatu, the driver zooms off the way they do in Grand Auto Theft’s Vice City. Woe unto the woman if she has other children in tow besides luggage as she struggles to find a seat in a packed and moving matatu. Woe unto her if she can’t find an empty seat.
Woe unto the woman if she wants to feed her hungry baby. For how can a woman, carrying a heavy bag on one arm and a wailing baby, whip out a milk-engorged breast in front of sweating hardhearted men to feed her baby while at the same time, struggling to stay on her feet inside a fast moving matatu? Most people – I am also a victim – either look out of the window or pretend the woman doesn’t exist in the physical realm. It is like the woman, her child and the luggage are a figment of their imagination.
As I am writing this a young woman carrying a small baby gets on board and decides to sit on the empty seat next to me. As she struggles to sit down, her little handbag – which I think is probably carrying her bus fare, a dozen fresh and used pampers, the baby’s milk bottle, her lip balm, a roll of toilet paper and a load of other feminine stuff – hits my right cheek. I am almost turning the other cheek, just as the bible advises, when I realize this won’t be possible. The baby launches into what should be a hunger-induced wail. I know what is coming next. So I turn my face the other way. A second or so later, something warm hits my right cheek. I know, without being told, that it is the young woman’s milk landing on my cheek.
Well, as the young woman seated to my right succeeds in getting the mouth of her baby onto the tip of her breast, the conductor approaches her clicking his fingers as if in answer to ‘pesa pap!’ The young woman gives him a look that says, ‘I’ll give you the money, just give me a minute, will you?’But conductor is having none of it. Conductors are a dirty and a mean lot. If you were to scrape the dirt from the collars of their shirts using a blunt knife you would get a cake of dirt, the size of a bar soap. Their eyes are bloodshot. Their fingernails are overly long and dirty. Their breath is something else. If you were to confine fifty of them inside a ten-by-ten windowless room you would be able to produce cooking gas. The same can be said about their bushy armpits which they have a penchant of brushing against a passenger’s face as they do their ‘pesa pap’ jig.
And since I have shifted to a new estate I realize I miss the Double M, Citi Hoppa and KBS buses. They are the only means of transport whose crew are mindful of the passengers they carry. They are the only buses that treat passengers with respect. The others, like the Number 36 I am using right now are the worst.
Wait, the conductor is banging on the window to my left calling out to other passengers. Though the matatu is overflowing with passengers, vegetables, bananas, chicken and even a bleating goat, the driver has stopped to pick more passengers. Eight more women, five are carrying babies while the rest are pregnant, get on board. Nobody wants to surrender their seats. I wish I could do something about it. But that would be like a drop of sand in the Kalahari desert. What difference would one seat make? Besides, my hands are full. I am playfully pinching the baby’s nose. I haven’t returned her since her mother gave her to me so she could free her hands to pay her bus fare.