I open my eyes, It’s Monday. I’m on leave.
* punches fist into air *
Yassss! A break. A well deserved break. Happy days ahead.
My week is action packed, loads of things I finally have the chance to do…wash my hair, read more books, use that movie voucher my brother gave me, eat large breakfasts everyday, head to Juja and finally pick up my certificate.
Monday is allocated for picking up that certificate. I wake up nice and early. Not early enough to catch the 7 am show at the Imax in town, which I later discover doesn’t exist anymore, the 7 am show, not the Imax in town. Early enough to get to Juja in good time though. I’m hoping it will take just one day of me making that vigil from office to office soliciting signatures and stamps from the relevant authorities. These clearance forms they make us fill for everything! Bleurgh.
I get in a good run, shower then get dressed. I discover 50 shillings in the back pocket of the jeans I am wearing.
* punches fist into air *
Could this day get any better? I dare it to.
‘The formerly long forgotten, now newly discovered 50 shillings note shall serve as my fare to town,’ I think to myself. I stuff it right back into the back pocket of my jeans where I found it and start gathering everything else I need.
Graduation clearance form…check.
Graduation gown clearance form…check.
Bottle of water…check.
Lunch box with nuts for when my tummy wakes up and discovers I tricked it with a banana and two maandazis after promising nothing but large breakfasts while I am on leave…check.
9 am is approaching. I’m always compelled to action particularly at the top of the hour. Aren’t you? It always seems like a good time to start working on something. A good time to start anything. I see 9 o’clock approaching and decide that is the time I want to be walking out of the house. 9 am rolls round, I’m out!
I find a matatu, or rather a matatu finds me, soon after I have left the house. I do not have to walk too far towards the stage. I settle into the front seat and immediately pull out my current read, Ghana Must Go. I get lost in it. Sometime later someone taps my shoulder. I use the finger of my left hand as a placeholder in the book as my right hand fishes into my back pocket. Without looking back, I stretch out my hand behind me and wait for someone to relieve me of that lucky 50 shilling note I discovered earlier in the day.
It slips out of my hand. I get back to my book.
The next time I look up, we are in town. Almost time to alight. I put away my book. We get to the stage. I get off and make it all the way to a Kenya Mpya…my ride to Juja. Force of habit, I reach for my current read as well as my fare for the trip…’Hold up, where is my wallet again?’ A first and second pass of the main pocket of my backpack doesn’t bear any fruit. I panic a little. I empty the contents of my bag onto the seat next to me. No hot pink wallet. I left it at home. The money isn’t the point. my identification card is. They won’t give me my certificate without my ID. I get off the bus before it fills up and just head home. This would have been the perfect opportunity to catch a movie using that voucher…but, yeah, take one guess where I thought the safest place for that voucher would be. That’s right, my wallet.
That lucky 50 shillings single-handedly ruins my whole day. Without discovering it, there’s no way I would have left my wallet in the house.
I’ll try it all again tomorrow.
I open my eyes, it’s Tuesday. I’m on leave!
* punches fist into air *
Determined to do better than Monday, I’m out of the house and on a matatu, with absolutely everything I need for the day on my person. I’m in Juja by 9.30 am. I am willing nothing but good vibes my way, praying that everyone whose signature I need is nicely seated in their office where they are supposed to be.
10.30 am…I’m Done! DONE!
Not just done with filling in my clearance form and picking up my certificate, officially DONE with this institution forever. I’ve got my certificate in my hand. My name is correctly spelt. I could leave here this day and just never come back, ever! What for? I barely have any friends left here anymore.
I start to get emotional. I no longer have any excuse to take an afternoon off and head to Juja just because I’ve missed it. I start to feel like I’ve betrayed the place. I had a whole extra year where I promised all my engineering friends with an extra year of school that I’d visit often. As often as I could while I could. While they were still here. I did not come enough. Life got in the way. Now even they are gone.
I start making my way towards Gate C, scrolling through my contact list, wondering if I really do not know anyone on this campus, after four whole years. I tell myself that if the worst comes to the worst, I will call my course administrator(former) and buy him lunch. Ha ha. I laugh at the thought. One day I will, just not today. Ken is around. Ken is an architect in the making, they have to spend 6 years here.
* evil laughter, poor arch students *
I hang out with Ken for a few hours. We talk, laugh, reminisce. We used to be neighbours once. Lived in the same building for 3 years. He has moved now…to a nicer place. A less dusty place, with a more chill landlord. We laugh at memories of our former landlady, remember how difficult she would make our lives. I comment on her seemingly default volume of speech…shouting. ‘Why was that lady always shouting? Why was she always so angry?’ I could never understand it.
We talk about all our mutual friends. Our former neighbours. How much Juja has changed since it was ours, because it no longer is. It has changed too much. I think of my 18 year old cousin who will be joining Jkuat in a few months. I think about how when he tells stories from uni and talks about Gate C, it wont be my Gate C. I discovered just today that Gate C moved. It’s only about 200 meters away from where it used to be, but 200 meters makes all the difference. No longer directly opposite Coast Cuisine. No longer opposite that dingy shack where you could get bush for 20 shillings. No longer opposite that place we would run to to get assignments photocopied or printed then rush back to class.
Ken tells me gate B doesn’t even exist anymore. Gate B. I think of Alma, used to be right outside gate B. Where my 3 high school buddies who became my first year roomies and I spent too much time because that’s where all the epic AIESEC parties were hosted back in the day.
I think of how my closest friends and I, when the end of uni as we knew it was nigh, had made promises to each other, that monthly meets would keep what had taken us four years to build. I smile. I haven’t seen them in a while. It is well.
I laugh at the fact that at the end of it all, I should be seated next to Ken, reminiscing about my university years. I would never have guessed. Ken and I were more circumstantial friends than anything. Friends nonetheless.
Time to head out. The Juja stage hasn’t changed. Not one bit. There’s random individuals being paid to fill up buses. They come tugging…so annoying. I always get paranoid and uncomfortable at their proximity to my person. Nairobi teaches you this, to be conscious of the sensations that surround you even in a crowd where everyone is inadvertently touching you. I put my backpack on my tummy and trudge on. Ignoring all the calls and tugs and shoves from random individuals hoping to divert me into whatever vehicle they are being paid to fill up. I head straight for the Kenya Mpya.
At first I am worried, what if this too has changed? If Kenya Mpya are no longer the go to bus you can trust to fill up fast? See, this filling up of vehicles is a thing. You could be seated for a good long while as majority of individuals get into alternative vehicles which then leave, all as you wait. I get into the Kenya Mpya and I am about the 3rd person to get into it. I wonder if perhaps I should stand outside for a few minutes and observe where the human traffic seems to be going. I’m feeling lazy though, so I abandon all such notions and just take out my current read. Soon enough it becomes apparent Kenya Mpya is still the shit.
It fills up fastest.
The power of a good brand is unmatched.
Let me try paint you this picture…
The Juja stage, like most, is normally abuzz with activity. 24/7. Numerous saccos have their buses/matatus on this route, Kenya Mpya is one of many.
Individuals are paid to fill up matatus and buses because when there are so many options, perhaps the reasoning is a little solicitation will make travelers opt for your bus/matatu. Before Kenya Mpya, we suffered so much injustice at the hands of other saccos. We would be charged as much as 120 shillings, depending on the time of day, for the trip to town! Sometimes, they would get to a point on the journey and decide they did not want to get to the CBD, so 20 shillings would be returned to each individual and we would have to figure out how to cover the rest of the distance. No matatus from the point at which we had been dropped off would charge less than 50 shillings to the CBD. Daylight robbery.
Kenya Mpya came and everything changed. The fare from Juja to town became a flat rate of 50ksh, no matter the time of day. No peak and off peak hours nonsense. No abrupt change of destination. No standing passengers. No being packed in there like potatoes in a sack. That is where Kenya Mpya won hearts. Now, as all other operators employ all sorts of tactics to get guys to board their vehicles, Kenya Mpyas simply pull into the stage and wait. The kange will stand outside with a board written 50ksh. That is all people need, to know that it is open for boarding and they come. Long live Kenya Mpya.
And thus ends my Juja phase. An afternoon with Ken and a great admiration for the Kenya Mpya brand.