Friday afternoon, Bob is at work. Not at his full-time place of work, no. It is a public holiday so he did not have to go in today. Today he wears the hat of part-time parking attendant at a church in Kileleshwa. His sister-in-law, Makena, hooked him up with the gig. She is a tailor and normally has her sewing machine set up outside the church. She heard of the parking attendant position from the watchman. The watchman works at the church full-time. When things are slow, Monday to Friday, he spends his days leaning on the fence next to Makena’s sewing machine. They chat on and on about their lives, spouses, children. About the family across the road that seems to have a different car for every day of the week, about the catechist who, like clockwork, comes and goes at the same time each day, about the new chaplain who wakes up at dawn to go for a run.
That’s how Bob got the part-time job, as a result of Makena’s friendship with the church watchman. Normally Bob only has to work Sunday’s cause that is when a lot of traffic is expected at the church but then it being Good Friday, the same logic applies.
The church is packed! Parking inside is not enough and there is overflow. Bob is stationed outside, a little down the road from the main church gates. The overflow of cars is creeping further and further from the main gate so Bob’s station creeps further and further with it.
15 minutes after the mass had began, a young lady comes. She is driving a Mercedes E220. Navy blue. She looks fairly young. Bob wonders if the car is hers. Or if it belongs to her parents. He helps her park behind a Toyota Vitz. She comes out, hastily locks the car, counter-checks that all doors are locked and then hurries towards the church. “Asante,” she remembers to mutter as she walks by. He catches a whiff of her sweet smelling scent and moves on to help out the next latecomer. 30 minutes later, people are still streaming in, albeit slowly.
Things finally slow down completely and when it seems like everyone who was going to make an effort to come has reached, Bob moves back closer to the church, where all the other parking attendants are gathered beside his sister-in-law’s sewing machine. From inside the church, they hear the continual chorus of the choir.
“Msalabani, Yesu alilia,
Mungu wangu, mbona waniacha…”
An hour and a half later, the young lady leaves the church. Bob watches her progression from the main door of the church, to the gate and towards where she left the car. He starts to make his way to her. When he gets to where she is, she is igniting the car engine. The car is parked at a corner so he watches the blind side of the road for her. After two oncoming vehicles, the road is clear. He starts to signal to her that she should now back up. The car revs but there is no movement. It revs again and there is still no movement. He starts to approach the window on the driver’s side, trying to peer in and see if perhaps there is a problem when the revving increases and the car suddenly propels forward and rams into the Vitz parked in front of it.
I had put on the car engine and then started checking out the notifications that had accumulated on my phone while at mass, taking a moment to get those out of the way before getting on the road. Only when I was done did I notice the parking attendant walking towards the car peering into it meaningfully as though that would counter the effect of the somewhat tinted windows. I realised that he had probably been standing there for quite a while trying to signal to me that the road was now clear, but it had completely escaped my notice. Curse that insane constant attachment to my phone.
In a bit of an unnecessary haste, I did not want to keep the parking attendant waiting any longer, I engaged the gear and released the handbrake without putting much thought into the process. It took the car propelling forward and ramming into the one ahead for me to realise just how absent minded my actions had been.
‘Shit,’ I said out loud. I disengaged the gear and realised that rather than reverse, I had engaged gear 2. I had failed to elevate the gear to properly engage reverse.
Too late now. Curse the alternative mechanics of the Germans.
For a moment, I didn’t know what to do. I just sat there in the car, staring ahead and thought about all the ways in which my life had changed in that moment. I thought about the fact that I was headed to the office to quickly get some work done and how that was now unlikely to happen. Instead, I would probably spend at least an hour at that very same spot…saying heavens knows what to the person whose car I had rammed into.
Come to think of it, what exactly happens when people have an accident? Is there a script to what you talk about? Do you just play the blame game and hope one of you agrees to have caused the accident and thus incurs the cost of damages? Do you just stand there and wait for the police as you talk about the weather? Do you talk about your professional lives, find out what line of work each one of you is in?
Who do people normally call? Their insurance person? Their spouse? Their mother?
I thought about the conversation I would have with my mother. How I would begin telling her that I had mistakenly rammed into a car because I had not engaged reverse properly. How her response would probably be that I should call the owner of the car, my father. And what would I tell him? What would his reaction be?
In that split second…a million thoughts went through my head…
The young lady, after ramming into the Vitz, just sat there. She calmly put off the engine and sat there, staring blankly ahead. Her expression barely changed but her eyes clouded over. At first, she was present and then she was not. She stared ahead but Bob could tell she no longer saw the green car she hit.
He moved closer to where the collision had happened and decided there wasn’t too much damage. Not enough to be distinctly obvious anyway. He could make sure she waits and does right by the other car owner but then that would mean standing around by the spot for possibly another hour as the mass was not yet over. He also thought about how many cars there already were to manage and the fact that this little accident would only serve to heighten congestion on the road.
“Madame…si mbaya sana. Wewe reverse tu uishie. Hawatajua chochote.”
Those words brought her back from her reverie. She seemed taken aback. As though the suggestion that she simply leave was the last thing she had expected to hear him suggest. She looked really confused but only for a split second and the next her choice was made. Relief washed over her face. As she started the engine again, a big smile on her face now, she thanked him profusely and was soon on her way.
Bob then made his way back to Makena’s sewing machine wondering if the juicy story he had left being told was still the topic of discussion.