The dust on the winding road is choking. The shrubs and herbs by the roadside have a thick brown layer over them. The sun is harsh; its rays penetrate the white rooftop of the car leaving a sweaty trail in its wake. The folds on the driver’s head are holding beads of sweats tightly as if they are saving them for a rainy day. Embu Town lies a few kilometers behind us. The seven people crammed into a Probox are trying hard not to do anything that will make this harder. Loud farts and a belch have been known to wreak havoc in such situations. The brakes screech to a halt suddenly as ‘murume’, our driver tries to avoid hitting an emaciated goat that jumps onto the road from nowhere. The car stops an inch in front of the goat.. The goat hops away, unaware how close it came to its death. Shosh, an elderly lady next to me utters something in the local language. I guess she is praying to the gods, thanking them for sparing us. My senses are heightened for the first time since I entered this jalopy. We are all relieved as we navigate the next curve.
Shosh is lanky and dark. In another lifetime, she would have been the young, underfed model who attracts the envy of many whenever she graces the cover of a magazine. In this one, she is the tired, greying woman who is aging and probably fading fast. The belt holding her oversized outfit accentuates her lean waist. Her skin bears hints of tough days, uneven patches and sunburns. Her long nails are black at the tips. The earth she has been tilling all her life lives in her nails. Fine lines mark the corners of her eyes. Her greying hair is heaped into a hastily assembled head gear. Her bony structure occasionally pierces mine. We both move and adjust grudgingly when it happens. On my left are two men, dressed in faux corduroy blazers that hung poorly on their body frames. Their eyes are fixed on the road, their minds seem to be drifting into the horizon. Shosh makes a better seatmate than the twin blazers. While she is accommodating, the two men sit like stooges. They stare oddly at me as I unsuccessfully try to move their masses and make more room. I resign after a while and turn to WhatsApp.
I have one active chat. My chama mate is demanding the dues I owe to the group.
When will you pay? She asks.
Soon, I reply.
Very soon, I emphasize.
But you are always late, she replies.
Not as often as you, I type then pause before I hit the send button.
I think of the number of times I have given her loans she conveniently forgot about.
Ingrate… I cuss under my breath. Then, I hit the send button. I turn to find Shosh, hard pressed on my shoulder. Her breath is forming a moist layer on my tablet. I move my tablet closer to my chest. She inches closer. The earthy scent on her skin offends my snobbish city nose. It’s a medley of fresh cow dung, yesterday’s milk spill and today’s acrid sweat. I am offended at this point. Where is her sense of personal space?
She smiles, revealing the large spaces between her teeth. A few dark stubs stand where her white teeth once stood. She searches my face for a connection with her large dark eyes. I blush as I look at her; unable to maintain my sense of personal space. I smile back at her knowing I have encountered a human connection. A connection that beats my techno-maintained relations.
I move closer; inviting her to share in my world. She smiles, looks outside and keeps quiet. We travel in silence for the remaining part of the journey.