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The Long Bus Ride Of My Life

The journey to the conclusion of the 2017 elections feels like a never-ending bus ride and I feel like a passenger with a school going boy who keep asking, “Daddy, are we there yet? Why is it taking us so long?” I wish I had an easy answer to his simple question. “Almost”, I assure him even as I feel a sense of trepidation lining my voice.

So I have to regale my boy with stories, to take his thoughts off the mounting anxieties that afflict his mind.

If you want to experience the world my son, take the bus. Preferably a cross country night bus, Kisumu to Nairobi to Mombasa and beyond. Only then can you earn the privilege of seeing the other and learn to see the familiar in a bunch of absolute strangers you encounter on the road of life.

I have been here countless times, sitting by the window, head phones plugging my ears, determined to block out the noise of the real world and moving my thoughts to the rhythms of a selected playlist on my ipod.

At the start of the journey, I look out blankly at the shifting scenes zooming past without a pause like a presidential motorcade. I see plenty but only the surface. People are layered and we all start from the limited knowledge of familiarity. Bus ride after bus ride, the journey rolls out like tedious, repetitive, morning jogs with no flat stomach to show for all the effort and discipline. Change may be the only constant but transformation is painstakingly slow and rarely occurs on our time.

Day or night on the bus, you witness the contradictions of human life. People running after the bus, frantic with urgency. Some leisurely walking past like tourists on a beach. But all are caught up in the race to occupy time, to use it up before it runs out. The writer residing inside marks them all, as they cross my view, the old and young, gentle souls and cantankerous spirits, the exuberant and the lethargic, the long faced and the happy larks, all scrambling in to take a seat. For some, the journey is an inconvenience to be endured. When you are too fixated on the destination, the difficulties encountered along the way are marked as obstacles. Instead of learning from them, you pack them into a box of regrets.

On the bus as in life, bullies exploit the timid, crowding a shared space, with their selfish presence. They throw a tantrum over the slightest infringement to their comfort. They will adjust their seat to their convenience and ask the inconvenienced to adjust their attitudes. Observe the old lady who sleeps as though drugged through the stresses of the journey. Do not be like that young man, glued to his phone, fearing he might miss out on something important while on the road and missing out on the real world right outside his window. Over there, a young lady, elegantly dressed, adjusting her long hair, whose moves are trailed by a myriad of lustful eyes. You do not know her story, so do not jump into bed with your conclusions.

On a bus, we are warned against strangers. Watch your belongings. Do not be too trustful. Do not take food offered by strangers. I tell you, strangers can become good neighbors just as good neighbours can become strangers.

Shoulder to shoulder, we ride along, complete strangers in the night with a set destination in mind. We are mostly polite and tolerant on the outside but suspicious and prejudiced on the inside. As the long bus ride lulls us to sleep, in the strangers we trust, hoping they are like us, law abiding citizens, hustling through life and out to cause no harm. After several hours and challenges on the bus together, strangers can become quick friends.

The strangers who hardly looked in your direction for the last three hours, remind the bus driver of your absence as the bus begins to leave the rest spot. When trouble occurs, a mechanical problem in a remote area in the dead of the night, the men, assume a protective role, acutely aware of their strength in numbers. Driving past the scene of an accident, spotting a mangled car wreckage by the side of the road, strangers on the bus who had never spoken a word to each other, voice their concerns on safety and whisper a prayer for journey mercies. When a young mother and her new born baby appear distressed, older women, experienced mothers reach out to share in the burden of soothing a restless child. When the drivers drives recklessly on a bumpy and treacherous road, it takes one brave person to speak up, loudly before the chorus of voices join to admonish a driver who puts everyone of our lives at risk. And we are all glad for the stranger who spoke up for those of us silenced by our own fears.

At the end of the bus ride, we all arrive with the familiarity of pilgrims on a journey, contented that we made it safely to our destination despite the challenges. Then after bidding our goodbyes to our companions on this phase of our journey, we become strangers again.

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.

3 Comments

  1. Lovely metaphor. And lots of little, subtle metaphors with some depth, all over the place.

  2. Change may be the only constant but transformation is painstakingly slow and rarely occurs on our time……very true…

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