Three or four hard-working guys earn their daily bread on the bank of Mbagathi River. Just a few meters from my house, it’s actually more like a creek. This is the spot where they wash cars. The location for their business is good, just off of Ngong Road. They stay fairly busy. A broken, crudely painted sign hanging on a tree, used to indicate their presence below the road. Strangely it’s been replaced recently by another sign, this one advertising dog training.
After using my friend’s bike for the Mt. Kenya cycling event, I wanted to return it to her. However, it was caked with mud. Knowing how difficult it is to remove Kenya’s sticky clay soil, I decided to have one of these young men do the dirty work for me.
They’ve seen me cycling by on numerous occasions. But on this day, they must’ve wondered what I was up to, as I coasted down the hill towards them. Two were already occupied washing someone’s car; the owner waited nearby. As one fellow worked on the white exterior, another one wiped down the interior. Newly cleaned floor mats dried in the sun on large stones.
I asked one lad, who wasn’t busy, if he could clean my bike. We quickly agreed on 50-bob (65 cents); by listening to their banter, I found out he’s called Kariuki. Like the others, he was barefooted and had torn off the bottom of his trousers. His equipment consisted of one yellow 20-liter bucket, two rags, one brush, a small packet of blue laundry soap powder, and lots of elbow grease.
After filling the bucket with river water, he swirled in a small handful of Toss – the “gentle detergent“. He began his task immediately and very energetically. Naturally there were no seats for myself or the other customers; I held my biking helmet and gloves as I stood watching Kariuki work. One of the other guys hollered something to him in their native tongue. He barely grunted in reply as he focused on his new assignment.
My eyes took in the environment. Along the river stood several tall, stately Blue Gum trees. The area was lush and green. In spite of the traffic behind me and up above on the road, it was a fairly quiet spot. Birds sang now and then; the sound of flowing water was pleasant.
Three uniformed security guards also took advantage of the river’s water. One washed their company truck… and another washed his shoes.
A navy blue car entered the premises, prompting the remaining attendant to jump off of one of the stones. In spite of the distraction, Kariuki continued to keep his full attention on the assignment I’d given him.
Approximately fifteen yards from where I stood, I detected ever so slight a movement in the bushes. While I conjectured what it might have been, I spotted some clothes lying on top of one of them. A minute or two later, I observed the back side of a completely naked man. Seemingly, this secluded spot on the river is used to wash more than just cars.
I wondered if Kariuki was aware of the man. But he obliviously carried on with his duty – in a most meticulous fashion. He was intent on not leaving any speck of mud on the bike. While brushing the knobby tires, he inadvertently splattered me with a few drops of dirty water. I stepped back a bit, as he apologized.
Another white car pulled in and waited in the queue.
I stole a glance towards the spot where I’d seen the man. I couldn’t see him, although his clothes hadn’t moved. The security guards drove back up the hill in their squeaky clean vehicle… and with their equally squeaky clean shoes.
There’d been a lot of mud on the lower half of the bike; Kariuki refilled his bucket a time or two. The first white salon car was now finished and drove away. The same two guys started on the second white one.
The navy blue one was almost sparkling. My “car” wash attendant never batted an eye. My bike was his sole focus. The mud had been washed off and now the suds were being rinsed away. I could once again admire the attractive blue-grey color of the bike.
One by one, the clothing items disappeared from the bush.
Kariuki dried every surface of the bike with his second rag. He was as keen about this step as he had been while washing it. He obviously took great pride in his work.
Sensing the work was done, but realizing Kariuki was hesitant to quit, I told him he had done an excellent job. As I paid and thanked him, a fully-dressed – but squeaky clean – man appeared from out of nowhere.
As he climbed the hill up to the road, he shouted a greeting and waved to the car wash guys.
I rode my squeaky clean bike back home.