I’d had a good day, but a long one. It included some good fellowship with two friends. I also accomplished several errands. Tired, I headed home on a #24 matatu. I settled into my seat for the hour ride.
As we bumped over the rough roads, our driver and conductor were in more of a hurry than normal. In an attempt to quickly pad their pockets for the day’s take, the conductor rushed each and every passenger that boarded or alighted. The driver took no concern for our comfort as he roughly maneuvered the twists and turns in the road.
As one man boarded, the conductor roughly grabbed his young son and hurriedly put him in the vehicle. “Simama hapa.” (Stand here.) Children do actually stand most of the time, to avoid being charged fare. However, our conductor was unnecessarily rough with this young boy.
Others jostled either getting in or out; the conductor hung out the open side door, soliciting more riders. Our vehicle pulled back onto the road roughly. The young boy - staring intently at me - looked shaken by the ordeal. I grinned, while simultaneously wondering if he might cry.
For the longest time he maintained a somber look, all the while keeping his eyes glued to me. Eventually his expression softened a bit.
A man sitting between the four-year old boy and I placed the child’s hand onto the seat in front of him. “Shika.” (Hold.) The young boy absentmindedly complied but immediately looked back at me. He mustered a small, fleeting smile.
Suddenly, he offered a full-fledged grin to match mine. He let go of the seat in front of him and tapped his dad on the shoulder, “Baba, baba!” (Dad, Dad!) Immediately the man between us placed the boy’s small hand back on the seat in front of him. The way our driver handled the vehicle, this was a prudent move on the young boy’s behalf.
The boy repeated his attempts to raise his dad’s attention by again removing his hand from the seat to tap him on the shoulder. “Baba, baba!” I’m quite sure he wanted to add, “Ona mzungu!” (Look at the white person!)
The man between us, oblivious to the interaction between the young boy and myself, again placed the child’s hand onto the seat. The boy did not take his eyes off of me. His now infectious grin remained.
He couldn’t restrain himself. Once more he removed his hand from the seat in front of him. This time though, instead of tapping his father’s shoulder, his hand went to his open mouth. Behind the hand, his mouth was now in a permanent smile. He was apparently astonished, not only to see a white person, but to be in such close proximity. Pure, unqualified joy radiated from his face.
The man between us diligently put the boy’s hand back on the seat in front of him, kindly but firmly repeating, “Shika”. And once more, the young boy absentmindedly complied. However, after only a few seconds, he removed it from the seat and returned it to his open, smiling mouth for the second time. The scene repeated itself many times; it was truly comical.
All the while, the driver recklessly hurried down the road. The conductor continued to harshly tell the passengers, “Haraka, haraka”. (Hurry, hurry.) Like a game of musical chairs, people continued to board and alight. The old Kikuyu woman with her two large kiondo was likely too tired to care after a day-long attempt to earn her daily bread. Uttering, “Ai,” she difficultly squeezed her large frame past the young boy. The polio victim in front of me, with one of his legs badly shriveled, was likewise unaware of what was going on. He perhaps contemplated how he’d manage his two sizeable boxes of goods as he hobbled home on his homemade walking stick.
Even the young boy’s father knew nothing about our delightful, albeit silent, connection. No one was aware - except the young boy and me. We were alone in our enjoyment, in the midst of chaos.
The incident truly touched my heart. What simple ecstasy. The boy’s wonderful smile and unadulterated amazement made me completely forget how tired I was. A tear or two rolled down my cheek as I thanked the Lord for such wonderfully common experiences here in Kenya.
May I never be too tired or preoccupied that I miss out on such encounters with another soul.
- - - - - - - - -
My friend, Kim, and I met recently to chat about my second book. He told me which stories he especially enjoyed... and this one - "The Young Boy" - was one of his favorites. As we took a look at the story, it occurred to me that it had happened in the Hardy area. In fact, the young boy and his father boarded the matatu on Ushirika Road, which is the road I now live off of.
I thought that - perhaps - some of you would also enjoy re-reading it.
I sure did.
I sure did.