By Kemboi Victor
Our matatu jerked to a halt at Ngoini market bus terminus few minutes past 6pm. One after the other, we alighted and took different directions. I was late so I hurriedly found a means of transport to drop me home, before it was completely dark. Motorbikes and cabs were common here so I walked to ask for one.
A middle aged woman followed me; I think to find transport to her destination too. She was black sunglasses and possibly, she a pastor because she has a white collar round her neck. I also realize that she had a small Bible which she had tugged under her right armpit: and she has a hanging lace with a cross on her fully breasted chest. I wished I could see her face properly.
My wonder led me to another discovery. I realize that this woman is the one I had met at the ATM booth queuing to withdraw money. I remember she was behind me and she had helped me pick my withdrawal receipt after it dropped on the floor. Now, the coincidence is that we were going to a same place, which made me bit anxious. To feed my curiosity, I step next to her and we start chatting.
Her name is Reverend Raeli and she couldn’t remember the name of the church was going but was the nearest church here, which I thought was curious. She said she had never been here before, and she couldn’t remember the name of the church unless she read it from a note that is in her Bible. Without thinking I told her the nearest church was St. Peters ACK which was in Cheokasi, nearly two kilometers away and a kilometer to Panja, my home.
There were neither cabs nor motorbikes at the parking lots and it worried me. How long would we wait? She looked at her wrist watch and unable to comprehend a solution for our lateness, she asked, “Is this the way people wait for cars here?”
“No, they are normally there. Perhaps it is because today is Saturday,” I suggested. Yet I also didn’t understand why there were no cars and bikes today. They have never been this scarce, I added. And in my mind, I started thinking about Sarakasi Bridge where there is a scary, dark wattle tree forest. If cabs wouldn’t come, would we have to walk through that bridge alone with the Reverend? I wondered, and asked her for an alternative. Darkness has already started swallowing the day.
“Trust your God, young man,” Raeli dared me. Her hope seemed to be big and she was certain that cabs would arrive no matter the duration we would wait. She removed her Smartphone and she swiped it, dialed a number and placed to right ear. However, she removed it few seconds later. Whoever she is trying to contact is unreachable.
After an extremely long wait, a red taxi pulled out from the main road to a halt next to us.
“Where can I take you, please?”The driver enquired.
“Weare going to Panja: how much does it cost?” Asked the Reverend.
“Normally two hundred bob during the day per passenger. The fare doubles at night,” replied the cab driver recklessly “Just two kilometers? That is too high, surely? Why?” She asked and smiled disbelievingly.
“It is because we are now at off-peak. You don’t understand? We don’t operate after six like we operate at day. By the way, if you can’t agree to my levels, wait for another cab.” Then he revved the engine as if he was leaving.
“Okay, wait…wait. What do you want now?” Sister Raeli asked, politely.
“I want something that will make my legs and my hands operate the car to Panja.”
“Okay. Reverend Raeli agreed anyway. After all, you can’t win an argument with a Ngoini cab Their rule is: there is no bargaining. You either take it, or leave it.
We went in the car at last. I sat on the front seat next to the driver, as Reverend Raeli adjusted herself on the back seat, both of us feeling relieved. In our minds, the journey would be starting in a short while. But contrarily, the driver said he was not going to leave, until the back seat space was occupied.
It meant we had to wait to wait again, so I concluded. By the way if you have no car in Ngoini, whatever the driver says is final. We decided to wait. Soon after some minutes, a muscled and dark skinned man, possibly a club bouncer came in and occupied the remaining space at the back. We sighed happily. The journey to Panja started.
Few minutes later our red Toyota Vitz was humming along Panja road like a strain bullet. Off we sped away, silence taking our space. No one spoke with the other except with their phones, perhaps chatting with friends or relatives. Twenty minutes later we were approaching Sarakasi Bridge. It is totally dark here. For an unthinkable reason, our driver demanded for a fare increment, which would be his risk allowance for a night travel. I didn’t understand what kind of a rule he was using to raise our fare, but I had to understand the rule of take it or leave it, and abide by it. The sister heard this news well, and for the first time, she laughed arrogantly, before volunteering to pay for us. Holiness!
Our eyes met with a stationary Toyota Probox in front. We don’t understand why it has been parked so carelessly without the warning parking lights. Perhaps it has broken down, so the driver guessed as we approached it. Unexpectedly, the Reverend laughs again, which baffles me. Why would someone of her caliber laugh when someone else is in trouble? What is so amusing? I wondered.
Our driver slowed down here, not sure of what was happening. But suddenly, we noticed spikes that had been placed on the road. What! He applied the emergency brake.
“We have been hijacked!” He exclaimed. And spot on some men appeared from the bush holding iron rods. Our driver tried to reverse the car but it was late. One of them was behind holding a pistol. And surprisingly, Reverend Raeli was now holding a rusty knife out of nowhere, against the driver’s neck, and ordering him to stop the car. Here, I realized Raeli was not a Reverend, but a robber.
The other man I had likened to a club bouncer too took hold of her immediately after the discovery. He was a strong man so he overpowered her easily. And for this little chance, our driver tried to force the car out of the spikes, but without success. The spikes had blocked the road properly.
“Just make one stupid move, and you are dead.” That was an order directed to us from the window pane. “Hands up as you get out.”
We obeyed. Otherwise, I bet they would have done something horrible. When I turned to see our bouncer next, he was bleeding uncontrollably. Our fake Reverend Raeli was holding a knife with blood, while one of her guys was helping her in holding our bouncer. “Everybody down or I shoot,” one of them shouted next, immediately we were out, directing the gun on us. We obeyed. Then I was shaking so helplessly. I bet if my pockets could have fitted me in, I could hide there. The only problem is: they started searching our pockets as we lay on the road prostrate. They took our phones, money, and bags. Then they ordered us to remove our shoes, and give them. My seventy thousand shillings I had just withdrawn, plus my phone, all were gone!
As we continued lying down, they went into their car and raced off. Raeli was just a highway monitor of a planned robbery, so I realized.
After they had left we realized that our bouncer was bleeding excessively. His shirt was already wet with blood. Thankfully, we still had the car in good condition. We decided to take him to the nearest hospital for treatment otherwise he could die.