A Matatu Sermon

“Sometimes there’s no greatness in the past, sometimes one would like to hide the past from oneself; and that’s why we all get locked up in our moments, and we all have our cocoons. It gets to a point we all feel the need to stay away from reality for a minute or two, striving so hard to get a temporary solutions to our problems, something that will preoccupy us – it could be drugs, tears, sex, talking too much, being in a dark room, see, so many ways work for different people, you just get to choose your poison…” He paused as if under remote control, letting his words float on air for our poor souls to feed on.

Maybe he noticed we weren’t paying attention, or maybe it was because of the hot hair that made him take out his handkerchief that had seen better days (it’s true colour I couldn’t tell) for he kept on wiping sweat from his forehead regardless. It was hot anyway, and the air itself smelt of cheap brew, perspiration and smoke. People were squashed up like cabbages and once again I thanked God I had huddled my desperate self against a window.

I couldn’t blame him for stopping like he did, for my heart-felt like stopping too. Ask me why. Here I was, in an overloaded matatu whose tout kept on shouting for more passengers yet all the seats were already occupied. The matatu itself, bound for the village where I was to attend a family gathering, was as battered within as it was without: the door did not close properly; the window glass could not be rolled down because the lever was broken; the stuffing was coming out of the seats; the uncarpeted metal floor, tacky with dust and grease, looked as if it had been sprayed with bullets; and the speedometer’s needle was missing – and I was hoping against hope to reach my destination safely!

I tried not to think of the small item in that morning’s paper which had reported a matatu crash in which fifteen people had been seriously injured as I heard the conductor hurl abuses at some young boys who were busy piling up pumpkins, bags of grain, live poultry and a mattress on the roof rack and on the back of the matatu. It was being overloaded, and the conductor kept on calling for more passengers to stand at half a price.

I couldn’t blame the not so keen audience (or rather passengers)either; for they too seemed preoccupied in finding their own comfort zone in the not so friendly matatu environment. Seated at the back, saying I was uncomfortable would be an understatement but at least my poor self was by the window. Knowing which side of a matatu will face the sun is always an art mastered by the few. And today my “knowledge” had paid off, at least. Woe unto them who sat in front for they had to be pushed once in a while to create more room for other passengers, courtesy of his crookedness – the conductor. No one, apart from me, seemed to be interested in the preacher (or whatever name we call one who offers to squeeze himself in an overcrowded matatu and amidst the pushing and nagging, still manages to hang on for a while to deliver some speech to a not so concerned audience who spend a much better time on board, bargaining fare with the jolly conductor and keep on complaining about this and that, from the few seats available to the name of the bus not being visible from a distance!) who had earlier began his ranting but stopped for a reason best known to himself.

I was lost in my own world of thoughts, wondering when the driver, whose woolly, tangled mop of hair and wild blood-shot eyes could make Lucifer run and never look back, would find it convenient to play with the ignition key and get us out of this crammed bus station when, in an unexpected burst of English and fiery vigour, Mr Preacher continued with his sermon;

“The people who appear strong are really weak, but they appear so because of situations, situations where they had to be strong for people, situations where they let people in, got too attached, were partially left alone there but can’t let go; not because they are too dependent, but because they value friendship, because they know what friends to family is, because they have little insecurities and trust a lot, because they value people as much as they value life. They know nothing about pretence, they are really real, they know everything about being broken, being hurt to an extent where the pain feels tangible. Do you ever feel terribly broken that you can smell the blood from the bleeding heart? So bad that the heartbeat feels like it’s no more?”

And just like that he stopped again, starving the ears of the few who were trying their best in this so crowded matatu to have a grasp of what he was saying. I fall among the category whose phone battery level determine their concentration, and well mine was running on a mere two percent I had no choice but find a distraction Mr Preacher of course. Otherwise I would have been hooked up on my screen, trying to get busy for nothing online. And so I found it amusing that I was offended that he stopped, for whatever thing he was passing across I wanted to hear all of it, and let it consume me, me of little faith; I thought in amusement.

“Now we go,” the driver said as if reading my mind. I had been hooked on the preacher’s voice I hardly noticed a small boy who had emerged from between the standing passengers’ legs and had boldly planted himself on my laps with ease. I was too stunned to protest. The matatu lurched forward, and from a crack over it a hen fluttered and squawked, sending a flurry of feathers down. I could hardly breathe. We plunged into the alleys dissecting the shanties that fringed the town, and Mr Preacher started again, this time a little louder as if quarreling with the devil himself;

“We fail to grow emotionally because of our cocoons, because we never get reason good enough to get out and face the world, because we fear being broken again, we fear that we might shutter never to rise again, the fear of the unknown kills us inside, paranoia does us no good. We get stuck at one point speculating, we wake up, tell ourselves we can move on; but uh your past comes creeping in, torments you and you’re back where you were. You no longer trust people, not like you’ve ever been a people’s person anyway, not like you know how to sit and tell people wassup, whats sucking up your energy. All you know is yourself when it comes to emotion. For the fear of bagging people down with your troubles, you’re a superb listener, not so a good conversationist, good communicator, sucker for emotion. Your friendships?-nothing deep, you never discuss your fears, ambitions and all. But hey, you’re never an introvert, you establish basic relations. You fear deep relations because people have become too good in masking up, so you also live behind your mask of always being happy to keep questions away, to lock people out, to preserve yourself a bit…”

He paused again, and the loud silence in the once noisy matatu sent me down a guilt trip. This matatu sermon was turning out to be one of a kind. I mean the way he laid out his preaching touched a nerve, and for a moment there I thought he was speaking to me alone. The only person who seemed to be in his own world was the driver, who broke the silence by overtaking another matatu on the brow of a steep hill and tyres screeching, took a corner too fast and swerved across the right-hand lane, these manoeuvres raising cheers from mad onlookers and arousing mixed reactions from the passengers. Even those asleep woke up and the ranting began. undetered, Mr Preacher rather continued with his sermon, his voice getting drowned by the voices but he cared less, or so he seemed;

“You’re difficult to understand, not because you play too much, but because of how you behave. You keep to yourself many times, around people you’re the one keeping the conversation going, not because you’re such a good story-teller but because it distracts people from concentrating on your moments. This keeps you going, you’re always on that ‘i’m fine vibe.’

Who are you really? What’s in store for you? How will you ever be able to get out of your cocoon? Face the world? The risk of depression is way higher than your chances of getting your game together if you don’t get on your knees and commit to the Lord and ask for guidance, for that which there is, shall go to those who are good for it, and the burdened shall always be unburdened at the Lord’s feet, for by kneeling down we have always been decreed as warriors before His Majesty. . .”

These words trailed off as the driver slammed on the breaks, sending the matatu to a screeching halt. First stop. Those who were to alight were doing so and there was a commotion at the door as the conductor and the alighting passengers haggled over fare. I kept straining my neck in a bid to catch a glimpse of Mr Preacher but I couldn’t see him. He was gone. Just like that! No tithes requested, no prayers. Just like that he was gone, the way he came. What a sermon- a matatu sermon! Served hot, to our thirsty souls in dire need for spiritual nourishment.

“And that which there is, shall go to those who are good for it. . .” I found myself mumbling these words, as the matatu skidded off, the remaining passengers deep in their own private thoughts. A matatu sermon indeed!


Wendo Kenyanito

For hope i live. Not because yesterday was full nor because today is fresh. But because tomorrow is fertile. Hope. For hope i live. And hope does not disappoint me.

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