The Matatu Ride
By Sharon Wangui 4/1/2020
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy leaving the house and visiting new places, but my crippling social anxiety would tie me to my couch and I’d travel the world on screens. Nothing wrong with that, I’ve been to Paris on a ‘Midnight in Paris’ ticket and boy did I love ancient Egypt on that ‘documentary whose title I can’t quite remember’ ticket.
However, when I actually do leave the couch, being rather unfortunate depending on how you choose to view it, I take the infamous Kenyan Public Service Vehicles coined “Matatu”, a Swahili word you’ll have to look up as homework.
Basically they are allowed to carry only fourteen passengers but being oh so kind citizens, we have enough space for a least five more. You pay cash to ride to wherever. I’ve been in a atatu which had a little sticker that said, ‘Kupanda ni popote kushuka makanga ata chagua’ , meaning you board the matatu at whatever point but the tout chooses where hell drop you off. Funny until you have to walk meters back to your preferred station.
I once boarded a wreck posing as a matatu, sat right at the back since I feel safer there without having someone breathing on the nape of my neck. It got full rather quickly and the last person to board was an older guy probably in his forties but who could tell really, being in the hot sun and the evident hustle and struggle on his face it could do quite some damage on ones looks.. Draining you of your youth and suppleness so slyly while you’re busy keeping up with responsibilities and ludicrous standards society has set for your age group and gender you forget to love yourself first and now it’s too late the wrinkles on your face tell tales unimaginable.
The man was clutching at his wrist and nibbling away on his nails like a hungry mouse. I don’t know how true this may be but my mother once mentioned that people with this habit are usually under stress or pressure and I couldn’t help but wonder what was on his mind. He seemed to me like the typical African father of five with the landlord on his door daily and a wife he wishes he never laid with in that wretched coffee plantation, who tradition has now strapped on his back for life to bite his head off with endless demands and her good for nothing children he regrets siring.
Not a day goes by without him thinking the kids might actually not be his. How could they? A respected carpenter who men like the village chief bought a bed from his shop when he bagged a third wife and whom women smile at suggestively every day. He could get any of this yellow-yellow girls once he found a way to get rid of the monster in his one bedroom flat infested with little demons who never shut their faces. In his eyes his wife is the root of all his troubles like his seed hadn’t yoked her to him for life for filial duty. Must be hard, I thought.
He spat pieces from his mouth unconsciously that landed on his neighbor a lady in her twenties with quite an interesting choice of dress, yellow with large red roses with lace on its bodice. Flamboyant, yes flamboyant is the word. She wafted them off her yellow dress in disgust rhythmically smoothing it like she did so deliberately to show off her, as it appeared, expensive manicure. She then adjusted her huge loop earrings as she rolled her snake-like eyes heavy with makeup.
Her knuckles were dark for a girl with a light skin tone. It was pretty obvious she had bleached her skin because as she tucked strands of her dry, raspberry, shoulder length weave behind her ear, her neck the loud ambassador of darkness showed what used to be and could not be silenced by any amount of foundation applied.
I recently watched feature on colorism online detailing a pandemic far worse than racism. I thought she would probably have reason to want to be lighter if everyone around her was white but as far as I could observe everyone around was dark by birth. You see unlike other races, we enjoy the beauty and diversity of complex ranges of complexions. Colorism is by definition like racism, discrimination based on skin color only that its usually from members of the same race. I don’t think anything saddens me more than when I think about skin bleaching than the fact that we are our own enemy by creating crazy beauty standards thinking the lighter the better. Those with lighter skin tones more appealing than their dark skinned counterparts and actually enjoy privileges instead of celebrating our diversities .
She might have felt my eyes burning a hole through her skin because she turned to me and I involuntarily smiled and looked away where I was immediately met with my neighbors jelly-like arm with stretchmarks running from her armpit to just above the elbow and I felt embarrassed for somereason.
Don’t judge me, we’re conditioned to look away in such instances. Beauty companies make millions from creams that don’t really work but are alleged to get rid of stretch marks but this plague is just relentless. It’s amazing the lengths people will go to with just the right amount of desperation and a little hope.
My college roommate had shelves of these and while she waited for them to work their magic, she wore clothes with long sleeves to hide this embarrassment. Women have been conditioned to hide and be ashamed of things they cannot control. How dare they gain weight? How dare you enjoy the sunlight while making us throw up in our mouths at the sight those hideous things. The African woman is praised for having beautiful curves but society is not ready to accept natural byproducts of curves.
Adolescence and pregnancy are the most common contributors of stretchmarks and both are as natural as can be. By the time my roommate gave up on her beauty endeavors, she was tired and broken. I remember leaving a sticky note on her mirror that read, ‘you’re a tiger that earned her stripes’ and I fear I created a monster because I cannot recall when last she covered her shoulders. I thought of her struggle and no longer felt embarrassed looking at this brave and beautiful woman sitting next to me who wore her stripes with pride. She was probably too busy with important stuff to stop to think what others would think of her or was too hot and couldn’t give a hoot what anyone felt.
‘pesa hapo nyuma madam’.