Staring Death in the Face on the Drive to Jomo Kenyatta Airport
September 20, 2006 10 Comments
After a week of Digital Indaba polemics, entertaining outraged comments from South Africa, I had my moment of Outrage on the way to the airport yesterday morning. My flight for Addis Ababa from Nairobi was scheduled to leave at such a time as made it necessary for me to be at the airport by 5.30am. As is always the case in Nairobi, this departure was heading toward the ‘one for the road’ till flight-time script. But Sohos where we were downing beers – and which I dislike and yet for some reason keep finding myself patronizing – closed early and I was forced to return home in good time to pack and get some sleep. The plan was for K____, my usual taxi driver, to turn up in good time and so he did. As I got into the battered Toyota, I noticed he was quieter than usual, that the front end had a new largish dent and that he seemed to have forgotten the way out of my place. But then I thought it must be the late hour and that perhaps even the curious slowness of his driving was due to his having woken up earlier than usual. This working theory, plus the mild hangover I was suffering all fled as we were pulling into Mbagathi Way (a highway under construction so that both directions of traffic have to share a single road.) My dear K____ was at the stop sign for a full minute though the road was quite empty of traffic. He only decided to pull out, with excruciating slowness, the moment cars were bearing down on us from both directions. They came screeching to a stop and one of the drivers rolled down his window and let go such a furious – and at such an early hour, impressive – flood of curses. K_____ merely nodded his head slowly from side to side as if in sadness that the other drivers could be so unreasonable and unskilled. It was only when he proceeded to drive in the middle of the road, seeming to weave toward the path of oncoming cars, as if somehow their headlights were what to aim for, that I realized that K____ – he of the frequent lectures on the importance of responsibility and punctuality in the working man – was roaring drunk.
‘K____,’ I asked carefully hoping not to distract him further, ‘have you been drinking?’ Silence. ‘Have you been drinking, please tell me,’ I pleaded knowing by this time that the answer must be in the affirmative. Oncoming cars were hooting and driving half on the road and half off it to avoid the Grim Ripper who was clearly now in control of that Toyota. And K____ was his angel of death. What with his sleepy answers, sunken, darkened cheeks, that now as I looked at him made me realize that for the past year I have been getting rides from a man who has ceded much of the flesh of his body to cheap liquors and late hours. I knew that we were never going to make by the time we got to the roundabout near the Barbados Children’s Home, about two kilometers from my first realization that he was drunk out of his mind.
‘I think I must have eaten something that disagreed with me,’ came the reply after long minutes of waiting. I have myself used this never-to-be-believed phrase and the next one as well. ‘I think I am just really sleepy, I have been having such a tough time sleeping. I even scrapped a gate on my way to you.’ The grave for mmk it was, even before the end of the Digital Indaba talkfest. Perhaps this is what comes of questioning do-gooding. That God, the lover of justice and empowerment, sends a drunk driver to your doorstep who crashes you head-on into an oncoming truck. Maybe K____ too had been rude to White South Africans as he carried them from the airport and so Justice was going to kill two birds with one stone.
‘Pullover K____, now!’ by this time I was hysterical. What a bad way to go.
Long story short: he stopped and I took over and drove to the airport with him fast asleep and even snoring in the back. I parked the car with him still fast asleep in it and took my flight. Once again Nairobi having ushered me into its curious blend of terror and comedy, on the way to Addis Ababa where dangerous driving such as K’s would not even make me twitch an eyelid as common and normal as it seems once I am here.