He was probably from Kiza. Actually I’m pretty sure he was from Kiza because when I turned into Lenana Road I saw his car lying on its side. I also know he hadn’t been in the ditch for long because the rear left wheel was still spinning. Like in the movies. I was excited. I was excited because I had always wanted to be the first to reach the scene of a foolish road accident like this to find the person inside in dire straits, hold his hand as bright red blood oozes out of his mouth because he’s one of those guys who, on top of driving blind drunk, refuse to wear seatbelts because seatbelts “crease your shirt.” I always pictured myself holding his hand and telling him, “Hey, hey, stay with me a little longer…what’s your name?”
“No, what’s your name?” he’d slur with a grin, one side of his face looking numb. I would then ask him if he has any large amounts of money on him. “What?!” he’d try to raise his head, thinking that perhaps this is a robbery. I’d ask him if he has drugs in the car, any type of drugs, at all – ecstasy, cocaine, weed. He’d try to focus on me, but of course I’d be but a hazy voice through his pain and shock and alcohol. He would be fading fast and I would be holding his hand and telling him, “It’s okay. Tell me your secrets now. Do this one thing for yourself. Tell me. Then let go.” Then he would try to open his mouth but his head would slowly roll to the side and I would sigh and stare at him for a while before letting go of his warm hand, switching off his car engine and calling the last number he dialled on his phone. It would ring and ring and finally the groggy voice of a girl would say, “Tim, I told you, you.can’t.come.over.to.my.f*kn.house.period!” Click. Then I would leave him there knowing that he, at least, had a name; Tim.
So yes, I was excited.
I leapt over the ditch and approached the car from the driver’s side. All the windows were tinted heavily. I don’t know why people tint their car windows so heavily including the windscreen. But then again, I don’t know why people write their relationship status on Facebook. With my legs braced against the sides of the ditch, leaning on the car with one hand, I tried the door handle but it wouldn’t budge. I then thought I’d get a stone and smash the window, but that would be too dramatic. I rapped loudly on the window. I could hear music coming from inside. The body of the car was cold and had small droplets of dew on it. And because the days are now shorter and the nights longer it was still fairly dark and cold but daylight was quickly chasing the night. Finally the window slowly whirred down and warmth, music and cologne escaped the car. “Hi,” he said drowsily.
He had his seat belt on but didn’t have blood coming out of his mouth. A shame, really. He was chubby-ish. Maybe early 30s but with a potbelly that seemed older than him. Like he was holding it for someone until they come back from a seminar abroad. A sliver of moustache ran over his lip. He looked like those guys who get kids too early and are forced to be fathers way early. Please don’t ask me to describe what kind of a guy that is. I peeked into the backseat for an infant in a car seat because you never can put anything past chaps like these, he might just have forgotten his baby in the backseat the whole night as he drank in the bar. There was no infant. But the music in his car – which I only remember as bluesy – was to die for. Literally and figuratively. If you are going to die in your car for drinking and driving then you should die with great music on. I think dying to Dj Khaled is not a great way to go.
The car was ann off-white or cream Crowne. Bulky. It lay there on its side like a elephant seal digesting its lunch. The gear was still on Drive. He was wearing jeans and a red polo-shirt with all the grand prix paraphernalia on it. He was drunk. Quite. “You are about to have a long day, my friend,” I told him. “I know, I know” he mumbled. “Are you okay?” He nodded and wiped his chest with both hands, like that question made his hands dirty. He fumbled for a bit before opening the door but when he tried to get out of the car the belt held him back and he fumbled to free himself with no success because he was uncoordinated. I unclipped the belt and held his hand as he stumbled out into the ditch.Somehow he kept saying, “Waah,” like he couldn’t believe what a gorgeous morning it was.
I liked his belt.It was a beautiful shade of brown leather, embroidered on the side, with a discreet brass buckle. A great belt to die in, if ever there was any.
I switched the engine off and the music died. “You want to call someone?” I asked him. He bent his head in that way drunks do when they are falling asleep at the bar. He was blubbering something, not completely aware (or just not fully appreciative) of the small accident. I moved closer to him to hear what he was saying, taking in his nice cologne. “My cigarettes,” he blubbered. He wanted me to save his cigarettes. Don’t let my cigarettes die in there. Save them! It’s not enough that he survived driving intoxicated now he had to try kill himself with cancer of the lungs.
Who was I to stop a suicide? I retrieved his cigarettes from a pouch near the driver’s seat where his phone, a lighter, some receipts and a pen were. A bottle of whisky had rolled onto the floor on the passenger side.
Have you ever watched a movie when a woman in red lipstick puts a cigarette between her lips and a man (always in a hat) flicks open a gold lighter and brings the flame to her cigarette? I always wanted to do that, even without a hat on. Unfortunately I don’t find myself in the presence of smokers often enough to do it, much as I would like to. That is one of the things that I would regret on my deathbed – that I never lit enough cigarettes for women wearing red lipstick.
It might look easy and probably is, unless the lighter has run out of gas then you end up looking dorky. It’s much harder and less sexy, I’d imagine, with a matchstick when the flame keeps getting blown out everytime you bring it to her cigarette and you have to strike the match over and over again until the woman says, “You know what, forget it. Maybe this is a sign that I shouldn’t be lighting this cigarette.” Then you are left holding a sooty, spent matchstick. It also says something about you, as a man. That if you can’t perform a task as simple as lighting her cigarette with a matchstick, what chance to do you have of lighting her other fires?
I didn’t want to light this man’s fires, but I was not going to let pass an opportunity to light a cigarette even though he had no red lipstick. So I handed him one stick, flicked the lighter (it was one of those cheap plastic ones you see at supermarket checkout tills) and brought the flame to his cigarette. The wind worked with me. He sucked at it lazily. Passing cars slowed down and drove off. I then gave him his phone and he just held it in his hand, as if wondering who to call.
Let’s see who you can call in such circumstances.
Well. One early morning in 2010 I ran over a man somewhere off Parliament Road (he was a lawyer going to work – just my luck). His forehead was split and he was bleeding all over my car as I rushed him to the hospital and he refused to have me call his wife. He was afraid she would just “overreact” and make this “worse than you think.” Which made me wonder how much “worse” this could have gotten when he was bleeding like that, maybe even internally. Just how much worse does it need to get for you to say, “Okay, you can call the wife now.” I call it The Great Fear Of Madam. It’s asymptomatic. It just infects you. There are some things you don’t call your wife about – because she will come and sort it out, yes, but you probably won’t hear the last of it. It will be a long song that comes up even on the most innocent of days when all you want is to be a peaceful Kenyan. The good is forgotten by nightfall but the bad? Oh, the bad is held over your head like the swords in the Bible, what were they called?
So you probably would understand if this guy called someone else. Maybe he had left the house at 6pm saying that he was just “going to the local to meet my pal for one drink.” How does he explain that he ended up all the way on Lenana Road, 21 kms from his house, in a ditch with a strange man in running gear lighting his cigarette? Even worse if that car is a “family car” that she took a loan to partially pay for. Oh, she will be furious. She will hit the roof. So no. Maybe not the wife.
The hatchet man:
This is the guy who buries all the bodies. He cleans up after you. Sometimes it’s even a woman. Actually women make the best hatchet people. Because they understand that everything is details, to mean that they understand the devil. They are calm. They think faster than you. They see the big picture before you do. Plus they always pick their calls. It’s useless to keep friends who don’t pick their calls. You could die and they will return your call during your eulogy.
But the hatchetman is a bit complicated when he’s married because he will have to get an excuse to jump out of bed at 5:45am on a Saturday and rush out of the house to help you without incriminating you. His wife will ask questions and he will be forced to say that you are involved in an accident and she will roll her eyes and say “Was he drunk again?” And he will be forced to defend your character even though you have none to speak of because she doesn’t like you, never liked you from the word go (what do people mean by that anyway- from the word go) and always asks her husband how it’s possible that the two of you are even friends because you are like night and day. She feels like you are pulling her husband down. You feel like she hates you not just because you are an irresponsible drunk, but because you have a moustache she doesn’t understand. But her husband is loyal to you, for now, because you two have been through a lot together and are as thick as thieves. But one day when she succeeds in ramming it into his head that you are no good and you don’t care for progress he will stop being loyal. But for now, he puts on his shoes, throws on a jumper and tells his wife vaguely, “There is an emergency with Tim, I will be right back.” Then she will hate you even more. You know how you know your friend’s wife hates you? When one year you are not invited to a birthday party for his child but Facebook says it happened.
If you are 33-years old and you call your mother when you are drunk in a ditch after an accident then you have a lot more to worry about than drunk-driving.
She is probably in bed with another hour to go before she wakes up because her Saturdays are sacred; she doesn’t go to work, she sleeps in and she wakes up lazily, makes coffee or tea, reads her book in bed and walks around the house in tiny pink shorts and an old t-shirt until her salon appointment at 11am. The tragedy is that she is probably the type who thinks she will change you. That she’s the chosen one who will succeed where the last 12 didn’t. That this heavy drinking and debauchery is something that will pass over eventually. But who knows? Maybe she is the chosen one, the one the Lord sent to change your ways. If she gets this call at dawn, she will jump out of bed and come immediately in a full tracksuit and she will squat next to you and be the supportive girlfriend and say with a great deal of concern, “Sweetie, are you okay? Did you have enough to drink?” No, lady, he didn’t have enough to drink. He just had two bottles of whisky to drink.
Stumbling on the scene of an accident like this, one involving a drunk driver, pulls my emotions in two different directions; I want to sympathise with the drunk driver but I also want to punch him in the face so that when he wakes up he has a broken nose as a memento of that day. I know a former high school mate who was killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver while running in the morning. I have seen cars driven by drunks chasing each other at 5:30am while I’m out on a run. I once saw a guy negotiate the roundabout at Likoni/Ring Road at an insane speed and from the wrong side! People who are “turnt up.” These are the men who leave the club and rush to get home before the help wakes up to start cleaning the house. These are the guys that kill you on the road as you are running.
They will fall asleep at the steering wheel and the car will go off the road at 90km/hr and you, poor you, up early to run, will feel that weight of hard solid metal in motion ramming into you from behind, briefly hear your own spine snap in two as that car, a whole 700 kgs, tears into you, flipping you over its roof and you hit the road with a thud, perhaps breaking your neck as a result. Then you will lie on the dewy roadside and think of your children or your mother or your lover or how annoyingly simple and quiet dying must be. You will die and he will live. He will stumble out of his car. Or he will drive away. He might bribe a judge because his father knows the right people. Your file shall not be found. Your case will be buried like you. And the next week he will be in the bar with his friends again, asking if they can throw another rao.
So I felt little for this guy on Lenana Road. Very little. In fact, I wanted to steal his belt. If it weren’t Sabbath, I would have. I removed his car keys from the ignition and placed them on the dashboard because I knew he wouldn’t be able to stick them in the ignition given his condition. In fact, he wouldn’t be able to stick anything anywhere in his condition. “Call someone,” I told him and left him there still mumbling “Waah.” I had a 10km run to complete. On my way back some 45 mins later, there was a private security van near his car trying to tow it out, and with about four uniformed guards around.
He probably slept it off and recounted to his pals the drama of that early morning and they all laughed and said “Waah.” Then they made plans to meet again in the club or bar. Because they are invincible and the car always knows its way home.