Every girl has a pocket of mischievous secrets. And every girl has the one boy who will spill his own blood before he spills any of these secrets.
If you want in on the mischief your girl has been up to around town, you don’t ask her pals. Or her Moms. You don’t inspect the hemlines of her jeans or the heels of her shoes. Don’t try to read in between the sentences of her conversations or her text messages. Not even her status updates – you won’t gather any intel from those quarters. If you want to know what mischief a girl has been up to, you ask the one person who knows more than he lets on, her insider. You ask the creator of her blacklist. You ask her boy. You ask Thomas.
Thomas was my moti (for those not conversant with Nairobi slang, that’s a car). Thomas was a fine piece of sturdy machinery. A brute. A beast only my leash could contain. Thomas. The epitome of matchmaking. The conviction that I choose well. Oh Thomas. My loyal servant on some days, his on most.
It was artfullyContrived and Savvy Kenya who exchanged comments on this blog, between chuckles, that I talk plenty about my car, “It must mean a lot to her.” I said it did. “You should dedicate a post to it [fra].” I said I would. I said it would read like a eulogy. And true to those words, this is what Thomas and I boiled down to: dedications and eulogies.
I’ve been with Thomas now for four years. Flogged him off some Co-op Bank guy in Coasto. Like most anyone’s first moti, it wasn’t the easiest thing to let go of Thomas. But it is easier when done. Every morning for the last two weeks of December, I stood at the kitchen window with a cup of tea in my hand, watching him, making excuses for my decision to see him go to someone else. Reminiscing. I didn’t drive, clean or ride him up until this final day to make the exchange with his new owner in tao. I simply watched.
When you are the first of your seven siblings to get a moti, it brings you together in a way that isn’t your regular bonding. It’s suddenly cool to sit in the moti, stationary, in the hood’s parking – windows rolled down, doors shut and music playing from the stereo – for over an hour with nowhere to go. As if it’s what, 1993? Or you are out for petty errands with a moti packed full of everyone. Or your Sunday afternoons are reserved for cleaning it at home. Such strange behaviour.
But it also brings to the surface fault lines in your relationship. You harp about ‘trust and communication’ when one of them has the moti’s keys. Here’s how: you have been away for a weekend to return to find the trunk and back bumper sticky with fresh paint. Its only when it flies open mid traffic do you realize something major went down over the weekend. Or, away for a week to return to the two front tyres replaced. Away for a month, the windbreakers are missing. Away for another month, and it’s a BMW parked instead of Thomas. “Dude, where’s my car?”
Motis ask that you tend them as a mother would her first child – he takes priority, and none of his bills are open for option or negotiation. You settle them without question. You settle them irrespective of your month’s budget. You settle them because Thomas asked that you to. No one questions Thomas.
Learning to balance his demands with yours is tricky in the first months of having him. And before you learn how much car tyres or shocks cost, or what things like ‘gasket’ and ‘fan belt’ and ‘drive shaft’ and ‘bushes’ mean, you will reconsider once or twice whether you made the right call to own one. Never mind that the fuel gauge is constantly on ‘E’.
But all these concerns are diluted when you become part of a milieu that consider the definitive measure of career progression a moti which creates an illusion of the city being your borderless playground. A falsehood that it is yours for the taking. And in this haze of liberation, you do stuff only your moti knows, and should only ever know, about.
I had a run in with the law twice.
The first time was in mid September, four years ago. Saturday morning at Biashara Street. In my mindless naivety, I told a parking attendant to watch the moti for me as I nipped in to buy two items – a breast pump and baby diapers – for my pal who would birth twin boys later that evening. It’s a lesson you learn on your own, that these guys are in cahoots with City Council. No one tells you you shouldn’t double park until/after you have double parked.
I am paying for the stuff when the announcement is made: someone’s moti is being towed. Are you in here? Heavens. I ran outside. Standing there, I can’t tell who looked more dumb and more helpless: Thomas with his big ‘L’ plates being noisily hoisted up the ground, or me looking on with a bag of breast pump and baby diapers.
I ride in the tow truck shotgun. Let me tell you this, urban psychological torture is in driving aimlessly around tao in a City Council truck, squeezed between three uniforms, with a bag of breast pump and diapers crushed to your face. I suppose this is what it felt like to take the train ride to Auschwitz. Torture. I swear I have never used the words ‘aki mkubwa’ so many times in one sitting. Nothing could save me.
At City Hall thirty minutes later, I am booked for a traffic offence. Four grand five to bail me and Thomas out: towing fee and unclamping fee. Like I mentioned earlier, when it comes to Thomas, you settle his bills without question.
The second time was in July, a year later. Early Saturday evening. My two girls and I were on our way to Hurlingham from K1. Enroute, we were talking trash about some chick from campus; Wambui, or someone with that nameface. I had a particularly trashy episode from senior year and as I opened my mouth to speak, I didn’t notice joining the University Way roundabout with a trailer. It wasn’t until we got midway that I realized I this guy would plow into me: I could either reverse into the other side of the roundabout, or accelerate to leave the roundabout before he did. Neither happened; the trailer’s tail smacked Thomas clean across his left side, like a slap across your cheek – there was a thud from the impact, the girls screamed, reverberations ripped through the moti. Dust. Then silence. The trailer sped off. No one was injured except for Thomas.
I spent the following Sunday afternoon making friends with Officer Munyao at Central Police Station. Monday, between the bank and insurance company learning what is meant by ‘excess’. That afternoon, I dropped Thomas off at a garage near T-Mall. I swear I heard him whimper as I left. Hell, I know I did.
It took seventeen days to fix him but he never quite felt the same afterwards. Thomas seemed rickety, less certain of himself, his brute weakened, his sturdiness compromised. But I didn’t care for that – as I cruised down Mbagathi Way that evening, all that mattered was that he was back. I spoke to him with the vulnerable whisper of a woman in love, “I missed you Thomas.”
The engine purred in response.
“No, I don’t think you understand what I am saying Thomas. I missed you.”
The engine purred longer.
“I missed you every moment, and I thought about you every day you were away.”
The engine purred harder.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again, do you hear me Thomas? Don’t you ever do that to me again. Don’t you ever leave me.”
The engine roared.
Now, waiting here in tao and looking on for the final few moments he is mine, I feel my throat choke up with emotion. Oh Thomas. Thomas has taken care of me, given me a taste of the urban life. I had a good run with Thomas – he has my secrets, far too many of them. He has history. He has scars. He has scratches and bruises from all of my siblings’ fender benders. But most of all, he has personality. Jamo, his new owner, has bagged himself a moti with personality.
Jamo had looked at the moti three weeks before Christmas. He tested it in the first week. We bargained in the week after. He went quiet for another week. On Christmas morning, he calls to tell me he’ll have the moti. I agreed. I told him I needed one more week to say goodbye. He agreed. He told me to he’d meet me in tao for the pickup. I agreed. Neither of us bothered to wish the other a Merry Christmas.
Jamo is a second generation Nairobian: a self-made man who left his sleepy rural town to build his auto empire from the sweat of his back and the sly manipulation of his tongue. His headful of hair is suggestive of a man who was handsome when he was younger. He has a naughty twinkle in his eye. Jamo is salacious in his private conversations, deceitfully naive in his public ones; underlying this is the natural ease with which he carries himself. He laughs with his tongue in cheek – literally and figuratively – as if he’s hiding an unsightly tooth. He likes to tell me stories, to gossip. To play the puppet even when it’s clear he is the one pulling the strings. He is a heavy smoker, a light drinker. His hoarse voice is thick with village accent. Jamo is Meru, which explains the entirety of his bad-boy mien.
I’ve known Jamo now for three years. Before I realised that his street credit was built from using manipulation as a business tool, my feelings toward him oscillated between disgust and admiration, sympathy and fury. I am uncertain to whether the trust I later developed in him is genuinely my own or an outcome of his puppetering.
This afternoon – sitting in the moti finalizing business – Jamo tells me about the success he’s been having with his biashara; the few difficult months he’s had were because of an employee who had been stealing from him. Then he tells me about the anguish of losing both his parents in a space of three months last year. Before I can say pole, he switches the conversation to ask me how my niece is doing. And when I plan to settle down and have babies of my own. He tells me I look awfully laid back these days. By this time, Jamo is whispering; his half-lowered unblinking eyes linger on mine a tad longer than necessary. His fingers, stained with nicotine, draw little circles around my knee. Eugh. I clear my throat then direct him to the dashboard to explain the problem the fuel sensor has had since October. He tells me not to worry about it, that he’ll take care of it. Silence, more staring. Jamo notices I am not quite OK. He asks to listen to the engine as he drops me home.
At my doorstep, Jamo wants to know when we can meet up for soda to clear the remainder of the paperwork. I tell him to call me on Wednesday. He bites his lower lip and says sawa, “Tuonane Wednesday Bett-y.” He winks. I laugh out loud.
I watch Thomas’s drive away from me for the final time. The sentimental memories of his sturdy behind engraved in the bumper sticker affixed to his right side. It read: Relax. God is in control.
I need a cigarette.