“You think you can steal from me, you good for nothing thief? You told me to get in with 30 bob fare, not 40!”
“Madam, please don’t bring your issues to this matatu, just pay the money. Everyone else has paid 40, do you think you are more special than them?”
“These are not issues of mine, this is an injustice from you! You lied to me! I gave you a 50 shilling note-I want my 20 shillings change or nothing. The rest have not spoken up because they are meek- but they feel just as I do. And I know you’ll just take that money and go waste it on alcohol. Yes, steal that extra change and go become a useless drunkard! You deserve it!”
“Mathee, you won’t disrespect me at my own workplace. I’m sorry that 10 shillings means so much to you, but that is simply how it is. If you don’t like it, get off and grab a bicycle. Don’t stress me.”
“How dare you talk to me like that, you little boy? What kind of shame are you bringing the mother who raised you? Stealing and then acting self-righteous??”
“Shuka saa hii basi! Si ush-“
“Sishuki bila my change!”
I smiled to myself and buried my head deeper in the novel, ‘Sleeping with Schubert’, that I was reading, though my full concentration had now shifted to the spectacle in the vehicle. The matatu conductor, now positively shaking with fury, pointed at me as one of the ‘compliant’ customers who were content with their 10 shilling change, and barked at the lady to get out of the matatu lest he throw her out. I raised my hand in a feeble attempt at an apology at the lady, who was now glowering at me, as if I had somehow colluded with the conductor to do this to her. The rest of the passengers, in the meanwhile, exchanged knowing looks and chuckled quietly. It seemed this would be the biggest form of entertainment for the day for many of us. As we got to the stage, I promptly got off the vehicle, though part of me wanted to stay to see how the argument would pan out.
AsI walked back home, I overheard a loud conversation between a boy and a girl, in their preteen years, who were both wearing the same school uniform, the girl perched on a bicycle and the boy leaning on the gate of one of the houses (presumably they were siblings). The girl was chuckling uncontrollably as she let out words in gasps; “You…like…Anne…everyone…now….knows.” The boy, meanwhile, waved his hands and shook his head furiously as he shouted back in an irritated, high pitched voice, “No, I don’t! Marvin made that up! Now people are going to laugh at me!”
“You did call him fat, you know. It’s partly your fault.”
“Well, he is! I didn’t know it would hurt his girly feelings! He’s such a girl.”
The girl continued to laugh and sped off on her bicycle, shouting, “Harry likes Anne! Harry likes Anne!”, and Harry chased after her, shaking his fist in protest. I chuckled with nostalgia as I remembered my own early experiences of tween romance, and how harrowing it was to have a boy like you, to like a boy, or to have someone accuse you of liking someone.
As I reached the gate, my mind strayed back to the heated exchange in the matatu. The initial assumption would be to blame the woman for being so petty; but I wondered whether maybe that 10 shillings really did mean a lot to her. Perhaps it was the difference between a full meal and just ugali in the evening. Perhaps it was her fare to get home. Perhaps the rest of us had indeed just let it slide for fear of sparking an argument. The matatu conductor, too, was not the absolute victim- he did state that the fare was 30Ksh at the stage, so he went back on his word. But I knew too that he was only doing his job, and perhaps had hastily recalculated the price on seeing the traffic snarl-up on the road, to prevent his boss from getting on his case about low returns at the end of the day. There were 2 sides to every story- even Harry, the boy who supposedly liked Anne, was not an absolute victim-neither was chubby Marvin, the said accuser.
A cold breeze swept past me, and I shivered- a glance at my watch told me it was almost 7:30 pm. My heart sank with dread- my mother would use my lateness as an excuse to point out every single mistake I had made for the last 5 years, and then would proceed to pick a fight for the rest of the evening. But then I remembered, that this only one side of the story- my own. Of course she was only worried about my safety, and that is why she got angry. And her point of view was completely understandable-the methods, questionable- but understandable.
I suppose the problem with life is that we are almost pre-conditioned to not see past our own noses. We make assumptions about things, without considering both sides- I myself am a victim of this. Which is why my New Year’s resolution is to know both sides of the story, for as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, there is great danger in knowing , or telling, the single story.