Morning Commute

When the sun peeks out over the horizon, it is with squinted eyes; sleep still dripping from the edges, much like mine. She is blue when she wakes up, a bit sad but ready to do her duty all the same. Much like me.

I leave my house each morning with childish things in my heart and a 20 shilling coin in my pocket, knowing that I must protect this treasure until steady hands ask for it.

The smell of meat is always the first greeting of my day as I pass by the butcher and on lucky days it is followed by a waft from the bakery across the street. A freshly lit cigarette followed by not so freshly thrown trash.

A sunset view from my roommate’s window overlooking the Central Business District (CBD) of Nairobi. Follow me on Instagram: ChristenaDowsett

It is a short walk to the bus. I have learned to time my pace to that of oncoming movements. Some days they barely stop to collect me and my body is thrown up the steps as the vehicle continues to lurch forward. These are my favorite days, when I know that I slide into this life and its patterns. A seat opens up at the next stop and I replace their body with mine, pulling the precious from my pocket.

I observe, for the millionth time, the quiet conversations held by eyes and hands as money is exchanged. Coins collectively jingle, a quick reminder of services being rendered. One person signaling that they are paying for the person behind them, another one complaining that they haven’t received change yet. All without words. It’s a dance that I enjoy seeing played out before me and revel when I can seamlessly chime in.

The bus arrives at the final stop. “Mwisho, mwisho. Fasta, Fasta!” he says with a cadence that pushes you out the door from behind. A few feet away I make my first encounter of the morning. A man gently grabs my arm and fans his peacock feathers while using words to express his interest. He is soft so I leave my anger for another day and simply walk on.

I zig-zag through town. One day this way, the next, that. A woman sings “Hand-ker-chief! Hand-ker-chief.” We make eye contact most days and we both smile and greet each other with eyebrows thrown to the sky. We both know, but we have never spoken. A small man with a large head sets up his books to sell. He has never acknowledged me, which draws me to him all the more.

A homeless man with crippled legs waits for me to pass. He smiles. We shake hands. I ask how he is. He says fine. He asks how I am. I say fine. In the beginning he used to ask for money with his hands, and then his words. Now he knows and we are content to see each other and let go. He is handsome and kind. I like him.

Miles to go, I carry on. Step by step. Weaving through human traffic like a video game. I pass some of the same people every day. A Rastafarian with a shower cap covering his dreads. We notice each other but never at the same time. A dainty Muslim woman who wears the brightest outfits and always matches perfectly. I don’t think she has ever seen me.

On the next corner where I merge with the main highway, a Maasai man stands, picturesque. Sometimes preaching nonsense. Sometimes stoically in statued silence. He sees me but he does not react. He clutches a metal scepter made of pipe with a curved red tip at the end. Over the weekend I saw him on the other side of town pushing a cart. I wondered what he does all day. Where his mind goes.

I walk. Up and down hills. Across plains. Fielding stares and stolen glances. Heads turned. Eyes wide open. I feel the extra parts of me move on their own and try not to notice. Today I don’t mind. They are free to pass judgment and I claim my freedom not to receive it.

As the final climb starts, I jump over railroad tracks, careful to check first for oncoming traffic. Early on, a train passed behind me a little too close for comfort. On the other side I am welcomed with kind words by my motorcycle friends. I walk between them processional style, several on either side, and offer fist bumps and morning greetings.

They once caught me catching a ride from a motorcycle that was not one of them and responded with, “Why didn’t you call us? You know we love you and have to take care of you.”

Halfway up a steep hill, sweat finally starts to pour from my forehead and I struggle to wipe it away before it returns. Chris, the guard, opens the gate and extends an excited handshake. The other guard, whose name I have forgotten, tells me in Swahili that I am looking very healthy. We smile.

At the office I high-five the secretary, Ann, and hug my office mate, John.

Ann asks me why I am so happy today and I tell her that I don’t know.

But I do.

Morning Commute