Martin stood by the roadside, waiting, and his luggage lay by his feet. It was a large grey suitcase that bulged from a plethora of content. Its zippers threatened to rip apart if the stretching became unbearable. Martin gazed up and down the road restlessly. He kept glanced at his smartphone that couldn’t stop purring from all the streams of Whatsapp messages beseeching for his attention.
The sun was high and sky luminous. Casting a look on to the road, Martin could see air dancing in the heat of the black tarmac. The cologne from his white t-shirt jumped off into his nostrils. At the grassy sides of the road, tethered sheep clasped under trees while panting so hard their bodies rocked back and forth like a bunch of leaves in a breeze.
Finally, a shuttle flashed the headlights at him and he waved. The matatu was already crammed but he boarded it anyway. He did not want to lose his cologne to the hot air. The girls too were getting restless. They kept pestering him to hurry. And he did, not because he was in love but because they were. He had shown them an imitation of love and they bought it. Since he coined the art, he always pretended to like so he could have the liberty to pull down the loose pants whenever he felt like it. Once satisfied he would take off like a rabbit rattled out of its hiding.
Despite his willingness to constrict himself into the rumbling vehicle, the conductor took the trouble to convince him that there was one more space. He nodded and was squeezed in the back among two men and a pregnant woman. He sat between a roughly dressed guy and the window.
Martin’s bare hands touched the man’s big ones and he could feel the sweat on his skin. It reminded him of the Dettol advert. The whole vehicle smelled of sweat, unwashed mouths and faint cologne. The window won’t open. It was stuck. And it made Martin feel stuck in a death trap.
His phone vibrated briefly in his pocket. He let out a grunt of disgust and struggled to retrieve it. The notification bar suggested that he takes back the grunt. It was Brian. The bastard was in the same vehicle with Martin, seated in the front by the driver.
From the miniature space in the corner, Martin struggled to keep up a chat with Brian who replied more swiftly. Every time Martin looked into the screen of his phone, the big man next to him peeped to read the messages. Martin hated him for it. He felt that the man was making his life impossible. What with all the sweat and squeezing and foully mouth and now this?
He wrote to Brian about it and looked out the window with disgust.
Brian replied with smiley faces and wrote that those are the kind of guys who never wash their underwear just like the one seated next to him in front. Martin smiled and stole a glance at the man before typing a reply. It occurred to him that all this while the man had been reading the messages!
Marred with shock, Martin looked up at the man and met feud beetroot eyes with white substances on their corners, a wrinkled face with a wait-and-see threat written all over it and saggy dark lips almost completely lost in a bush of unshaved beard. The bald in his head seemed to pulse like that of an infant.
Terrified, Martin pushed the phone into the pocket of his black jeans. And sat pretending not to have noticed the blunder. The breath of the man hit him hard and he could barely afford to hold his breath. He simply looked out the window at trees and people racing by in the opposite direction and wished he was one of them.
The shuttle made an entrance into a bustling matatu stage. Hawkers were shouting, callers were shouting, a pastor was shouting; all comfortably as if the world was at peace.
At his side, Martin could feel the solid frame of the man press him hard against the window. He wanted to alight swiftly once the shuttle stopped. Unfortunately, he had to wait for the conductor who had jumped off the matatu and melted into the crowd looking for change to come back and get his luggage for him from the boot. The heat became unbearable, both from outside and within. Sweat beads collected on his brow and he dared not wipe it away.
Martin alighted before the man. He walked behind the shuttle hoping a scene would erupt so he could escape his attention. Just as he was about to make a curve, he heard a husky voice calling out, commanding.
He froze. The thud on his chest could be heard a mile away. If he was to leave with all the bones of his body intact, he had to ignore the call. Perhaps pretend not to have heard anything but the bustle of the town. He walked on. Just then, the man’s grip was on his elbow. Martin envisioned himself sprawled on the dusty floor of the stage. He had recently read an article on Facebook about a growing trend of people becoming violent over the slightest of provocation. It had something to do with the ever tightening economy or joblessness.
The man dipped his big hand into his pocket and retrieved a mobile phone. Martin looked on engulfed in terror.
“Please, read for me this text. It’s from my wife.”