We see them but we pretend we don’t.
They are the invisible ghosts woven into the fabric of our society. We rarely, if ever, talk about them or confront them simply because we think if we don’t see them, they don’t exist. Does it help that I don’t like to play the rules? I also like to people-watch so I always see them and how everyone else seems to walk around them as if there was a pole in their place.
The first one I noticed I still can’t figure out what he does. He’s friendly with my boys from the hood who have known him forever. I first saw him when I got out of high school – when I started making those trips to town to do the courses that filled my days before uni. You know how it is, you get tired of staying at home so you find a reason to be in town with your friends.
Every evening however we’d have to get home early like good little children. It seems our parents were in the same committee – all us girls all had to cook dinner due to the convenient absence of maids. It worked though.
First time I saw him it was the shoes. Red Timberlands; very new, up to the jeans; and a red jumper and hat to match. The labels caught my eye and were enhanced by the bling in his ear. Then I saw his hands. He was holding a carton with all manner of sweets and biscuits. Every time after that I’d see him from Railways to Agip selling his wares decked out better than most people I knew. You could not convince me then or now he wasn’t just selling sweets.
Fast forward to last year when I moved to another hood, at the stage I noticed something else. He was bald, well-dressed: preppy but in a grown man kind of way; calm colors on sweaters, the occasional pair of jeans and nice shirts. He looked like an upcoming businessman and in some kind of way, he was.
You see, the hood where I lived had fares that varied from 40 bob to 100 bob. I normally go for evening classes so the one day that I come early from class, I discover the fares are 100/= and I’m like ‘Where from?’ So I stand and wait and there he is. Hench men around him but not too close he oozes authority. The mats come and suddenly he gives a signal three fingers up and just like that the fares go down to 80/=
I go wait with my friend to his stall for a bit then come back to the stage just in time to catch a conductor who was foolish enough to reduce the price to 60/= from the 70/= rate previously set. The conductor was now getting threatened.
Watching him became a pastime. He’d say something, the matatu touts would do it. He could even chase them away and they would meekly wither away; no longer the rebellious can’t-tell-me-nothing matatu guys we’re used to.
Then I moved again this year. I’m now about three weeks old in my new neighbourhood. It’s uptown; you live here if you’re in your twenties, still not making enough money and accustomed to living in sub-let extensions and tiny apartments. Except here they are even worse.
On the road I now use to get home, there are the hawkers who set up shop daily. And every day, without fail, two guys in a car donning flashy clothes drive slowly down the road.
All the hawkers pay them their dues. At the stage, there’s a guy who’s there from 6am – which is the earliest I’ve left home – till nightfall. He rules the stage. But not alone. There’s this ‘simu ya jamii’ guy who doubles up as a spy, counting the rounds each matatu makes so that in the evening they can pay their dues for their trips to town. As we sit by silently.
Why are we deluding ourselves by ignoring them? With the money they make each day from the matatu industry alone not counting other activities they can put anyone they want to in power in 2012. You best believe they will be well dressed, intelligent thugs. Thugs who will blind us to the evil they are doing because they know the art of living as invisible ghosts. Some times you can sense a ghosts presence or see that faint eerie form, with these ones, we don’t and that could be our greatest failure.