A Man Cannot Cry

Flash

For those who are expecting a scandalous tale about a man crying for something or over something, you have clicked the wrong link. There is nothing special about the title of this blog – it is click bait. I just wanted to get you here and reading. Hahaha. Also, it rhymes well with the title of my past blog “An African Does Not Die!” and is the title of one of my all-time favourite novels, A Man Cannot Cry by Gloria Keverne.

Ah! Remembering that novel makes me angry at myself. I never lend anybody my books. I read them over and over, and therefore, cannot risk losing them by giving them to anybody. However, there is this one time I broke my own rule and lent somebody my favourite novel, A Man Cannot Cry. The book was never returned. I really loved that book and I have looked for it all over in bookshops in Kenya and in the various countries I travel, including the USA and the UK but I have never found it. It went out of publication.

The events that led to the loss of my precious book have never left my memory.

The year was 2000, the month was March. Fresh out of high school, I was being the good daughter and complying with my parents’ wishes. Or rather, I did not have a choice – their house, their rules! For them, whenever one graduated from high school, they had to acquire their government papers and  what my parents determined to be compulsory life skills like driving and using computers. My siblings and I had to get our national identity cards, driving licenses and first passports at the age of eighteen.

You wonder why we had to learn how to use a computer? Those days, computers were still something new and definitely not something found in most offices but they were the future. There were many computer colleges that had popped up around town and there, we were trained and certified in “computer packages”. Key competencies that led one to achieving this qualification were Computer Fundamentals which was simply how to turn a computer on and off. I had a young and very handsome trainer (story for another day) who insisted what we use the proper terms; booting a computer and shutting down a computer.

One then had to learn and pass exams in MS-DOS, MS-Word, MS-PowerPoint, MS-Access and MS-Excel in order to get the certificate. You also had to know about the various computer drives. Drives A and B were reserved for floppy discs, Drives C was the computer’s primary storage drive, also known as hard disc in contrast to the floppy disc. There was also drive E which was the CD drive. DVDs were not yet in existence , in Kenya at least. One had to know how to save on the various drives using a series of commands on MS-DOS. Life was hard! These days, just click CTRL+S.

I still have my Certificate in Computer Packages and present it as one of my qualifications when applying for a job or consultancy opportunity. Hahaha!

My mother also made my siblings and I learn how to touch type. One-finger, key-board-reading typing was a no-no for my mother who once owned a secretarial college. “A total waste of time if you have to look for each key before pounding at it,” she would say. “You must learn to strike those keys as you look at your transcript. It will save you time and time is money!” I am grateful to her for forcing me to learn this because, with a 62WPM typing speed, I am classified as a fluent typist. Just three more words per minute and I will be in the class of fast typists! This means that it takes me exactly thirty two minutes to type out this two thousand-word blog.

Before I delved into the world of computers and MS-DOS, I had to get my driving license. We stayed in Upper Kabete those days and all the computer colleges were in the Central Business District. To get there, one had to drive themselves in the car they had been assigned by my father and using the fuel they had to sacrifice out of their pocket money. You may think that it was soft life, but it wasn’t – driving a manual car on the then very narrow Nairobi streets, fighting against the cool but crazy matatu drivers and the arrogant and violent parking boys! I do not know why my parents were averse to matatus.

My father would say of the drivers, “Abandu be’tsimoni tsiakhanye nga tsinyanya” meaning people whose eyes were as red as tomatoes. How could they see the road with such red eyes! They were a risk to our roads. My mother’s suspicions, on the other hand, were directed towards the conductors or “kanges” as we referred to them those days. She would say, “Those young men whose trouser waist bands are below the buttocks and who walk around with their Kakamegas exposed.” I don’t understand why my mother calls sexual organs “Kakamega.” To be fair to the conductors, I had never and to this day, have never seen one walking around or going about their business with an exposed “Kakamega.”

So, because of these unfounded prejudices on the part of my parents, one had to drive themselves and to do so, one had to be licensed to drive.

That is how, in March 2000, I joined Wheels Driving School. Little did my parents know that this school specialized in training matatu drivers. Majority of the student body was composed of young men aspiring to drive matatus or touts, already on the job, wishing to upgrade to drivers. The place was rowdy and rumbunctious and it did not help that we were only two ladies in the school.

My classes were two hours a day, from nine to eleven in the morning. I would get a lift from my parents to the main road and then walk to the school. Because my parents left home by seven in the morning I was often very early, arriving at the school by half past seven.

There was another early student, a quiet young man about twenty years old. He was tall and very light skinned and had hazel-coloured eyes which is strange for most Africans. They were very remarkable looking eyes. His hair, though was the usual “Mwafrika nywele ngumu.” Not the soft curly hair to be found in a mixed-race person. I suspected that he must have a European ancestor somewhere in his family tree.

“Flash,” was all he told me that first day when we found ourselves sitting on the benches outside, waiting for classes to begin. He seemed shy and after struggling to make conversation, I gave up.

The next day, I did not attempt any banter. After an exchange mooof greetings, I sat quietly next to him on the bench. Those days, there were no mobile phones to browse and keep one busy and so, I perused the Kenya Drivers Handbook handed to us on the previous day. Flash had a deep baritone and his voice now interrupted my reading as he said, “Gym.”

“What?” I enquired confused.

“What makes you so early?” he said. “For me it’s the gym. I go from five to seven and then come straight here.”

“Oh,” I had noticed that he was quite buff and always put on muscle shirts to accentuate his well sculpted physique. “I get a lift from my folks and they leave early.”

FlashHe seemed satisfied with my response and our conversation ended there. On day three, I tried to initiate conversation again, seeing that he had spoken to me the previous day. He was sitting with his thick arms folded across his broad chest, staring into space. “Is Flash your real name?”

“Ha?” he asked. His mind had clearly been far away.

“Is Flash your real name?”

“No. It’s a nickname.”

“How did you come by it?”

“You don’t want to know!”

“Now you’re being mysterious. Just tell me.”

“Promise you won’t laugh.”

“I promise.”

“Okay. When I was a kid, I hated clothes. I would run around the hood naked. Because of my skin colour, people would say that they had seen a ‘flash of light’ streaking by. That’s how the name Flash stuck.’

A gargle of laughter broke through my lips even though I had been struggling to suppress it.

That was the end of our conversation on that day. For the next two days, my mother was attending a conference and they would leave home at six o’clock in the morning. It was too early and I by-passed the lift to the main road. I therefore left home at around eight o’clock and would be at the driving school a few minutes before nine. This meant that I missed having a quiet moment with Flash.

That was week one of my driving lessons.

The weekend came and went and the next Monday, I was back to my early routine. However, on that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Flash was not early. I was alone on the bench outside the classroom. By the Wednesday, I had taken it that he had changed his routine and so on Thursday, I came with a novel to keep me occupied.

That day, he arrived earlier than me and I found him seated on the bench, thick arms folded across his extensive chest and staring into space. “You’re early today,” I commented with a smile, happy to have some early morning company.

“Yes. I am back to my usual routine now. Gym and then here.”

“What disrupted your routine?”

“I had to supervise routine service for part of my dad’s fleet.”

“Fleet?”

“Fleet of matatus. He runs a matatu business. You’ve heard of Moon Kid 300 Matatus? We’re on routes 101, 102, 103 and 105.”

“Really! They’re literally the only matatus on those routes. The fleet must be big.”

“It is.”

“Wow.”

There was silence again and I settled down to read my novel before class began.

On Friday, I arrived before him and sat quietly reading. He arrived fifteen minutes later and sat quietly after a brief, “Good morning.”

Just before class, when other students had started streaming in, Flash interrupted my reading by saying, “I have joined my dad in the business, you know.”

“Oh,” I looked up at him.

“Three months ago, I introduced ten-seater long-distance matatus.”

“You introduced?”

“Yes. But I only managed to buy twelve. However, with the returns they are giving me, I project to purchase another three by November this year.”

I was stunned.

“I have named them Flash 2000 – Flash for my name and 2000 for the year. You know Moon Kid only does town service routes and has 33 seater mini-buses. I wanted comfortable longer distance vans that many passengers have been wishing for. Currently Flash 2000 only go to Naivasha and Nakuru but in November when I expand the fleet, I will go up to Eldoret.”

“Your dad gave you the capital to do this?”

“Of course not! I have been saving seriously.”

“Saving seriously? From what income?”

“I am a model,” he smiled at me. “Do you know that I started modelling when I was fourteen years old? Unbelievable, isn’t it? I have been featured in adverts by big companies and been in some major fashion magazines. This has exposed me to a lot of travel as I have modelled in Italy, France, USA and South Africa.”

“Oh. Wow.” I did not know whether he was pulling my leg.

“Yep. I earned good money. My financial advisor had me invest most of it in the stock market and the profits from that is what I have invested in the matatu business. It has good returns by the way.”

“What? The modelling, the stock market or the matatu business?”

“The matatu business,” he smiled at me again.

We had to rush into class but I still had many questions for him. I found him fascinating. However, he never lingered after class like the other students, to meet up with the eleven o’clock course men and generally be rowdy. He would leave directly, probably because he was modelling or running a transport business!

The weekend came and went and I was anxious for Monday to come. I shall transfer this same anxiety to you, Dear Reader, and leave you thirsting for the rest of the story for I have reached my word capacity for today’s blog. I therefore take my touch-typing, fluent typist fingers off my keyboard and bid you goodbye!

Author: Didi Wamukoya

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