This is not the worst day of your life but it feels that way. You know it’s not a truly bad day in Nairobi if you’re not actively bleeding out. You’ve held it together, somehow got yourself to the stage, and found a seat in a matatu. If you’re lucky it’s a dark bus. If you’re smart, you found a window seat with a window that opens. An open window will make all the difference, fellow child of Christ. 

Deep breaths, no eye contact. You get a small boost of confidence. As long as absolutely nothing happens between now and when you are alone again, you’ll be OK.

Of course, something will happen. The wind will turn and the signature smell of burning tires and raw sewage will remind you that your heart is breaking and the tears will start.

The conductor

She’s done this before. Her job will be to get your money without exchanging a single word or drawing any attention to you. 

The poor b*stard sitting next to you

As far as they’re concerned, you do not exist. Enquiring looks will be sent their way, they will return the looks with a shrug. The shrug will say, “I don’t know, it doesn’t look like a medical emergency though. Nairobi, wharrayougonnado.” If they are the ones sitting by the window, they will crack it open. If your sobs get a little too loud, they will cough to cover them – not so much out of pity but their own embarrassment. 

The stereo

It’s going to go off. No one knows why but the music will stop really abruptly and your devastation will deepen because the last thing you expected was for Morgan Heritage to abandon you as well.

The woman on her phone

She is having the best day of her life. Typically, all the juicy tidbits from her conversation would keep you entertained all the way home. Today all she does is offer cover from the seats further away. She is a reminder that good days are possible. For that reason, you’ll be able to stop crying for just long enough to fantasize about throwing her out of the moving vehicle.

The confused witness sitting behind you

He’s not sure what is happening but he’s uncomfy. People are also throwing confused looks at him but he does not know if you’re crying or car sick or just a rambling drunk. He will shrug and it will mean, “Wamama wa Nairobi…wharrayougonnado”. 


The harder you try to reign it back in, the worse it gets. So you just close your eyes and cover your face with your hands. You remember to breathe, 1234in1234out. Your sleeve is soaked. There’s tissue in your bag but reaching into it means showing your face. You can feel the tension in the mat and you almost laugh. You’re one of those people now. The people in the tweets, the TL characters who once only served as a reminder that this city is a living nightmare. The embarrassment makes it worse. They hate this. Nairobians hate it when anyone makes a spectacle of themselves. You would hate this too, sharing space with a person who doesn’t have the common decency to fall apart behind closed doors. 

The tweep who will trend off your pain

In the place of showing real human emotion and accidentally giving away that they are capable of empathy, they will smirk and get on twitter. To their 1800 followers they will ‘aki mapenzi wewe’ into a few hundred likes and kikikis. That night, they will sleep with a smile on their face, finger still tapping refresh.

The girl who will ask

When you get off at the last stop, you’ll want to put your head down and scramble home. She’ll be standing to the side but not so far to the side that you’ll be able to shuffle past her. She’ll ask if everything is OK. Braids down to her knees, loose fitting jeans and a nose piercing. Her hand, with four rings on it and a fresh manicure will gently rest on the bag you’re holding onto like a lifevest. She could not be older than 20 and you wonder if you should just say it’s a bad day, nimerudishwa soko. But you have to get it out or you’ll walk right into bypass traffic. So you say it.

“My mother died today.”