This week marks a year since I found myself in an unexpected and terrible accident. Before the Friday of 10th November 2017, I was just like many other Kenyans who watched accidents on prime time news and in movies. I had this feeling of invincibility and never thought that at any one time would I ever find myself in such situations. I had heard stories before of course. I had been told of how grisly accidents can be and how scenes of the aftermath were horror-like and how the people who survived sometimes had to live with certain pains and realities that they hadn’t thought of before. Some lose their limbs. Others get their faces deformed permanently. There are others who get crippled for the rest of their lives. And the one thing that is common to all the accident victims is that their souls remain scarred for a very long time. There is a certain kind of trauma that sets in which is unexplainable. It’s unique but not sudden. It comes slowly, gains momentum within you and builds up into something huge that haunts from within. It may turn into depression at times and lead to a terrible fear and phobia of travelling.
So before this day, I was at home in Kisumu. I was on holiday after doing my first semester in school (This is very common in the University of Nairobi. You do a semester and guess what follows. A nine-month holiday). The holiday was supposed to last three months but somehow things kept happening and it kept being pushed further and further. Before we knew it, we had spent more than half a year at home. Sometimes I admire the resilience of my classmates. Especially the ones managed to hang on after that traumatic holiday experience (UoN Law School Class of 2021 comprise of the bravest and most resilient people I’ve ever meet my entire life).
When you find yourself on a holiday that long, you tend to get bored and tired along the way. You get bored because it’s not easy lying around in the house from morning to evening and tired because of waiting to get back to school. You also get tired of having to prepare tea for your visiting aunts and friends of your mum who come around all the time. So I got bored of this routine and decided to get back to Nairobi for a week to catch up with some friends as well as meet Noah Khayundi to discuss some old ideas we had been harbouring since our final days of high school.
I packed a week’s clothing and ferried myself to the bus stage after bidding my parents goodbye. It’s funny how mum bids us goodbye whenever we are travelling. She gets so emotional. I guess it’s a mothers’ thing. Who knows? Maybe there is a Mother’s Code somewhere that we all don’t know of which has a section stating that “Thou shall get emotional any time your kid is going away even if it’s for a few days.” I guess some other provisions that would exist in such a code involve things to do with disciplining children with errant behaviour. African mums, especially those of the old times, seemed to have mastered the art of disciplining their kids. They knew just the right amount of beating that would rectify a child’s bad behaviour or habit.
My journey to Nairobi was not so lovely considering that the bus I travelled in was full of all sorts of things and people. There were people who sneezed so loudly that you’d think they were captives of the devil. They had demonic sneezes. There were people with bad smells. They smelt of fish. Some even had the smell of camel milk. Then there were people carrying chicken. I have never loved the idea of travelling with chicken for such long distances. It shows not only a lack of compassion for these creatures but also a complete disregard to their rights. A chicken that is tied with some strong rope and travels all that distance would definitely not taste good even if it is later slaughtered. I wish there were activists in Kenya who could fight for the rights of these creatures just like the ones in America do.
My journey ended at 9 pm that day. A journey that was supposed to have been significantly shorter. It ended up being so long due to the crazy traffic jam in the city. I alighted to a place so busy and noisy that one would mistake the time to be noon. That’s how busy the Country Bus Station in Nairobi can be at night. I reached for my phone and was met with four missed calls. Mum, Mum, Dad and Jeff. Typical of my mum. She was probably very worried because I had not called them to tell whether I had arrived safely or not. I ignored the first three missed calls and called Jeff, the last one. I was heading to his house in Karen where I’d stay for the next seven days. When he picked the phone he sighed with relief. He was relieved that I was safe. He told me how worried he had been. He then directed me over the phone on which matatu I should take and the exact place to alight.
Jeff, also called Paul, has been my friend for more than 15 years. I met him in nursery school and we grew up changing primary schools together. When high school came, he found his way Maranda High School while I headed to The School found along the equator. But the friendship we had transcended even schools. Not even the rivalry between the schools could damage it. It lasted beyond all that and is still strongly present to date.
So when I arrived at his place we talked a lot about so many things. We talked about his parents, who are my good friends by the way. We talked about how he was fairing in law school. We talked and laughed about his failed relationships. Then we remembered the good old primary school days and even laughed more (Sometimes I miss my primary school friends. I wonder where some of them went. It’s a mystery what time and distance do to people). We spent the next two days touring Karen. We went to Giraffe Center where I learnt that there are different types of giraffes. There is one called Rothschild and some even called Reticulate. I remember seeing tourists kissing the giraffes. (White tourists of course. We, Africans, don’t get easily amused by such things). The best I could do was feed one giraffe with some pellets, an action I regretted because I nearly got headbutted. From Giraffe Center, we went to The Hub. It’s a very beautiful shopping mall. It’s full of ambience. There is even an artificial river for Christ sake. World class I would say.
I would later meet friends like Noah, Laureen Emma and my brother Frank in the course of that week. For Noah and Laureen, I met each of them on separate days at Gibson’s Coffee House. I swear the people at Gibson ’s make delicious coffee. I remember going back to the waiter and asking her to take me to the person who made the coffee I took there. When I saw the middle-aged lady, I took her hands and told her “ These hands were meant to prepare coffee. That coffee you just made me is the best thing I have ever tasted my entire life.” I left her giggling around like a little school girl.Friday came quickly. My time was up in the city and I had to travel back home. I woke up late that morning. I hurriedly thanked Jeff for his hospitality and bid him goodbye. When I reached Railways, the bus was almost leaving. I was literally the last person to walk in. I could hear the driver mumbling something about my poor time-keeping skills. I just ignored and walked to the backseat. As the bus left Nairobi, I drifted into a very deep sleep. I don’t know how long I slept. I can’t quite remember to date.
The next thing I remember was waking up to the cries and wailings of the other passengers in the bus. When you wake up from sleep, there is a certain kind of confusion that you find yourself in. At first, you don’t even know where you are. Then you look around confirm where you are and figure out why you are there. I didn’t have the luxury to do all that because I woke up to the sight of our Easy Coach bus heading for a huge ditch that looked like a deep river that had since dried up, I was stiffly scared. I couldn’t move an inch. I don’t remember me saying much but I remember hearing the wails of other passengers distantly. I could hear some uttering the name of Jesus Christ and others ask God for forgiveness. The fear of death has a very strong way of bringing people closer to Jesus. It happened all so quickly that by the time it all ended, my eyes were filled with stars. The kind of stars that I only had when Madam Ruth, my primary school teacher, slapped me twice on both cheeks in a very quick succession in full glare of the class. The only difference is that this time round the stars I saw were brighter. I lost my consciousness. I felt dizzy. Then I saw blood flowing from my arms in my dizziness. I felt a small scratch on my face. Not a serious one though. I was lying somewhere on the bus floor with half of my body below the seats. These are the times it hits you so hard that it is indeed very important to have your seatbelt on at all times when travelling.
In my blurry eyes, I saw a hand reaching out for me. I took the hand and struggled to lift my now painful body. I failed for the first time but he was a generous soul. He lifted me up. His name is Victor Kariuki. I will forever remember him. He was just an ordinary guy minding his business when he witnessed the whole tragedy unfold right before him. Then instead of taking videos, pictures or even selfies as most Kenyans would have done, he decided to mobilize some other first responders and together they rescued us. Those people literally saved us from the jaws of death. Had we stayed longer in the bus there is a high chance a majority of the people could have passed on due to suffocation and unconsciousness.
I was probably among the last people to be taken out of the wreckage because when I limped outside, along with Victor holding my arm, I found the other passengers outside with most of them sitting down. The sight was sorrowful and horrorful. There were cries from the kids. A mother was bleeding profusely. I saw people with blood all over their heads. You couldn’t even tell what part was injured because the blood had covered the whole of their faces. I saw an old lady injured so badly but she was not crying. Life, through its troubles, must have probably robbed her all the tears. What else could explain how she endured all that pain without even a drop of tear from her eyes? I felt sorry for her. Then I saw the guy I had been sitting next to while in the bus. He was unhurt. I learnt that his name was Walter. He was an accountant who worked in Gigiri and was heading to Kampala to visit his girlfriend. We conversed for a while. He could even afford to make a few jokes to lighten the moods of those around in this trying time.
By now, people had gathered around us. I heard someone call an ambulance. Another was calling his dad. Most were still crying. Some lady was also narrating what had just happened to the people who had gathered around. My mind was not properly functioning at the moment. I felt like crying too but I didn’t. I felt like calling someone. Then I settled on my dad first because I knew that calling my mum first would not be a very good idea. She would panic and get a panic attack. At least if I told dad first, he would deliver the news in a less frightening way to her and hopefully she wouldn’t freak out. So I call the old man and narrated what had happened. I could tell from his voice that he was very worried. You never know how deep parental love is till such things happen.
An ambulance came and took some of the seriously injured people to the hospital. The others, like me, with minor injuries given quick first aid and told to wait for further check-ups. The driver, I was told, was in a very critical condition. Soon the police had arrived and within the hour, a tow vehicle was brought and the wrecked Easy Coach bus was towed to the nearest police station. Someone who I have since forgotten his name took charge of the situation and was now in touch with the headquarters at Railways where another bus was dispatched to come to Naivasha where the accident had occurred.
My mum called a few minutes after I had talked to dad. She spoke with fear in her voice. I could feel that she was crying wherever she was. Her speech was shaky. I don’t recall much of what she said. I only remember her mumbling a short prayer at the end of the 60 minutes that we had talked. I called a few other friends afterwards.
I shed tears when I later heard that two of the people who had been rushed to the hospital passed on. I felt a sharp pain in my left stomach. It was a pain that can only be associated with grief. I never knew those people but I still felt sad for them. I felt a connection with them somehow. It could have been me or the others but I survived. Nothing hurts more that this feeling. Not even a heartbreak.
I survived. I survived but I’m still scarred within. I still have a phobia for long distance travelling that I am yet to overcome. I hope that a day will come when I will close my eyes and it will all go away. I, however, look back with reflection and thank God for letting me live. I probably didn’t deserve to live but he still let me. How Great is Thy Name Ooh God!!