It was a sunny afternoon and I needed to buy vegetables from the market, the weather…very, very, hot. I also knew which market I was going to, Toi Market off Ngon’g Road, which also sold second hand clothing and I could thus stumble upon on a cool top while walking back with my tomato and onion haul.
I liked Toi for another reason, if I parked my jalopy just behind Adams Arcade, I could get it cleaned “my guy” while I visited the market.
In Nairobi, ‘my guy’ usually refers to transactional business relationship built on trust and referral. In fact, many of us pride ourselves in having a particular person when it comes to various services, from hairdresser, taxi driver to Mama Mboga and a myriad of other unrecognised jobs that help build our economy.
A special relationship will develop with this person, you may not share your deepest secrets but you also would not hesitate to help them should an issue arise. It helps make this big city less daunting and more navigable. You can’t go wrong if you know a guy.
Anyway, my guy was Njenga, he and a few other young men had come together to manage an informal car wash behind Adams arcade. This car wash is not fancy, it does not have giant sponges and soap dispensers, you don’t really go through any machines, it was just guys with water, rags and buckets, they are excellent and possess that extra something you will not find even in the most high end car wash in Nairobi. To be specific, the human touch and camaraderie fast disappearing in this busy metropolis.
Njenga was a Ras; in fact when I first met him he always wore woolen marvins to cover his dreads. One day I dropped by and a man with short hair came to attend to me claiming he was Njenga; he had to show me his ID for me to believe him. Usually when I drove in I would ask after him or he would spot me and come exchange greetings before asking me: “ Kama kawaida?” — (The usual?)
Today was no different, I drove in and as soon as someone approached me I asked for Njenga. The guy who had walked up suddenly had a problem meeting my eyes. He waved over someone else.
“Anauliza Njenga…” he said to the other guy who approached us before backing away.
The other guy looked at me…
“ Njenga alipass”
I was frozen in my seat, passed where? What are you talking about?
“ Alipass last year, hit and run”.
My breathing was shallow, I had not been to the carwash in about two months but I could swear I had seen Njenga closer to that…or so I imagined.
I decided to park my car and confront this bringer of bad news.
As it turns out, the man I was talking to is actually Njenga’s older brother. His face was sombre as he patiently explained the details to me. It was a hit and run accident and he died on the spot. I decided not to press him further and explain how I knew Njenga, he nods with a sad smile, and yes that’s my bro.
“ It’s funny he tells me, last night was the first time Njenga came to me in a dream, he told me to stop telling people he died in a hit and run, and then today I meet you and you are asking about him”.
I am speechless. It’s true, Njenga was much more than just a victim of a hit and run, he was someone’s son (his mother still lives in Wanyee near Dagoretti), a brother, a friend, a hard working Kenyan trying to make a living.
I thought of all those times we hear of people driving away from accident scenes, how often it happens because the person may be drunk or in fear of being lynched by a mob. According to the National Transport and Safety Authority, most of the hit and run accidents recorded happen in Nairobi, though some motorists may report the accident, a large number of vehicles involved in hit and runs are never traced.
In 2015, about 1,344 pedestrians were killed in accidents and of of this number 786 were victims of hit and run accidents. It’s a sad state of affairs when families finally trace their missing loved ones to the city morgue because nobody could identify a body whose personal effects were stolen. Worse are the stories of good Samaritans who helped out only to find the hospital will not admit the injured person without cash. ‘Hit and Runs’ are but a symptom of a society at war with itself, a place where we are so used to seeing the high and mighty get away scot free that it only seems fair for us, ‘commoners’ to also not face the consequences of our actions.
Traffic police urge the public to take down the number plate of the car to make it easier to track the offender. Furthermore, with social media, it is even easier to put the word out (while respecting the dignity of the victim). Accidents happen but it is always important to keep in mind that you are dealing with another human being, someone’s child, brother, sister or parent…it’s not just another hit and run.
I still visit the car wash sometimes, just to catch up with Njenga’s brother, he smiles and nods when I drive in, Njenga’s customer.