- July 18, 2018
I WONDER how the weather was in July 1948. Was it as cold as it is today? It’s hard to tell, but history does tell us that in this month, in a grass-thatched hut and with only two staff, Nairobi welcomed an epic fixture –CMC Motors.
With time, the hut matured into a glass-walled showroom in which the desire of my dreams stands, probably hoisted on a display stand so she doesn’t wet her fine ‘legs’ when the room is being cleaned. She is probably surrounded by other machines in her social class. She is the 2017 Mazda CX-9, my car-crush from last year. But the world is not a fair place. I am nowhere close to acquiring her. Yet the 2018 Mazda CX-5 diesel is already here.
But this story is not about companies coming of age, or obsessions that I can only lust after through showroom windows.
This story is about a ruracio, some lessons of life hard learned and my new found love; a small blue Mazda. Her name is Kadudu. I have no idea why my Rock of Gibraltar, the mother of my babies, would name something she loves so dearly after a tiny creepy crawly. She hates creepy crawlies. Women are strange.
Anyway, my mother-in-law’s daughter had wanted a ride of her own for a long time. And for a similar length of time, I resisted her want. I had the powerful backing of my wallet’s lack.
That, plus the conviction that parking two cars, however affordable, outside a rental house, would not make a hero of me in the eyes of my people. My people are very particular.
You see, we already had a car –a very old car. And a layer of good paint does a great job masking those wrinkles. But there is no faking the registration number. And Kenyans have this curious custom of assessing a vehicle’s –everything– through those inscriptions.
But see, the ‘Beast’, aptly named by me, did suffer from common old-age problems, although he had served us loyally, for long. But ‘when girl wants, girl gets’, is something experience has painfully taught me.
So it was, grudgingly, that we adopted Kadudu. And since her acquisition was without my full backing, I taught myself to loathe anything and everything about her. I looked at her in disdain, drove her little.
Then a few months ago, Ochieng, a close friend since high school, decided the time was ripe for him to fulfil traditional obligations with his in-laws-to-be in Murang’a. He didn’t have much choice as such, Wangeci was already heavily pregnant.
But planning Ochieng’s ruracio was no mean feat. The branch manager at a local bank is a hopeless romantic, a worshiper of impressions. The convoy had to be expensive and classy, he directed. He wasn’t brought up on fresh fish to give less, he proclaimed. What other better way is there to show your ability to take ‘good’ care of the in-laws’ daughter than littering their compound with intimidating machines, he reasoned.
Wuod Okelo followed this dictate by hiring four Ford Everests so the Wazees from Nyalienda would swap their Matunda coach seats for two. The other two would be donated to those in the squad who cruise around in wheelbarrows, as he referred to any car cheaper than his Suzuki Grand Vitara 2.0 JLX. However, Beast and I were an exception and that for reasons we can analyse another day.
Saturday of ruracio, very early in the morning, I thrust the key in the Beast’s ignition and turned –nothing. That was unlike my beloved companion. A million diagnosis and 30 minutes later, I sighed and gave up.
Yet, I had to be on the trip. Several cows of dowry were crammed in the grove compartment, stashed in neat white envelopes. I was the treasurer and the only one vaguely familiar with the route.
But the Beast wouldn’t cooperate. And all this while, Kadudu just sat in silent indifference. Ochieng’s increasingly panicky demands for a status update every ten seconds killed my options. I hopped into the Demio and pointed her towards Thika Highway. I badly wished my Baby Raiser drove the CX-9 instead…
But the Demio was an ambitious blue devil. It was after I dismissed the KU bumps that I noticed I had gained enough trust with the surprisingly comfortable hatchback to push beyond 50. I listened intently to the a hundred or so horses trotting under the hood for signs of breakage, but all I heard was my phone ringing as Ochieng wondered if I was using a baby-walker.
“Uko wapi bwana? Everyone has arrived at Kenol, and some of the blokes are beginning to lust after the nearby bar,” the very impatient Ochieng asked.
So I dropped the gear lever to ‘S’ and floored the little Mazda, or at least injected some more juice for the 1,500-litre cylinders to consider. And they did. Some of the horses must have escaped during her more than 10 years of existence but the remaining majority had enough thrust to melt my heart.
I watched the needle climb above 100, to 110, 115… she was holding up, I was feeling brave. At 120, however, she developed a curious limp, a wobble like she was walking on crutches. So I locked it at 115 and prayed the speed cops too had a ruracio to attend that day.
By the time I joined up with the troupe, the tiny Demio and I had become bae. Even the throaty factory radio didn’t sound as bad. And she felt pretty mighty too, leading a pack of high-end, multi-million-shilling behemoths of technological luxury over the hills, on dusty paths, even over a fallen log. Her ground clearance was surprising, her agility unexpected.
After fishing out the solids from the soup that was our meal, we sat down for the hour-long negation. And boy did the rains fall? But they didn’t save us from the boulder of a fine hit us because “our bull (Ochieng) broke into the girl’s pen (illicit sex)”. Even worse, Ochieng was so nervous he picked the wrong girl, a very old girl, three times during the identification parade. Fourth time, he got it, we were victorious… then it happened.
Wangeci suddenly clutched her belly and let out the scream of a woman in terrible anguish. Moments later, she sprawled on the muddy ground, yelling, fluttering like a fish out of water. Seconds later, Ochieng followed her in a lifeless thump into the sogginess. Girl had gone into labour. Boy …had just fainted.
The nearest hospital was four kilometres away on a path that disappeared over a hill, it was revealed as the girl was loaded into the nearest 4×4. After spluttering everyone with mud, mighty machine flew off, swinging its rear this way and that on the slippery road. Then it stopped in the distance before turning around. The SUV was a tad too wide to go through stumps on each side of the path where two huge trees were chopped down.
The alternative route was a 20-kilometre detour, on similar terrain. But Simo suggested his E250 was narrower and might go through. He was right, it did, barely. However, the rear-wheeled, 2-ton of luxury had barely sniffed the incline when it dug itself into a hole even the enthusiasm of the local muscle couldn’t help it out of.
All this while, Kadudu stood, getting ignored, silently minding the acne of shiny droplets that covered her coat. It was with the uncanny feeling her day to shine was nigh that I slid her past the tree trunks towards the stricken Merc.
With the confidence of an underdog needing to prove a point and the advantage of front-wheel drive on her side, she eased past the beached German, then glided up the slippery incline before acknowledging the ululations at the top of the hill with a cheeky twerk of her flat behind.
12 minutes later, Wangeci lay on a wheeled stretcher, surrounded by white coats and gloved hands. Stethoscopes and syringes had never looked so welcome. This story is not about motherhood and hospitals. But let me mention that the baby was safely delivered. The mother insisted on naming the tot after me but I assured her of my unbounded patience until when she births a boy.
Anyways, Kadudu may not be the CX-9, the magnificent machine of my dreams. Neither was she the bossier CR-5. Heck, she wasn’t even the Beast, a magnificence of old-school engineering.
She was her plain, snobbish, blue self. A tiny hatchback riding on the confidence, history of the Mazda badge. And despite the limp she developed at 120 –which turned out to be a warped tire –she saved two lives.
Yes, it took a rough upcountry trip for the little blue Demio to earn my respect. And that is one heck stamp of approval. So, happy birthday CMC Motors and may I find a similar soul in the CX-9 the day I take it home…