Car Trouble and the Sounds of the Night

I have a theory.

That the possibility of your car developing issues increases as the night progresses. During the day, a matatu in the legendary hurry they are always in is more likely to get your jalopy than of that fan belt finally giving in. But as the night wears on, as you sit in the bar laughing about how much fun you and your boys had in campus, downing Napoleon when it was 120 bob, your timing belt will be plotting to ruin your night.

Its weird that car trouble tends to strike when the roads are at their most deserted. My rickety cars timing belt gave up on me a while back just around KIE on Muranga Road, right after you pass the Fig Tree stage. Anyone who has half a brain will tell you the cardinal rules of getting car trouble in this Nairobi. If you are nowhere near people, do not switch on your hazards, do not wait to first call your mechanic Omondi hoping he isnt home yet. Do not even wait to think about your next move. Just get out and run. By the time the Uber driver gets there, you could either have been robbed thrice by competing groups of thugs, possibly trampled by elephants or mauled by hyenas if you are in the forests, or just soiled your own pants as you finally hear the sounds of the night.

Theres nothing worse than car trouble at night. The only thing might be car trouble when your only pressing emergency is not just your need to take a piss, such as when you are rushing your child to the hospital or answering to a booty call. Those are real emergencies. If you can, Uber your way out and come get the car later.

But if you get car trouble and the normal sequence of misfortune follows where you either dont have any credit or cash, and Omondi is in jail because he threw projectiles to celebrate Gor Mahias win, then your best friends are probably drunks. Most drunks become paranoid when they are drunk, the young ones with noisy Subarus that is. They will revv that 1800cc engine past you like the death wish they have, the photo of you in your crumpled suit and soiled hands barely registering in their vision. But the older drunks, more experienced in just how messy it can be to be stuck on the road, might just stop.

I think it was Wanjohi wa Kigogoine who, breaking from his legendary badly translated sexcapades with his mate Theuri, once wrote about car trouble somewhere in Kinale. No one would open their doors to help them in a place where you are as likely to be trampled by an elephant as to be robbed by a guy who was actually going to a kesha. He resolved to stop whenever he saw someone with car trouble, not caring if the supposed victim might turn out to be a robber or not.

We are a selfish society really, no matter how many stories of people getting robbed you hear. The truth is, you can be robbed anywhere in this country right now, even in your sleep. People who live in Kinoo, I hear, are welcomed to the neighborhood with one good burglary. After that, you are licensed. You can be robbed in the matatu, while walking, in the restaurant, in hospital, in church, on the pulpit, in the toilet, even on the internet. At least 10 people in the government have stolen your money since you started reading this.

You can get carjacked anywhere, even during an already ongoing carjacking. Robbers, getting even more creative, can clear out with that sleek BMW as you visit to fulfill a booty call in Githurai 45 or Kilimani. The point is, if someone has car trouble and you dont stop because you are afraid they might be robbers, you are just a selfish bastard like everyone else. To use a terrible Kenyanism, Kesho inaweza kuwa ni wewe. Hell it could be your first car, bought by this loaded sugar daddy you met at an event your friends friend was invited to on condition she brought a few skirts with her. He drives it to your place with a full tank of fuel, parks it and sends his driver for two weeks to teach you how to drive. Then they top up the fuel again and dont tell you and the day it runs out on Langata Road, while you are headed home after dropping off the boy toy who actually does the work the sugar daddy thinks he is good at, you dont know shit about whats wrong with the car. So you call the mechanic whos number he gave you and he doesnt pick up. So you do the math of either leaving the Vitz there and running to the Langata Barracks gate or just crying. If you are going to drive in this Nairobi, the real buyer of the car notwithstanding, these are scenarios you need to be ready for. For fuel though, the little yellow light that looks like a tank means its probably time to start looking for a petrol station.

Imagine getting a puncture on Waiyaki Way, just before the turn off to Kikuyu. A stupid truck driver infront of you quickly switches lanes on you, leaving you stranded with a gaping hole covering half the road. Its 10pm on a Sunday night and this is the one road where no one is weekend driving. You curse as the left tire hits the hole, and swear about how you will punish the bloody politician who ate money for the road during the next elections. Or you will boo him when you see him, unless you are in his office for a tender.

You hear the tire burst but still pray and hope that some miraculous god of rubber has saved the poor tire so Gods Humble servant can get home. He has done it for you before, that time you decided Durex was too expensive. As the left side starts to drag, and you lower the radios volume, you still pray for some miracle of abundance. Jesus has to give, right? He is the one who makes everything better, right? Well, apparently. You should have gone to church today, you tell yourself as you drive on the rim for 100m or so, hoping to see even a single lit place you can park as you find help.

Forget what you know about the road. The road is a lonely, dark and scary place. You never really notice it in a car because of the many noises around you, plus the fact that your eyes are on the road or on the stinking man next to you. Or on Twitter telling someone somewhere that needs to be told for the good of the nation. It never hits you just how lonely the road is until you get car trouble and switch off the engine. Then everything, even a squirrel becomes your worst fear. Panic doesnt help, nor does switching on your bright smartphone to call everyone you know to tell them whats going on. Or not going on. The darkness comes alive, and your danger sensors go on a frenzy. Even the vibration of your phone, as the missus calls in panic, startles you.

The thing about cars is that they are mechanical contraptions with thousands of possible failures. Anything can happen to a car, not excluding running out of fuel or the engine falling off. ?I didnt even know what a timing belt was until a week to the bloody belt breaking. My mechanic gave me a tongue lashing, telling me to change it, but I ignored him like a good car owner who wants to save money. Until she broke and died on me in Ngara, thankfully at 7:30pm on a Saturday. Then it started raining, making all rescue harder and wet. You should have seen his face when I made it to his yard the next day. He had that grin for I am going to milk you of all your money for being a little stupid twat! I am going to make more problems now so you stop thinking you are a god here! I am the deity of automobiles here *evil laugh*

As sober people, we have a bizarredly cruel sense of selfishness that just drives our desire for self-preservation and justifies pretending we have other places to be. As drunks though, our self-preservation is either cemented or discarded altogether.

I stop occasionally for people with car trouble. Mostly after two beers. I sympathise, I think, with people whos trusted jalopies just decide to quit on them in the middle of the night. The first was a lone guy in one of those old NZEs somewhere on Kiambu Road. I stopped and asked what was wrong, his battery was low so I turned the car and removed my jumper cables. Then we both drove out towards Nairobi. I met someone else with a car full of clearly intoxicated women. He must have thought I was a wingman from heaven, sent to rescue his image. Unless he was a taxi driver, because he was driving a Probox and wearing a hat at night. Only watchmen and taxi drivers wear hats at night. Then there was the guy with the old, rickety pickup I towed for about 2kms until he got to a place he got safe. It cost me almost nothing, but probably solved someones otherwise uneventful night. I dont think the women in his car were even sober enough to register what had happened.

I learnt the lesson of not switching on hazards from the taxi driver who came to my rescue on Waiyaki Way. The guy who switched my spare said the same thing. I didnt think much of it until I accidentally, while heading to Sonford Fish & Chips in the middle of the night, ran into the kerb at Globe Cinema Roundabout. Now that is one scary place, and in my shortlived panic, I switched on the car and drove into town. Outside Nation Center, the engine coughed twice and went off. I had to get it towed in the morning. Had I not panicked, I would have been that guy running up that short hill to Moi Avenue on the middle of the road at 1am. Switching on my hazards would just have been like announcing Happy Hour at a bar.

I wouldnt advocate stopping every time you see someone parked on the side of the road with a problem. You are not the vehicular Mother Theresa, after all, neither do you run a volunteer NGO dedicated to helping people with car trouble. Unless you work for AA or some other car rescue business though, then it is definitely your job to for your customers. But if it really feels right, and you might have to say fuck it at some point, then by all means slow down and ask the other person the Kenyan version of Do you need help? If you dont know, that would be Whats wrong? Everyone is just trying to get home, or to work, or to their mistresses, or to their boytoys, or another bar, or the ATM, or Sonford, or Busia, or a kesha. Everyone is just trying to get somewhere.

Owaahh, 2015.

One story is Good,

till Another is told.

  • bankelele

    Sad but true. Wish it wasn’t the case. It does make one consider where they go out at night e.g. Not to Karen or any place that involves long quiet driving on dark roads

    • Owaahh

      @Bankelele, yes it does. Plus leaving in a convoy if possible and trying to make sure everyone gets home.