I get to my polling station at noon. There are people everywhere, a few are scattered in patches on the grounds but the majority are in queues, the expression on their faces are mixed. Some look jovial, their faces lit up like a bonfire, armed with their vote ready to exercise their civic right, ready to bring change if not to the national government, to the county government. Others are morose, with worried expressions scribbled like a mess on their face. In their eyes fear shines like a torch and you can smell their doubt and worry. I look at them with respect, respect for getting up and coming to fight for their country even though sometimes our leaders don’t give us cause to fight for it.
I hobble on to my queue, queue number nine. In front of me is a chap, let’s call him Derrick. In front of Derrick is a lass with thick locks, brown-colored skin and an oval face, wearing a knee-high skirt and an ankle long coat. Behind me are two women and after that two other chaps. The line looks short and I feel lucky, as if I will be done within the hour. I remove my phone and put on some music while I scroll through social media. A half an hour later the line is still immobile, another half an hour and my phone dies. The sun is a bright bronze disc in the sky and its making me feel as if I am standing on the apex of a great fire. Dracarys should come to mind. I turn to talk to the soap-smelling woman behind me. A chubby woman in a red top and dark leather pants. I imagine what must be going on in those pants in this heat and flinch.
“Niangalilie space, narudi.” I say.
“Sawa,” she chirps back.
I sit on the pavement and stare at the queue, looking but not really seeing. The thick lock girl joins me, her phone and coat in hand.
“Do you have a power-bank?” She asks in a small slippery tone.
“No,” I chirrup, the tone in my voice hiding a smile.
“Can I use your phone to call someone?”
“Sorry, my phone just died.” I say vexed by the nerve of the Z-Generation asking a stranger for their phone, perhaps to call a boyfriend so they can use your credit to talk about important things like Terrific-Tuesday and update each other on what new flavors Planet Yogurt has.
“You’re in college?” I ask.
“Enjoy it while it lasts, you will miss it when you start paying bills.” I say entering into grandpa territory and I realize if I don’t stop myself I will start telling her to be responsible, to study hard and to eat her vegetables. I realize that I’m having a hard time trying to flirt with a girl that is younger than my small sister and I wonder how those old mzees manage. Those mzees who park their Prados outside universities to pick college girls. I wonder if they talk about goiter or the shisha flavors the toddler enjoys. She looks at me with a long face, nods and goes back to the queue. I want to tell her to stay not because I need the company but because the queue is still at a hiatus and why stand when you can sit?
The line starts moving again then stops. A lot of people have scattered and they’re sitting on benches and on the pavement. I find myself sandwiched between these two chaps talking about SportPesa and Casinos. The chap wearing an avocado-green jacket is saying how he used to spend his salary on gambling and then tell his wife that he had gotten robbed. I ask him how he stopped the addiction and he goes silent then says that you have to be stronger than any hopeless situation you’re in, otherwise it will define you. I look at him and think for a second that gambling is not all that bad if it can turn you into a philosopher.
“I’m tired.” I complain. The avocado-green jacket wearing chap looks at me with smug cockiness and tells me I don’t know what waiting is. He has a mild demeanor. Those smooth operators who at first glance you might think are miserable with women only to learn later that they have five girlfriends, spread out across Nairobi. He tells me he’s been here since morning on another queue and he only realized it was the wrong one after the clock was way past noon and I think, damn, what ruinous luck.
His emaciated friend in brown, tired trousers, worn out leather shoes and a surprisingly white shirt starts talking about the grades on the school’s board—his breath a waft of cigarettes and mint. He says that if the students who scored grade “C” were in mashambani, people would have called them geniuses. “Ukirarua C gishagi hio ni mbuzi unachinjiwa.” I notice the college girl leaning on a pillar staring at us. She has a don’t care attitude about her. Life to her must be a bottomless pit of WhatsApp texts and Instagram filters and she probably feels lost without her phone and out of place amongst us. She moves away from our meaningless chatter and goes to sit on one of the benches, her face long and sullen probably wondering why she can’t vote via Snapchat stories.
We get closer to the door and realize why our line has been moving like a tortoise with a rock on its leg. The door is jammed with women. Women getting past the red-tape of queuing by using kids as a bribe. A melee ensues and the queue unanimously decides that the good women with their kids should sit on the nice benches and wait their turn. “Watu hapa wametoka mbali, na hakuna magari, kila mtu angojee kama watu wngine.” A slender frustrated woman barks from behind the line, the words dropping from her mouth like jewels to those of us who have been standing in the queue for hours.
I’m almost at the door, my head is resting on Derrick’s shoulder and everybody is back in line including the women that were behind me. They’re talking in muffled whispers about the girl, four paces ahead of us who has not taken a single break like the rest of us weaklings since we started the queue. They say she must do a lot of squats and giggle then one says she got lazy and she needs to resume her routine ASAP. I look at them and smile and they giggle some more.
I am three people away from the door when two women appear out of nowhere demanding to gain entry, ignoring the murmuring, gnashing of teeth and scuffing of feet from our queue.
“Ako wapi agent, muambie huwezi simama uko na mimba.”
The big woman says to the slender woman in a charcoal black bui-bui. The big woman is wearing a headgear and leso and has even bigger arms, she resembles those annoying aunties who keep asking, “Utaleta mtu lini?” as if they’ve put aside their savings for your wedding.
“Kuna viti, aketi.” The women behind me bark, the words sour in their mouths.
The slender woman hobbles towards a chair, her bui-bui making it difficult to see her baby-bump.
“Mbona unaketi? Ingia umalize tuende.”
Everyone is mortified, splitting them apart with angry eyes.
“Hata sisi tukona mimba nivenye haionekani.”
The woman behind me screams and the pregnant woman walks back to the big woman sobbing, saying she won’t even vote and Derrick mummers, “It’s a right not a must.” Everybody laughs and I laugh too because we would have probably let her vote ahead of us if she had a smidge of courtesy, if she didn’t come chest first like a prized primadonna.
After voting and leaving my polling station the conversations with the people in the queue and the warmth of their patience stay with me like a stain and it seems insane that neighbors turn hostile and friends become enemies when results refuse to go our way. Our leaders and the institutions we put faith in sometimes slap us on the face and expect us to smile but that does not allow anyone to spade their frustration at people who had nothing to do with it. I hope you performed your civic right and I hope your queue was half as interesting as mine. The first person to read this, please, make sure you submit forms 34A and 34B in the comment section after you’re done.
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