Submission for the https://timbu.com/ creative writing contest
Having anxiety and being adventurous at the same time, is an extreme sport. It is like your DNA is on a constant battle on which personality should possess over your body. A forever tag of war. But whenever things go unexpectedly, anxiety ALWAYS wins.
So here we are, at 2 a.m. at the middle of nowhere, bushes everywhere and smoke emerging from our car. There is a deep moment of silence.
‘Hapa ni kubaya,’ (this is a bad area) Farouq says, holding the door handle hesitantly.
‘Ehh lazma tukae chonjo,’ Mullah says, looking at the other two men at the front seats; my brother Saeed and his friend Farouq. Seconds tick away as the men still contemplate what step to take.
‘What is happening?’ I ask from the back seat.
It is obvious. The car has broken down. Heavy smoke is still rising from the front bonnet of the car. My mind is already imagining a group of shaggy looking men with blood-shot eyes emerging from the bushes with pangas and rungus. ‘Ni kubaya’ keeps ringing in my head. Is this how we die? Be attacked by some idle, ruthless, heartless humanbeings and be slashed to be unrecognizable pieces of meat?
‘I can check the smoke while the two of you look out for the animals,’ Farouq says.
‘We have a panga here,’ my brother Saeed says.
‘Wait, what animals?’ I ask.
‘We have lions here…and all types of wild animals roaming around the forest,’ Mullah says.
Wait what?! So now we won’t be victims of a ruthless, idol gang but of wild animals who would carry our helpless bodies to the bushes for a feast.
My elder sister is calmly seated next to me, focused on what the men are discussing.
‘This panga is small,’ Mullah says, ‘and rusted.’
‘Why do you drive around with a panga under your seat anyway?’ I ask my brother.
‘For emergencies. Like these.’
Seems wild. I wouldn’t be able to carry a panga with me around without thinking that it is exactly what will be used to slash my head when I run into bad people. You can’t blame me for thinking like that anyway. Have you watched the news lately?
‘We need water,’ someone says. We pass the only gallon of water left with us.
The three men step out of the car. Mullah is hanging on the doorway with his phone torch looking towards the forest. All doors have been left open, you know, in case an animal emerges out of nowhere and they have to jump back in. But what if the animals decide they are the ones to jump in huh?!
Farouq is pouring the water into the car while dubbing it with a piece of cloth. My brother Saeed is in between watching the other side of the forest and helping Farouq. All the water is eventually used up. They all rush back into the car, close the door, shut the windows and put off all the lights.
‘We just have to wait for the car to relax,’ Farouq says, as we all burst out laughing. ‘It is true. We just have to give it time to relax then we will be good to go.’
‘By the way do you know that a lion won’t attack you if you don’t provoke it?’
‘Who said?’ Someone asks.
‘I know so. Hyenas are the worst. And I hear they are common here.’
‘This is a bad area to stop,’ Farouq repeats.
I am surprised how everyone is staying calm. We are about 10-15 kilometres away from Mtito Andei. All cars passing by are moving at a super speed. The engine won’t start. The smoke in our car won’t stop. My sister is chatting away something while laughing. My mind is distracted. I can point out a hundred things that can go wrong right now.
‘Lubnah,’ my brother calls out my name, ‘you wanted a road trip huh? Here it is. The real road trip,’ he says while laughing.
I laugh nervously. I had just completed my final semester exams the evening before and upon reaching home, my brother suggested I accompany them for their road trip to Nairobi. What better way to treat yourself after a hard paper?! I had been too excited; rushed through the entire packing process because I could not risk being told last minute that they changed their mind or there is no longer space for me. I didn’t want to waste a minute in the house anymore. Road trip huh?!
It is almost half an hour later and there doesn’t seem to be any progress. The men step out once again and this time, Farouq tries to stop the lorries with his flashlight. One lorry seems about to stop but decides it is not wise to stop by a forest at past 2 a.m. Another lorry stops but the driver doesn’t have a rope to pull us to Mtito. Mullah is holding a panga like he is ready for a fist fight with anything coming his way. He is skinny and kinda short. Would he really manage? I admire his confidence though. If he dies, at least he dies a hero.
The three men rush back into the car. A moment of silence. My sister and I are saying all sorts of prayers now from a book we had with us. But my mind is too distracted I tell my sister I will recite whatever I know off head. You should know, anxious people have some six common ways to deal (more like reacting) with situations, ‘panic, cry uncontrollably, over-eat, not eat entirely, over-sleep or have insomnia.’ I can’t panic. I see it in movies all the time. Anxious people tend to make a situation worse 100% by panicking. I can’t panic. I shouldn’t panic. Because now we are stuck just beside a forest with wild animals roaming freely, waiting for free meat. I can’t be the free meat that calls for the animals’ attention. I try to breathe in deeply. And next, I decide to stress-eat the mabuyu we had carried.
People are telling dark jokes now. Coping mechanism I believe. When there is nothing to do, you can try to make it funny. At least if we are dying, we die laughing right? My sister and brother tease my quite silent and tense self. They know what is going on in my head.
It is already 3 a.m. Mullah decides to light a fire just beside the road to scare away the animals and hopefully, make some driver stop and help us. Farouq goes back to waving his flashlight towards the passing cars.
‘This fire is risky. There is so much wind and this is a big forest. It could start a huge fire that we can’t control,’ my brother Saeed says.
‘No it will be fine. This is what will keep the animals away. They can’t come near the fire,’ Said says.
We stay like that for a while and the fire seems to get bigger. My brother decides to push the car behind because it is a petrol car and we don’t really need another tragedy right now.
The fire is making me nervous. What if it decides to spread its wings and conquer the land of the wild? Mullah is guarding it closely but I can’t help but imagine it really spreading, our car catching fire and exploding, turning each one of us into fresh kebabs for breakfast for the animals. The imagination is vivid. I can imagine the headlines in the morning, ‘A huge fire burnt down a big part of the forest and has killed five people beyond recognition.’
I shake my head in an attempt to throw out the thoughts. I can’t tell them to anyone else because anxious people tend to make situations worse remember? Everyone else is trying to stay calm and still making dry, dark jokes. I should adjust like everyone else.
‘Tell him to put it off,’ I suggest. Saeed had already suggested that previously but Mullah was insistent on keeping it burning.
A lorry finally stops several steps ahead of us. All three men rush to it. And finally, they come with a rope. Our hope has now been reignited. Mullah puts out the fire with his feet. Don’t ask me how. He just did it.
We watch keenly as we start being pulled towards Mtito. We say our grace to God. (The driver later tells us that he saw a rhino nearby when he was pulling over to help us. He almost didn’t stop. True Story)
We get to Mtito minutes to 5 a.m. We have our very early breakfast, perform our prayers and get back to our packed car and sleep. Short, restless naps. We can hear people moving in and out of the restaurant. We had two options; either leave one of us with the car while the rest take up another car/bus to Nairobi or wait for another car from Mombasa to take us back home. We weigh our options. We have to go back home.
Saeed and Farouq escort Mullah to the roadside and get him a ride to Nairobi. The four of us are now left. When you have several free hours at hand, is when you take notice of every minute passing by. We chit-chat a bit, eat, eat more, sleep again, laugh at whatsapp videos and memes, eat again. I am busy eating half the time. The overwhelm has to be taken care of somehow. So food it is. I pretend to be a youtuber for a minute and take images of the very aesthetic blue and grey clouds. I am searching for the silver lining I say.
It is only 4 p.m. when help finally arrives from Mombasa. We are extremely tired, sweaty, smelly and sleepy. We get a mechanic nearby who fixes a metal between the two cars so we are pulled back home. You think that is the end of the journey? You are mistaken. The journey has just begun…
To read part 2 click on the following link: https://lubnah.me.ke/31-hours-part-2/
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