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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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Journeys are all fun and thrill until its past five hours on the road and you start realizing all the things you’d rather not. Like the baby who’s been crying sharply. You’ve been actively ignoring it but you no longer can. Or the lady in front of you who eats by the hour. She makes a point that you all know that she is eating, by the sound of the paper bags. Then there’s the man behind you whose legs are too long and keep bumping on your seat. A well-dressed, masculine man by your side is talking baby language and you wonder for a moment if he is someone’s boss. You can bet that they probably have never seen this soft side of their otherwise tough-looking boss. Stereotypes, I know! By this time you have done everything you can possibly do; eat, sleep, watch YouTube videos, chat, daydream, make a business plan, read a book, have a monologue, praise the Lord and eat. Did I mention eat?

There are usually two kinds of travellers in any kind of journey; those who mind their own business and those who don’t. Your current seat-mate is the former.

They would sit gracefully and put their earphones on. They would turn to the side and lay back on the seat. Neither would they say hi nor would they look to your side. You are invisible. Non-existent. They would avoid eye contact for whatever hours you are on the vehicle and play dead. They won’t ask your name or where you are headed to. They are the best kind of travellers in most cases. Well that is until you reach Mtito and you ask them to hold onto your paper bag while you go to the washroom. Then they give you that look of ‘Are you seriously about to leave your very aromatic chicken nuggets with a total stranger?’ There follows an awkward moment of silence; you standing there foolishly with your hand stretched out. Then you give them that look of ‘well you have a point’ and slowly drop your hand in disappointment. Before you leave, they stretch out theirs with no expression on their face. Your only other option is to carry your chicken nuggets to the washroom with you so you decide your cold seatmate is all you got.

The second kind is the super energetic one. The chatterboxes who seem to have been put on a mission to interrogate your entire life. They are all bright and sunlight even when your trip is during the dead night. They will have all sorts of conversations with you; the ‘cliché’ kind of ‘Don’t you feel too hot in that buibui?’ the small talk kind, ‘I am going for a business trip with this huge firm’, the ‘let-me-excavate-your-entire-history’ kind, ‘did your great grandfather migrate to Mombasa by ship during the 19th Century?’ You are too tired to even open your mouth. You try to be pleasant by giving very short answers with an enigmatic smile hoping they get the hint. But do they ever? On a brighter note, at least you know you can leave your chicken nuggets with them and they’d be happy to do it. Plus, it is not like you have anything better to do. If there is anytime boredom could catastrophically kill a human being, it would be now. So you just stare outside, the nursery rhyme ‘are we there yet’ playing in your head.

There is a terrible traffic jam ahead. A lot of dust particles. The driver is recklessly overtaking other reckless drivers. Sweat. Smelly garbage by the road. Exhausted faces. But as they say, life is as you make out of it. Because outside your window, there are zebras and giraffes walking gracefully, the people walking in the vast fields and you wonder where they are headed to, beautiful green lands during the day. There’s a mother playing with her baby’s fingers as she laughs cutely. The couple eating from the same plate. Beautiful conversations with strangers. The break of dawn just as you approach Nairobi. The lights everywhere. The sunrise. A magnificent sight! Huh! Life is not so bad anyway.

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P.S Watch out for this space, in shaa Allah I will be posting all details & FAQ’s of my new book here. Stay tuned!

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“It is on people for the sake of Allah to perform Hajj of his house, anyone who is able to undertake the journey to him.” (Qur’an: 2:196)

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