SHORT STORY: Blink once and virus has you hurtling down unfamiliar lane

Wednesday July 01 2020

A mob, mostly wearing helmets and others in facemasks, advanced on his car from all directions. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


David was at the fuel station accounting for his stocks when the phone rang. It was Maggy, his wife. He allowed it to ring for a while. Maggy rarely called unless she had trouble with her business but since she lost her job to the coronavirus pandemic, she had become anxious and pesky.

He finalised the stock taking at the boot of his car, lowered his facemask to his chin and picked the phone. “Do the shopping. There is nothing in this house. You know these kids, helping themselves to anything and everything,” Maggy said grumpily.

“OK. I will see to it. Let’s catch up later.” David cut short the conversation. Long explanations and arguments could only tilt the balance towards conflict.

With the love drained out by anxiety of Covid-19, David had to walk on thin ice each time she called. Hawking from their car boot did not ring well with Maggy and David had to handle her with the care of a knife juggler. Over weekends, he took a turn on the business to sell the fruits in affluent locations.

As he made to pull out of the parking, David worried about his own job. He was on half pay now from the second month of the pandemic-induced lockdown. The shopping had thrown him in the horns of dilemma. What could he do to appease Maggy without money? A man can only try so hard before his ego rebels, he thought.

Still, he had to figure out something.


He debated taking the overpriced digital loan on his phone app and paying later. Tomorrow, things could improve and the government could announce an end to the lockdown and Maggy could return to work. Even as David sought to embrace the bright side of things, he reasoned that every sunrise and sunset brings different blessings.

David pulled out of the parking. He gazed ahead. The Saturday was dull, and overcast with dark clouds overseeing cold air with no hint of letting in sunlight. He turned left into the main road his mind still on the uncertainties brought about by Covid-19 and bad June weather. A matatu blocked his view as the touts wooed passengers to board. Passersby sauntered along with unhappy faces, partially covered by masks. “Kiseria na fifty. Kiseria na fifty.”

The noisy tout was ceaseless.

David craned his neck forward to get a clear view of the road but a speeding lorry trying to overtake the matatu braked abruptly with a screeching sound from its hydraulic system.


Seconds later, there was another sound of metal crunching metal. For an endless while, quietude reigned, followed by the commotion of rushing footsteps, running, incorrigible noises, closing in on him with heightened curiosity.

The tout and driver consulted urgently and fled the scene, tyres squealing.

Suddenly, a mob, mostly wearing helmets and others in facemasks, advanced on his car from all directions.

Initially, they spoke animatedly among themselves as if the matter at hand did not concern David. Others came sat on motorbikes, engines revving.

David lowered his facemask and flinched. Still tense, he asked confusedly. “What’s going on here? Why are people blocking my way?” One of the riders turned around and ordered angrily, “Don’t dare move away for you caused this accident. This lorry would not have stopped if it were not for you. You have to take full responsibility or else.”

David’s mind raced and heart throbbed. This man was speaking into his face with no care about spreading disease while accusing him falsely.

David unsuccessfully tried to remember if he had memorised the errant matatu’s registration number.

Even though he had no part in the accident, he was now under mob arrest by unruly riders baying for blood.

David picked his phone to call his wife, “bikers…. taken me hostage… Please….”

A mean-faced burly stranger snatched the phone from David’s shaking hands, and Maggy’s voice was cut-off. He barked sharply; “Today you will learn to respect Boda business. You rich people who drive big cars think you own the world? Wrong! In these Corona times when everybody is burdened, you still throw your weight around and hurt us? If you don’t behave and follow our instructions, you will wet your pants today.”

David could see that the die was cast. An idea came to him and he started coughing loudly, emulating whooping cough or the dreaded coronavirus.

The crowd retreated a few steps, eyeing David suspiciously.

But, the commander was unimpressed: “Come and see your handiwork. These two men were going about their duties eking a living for their wives and children. See what you have caused?”

David mumbled, “I was not the cause of this accident. I am innocent.”

The other riders brought the two accident victims and put them in his back seat. David was now unsure of what to do.

“Take them the hospital. If you play with fire, you burn,” said the commander wagging his index finger aggressively towards the damaged motorbike next to the lorry.

“You rich people mistakenly believe Boda riders have no rights. Is your blood different? Is it green like a locust blood? Look at that blood spreading on the tarmac. Is that not from a human being? He was pointing to the tarmac again and every time he did, his voice rising.

He added sarcastically. “You people think Boda operators have no teeth, but you will be witness of this today.”

David believed these threats. He put the car in gear and headed to hospital.

After one week, the man called. “Mzee. The man you injured is still in hospital. We need to meet to discuss how you can start maintaining his family. Now you are fully responsible for them.” 

David replied, “The matter is with the police. I shall send you the occurrence book number. Once you are at the station, please call me.”