It was a dark evening, and the rain fell to the ground with such ferociousness.
I had spent the day chained to my desk, hoping to tie up some loose ends before going away for a few days. Everything was planned out. We were to arrive at dawn in Kampala, and join our friends on an unforgettable adventure.
And so I switched off my desktop computer, packed my bags and headed towards the station. As I navigated my way to the bus port in one of the busiest streets in the CBD, I could not ignore the feeling in the pit of my stomach. After working more than 5 years in Nairobi’s Central Business District, I had never seen a street with such chaos. In my eyes, not even the hectic pandemonium of the infamous Bus Station could compare.
I arrived before my travel buddy Duncan. I waited patiently at the dingy, poorly lit waiting bay and indulged myself in one of my favorite pastimes; people-watching. I looked out the window and watched the commotion as people on the streets went about buying clothes, shoes and groceries on their commute home.
When that got boring, I sat down and stared out into the room trying to figure out where my fellow passengers were headed. I notice a group of young men, with their attention captivated by a smartphone they shared. Evidently they were on YouTube, entertaining themselves with a popular music video or viral skit I could only assume. They did not have much luggage; and just like me they looked restless, eager to reach their destination.
I also notice a shapely woman sat behind me, she was accompanied by a man who seemed to be a close relative based on how they interacted. People-watching can reveal more than what’s presented on the surface, and is one of those pastimes that I thoroughly enjoy. She apologized for stepping on my bag and smiled. I smiled back.
Minutes later I received a call.
Duncan called me, “I am in town finally, am on my way.”
I drew out my book, a recent purchase from a recent trip only a month ago. The title ‘Janissary Tree’ intrigued me and so I thought “what better time to start a new read than on a trip?” I flipped through before the first chapter and before I could be too enthralled, the announcer notified passengers that the trip was delayed by 30 minutes.
Soon, Duncan arrived and at the very least I could manage my anxiety by engaging in conversation with Duncan.
We boarded the bus, an hour later than the expected departure time. And it was quite the experience as we boarded and prepared ourselves for the long drive to visit the Pearl of Africa. I would like to believe that my nerves had calmed, but as the rain began to pour my heart was not at ease.
I called my father, “Dad, we have left …we are using a shortcut through Ruaka, there is construction on Waiyaki Way. I’ll keep you posted. Love you.”
The roads were terrible, and the night’s darkness was frightful. The rain continued to pour even harder, at some point the rickety bus whose windows could hardly close let in water, making my new hoodie wet. The hailstones pelted the vehicle, as the bus-driver stepped on the accelerator determined to make up for lost time. He was on a schedule, and the journey had to go on.
We made our first stop in Nakuru, and as we prepared to continue with the journey, the woman behind me noted his feverish speeds. He continued to drive at top speed. So much so, one woman seated at the front complained. And as he grumbled under his breath, he seemed to slow down but it seems that he was only waiting for his passengers to nod off to sleep to pick up the pace.
We stopped again on the side of the road not too far from Kericho. Passengers including myself had to relieve themselves; and as we alighted to heed nature’s call the irritated driver reminded us not to take too long. The journey must go on.
As I went to relieve myself, he brazenly asked me “Bwana wako ako wapi?”
I retorted “ Kwa nini?” as I snarled at him.
I’m not sure if this was his poor attempt at a chat-up line, but Duncan was sure to make it clear he had no chance. I was not interested, and my friend had my back. Such stupid incidences are just a reminder why solo-travel as a woman requires such bravery and nerve. It was a quick pitstop, and we were soon on our way. He continued to drive and top speed, and again there were complaints, which he totally ignored. And as he grumbled under his breath, he seemed to slow down but it seems that he was only waiting for his passengers to nod off to sleep to pick up the pace yet again.
I listened to Chance the Rapper’s new album ‘The Big Day’ as I drifted off to slumber. I was woken up by the driver shouting, screams and a big bang. I did not have much time to rethink my sitting position, or the fact that I was right by the window as we rolled off to the side of the road.
There was distinct silence.
Women’s screams pierced the atmosphere that was now burdened with so many unknowns as we emerged out of the water. Where were we? What happened? Who was hurt? My heart was beating a thousand beats per minute, I thought it would soon fail. As I tried to move, I felt glass on my feet, and I my clothes were wet. And I could not feel my left hand. I knew it was broken.
But where was my friend?
I shouted out “Dunkie!” I heard no response.
He finally responded, and now we needed to get out. Can you imagine trying to get out of a wrecked bus that is lying on its roof in a muddy, water-logged trench in the darkness of night? Women were screaming, men were groaning and it was just horrific to feel helpless, and baffled by your current state with no help from the locals.
Some men came moments after the crash to help passengers and steal whatever they could. I remember one man helped us lift this heavy woman out of the side of a window. Dunkie and I pushed her out from the inside of the bus, while they lifted her out; all while she screamed and hollered hysterically. She must have been in shock, she was scared and cried for help. We were all scared.
The men lifted me out next, and although I could easily fit through the window, I had to leverage my right side to avoid causing more injury to my left arm. I mustered all my strength in my legs, and pushed through the pain to get out. Dunkie soon followed. And he even went back to help others.
I had no shoes, no pants as sat on the roadside in my soaking wet dheera. The glass had sliced my hands, thighs and feet and as I bled all I could do was think about the young man I saw on the ground as I moved away from the bus. I remembered him from the group of young men who sat together at the station. He may have just older than 20. He was sat in the back, and must have been thrown from the back of the bus through the emergency glass exit from the impact of the accident.
He lay there, not too far from me and I prayed. I prayed and begged God to sustain him.
“Please keep him, Father.”
An older woman who had deeper cuts on her leg prayed too. And we prayed for what felt like forever. His ribcage was barely moving, and his breathing was labored, a chore for his badly injured body.
Some 3 gentlemen in a Probox passed the scene of the accident and stopped to offer help. They carried the badly injured which included the young man, the woman with deep cuts, another woman who had broken both arms, a man who had injured his leg as well as Duncan who had banged-up his head and myself.
We arrived at the hospital, and found the sleepy-eyed staff barely awake. They were shocked, disorganized and confused.
The men brought in the young man, and he was pronounced dead on arrival. And it seemed the sting of death jolted the medics into action, finally getting themselves together to help the injured.
I don’t remember much now, but I had my arm x-rayed, three times. The first, to confirm the extent of the injury. The second was after they had popped it back into place after confirming it was dislocated. The third x-ray confirmed that it was not successful, so they removed the cast, and tortured me again hoping to get it right. A lady stood on my shoulder as two men pulled on my arm. The pain was unforgettable and I just gave up. I had no more energy to give, no more resolve to handle myself. I did not have the energy to scream. I just wept quietly and lay there for a few minutes numb.
And then they sent me for the final x-ray.
Then they proceeded to address the numerous cuts and bruises, stitching me up and I could barely react. Though it was painful, it felt like I was in a daze. This could not have been real.
Soon, other passengers made it to the hospital.
The sun came up and it was a new day.
*According to a report on The Nation, “one person died while 23 others were injured when a bus traveling from Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda, crashed in Kericho County. The accident involving a bus belonging to Modern Coast company occurred near Brooke trading center on the Kericho –Nakuru highway at around 1.00 am on Friday.”
Capital FM News reported, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) suspended the operating license for Modern Coast buses in December 2019 after a series of accidents on various highways across the country claimed several lives and injuring nearly 100. However, the Modern Coast transport service was soon reinstated; and allowed to operate only days after the suspension.
Since the accident, Modern Coast is yet to compensate or reach out to the passengers involved at the time of publishing this article.