By Patrick Ngugi
I am not sure what made me notice her. Was it her tall gawky appearance, or the totally black outfit she wore, the black jeans trouser and jacket? Perhaps it was the dark glasses – I don’t know – probably it was all three.
The bus was full except for two seats. One at the back, and the other one next to me. The girl entered and looked around, and being the man that I was, I silently hoped that the beautiful thing would come and sit next to me.
I found myself unconsciously shifting my body from the edge of the seat to the wall of the bus so that I could make space for the beautiful lass. She saw the two seats and thank my stars, she came and sat next to me. I pretended to scroll on my facebook wall on my tablet, to hide my interest in her.
She wore a fait but sweet smelling perfume. She then dislodged the rucksack from her back and placed it on her long lovely laps.
She then readjusted the dark glasses on her face by pushing them further up the bridge of her nose by her slender index finger and briefly stared in my direction. I forced a sheepish smile when her bespectacled gaze met my naked eyes. Her face was expressionless and I felt a shudder down my spine when she responded with a brief artificial smile.
I could not see her eyes but I could feel that they weren’t the friendly sort.
I had the urge to look at her straight in the eye and unleash one of my killer smiles, but something held me back.
As the bus moved on, I struggled within myself to concentrate on the article I was reading on my tablet but I couldn’t. The mysterious beautiful girl had stolen my attention.
Someone tapped my shoulder and I looked up
However, I could not stare directly at her since I did not want to be caught ogling – so all I could do was to steal glances, look at her from the corner of my eyes, and pretend that I was looking past her, but actually training my eyes on her.
It was difficult to tell her age – she could have been anywhere between 18 and 25. She was of light complexion but I couldn’t see her eyes due to the dark glasses she wore. Her lips were firm with light crimson lipstick – the same colour on her well manicured nails.
She was so angelic, so beautiful that I raked my ‘rioting’ mind, looking for an original pickup line. Meeting such a lovely lass was not an everyday occurrence. I had to get to know this lovely lass of mine [I had already claimed her in my mind].
She was the type of a chick for whom you would change your destination just to win her.
Someone tapped my shoulder and I looked up. It was the conductor. I reached for my wallet – took it and fished out Sh200 note and gave it to him. I looked at my lovely lass perusing her breast pocket apparently looking for the fare.
“For both?” the conductor asked as he took the note from me. He was pointing at the girl and me. I immediately saw the opportunity.
“Yes,” I said nodding vigorously.
The conductor issued two tickets, gave me one and the lady the other, and went on to the next passengers.
The pick-up line was no longer necessary… These things just happen.
“Thanks,” she said flashing half a smile.
Further attempts at getting her interest fell flat
“Do you live in Amani?” I asked flashing the killer smile – but it did not work. She just nodded and gave a weaker smile. Either she was not interested in my chit chat, or her mind was preoccupied with some passing matter.
Further attempts at getting her interest fell flat and I gave up and continued to read.
I looked up from my reading several minutes later and in the bright blue florescent light she resembled a royalty from dream land. Her mesmerizing and mysterious beauty transported my mind to magical world of utopia.
The bus stopped at Pamoja shopping centre to pick several late drinkers. This stage was notorious for picking drunkards who would sing loudly and quarrel with the conductor over fare, or any passengers who complained about them.
But the four passengers who just boarded did not behave like drunkards. They took their seats and we soon forgot about them – but for a short time, after which we would remember them for a very long time.
I was just about to make another attempt at my lovely lass when all of a sudden there was a shriek – a war cry of sorts. Looking up, I saw the four new passengers standing up and… Lord have mercy! They were armed with weapons. Two had pistols and the other two had knives.
As our shocked minds and thumping hearts tried to decipher what was happening, the ringleader gave the orders.
You will all die if you continue shouting and screaming
“Be still… be very quiet… or we’ll send you to hell if you make any noise!” he scowled.
Some women – and of course a few men – started to whimper. Some, particularly the ladies were uncontrollably screaming, but for a brief spell as the armed men shouted profanities and commands to shut up.
“I said you will all die if you continue shouting and screaming. This is a hijack and we can do anything to you that we please,” the ringleader [hooded] said.
Apparently the driver had been ordered to increase the volume of the music so as to drown the screams – he had also dimmed the lights in the vehicle.
My heart had stopped beating, my stomach was full of water and my hair stood still.
I happened to look at my lovely lass and was surprised to see that she was as cool as cucumber. She was motionless, and a slight smile drawn across her face.
Gosh! What kind of a woman was this lady who seemed to have nerves of steel?
The ring leader continued to order the whimpering passengers to keep quiet as his henchmen walked the aisle threatening those who seemed to disobey. They ripped men’s caps in order to see their faces, and also yanked necklaces and chains off women.
As one of them reached my lovely lass, he yanked off her glasses and put them on himself. The lass never said a word but looked at him without flinching. I thought I’d die there and then.
“Wewe,” the crook told her, “I will deal with you later,” he said and left.
My lovely lass said nothing though I thought she lifted the middle finger at him as he left.
The bus stopped in the middle of a field
Then we saw the matatu swerve into a side road and driving away from the main road.
Women shrieked more and more were slapped, but my lass seemed to enjoy this with a smile on her face and hands clutching at the rucksack.
The bus stopped in the middle of a field. We could see lights in the distance and as a thought crossed my mind that even if we screamed as loud as we could, help wouldn’t find its way here, unless a miracle happened.
The leader ordered the matatu to play a popular church song TOA NDUGU TOA DADA. As the song started playing in the background, he spoke to us:
“Good people, please remove all your watches, rings, phones, necklaces, shoes, wallets and anything in your pocket – except handkerchiefs – and place them in the bag which we are going to pass around. Do not worry; treat this as your sadaka.
“It is what you will give as a sacrifice for your life. It is your life or whatever you put into that bag.” he said.
The gospel melody of Toa Ndugu, Toa Dada softly oozed from the speakers as one of the menacing gangsters carrying a huge black plastic paper bag moved from one passenger to the other telling them to put their stuff into the bag.
Many took cue and placed their watches, mobile phones, bangles, etc into the bag. Those who hesitated had senses slapped into them or the knife placed in their throats threateningly and with another word removed whatever was required and threw it into the bag.
Then the monster criminal reached our seat. I could not look at the lady next to me. Where life and death was concerned, beauty had to flee. The girl did not hesitate but removed her bangles and earrings and shoes and phone as ordered and put it into the bag. She must have been a tough one since she did not flinch or show any fear. She just obeyed the order and folded her arms.
I looked at the angel seated next to me
The gangster looked at her bewilderedly and then at me. I silently said a prayer of farewell to my new tablet and thought of kissing it goodbye, but obediently I placed it in the bag.
“The shoes… the shoes…” the man hissed.
“Yes… the shoes…” I echoed and quickly removed the shoes and put them into the bag. The man went to the next seats.
I looked at the angel seated next to me. She had her eyes closed, but she didn’t look bothered, in fact I thought she was smiling. How such a naïve and fragile girl could look so calm at such an event, I wondered, and made a mental note to ask her if we came out of this thing alive.
The bus was quiet. The only thing one would hear was the soft gospel music of toa ndugu toa dada and some whimpers from some women who could not stomach what was going on. Would the gangsters molest them… all sorts of fearful thoughts crossed their minds.
After the collector had done his job, he joined the rest of the mob at the front of the bus. And we held our breaths waiting for whatever would happen next. God forbid, they wouldn’t kill us.
“Listen everyone… You have been very good. You followed our instructions to the letter, so we are not going to harm you, said the ringleader.
There was a sigh of relief all around, some whimpers were even louder.
“So, we’ll let you go,” he continued. As sighs of relief spread around the room, some of the gangsters were chuckling, and looking at us with a sneer.
Then we understood.
She grudgingly put back the rucksack and walked the aisle
“Now, one by one, I want all of you to get out of the vehicle. You are not allowed to carry anything. Leave your parcels, handbags, and any luggage that you are carrying,” he said. For me, it was okay since I was not carrying anything. But I saw my lovely lass suddenly stiffen and visibly getting angry.
She had remained so cool all along despite the threats, so why was she suddenly upset by the order to leave our stuff. Kwani what was so important in that rucksack? I wondered. The passengers left the matatu hurriedly and it came our turn to stand and leave.
My lovely lass picked her rucksack. Apparently she wanted to defy the order. The ringleader saw her and raised his gun, and aimed at her. “I said leave everything or I shoot you.”
She grudgingly put back the rucksack and walked the aisle and we joined the rest of the passengers in the shivering darkness of the evening. For some reason the skies were clear and the stars seemed to be observing the going on this godforsaken earth.
As we stood there in the cold – the passengers and the crew – the ringleader came and stood at the door. The dim light from the distant floodlight enabled us to see a rough silhouette of the crook.
“So, we’ll leave you here. Its only three kilometers to the road, so you won’t have to walk far. After all you need the exercise,” the crook said, and laughed hysterically, got into the vehicle and closed the door. One of his henchmen jumped into the driver’s seat and they drove off, leaving us in a cloud of dust in the bush.
“They will die… the bastards will die,”
Some women started crying again as some men cursed while others tried to find a rock and throw after the disappearing bus. Though we were glad we still had our lives, we were mentally and emotionally devastate at the horror the thugs had visited on us.
Then I saw her, my lovely lass. To my dismay she didn’t seem as upset as the rest of us as she seemed to stare at the disappearing bus, with a sneer-like smile crossing her lips.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
She looked at me without changing her facial expression, and nodded, then looked at the bus.
“They will die… the bastards will die,” she said to no one particularly.
“What?” I asked her.
She looked at me and then looked at the bus again, then at me. She was about to say something when there was a loud explosion. We all looked at the bus. It was blown into thousands of pieces in the ball of fire that resulted from the explosion that came from within the bus.
There were exclamations of shock all around us as we bent or dived on the ground to protect ourselves from pieces of rock, metal and sticks that came flying from the explosion.
Then as the shock waned, the realization hit us. The bus had exploded killing all the thugs in there. We were further shocked to realize that had we not gotten out of the bus when we were forced by the thugs, we would have been the victims of the explosion.
Then something hit me. The rucksack. The mysterious lovely lass. I looked around among the passengers. She was nowhere to be seen. Then further truth dawned on me. Had I been sitting next to a suicide bomber? Was the pretty girl planning to bomb the bus and send us to oblivion?
I could not get that answer and I kept wondering about it until a week later when her photo appeared among other photos of terrorists wanted by the police.
She looked beautiful even in this police photo, and now I knew her name. Naima Gasheri Ibrahim. A Lethal beauty.
©Patrick Ngugi 060716