They called themselves The Backpackers. A clique of friends who had maintained close contact since their campus days. Two gents and three ladies. Initially, they were six. Then sometime in their second year of college, Wanjeri fell out with Jaymo after their Rachael and Ross relationship went sour. (If you were born just the other day, Rachael and Ross are friends cum lovers from a 90s sitcom called Friends.) So Wanjeri had that kind of ego that makes you choose new friends after one of your old friends dumps you. Who can judge her? I would do the same. The others always made fun of Jaymo and his Wanjeri connection. They blamed him for ruining the balance in the group since they were now three ladies and two gentlemen. But this fallout with Wanjeri kind of tightened the bond around them. They came up with this little rule that no member of the group would do it with another member of the group. They were strictly platonic friends. They became inseparable and always had each other’s backs. When Kwamboka’s mother passed on in their third year of college, Mike, Jaymo, Shiko and Kui put together their little savings, rented out a small Probox and drove two hundred and fifty miles to Migori. They spent over a week with Kwambz during the grieving period and drove back to the city with her after the funeral. This made her cry more tears of happiness than she did tears of anguish mourning her mother. She knew she could count on her gang.
Three years later, they still kept touch with each other, even though not as actively as they did before. It was slightly over a year after they had all graduated. Everyone got swallowed up in this Work – Pay Bills – Eat – Sleep – Repeat cycle. Their little WhatsApp group had now been reduced to a meme collection gallery. Whenever they had their occasional meetups, one or two of the other gang members would be conspicuously absent. Of course the excuse would be Work, or looking for work for the not – so lucky ones. It had been almost six months since they were all together at the same time. So when Koi informed them that she was to leave the country for further studies, they all agreed it was about time they brought back their campus days by throwing her a send-off party. In Naivasha. They would make it a road – trip party. This would be an Easter – Holiday to remember!
Mike offered to borrow his Uncle’s Isuzu Dmax double cabin. Jaymo offered to take care of the drinks. He also promised to bring his cousin’s newly – acquired DJ Kit. Shiko was to be their hospitable host at her grandma’s crib down in Kinangop. Naivasha and Kinangop are about half an hour apart if you drive as fast as Mike does. Shiko’s grandma had recently moved to stay with Shiko’s parents so the crib was unoccupied, save for the two or three rats who were nibbling her grandma’s loose covers on a daily. Kwambz and Koi were to come up with the weekend itinerary. Party games, stop – overs, dress code and all. These two were the Monica of the group. Again, Monica is from Friends you youngling.
Kenwood speakers can actually blow your eardrums out if you are enclosed inside a cosy Isuzu Dmax. Future is mumbling something on Capital FM. It’s Good Friday of 2018 and it is a little too cold than it should be. There is no sight of sunlight and the overcast gloomy sky seem to also mourn the death of The Saviour. What a better way to warm yourself up than taking dry shots? Jaymo serves the Chivas Regal Scotch in his trademark ceramic tot glass he bought at an online auction with his first HELB disbursement. Yes, government, this money is never spent on anything to do with education. Mike revs up the engine and they drive off towards the steep slopes of the Rift Valley.
Just after the Fly – Over at Magumu, there is a Kenol fuel station with an amazing view of the escarpment and Lake Naivasha. You can also enjoy pizza and fried chicken at the Pizza Inn Franchise shops. This is the gang’s first stopover. They order a bucket of wings and fries and they share a meal for the first time in over a year. Food tastes more delicious when you share it with people who make you happy. Alcohol hits different too. You drown yourself in it because you know you are with people who got your back. Nothing bad could possibly happen to you. So they drink themselves silly, reminiscing old times, laughing their hearts out until the sun sets. Kinangop can get really cold in the night. Kwambz and Kui are freezing. They are not used to this kind of weather.
‘Let’s bounce! You can get warmed up in the car!’ Mike proposes.
‘Sure. You gentlemen go ahead. We’ll shop for all the supplies we need and join you in the car.’ Shiko says as she grabs the two girls and they stagger into the supermarket section.
Mike and Jaymo proceed to the car and Mike opens the bonnet. He replenishes the coolant water and has the fuel tank filled to the brim.
‘Hey man, I can drive us to the crib and you can catch a break,’ Jaymo proposes to Mike.
‘I don’t know, man. I’ve never seen you drive a manual car,’ Mike is reluctant.
‘Come on, man. My dad had one of this back in the day. It’s only gears and the clutch that’s different,’ Jaymo insists.
‘Let me see you drive then I can decide,’ Mike proposes.
Jaymo gets in the car and calmly reverses out of the fuel station.
‘Well, what is it you can’t do?’ Mike asks, impressed,’ You drive better than my uncle, and he owns the car!’ They laugh out aloud as the girls come out with shopping bags full of supplies.
Jaymo and Shiko are seated at the front. Shiko is directing Jaymo to her grandma’s place as well as handling the stereo. One Direction‘s Live While We’re Young is playing. Shiko was infatuated with this boy – band. They are descending the Kinungi hill and Jaymo is firmly at the wheel like Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer. (See what I did there?). There is an alarm sound beeping once every few minutes. Jaymo does not give it much thought. He is busy cheering on Shiko who is busting her lungs out singing along to One Direction.
‘Tonight let’s get some…’ Shiko knows the lyrics damn well.
‘And live while we’re young!’ The trio at the back jumps in.
All of a sudden, the car stops and the steering wheel locks.
‘Shit! I forgot to show you where the cut – out is!’ Mike exclaims from the back.
‘What cut – out? Where is it?’ Jaymo screams, shocked and anxious.
‘Beneath your seat! There’s a button beneath your seat. Press it!’ Mike yells.
Jaymo frantically searches for the button but can’t find it. Mike tries to reach his hand underneath the driver’s seat but he cannot reach the cut – out button either. Jaymo takes a glance at his mirror and goes, ‘Oh Shit!’
They all look back. A twenty feet truck is descending the hill behind them at a brisk speed. There is also a small sedan on the other side of the highway so the truck cannot overtake. The girls squeal in horror. Jaymo is dumbstruck. He pees his pants. Mike shifts the gear to Neutral to see if the car would free – fall. It does not. Before they do anything else, the twenty-foot truck rams into them, pushing the car over the escarpment. The vehicle rolls over three times, bouncing off rocks and earth, until it crashes onto a tree by it’s co – driver’s side. Peculiarly, the music does not stop in spite of all the pummeling. When the Kenya Red Cross team arrives, Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again is wheezing through the broken Kenwood speakers.
Jaymo was inconsolable. He was the only survivor of the fatal Kinungi crash and the whole country was talking about him. The police had made a public statement that the driver of the crashed car was heavily intoxicated at the time of the accident. The fact that he was the only survivor made it worse. The report said that he was the only one out of the five who had buckled up at the time of the accident. He got served and the lawsuit was made public news. The words premeditated and homicide were thrown around. On top of all this, he lost his right knee in the accident and had to hobble around in crutches.
The company he worked for made a public announcement that he had been relieved of his duties. This in effect cancelled his Employee Insurance benefits and the hospital transferred the hospital bill to him. His family members were appalled. Only his mother came to visit him at the hospital. She didn’t say it but she was disheartened. She had a son who could not walk for a while and a six-figure hospital invoice. Jaymo could see the pain in her eyes and this made him feel like taking his own life, a decision he decided to go through with. He had heard stories about jail. Imagine being in jail, in crutches! No freaking way.
‘If only I had left Mike drive!’ he always questioned himslef.
His actions had led to four deaths. And not just anybody had died. His four friends. It was this guilt that gave him the strength to limp into the pharmacy next door and grab a couple of medicine bags. He tore them up and placed a dozen pills in his hand. He was just about to throw them in his mouth when the door burst open and someone she had not seen for years strolled in. When will these surprises end?
‘Hi Wanjeri, what are you doing here?’
‘I saw it on the news. I figured you’d need a friend,’
She saw the pills in his hand.
‘You could not even wait long enough to bury your friends’ she joked.
A bad joke, that one. Jaymo hurled the pills at Wanjeri and burst into tears. Wanjeri rushed over and held him like a little baby. And that was how her Gucci top was soaked in Jaymo’s tears until it faded.
Wanjeri became Jaymo’s source of strength. She put the heartbreak Jaymo had put her through years back behind her. She would visit Jaymo every day and pray the rosary with him. They kept the story of the pill between them. She even brought her savings to help offset the medical bill. For old time’s sake, she said. In memory of Mike, Kwambz, Shiko and Kui, she said.
Three weeks later, Jaymo was discharged from the hospital and was able to walk six months later. After much procrastination, they drove to Kinungi and walked down to the spot where the car rammed into the tree. Debris from the accident was still scattered around. They chose a spot and laid a wreath of flowers. Later, they prayed the rosary together and paid their last respects to Mike, Kwambz, Shiko and Kui. Maybe one day, Jaymo would get the strength to go face their families and offer his condolences. Just, maybe. Where would he start? What would he say to them?
A year later, Jaymo and Wanjeri were the proud parents of a pair of twins. A boy and a girl.
They named them after Mike and Kwamboka.
‘How many more kids should we get?’ Jaymo’s mum asks them.
‘Two. And we will name them after Shiko and Kui,’ Wanjeri responds.
‘And when they grow up, we will tell them of their brave Uncle Mike, their lovely Aunt Kwambz, their beautiful Aunt Shiko and their glamorous Aunt Kui’. Jaymo adds.