News Column

The Total Madness That Is Back to School Week

May 18, 2014

Lillian Kwamboka

The total madness that is back to school week.

The school holiday is over and every money-spewing channel is jammed, overloaded or suffocated in endless queues.

This means that while the back to school jingles are being sung, the rest of us who haven't yet cultivated the patience afforded by parenthood cannot shop, bank, pay bills, get the services of a tailor or hairdresser or commute without going completely insane.

We can credit this to our customary last minute frenzied rushing. This is the time when most people in the streets look like headless chicken zigzagging roads with sulking children in tow.

During such times, I minimise my queuing incidences by breaking my no swiping rule then go ahead and swipe at the peril of overspending.

I however cannot swipe or M-Pesa all my bills because I often have to take a taxi owned by a paranoid old man. So paranoid is he that to be on his client list, you have to have been referred by someone he trusts. Since he was carjacked in the 1980s by a gang of young men, he was driven to eternally distrust all youth.

He recounts the story frequently including irrelevant data like the clothing he wore, time, date and the smells. Consequently he refuses any form of electronic payments and insists on cash which he inspects by touching, scratching and holding against the light (to look for the watermark and check whether the president's coat 0n the note is rough). So I still found myself marooned on an infinite file to the ATM.

At the front of me was a nervous mother chewing off her anxiety on a monstrous ball of gum. Her frantic chewing most certainly suggested that.

A fussy little boy was clinging onto her dress. She kept glancing across the hall where a teenager was seated on a metal box looking mortified.

Her manipulation of the little boy with confectionery concealed in her handbag worked for five minutes after which he started wailing. She looked at him sternly then pinched his cheek and he got the message. He stood, a few tear droplets stuck on his eyelashes but quietly suckling his thumb. In the rear, a "stuffed" man was breathing heavily.

His stomach was talking and grumbling; declaring hunger. It was distended like some lateral hump. I had to lean sideways to be comfortable. It was uneven and looked like an additional chamber in his anatomy where he keeps the food he swallows whole.

His phone rang constantly and when he moved a limb to answer it, he sent a shockwave through the whole queue. I surely would have toppled over many times were it not for the concrete pillars. Despite the fact that the queue was sluggish, finally there was just one more person before me. Then just as the lady (still chomping gum) was about to put her card in the card slot, the screen went white.

The message, "Sorry ATM is closed. Please try later. You can visit other branches and ATMs for service", was splashed across the screen.

As soon as it was evident that the ATM was out of order, almost everyone abandoned the queue. Some people started to complain and harass the security guard.

Some glanced into the packed banking hall then formed a pseudo queue around the queue to the tellers which was winding all the way into the street.

At this time of the school year, moving from one place to the other is quite the hustle because the fare is triple hiked and car fever catches the streets causing massive traffic jams.

The next ATM is inconveniently located kilometers away. Getting into a matatu during this time is quite dreadful. You will be accosted by suitcases, mattresses, hockey sticks, rackets and bags of shopping stacked dangerously, dangling in your face. Generally there is much more luggage than there are passengers because for every passenger, the corresponding luggage occupies two or three seats.

In addition to this, it seems like many retirees are getting placement as conductors, most of which have graying hair and a conspicuous muddy dental formula that implies they have ingested a cupful of sludge. In between the sheepish smiling, being incredibly slow and undiscerning, getting the change calculation wrong and forgetting stops, they keep asking you to remind them how much a certain passenger had given them-in which case my frustration would not let me be kind.

Well, I was effectively discouraged out of taking the matatu and reminded that the same queuing scene might just be replicated at the next ATM.

About fifteen minutes later, in the midst of the escalating anger, the ATM came back on. Someone yelled in disbelief and alerted everyone.

The entire crowd charged at it as if it was a case of life and death and the queue sequence became entirely different. Afraid of being trampled to death, I had moved aside and eventually ended up at the back of the queue once again.

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Source: AllAfrica

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