His alarm chimes and he slowly pulls himself up. 5am. His wife takes a deep breath but doesn’t wake up from her slumber. She’s still tired from yesterday’s work. Matemai, as he is affectionately known, gets off the bed and steps over his two children lying in the reed mat on the floor. Searching on the small pile of clothes on the floor, he picks out his clothes for the day. The driver will be by the road in 15 minutes. He washes his face on the sink outside and puts his towel on the line to dry. Mai Megan will take it in once it is sufficiently dry. At 5:30 on the dot, the kombi he works with pulls up and he takes up his position at the door. Matemai is a mini-bus conductor. Elder, the driver, and Matemai mumble their greetings to each other. It’s too early for any energetic conversation. They start driving around in the wee hours of the morning seeking passengers to ferry into the CBD. “Town mota” (this mini-bus is going to town) , Matemai shouts at every person he sees standing by the road side. It’s early and many people are heading to the CBD for work and school so their kombi fills up quickly. The driver speeds along the highway towards the CBD. He has no regard for speed limits, the safety of the people he’s carrying or the safety of other traffic. Time is all that matters to him. The quicker he goes back and forth between the CBD and Kuwadzana, the more money they make. Matemai, standing awkwardly by the door, asks the passengers to pay. “Ngatibhadharei vabereki. 4-4 sekugara kwatakaita. Vane macoin ipai vamwe ini handimade ane noise” (Lets pay up. Put your money together with those you’re seated with. Those with coins, give them to the people next to you, I don’t want them. They’re noisy.) The passengers chuckle at his joke and proceed to pay the bus far. 50c from their homes into the CBD. Matemai counts the money he has received and it amounts to $9. All 18 passengers have paid. “Maita basa” (thank you), he says as he signals to Elder that it’s ok to turn up the volume on the radio. Traffic is thick as they approach the CBD but Elder has been driving kombis for a long time. He knows how to maneuver his way through the traffic. At some point, he drives on the island separating the roads and they’re at their drop off point in no time. As the passengers disembark, Matemai goes to the ‘rank marshal’ and they’re put on the log book to load and head back to Kuwadzana. They’ll load after 6 kombis. Not a bad start.
2 hours later, it’s their turn. Elder parks the kombi facing the road and keeps the engine running. They’re on an illegal loading zone and a fast exit might be required. It’s still early and there are not many people going to Kuwadzana. The loading process is slow. 11 passengers are in the kombi now and a semi formally dressed gentleman approaches the kombi. Matemai gets inside, closes the door and locks it. “Vabereki ndivharireiwo mawindow” (Please close the windows), he instructs the passengers inside. They oblige. The gentleman gets to the kombi and asks, “Iri kuenda Kuwadzana here?” (Is this kombi going to Kuwadzana?). Matemai ignores the gentleman and instead addresses his colleagues who are sitting on the road side. “Vanoenda here ava?” (Does this gentleman look like he’s going to Kuwadzana?). His colleagues shake their heads in unison and Matemai closes the window. The gentleman is a city council police officer dressed in civilian clothing. Had he been allowed to board the he kombi, he would have impounded the vehicle and most certainly demanded a bribe. Matemai’s instincts have saved him and Elder some hard earned money. The gentleman walks off and Matemai opens the door once more to let passengers in.
2pm, Matemai and Elder have their lunch. A plate of sadza for each one of them purchased at a dollar a plate. They wash it down with a shared liter of coke. They discuss their latest trip and laugh. One passenger hadn’t paid and it took them a while to figure out who. “Asina kubhadhara ngaandipoo mari yangu” (whoever hasn’t paid, please can I have my money), Matemai had repeated over and over to no avail. They had had to resort to refunding the passengers, tracing where each of the fares had come from. They caught their culprit, a young man who looked drunk. They had been stopped by police at a road block and they had to pay the police $15. Every kombi pays the police this $15 everyday without fail. What this money is for, no one knows. No one cares anymore. It’s is the norm on the road. If they don’t pay this money, the police will arrest them and delay them for as long as they can. They could even impound the car. Valuable time would be lost and time is money, literally. It’s easier to pay the $15 and work freely throughout the day.
9pm and several trips later, Matemai is exhausted. This will be their last trip of the day. After they drop off all the passengers at their various bust stops, they drive to the house of their boss, the owner of the kombi. They give him $70 daily for 5 days, Monday to Friday. Saturday is the day on which they work for their salary. Whatever they make on Saturday, they spilt 70-30. Most conductors get 15-20% of the Saturday earnings. Elder is generous. If during the week they surpass the $70 target, Matemai gets $5-$10 depending on the amount of surplus.
10:30pm and Matemai enters the room he calls home. His children are fast asleep. He hasn’t seen them in 4 days now. He leaves while they’re asleep and comes back home when they’re asleep. Mai Megan is seating on the bed counting her earnings from the vendor stall she runs. Matemai takes out the $5 he got on the day and hands it to her. She looks up at him and smiles. They share no conversation. They’re both too tired to talk. Matemai doesn’t eat at home. The food at home is for his wife and children. They have to save as much as they can so they can survive. Mai Megan packs away her things and prepares to get into bed. Matemai gets into bed and immediately falls asleep. His arms hurt from constantly opening and shutting the kombi door. His back hurts from standing in a hunched position when the kombi is traveling. His legs, even worse. Mai Megan blows the candle and gets into bed with her husband. She puts her arm around him and tries to wake him up. Maybe today he’ll be able to wake up and give her a little attention. It’s been long since they’ve been intimate. He doesn’t wake up. He is too exhausted. She turns away from him, sighs deeply and falls into her own slumber.
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