In the course of a taxi driver’s life, they meet more people in a day than an average person does in a week. From drunken teenagers, wealthy businessmen, politicians, celebrities, couples, thugs and priests,they have seen them all. In many encounters they have taken up the role of relationship experts and counsellors to clients.
We talked to taxi drivers who have taken up the roles of relationship gurus, peacemakers and sometimes heard secrets that would break families. Mathew Wachira has been driving for the last two years with over 7,000 rides around the country. In the confines of a taxi, he has heard things that only a psychologist should handle.
“We meet different people from different walks of life. Each fighting their own demons,” he says. According to Wachira, some clients are so interesting you want to end the trip, turn off the engine and sit there and listen to them all day. Others, however, you want to skip the traffic lights and just get to their destination.
One night he had an unusual encounter. As he was driving around waiting for requests, he got one at a popular bar. As he pulled up, a young woman flagged him down. She was in the company of a man and when she attempted to get into the passenger’s seat, he attempted to stop her despite her protests that she had to get home and sleep because she had to go to work early the next day. The man became aggressive to the point the woman got really uncomfortable.
“I stepped out of the car to reason with the man. He looked at me with these Dracula eyes. I was a bit tense; to be honest- I didn’t know what demons he was dealing with. At this point, he banged the door, and walked away, mumbling some words,” Wachira explains. It gets darker.
Dan Otieno, with about two years experience, had an encounter he’ll never forget. It was on a Saturday and he was driving foreigners from a West African country around bars in Westlands and Ngong Road. During their conversation in French, some familiar phrases hit him. It was something to do with death.
“This is death, this is serious. Blood is on me,” one of them said. Then the other guy was mainly just telling him to relax, and telling him “It’s fine, he deserved it anyway,” or something along those lines,” he reveals. Otieno is not fluent in French, but he could figure out what they were talking about.
“Upon dropping them off, I played a fool to show them I had heard the harrowing conversation, and I said, “amusez-vous bien”, which means good night. One of the man came around Otieno’s window while reaching into his jacket pocket.
“At this point, I’m scared, I want to pee on myself,” Otieno says. Then he pulled out a Sh1,000 note and gave to him with a stern warning: “My friend, stick to your lane.” “I just took it, shook my head in the affirmative, and drove off.” He didn’t take any rides for the rest of the night.
Then it gets emotional… One time I was driving this man, he wasn’t wasted, but definitely drunk. It was late and he must have been feeling a bit down, so he confided in me and asked me for some advice,” Nick Wekesa says. Apparently, the man was in love with his fiancé’s best friend and it was too late to back out.
“I felt bad for the guy because he seemed like he was truly in love with his fiancé too, although he had strong feelings for the friend. He knew that going through with the marriage meant a lifetime of being around the friend and suppressing feelings, but also breaking it off meant that he lost the girl of his dreams.
There’s nothing I could say to help his situation rather than just sit and listen,” Wekesa says. Over the years, Wekesa has come to learn that sometimes all people need is someone to listen to them. So he listened. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, and I hope he’s doing fine,” Wekesa says.
Then the crazy… He was just six months into the job when Mark Makau got this request to pick up an older couple. While the man was on his phone the whole time, his wife seemed to be in a rush. “We were to go straight on and only a few metres to their destination but we got stuck in traffic and the wife told me to turn left,” Makau says.
He tried to explain to her if they went that way it was going to take longer to get where they needed to go. The woman shouted, “I know where I am going just turn!” “After asking her again I decided to make the turn.
Five hundred metres or so we take a curve and now we were going the total opposite way,” says Makau. She started shouting: “Just where are you going! You’re going the wrong way, are you trying to rob us?
Then he said “Madam I asked you three times and you told me to turn, so I turned even after telling you it was the wrong way,” he says. At this point, the husband hung up his phone and told the woman: “We wouldn’t be going the wrong way if you kept your mouth shut. When will you learn to just shut up!”
He then assured Makau that it wasn’t his fault. “This is my fault… I married this woman 20 years ago and should’ve just put a gun in my mouth a long time ago.” Then they started arguing. The woman told him “Maybe I should have put the gun in your mouth for you,” the woman said. Then turned up the volume and seriously mourned her marriage. So why do we feel totally comfortable confiding in strangers than our closest companions?
“You would be surprised at what people tell you,” Counsellor Sammy Baya says. “I think people feel they can say whatever’s on their minds as they know they will never see you again. Sometimes they just want confirmation on relationship decisions – it can range from one extreme to another,” he says.
“For some people, you’re a sounding board, others forget you’re there and talk away on their phones. Then sadly, for some you’re the only social interaction they’ll have all day – so it goes a long way to make some effort to listen, talk and just engage these people,” Baya says.