363: Goodbye Rafiki, You Troublesome Friend
She might have spent as much time catching a ride as she did giving it, but all is fair in motorcycles and love. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
THE bus rolls into Mombasa well after first light. It's been raining; large puddles fill sections of the streets in the bustling coastal town.
We stop to let off one group of people and then another as we crawl farther into the city. I'm not sure, but it seems most likely that Rafiki and I will be dumped at the final stop, which happens to be in the sloppy center of town, across from a gas station.
“Here, we'll help,” someone says as I walk around to the other side of the bus to yank Rafiki out.
Her headlight hood hangs from a single piece of bent wire and there is a small wet spot of oil or gas in the bus.
“No, it's okay. I've got it,” I say, trying to avoid accumulating additional fees. Yes, the unloading fee is supposed to be included, but I don't think that makes any difference.
A coastal sun is already bearing down on us, burning up the wet asphalt from the heavy rain, making the air thick around me as I tug at Rafiki.
Two men do come and help me dislodge her.
“Tip?” one of them asks me as I start walking Rafiki across the street.
I shake both men off with a smile.
At the gas station, away from the pressure of tipping and unloading Rafiki, I take a breather and assess the situation, trying to figure out what's broken on my baby. In addition to the headlight cover, the cover to the dash was also broken. At a nearby store, I buy some super glue and put that back on before putting some petrol in her tank and securing the headlight hood.
With what few possessions I brought down for the short trip secured to Rafiki, I go to kick-start her. She ignores me. I try again, getting nothing in return. It feels like I've crawled in bed with a girlfriend who has had a bad day – there's nothing I can do.
I push Rafiki out of the gas station onto a side road. Running with Rafiki's clutch pulled in, I try to jump start her. We gain speed as my feet pound cobblestones. I release the clutch. Her back tire locks up. The engine doesn't start.
Several failed attempts later, I roll her back to a tiny restaurant below a tarp roof that exists somewhere between an establishment and street food. Plopping down on one of the benches, I order whatever the man next to me is having.
“Why does she have to be like this?” I wonder.
There are four of us on the bench eating. I eat in silence, waiting for Rafiki to dry out.
Someone brakes the silence by asking about Rafiki. The conversation dies shortly after it starts due to language barriers.
Relieved, I go back to silently eating. I have no interest in explaining the situation. I didn't sleep well on the bus and I'm facing yet another Rafiki crisis.
About a half hour later, Rafiki bursts to life in a thick cloud of blue smoke, much of it belched into the restaurant. I give a guilty smile, before letting her run for several minutes.
We slide onto the main road in first gear, snaking toward Nyali Road.
The tip of my toe grabs the shifter and flicks it up into second gear.
Fuck, it won't go into second.
I try again.
Tap, tap, tap, my boot clicks at the shifter feeling a firmness as I adjust the RPMs, trying to find a fit. Then, she slips in and we're off again.
Like a man who can't stop tonguing mouth sore, I keep moving Rafiki through the gears, hoping that she'll fix herself before we arrive at Bombolulu Workshop, where Bertie works.
“Hi, I'm here to meet Bertie,” I tell the security guard at the gate when I arrive. He waves me into the well-manicured grounds spotted by dozens of workshops.
“What is this place?” I silently wonder, realizing I have no idea what kind of work Bertie and Freddy do.
It turns out that the workshop, established in the late 1960s, provides employment, housing, medical aid, and adult education for adults who are blind or physically disabled. These men and women create jewelry and other products for both local and export markets; they're known for their whimsical jewelry made from recycled material.
Freddy offers me his big hand and excitedly starts showing me around the shop they are working in, which is packed with wheelchairs.
“So the project is called Safari Seat,” he explains.
The wheelchairs they designed and then managed to successfully fund via Kickstarter are built for the difficult terrain handicapped people face in developing countries.
Who knew there were so many ways to improve wheelchairs. Video: Safari Chair
Back outside, I bring Bertie up to speed with what's happening with the gear shifting.
“I don't know. It was getting better, but still... Take her out and let me know what you think,” I say.
“Yeah, it seems fine. I think the shifter got bent in. Let me see if I can get that fixed,” Bertie says.
Bertie comes out of the shop with a pile of tools. Once the shifter is re-aligned, Rafiki seems to run fine.
“I'm going to go ahead and pay you for the price we originally agreed on,” says Bertie. “Then, if there aren't any issues in the next week or so, I'll send the rest of the money for my half of the repairs.”
“Okay, that sounds good to me. If you do need to fix anything, just take it out of that money and we can split the difference,” I say.
In the lawn, I layout all the paperwork I have for Rafiki. We hand write a seller's contract and have Freddy sign as a witness.
Inside a small office, I count a fat pile of Kenyan Shillings.
Everything squares up.
We shake on it.
“I'll give you a ride to the main road,” Bertie says.
We cruise a few sides streets popping out on Nyali Road, where I am able to quickly catch a ride in a matatu headed for Kilifi.
“I hope she treats Bertie better than she treated me,” I think as I climb into the passenger side seat of the van along with a woman and her child.
And so, Rafiki, my dear, troublesome friend, and I part ways.
Goodbye friend. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli