The Hot Potato

Greetings dear readers. The new year is here and with it comes new experiences yielding new tales to be shared and (hopefully) enjoyed.

Money. Some people got to have it and some people really need it. But, have you ever found yourself in a position where you would be willing to discard it? That is the precedent for this tale.

It was a cold Monday morning. I got up at my usual time of 4 AM (Yes, 4) and got ready for work. Upon leaving the house, I swiftly made my way to the bus stop in my Shoe-baru and got onto a nearly packed bus taking a seat near the back. It only took a minute or two for it to fill up and we were off. Now, due to the morning traffic, I had taken some measures the previous night to store a movie on my phone to keep me occupied as the driver plied the route to our destination. So there I was, head bent and eyes focused on the screen before me when the conductor who had been collecting fare finally arrived at my position. Now at this time, I was deeply engrossed in the movie and paid little attention to him. I pulled out my fare and handed it to him then proceeded to await my change. Now the fare was Kshs. 80 and I had just handed him Kshs. 100. He reached into his right pocket, fished around a bit and pulled out a Kshs. 20 coin. He held it above my waiting hand and was just about to drop it when suddenly, my eye picked up on a slight discrepancy. The coin he was just about to give me was covered in a dark, black and brown mulch of some sort.

My brain went it to overdrive as all manner of calculations were computed at turbo-like speeds fuelled by a surge of adrenaline to generate the best solution to handle the scenario. Now luckily, I had an old and beaten Kshs. 50 note in my pocket so I pulled it out and held it on my palm like a welcome mat for the repulsive currency that was about to contaminate my person. The conductor dropped the coin on to the waiting note and I quickly wrapped it up and held it in my hand daring not to place it in my pockets nor my wallet. It gave off a rather pungent odour and I concluded that perhaps the conductor had visited the washroom and failed to follow the proper protocols of hygiene after concluding his “business”. Now I know some are probably thinking, I would have just refused it. Yes, that was an option but, it was a Monday morning and I really did not want to risk messing up my week by arguing and eventually fighting (Because that is how it mostly ends) with a conductor. This was a man whose hands possibly bore traces of his bowel movement. Hence, it would be a highly one-sided fight (Since most of your efforts would be spent trying to avoid his hands) and I would risk messing up my well-ironed clothes. Kind of reminds me of how in childhood, you would have that one disgusting child who would stick his hand somewhere unsanitary and spend the rest of the day chasing others with it.

The passenger beside me saw my predicament and slowly turned to gaze out the window indicating to me in an almost telepathic manner that he too had possibly been in a similar position before. I looked at the note in my hand decided I would not let it get me down. I was going to play a little game of hot potato. On alighting from the bus, I proceeded to another stage where I boarded a matatu that would take me to my final destination (No relation to the movie of course). The fare was Kshs. 40. I pulled out another Kshs. 20 coin and held it my free hand as the other was rather occupied. As soon as the conductor asked for my fare, I placed the clean coin in his hand. He wanted to reiterate that the fare was Kshs. 40 but I quickly unravelled the Kshs. 50 “welcome mat” and dropped the contents into his outstretched hand. The results were instant.

Once the coin came into contact with his skin he quickly looked down at the disgusting piece of currency that I had “blessed” him with. He slowly looked up at me as if to say “Braah!!” and I imagined the numerous insults that were probably inundating his mind. I maintained a poker face knowing full well that he would not refuse it. If he did, I had a simple argument prepared in my defence as I am sure the previous conductor had as well. All I would have to ask is, “Unakataa pesa? Kwani wewe ni Chris Kirubi ndio ujisikie big shot? (Translation: You are refusing money? Are you Chris Kirubi for you to feel like such a big shot). For those wondering, Chris Kirubi: Some wealthy Kenyan who is said to be so rich he could literally burn money and not feel a thing.

I expected him to keep the coin but he too was a quick thinker accidentally dragged into my morbid game of hot potato. He waited till the man behind me gave him a Kshs. 50 note, then proceeded to hand him the “potato”. The man politely protested saying that he had been given more than the required change but the conductor sternly proclaimed that he would only pay Kshs. 30. I then waited to hear the man’s counter but none was forthcoming. He had decided to swallow the bitter pill. It took a lot of effort not to crack a cheeky smile but on looking at the conductor, I noticed that his face bore a rather cheeky grin. Then slowly, I came to grin as well.

On arrival at my destination, I quickly entered a store to buy some confectionery (and discard the contaminated “welcome mat”) then made a beeline to the washroom to rid my hands of the germs I had probably acquired from the tainted currency. I know not where the coin may be now but one thing is for sure, I really need to start carrying gloves and wet wipes for such emergencies. As you go about your days, do try to always wash your hands after handling any currency. You never know, you may just be the latest recipient of a “hot potato”.