Dhinda the Bus

By Nolleen Mhonda

The silence was like a Sunday morning. The chirping of birds and other animals in the forest had caused some terrible confusions. Probably, the hour was just before dawn. I woke up early in a joyous mood, for my journey to Harare. It was now one-and-a-half hours waiting at the bus station for Dhinda the Bus, whose tabled time to arrive at the station had been delayed.

“You’ll all grow a grey beard waiting for this bus,” a 20-or-so-year old cakes and tea seller joked, darting his eyes to see if this would lead to a sale. I glanced at his food, moved eyes away, and waited and waited at the bus station. Nothing positive came to my side. We all know that when one is anxiously waiting for something, time will seem to move slowly like a pangoline. I had to be in Harare in the next twelve hours or less for the wedding of my blood sister. There the party had already started, but my absenteeism set all of my efforts to arrange essential programs dormant. A flood of messages from Harare almost ruined the 5% energy left in my Motorola cellphone battery. “If you don’t make it in time, you’ll miss the wedding cake,” my sister thundered in an SMS messsage.

Dhinda the Bus was the people’s favorite—it was painted rusty yellow and its driver was known for climbing down and crouching under the bus chasis at every station to check his brakes. It was a leading transport service provider in the route connecting Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe (U.M.P) province, the most backwater province in Zimbabwe, where telephone pole lines and electricity wires never arrived, and Harare province—the region of two lane highways and skyscrapers. The U.M.P map is not a simple map. It represents costs and risks of deadly accidents. For safety, Dhinda the Bus was locally acclaimed. For the past two decades before Dhinda, the people needing transport were at risk in the U.M.P province because of its hostile roads. The ruggedness of the mountain terrain in the Makeni-Keni area, bordering U.M.P and Murehwa district, consumed one or two days travel from any place of origin to reach a destination like Harare.

The Makeni-Keni area is dominated by rocks and deadly quartzite caves, and each rain season locals avoid wearing red clothing out of superstitous fears of lightning strikes. The road here is dusty, rugged, and full of potholes—and of course sorrounded by bushes where wild pigs and rabbits thrive. These terrains are normally rough for on-road vehicles other than Dhinda, those meant to travel on smooth, well built roads and offer maximum comfort to both passengers and human drivers. Dhinda became the solution. It was ideally suited for a rugged terrains and unfriendly roads.

The bus itself was the pride of Uzumba Province. It was accordingly nicknamed “Dhinda the Bus.” The bus was designed so that it did not collapse on encountering rough terrains. It’s tires were designed with blocky, heavy-duty tread patterns and puncture resistant sidewalls that withstood abuse from bashing through rocks, while also maintaining traction on all kinds of surfaces including mud and loose sediments, like in this particular area. Dhinda could complete the whole journey to Harare unstuck.

When Dhinda finally arrived at the bus station, l got inside with at least a sense of imagining myself among the people who awaited me at the wedding in Harare. The driver revved up the accelerator while his gears were in neutral, as if he was roiling a racing car at the tracks. He immediately took his foot off the gas, idled down the engine, and jumped out of his seat with a smoke at the corner of his mouth to do his ritual—crouching under the chasis to check the brakes. He was obsessed with brakes! I sat down on the blue covered seat, gently listening to low-played old skool American hip-hop, a song that featured a delicate soprano. I was now convivially enjoying the long awaited journey to Harare.

With the music being played in the bus, I felt happiness and peace of mind from the very time I boarded Dhinda the Bus, but it dramatically ended as we approached the fatal Makenikeni Narrow Bridge. Here everyone feels unhappy and unguarded. The nearer Dhinda got to the bridge the more slowly we drove. When trying to reduce the speed, the driver engaged in a wrong gear, producing high raking sounds and Dhinda groaned like a pig. Resultantly, the engine itself automatically switched off in the middle part of the bridge. There was a moment of silence inside the bus, and l started shivering like a reed in a flowing river.

“This is the area where most of the U.M.P residents have lost their lives,” I pronounced, mostly to myself. “Some sustained permanent injuries.” This was a deadly bridge where most vehicles got stuck. The driver of Dhinda was almost a comedian. He had a box cut, narrow face, and a bushy beard, which could make any child cry. He was a physically fit and strong man who liked wearing vests and shorts most of the time. When walking he looked like a military tank, tumbling along and rumbling like thunder. When the bus engine switched off, the driver looked back at the passengers. Never talking to anybody, he turned Dhinda’s engine on again and engaged a lower gear, which allowed Dhinda to move slowly at a snail pace.

Travelling at the low speed of less-than-10km-per-hour, Dhinda took almost two hours to complete a distance of twenty kilometers over the bridge, negotiating the rocky caves, mud, and slippery surfaces of the deadly bridge. After crossing the bridge the driver parked Dhinda and announced to the passengers, “l know most of us have almost fainted,” he laughed. “This is Dhinda and I myself, and our vision is to deliver happiness to our customers and enjoy a ride. We are here to work hard every day to create happy passengers.”

Everyone clapped. We passed around lunchboxes of cooked bananas, the local staple. Faces wrinkled with smiles, but deep down we didn’t want to arrive in Harare with cooked bananas, because city people always laugh their hearts out seeing people from U.M.P arriving with cooked bananas.

Dhinda roiled into Harare, took a slight backroad into Mbare, the city’s biggest bus terminus, all in a ploy to dodge Harare’s police who, in their grey overralls, would never miss a chance to demand a one-dollar “drink” from the bus driver—essentially a bribe. Dhinda squeezed in between three brand new Scania buses in the Mbare terminus, and someone, a tout, shouted: “These are Scania buses fresh from Sweden—Dhinda you dare scratch any of them, you better have insurance!”

The driver of Dhinda, our driver, idled down the engine, jumped out of his seat as if to lurch at the mocking tout outside. He punched a fist in the air in full sight of the public, and crouched under the chasis of Dhinda—to check the damn brakes again!

3 December, 2022