The other day as I was going home, an argument arose in the matatu. We were six fare paying passengers plus the conductor and the driver. 2 men were seated in the driver’s cabin, while in the main cabin there were two ladies, another man, the conductor and myself. One of the ladies told the conductor that she would be alighting at Safaricom. As the conductor signaled the driver to stop, the latter asked the former how many people were alighting.
“Andu atano” (five people) the conductor replied.
I think he misheard and thought the driver was asking how many people would be left in the matatu. We suspected the plan was to turn back and carry people going the direction we had come, so we protested. The driver, sensing we had numbers, dropped the plan. We all relaxed. Except one guy-the other guy seated with me in the main cabin.
“Mnataka kutuacha hapa, mnafikiria aje? Wakora nyinyi. Tunawajua” he retorted.
“Nini shida na wewe? Sijakuongelesha,” the conductor shot back.
“Unataka kutuacha hapa kwani unafikiria sisi ni magunia?”
“Wachana na mimi wewe. Ujinga wako utapeleka hukoo!”
They went on and on, the argument becoming more and more personal. At some point, the conductor turned to me for support.
“Huyu ananiuliza nini? Mimi nimemuuliza kitu kweli?”
“Unafikiri hatuwajui? Ujinga mtaacha!” the guy interjected, before I could respond.
Soon however, both men were looking at me, waiting for me to decide the dispute. The lady who had been left after the other one alighted was also watching, waiting to see me make a Marende style determination. My alpha male instincts kicked in. Here was a golden chance to gain some glory to feed my vanity. I knew if I sided with either of them I would be dragged into the argument, so I decided to hit the middle path.
“Mimi naona, tuko karibu kufika Westlands kwa hivyo muache ugomvi” I said patronizingly, instinctively squaring my shoulders and straightening my tie. Koffi Annan must feel really powerful when schooling squabbling politicians. The conductor and the girl seemed satisfied with that decision. But the guy was obstinate. Maybe his girlfriend had told him a few unsavory truths before he got into the matatu and he needed to vent. Or maybe he was just one of those people who can’t lose an argument, even if they are wrong.
“Hii gari nimeimark, sitapanda tena,”
“Na si ununue yako? Maskini maringo kusumbua raia bure,” the conductor shot back.
The girl looked at me helplessly. Maybe she expected me to pull a bamboo stick from under my seat and thrash the two men. Or maybe turn into Luanda Magere and hold the two of them in one hand and give them a thorough shaking. Knowing I had no such powers, I just shrugged and shook my head. I could see disappointment sweep over the girl’s face. The alpha male had lost his status.
I tried to read the book I was carrying, but I could not concentrate. The girl’s face was all over the pages with a harsh judgment written on it: Spineless. Maybe I should at least have told them to shut up. You know, bellowed with a deep, gruff voice that would have sent them cowering into silence, thus consolidating my position as the alpha male. But why was I bothered anyway? Who cared what some random girl thought? Of course deep down I knew I cared, that is why I was feeling like an old, toothless hunting dog that had lost the affectionate admiration of pre-teenage boys. The men squabbled until the fare paying guy alighted, and he walked away talking to himself.
The problem with egotistical arguments is that you rarely get the satisfaction you are pursuing, whether you win or lose. I have been there countless times so I know. I can imagine myself arguing with members of my monthly Bible study group.
“Where in the present day is Cush?” Someone would ask.
“Ethiopia” I would reply.
“No, Cush is the land below Ethiopia, and that makes it Kenya” Someone else would say.
“No, Cush was the land South of Egypt. That would be present day Ethiopia and Sudan” I would shoot back.
We would go back and forth, until I secured a victory. I would then start lecturing them on ancient history, running from Mesopotamia to Babylon to ancient Greece under Alexander the Great of the Argead Dynasty. Problem is, nobody would be listening. They would be scrolling on their phones and flipping their Bibles. Someone would even stifle a yawn. I would increasingly feel foolish and stop. What was the point of all that arguing if I couldn’t shove my victory down their throats and rub it on their faces?
I don’t win all arguments though. For instance, my genius friend has a knack of winning the mental duels we often engage in. Picture this: we would probably be seated at the back of some hall waiting for some meeting or class to begin. Suddenly she would lean over and ask:
“What is the Capital City of Tanzania?”
“Dar-es-salaam” I would respond.
“Ah, my friend, where did you go to school?”
“Kianjokoma Primary. What’s the answer anyway?”
“What? I thought you wanted to say some well known place like Arusha or Moshi. Where on the planet is Dodoma? It has to be Dar. If I am wrong, maybe Arusha. But I am sure it is Dar,”
“Want to bet?” she would dare me.
She would stretch out the little finger of her right hand and I would lock it in mine to seal the bet. I would then whip out my phone to google. The silly gadget would shamelessly defy its owner and unfold the answer: DODOMA. I would feel a cold electric chill go down my chest. I hate losing. Even if it is a minor mental game.
“By the way how come John the Revelator was boiled in a pot of oil and did not die?” I would ask, pretending to scroll on, in a bid to steer the conversation away from the subject of my embarrassment.
“No idea. God is that powerful. You’ve found the answer?” The girl can smell my gimmick from a mile away.
“Dodoma. BUT Dar is the OLDEST and LARGEST city in Tanzania, the FORMER CAPITAL and the CHIEF PORT,” I would respond. Ego does not go down without a fight.
“Impressive statistics. But what is the Capital City of the Republic of Tanzania?”
Luckily, my friend is gracious enough not to rub it in. She would do a victory dance nonetheless. She would throw out her hands while still seated, move her trunk in smooth left-right gliding movements, wriggling her neck gracefully while her eyes looked at me with playful mischief. Beaten, I would lean back on my seat and watch her, a sheepish smile on my face. It’s her moment of glory.
Arguments should have some basic rules. If you lose just concede. No point of clutching on imaginary straws. If you win, there is no point of pushing it by trying to prove your brilliance further. You can just do a victory jig like my friend and leave it there. But sometimes you don’t even have to win an argument, even if you strongly feel you are right. If it is going to drag on and on for no reason, or if it starts getting personal, just drop it. No one died of not proving their point.