Here in Nairobi every hotel has its own cohort of taxis. We drivers have an arrangement. We park in a nearby place and wait for a customer to appear at the hotel entrance. We take it in turns, faithfully, and so the guests never know which driver they will get. The bearded stranger needed a driver one morning. It was my turn. He had lots of visits to make around the city so I agreed a price for staying with him all day.
There’s a lot of time to talk driving around Nairobi as the traffic sometimes doesn’t move for half an hour. We laughed at some of the selfish drivers, we admired some of the mock Tudor houses built by the British, we considered the prices of the six-foot wooden giraffes for sale by the road, and we bemoaned the need for the security at the embassies and the UN compound. By the end of the day he was calling me by my given name. He liked the fact that I was called Bernard: it is his own middle name.
The next day when the bearded stranger needed a ride, it wasn’t my turn and one of the other taxis took him around, one with a KCA number plate. The third day I heard him ask the hotel guard for ‘a Bernard taxi’ and laugh. He was making a joke: the driver with the KCA plate was called Bernard also. That second Bernard had gone with a client and it wasn’t my turn so another of our regular drivers went to the hotel’s front door to pick him up. By this time I was laughing too, because I knew this driver’s name. As I said, it is true that the guests never know which driver they may get, but the bearded stranger surely couldn’t have predicted that he would get three different drivers on three consecutive days, all called Bernard.