The valley between Wakitaka and Musima villages is where the transformation occurs. He knows this. He’s not ok with it but he’s learnt to live with it. It’s the uniform you see. In Musima, the village-village, the uniform is a sign of status, it makes him stand out. It gets him called Afande, Boss, even Ssebo. In Musima he looks people in the eye or above their heads. In Wakitaka, more town than village, he becomes part of the background, another splash of colour in the kaleidoscope of town colours, smells and sounds. Another punctuation mark on the page of life.
He rides through Wakitaka on his way to work at the restaurant. This bicycle was the first thing he bought with his first salary. There were a lot of hungry nights after he bought the bicycle, most of which he spent lying on his threadbare mattress gazing upon his bicycle. These hungry nights taught him something. You must plan for things. You don’t just do things anyhow. If he could go back, he would have deposited money on the bicycle, paid it off slowly. Hadn’t the Muyindi told him that most people did that, pay slowly? But he knew why he did it. An afande shouldn’t walk through the village of Musima. Walking was for other people. That wasn’t the real reason.
It all started with a girl. As most things do. Her name was Fatina. By village standards she was a raving beauty. With her big eyes and the gap in her front teeth and of course, her kabina. God had compensated what she lacked in height by giving her a fairly large bum. What God didn’t count on, or maybe He knew and found it funny, is that also giving her knock-knees would exaggerate the appearance of her already large bum. When Fatina walked through the centre of Musima, all six shops of it, everyone who was watching had a reaction. The chaps lying on their bodas watched her through half shut eyes, as if to better focus, slowly sucking their breath in through their teeth as they fantasised about doing it to her. The older women stared scornfully at her, despising her youth, the firmness of her bust and the smoothness of her skin. The older men thanked God they were not her father, for surely, no good could come out of such beauty. It swelled a woman’s head, gave her ideas.
It was that bum that started it all. Fatina was walking from the shop, with her sachet of cooking oil and her halfu of posho flour, when – as his eyes followed her down the road – he suddenly caught Apuuli’s eye from across the road, following Fatina’s progress. Him and Apuuli had never got on. Maybe it was the town airs that Apuuli affected; he went to school in town, rather than at the local Wakitaka Secondary. Maybe it was the fact that Apuuli liked to ride his father’s Bajaj motorcycle up and down the road, almost always coating him in dust as he returned home carrying two 20-litre jerrycans of water from the borehole. Whatever it was, from that September day when he and Apuuli caught themselves lusting after Fatina’s bum, it was on.
Fatina liked animals. She was the type to rescue puppies from the roadside or look after people’s wayward chicken and turkeys. He figured that maybe if he got her a puppy from that Mzungu woman who had a shelter in town, where his neighbour Kirya worked, he’d be in the door. So he set his plan in motion. Talked to Kirya. Kirya talked to the Mzungu. Came back and told him to wait two weeks. So he waited. When it was almost time, he sent Fatina’s friend Nabirye to tell Fatina that he had a message for her and was bringing it on Thursday. After supper. He was secretly hoping to find one of her parents at home so that they’d notice him. Bold move, yes, but our man was never one for prudence. Nabirye came back to tell him Fatina would be waiting.
Come Thursday. Kirya returned from work with the puppy in a box. He checked it, made sure it had no fleas or ticks and gave it some scraps to keep it content and happy. Then he had his supper, hoisted the box onto his shoulder and strode purposefully towards Fatina’s compound. Deciding at the last minute to use the back entrance, he detoured through Kayiwa’s compound and round the back of Fatina’s. Pushing the back gate open, he slowly stepped through the entrance. As he turned to close the gate he caught the reflection of light off a piece of chrome, from under the Jackfruit tree opposite the gate. Figuring her father was home; he suddenly realized maybe this wasn’t such a smart move after all. Unfortunately it was too late and someone must have heard him entering for there was a suddenly a sound as of footsteps rapidly approaching the back door from inside the house.
Before he could figure out a move, the door was pulled open a bit, someone peered out, then it was flung half open and Fatina stood there, her hair slightly disheveled, one blouse strap hanging off her shoulder. Even from where he was standing he could see two things clearly as she hissed at him in an angry whisper, asking what was he doing there. First, under her thin cotton vest, she clearly had no bra on. Second, was her kabina peeking out from under the towel draped loosely around her waist. Temporarily bereft of words, he soundlessly held out the box towards her. Two things then happened in rapid succession. The door opened all the way, revealing Apuuli in boxer shorts, and, the box moved in his hands and out leaped the puppy, landing halfway between him and the doorway.
He looked at Fatina. She looked at the puppy. The puppy growled at Apuuli. Apuuli looked at him. An eternity passed. It could have been a couple of seconds. Then Apuuli snaked one arm around Fatina’s waist and pulled her back into the house, as he watched, all the blood draining from his body down into his legs, making them feel as heavy as a mature banana stem. “Kale, I thought it was your father, I thought he had caught me this time…” floated out just before the door handle clicked shut.
He closed his eyes. Opened them. Closed them again. Opened them. No, it was still there. The image of Apuuli in his boxer shorts. Damn Apuuli. He didn’t even wear normal underwear like the rest of them! Damn Apuuli and his father’s Bajaj motorcycle. Damn him and his town ways.
The nuzzling of the puppy at his feet is what woke him from his stupor.
He’d picked it up, left through the back gate, leaving it open, and dropped the puppy in front of Kayiwa’s house as he strode through the compound. He walked to the shops, bought 3 sachets of coffee-flavoured gin, sucked them dry then went to sleep. He woke late the next day and walked to town, to the restaurant where his aunt worked as a cleaner, and he asked for a job. Three days later he got the call: He’d been hired as an askari. He bought a bicycle with his first salary.
He didn’t much see Fatina anymore. The gossip was Apuuli had given her kabwotongo. Syphillis. On top of a pregnancy. Mbu her parents had taken her to her grandmother to have it. Apuuli was seen less and less, and never on the bajaj. Someone must have told him his stock had fallen in value in the eyes of the village. It didn’t matter to him now. He had a job. A uniform. And a bicycle. His own bicycle.
Photocredit: Matthias Mugisha, Pearl Eyes Photography