II – Do it now or do it later

His name is Henry. He’s about 5’ 2”, but he has a way of walking, bouncing really, that makes him seem much taller. He’s wearing a faded blue checked shirt, rolled up to the sleeves. His collar is frayed and the shirt is missing the top and bottom buttons. His shorts are denim, cut roughly just below the knee. His dusty feet are clad in battered ‘Bidco’ plastic shoes – the knock off version of your Crocs.

He’s sitting on the step that leads into his one room tenement, what you call a ‘muzigo’. His, the last one on the right, is one of a line of 6 mizigo. They stand at a right angle to a larger block of 4, two roomed mizigo. From where he’s seated he can just make out the images on Isabirye’s television, through the open door of No. 2. That’s another thing, the bigger rooms have electricity and his do not. When he makes enough money to buy a radio, he reckons he’ll have enough to move up in the world, into the muzigo with electricity. He keeps bouncing his clenched right fist off his knee.

Henry is in town – well actually, a trading centre on the outskirts of this upcountry town – because he run away from the village. He left his village as soon as the news of Hellen’s pregnancy became public. When he first arrived here he convinced himself that he’d make enough money to support her, maybe even send for her to join him. He pretended that they could become a family, in the bright two-roomed mizigo. Now weeks have become months, and he doesn’t even know if Hellen had the baby. No one knows where he is. He knows that. He rode off on his dad’s bicycle, just threw a few things in his school bag and left. He has since sold the bicycle. He bought a mattress, 2 inches thick, a basin, some NICE plastic plates and cups. Paid rent. Which is Ush 20,000 a month.

He got a job on a Mugaga’s construction site. The ‘Mugaga’ is the rich man paying for the construction work. Henry is a porter. He mixes the cement, sand and water and delivers the mortar to the masons. When the masons need more bricks, Henry delivers them. He is also responsible for cleaning up the site. Things like broken bricks and spilt mortar. The Mugaga doesn’t like to find that sort of thing. Says it’s wastage. Henry sees the Mugaga arrive in his car sometimes, usually as they’re winding up for the day and he’s cleaning up and putting the tools away for the night. The Mugaga noticed him once and spoke to him. Gave him Ush 5,000. Henry hoped it would lead to something more. Maybe a better job. He hoped the Mugaga had seen the promise in him. But he hasn’t spoken to him since then.

Working on the site is hard. Especially now that its’ been raining. All the heavy lifting, and now working in the rain, is hurting his chest. He has been coughing for a week. His daily wage does not cover medical bills. He bought some tablets at the health centre. The nurse there is kind to him, treats him like a mother would. She’s the only person who has asked after his family in the six months he has been here.

He misses his family. He misses his siblings. He wonders what they say about him now. When he left, his younger brother Fred was preparing to sit his Primary Leaving Examination. His parents always told Fred to be like Henry. To read hard and go to secondary school like Henry. He misses secondary school. He only had a year to go to finish his ‘O’ Levels. Sometimes he hated school but now he mostly misses it. He misses Hellen too but wouldn’t admit it to anyone.

Back then he made it seem like if she didn’t prove she loved him he’d walk away. He knows now he wouldn’t have walked away. If she’d stood her ground, he probably would have waited. Sometimes he wonders why he pushed her to choose to do it then? Why then when they could have done it later?

There’s no point thinking about that now. He has a more important question to deal with right now. Which is how to spend the Ush 500 coin clenched in his right fist. Should he buy a chapatti now and go to sleep on a full stomach or, should he buy it in the morning and start work on a full stomach?