My trip back home from Kampala was supposed to be uneventful. But much like my wishes to lose weight by eating double chocolate ice cream for the rest of my life- that went unanswered. I was startled awake by that blasted horn of the bus, which I was certain was some kind of prototype bell meant to summon beings from the deepest furthest reaches of the universe. Where the hell was a No Hooting sign when you needed one? Casting open a bleary eye, I realized that we were parked in a petrol station. The blue night sky cast an eerie glow over the abandoned shops. Although- I think that was the full moon. The night was like a murky velvet curtain, held back by the security lamps of all the little shops assembled around the petrol station. The passenger cabin was flooded with light too. I sat up, opening my other eye that had been reluctant to believe the journey’s sleep had been so rudely interrupted.
Since I had no seatmate, I leaned over the empty seat and asked the fellow on the other side of the aisle where we were and more importantly- why we had stopped in the middle of Nowhere. He was craning his head to witness something at the front. I wasn’t bothered to raise my head to see what the attraction was but he eventually turned to me and told me what was going on.
As it turned out, a drunk commuter had been left behind by the bus he had been using. A matatu had dropped him in Maseno where our bus was supposed to pick him. It seemed a very straight forward procedure. I couldn’t fathom the need for interrupted sleep. Until I heard the yelling. Our bus’ steward was standing at the door, using his foot to disallow a portly fellow from boarding. I joined the bandwagon of craning necks to see what was causing my trip back to Nairobi get so rudely disturbed.
The man was weaving in and out the darkness. Like the nearby shadows were playing a tug of war with the waning lights on the side of the bus. The man had a mouth that that would make a sailor blush. He spouted insult after insult complaining about how his luggage had been locked up in the bus company’s office. The steward, unable to stand for such disrespect had promptly stopped the man from getting on the bus. He swung his foot with the sway of the drunkard. It was one of the most pathetic things I have ever witnessed. When the man noticed that the reason for his lack of entry was his belligerence, he immediately turned tail and started apologizing.
He begged for forgiveness and the forgiveness of his father and grandfather. The driver, seeing what a nuisance he was being, decided to let the man board but the steward wasn’t as kind. He shut the door in the man’s face, nearly clipping his fingers when he had held on to the rung. On seeing the bus was about to depart without him, he darted in front of the bus. It was a very awkward mimicking game. Every time the bus turned, he would run and stand in front of it. Could he not take a hint? It got so annoying that some passengers heartlessly called out for his running over. I was of the heartless camp. But our scorned steward had something better in mind. He alighted carrying a box and suddenly started pelting the interloper with bottles of water. They were empty- I confirmed when we were finally on our way, crushing the bottles under-wheel, and leaving an inebriated man lying in the gutter probably contemplating about how he was bested by two types of bottles.
As we proceeded on with one last blast of that blasted horn, I couldn’t help but wonder, what would drive a man to be that drunk on a road trip at 3 o’clock in the morning? Is it a lack of self-respect? A bus company that isn’t as strict as their No Smoking stickers would otherwise suggest? Does he have that many problems? I couldn’t sympathize though. I got 99 problems but drunk traveling isn’t one of them. Does the man have no keeper? Or was that night so bad for him that he couldn’t help but drain a Mututho-defying bar’s last stock of Konyagi?
After visiting my family, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of rightness. Trips to Kampala are never long enough. Then again, when you’re a struggling 24 year old going to visit Daddy, the days of paid for meals are just never enough. My trip in Kampala made me mellow. As though I was crashing from a sugar rush like a baby. But that horn had made me momentarily forget how beautiful my trip was. Especially the beginning of the return trip.
The bus was late for departure by 12 minutes. But I wasn’t one to judge since my “be there in an hour” roughly translates to two and a half hours. As we crawled out of the city center, I marveled at the beauty of the city in the dusk. Car beams, building and street lights were like patterns in a kaleidoscope. The jam, as maddening as any Nairobi traffic craze- but not unwelcome, allowed me to imbibe it all.
Kampala’s hills- the ones I could see- lazily rose from their outcrops. Their rows of lights blinking on their darkened earths. They made me think of fireflies and shooting stars. An orange moon hung close to the planet, following our progress with a jaundiced eye. It gave everything a dull haze. It reminded me of sleepy time- the peaceful moment just before I blacked out desperately trying to convince my mother I could keep up with the adults for five more minutes. After following the lulling traffic for a while, our driver decided to detour and join a murram road that was supposed to take us to Mukono a lot faster.
It may have been but that’s not how it felt. Since buses don’t have the suspension out of a luxury SUV, it felt like I was sitting inside a jack hammer. With a worn cushion for comfort. Kampala’s signature red dust flooded the cabin making everything appear a copperish red. I’ll admit I was glad to know that it wasn’t blood in my eyes.
Residential businesses were still sparking with life. In Nairobi’s such areas, you would find Mama Mbogas, kiosks, smokie vendors etc. In Kampala, they have vendors of chicken-on-a-stick where half a chicken is skewered on a stick like a kebab then roasted on an open flame. They also have smoked sausages, actual beef, pork and small birds which were also skewered on a stick like a kebab and roasted on an open flame. I didn’t ask what the small birds were though. I don’t think I would like any of the answers.
Eventually we made it out of the fog of dust and arrived at Mukono. There we joined the line of vehicles dutifully making their pilgrimage out of the town and going home after a hard day’s work. And I felt like a part of them. After a hard holiday’s partying, I slept in, got drunk, had a 24 hour hangover, met Americans, made friends with a very exotic Ugandan Uber driver, got my toes sniffed by a dog and most importantly- partook in the creation (by watching mostly) of Uganda’s greatest gift to the world- Luwombo[i]. As a holiday, it was damn near perfect. How was yours?
[i] Meal prepared using banana leaves as the receptacle