RUNNING FROM THE PAST
OSpecial Correspondent n the most important day in your life, you know when you open your eyes in the morning. Bisomba awoke to darkness and then he remembered. He had to be at the Shell Petrol Station stage by 5:30am or else he would miss the staff shuttle to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
This morning was going to be his first morning on the staff shuttle as a member of staff; with an ID, a contract signed, his bank account in the system and his National Social Security Fund benefits coming in. The process had taken three months but he had persevered.
Tugume had talked him into staying the course when he was fed up, “Private sector is a lot of money now, but government is money for life.”
He was hungry, without money, when Tugume told him that. He had spent much of that day shepherding interns in the immigration branch; in particular, the son of a minister who spent more time looking down at his phone than listening to what Bisomba had been told to teach the second-year university students.
He was in Tugume’s accounts office to request a loan, for the second month running. He was unpaid after two months labour because the Permanent Secretary in the ministry had not yet found time to sign off his salary access authorisation forms.
Tugume had talked him into staying. He was glad he had listened. He skipped his morning cup of black tea, eyes continually glancing at the wall clock over the Panasonic TV. He did not want to be late with a minute.
He had never walked through Namugongo so early in the morning. He had moved here a month after the job with the ministry was confirmed. Everyone had urged him, “Pay a little more because you are paying for security.” This is how he had ended up in this two room house less a kilometre from the Namugongo road to the Martyrs Shrine.
But to get to that road, because the gate of the estate where he now lived faced away from the road, he had to walk round the wall at the back.
The narrow road from their estate was sometimes lit, sometimes not. This depended on whether the people living in the house closest to the gate had left their security lights on or not. Their whims were unpredictable and on this morning they had not left the lights on. Bisomba knew he could not go back to wait for daylight. He had to walk through as fast as he could to get to the road.
He had not been walking more than two minutes when he clearly heard hurrying footsteps behind him.
As he had closed the estate gate behind him, he had shot a quick glance up and down the narrow road and seen no one. There were even no lights on in any of the houses across the road from their estate to suggest anyone was up as early as he was. Now someone was following him!
He did not dare look behind him. He increased his pace, walking quickly but not breaking into a run. Once the road, he could run. Run for Shell.
His heart was in his mouth, panting. The footsteps were not any further away but also not any closer. He slung his laptop bag belt over his shoulder and snapped it tight. He tried to keep his mouth shut so he did not tire so fast.
Telling himself, “If they order me to stop, I will run!”
He was not going to let what had happened four years ago happen to him again.
“Help yourself and don’t fight!” the voice behind him had snarled, “Give me your wallet, your phone and your bag and go, if you want to live.”
The passage had been so narrow Bisomba could not turn around to see who was ordering him to hand over his property. The voice sounded rough and deep like from a man who was very tall, brawny and used to carrying sisal sacks of charcoal and fights.
At the time, Bisomba did not think he could give up his wallet or his phone or that bag. No, he would not give up that bag even if it was Goliath the giant of the Bible himself demanding for it.
That bag… No, he could not give up that bag. He had walked faster! He wanted to run but he had heard that when you ran is when robbers pounced. They knew you were afraid! He might trip. The path in the passage was not even. The ground could fall away suddenly and then rise again. In the day, when he often used this passage, he stumbled if he was not paying attention to where he was putting his feet.
But how he had liked this passage! This used to be the best short cut from Kalerwe Market to Mawanda road without having to risk his life jumping away whenever boda bodas swerved into the jam of pedestrians from hurtling vehicles on the main road in the busy evening.
Once on Mawanda Road, 500 metres and he was home. His way lit by the headlamps of cars in slow moving traffic at 9pm, driving down the road into the Kalerwe he had come up from. That day had been late but Tugume had kept him waiting for the laptop until he finished his Farmville game. The laptop was now in his bag. The bag the thug wanted.
The passageway was long and narrow. Two people could not walk shoulder to shoulder in it. On one side was the high wall fence of Future Leaders Primary School and on the other the wall of Take a Chance Betting House. He wished he had turned on his phone flashlight because he could not see where his feet were stepping as the man behind him quickened his pace!
Then they were not alone. He could not see the face of the man who was coming toward him. He was wearing a hooded jacket and his head was lowered, his hands jammed in the pockets of his black jacket. Bisomba hoped he was just a foot path where like himself. As they came closer to each other. That hope dropped into the bottomless cold well of fear in his heart as the man barked, when they were in arm’s length of each other, “Mukwatte! Get him!”
An arm was around his throat. A voice spitting into his ear, “If you want to live, don’t fight!” But he could not help himself. He tried to pry the arm from around his neck. He did not want to be strangled but that is when the grip tightened. Making him more desperate. His feet were kicked out from under him. He did not know where they went. In his ear the man behind him was grunting and crushing, “Stupid boy! Why are you fighting?” The sky, black with stars, was above him.
He could not get up. A knee was upon his chest pressing down hard. he could not breathe. A calloused hand grinding his left cheek into the earth until he feared it would pass through. A second voice commanding, “Don’t look at me! Don’t!”
He woke up without his shoes, his jacket, his wallet, his phone and the bag. But that was not what was on his mind when the piercing torch of a humble Tecno first shone on him returning him to this world. His hurting head was, the voice he could not find, the paralysis in his limbs being shaken back to himself by the concerned growing voices around him. He was telling himself, while his lost voice travelled from underneath his crushed ribs where it had sought refuge, “I will never let this happen again.”
Bisomba started running! Running for his life, running to save his laptop, running never to be robbed again, running towards Shell Petrol Station and the life he wanted. The footsteps behind him did not break into a run to catch up with him. To tackle him and dispossess him of all he had on him. They halted completely.
The owner of the footsteps stopped to consider what had just happened. Neighbour thought she was a thief. She started to laugh. She had frightened a man into a sprint.