The East African - - MAGAZINE -

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.

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