I love going places but I hate being in transit, if that makes any sense. Even the trips that I make frequently, like Kampala-Gulu, Gulu-Kampala annoy the hell out of me with their cramped buses and often times rather intrusive passengers. For, for every one passenger you exchange numbers at the end of the journey and plan to hang out with there four or five others that you wish you could hire a hit man to have them shot. Over the years I’ve been puked on by babies, shat on by chickens, rained on by motormouths and crushed by obese, smelly women who spend four hours out of six screaming into their phone in a mixture of fluent Acholi, competent Luganda and broken English.
Now, although yesterday wasn’t as bad as any of those, it was still kind of a little annoying. Thank God I didn’t have to sit through that for the entire ride.
So I’m sitting there, waiting for the bus to fill up, sitting in the isle seat so I would be able to stretch out my leg during the journey when a woman, probably in her early to mid twenties asked me if the seat next to me was taken. I shaking my head I told her, “No, it’s free.” and got up to let her sit at the window.
She was tall, almost my height with short, red texturized hair and black thick-rimmed glasses. She was attractive, if not necessarily pretty. She was wearing a yellow, low cut, sleeveless top and tight blue jeans that hugged her ample hips and thighs.
We sat down and although it was only about three quarters of the way full a few minutes later the bus was putting tarmac under tire and we were off.
Phillips head phones, music turned all the way up, SZA’s new album “Z”. Thirty seconds into the third song I felt a tap on my shoulder. I removed the head phones, “Yeah?”
“Where are you reaching?”
“Huh. OK. Where do you stay in Kampala?”
“Bukoto.” I lied. I wasn’t about to tell this complete stranger where I lived.
“Bukoto?” She repeated, this time as a question. It was like she knew I was lying.
“Bukoto.” I confirmed.
This was where I was supposed to ask her where she was reaching, where she lived. I put my headphones back on. No thank you.
A few minutes later, another tap.
“You work in Gulu?”
“No. I was visiting family.”
“You’re an Acholi?”
“Really? You don’t look.”
Instead of responding to this I stood up, reached into the overhead baggage compartment, dug into my bag, pulled out my Kindle and sat back down. If she didn’t get the hint this time, I didn’t know if she would at all.
I turned it on and began to read. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso’s double António Claro was telling him that he was going to go away with Tertuliano Máximo Afonso’s fiance and sleep with her as a form of revenge for the intrusion of his life that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso had caused and there was nothing that Tertuliano Máximo Afonso could do about it. But there was you see. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso resolved to himself right there and then that after Antonio Claro had escaped the city limits with Maria De Paz he would in turn assume the identity of Antonio Claro and sleep with his wife. Tit for tat. An eye for an eye and all of that.
“But I don’t get what is happening. What is it that you are reading?”
I gave the woman a sidelong glance. Was this chick being serious right now? What the hell was her problem? Why couldn’t she just leave me alone? Didn’t she get that I didn’t want to talk?
I took a deep breath to calm myself.
“It’s a novel about a man who finds out there is someone who looks exactly like him living in the same city.”
The woman leaned closer as if for further explanation. I didn’t give her one. Instead I said,
“Now if you don’t mind I would really like to read this.”
And the headphones came back on. And I really thought that would be the end of it. I really did. I really, really did. I was wrong.
Maybe fifteen, twenty minutes passed without any disturbance. I was about to finish the book, I could feel it, the book that had been on a tortoise like pace from the very first page had suddenly revved it up to hare and was sprinting towards the finish line. And then, tap-tap-tap.
“Yes?” This time I didn’t try to mask my growing agitation.
“I have an idea.”
“Why don’t you get off with me in Bweyale & then go to Kampala tomorrow. It would be fun.”
It took me a moment to process what she was saying. And then, once I did I was in complete shock. Was? She? Being? For real? She didn’t even know my name. What kind of woman propositioned a man who they know completely nothing about? Wait, I take that back, stranger things have happened. Stranger things have happened to me. Stranger things have happened to me on a bus. I think I had just forgotten how things could be sometimes. In my earlier days maybe, I would have taken her up on her offer. If nothing but to have a story to tell the boys. It would have been one hell of a story. Not anymore though.
“No.” I told her. I did a pretty good job of covering up my surprise and disgust I think. “I have to get back to Kampala today.”
“Then we can just take a couple of hours and then you can proceed.”
If there was any doubt as to what she was suggesting, there wasn’t any more.
“Still no. I have a girlfriend I have to get back to.”
That shut her up real quick. She didn’t say another word until she was getting up to get off the bus nearly half an hour later.
“Have a safe journey.” she said after pulling down her luggage from the overhead compartment.
I nodded but said nothing.
I watched as she climbed off the bus and standing with her back to me signaled for a Boda.
In another life, I told myself. Just not this one.
Slipping my headphones on I pressed play and dug back into my book. Three and half more hours to go.
Written by L.A. Lutara.