Kyaliwajjala, where I rest my head, is not sparsely populated. It teems with bloggers and journalists and other cool types of people. It teems, in fact, with Victoria. It’s a wonderful area for the most part, if you don’t mention the creepy Zombie Dog or the water supply problems some of the residents are experiencing.
Like other Ugandans in other sections of The Great Dustbowl, some Kyaliwajjalans have jobs in the city or, at the least, in Nakawa. They traverse the prohibitive gap between here and yon by riding, if not in their own nice cars, by riding in taxis.
The rest, of course just hang around the hood smoking reefer and beating their kids none of whom wear pants.
I am one of the productive residents. It is evident. You are reading my produce right now.
I have learnt the tricks to minimising the vast potential for fucking up your whole day that a taxi holds, so when I use one, I always sit in the back. At the window.
I do the same on the way back, because though my day has by now already been completely fucked up by agencies other than taxis , I still do not want to put my night at risk.
Last night, I wedged myself into the narrow space between the back seat and the one before it and proceeded to lose all feeling below the knee as the taxi waited for twelve more sardines to clamber in. Since it wasn’t exactly rush hour, I turned to my solace in times of loneliness: My mobile phone internet.
I facebooked for a while and then the van finally reached capacity and began to trundle Kyali-wards. But that is not what caused me to grasp at my chest and hiss in a personal vernacular of surprise.
It was the woman sitting right in front of me.
There was a woman in front of me talking loudly on the phone. I swear. I could hear every single word. I could even hear the person on the other side.
Now, I am not one of those people who, when they hear another person speak in public, get irked if they cannot see who the person is speaking to. I have no trouble with people using the phones and the airtime they bought, not even if it is MTN, my last post regardless. What struck me about this scenario, or to put it in a way that expresses the strength and violence of its impact, the thing that was totally kicking my ass about this whole scenario was that I recognised the voice.
Of the woman.
In fact, come to think of it, I also knew the bellowing cartoon-gorilla-like voice on the other end of the call.
The woman calling was one of us. A confirmed member of my gang, the Kyali Bloods. She also attends the same bible study and cell group as I do in Kyali. I know her. She lives there when you pass the bodaboda stage then you go down behind muyembe. We usually meet at Mama Abudu in the morning when she has cooked cassava. I even kicked her dog once, when I caught it trying to pee in my compound.
Having established that I totally know this chick, the puzzle I was faced with settled its horns into my already soundly kicked ass. What should I do now?
Of course, the obvious answer would be, tap her shoulder, grin and wave, wait for her to finish speaking to Joe Young on the other end and then proceed to have witty, intelligent, inspiring conversation for the rest of the trip and fuck Facebook.
But there was a problem. I, personally, have experienced this: When you speak to someone who is behind you in a taxi for more than a few minutes, you soon develop a very unpleasant crick in your neck. If the conversation proceeds, this crick stretches down to your back and, unless you stop talking to the person behind you, you will end up telling yourself that you would rather not have this spine if that is the way spines hurt.
I could not ask this woman to undergo such torture just for me. Why should I make her suffer? She has never done me very much harm.
Perhaps what I should do is tap her on the shoulder, grin and wave, exchange minimal pleasantries and then we both return to our respective phones, her lumbar vertebrae remaining intact.
But umm, no. That would suck for me.
Because that would be antisocial and cold and soulless and while I do love all my Facebook friends ( with one exception), I would much rather talk to someone who is going to respond in audible form and in real time. Someone who will actually see, and possibly be alarmed by, and then politely pretend not to notice, how much I move my hands when I speak. I can’t help doing that sometimes. They take on a life of their own, just waving this way and that. Sometimes they don’t even move in time with the story. Sometimes I think I accidentally left work with someone else’s hands and they are trying to escape, so, no. Option two would bum me out.
Do we have an option three?
That ellipsis indicates the next two dozen minutes of our trip as I tried to come up with a third option. During that time this woman, Mukyala Neyiba was still on the phone, I kid you not. How do people go and criticise MTN, when right here in front of me was a full blast of evidence. Ninety-nine per cent y’all!
Soon we got to Wandarand (That is what they call that taxi stage next to Wonderland Inn. People from Kireka, Kyebando, Najjanankumbi, Rubaga etc will get it with no need for elaboration, but I have to spell it out for those toffy-nosed Fauntleroys wussypants richie-poos from Muyenga who won’t even understand why we call that other stage at the Welcome to Kampala sign “Ellokamu”.)
At Wandarand I finally got a plan. And she finally got off the phone and I prepared to execute the plan.
But no, she was not off the phone. She had just put it down to reach into her handbag. And now I shall digress. Why do they call them handbags? Why does the denial persist? I will not be party to this conspiracy of silence. I will call a sack a sack and not a big bag. She reached into her sack to remove the fare she was going to pay the conductor.
I sighed wistfully and thought of the advantages of riding in taxis with people who have large notes.
And then she got right back onto the phone.
“You can talk fo shizzle…” That was all I could hum to myself.
Finally, just when I got to my stage, she hung up. Just when I said, “Maaso awo” and the words floated past her ear and she recognised my distinctive Ganda-boy baritone.
“What? It’s you! Oh, Ssebbo gyebare. Nga tusanyuse etc. All protocol observed!”
“Yo, homegirl!” I responded from a bent posture. “It is I. It has been I all the way from Nakawa. You know, you should always try to sit in the back. That’s where the cool people be,” I said as I pushed my way through the uncouth and subhuman parts of the taxi population, i.e. those I did not know.
“Instead of discussing how the new US president will confront the Gaza conundrum, I was forced to spend the whole trip composing this blog post.”
“It is going to be so exaggerated, isn’t it?”
“Of course,” I said. And by then the van had regurgitated me completely. It sped off. Leaving me to come here and write about how I met her.