Mama Lita resisted the urge to cap her nose. She instead held her breath, as her ‘jajas’ had taught her. The taxi hauled along the bumpy road, almost in a zigzag manner as the driver did his best to dodge the harassment of the potholes. The taxi conductor, with whom she sat nearest stank of a week’s unwashed body. His wrinkled brown shirt emitted a pungent stench of alcohol mixed with sweat. His head, harboured spiky hair which stood out, like thorns. Save his new Rolex watch, he would have gone for a madman.
‘The girl is cheating.’ cried the conductor. The driver looked at the girl’s maturing breasts, hidden by a dirty top. ‘Leave her.’ he barked
On the opposite lane, a millipede of cars mostly filthy taxis stood. On either side of the road, tall flats for arcades and malls stood alongside bars, shopping malls, and supermarkets that make up the modern part of Nakawa. The early morning chill did not deter bee hives of workers from moving in all kinds of directions.
Today, the harvest must be plenty, the woman in her early fifties mused. She had woken up earlier than most days and she was sure, she would catch the worm.
‘Mumaaso awoo!’ cried a voice from behind the taxi. This cry was followed by a deafening ‘HALT!’ from the conductor. The taxi parked to the side, almost near the sewage clad trench.
‘It’s shs. 2500 nnyabo-’ said the conductor after the young lady had alighted. She eyed him imploringly, like a sick child. ‘Add shs. 500.’ continued the voice.
Mama Lita looked at the girl. She was barely twenty. She thought. The girl carried an old diminutive handbag on her shoulder. Her black skirt and pink top were of faded colours, both stained with a smear of ‘masanda’ here and there. Her face bore the signature of the goddess of misery. She could be a cook somewhere, she thought.
‘It’s all I have.’ Was the girl’s reply ‘Please have… ’ She was cut short by the impatient signal from the conductor. ‘Is this your mother’s taxi?’ he laughed devilishly, like one of those laughs a demon administered to a saint in a horror movie.
The passengers looked on like a gathering of mourners. Other taxis blew their horns to attract clients. Once, a couple of samosa hawkers came and disappeared. The conductor’s lean arm was outstretched, like a beggar toward the girl.
The driver, who had been busy admiring the inadequately dressed women hurrying to work on the other side of the road turned, obviously perplexed about why they were not proceeding. ‘What’s the matter?’ his voice rang out like the sound of an empty tin among equally louder noises.
‘The girl is cheating.’ cried the conductor. The driver looked at the girl’s maturing breasts, hidden by a dirty top. ‘Leave her.’ he barked. ‘Get in!’ and started the engine. The conductor sulked, like a child, who had been denied access to what is his.
The bumpy ride continued until Mama Lita sighted a brown dusty road that broke off the pothole clad marram. She signalled to the conductor to stop on the road. Handing him the fare, she alighted and immediately breathed in enormous gulps of the fresh air. She then proceeded to walk between the wooden stalls of chapatti sellers, mobile money cubicles, wooden restaurants, tiny shops and boutiques dealing in all kinds of second hand laundry. She passed a movie library, whose sign post, in bold black letters read ‘We sell Nigerian movies, action, thrillers and Hollas.’ Although she hadn’t made it too far in the scramble for educational exploits, she knew ‘Hollas’ was supposed to be Horrors. Her shop was directly beside this on the right. It was one of the three shops that stood on the old business building. Other shops were closed and this lifted her spirits. Yes, today, the harvest must be plenty. She would pay off one or two of her creditors.
Mr. Adupa, one of her creditors had called the other day to inform her he was coming today to collect his balance of the loan. She would pay him, she thought with her meagre savings and some from the shop. The man had waited long enough and asking for a deadline extension would be impolite.
The shop was a diminutive enclosure painted with all kinds of artificial edibles. Biscuits, mandaazi, bread, daddies, and simsim. Other things she sold included a couple of squeezers, a dozen brooms, and home groceries. A senile fridge, covered by a fading white and a million tiny black scratches reminded one of a mal-treated zebra.
‘Give me plastic soda for 1000.’ A customer would interrupt her cooking, trying to make bushera. She would occasionally stop to watch the road before her, on which a hundred boda bodas slashed, the hurrying bodies of well-dressed men, women, and children pass by. Hawkers would also pass by, shouting what they sold, bicycles were pushed, carrying different luggage by filthy men. Oh, this was Kampala!
She had served ten customers when the sun started rising, like an eye slowly freeing itself from slumber. Its rays struggled to reach her, like little beggars but only managed to pierce through the tiny holes in the roof. It reminded her of her two daughters. Though she had only educated them as far as senior four, they were her hope. Perhaps, if her prayers were heard, she would take them back to school.
The bushera was ready. She could see the thick brown liquid swelling rapidly over the charcoal heat. She poured it all in a huge flask, snatched her phone out of her old handbag, which reminded her of the shs 500 fare defaulter. ’It’s time. You are not here yet?’ Mama Lita asked, puzzled.
The money is gone.’ Mama Lita wept suddenly. She suddenly broke into a river of tears behind the counter.
‘We are coming.’ was the eager voice of her beautiful Lita.
‘Make it snappy!’
Mama Lita relaxed. It was nine thirty. The sun, as though in hurry to reach the other end grew hotter. The road and the shops became flooded with people of all kinds. She sat musing to herself how, single handedly against all odds raised her daughters when suddenly, she noticed a white double cabin pull up near her shop.
‘Jesus!’ she burst ‘He has come too early!’
From the car, emerged a black man dressed in a suit, except for a tie. He was bald, had a broad forehead, white luminous eyes, a young moustache and a disappearing nose. He entered the shop, in which he was gifted with a seat and a mug of bushera. After the formal greetings, Mr. Adupa leaned forward.
‘Have you got the money?’
‘Only some of it.’
The man nodded, almost angrily. ‘I can’t come all the way from Mukono to be insulted by a penniless woman.’ he said.
‘You came too early.’ The panicking woman pointed out.
‘Early?’ cried the man. ‘You expected me in the evening?’ he laughed loudly, like a ghost. ‘You are an old hag my dear.’
The insult made her wince inwardly. A customer asked for a couple of mandaazi and fled. ‘What of that drawer?’ Mr. Adupa asked, eyeing it with a salivating dog’s eye.
‘I have just started.’ begged the woman.
Outside, Lita and Nukwita hid behind the door and listened keenly, like spies. ‘Mama is in trouble.’ whispered Lita, the eldest. Nukwita nodded. They withdrew to hide and debated between themselves what to do to help their mother. It was impossible for them to borrow money as this would lead to other woes. A negotiation seemed impossible. While pondering on this, they caught sight of Mr. Adupa moving out the shop, his pockets had swollen and appeared to be satisfied.
‘When the white car had gone, the two resolved to work, in order to help their mother maintain her respect and dignity.
She wore a gloomy face when the girls entered. She did not respond to their greetings but made to serve them breakfast. ‘No mama. I will do it.’ Lita pleaded. She poured the brown hot liquid into three mugs.
‘The money is gone.’ Mama Lita wept suddenly. She suddenly broke into a river of tears behind the counter. She was unseen to the customers. Lita put her arms around her mother. ‘It will all be well,’ she wiped away her own tears as seeing the poor man cry made her heart burn. Nukwita also joined in and all wept like young triplets.
‘How?’ cried the woman hopelessly.
‘We shall work.’ said Lita.
Suddenly, their mother became serious and looked at them with her wide eyes. ‘What work?’
‘I could be a waitress at Tasty restaurant. In fact I am scheduled for an interview next week.’
You did not tell me about that.’ complained Lita.
‘You wouldn’t approve.’ returned the other.
‘Well, I could also open up a chicken and chips stall.’ probed Lita. ‘It’s lucrative!’
‘No!’ the strong voice of Mama Lita silenced them. ‘Lita, it is too dangerous.’ she broke the resulting silence gently. She held the girl’s hand delicately and continued. ‘Do you remember’ she said ‘Akiiki?’ Lita fell silent. Her eyes wandered to Nukwita who was serving the customers. ‘Do you remember?’ her mother repeated.
‘I do.’ came the reply. ‘I do!’
‘I do not want what happened to her to befall you.’
‘It won’t.’ Lita assured her. ‘I can take care of myself.’
Apparently, in their neighbourhood, the alarming story of Akiiki terrified everyone. Akiiki had been their neighbour just nineteen, only a few months ago. She used to fry and sell chips along the busy roads in town till midnight. It was rumoured that in one of her business days, she had been kidnapped, gang raped and later on, her mutilated body was found dumped intron of her poor mother’s house. The old woman had cursed the dreaded kifeesi which was well known to treat girls in this manner.
‘I can take care of myself.’ said lita.
‘We’ interposed Nukwita. ‘We heard Mr. Adupa.’
Mama Lita’s eyes widened. ‘We shan’t let you endure this shame when we can eliminate it.’
Their mother seemed defeated. She told them to do what they wished, but cautioned them. ‘Be careful very careful.’
‘We shall!’ cried the girls relieved.
Mama Lita reached for her handbag from which she retrieved a black kaveera. She handed it to Lita. ‘Open it.’ she said.
The girls felt its contents suspiciously and proceeded to open it. It contained a couple of 50,000 shillings notes and five 5,000 shillings notes. ‘your capital.’ she said
‘Oh! Good mother. Oh! Good mother.’ Lita hugged the woman tightly.
‘I shall start tomorrow.’
To be continued
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