I was just minding my mouth eating a samosa when I saw them. I slowed down as I inched closer to the roundabout and the traffic lights turned red. The rest of the cars ground to a halt and they, like majestic bees scanning which flower has the sweetest nectar, started towards us.
I watched them huddle near windows of cars ahead of me. I saw them knocking on the windows gently, insistently, and stretching out their hands to the man or woman on the wheel.
Knock, look the driver in the eyes, and stretch out your hand or both. It is a pattern. The rhythm rings in the head.
I was too busy chewing and watching the spectacle that I didn’t see him approach.
Auntie, mpa kikumi. Auntie…
I swear I didn’t have the Shs100 he was asking for.
When I set out for a meeting in town that morning, Shs10,000 was the only cash that stood between me and brokiasis (the highest point of brokeness, according to an important person at Makerere as he briefed us on reckless spending one afternoon in 2006).
Since there was no parking space at my meeting place, I drove to the National Theatre for relatively safe parking. I wouldn’t have to worry about someone harvesting the body parts of my car if I’d parked on Musisi’s roadside parking lot.
Problem is, by the time my meeting ended, the parking machine alleged I owe it Shs8,000. Not that I was surprised (the parking here is pocket unfriendly), my only beef was that the meeting encroached on my lunch time and my purse was gloomy.
With Shs2,000 left, I bought two samosas and two bananas and started back to office. I was enjoying my lunch until this boy (of about 10 years old) happened.
Auntie, mpa kikumi. Auntie…
I turned to look at him properly and said, I don’t have money, with my hands. He gave me that I don’t believe you look, and I think I replied with my eyes too; I swear, I don’t have money. Then his eyes landed on my lunch which was on the co-driver’s seat. Damn!
He asked for it.
I looked at the lights and they had turned green. Phew! But no car was moving. The traffic cops must have decided we won’t follow the lights after all. Their whistle and swinging hands would direct us on when to move.
I turned to look at the boy, standing there, tapping at my window as hunger tapped on the walls of my stomach.
‘I am hungry,’ he said and added a don’t be so mean reprimand with his eyes.
I picked the remaining samosa and banana and gave him.
He smiled, said a thank you and quickly hid the eats under his shirt (away from the prying eyes of other ‘give me Shs100’ girls and boys, men and women).
By the time the cars on my side of the road was flagged off, my fuel gauge was blinking a warning. There was Shell fuel station right across the road but my purse was blinking red. Kyaba too much for this dream of ‘midro (read middle) income status!
Then I remembered what my friend Rosie (or was it Jackie) said, that even if the gauge starts warning, it doesn’t mean fuel is completely done. “See that last bar with an E? Yes, as long as the thingie isn’t on the E, don’t worry.”
But as I approached Kabalagala, I couldn’t shake off the discomfort that the car could just die for me in traffic jam. I turned off to Shell fuel station where an ATM was (thankfully) located. The savings account will have to be invaded today.
The security guard manning the place smiled at me broadly, followed by an elaborate greeting and a joke. It felt good, relaxing my sulking stomach muscles with a good laugh. I didn’t know I would pay for that laugh.
When I was done withdrawing money, the guard, in between goodbyes and a smile said, madam, something small for lunch. I gave him lunch and reversed the car to a fueling point. When I was done, I looked for a parking spot so I could buy proper lunch (not really proper because junk makes me sick, literally, and I had long gotten over the excitement of KFC).
I was almost done parking when another security guard appeared and started directing me on how far back I should reverse. She smiled and gave me a thumbs up when I was done.
About 10 minutes later, I walked out of KFC with my junk lunch and was ready to go earn my pay for the remaining part of the day. As the car roared to life, the security guard appeared from nowhere, walked casually towards me and smiled. Usually, that is a sign for you to smile back, roll down your car window, call them over, and press a note of Shs1,000, Shs2,000 or whatever amount, in their hands.
I smiled back and drove off!