Okurut looked up from his watch and stared at the sky. The sun was particularly hot today, he thought. There hadn’t been a drop of rain in weeks and the weather people who normally gave updates after news on the television didn’t know what they were saying any more.
He pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his face and examined it. The green and white checkered hankie was damp and grimy. It had been a long, long day, but he was finally at the end. He looked at the manila envelopes in his hands.
Three more to go, he thought. Three more and he can call it a day.
Suddenly, a large entourage of boda-bodas appeared out of nowhere, riders shouting and blaring their horns. A smartly dressed gentleman near him stopped one of them and asked what was going on.
“Besigye has been arrested!” The visibly excited boda-boda man replied, in a mix of joy and what could only be worry, while revving his engine loudly.
“Why?” the gentleman asked.
A small crowd had gathered around them as more boda-bodas came cruising around the bend, heading towards the city. Okurut drew closer. He didn’t have much time to waste, but, as a strong Besigye fan, this was interesting news.
“I don’t know, but he was supposed to be campaigning around Nakivubo! We’re going to Kiira Road Police Station now! Come! Come! We go!”
Two people, including the gentleman jumped onto the bike and they sped off, horns tooting loudly as they joined the horde of boda-boda riders.
Okurut shook his head and continued his slow walk, adjusting the collection of manila envelopes under his arm.
Focus, he told himself. Focus.
5:22PM. Railway Yard, Jinja Road.
Finally, some shade, Okurut thought. He sat down in the greenest place he could find. He idly mused how the Friday crafts market had significantly reduced the amount of green in that particular spot. At least the tree was still there.
He opened his kaveera and pulled out another smaller kaveera of water and a large donut. Sticking a straw into the water kaveera, he drank deeply and proceeded to silently eat his lunch.
His manila envelopes were gone; he had successfully made all the scheduled deliveries for the day. The last one had been particularly harrowing because the receptionist had refused to touch it because, somehow, his sweat had reached the manila. She told him to first “go and sort himself out”. He had then walked out of the building, searched until he found a street vendor who had miraculously survived KCCA’s enforcement and bought a fresh manila envelope. He then took the time to rest a little, wiping the sweat from his forehead and his armpits and waiting out by the streets while both he and the papers in the manila envelope dried a little. Thankfully, the receptionist accepted them this time, but the way she held them, you’d think her perfectly pink pedicure and well-oiled hands were in danger of being poisoned.
He rifled through his pockets and brought out a bunch of keys and a small brown wrinkled envelope, folded several times. Unfurling it carefully, he poured the contents in his hands and examined them slowly.
Two thousand three hundred shillings. He did some quick maths, sighed heavily and putting the envelope and its contents back in his pocket, stood up and walked back to the road.
No taxis for me today, he thought. Again. He was running late, but surely Carol… Maama Peace… would understand. He wasn’t sure if little Peace would understand, though. She always waited for Daddy to come home before she would allow to go to sleep. For the kind of odd reason only a child would know, Peace, his darling little Peace, loved the stories about his life growing up in Soroti; the Christmas dancing as children, the visits by rich uncles who owned cars that all the kids – him always leading – would chase into and out of the village. The long hunting trips to catch a few birds and wild animals. She clapped her hands with glee every time he told the story of the rabbit that got away.
He smiled. Another two hours and he’d be home. Peace would be waiting for her stories and Carol would have something hot for him to eat and he could take a much needed shower.
Okurut looked at his watch again. It was getting dark and he could barely see the display. A quick press and the screen of the disco watch lit up. 6:33PM.
He decided to take a short-cut. He wasn’t too fond of it, especially at this time, but he was a little too tired to care. He just wanted to reach home and see his beautiful wife and daughter. The thought of the smile on their faces spurred him on and he started walking a little faster.
He approached the bend towards the panya that would finally lead him home, and suddenly, car stopped slightly ahead of him. As he passed it, two men got out from the back-seat and started following him.
“Excuse me!” One of them called out.
Okurut ignored them, and kept walking, increasing his pace slightly.
He stopped and turned around.
“Jasper!” He sighed with relief as he recognized one of the men.
“Okurut. How are you my friend. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
Okurut looked towards the junction, looked at his watch and nodding, walked back towards Jasper and the other man.
Carol cleared the plates and cup from the small table infront of Okurut as he leaned back on the chair, running his tongue across his teeth, seeking out remnants of the angara fish stuck between his teeth.
“But my baby! Have I told you that your angara is the best in the whole country? The whole country, I tell you.”
Carol refused to laugh. She knew what he was doing. She was still mad at him for coming home so late. She had been incredibly scared and had gone around the neighbourhood borrowing phones from her friends in order to call him. But Okurut’s phone had been uncharacteristically off .
Okurut was always home by 7:30PM and always answered when she called. He had even saved the numbers of her closest friends in his phone just in case she called.
She started crying when she saw that it was past midnight. Peace had finally stopped asking questions and – for the first time in her three short years – had fallen asleep without seeing Daddy.
But Carol was frightened. She had talked to everyone she could find who would listen. Something had happened to her man, she insisted. Maybe an accident, maybe he go caught up in those town things of Besigye’s arrest. He liked Besigye too much and sometimes couldn’t control himself. Relax, her friends had told her. Relax, his friends had told her. He was fine. Maybe he got delayed somewhere. But until this time, she retorted. Maybe it was another woman, she heard them whispering. Not my Okurut, she screamed, in her head. Not my Okurut, she mumbled. Not my Okurut. Not my Okurut. Please come home. Please come h…
The knock came at around 1:35AM and it pulled her violently out of her restless sleep. She hurriedly opened the door.
Okurut. Her darling, handsome Okurut. She was so happy to see him, but turned away in anger as soon as he smiled.
Now, an hour and a half later, he was still trying to get her to smile. Or talk, at least.
“Darling. First come and we talk. We shall wash the things tomorrow.” His voice sounded serious now and she felt a lump in her throat.
She joined him on the chair, and he took her hands in his. He looked around the house, deep in thought, and the lump in her throat turned into a painful squeeze in her stomach.
Theirs was a simple life. And she was happy. Please don’t let anything change that, she silently prayed. Please.
They had met in the neighbourhood, six years ago, a few months after he had moved into the muzigo where they were staying right now. She was a Kampala girl, with no education beyond A’ Level. He was fresh from Soroti, studying at MUK and pursuing a Business Administration diploma, while doing odd jobs on the side. It wasn’t love at first sight, she wouldn’t lie, even to herself. But he had pursued and something about his relentlessness had attracted her to him. She got pregnant shortly after they started spending time together. Her mother, who had raised her single-handedly, didn’t really care, she had enough problems of her own, so Carol moved in with Okurut after a few months.
The house was okay. A simple one room muzigo, with a curtain dividing the “sitting room” from the bedroom. It was sparsely furnished; the sitting room had just the two-seater sofa they had saved for for a year and which was bought second-hand ( from Mustafa’s First Class Furniture at Mulago Kubbiri Stage, dealers in only the finest furniture in Kampala). In the corner to the left was a small paraffin stove and next to it stood a short shelf, stacked with plastic plates, saucepans and small basin for washing hands and dishes. In-front of the sofa was a small 15″ Black and White Pioneer TV that had somehow defied time itself. It was a graduation gift from Uncle Ejakol back in Soroti who had kindly taken Okurut in – after his dad passed away – twenty odd years ago.
Above the TV was a family portrait taken a few months after Peace was born – at a studio, Frank Kato’s Bwaise Super Computer Experts which also sold movies, produced (and stole) music, made photocopies and could arrange for you a visa if you wanted, but no warranties. In the photo, Peace was asleep in her mother’s arm while Okurut had his arms around both of them, smiling at Carol, who was leaning her head against his shoulder.
Theirs was a simple life.
Carol looked anxiously at Okurut and with a deep sigh, he finally looked back at her.
“I met Jasper today.”
“Jasper? That muyaaye!”
“Alo. Calm down.”
She glowered at him.
“I met him today, just there at the junction. And he was with another man, very short and very fat. I didn’t know him, but his watch was nice. Anyway, they said they needed me to help them with something small.”
She frowned a little and he gave her hand a little re-assuring squeeze.
“The man was a campaign manager for Mzee. The one with the hat.”
“But aren’t you for Besigye?”
“Yes, baby. And Jasper knew that and in fact, when he saw that I was about to protest, he looked at me and shook his head slowly slowly, quietly telling me to first listen.
The man… Mr. Basudde… needed someone to translate for him in a secret campaign meeting he had this very night. He was meeting a group of elders from Amuria District and his translator hadn’t shown up. He knew Jasper and Jasper connected me. You know Jasper doesn’t know Iteso very well.”
“I know that. But you support Besigye.”
“Yes. First listen. I needed money, Carol. We need money. You know I have been looking for a job for two years and the small small jobs we do cannot take care of us. Peace is growing up so quickly…”
“I know. I know.”
“So I agreed, and we went there to Nakawa. And Mr. Basudde talked – alo that man can talk – and I translated. I praised Museveni like he was my own father. I told them he would maintain the prosperity he started. I convinced them to support Museveni one hundred percent.
But Carol, I hated every word I said. I hated it so much. But it never showed. Even Jasper later asked me if I was still a Besigye man. We even laughed. Anyway, the elders where happy and satisfied and they all got brown envelopes. And then we drove back here.
And then they gave me an envelope also. Carol… You know me. I’m a simple man. I wasn’t expecting a lot of money. I thought maybe they would give me five thousand. Or even ten thousand. In fact, I was excited that maybe I can get even twenty thousand. But Carol…”
He paused, and tears welled up in his eyes. His lips trembled as he gripped her hands tighter.
“Okurut… please. What? Please tell me, my love.”
He released her hands, reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. A brown, sleek uncreased envelope that had been carefully opened at the top. He handed it to her and trembling, she poured out the contents onto the sofa.
Three thick bundles of fifty thousand notes fell out. Carol gasped.
“Okurut! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my Goood! What is this? How much money is this?”
“Three million shillings, Carol. They gave me three whole million shillings.” The words were barely audible.
Carol’s widened. Hearing the figure was somehow more unbelievable than seeing the money. She did some quick maths. That was enough money to last them for a full year!
“WHAT!” She exclaimed loudly, tightly embraced him and then started crying against his chest.
“Yes. And by the way, guess what?”, he whispered in her ear, pulling her a little closer to him.
She pulled away and looked searchingly into his eyes.
“They said they still have three more days of campaigning in Teso region there. And they want me to travel with them. Me? In a campaign car! And they’ll be paying me two million shillings per day!”
Carol’s scream woke up Peace, who, frightened, ran into the sitting room. She saw her father and laughed happily.
“Daddy! You’re back!”
Carol got up, scooped little Peace into the air and twirled her around.
Okurut laughed through his tears as his little family danced happily in the soft candlelit night. He put the money back into the envelope and standing up, rolled it up in the #WesigeBesigye t-shirt that he had left hanging on a hook in the sitting room.
Three days, he thought.