By Florence Kyohangirwe (Kakatshozi)
Living here will limit you from being your authentic self. It will limit your options. It will limit your very dreams as they stir within you. This is not the kind of place where you will opt for acting school rather than secondary, because you aspire to be the brightest African star of Hollywood, not the kind of place that gives parents the liberty to take their little ones with mad skills in football to an academy with any glimmer of hope of Premier League level ambitions. We do not dream that big. Wild dreams aren’t the norm (and don’t you dare ever question where that line lies). Things have to go a particular kind of way.
People have to behave within a certain subset of the ordinary; to rock the boat is to be thrown rudely out of it and into a sea bereft of sanctuary. When children are of age, they are shipped out of innocence and onto primary school, then high school, both with inapplicably tedious curriculum that beats their creativity to death behind the shed of their childhood, before finally fucking off down the road to the university, hat in hand. Oh, how this is anticipated as a life for a Ugandan. Three (or four) years comprised of the bizarre freedom and well-beyond lit parties. Cheap thrills, meaningless relationships, crippling depression, radiant sex, copious drugs and once-futile attempts at self-discovery. Somehow the years run too fast, as they always tend to, and within no time, the chapter closes with an awkward permanence. And voila, the real world is there, be prepared or let your existence be forgotten on the ash heap of societal failure and ill-spoken social rumour.
An ordinary Friday evening. The streets of Kampala are busy; sweaty, hot. Boda bodas squeezing through the minute space between the awkwardly angled taxis, traffic policemen staring at the growing traffic utterly unbothered, everyone in a hurry to an eventual somewhere, to make these now busy streets magically emptied within a matter of hours. Through my office window on the 7th floor I look down at the chaos far below. Oh there he is, short sleeve shirt tucked into his freshly self-pressed khaki trousers. Beads of smelly perspiration building on his forehead and clinging to his shirt seams. He is well beyond tired. While at the university, life was manageable for him. He had been so eager to finally leave home and explore the world, screw a girl, do things. Strict parents had kept him grounded all his short life. They were civil servants, his mother a nurse and his father a high school teacher of maths. They had sacrificed much for him to join a prestigious private university, meals had been skipped and holidays left untaken. They had given him too much. He didn’t want to ask for any more than that which had been delivered.
He’d figure the rest out. That is why he did course work for the rich boy in his International Business class to make extra pocket money. They had built an interesting relationship that even bordered on actual friendship. Their different friends were usually curious about what connection they had- circles do not cross, and different rings cannot be looped together in connection. He walks the streets with a big brown envelope looking for formal employment. He Moves from one office to another, all his little savings from relatives or small gigs have been consumed daily transport costs going for interviews. His parents have asked old friends that owe them well forgotten favors to help and introduce him to any big people they know. They heard one of them is related to someone in the President’s office, and people with links in State House can always fix someone anywhere in this unsubtle Kampala. He can even just walk around with him or be an errands boy until something comes up.
Old friend had said he will see what to do and get back to them…so for now, their son walks the streets, hoping a breakthrough will materialize out of the traffic. His team is playing this evening, maybe he will pass by one of these city bars and watch the match as he drowns his hopelessness in a bottle of waragi. He will drink it straight- out of a chipped glass, mixers are reserved for the employed who can afford to temper their slide into forgetting the day’s mistakes. There is another one. Dressed in designer from head to toe. Yes, the labels are loud. He dons big dark sunnies and fuck you if you don’t approve and state as much. He is taking fast strides, almost flying, probably going to meet someone that has been waiting too long, for him to get beautified.
He wanted to be a fashion designer or a stylist or just be in fashion business. Has never had interest in books really, but his dad is a prominent business man, even part of the famous kwagalana group.…and he would not embarrass his social and bank driven legacy with this fashion business nonsense! His family wouldn’t allow it. He was forced to do a business course, numbers falling into their places with earnest. A son of his father cannot be seen sewing clothes- such is for women and fools. He hated school and attended classes only when they had an exam, the rest of the semester, he paid the bright broke boy to do his coursework. When they had exams, they sat together… and passed together. Miracles do happen, it seems, for those in well-esteem.
After the university he takes on the assistant manager post that his dad just made up on a series of official papers. He will be helping with the family business. He drives his big brother’s posh Range Rover Sport (white with tints so dark that they can’t see crossing pedestrians who should’ve known better to stand in his way regardless)and posts bundles of the business money on Instagram and Snapchat at the end of the day to impress girls before depositing it on the parents’ business accounts. Approval must be sought to be gotten.
He reserves tables at popular clubs on theme nights. Most of his friends are famous, some musicians, others, Instagram models. Most are hangers-on of the scene, with no true cash to their own (but will always play the part). People know him. DJs send him a shout out in between their mixes. He already reserved a table for tonight. It’s a Friday after all and empty appearances should be of highest priority. There goes another. Blinding white shirt and blue tie. Spotless. Pressed. Fresh. Square. Taking quick long strides until he finally disappears into the ministry building. He comes out after exactly a quarter hour.
He was delivering a package from his daddy. Through school he got bad results but somehow always made it to the next class, stumbling through power points and CATS.At the university, he failed all his classes but mysteriously graduated; his walk across the stage a graduation gift to the university itself. He was an unbothered student but oh-so-sure he would graduate. He did graduate with a 3rd Class but a few months after the university, he was already working with URA. Some of us just get all the damn breaks in life. His father has a position no one knows in the Office of the President. Or is it the first lady’ office? No one is sure, but who dare ask?
He sometimes drives the government car with the UG number plates. Especially when he is in a hurry like today; father’s errands must be run—no matter where the money came from. The traffic is terrible and building with a steady remorselessness. ‘These stupid Ugandans who won’t give him way!’He uses the wrong lanes because he can’t stand the traffic or those idiots walking in front of his
(father’s) car. And he is in a government vehicle. Who will bother him? Surely not these officers, they look bored and hungry with desire at every passing skirt.
And don’t they see the red plate? They wouldn’t dare to stop him. He has a match to watch in less than two hours.
He will be going to his favorite sports bar to catch the match. His friend reserved a table there. Maybe they’ll run into that same boy from uni days, but it is unlikely; circles are closed and stay that way. It is altogether unlikely that they’ll ever think of him, even as they sit and toast their own ‘hard fought successes’ in this, today’s Kampala.