Hopes, Dreams and Rats

It is a tortured night, as his nights most often are. To ward off the cold, he has wrapped himself into a tight roll in the second-hand duvet handed down to him by a kind neighbour. Hunger pangs gnaw at his empty stomach. His hair is thinning and browning, his frame sticking out – the poster child of malnutrition in elderly youth.

Chitobo – meaning the broken one – lives his name. He last ate one and a half days ago. He sleeps till mid-day, loiters around, then retires early to bed; conserving energy. He has cleared half of the rent arrears owed to the landlord, so, they suffer him – the landlord and the caretaker. Plus, he is a long-time resident in a place where tenant turnover is high.

Where he lives, poverty announces itself loudly. Rusted iron roofs, bashed iron-sheet walls, cracked cold-cement floors. The ablution block – common water point, toilets and garbage pit – suggests looming diarrhoea or dysentery; cholera, even. There is the occasional house break-in into the single rooms and wet clothes have to be taken indoors when the sun falls.

Chitobo is having one of his many dreams; nightmares, really as they all have the same motif – hunger. He has come from the market, in his back, a small sack of avocados – the overripe ones some hours away from being thrown away. There are also some yellowing kales – all of which were donated to him by the market women when they have cause to pity him.

When Chitobo last ate, his meal was humble, as they always are. Maize meal – the flour being relief from a nearby church – boiled kales, and overripe avocadoes mashed into the kales. He could have prepared a mound of the maize meal, but his paraffin stove lacked enough fuel. Such is his lot in life – never enough of this or that. Did I mention he is also a vegetarian? The economy has forced him to divorce meat, milk and eggs from his diet.

Like so many other nights, his sleep is interrupted without number. From around midnight, the rats scurry about. Huge rats – he has often shined his phone’s torch at them. Else, they gnaw bits and pieces of edibles borrowed from his neighbours – that’s how he sometimes survives. Scaring the rats away and storing these edibles in his growling stomach. Hunger knows no shame and man has to survive.

Chitobo – lonely is his existence. No friend, no woman, no relative. He will be buried by the city when life tires of his body, which may be soon. His right leg was amputated just below the knee some three years ago. An ignored sore which festered and spread – doctors on strike, no money for lab diagnostics or medicine, not being able to afford the luxury of lying in bed for a month or two… now, his livelihood is crippled, stonemason that he was.

It’s the eleventh day of the month. Between him and end month is two hundred and thirteen shillings. He has to survive within this immodest budget till end month. Perhaps, for five more days into the other new month till the government credits his account with the barely enough disability stipend. Sometimes, there is relief food to accompany the same and the particular month is more survivable.

“Kritchhh, kritchhh, kritchhh,” the noise drives him mad. He imagines this as the sound of hell. In the dark of the night, the gnawing of the rats is amplified a hundred-fold, forcing itself into the remnants of his dreams. Twisting shreds of happy into horrors untold.

When he has been sufficiently dragged into wakefulness, Chitobo slowly gets out of bed, hobbles to the light switch and illuminates the room for a minute or two. By then, the rats have fled off into the neighbours’ from where the maddening gnawing continues. A minute after he switches off the light, they move back in, more furiously, their gnawing.

He has joined a new church, Chitobo has. ‘Happy is he in Jesus Christ Ministry’. Bishop Revered Jonah Sumba, the epitome of a winner, of encouragement. He has already persuaded Chitobo to join the choir, said his voice was heavenly. Truthfully, though, Chitobo’s presence has bolstered church membership to twenty-three. Plus, the good bishop has sponsored him to a shoe-making course so that Chitobo can stand on his own two feet again.

Tonight is his turning point, Chitobo has so determined. Tomorrow, he starts his shoe-making course. Tonight, though, the future has to be different. Tonight, life begins for him. He thinks of better days ahead – days and nights of a full belly, a wife perhaps, of moving away from this hell he presently occupies. He thinks of a respectable life ahead. He opens the shoe glue bottle. Tonight, the sun rises.

Half an hour into midnight, Chitobo is dreaming. A happy dream, this one. He is standing at the altar, waiting for Bella. Bella – is his dream; she appears as he remembers her twenty years ago. Silky ebony skin, the proud smile, tall and elegant… perfect, his princess. She saunters to him on the aisle, a lifelong dream coming to fruition.

“Kritchhh, kritchhh, kritchhh”, the noise becomes more urgent, intruding into his dream, separating them, dragging him violently into wakefulness. Chitobo now lies in the dark, huddled tightly, listening as the noise slows into sad whimpers. An hour later, he repeats his routine – getting from bed, hobbling to the light switch – his trap reports of a bountiful harvest.

Almost an hour later, the immediate neighbour chides from across the thin wall, ‘Selfish Chitobo. Cooking meat at night so that you can eat alone!”

“God is good, Brother John. Good is God. Let’s always remember that.” He slurps greedily at the rich meat broth.

This post was created with our nice and easy submission form. Create your post!


Written by zurikeya (0)

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Review of The 2024 Uganda Film Festival (UFF)

Questions by a TEKE victim.