I’ve been recalling lately memories of our heyday – me and Betty – back in the early 90s in Mulago.
I was working as a medical assistant – my first year – at the hospital, and would visit her every weekend in the neighbouring town called Kigoogwa.
I think it was called that because there were many mango trees there of the indigenous kagoogwa variety: a species of small, fibrous but delicious fruits.
That town was very dusty and I always used to travel there on the back of Muko’s old, rickety scooter. Muko was an early twenties, energetic and flamboyant youth who had a “French cut” and wore a dusty cap sideways on the top of his head. We called him that because, ironically, he called everyone Muko.
We traveled at a snail’s pace and waved at every shopkeeper we passed by. I didn’t know any of them – I simply followed Muko’s lead. He probably alternated in buying Sportsman cigarettes from each of them.
Muko would always talk about his escapades around town, especially about girls. I would always warn him sternly, “Keep it zipped till marriage or you will die bony, hairless and cold in a dark room in Mulago covered in your own poop.”
“Eh, Muko,” he would reply, “I will never make that mistake. I am not as stupid as I look!”
And we would laugh as we trudged along, bouncing in potholes and eating the dust left behind by the occasional passing car.
Muko’s scooter was surprisingly reliable. Once when I had bought a Pepsicola – as it was known then – for Betty on our way to her hostel a man jumped out of a large yellow Tata lorry and grabbed the money left over in my hand, about two thousand shillings: a lot of money for that time. He hopped back into the huge archaic truck and sped off, leaving me money-less in a cloud of dust on the day I had planned to propose to my girlfriend.
“I promise you,” Muko said, “We are going to chase him down and we are going to find him.”
I sat, dejected, onto the old bike as it coughed into life and crawled towards Kigoogwa, presumably in hope of finding the man who wanted to sabotage my future happiness.
We travelled for three hours straight and arrived in Mabuye, about 50 km away, in the darkness of the night, to find, to my eternal shock, the huge yellow Tata lorry parked outside of a bar.
“I told you,” Muko said in a burst of pride.
We rolled into the bar like two desperados and Muko grabbed the Tata driver by the scruff of the neck and told him to give me back the money if he wanted to keep his teeth. I was not a fighter, never have been, and I know for a fact that Muko wasn’t either, but his callous bravery that night was the reason we drove back to Mulago with my money back in my pocket, giggling silly like hobbits straight off an adventure.
I proposed to Betty the following weekend and she said yes. Muko drove us to a bar called Kudos nearby to celebrate and Betty grabbed my shirt in horror every time we hit a pothole.
Muko’s object of interest was a girl called Flo, and he often drove her around the dusty Kigoogwa on his decaying bike, swollen with pride and waving at everyone. I can picture Flo and her sisters and cousins in their old boys’ quarters room snickering and talking in hushed tones about her potential husband. Flo would start the conversation usually by making some snark remark about his ridiculous scooter or his old, torn jacket and that would trigger the avalanche of sarcasm and bike-related humour.
Flo would be happy and content though because she knew, in that household, that she had the upper hand. She had a man who was charming and good-looking and popular while all her sisters and cousins were single and wishing. And in that room in those boys’ quarters, filled with the smell of hot combs and Imperial Lather soap and Copper Girl powder and Gift of Zanzibar Vaseline, she would fill up with joy every time the sound of a sputtering motorbike was heard inside their compound.
I was telling Betty about him recently at dinner as we celebrated our thirtieth anniversary and I was surprised at how vividly she remembered them both. We toasted not just to ourselves, our marriage, God, our children, our grandchildren, but also to Muko and Flo, wherever they may be.
I could see vividly, as we put our wine glasses back onto the table, the great yet small town of Kigoogwa, filled with memories, dusty and hot, with its sole main road on which an old and rickety scooter trudged along, with Muko in his old and torn jacket, his French cut and his sideways cap, waving proudly at everyone and Flo, smiling contentedly, wearing her flowery-green kitenge dress with a matching headband around her hot-combed hair, a dainty little rosary around her neck, seated ladylike behind her man as the scooter sputtered and coughed along, bumping around potholes and raising dust into their very own sunset of love.