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THE KAMPALA FIRE

The acute thoughts slicing my mind have deprived me of any sleep. Whenever I go to bed, all I think about is going to prison, not for slaying anyone, or taking a neighbour’s hen and fidgeting it in my ripped bag; not for defiling a ten-year-old girl, whose mother is a kikubo worker who leaves home before she is out of bed and returns when she is immersed in deep sleep. Not for trespass—sleeping with married women, who are lonelier and hornier because it has been a year since their husbands went on Safari in Saudi; no one has touched them or even sucked their serrated nipples—you cannot be in Kampala and have that kind of energy.

In this city, we don’t have time to erect. Before Prosy, a stranger you met in a taxi on your way back home from kuyiriiba crosses your mind, hunger slashes your intestines like a razor. Perhaps you have been surviving on only water for the past two days, and your stomach grumbles as if you fraternised eggs and fermented beans.

Now, you are caught up between forgetting Prosy, a brown girl with dancing buttocks, or nursing your hunger by lying in bed, counting the iron sheets above your head, or watching the spiders above the roof trap the cockroaches with their cobwebs—but the choice is that easy—you will have a cold bath, kill the erection, forget Prosy and focus on the blurry tomorrow.

I will go to prison one day—not for engaging in a random peaceful demonstration, demanding the resignation of a minister whom the president promoted for his theft dexterity after he had swindled ten billion shillings meant for emyooga, or calling a member of parliament a fool for passing a new law that gives the URA the right to tax us the many times we inhale. Perhaps all the national coffers are empty—we just used the money to secure our president a new bulletproof T-shirt and buy our retired Ministers cars, that match their patriotism, and now, we are in a financial crisis the reason the Revenue Authority must tax anything taxable, something that no Ugandan can avoid. It has to tax men the many times they penetrate a woman’s haunch; tax women for moaning while having an affair, and even tax the sheep, who are eventually illuminated, for questioning their shepherd why they have collected money for building the church for over thirteen years but haven’t even seen a bag of cement.

I will not go to prison for anything like that, but for slapping a motivational speaker. Why would I go to prison for poking my nose in matters that barely concern me? Why would I say a minister breaks his neck with his empty head because he told the press people that there is no hunger in Uganda, we are just stupid, yet the Karamoja people look like smoked fish, all pale and malnourished? Of course, I am not citizen enough to fathom national matters—at least, politicians have reminded me so.

The Kampala motivational speakers are a sock in the eye. One says we have to work hard; another argues that only working smart rewards: Is the donkey rich, but doesn’t he work like hell? He asks.

Dejection wears you like cloth, and as you try to answer the man’s question, you remember your peasant mother in the village, who has been ploughing the four acres of land that your father left as inheritance for close to fifteen years, and now her palms have become rough like the scales of tilapia fish, and her skin is parched from the scorching sun—very dry.

Before you trash the motivational speaker’s concept of “working hard never pays”, you remember that the only thing your weary mother has gained from donkeywork is the accumulating debt from her village Sacco that now threatens to take over the only land you have, yet a politician in the neighbourhood, works so little but drives a Range rover sport and flies to Dubai every month for shopping—you are not thinking of his girlfriend at Makerere University Business School, who lives in an apartment in Munyonyo, and drives a Toyota Harrier, which she says has become old just because she changed a Tyre a week ago; you are not even thinking of iPhone 15 Promax that the politician’s side chick holds; what about the makeup and the Caron Poivre perfume she wears?

But then you have to comfort your miserable self; you pretend to be nonchalant but envy scratches your heart—you whine about the patriotic government official wasting the taxpayers’ money before a friend distracts you with a TikTok video of a certain advocate condemning members of parliament who passed a supplementary budget to travel to South Africa with their concubines to have sex, yet a hospital in Buyende district has no medicine and even nurses are on strike—they last received their salaries nine months ago.

Such thoughts deform you; they itch your mind and never stop ringing in your head. The only time you are at peace in this city is when you hear your mother’s voice—when she calls after four or five months and the first thing you feel is her shattered spirit. She whispers: We have overeaten pumpkin leaves, could you send us some five thousand, so we buy mukene? You want to tell her that you have not found a job yet, but your throat restrains you from vomiting such an unnerving utterance—after all, the old woman has never worn any slippers since you joined university. All her savings paid your tuition fees, and she now expects you to provide for the impoverished family—you even don’t know that she has been telling the village people that she has a son with a degree.

Before you digest all the ambivalence, another motivational speaker says a twenty-three-year-old should be out of their parent’s house, forgetting at twenty-five we are still in school, learning about the Canadian prairies and the bourbon monarchy, and after attaining that degree, one has to sit for almost five years before their uncle promises them a job in the ministry of something-something until trouble hits them when they call him and he doesn’t pick up.

I am determined to hit a motivational speaker to death. He says don’t eat this food or consume this drink, but he does the same while behind closed doors. He says a twenty-five-year-old without an apartment is a failure, but there is you turning twenty-six or even thirty in a few months, but still sleeping in your cousin’s house, who would have sent you to the village if she were not scared of witchcraft. She fears jealous villagers might bewitch you—she doesn’t want to hear that you have started playing ludo or matatu, while saliva rains from your open mouth.

She doesn’t want to hear that you have started fetching water for people for two hundred shillings for a stick of cigarette, but then you don’t want to sleep at night. You are always on your phone scrolling through TikTok videos, and now she has become a thief in her house. She no longer moans for her husband as she used to while having an affair, and even the man kills the rat circumspectly—it is a single-roomed house, after all, and you all squeeze yourselves there like rabbits.

Kampala is a burning fire; here, at least everyone has a problem—as you worry about walking from Zirobwe to Naguru for an appointment with a friend’s friend who said he would connect you to a friend with a friend, who might connect you to someone prominent, you hear of vendors whom the Kampala City Council convicted for selling tomatoes by the roadside, but PLE is already out, and they need money for their children’s secondary education; before you give up on your life, your friend tells you about her friend’s boyfriend who has been walking from office to office for the past seven years, and now his shoes no longer have soles, but he wears them, anyway; before you pack your bags and return to the village, you hear of a thirty-five-year-old who must have spent her youthfulness sleeping with men for money, and now that she has given her life to Christ Jesus, she wants anything that looks like a man before she hits menopause.

It is already 5 a.m., and I haven’t had sleep yet. Twilight has already drooped, and footsteps trample the frosty ground—people with jobs are reporting for work, but I am worried about how I will survive the long day. All I have is this jerrycan of water and oxygen; no job; no food; no hope, and the degree, rests under my bed because it’s as useless as its beholder.

My landlady makes a thunderous noise as she belches from yesterday’s meat, which she usurped from Menez’s boiling pot. Menez owes her rent. I hear she has not paid anything for three months. Of course, you don’t eat meat or chicken before you clear rent.

Now, our landlady bangs on Menez’s door, calling her a prostitute. The impatient woman reminds my neighbour of the three boys she hosted this very week. She tells her that these useless men of hers should learn to be useful—they should pay her rent before sleeping in her house.

I will go to prison soon. Not for condemning a national son-in-law who publicly loots the money meant for coffee farmers from only a single region, but for slapping a motivational speaker. These men barricade young men from sleeping with sugar mummies for money. They say he who sleeps with a woman for money is a failure, but I wonder whether there is any better job in this city than feasting on old women, who are even willing to pay. Of course, we gave up on young ladies—they want men with money.

This city burns all of us, brethren. Before you frown and project your anger onto your neighbour who is frying mukene for lunch, yet all you have is Allan Jackson’s The Older I Get, banging on your broken Techno phone, think of that girl who has just cut her private parts with a blunt razor blade while preparing for a visit to Najjera, where she has to meet a pseudo honourable member of a certain political movement who in turn will connect her to her destiny helper after slipping his cock into her womanhood.

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Written by Godwin Muwanguzi (0)

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DEATH OF A WRITER, DEATH OF THE ART.

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