The patheticity of our life is embodied in characters such as boda-boda chaps. Last week my routine trip to the office (school-wife’s office-my office coffee station-the computer) was interrupted by a chap jumping in front of the car just as I was joining the main road.
My first thought was that he was trying to commit suicide and had chosen my car because of its size (Toyota Prado, 1999 model) but that due to the weakness of his brain had not noticed the slow speed caused by the presence of hundreds of other vehicles all trying to get into town. Still, I was willing to run him down just in case he was a boda-boda guy or, better still, a taxi driver. My traffic jam daydream includes a mental video game in which I drive my Defender 110 Truck down a busy Kampala road and earn points for each of the above that I flatten – 5 points for a boda-boda guy, 10 points for a taxi, 15 points if the taxi-driver stays alive for a little bit after being run over but finally succumbs but in a lot of pain, 15 points for a chap who overtakes in a third lane during a traffic jam, and so on and so forth.
The fellow who had hopped into the path of my vehicle, however, turned out to be none of the above – he was just an askari pal of my askari and the two were walking back home after a hard night’s sleep to catch a long day’s sleep and possibly malwa session, when a boda-boda run my askari down.
“He is here. Injured,” the fellow indicated when I asked for Mark’s (the askari) whereabouts. His use of the word ‘injured’ at this point made me think he was one of us – you know how we Kampala chaps use the word ‘injured’ to mean things other than what the Queen would think (drunk, hungover, broke, tired, stupid, etc) – so it took me a while to re-adjust my mind to his (and his friend Mark’s) actual situations.
The time table this fellow and Mark follow every morning at about 0615hrs, at the end of their night shift, is he walks down from his station to pick Mark up from my verandah and they walk to their office armoury to drop their guns (automatic rifles, thank you very much!) then they hot-foot it to somewhere in Kireka come rain or shine.
You can see the difference between you and them already when you consider that if a friend of yours were to be picking you up it would be in a car, and if it were at about 0615hrs then they would probably be picking you up from a club or a party or some other such debauch. Your tools of work also probably don’t include lethal weapons, and, unlike Mark, you are unlikely to ever have your leg chopped up by a speeding boda-boda on your way back from dropping said lethal weapons at an armoury.
Bleeding, disoriented and generally dirty, Mark stood on one leg and gave me his mandatory salute before painfully trying to explain how the boda-boda had run into him. Cutting him short, I bundled him into the car and dropped him at a nearby clinic with cash to cover consultation fees, before finishing my office run and then chasing up the police to find the boda-boda guy.
The police. About fifty of them were at the junction when the accident occurred…okay, not fifty, but four – three policemen and one policewoman. These days they are pleasantly abundant – a phenomenon I will rant on later on.
When she saw me walking up, she turned her face down like that girl in primary school who had been talking when the teacher walked into class and suspected that you were on the verge of selling her. Indeed, when I asked her quite pointedly in front of her boss (the fellow with a couple of metallic pips on his shoulder) she replied, and I kid you not with the wording of her response: “Me, I didn’t see any boooda!” Her tone of voice was that you normally associate with the market women anywhere thirty kilometres plus from the city centre, or women who sell unbottled alcohol to deep-voiced men who don’t use soap for anything other than to make their skin shine a bit more…
Anyway, the boda-boda chap had disappeared. Mark, meanwhile, was discharged before my melee with the policegirl ended – probably with a plaster or two or masking tape wrapped round his smashed knee, and a couple of aspirins.
“Workman’s Compensation?” he asked me incredulously when I relayed what my lawyer had so kindly advised we do, “They do not pay anything at my office.”
Had he called his supervisor to report the accident and so on and so forth? “Er…no, they don’t…er…no. I will come in the evening, sir!”
I gave up, but not before threatening to fire the fellow just in case, and then ripping into his Supervisor’s boss who, it turned out, was as appalled as I was: “I don’t know what to do with these people. We tell them all these things but they never remember! Even if he gets killed on duty, we have to pay. Why don’t they understand this?”