Tragicomedy – a term that students of secondary school literature back in my day learnt with relish but linked to the likes of William Shakespeare and days medieval in England.
It is also a term that very aptly describes many situations we go through on a day to day basis here in the beloved Pearl of Africa, which situations have us rolling around in laughter enhanced by a hysterical relief that that thin line wasn’t crossed to engulf us in grief.
This latest one involved a public holiday, an eager, relocating-to-upcountry-so-I-must-go-to-check-every-chance-I-get old man, an array of silly employees of various kinds, a village mother, her son and their bystander neighbours, a pick up truck, and a bicycle.
It is a long story, but I know how to cut things short.
The old man in question, eager to make full use of the Eid Aduha holiday, popped two manual labourers onto the back of his small 1200cc Datsun pickup and headed for Hoima early that morning. The labourers were fresh in from south-western Uganda, having arrived the night before at his home in Kampala, and were eager to get work in.
Somewhere before Kiboga, after a couple of hours of slow driving, the old man was certainly not at his most alert but aware enough of the road when a little boy on a rickety bicycle suddenly meandered onto the highway.
Swerving very quickly to avoid vehicular homicide, the old man was aghast to find that the the little chap on the bicycle was also making attempts to avoid being hit by the pickup truck. Their combination of effort, not being synchronised by way of a discussion or even simple gestures to agree which side either of them should go in order to share the road space in a manner that would guarantee safety of life, resulted in a loud crash.
The pick up truck came to a halt right in the middle of the road and the old man headed in the direction of the drainage trench where he believed he had seen the boy’s body fall, sans bicycle wreck.
A small bystander crowd began to gather, however, and called him back to first take his pick up out of the road in case other vehicles showed up. A brief debate occurred that the old man quickly realised would only end if he moved the damn pick up before going for the boy – which nobody else appeared to be doing.
Pick up truck by the side of the road, he ran back to where the boy was now sitting up and weeping. The chap could not have been more than nine years of age, but the old man could not account for the effects of his diet over time on his current body size. Suddenly, a boda-boda appeared and the bystanders strongly advised a hospital visit.
The old man attempted to offer his pick up truck as conveyance for the little chap but they were not having that – he had to go by boda-boda.
“Leeta sente za boda!” (Bring the boda money!) a fellow insisted, as the boy and an escort arranged themselves onto the thing.
As the old man walked to the pick up truck to follow the accident victim, he noticed another fellow seated by the side of the road with a large would at his elbow and a swollen shoulder. The fellow looked somewhat familiar, and as the old man slowed down to work out where he might possibly have seen him before, a bystander called out, “Take that one as well!”
He was one of the labourers, who had fallen off the pick up truck during the collision.
Off they went, following the boda-boda, but just before they left someone shouted out that he knew the boy’s mother and was going to fetch her to the hospital.
The boda-boda went right past the large Kiboga Hospital and straight to a clinic near the town. There, treatment ensued, focussing on the little boy who had now gathered his wits about him but still presented cuts and bruises from the fall.
Half an hour later, they heard his mother arrive with a couple of bystanders. After assessing the situation in the waiting room, she declared with confidence and much relief that the person sitting there was not her son.
She was correct.
It was the manual labourer who had fallen off the pick up and was still waiting for some medical attention as his shoulder went on swelling up.
The old man stepped out of the doctor’s office, called the boy’s mother inside and pointed her to the young fellow to confirm whether this victim, at least, was her son.
She turned onto her offspring with that sudden wrath that some mothers switch on for their children when they discover any wrongdoing. In Luganda, she unleashed a tirade of questions regarding: a) What the boy was doing riding the bicycle on the main highway b) Why he refused to listen c) Whether he was stupid or not d) His general level of stupidity e) Whether he knew what grief he could have caused the family if the accident had been worse…and so on and so forth.
All this, meanwhile, was as she charged at the boy in order to administer corporal punishment. If you don’t know how mothers tend to whip you when you turn up with a small injury, then check out #AfricanMothersBeLike and #AfricanParentsBeLike on Twitter.
The old man restrained her, quite painfully because he had injured his shoulder during the collision, and was joined by a bystander-cum-neighbour.
Eventually, she calmed down but continued seething with anger. This silly boy, she explained, has been knocked by a vehicle on that very highway before!
In fact, she said, he had been shown a different, presumably safer, road to use when running his errands!
And even then, she complained, he shouldn’t have been using THAT bicycle, but another one altogether!
Gwe. If I had been there I’d be thinking to myself that she was more angry and concerned about the mangled bicycle than the scarred chap.
The ‘Doctor’, meanwhile, carried on with dressing the little fellow’s wounds and at the end stated the cost.
As the boy began recuperating, the old man introduced the injured labourer into the room, and when the Doctor saw the state of his now-very-swollen shoulder, he declared that this was a more serious matter.
No. He would not handle it. No. He needed to go to a bigger hospital elsewhere – and not the Kiboga Hospital.
The fellow would need much more than what Kiboga could do, the Doctor decreed. He did, however, administer painkillers and then commence writing a report of some sort.
It was while he was doing so, very slowly, that the old man realised that the woman, her injured son, and probably half their neighbourhood were still in the ante room.
There was the matter of reparations.
And the exchange of phone numbers. Not for the purpose of claiming insurance or whatever they do it for in movies, and certainly not to enable a hookup later on, knowing this old man and imagining the sudden, unprepared presentation of the boy’s Kiboga mother that morning.
Off the pick-up went, to the hospital in Hoima, with the moaning labourer, his colleague, the old man and a lot of relief that the situation had been resolved fairly quickly. At Hoima Hospital, having disembarked at the first building, they were told very abruptly that they should take the fellow to the casualty section.
So they walked over to the casualty section.
At the casualty section they were asked where their admission papers were. They had none.
“You need to go back to that first building and get admission papers,” they were told.
So they walked back to the first building, saw the very same person they had seen when they first arrived there, and got the admission papers they needed. Then they walked back to the casualty ward, and commenced the treatment process – which very shortly thereafter meant they had to take the poor, injured fellow for an X-ray.
Not in the hospital, because it was a public holiday and the person in charge of conducting the X-ray was not available.
But, someone explained, there was an option available at a private clinic not far away.
The old man considered the agony the labourer was in, especially since the painkiller was fast wearing off, and rushed off to the private clinic.
The injured labourer was processed and taken into the X-ray room, and after a few minutes of waiting the old man asked the nurse how long it would take before they got the results.
He thought about it a little bit, calling on memories built over many years, and was a little puzzled – why would it take so long?
Okay, she responded, forty minutes.
He considered negotiating further but could not find logical ground for doing so, and could not envision where the discussion would end.
Eventually, they did get the X-ray done, and rushed back to the hospital to get treatment.
But it was a public holiday, remember, and there was no Physician or professional present with the qualifications or mandate to analyse the image or handle the case.
But if they went to a private clinic nearby…
As I said before, I know how to cut a long story short, so I will do so here just so you don’t experience the mental pain and agony of thinking of the physical pain and agony the old man and his more injured labourer were feeling by the time they got the right level of treatment the next day.
I’ll also leave out the part where, that evening as they arrived at the private clinic, a phonecall came through from the mother of the bicycle riding boy…the reparations were not enough to replace the bicycle, and could the old man send Ushs100,000 more?