IF you’re having a mildly bad time on any given day, call my Dad to give you a recount of any ordinary episode in his life upcountry.
Like his Saturday a couple of weekends ago, in Hoima, when he set off for an extremely important family event (we should all have been there but life being what it is, we were not) and had ordered life to ensure respectability all through.
The event was slated to begin at 1000hrs so he was in Hoima town by 0930hrs, but stopped to top up his fuel tank at the biggest fuel station there – a prudent move because the truck he was driving had been in a garage for many months and this was its maiden trip on discharge. As such, a few things were not working fine, including the fuel gauge.
Being a strict Accountant, and even more old school than myself, he kept count of the litres therein and calculated the mileage (not kilometres) mentally all the way but tended to avoid taking unnecessary risks.
As the fueling process came to an end, a fellow nearby pointed out that a tyre needed changing.
He was right.
Changing a tyre, for a man of my father’s age, experience, and intelligence, would take just a few minutes. He taught me how to do this at an early age, hence my predilection for Land Rovers over snazzy, shiny cars, even though there are Landys that fit that bill.
“Fair enough,” said the old man, suspecting correctly that the months of garage admission had probably stripped the car of essential tools.
Confirming that the unauthorised property allocation had taken place, he asked the garage fellows to oblige.
They readily agreed and shortly thereafter another fellow approached the car with the attitude of someone providing the relevant tools.
In one hand he held a car jack, the type that we used to have many years ago and still exists quite obviously in many places here. In the other hand – nothing.
“Good,” said the old man, even throwing in a “Thank you” with a wry smile while asking for the rest of the kit.
“We don’t have other things,” they said.
At this point, we can only imagine the looks being exchanged in silence all round thereafter.
I have no idea what the fellows at the fuel station look like so I can’t work out how sheepish they appeared but I know full well what my father’s facial expression was right there and then – running from irritation through incredulous and to that one where he was straining not to slap someone.
Surely, at a fuel station such as this in the major town of an oil-producing region in a country on the brink of middle-income status, this couldn’t be happening in 2018?!
Not all was lost, however; as one shamefaced fellow suggested that the old man go over to another fuel station within the town that might likely have the requisite tools.
Time check: 1000hrs.
He was late for his event.
Either way, at this point he needed to actually fix this tyre situation otherwise he would be doing this all over again in the evening at an even more remote point.
He drove over at a respectable speed and presented his problem to a fresh set of fellows at the second fuel station. They understood it well.
One fellow shuttled off and returned a couple of minutes later with a wheel spanner.
The old man took it up happily and reached out for the other pieces of the puzzle. He was not ready for the consistency of the second hand offering – nothing.
He asked where the rest of the tools required for this operation were.
“Haaa…” replied the fellow.
If you don’t know that ‘Haaa’, I’ll try to make it clear: This is where a guy says, “Ha” and keeps the “aaa” part going a bit longer while tilting his head a little bit and keeping his mouth open for a bit longer yet.
In English, it means: “I’m afraid I am speechless at your request and cannot express how screwed you are, at this point in time.”
My old man, holding up the wheel spanner, insisted on the full version. Because he is not aware of candid camera television, he had no false hopes that the comedy would end soon. And his age bracket cannot spontaneously shout out appropriate phrases like: “WTF?!?!”
The wretched fuel station fellow, nevertheless, explained that whereas they had the tool as presented, they were not in possession of a car jack to raise the motor vehicle and allow things to flow smoothly as they should.
On one side, a rather stern non-plussed look was aimed at the fellow wielding a wheel spanner. On the other side, the fellow sent back an innocent look of earnest bewilderment over the vehemence in the face of helpfulness.
A painful exchange ensued, kept barely civil by the 70 years’ experience of similarly frustrating comedy that my old man has accumulated.
Eventually, another chap with more authority showed up and said he had a solution but that it was available from a mechanic based elsewhere but quite close.
“How long will this take?” my old man asked, skeptically.
“He will be here soon…”
My old man protested the ‘soon’, but the chaps insisted it was genuine and that they believed the word to mean “in a short time to come”.
Unconvinced, the old man proposed that he take their tool over to the first fuel station where he was certain there was another piece that would provide a solution to the problem. They did not know the proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” or any variant of it involving an unidentified mechanic possibly being ‘nearby’ at an undisclosed location.
They counter-insisted that their unidentified mechanic friend at the undisclosed location ‘nearby’ would be there within the indeterminate period of time they defined as ‘soon’ and even offered the old man a seat.
“But how long is this ‘soon’?” he asked, weakening and losing that small but significant battle.
“Ten minutes,” they said, with that confidence that you normally recognise after about ten minutes to be basic bollocks. Basic bollocks designed to shut you up.
He took his seat and, in that warm, slow-moving heat, he leaned back.
Big mistake. He woke up thirty five minutes later with a jolt – probably dreaming about tyre-changing tools in the after-life complaining about being separated so illogically.
The rest of the fuel station operations were running as normal in full swing, without the tool he required and any care for his problem and presence.
Aghast, he quickly tracked down the fellow with the wheel spanner he required, and the one who had promised an unidentified mechanic was on his way with a jack.
Patience was of paramount importance here.
“The man hasn’t come. It seems he doesn’t have one,” said the chaps, with confidence.
The old man’s temperature rose, not because of the climate around him.
“Enough!” he declared, “I am taking this spanner with me to the other fuel station. I will bring it back when I am done!”
Their ability to resist had been greatly diminished but they stated their reluctance for the record, from a safe distance, and waved him on.
He sped over to the first fuel station, and impressed them with his possession of the part they didn’t have but that was essential for use with the one that they DID possess.
Eager to be done with the entertainment, he supervised the work closely. Ten minutes in, they still hadn’t managed to make a single wheel nut budge.
My old man realised that the pneumatic wheel spanner at the City Tyres bay in Kampala had tightened the nuts so much so that the raw strength and enthusiasm of these particular Banyoro offered little hope.
But they were optimistic, as usual, and called upon their ancestral strength, ingenuity, and experience. You may know that the practice, in such cases, is for the person faced with tight nuts to take up a thick metallic pipe and introduce it into the equation for greater leverage.
They did so, making the wheel spanner set longer and allowing for the solution as follows: rather than using the arm and shoulder muscles to move the wheel nuts the men took to the task by jumping up and down onto the end of the pipe inserted into the wheel spanner.
Then the wheel spanner snapped.
Into two pieces.
The fellow who had been hopping up and down onto the pipe fell to the ground, a short distance away from the piece that had broken off the wheel spanner, and just metres below my old man’s priceless look of disbelief. Nobody laughed.
“Haaaa,” said one fellow close by.
If you don’t know that ‘Haaaa’, I’ll try to make it clear: This one sounds much like ‘Haaa’ but with a slightly longer delivery and less of the head tilting.
In English it means: “This unexpected turn of events is quite unfortunate but I can’t be blamed for it on my own and, therefore, will not offer an apology right away. Nevertheless, suffice to note that we are, at this point in time, screwed.”
Time check: 1300hrs.
Attending the event had become a remote possibility by now. Plus, the tyre was actually flat.
The old man stopped communication with the fellows around him and gave the matter some thought. Five minutes away there was a shop that sold tools. These tools included a wheel spanner.
Fifteen minutes later he was back with a new wheel spanner and a resolve not to accept any further nonsense.
Thirty minutes after that he was handing over the new wheel spanner to the flummoxed fellows at the second fuel station, along with a lecture about their need to be more sensibly equipped to provide the services expected of them.
Time check: 1500hrs.
He got to the event thirty minutes later to find it hadn’t started on time either, by luck and providence. He was just in time for a most crucial part of the ceremony, and didn’t have to explain why he was so damn late.
One thing’s for sure: he will never drive into a fuel station again and assume ANYTHING will go as planned thereafter.