The day had been long and tiring, and I was surprised to be getting home roundabout the same time as Bruno, that earnestly comedic driver currently employed to convey my wife and children around town.
“Sir!” he said, to catch my attention after walking in my direction and stopping a respectful distance away.
I stopped offloading my car and turned towards him.
He took one careful step forward, put one hand onto his wrist, and then brought the second hand forward to hand me two crisp Ushs50,000 notes.
Bruno often surprises me by the way his mind works, so I never attempt to work out the meaning of his gestures, mumbled words or even those he delivers with the right elocution.
So I took nothing for granted and, before bringing my hand out to accept the cash offering, I had to ask: “What’s this?”
Bruno did not disappoint.
He responded with such finality and purpose that for a couple of seconds I suspected he had set it all up for this one priceless moment when he would have me in front of him, about to receive two Ushs50,000 notes and asking, “What’s this?”
Because he replied with a very straight, blank, clear face: “Money.”
I almost died, and to this day thank God that this had not happened while I was drinking a glass of water or chewing on some hard bits of food, because I would have choked and died.
Again, the man was absolutely CORRECT! “This” WAS money! He was 100% correct on that count; he was handing me money.
My question had not covered the full length of the information I wanted from him – such as what the money was for, where it was from, what they excepted in return, and so on and so forth.
I had only asked, “ What is this?”
My suspicion that he had done this on purpose in order to respond, “Money” however, was short-lived. Surely, I thought, he would have first started with, “My hands, sir!” then after I had pressed on a bit, moved to “Money!”
But again, this was Bruno, and his blank face sometimes suggested that there were vacancies available behind it.
This was one of those times.
Today’s helping came from my regular supplier, Bruno.
He has a humble soul to match the sharpness of his intelligence, and his comedic value far outweighs the irritation that accompanies it.
I don’t use him every day, but sometimes find myself ceding on-road vehicle management to him.
Part of his usefulness is in ensuring that vehicle parts are not popped off the vehicle while it is parked, and that valuables and other not-so-valuables do not disappear from the vehicle when my wife and I are absent.
As he dropped me at the Jubilee Insurance Centre on Parliamentary Avenue, I gave him the usual life-or-death reminder regarding my laptop: “Do not let it out of your sight. Do not leave it in the car. Do not let it get stolen.” twice in English, and twice in Luganda.
I pointed at the bag. I made him turn back to look at the bag. Then I made him look at me to see how serious I was, as usual, about this issue.
“Now go to the Parking Lot and please wait for me there. I will tell you when I am done with the meeting,” I said, and left after he had confirmed comprehension – which never really means much.
Two hours later, my meeting over and done with, I switched my phone on as I was walking out and saw an SMS indicating that Bruno had tried to call me not fifteen minutes earlier.
I felt a sense of dread come over me. The only reason he would be calling would be to tell me he had changed his location or to report an issue.
You would only understand the depth of my fear if you knew the full story of Bruno and his absolute inability to give or follow directions (which you might hear about later on). This shortfall makes it almost impossible to do anything with him if you are not physically in the same place.
But the next three minutes confirmed that he is improving.
I called him back praying that he had not been sent anywhere else or gotten lost between the front of the building and the Parking Lot.
“You tried to call me?”
Silence as I waited for him to tell me why he had tried to call me.
Silence as he waited for me to tell him (again) why I had called him.
“Yeah, Bruno. What is it? Why had you called?”
“Sir,” he said, “I had called to tell you madame sent me to fix the tyre.”
“Okay,” I replied, afraid that he was now probably in Entebbe or Mityana, trying to fix the tyre, “So where are you?”
*Here it is*
And he said: “Shell.”
Pause, at this point, and appreciate that where I was standing, on Parliamentary Avenue, smack in the centre of Kampala, being told that he was at ‘Shell’ was as descriptive as any other word in the english language at that point. Among words he could have said and been equally informative were: ‘Chicken’, ‘Biscuits’, ‘Bricks’, ‘Cement’…and even places such as, ’Take-away’, ‘Restaurant’, ‘Hotel’, and so on and so forth.
But I picked out the silver lining in my situation as I stood in the hot sun working out which ’Shell’ he was probably at and worked up the courage to pursue a line of questioning for more details:
You see, just a month ago, Bruno always answered the question, “Where are you?” with the precise and prompt response: “Here!”
I always planned that when I found myself down in the dumps I would call him up with this question so he lightens the mood.
He had improved from “Here” to, at least, saying the name of the place.
So, calculating that the nearest Shell to where we were was probably the one above Grand Imperial Hotel, I hurriedly started my climb uphill and continued my line of questioning, but first by ascertaining that my bag was still safe.
“Do you have my bag, Bruno? Are you watching it?”
He had been waiting for this question, I could tell from the glee with which he answered: “Yes, sir! I am having your bag with me!”
Great! I slowed my pace down a little bit at that news, which was a little lucky because then I asked him which Shell petrol station he was at exactly and he answered:
*I am not making this story up. You may wish to meet Bruno and spend a little time with him if you want to verify his general embeera (the way he be’s).
“Bruno! Which Shell?!”
I stopped in my tracks.
“Total,” he said, “Opposite Uganda House.”