Talking to strangers

The wonderful thing about travelling as much as my family and I did, is, at each new stop you have the opportunity to create an entirely new identity for yourself.

The wonderful thing about travelling as much as my family and I did, is, at each new stop you have the opportunity to create an entirely new identity for yourself.

You arrive in a new town, in a new country – a new continent sometimes – and no one would know you or your story: they had not witnessed your ridiculous attempts at a traditional Baganda dance during a class that you were eventually banned from (Uganda); they weren’t on the cruise ship where you once spat in the Nile because you thought it would be cool for your saliva to travel all the way from Cairo to Lake Victoria* (Egypt); they didn’t hear you confess your feelings to a boy for the first time, and have him respond with an awkward, “thank you” (South Africa). Nope – they knew none of it! You have a clean slate to start etching out a brand new you.

Ever since I was a teenager, each time I’d arrive somewhere new, I’d try to create this image of cool, sophistication and elegance – a mysterious beauty who mesmerized the boys and who all the girls wanted to be friends with. Eventually of course, the real me would come out – the me that trips on zebra crossings and kisses jars of nutella in the supermarket (sorry that you had to see that, Keisha) – and the mystery that is I, would be shattered once again.

However – now that I have my moto, I have been able to salvage some semblance of cool. I love stopping at the traffic lights and pretending not to notice the wondrous stares people give me. I frown edgily (that’s right, edgily) from behind my sunglasses and helmet into the distant horizon, revving my engine with the other motos even though mine’s an automatic. A while ago, I was cruising cooly along in Nyarutarama when I passed a young man on bicycle.

He looked, and was kitted out, like a professional – with the helmet and those leotards cyclists wear – and I noticed he only had his right leg. For some reason we smiled at each other as we passed – a warm smile – like we were old friends. We passed again a few times over the weeks, always going opposite directions, always on the large peaceful Nyarutarama roads – and we would always exchange smiles. We never slowed down or spoke – each time,  I would wonder briefly who he was, what his story was, and of course wonder how he lost his leg, but I would soon move on.

Then, yesterday evening, while weaving through Kisementi at rush hour, we suddenly spotted each other. He grinned at me and I saw the same look of excitement and surprise on his face that I’m sure I had on mine. We were so used to whizzing passed each other during the day in our quiet neighbourhood – yet here we were dodging traffic by streetlight, and for the first time going in the same direction! And He was fast. For a while he sped ahead of me until I finally got passed the car in between us. I caught up and he yelled out,

‘Hi!’

For some reason, I only beebed my horn and sped on.

Amazingly, a few seconds later he had caught up again, and then he overtook me and several cars in front (remember, I was on a moto and he was on a bicycle). I struggled to match his speed, while at the same time, not get run over by oncoming traffic. When I caught up with him again, I yelled out, “You’re really fast!” He smiled as if to say he knew. He started to say something and then paused,

“Do you speak Kinyarwanda?”

“Buhoro!”

“Are you heading home?”

“No, to Bank of Kigali.”

He nodded, and after that riveting dialogue, we got lost in the traffic once again. Of course, he raced on ahead of me, zipping expertly through the cars.

Now there’s a person who knows how to maintain an air of mystery.

* I now know that the Nile actually travels in the opposite direction… so my actions were foolish in more ways than one.

Akaliza Keza Gara is the founder of Shaking Sun Ltd, a multimedia company.

 

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