No country for old men

A few months ago, I was sitting on a bus heading to Kampala. The bus which is packed to capacity and my aren’t-children-cute policy will be tested when I end up sitting next to a crying, kicking child who eyes my cake and juice with such longing intensity that I feel guilty for even eating at all.

A few months ago, I was sitting on a bus heading to Kampala. The bus which is packed to capacity and my aren’t-children-cute policy will be tested when I end up sitting next to a crying, kicking child who eyes my cake and juice with such longing intensity that I feel guilty for even eating at all.

The kid has been eating ravenously throughout the trip, which makes his decision to covet my snacks even more mystifying. He will, later have his revenge by aiming sly kicks at my thigh throughout the journey, but this is not his story.

Jaguar has been kind enough to screen for us a Nigerian film which has been dubbed by a hysterical guy narrating every action in Luganda. Said narration makes even the dourest family drama sound like Rambo. The masterpiece being screened today is called 'Titanic Tussle 2: Final tussle'.

The film seems to be about a confused priest, a very emotional woman and a tyrant father who pops up every few minutes to scream theatrically about anything he is not too thrilled about, which turns out to be nearly everything under the sun. I am only aware of these events because I’m on the bus and I can’t jump off while I am halfway to Kampala. I'm reading Stephen King's Duma Key which is wonderfully creepy and so absorbing that even Titanic Tussle only occasionally invades my consciousness.

All this is a rather long-winded way of saying we nearly ran over an old man who was determined to answer the call of nature on a barb wire fence by the side of the road. We were cruising along pretty fast (and in the book life was becoming increasingly difficult for Mr Edgar Freemantle) when the old man made a mad dash across the road right infront of our bus.

Why he chose that precise moment to run for the fence on a road which usually has hardly any traffic is anyone's guess, but he did. As a result we came amazingly close to running him down. The bus missed him by mere inches and screeched to a halt right next to a startled group of meat sellers and one or two disinterested goats. The old man paused briefly in the middle of the road and looked up at our bus. I thought that he might have some sort of epiphany about his brush with death but it was not to be.

He broke out into a broad smile and then carried on running until he reached the fence which was by the side of the road and clearly visible to everyone. Then he proceeded to urinate there while everyone stared at him partly in disbelief and partly in amusement. Then he zipped up and ran off laughing uproariously, his tattered and dirty shirt flapping wildly in the breeze. He looked drunk, dirty and slightly lost. Everybody on the bus began to chatter excitedly about the event and the young men selling meat outside joined in.

This brief camaraderie between passengers and entrepreneurs would be rudely halted when our bus drove off without anyone buying meat. The men stood around glaring at us as the bus sped off and we became specks in the distance.

Later I wondered about the old man who had brushed aside a near-death experience with such casual insouciance. How many people would remember him when he was gone?

And by what cruel twist of fate had he ended up in his predicament? I remembered the faces of the people who had stood around laughing at him. There had been no compassion or pity in their eyes. Even he had laughed at his near demise and he would probably keep bringing it up with his friends. Thinking about it on the bus, it was tempting to think that the whole thing had not really been so funny after all.

minega@trustchambers.com

 

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