He realised with a start that he was out of time. He threw the Stephen King tome he was reading on the sofa as he raced to the bathroom. He was through with his shower in five. It was already 8 pm and he had only a few minutes to get to Sabrina’s for his date. The voice on the phone had sounded mysterious and he did not want to miss her, if only to see the person who spoke with such intensity, whose voice raised his neck hairs, albeit on phone.
Dashing through the gate, he noticed that there was something odd about Matayo, the gateman. He didn’t have the time to stay and find out what it was because of the time but it kept on pushing against his brain. This feeling was to remain with him for a long time during the evening but was later to be over ridden by other emotions.
The taxi man drove like he was possessed. There were no passengers in the bus-like matatu but it didn’t matter. Even the conductor didn’t bother to hang-ten, asking if potentials wanted to ride with us. That was strange but Mpaata had seen stranger things in this town. That these usually rowdy guys who were ever delaying things wanted to help him beat his appointment time was okay with him.
Getting out of the vehicle at the KPC stage, he almost stepped on a black cat. It snarled its black cat snarl and beat it. But as he crossed over to the other side, he almost stepped on another black cat! Mpaata shook his head to clear it of any cobwebs that might be up in there. This happened only in The Matrix, not here in dusty old Ug. He laughed at himself. Why couldn’t two black cats be in the same vicinity at the same time?
“You want to sell your soul? That’s okay, that fine with me,” a voice said, overly close. Mpaata turned to see who it was but for a moment was puzzled because he could see no one. Then the voice came again, sounding even more eerie, “And as you walk through the valley of death, don’t be thinking it’s for anyone else that the bells are tolling, bozo, its your ass that’s going down.”
It was a beggar, sitting on the curb. Mpaata was puzzled, probably more because of the intensity of the words, than the fact that as far as he could recall, there were no beggars outside Sabrina’s Pub. And was the old guy talking to him?
He dropped a coin in the outstretched hand and the beggar’s head turned unseeingly toward him. His evidently blind eyes smiled at him and his joy was conveyed through a toothless grin. Then he spoke, but this time the voice and strength of speech were different; “makama akuwe omukisa,” he mumbled. And that made Mpaata pose. Who had spoken earlier, then?
He was jolted into a run when he remembered that he had to meet this mysterious woman at the club. He entered the dark place and from the top of the flight of stairs, could see that the place was almost full. On stage, K’Angie Mtume was belting out some soulful jazzy tune tempering the thirst of a hundred patrons, who were swallowing Clubs like it was the newest stunt in town.
She had said she would be sitting at the last table on the left facing the stage. That would be her in a red coat, then, Mpaata told himself. He moved over and put on his best strangers-meeting-for-the-first-time smile.
“Yes. You must be Mpaata,” she replied giving him her hand. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his mind, he was smirking; who in this day and age started out a friendship like this? Maybe this is how blind dates worked. After all, he was doing this for the first time. He had responded to a lonely hearts ad in the paper and to his surprise, he had gotten in touch with this person.
She had described herself as happy go lucky and in search of a guy who had no inhibitions. She was in the country for a short time and she just wanted to have a good time. Now, before him sat a beautiful woman who looked odd.
It did not come to him immediately but as he sat and started to chat her up, he started to notice more and more that this was indeed a strange woman. First of all, when he’d come up to the table, her hands had been inside her coat, which was woolen. When she gave him her hand, it was as cold as ice. Now he looked at the table top and noticed that she was taking tea or coffee or something hot. Why were her fingers freezing. Unconsciously, he rubbed his hand on his pants leg. It felt clammy.
The light on the overhead screen shifted and fell on her face, giving him a better view of what she looked like and he started. This black girl was either wearing the weirdest contacts ever or she had no pupils. Her eyes were a sick grey colour and they had no emotion…or life.
Mpaata was not listening to what she was saying. His brain had started working but it was not finding whatever it was searching for. This was not going according to plan. And he was sure it had nothing to do with the Guinness he’d been taking. What was this? She was pulling something from her bag now, showing him something.
For some reason, Mpaata could not hear what she was saying. Yet all this time, she was talking. At this point, she seemed to be speaking with some amount of urgency. She gestured for him to look inside the bag and he did.
Inside the bag, there was what appeared to be movements. It was too dark for him to see what was inside clearly at first. Gradually, though, he started to make out the figures. Inside the bag, in a clear bottle, there were two men!
The first thing that popped up in his head was a line from that annoying song by Harriet Kusasira. These things actually happened? The men appeared to be shouting but Mpaata could hear nothing. They wore green uniform-like clothes that reminded him, in that moment, of the schizophrenics in Butabika. They were earnestly pleading and nothing could compare to the looks of terror on their faces.
Then their faces became clearer. Mpaata realized that he actually knew these unfortunates. Neighbours. They were brothers and he recalled that he had not seen them for sometime. They lived in the apartment next to his. He had noticed their absence because there was no more music blasting from their place. Everyone around knew them for their inconsiderate loud music from early in the morning.
There had been rumours that these two were drug dealers and that they were the go-to guys if someone wanted to hit the high time. Their specialty was designer drugs and they were doing well. They did not seem to have regular jobs so the legend seemed to fit.
Right now, their money did not seem to be helping them because they were trapped in a bottle in crazy green uniforms. And what was Mpaata doing here? He asked himself? That is when the music from the stage returned. He came back to life then. Dolly was staring at him with those unseeing eyes, yet he knew they saw more than he cared for.
He stumbled backward and hit the blue, plastic chair. The bottle of Fruity that he had started sipping on flew to the hard concrete floor. He looked around in a daze and he was baffled. No one seemed to be taking note of the commotion. K’Angie was taking a bow and receiving whistles and calls for encore.
And the woman was now smiling. Her teeth were green. Somehow, the smile did not come off right and now he realised why she looked odd. She had no eyebrows. He had somehow managed to respond to the lonely hearts ad from hell.
But she kept her seat. She was too confident. He moved backward till he was at the top of the steps, until he could not see her anymore. Then he turned and fled outside.
The guy at the entrance to Sabrina’s did not stop him as sped outside. He never stops anyone going out. But in that split second, with his mind in turmoil, he noticed that this same guy was the guy at the gate at his home. Now he knew what had struck him as odd about the askari. This guy had the face of Dolly. He had a beard and he had a cap on but this did not hide the deathly face. Nothing would make him forget that face.
Many days later, after he had gotten the opinions of three different head doctors that there was nothing wrong with his head, he was flipping through the papers again and saw an obituary. Now Mpaata was not in the habit of skipping everything in the paper and jumping to the obituaries. It was something that just happed. He saw the picture. A regular size snap and a few regular words sent in by a family that was fast forgetting what it felt like to know the person in question: In Loving Memory; Dolly Nabatanzi, Born January 2 1912, Died July 4, 1980. Dearly missed by sons, daughters, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
And this was the year 2006!