The man walked in a daze on Main Street in the eastern Uganda town of Jinja. He did not seem to have an aim in his wandering. A close look into his eyes would have shown a troubled countenance.
Mutebi did not live in Jinja; he was far from home. He came to “Stone Town” because it had called to him. In times of distress, this is the place that beckoned.
The weight of the news that he’d just received swayed him. He did not notice the boda-boda cyclists who cursed him for stepping dangerously into their path. They could have run him over, they said.
The sad man found a bench at a duka. He asked for a packet of milk and a piece of cake. ” Keep the change,” he told the bored-looking overweight woman behind the counter. She didn’t respond, returning to whatever interesting news played on her phone.
“Probably Facebook,” Mutebi muttered under his breath.
The milk was cold in his hand. The brown cake, inviting in another life, lay neglected on the bench beside Mutebi. His mind was a riot.
What am I going to do?
How do I even start to explain this to anybody?
A neutral ringtone. His smartphone. On the second or third ring, he noticed it. A quick glance at the shopkeeper; she looked at him with impatience in her eyes.
“Hello? Mutebi here,” he spoke into the mouthpiece. It was the clinic.
“You forgot some documents. You need to come back; you mustspeak with the counselor. She expected you back in her office.”
Nurse Mildred had a military tone, maybe refined after countless experiences with people like Mutebi, who were not able to handle the truth.
“Okay,” Mutebi said softly.
He covered his face with his palms and waited for the bout of shivering to pass.
He tried to think how he had got it. Too many females in his past, it would be impossible to pinpoint the exact source of the evil that now swam in his veins.
One thing was certain though, it started with his search for his soulmate. For years he believed in the theory that everybody on earth has a soulmate.
For seven years, he tried to find his soulmate. He loosened up; struck up conversations with lonely-looking women on bar stools, listened to their ambitions and heartbreak stories.
Many times, those late nights ended up in either his bed or the bed of yet another lonely woman.
The frequency of these trysts would have bothered Mutebi years earlier, but since he resolved to find his soulmate, it was all for a good cause.
Sitting at the duka entrance, with milk and cake by his side, Mutebi did not notice the different people who came to buy items.
Once in a while, a child would come by and fudge the directions their mother had given them. The matronly woman behind the counter would try to help them remember. Sometimes she would call the child’s mother to get the exact order.
“I have destroyed everything,” Mutebi said softly. “The ironic thing is I knew where it was all leading.”
The events that led to this point in his life had been set off from the moment Mutebi decided to reach for an impossible dream. There was no way of knowing who gave him the gift of death that now coursed through his veins.
There had been so many.
How many did he infect? Mutebi sat up at this. “Jesus, what have I done?”
This morning, he left home in Ntinda, Kampala and boarded a Coaster to Jinja. He always took the Coaster, a habit borne from growing up under the guidance of parents who approached life cautiously.
Coasters were the safe option; Matatus were driven by reckless idiots high on miraa.
This caution had fizzled out along the way, it seemed now.
On reaching Jinja, Mutebi went straight to the JCRC clinic. He had seen it a couple of times, so he knew where to find it. Only this time he was driven by a feeling he could not explain.
One hour later, it was the look on the nurse’s face as she took the envelope to the counselor’s office that told.