The things that disorganize us do not usually come from very far; just a little oversight or slight mistake here and there; – and you have an upheaval on your hands.
That’s exactly what happened 33 years ago this week. It was the last day of school at Namilyango College and I was packed and good to go. I was not even sure how I was to get to Jinja, which I have always regarded as my hometown, because it is where I grew up. I placed my suitcase – a blue, strong tin affair – near the road, at House Billington, where I resided during my “O’ levels.
I then skipped house just to say goodbye to a friend – I think it was Geoffrey Denye Kalebbo in House Campling. When I returned, half an hour later, the suitcase was gone! It was simply incredible.
I inquired around and established that it had been packed on to a blue lorry, registration number UWQ 181. That was all the student remembered. It had not been stolen. It just so happened that when the lorry came to pick up a kid or two, the Turn Boy had accidentally loaded mine as well. In the euphoria and excitement of going home, nobody had noticed the error.
The problem was that everything I possessed by way of books and clothing was in that case. And there was no way I’d go home without it, especially as my dad was of the firm, considered view that sparing the rod inevitably spoiled the child. I really had no option. The case had to be found.
I hitch-hiked (there were some cars leaving) to Seeta and boarded a taxi to Mukono. Even in 1984, Mukono was a big town. It was as long and winding as it is today; only the peripheral areas have grown rapidly in the last 20 years. And it was even much bigger for a small-bodied, 13-year old child, who had never actually been to Mukono. I had only been driven through on my way to and from Jinja.
I was armed with only basic facts: a blue lorry. UWQ 181. Oh, and with just enough cash to take me back to Namilyango.
Now at 46, I look back in sheer trepidation at the prospect of a child visiting a big town for the first time and looking for a blue lorry! What was I thinking?
Really idiotic and most certainly Don Quixotic. But at the time it appeared the most logical thing in the world. And it was backed by that innocent, child-like faith: God is going to lead me to that lorry. Now that I say it, it even sounds even more stupid, because Mukono has always been a lorry town, because it is a business hub.
I really do not understand why people do not believe in God; because I’ve done so all my life. I cannot explain why I disembarked at what is now the road that leads to the Chief Magistrate’s Court of Mukono. I just felt like I should disembark at that point. I walked, with all my innocence and what someone else would call stupidity, towards the centre of the town, looking out for a blue lorry. Nobody will understand how I felt when, after walking for about 400 metres, I saw a blue lorry parked at what is now Total Petrol Station, right by the roadside.
I walked towards it and checked the number plate: UWQ 181. I may have failed mathematics; but there are numbers that I am very good at. Registration numbers and telephone numbers are some of the numbers that I never forget. Problem was, UNEB (the national examinations board) never ever examined me in them, whenever national exams came calling.
The lorry had made a brief stop for something. When I explained my dilemma to the driver, he told me that was no problem. All I had to do was go back about 400 metres and I’d find two houses, side by side that look alike.
“One of them belongs to Mr. Mutyaba,” he said. “That’s where we dropped the kids.” And off the lorry went.
I walked back, only to find myself at the very same spot that the taxi had dropped me! God can be amazing.
I walked over to the houses. I was still a few metres out, when Mukiibi, my housemate at school, and in Senior Two by then, spotted me. He very easily knew why I had come. He emerged from one of the houses laughing, carrying the heavy suitcase with just one strong arm. Mukiibi, whom we’d nicknamed “Ddoboozi” because of his deep voice was, besides being a scoundrel through and through (albeit a good-natured one), an accomplished boxer who had once quit the football pitch and chased me all over the college and punched me (in sheer exasperation) for calling him (tongue-in-cheek) by his nickname.
He carried it to the taxi point and bade me goodbye. I got back to Seeta, unsure how to get to Jinja, now that I had less money. It didn’t help matters that I met two of my mates – Sulaiman Mbaziira and Fred Ikaaba who were in Seeta, waiting to be picked by Mr. Ikaaba, Fred’s father. The two boys were penniless and hungry. I told them I had just a few hundreds left on me.
They quickly advised that we “eat” all of it, then wait for Mr. Ikaaba to show up. He was coming from Kampala, enroute to Jinja. In those days the idea of mobile telephones didn’t even exist in our dreams. And even landlines were very few. But it taught people to keep their word, because you could not cancel an appointment anyhow. And it taught people to wait and wait patiently.
To be fair, I too was hungry. We ate whatever the money could buy and exhausted it.
So now here I was, completely penniless and still hoping to get home. Daddy – an accomplished mathematician who had problems understanding why I could not pass mathematics – always counted his monies with exactness. His government did not entertain the idea of supplementary budgets or re-allocation of monies. If he gave you transport monies, he expected you home on the day holidays begun. There was nothing to argue about.
I was still wondering what to do, when I spotted a van across the road. It was a van I knew very well; because it belonged to Jinja Nurses and Midwives Training School. Our home was right opposite Jinja Hospital.
I walked over to it, only to find that it was carrying the Medical Superitendent, Dr. Lamech Mutesasira (bless his soul!). He had stopped to buy something; on his way back to Jinja. He was a friend of my dad and was on the board that controlled Victoria Nile School, where my father was headmaster. That aside, his sons Julius and Justine were my friends. When I introduced myself he didn’t ask questions; he simply asked me to get my suitcase and jump aboard.
Daddy was sipping his evening tea when Dr. Mutesasira and I showed up. He had no idea what I’d been through! To this day I’ve never told him a thing; for if I had spoken then, I would have in all likelihood been given the benefit of the rod, just to teach me to be more careful next time. And if I told him now, he’d probably just be upset that many of his friends and peers like Dr. Mutesasira have since departed this good world.
My two friends got picked up later by Mr. Ikaaba, I learnt next day.
Sula Mbaziira went on to find love and money in Namibia and Botswana or thereabouts. World Vision liked Geoffrey so much, they smuggled him to Kenya, years ago. Fred is now Engineer Ikaaba, just like his father. Dr. Mutesasira, a goodly soul who would most certainly have frowned on the doctors who are on strike today, went to be with the Lord last year.
I was reflecting on this old story as I passed through Mukono a few days ago. Many times we go through difficult times and we think that the Lord has let us down or forsaken us. But each of us, in all honesty, can look back at certain miraculous incidents in the past that can only tell one story: the Lord has always been with us all the way, even when we explained it away as sheer “luck”. He’s a good, good God!
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