By Nassanga Rashidah Sarah, Uganda:
It had begun that morning when albino Kima got up from what had been her bed for a year. The sun was already peeping out from behind the clouds over the top of a two-storied building. That was her cue; she was late.
“Timmy! We need to go!”
She gently shook awake her little brother while she cleared the effects of the night off her own face. She then folded their packing crate cardboard bed and stashed it more unobtrusively under the wooden steps leading to a phone shop under which they had slept for two weeks now. Timmy was up already. Kima smoothed down her tattered dress and said “let's go.'' In just two steps, with Timmy clinging onto her arm, they were on the sidewalk, joining the brisk early morning pedestrians.
She helped Timmy along to their work station, which was at the side of the entrance to the City Mall. She sat down a few feet in front of him, crossed her legs and went to work immediately, stretching out her palms folded into a seeking bowl. Some passers-by dropped coins in her palms which she would pass on to Timmy for safe keeping. Timmy, who was only five, was of dark complexion and had chubby cheeks, a large nose and big eyes. Their mother had told her that his head had always tilted to the side and he drooled constantly from birth. Although his brain could not align his actions, there were two things he never forgot; that Kima was all he had and that the money bag was to be guarded with his life.
Their parents had been lynched two years before in their village of Tamu, on orders of the witchdoctor. In a backwater village of perfectly black people, two children with rare health conditions equalled sorcery. One day, the headman's son had discovered a human skull in their house. Kima had been just six the day her parents died in front of her, and the miracle was that the villagers were too scared of her and Timmy to kill them.
With no relatives to take them in, the devil's children walked to the city, forty kilometres away. Kima was a beautiful eight year old girl of light complexion, squinty eyes and curly brown hair. People gave her alms for the sake of her frailty, she looked as if she were about to die. It was this success that put her on a collision course with Mamadou and her twins.
They arrived at 10 a.m. As usual Mamadou, a middle aged dark woman in perfect health who deliberately wore torn clothes, dropped the twins off before heading to her station just across the road. The only thing that differentiated them was a mole on one of the twins' cheeks.
“She's early again! We have to get rid of her!” one of them said to the other.
They stared at Kima scornfully and spat each time she got a coin or note when they didn't.
Mamadou watched the four children's beggary skills on display from her station across the street. A fat woman with extraordinary breasts, and obviously no bra, dropped a coin in Kima's hand and she gave it to her accursed brother. Mamadou hated them for they were sapping the spirit of her own children, dampening her twins' enthusiasm for their jobs! Well, she would do something to sort them out permanently.
At around midday, a short dark man with a tick in his right eye came to a halt a meter from where Kima was seated. He pulled out a twenty from his wallet and handed it to her. She couldn't believe her eyes. All day she had received coins and a one thousand shilling note, but not a twenty, not in weeks. Kima was near speechless, but she forced out the words.
“Thank you so much uncle! Thank you!”
She looked at him teary eyed, albeit grinning. Apollo grunted and went on his way without a second look at her. She shrugged, she had a fortune in hand and her stomach demanded more attention than his behaviour. They had enough to get them something to eat. The money in the bag, which Timmy guarded with his life, would be for his medicine. Kima had it all planned out.
She jogged to a nearby kiosk. The attendant looked down at her as if she was a piece of trash, but she didn't stop smiling. Besides, most people gave her that indecent look, it didn't hurt her feelings as it used to.
“What do you want?” he snapped. “There are no free things here. Go back to the streets where you belong!”
She held out the twenty and spoke breathlessly. “Give me three chapattis, two…''
“What is this?” he interrupted. “You think I'm stupid? This note is a fake!” He spat at her in the sudden outrage of a petty shopkeeper. “Today, you'll learn a lesson!” He grabbed her arm. Kima could feel his fangs that were his fingers digging into her flesh, and she let out a loud cry.
“It was just given to me!” Whatever it was, it was time to plead and she knew it.
“Just shut up,” he shouted several times as he dragged her to the nearby police post.
Behind the counter stood a massive woman in police uniform; her round face had wrinkles across the forehead, with huge nostrils and red eyes that scared Kima to shivers. Her gaze was steadily fixed on the shopkeeper exaggerating the incident. Whenever Kima tried to interrupt she was shut up by a fierce look. It was clear the policewoman would believe the shopkeeper. Kima was nobody, terrified for her Timmy; she was filth not worth the benefit of the doubt. The policewoman scribbled down a few things and signalled a tired looking police guard, sitting on a wooden bench behind her, to take Kima away. She tried to resist but that earned her a slap on the cheeks, her eyes tearing up immediately.
They stopped at a metallic, burglar proofed door where the police guard pulled out a batch of keys from his pockets.
“Silly kids, I don't know why they run away from their homes to the streets! Wasting our time when we have bigger criminals to catch.”
He thrust her into the small room so she landed on the cold concrete floor. The room smelled of piss and fear. Tears welled up in her eyes as she wondered what would befall helpless Timmy, for she knew she wasn't going to get out soon and the world she knew would have ended when she did.
Apollo flipped the one thousand shilling notes with his thumb and first finger, the tick in his eye keeping faster time than ever as he counted. “This money is less by one thousand shillings,” he declared.
“Meaning what, huh? We agreed on five thousand shillings and it is all there!” replied Mamadou.
Apollo's response was to grab the shawl around her neck and pull it to strangle her. Mamadou did not need anyone to tell her to start screaming. Her six year old boys looked on… lost. A crowd quickly gathered and a brave man with rippling muscles pulled Apollo away from certain murder.
Still huffing and puffing, Apollo shouted. “You bitch, your little bitch rival is in the slammer for good. You pay me the six thousand shillings or else…!”
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