By David Tumusiime, Uganda:
She was what every woman should not be; especially for a Ugandan woman. She did not seem to care. She was openly dozing, like a drunk man. Nodding off so much her head would droop and the next minute one of her startled neighbours would be cursing and shaking her off their shoulder.
She had tried to be like the rest of us: stay awake. If not, snooze quietly. But it had not worked for her. She was a big, Rubenesque woman and whenever she dozed off, she would snort loudly. It was funny, the first time, and the second time but when it became obvious no one else could be lulled into their own dreams, it became annoying. So she was shaken awake for that too.
Not shaken; jabbed in the ribs with an elbow by her neighbour when he could screw up his courage, his nostrils and disgust on his face. She smelled a lot. Another morning taxi shocker that was unwelcome. Not the sweaty smell of unshaven armpits – armpits that did not have contact with even the cheapest of deodorants.
She smelled of the night she had had. That was part of what horrified the entire taxi: That we could tell she had been drinking Beckham gin and other sachet vodkas'. Her breath told us so every time she belched. There was also that other smell on her when a woman has been with a man and not washed afterwards. Everyone commented on it when she finally left the taxi.
But it was how she looked that made all of us cringe. It was as if she had been rolling in mud. Her velvet blue coat was stained. Her dress frayed. Like she had been fighting. Or slept under the tree from where our taxi picked her. She had on one earring. Her face was puffed.
When she began to sniff, swallowing her sorrows, wet big tears sliding down her face, we all couldn't wait for her to alight from our taxi. Only when she was getting off did I learn she did not have shoes. She had lost them the night before. The side of her dress was ripped and she was holding it tightly. I could also see spatters of blood on her dress.
She had no money for the fare and the conductor was not the only one who called her a malaaya, as we drove away, leaving her by the side of the road to begin our day, our week.
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