Taxi Tales: Fool Me Once!
By David Tumusiime, Uganda:
I'm no fool in Kampala, I like to think. This is my city and I know her ways. Drop me anywhere in Kampala and I know someone somehow there. I was born and raised here. There shouldn't be anything about Kampala that surprises me.
We grew up knowing that if a man walking in-front of you dropped an envelope, that it would be a trick. Ignore the envelope. Ignore the whisper in your ear that you should pick up that envelope and share the loot. If you do, you won't know how your wallet got legs to wander out of your back pocket before you are through.
We sat on the kamemes before we graduated to the seats, learning the rules of a public service vehicle in Kampala and everywhere. If the callousness of a Kampala taxi driver and conductor did not make you cry, no teacher's bamboo stick could. This was schooling in life.
Kampala makes you as hard as you need to be. I like to think that. Though once, I wondered if I was as hard as I liked to assume.
She had a baby; I like to believe that is what made me lower my guard. A baby and an FDC blue baby handbag for his clothes. A baby, who was fascinated by my spectacles, kept trying to reach for them, as babies are wont. Gurgling, talking, and inviting me to coo back.
It helped that his mama was, yes, cute. She did not intrude on the conversation I was trying to have with her baby, shrink from me like I was one of those Kajubi's jumping off at the next shrine stage with her baby. But since she was his Google translator, we ended up exchanging more than just a hullo, beautiful boy.
Perhaps then you can see why I did not see it coming when she held my hand as I prepared to leave the taxi. Lightly but firmly, pleaded, “We are going to hospital from here. Can you please spare us something? We don't even have taxi fare. Please be kind. I don't have milk for him.”
Yeah, I paid, feeling good I could help. Felt good until I ran into her two months later and her appeal had not changed a word. And she could not remember I had given her money before.