When I called Amos Gulia at about 7:40pm last Tuesday, I said, “Hi, my name is Ernest. I got your number from Joshua.”
His voice was strong. My phone lit up. He had a punchy and powerful voice that exuded unspoken confidence.
“Joshua told me about you. He said you’d call.”
“So uhm,” I stuttered. “I’m running something called dads@20something where I write stories of men who have become fathers in their 20’s. It’s about lessons young dads have learnt so far, the challenges, the hustle, the light moments. Anything and everything fathers in their 20’s have gone through or are going through. Lessons people can pick from them. Joshua tells me I can speak to you.”
“It’s all right. I can share my story and experiences with you.”
We agreed to meet last Saturday, only after he confirmed the time of Liverpool’s game. He is an ardent fan. He’s Never Walked Alone since 2002. Those were the days of Michael Owen and Emile Heskey.
I sat at a corner at Java House Lugogo Bypass and ordered a cold Coca Cola and chicken wings as I waited. When he reached Shell Lugogo, he called.
“I’m the guy in a green T shirt seated in a corner,” I said.
He walks in with such energy I could feel his presence breathing through the roof. His walk had power. Short strides. Fast paced, arms swinging low. He had the walk of a person on the move to remarkable heights. I see him standing at the door and scanning the place for the corner guy.
He’s in a blue SC Villa jersey and khaki shorts. I raise my hand, my first finger pointing high. He walks towards me. I stretch my hand to greet him and we do a shoulder hug that men do. He takes a seat, his back to the entrance and apologizes for being late. I say it’s alright and ask if he wants anything to eat or drink.
“Water. Water will do,” he says.
I lift my hand to wave at the waiter. He doesn’t see me. None of the waiters sees my hand peeking from the corner. I didn’t think I was too dark for the lights to bounce off me. Now I think I am. Java House should get button press bells on their tables. That will save us a whole lot from raising our hands like pupils in class.
We break the ice by talking about Liverpool’s near capitulation to Sevilla during the week and move to his love for SC Villa. He’s been a fan of SC Villa for about two years now, joined the fans club through his community’s strong SC Villa fans association.
“We need more fans of local sports teams,” he says.
His battery is dying.
“So,” I say as I plug the charger to the socket. “You have a baby, right?”
The waiter, William, comes and takes his order. He asks for a cold bottle of water.
“I had a baby. Now I have babies. Two beautiful girls; Pearl and Diaz. Pearl, born in 2013 and Diaz came two years later.”
I liked their names.
“So, there’s Pearl and Diaz. What’s the story of Pearl?”
He clasps his fingers together and releases them.
“I was done with Senior Six, with no hope of joining university. Yeah, I had no hope. My friends were submitting their applications for admission. Not me. I knew where I wanted to go but there were no money for my uni. At that, I moved out and was staying alone, in Kireka.”
William brings a bottle of water, a warm one, and places it on the table. He walks away. Then remembers that Amos wanted a cold bottle of water. He places a cold one.
Amos should have done his A level in 2009 if “everything had happened at the right time.” He completed this in 2011 at the age of 21.
During the window between 2009 and 2011, he learnt to paint. He got paid daily on painting jobs. There were times when he wasn’t paid. He would sometimes go for up to a month without getting any jobs. This work was inconsistent. His pockets were empty, his stomach hungry and he was in the University of Life, getting the knocks out of his skin.
Amos breaks the seal the bottle of Rwenzori Water, turns the top open and pours some into his glass. He takes a sip.
As he stayed in Kireka, he got a girlfriend.
“I had a girlfriend but she had a child from a previous relationship.” He paused and gave a short faraway look towards the counter. “I loved her. She was fine. She was good looking. She was nice. It wasn’t so serious a relationship initially. I wanted her company. She was beautiful. I needed her company. I thought we would just remain in this state.”
He held the glass in his left hand. “When love grows, it over shadows what you want. Look, I though my girlfriend didn’t have the qualities I was looking for in a wife, if I was to ever marry.”
“First, she had a baby. There was no way I could tell my friends that I was dating a girl with a baby. But then, my friends barely checked on me so it was OK. Secondly, she was a Muslim and I come from a Christian family. I didn’t think I would date a Muslim. As it turned out, her baby became my baby and life was OK. I loved this girl.”
She was the closest person to him, his only companion. Her company overshadowed all the other qualities that he wanted in a woman. She gave him the comfort. When he needed her, she was there. She conceived.
Nine months later, she checked in at Naguru Hospital. She gave birth just after 3:00am on December 15th 2013 to Pearl. He got the call from her caretaker in hospital. He had become a father. He was 23. He jumped on a boda boda from Kireka, heading to the hospital to carry his baby. And when they got to Nakawa, the devil woke up.
Yes, the devil who comes to kill, steal and destroy pulled out his catapult, aimed a ball of shit at him and released it his way. It painted his face bloody red.
“All I remember was the boda guy wanted to turn and there was a car speeding down towards us. I think I blacked out for a moment.”
The car rammed into them, ran them over. They fell off the bike. The boda guy survived. He ran off. The driver of the car reversed and ran over him again before speeding off. The devil wanted to cook him for breakfast. He was toast. The few onlookers at that time of the night rushed to where he was. His life was intact. God is Good! Amen. They helped him to the side of the road. He was bleeding from his pores, profusely; face covered in blood, cuts all over, a wound on his head. His bones and teeth were intact. It was a miracle.
He was taken to Naguru Hospital, the same hospital where his baby mama had given birth under an hour ago. He was at the casualty wing. She was at the maternity side. Father, mother and baby were all in one hospital with father having bad dawn. It was his first day as a father and it was rotten. It started out shitty.
He was back on his feet in under 3 weeks (tough guy), with some pain though, looking for bread and butter for his young family. There’s a scar on his head, crossing his hairline a few inches into his forehead.
I take it in for a moment and sigh.
“What has fatherhood taught you about life?”
He holds the long Luminarc water glass in his hands, and takes another gulp, water smoothly running down his gullet.
“You’ve got to be careful in what you do because if you did something stupid, it would be an injustice to your kids. What I do affects my entire family. Fatherhood has taught me to be considerate. Remember, how will what you are doing influence other people? How many people will it impact?”
“I’ll be honest. I’ve reduced on watching too much soccer. I have a family to go back to. I can’t do any dubious things. You always need to consider your family. Do the things that can give you respect. The respect you earn is for yourself and your family. As a father, I think it’s important to let people see you as a humble man who earns his money the right way.”
He gets a call and asks if I’m alright with him picking it. I say it’s alright. It’s one of the painters he’s supervising.
When Amos gets a painting contract, he employs an average of six people. Sometimes upto 10 people. He tells me he loves painting and it is his passion to make walls glow.
“You work so hard,” I tell him when he gets off the line.
He laughs. “I’m just trying. These are all products of being a father.”
“It’s every man’s responsibility to wake up. You don’t have to have a baby to wake up early to work or to sacrifice something you like to do work that earns you an honest living. Even if you don’t have a baby, you need to work because society welcomes people who work.”
I munch on that and let it settle in my head as I pick my glass of soda. There’s a Bosa Nova tune playing off the speakers. The coffee machine is screeching. The barista was making a cappuccino for someone.
He enrolled for Bachelor of Business Administration at KIU in 2014. He was studying, and working, and taking care of his family. He graduated about two weeks ago.
“The mother of my kids told me she didn’t want to come between me and my dreams and my goals. There was a time she wanted to leave and go back to her parents. I did what I could to keep her. I didn’t want her to suffer on her own. We can suffer together but it would be worse if she was hustling alone for the kids.”
“As a young father, any advice to other young men out there?”
His bottle is half filled. His glass is about a quarter filled with water. He puts on a cautious face. A face that seems to say it doesn’t have all the answers yet. An expression that tells me he’s still paddling his way through this experience.
“I don’t have a specific piece of advice. To the young men running away from their responsibility of fatherhood, Do you really want to run away? Fine. Let’s switch roles if you want to run away. If you were a woman, and some man made you pregnant, and took off, would you like it? Would that game be nice? Think about it.”
He got another call from his painter colleagues.
It was almost seven p.m. He needed to conclude a painting job he was doing. Plus, he had a Liverpool match to catch. We walked out of Java House, along the curly wall of the Cricket Oval, crossed Jinja road, walked passed the Urban TV studios to the government building that was being renovated. He was running the painting project on that building.
And he told me, “If you don’t help people then you are the next thing after useless. Even God won’t take you serious.”