We met at the tyre jungle of the Old Taxi Park. Conductors were calling passengers, young men with baskets of potato and gonja crisps crossed from one side to another asking if we wanted to buy some. I motioned a no to them with my head. Women in blue and white aprons holding plates of matooke, rice, posho and beef rushed to serve their customers.
The ground was uneven, bumps at every turn of the eye. I looked at the large black advertising ring at the center of the Park. There used to be a Vodafone ad on it. It’s now gone. The advertising board is black, with nothing on it.
I was happy to meet her again. It had been five years since we last met. She painted her fingernails blue. She plaited her hair and it ran down her ears and drew the roundness of her face. I asked if she was in touch with any of the old timers. She said yes, showed me a WhatsApp group and I told her I’d like to join. It was fine. I genuinely was excited to join this particular WhatsApp group because it had old mates. I wanted to connect again, to meet peeps I hadn’t met in over a dozen years. I was happy so I asked her to add me.
Then someone removed me. And five minutes later, I was added back. Then someone asked who I was. Again, another person removed me. It was like a game of switching lights on and off.
I sat in a taxi and looked out the window. We drove up City Square and went past Sheraton Kampala. The traffic was flowing like a calm river. We turned at Kampala Club and continued down to the lights at Golf Course. I looked at the billboard of Equity Bank. It had a picture of a man playing a Saxophone. I stared at it for a few seconds and my mind drifted. The lights turned green and we drove passed Golf Club to Acacia Avenue.
Some kids crossed the street to Acacia Place. They were either going to Java House or they were going to stroll to Acacia Mall, a hangout place for high-school kids of today. We used to hang out at Garden City. That was the place of the first decade of the 21st Century in Kampala.
The taxi made a turn at Kamwokya, we drove down Old Kira Road, and when we reached Kampala International School, my phone vibrated. I was back on the group. So I did the most basic thing when you are added on a group. I introduced myself. I said I was happy to join the team again. I said I missed the guys (which I honestly did). You can’t study with people, sit in class with some of them for four years, build memories of your teenage years with some of them and just forget them. I was excited to connect again.
But something was wrong. It felt cold.
One guy said he wanted to tell me something. I said it was fine. He called me an unprintable name. And I laughed it off with the rolling on the floor laughing emoji. I thought it was a joke. So I laughed. Another guy asked me to hide my head. He asked me to not to respond, told me to stay silent and keep my head down. I didn’t know it then but he was trying to protect me. He probably knew what was coming my way. I studied in a mixed school in my O-Level before moving to a Boy’s school for A-Level.
I kept responding to a few of the messages directed to me. Until it got overly obscene. This guy accused me of being the worst guy anyone will ever meet on this earth. He asked why I would make kids kneel at school as a form of punishment. He said I made kids get suspended and expelled from school. I said I didn’t and he was generalizing stuff and it’s probably a case of mistaken identity for we were many prefects. He said I was the one. He said he didn’t care because I was still part of the prefects body. Homeboy threw in all the abuses he could get off his head. He asked if I thought I’d get a job from the headmaster or if the school would feed me for the rest of my life.
Being a prefect in high school is a tough thing. Yes, I gave kids punishments for messing in school. I remember making a boy clean the boy’s toilets, which were at a side where the girls could see him. His offense? His class captain asked him to sweep the class and he refused. He told me he was embarrassed and couldn’t do it. I said he’d do it, he’d clean the toilets and nothing would happen to him. He did it. I don’t remember getting any kid suspended or expelled from school.
But this guy insisted I messed up many people’s lives. He said I was a merciless moron. That I didn’t care a rats ass what happened to people, their parents and their future. That he hated me.
He called me another set of unprintable names and said if he ever finds me anywhere in Kampala, he will break my bones and knock my teeth out. That he’ll beat the shit out of me and I’ll go numb. That I’ll bleed through all my pores and I won’t walk. He was hurt. And he was pouring it all out. He said if he met my wife, he’d sleep with her (he used way rougher language) and mess with everything she’s got. He’d make a video of it and post it on social media.
My heart sunk.
He told the guys to call me a new name. He stripped me of my name of said going forward; the team should call me the female reproductive organ. Say that in Luganda or Swahili and you’ll get the word. And some of the people laughed. Some people read silently, in kamooli, like we say. It was funny and it also felt like someone poking a pin at my earlobes. I was having a rough evening.
Horrible words can make you sick.
I felt nauseated. My stomach was churning. I wanted to puke. There was nothing coming out. I felt sick and just buried my face in my hands. He beat the confidence out of me. The mental fight is a hard one. It kills you and makes you almost docile if you let it do so.
When typing became too stressing for him, he sent a line of voice notes about me being a horrible guy. That I don’t deserve any friendship. It was another earthquake for me. I responded to one thing that someone else had typed and one guy said, “Yeah, you did some good things but the bad things outweighed the good ones.”
My confidence was crushing. My stomach was churning even more. Then the guy who asked me not to peek my head, to keep away said, “See, I asked you to keep your head down. Now see what just happened.” He was nice to me.
It’s always good to know that someone is a little bit on your side when you’re on the firing squad.
Someone responded with a “Tumbavu” and another called me stupid. I wanted to stop reading or listening to the voice notes but I couldn’t.
I was having a shitty evening.
I went to bed and woke up, still nauseated. It was a complete psychological beating. My stomach felt like a limp. My legs felt as though blood stopped flowing to them. They were numb. My mind was tired. My muscles were aching as though I was in a fight. Instead of responding to the claims and defending myself, I figured it wouldn’t be worth the sweat.
I looked at my phone again and read the messages I’d missed and listened to all the voice notes that came through in the night. They felt like a kick in my balls. My eyes got teary. And two long strands of salty water ran down my cheeks. And I wiped them, wrote an apology to the guys who felt hurt by me and posted it to the group.
I said I’m sorry. And I apologized on behalf of the whole prefects team I served with. That’s the downside of collective responsibility. You take the fall for errors made by a teammate. When one member of your team messes up, it’s the whole team in boiling water. I can’t claim to be an amazing person. Certainly, I’m not. I can’t claim to be a good person. I can only try to be good every day.
I went to church, knelt at the pew next to the pillar with a security camera stuck at its rim and asked God to protect my wife and children.