It is getting dark. We are about to make a right turn to the road that takes us to Kyanja. The driver, a man in his mid-fifties whom I had last seen 16 years ago when I was a small boy in primary school steps on the brake pad. The car slows down. He taps the indicator stick to show right. The car comes to a halt. If we turn left, we head to Nakawa and if we go straight ahead, it is to Bukoto where we shall go. The green arrow on the dashboard pointing to the right is blinking. We are in a double cabin Toyota Hilux, a car that cannot be bullied by the rough roads of this country. It knows its strength. It roars and hits every route with power and boldness.
The engine is still on and no car is giving us way. We sit and wait. There is another man, his friend from the 80’s sitting at the passenger seat. They are talking, skipping from one story from their heydays to another.
I studied with this man’s son in primary one. His son was as playful as a kitten. He was everywhere, a mess who enjoyed his childhood more than any of us did. If he wasn’t up in the trees at school, he was hiding behind the classroom block nibbling at the corner of the bread his mother had packed him for break. A teacher once caught him behind the classroom block taking a leak. She dragged him to class by his ear with bread in his mouth. The boy did not cry. I thought that was cool. He sat at the back of our class. Kid knew his abc’s so well I envied him and wanted to steal his brain. He spoke fluent English. I, on the other hand, was just learning this new foreign language, my second language. At the end of that year, he passed primary one and got promoted to primary two. I flunked and repeated P.1. Since that time, life has separated us for over two decades now. I don’t think he recalls me.
We finally get some space and make the turn. We drive down to the roundabout at the Northern bypass in Kisaasi. The man at the passenger seat asks.
“So, how many children now?”
“Eight,” the driving man responds, “I have four boys and four girls.”
I raised my eyebrows. “…with two women. Each of them has a balanced act of two boys and two girls,” he continued.
We laughed. Then there was a bit of silence in the car. The stereo was playing Despacito on Sanyu FM. He reduced the volume and changed the station to Radio One. The road to Kisaasi does not have streetlights. The commercial buildings on the sides light it. Our drive is uphill and then downhill. A white Raum overtakes us as he breaks the silence.
“I messed up my wife’s life by getting this other woman. I shouldn’t have done it but I can’t turn things back now,” he said, taking his left hand off the steering wheel to scratch his head.
I noticed something. He called his first wife, “wife” and the second one, “this other woman”. I think at the back of every African man’s mind, the woman he marries first will always be his wife. I have read so many relationship problems on social media where young women dating married men claim he has promised to leave his wife for her because they are not happy at their marital home. These women get confused and wonder if and when this man will really leave. Eventually, they wait for years and the man never leaves. He eats the cookies and keeps them pending. Sometimes, the first wife will learn about all this. She will get hurt and have two options. Leave or stay. Yes, the other woman might bear him children and steal part of his heart (that’s if she does) but she will most likely remain just that, “the other woman.” I have no experience in these marriage things so I’ll just stop there.
He stepped on the accelerator as we went uphill again towards Kensington Heights and opened up even more.
“I realized this after messing up. My wife has been the most understanding woman I have ever known. Even when I was messing around, trying to push her away, she stayed with me. I would go back home after days of being out. She would cry and still serve me food. She would speak to me like nothing happened. She has had a hand in all the businesses I am doing today. She listened to my plans and prayed for me.”
I stayed still and controlled my breathing.
“I shouldn’t have done what I did to her but it is what it is man. It is what it is.”
He turned to see his colleague as we drove past the Kensington Heights Apartments. A drunk man staggered at the side of the dark road, drinking his liver away. There was another deep silence.
“How about the mother of your other children? The other wom…”
“Ah! She’s there. She is trouble,” he said, cutting his friend’s question short. “I have rented for her and my children a house in a descent neighbourhood. I bought her a car to make it easy to take the children to school. I even paid tuition for her to learn a new skill. But she wants more. Can you imagine she wants me to build for her a house?”
I could not imagine.
“And she wants to go and live in the UK because she has friends who have moved there. She wants me to send her and the children to stay there. She is insane.”
I could not comment. That was none of my business. I was there to listen and learn from the experience of those who came before me. More was still coming my way.
“And you know what?” (I responded with a silent what). “She is on WhatsApp every minute. It is annoying. She is lazy.”
Then he said this other woman threatened to kill him. His response was, “It is alright”. He didn’t mind dying. Her children would become orphans if she killed him, he told her. And the responsibility of taking care of them would solely fall on her. She went quiet.
“Any plans for the kids?”
“Oh yeah, I registered a company with all my children as directors. It is the holding company of all my real estate projects. My first-born is a big boy now and I have him with me on some of the projects. He knows a few things here and there. I cannot leave this to chance. I cannot leave any of these things to chance.”
We reached the goat roasting stage on Gayaza road and I jumped out. He looked at me through the window and said, “Young man, I want you to be a responsible man. I have made mistakes. I do not want you to do the same. You hear me son?”
I said yes.
I waved goodbye to him and he drove off with his friend towards Mpererwe. I went home.