23 Feb 2019

 

Lugala At Large: Who Will ‘Revitalise’ My Pocket This January?

"A man with ribs showing like a bamboo fence is stripped to his dirty underwear. His lower lip swollen like liver of an elephant is bleeding...The person who reduced him to a road spectacle is a woman in a pair of shorts bulging with uneven buttoc."

By Victor Lugala
 
I'm in a Bonga Bus, commuting from Soukh Custom to the heart of my earthly troubles.  My consolation is that I'm alive and kicking. I live from hand to mouth, and from mouth to hand. That is my nature. Malaria and typhoid, please wait for me at the other end of February. Spare me a fake heart attack.
 
I'm sweating like a beer bottle from a deep freezer. This is Juba heat in January. 2019.  Another ordinary year of business as usual. There is atmospheric heat which is obvious. Being an old Juba homeboy, I’m used to such extreme temperatures, even political ones. But the pocket heat is unbearable.
 
Who will 'revitalize' my pocket?
 
God. Jah. I'm starving but please, I pray with my hands raised to the sky, spare my ribs and thinking capacity so I can tackle my grumpy landlord. My landlord behaves like a river god.
 
My head is giddy as if I'm on a rollercoaster, circling over Victoria Falls. I want to catch a quick nap.
 
I close shut my eyes. I'm praying for a 2019 miracle. I want to pray like mad until something happens in this Bonga Bus. In my pocket.  In my country. In our world.  Public transport. Pickpockets. Freelance preachers. Starving souls like mine. SOS!
 
This Bonga Bus is a story and a half. It is filthy like January. The smell of stale sweat hangs everywhere. Unwashed bodies. Mouths smelling like fermented grain. Smoke fumes are choking my lungs. Bad economy is choking my pocket.
 
Who will 'revitalise' my pocket?
 
I slightly open my left eye like a sinner. Who do I see but the tall conductor standing over me like Mount Kilimanjaro. 
 
He snaps his fingers to demand the bus fare from me. I hesitate. Flabbergasted. Confused. Even confounded. Maria! Mother of Jesus. God. Should I part with the only filthy money I have on earth and God, Jah you will replenish? Devil, Belzebul, don't tempt me.  What of tomorrow?
 
Somebody coughs. Good interjection. Transition. Segue. 
 
"Conductor? Leave that man alone. Don't take any fare from him. I have paid for him, didn't I tell you?" A voice in the front row seats of the Bonga Bus says as a matter of fact. Maria! Are there still Good Samaritans in this country, in this world? Oh, there is one on this Bonga Bus. In Juba. There are Good Samaritans in January! Incredible! Hot month.
 
I mumble a thank-you, without seeing the Good Samaritan's face, head or shoulders. I'm weak but relieved.  I'm weak from January hunger. Is the Good Samaritan a  former primary school classmate, perhaps? An in-law? An outlaw? A pastor? Well, we live in times of the unknowns.  An unknown Good Samaritan. 
 
"Driver? Where is this bus going? Play music. Make my heart dance," a man who looks like a bar tenant demands. Some commuters laugh. Others jeer. I'm not indifferent.
 
Who says we are equal? Ask George Orwell. Even before God there are the righteous and sinners.  Pharisees and Gentiles. The Us versus them of George Bush. Rich and poor. Hard working and lazy bones. January especially has constituted us differently: the haves and have- nots. And there are those unknowns who reap where they did not invest a pound - those ones who wear masks on Sundays and go to church.
 
Surely, how can a son of a woman with blood in his bone marrow and solid substance in his head demand for music, entertainment in January when the whole Bonga Bus is filled with people whose intestines are complaining? Isn't that evidence of the onset of madness? Pure mockery!
 
As the bus begins to force the commuters to dance without any music like de gbondo sakit, I'm jolted from my daydream. Even with eyes closed I can tell it is that bumpy section without asphalt along Gudele road. Must we wait for round-headed Chinese road builders to come all the way from Guangzhou or Kunming to repair this road section of the Gudele road? Oil for road. Do our faculties of engineering teach stone crashers or fake civil engineers who cannot even fix a pot hole? 
 
De gbondo sakit.
 
 
God. Jah. Save Africa. Save, especially the infant country called South Sudan. Also save the Sudan, for the wound where South Sudan tore off from is not healing evenly.
 
Bonga Bus is like a mobile lunatic asylum. The people in this bus behave as if they popped out of a common womb. And entered this giant metallic womb. After passing the rough road where the commuters were forced to dance without music, we are approaching St Kizito stage when another mad person starts banging the body of the bus because he wants to alight. Fine.
 
Before the bus could stop there is heated commotion outside, by the roadside, where girls who dropped out of school are selling bananas, honey, roasted nuts, and a fake January smile. People in the bus stand up to see for themselves through the open windows. Free cinema.
 
A man with ribs showing like a bamboo fence is stripped to his dirty underwear. His lower lip swollen like liver of an elephant is bleeding. His eyes are running with alcohol tears. The person who reduced him to a road spectacle is a woman in a pair of shorts bulging with uneven buttocks. She is beating him and the people of Juba are just laughing the laughter of January.
 
"Is that man her January hubby?"
 
"Maybe he didn't pay."
 
"He didn't pay for what?"
 
The bus bursts into laughter. The adults in the bus know what they are talking about. Adult talk is straight talk.
 
"There are many unpaid debts this January," says one male passenger reading an old Arabic newspaper. Everything is speculation even as the poor man continues to be humiliated by a woman in shorts. This is one example of a man being clobbered by a woman. Feminists prefer to call it Gender-Based Violence when women are the victims. But when it is a roughish man on the receiving end, the feminists will look the other way.
 
As the Bus begins to gather speed a woman starts yelling, crying as if she has just lost her darling. The woman is crying, kicking the bus, and putting her hands on her head with a bunch of worn-out artificial hair extensions, but she has no tears. Fake!
 
"Woman, what is the matter," an old man asks.
 
With quivering dry lips of January, the woman with the fake cry says her mobile has been stolen.
 
Ai, ai, as if woken up from deep sleep, men slap their pockets to make sure they are not victims of pickpockets.  Looking around another commuter shouts, "Ha, ha, it must be that young man who alighted at St Kizito....the one who was asking the bus driver to play music. He must be one of those Toronto Boys."
 
"Woman, Bonga Bus is not your bedroom. A thief can run away with your breast as you see," a sarcastic man with a bic pen stuck in his hair says without sympathising with the woman whose mobile phone is stolen.
 
"You weed smoker, maybe it is your absentminded concubine whose heart is always being snatched when you are busy smoking a joint. Go away, you talk dirty," reacted a woman who looks like a liberated woman who does not take any nonsense from a riffraff on a Bonga Bus. 
 
I alight from the bus like a cat. This has been the most difficult moment for me this January: how or when to arrive home.  The route home seems to fork out into several avenues, alleys. The avenues and alleys all look like traps which I must avoid for the obvious reason.
 
De gbondo sakit.
 
If I use this route which I'm standing on it will take me to the meat kiosk, I owe the owner a few pounds.
 
If I take this other dirt road there's a local joint at the corner over there. In December when my in-laws visited I took some drinks on credit. I owe the bar owner, so I can't use that road for now.
 
Near the joint is a charcoal seller. My wife had taken a bag of charcoal on credit for baking cookies during the festive season. If he sees me he will frogmarch me to the nearest police unit.
 
And then there's the local church, I didn't pay my December tithe. So even if I avoid that road, God, Jah is watching my pocket.
 
Who will 'revitalise' my pocket?
 

The sun is setting slowly and some teenage boys are playing football on a rugged pitch not far from where I'm standing, confused, afraid, even paranoid. What an opportunity! I decide to go and watch football to kill time. Under the cover of darkness I crawl home like a thief. 

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