STAYING OUT LATE
The praying mantis lands on the boda-man’s jacket with a dry, final sound like a slap. Unbelievable. Lamaro freezes where she’s standing: to the side of the motorcycle with one leg lifted and hooked at the knee. Her hands remain clutching at the hem of her brown lycra dress-top, making it stretch it over her leggings; a thing she was doing to minimize the amount of thigh that would show when she settled onto the bike.
A long, brown, ugly mantis.
Her face is flat except for a twitching around her nose and it is with great calm that she straightens her leg and backs away from the man, his bike and his insect. A thin sound starts to snake out of her mouth.
The bodaman panics and whips his neck from side to side, trying to peer over his shoulder. Unable to see anything, he cries out for a passerby to please tell him what the hell is sitting on his back. “Kongolomabere,” Lamaro starts to mouth, but then remembers the laughter with which Alex met her pronunciation the last time.
The passing man flicks the praying mantis off and Lamaro is about to thank him when he kicks it at her jeering, “As if it is a snake. You, a big woman. This is just insect.”
Her reaction is rougher than is fair, but after exhibiting so much self-control that day, even towards the little bitches in school uniform that yelled NO at her as she was walking out of the gate, she verbally smacks the sneer off his face. “Tumbavu, what business of yours is it what I fear or not fear?”
She clambers onto the bike and closes her eyes to stop herself tearing at the tainted jacket. It’s now Konshens or nothing. Too late for anything else. If I die I die.
Boda rides in Kampala are preparation for death. Not death. For that moment right before it when you’re certain that your entire existence is going to turn to zero in the next second. You and your issues are only going to be fit for burying, perhaps cremation, or maybe you’ll have been ridden over by so many speeding vehicles that there won’t be enough of you left to fill a spoon.
No matter how often you use a particular rider or how big his boda’s seat is, you’re always a brittle hair away from death: a freak swerve, a mean driver, an absentminded pedestrian.
The rider who delivered Lamaro from Maganjo to her changing place in Kamwokya was both a novice and a fool. He had no knowledge of the shortcuts, no idea where he as a two tyre man stood on the hierarchy of road users and no rhythm or bearings. Such an idiot was he that it took a slap from her to alert him to a van that was driving straight towards them.
And now this. A praying mantis. The cosmos can’t be more clear in voicing it’s disapproval of her decision to attend the show.
Tucking her guilt away and ordering her mind to shut up, she plucks a phone out of her bra.
Text me, Alex. I’m terrified. 10 minutes away. Be ready with my ticket. xo.
Lamaro sees the crowd outside Kyadondo rugby club and immediately feels bad. So monumentally huge is it that it resembles a thick millipede with arms sticking out at weird angles as a result of something devastating like radiation poisoning. She feels bad about her choice of career. Had she gone with terrorism, she’d be one blast away from supposed paradise, virgins and the like. Her lifework would be complete.
As advised, she scans the millipede for a police officer to help her pick her ticket from Alex. The music from inside is whipping the crowd outside into a frenzy of envy and yearning. No policeman in sight. Perhaps up ahead? But from where she’s standing, “up ahead” is just a myth.
Plan B. She adjusts her bra, unfastens her earrings, throws them in, sticks her elbows out, leans forward and pushes.
To the guy who delivers a sharp pinch to her ass, Lamaro expresses her sincere hope that his mother will die of tapeworm. At the police officer who lifts her by the shoulders and throws her to the end of the line, she spits her hope that his cock will dis-attach and land in a pit latrine as soon as possible. To the dude who cuts short her descent into the sewerage filled trench that is bubbling just centimeters from the stumbling, hysterical millepede by grabbing her waist and pressing his groin against her butt so hard, she can feel the shape of every sperm in his sacs, she expresses her sincere thanks. And also, “When you die, I hope it will be quick. Before then, I hope you never get the opportunity to repeat your actions against anything more animate than a wall.”
After 30 minutes of clawing, shoving and having at least one kilogram pressed off her on all sides, she is birthed, blinking and gulping air onto the show grounds.
She allows herself a moment of nothing and that is how Alex finds her, staring blankly at a coca cola drinks tent. When he taps her shoulder, it feels like she’s been plugged back into the socket of the living. Lamaro throws herself into him.
They look. When the one in the red skirt and blue panties performs a convulsing downward dog with so much devotion that you can see her round, vapid eyes shining between her legs, they gape. When the one in a tutu with the thighs full of thunder starts to shake away all of the things her momma gave her into the crowd in return for its attentions, they practically bawl; she with her face between his shoulder blades, he with his palms over his face. This bawling quickly turns into outrage when the emcee tries to shoo thunder girl off the stage for being fat. Shya!
The shock of wobbling buttocks and sacred things being flashed at them wears off quickly. Dancehall is in their blood, infecting them with randiness, making their pelvises revolve of their own volition.
The looking goes on. Alex at the twitter page off his Nokia, Lamaro at the crowd and at his profile. Irritation is mounting. She’s starting to feel abandoned. A fight. No resolution in sight. Dancehall plaiting itself into everything. Is irritation real when you’re popping your ass and bopping your head?
More girls on the stage. Konshens knows what he came to Uganda for. The show is good. His refusal to dance with miss thunder is final. His preference of the small girl, ‘pretty gyal’ with the orange bra and black panties is clear. He slaps her ass. She waggles her tongue. “What am I doing here?” it seems to ask.
In the air: weed and noise. If there is tension between them, it’s getting ground to nothing between their bodies. Dancehall has won that fight.
Konshens knows how to read a crowd. He’s not stupid enough to try that crowd surfing stuff. A real Ugandan will move clean out of the way and laugh when he lands. When the crowd doesn’t know a song, he tells the DJ to skip it. When people start to lose interest, he brings Chamili on. When the sweaty smell of exhaustion begins to rise of the crowd, he tells them to wyeve some. They wyevesome. Hard to hate this guy.
It ends. Lamaro’s outfit is not the same. They’ve lost her belt somewhere. She took it off a little too quickly when Alex said, “It gives you two stomachs. One is better than two, in my opinion…but I don’t know about these things.”
Later he says, “What were you thinking? You looked like a clown!” Apparently, brown leggings and brown dress tops don’t go well with golden pumps and nappy hair.
Lamaro’s howls of laughter are laced with mortification. Were those stupid school girls right after all? What clothes does one wear to such things anyhow, where you spend all your time behaving like you have none on?
She shouldn’t be laughing, she knows. She ought to turn to him with a serious face; eyebrows lifted superciliously and say, “Even if I had decided to wear a sack, that should have been acceptable to you.” But she doesn’t.
She laughs and laughs and laughs.