What A Day May Bring (Part 2)

Kato

That afternoon his boss called him into his office. William was surprised because after two years of working here it was the first time that he had ever been asked to go into that office. It was turning out to be a good day after all – his boss wanted to give him a raise in pay, not much, but every shilling helped. They were impressed with William, he kept his temper, never shouted back at customers, was very patient, just the kind of person they wanted working there. So after a handshake and a slap on the back, he was back at his phone answering calls. He tried to be as helpful as he could, because he wanted the people at the other end of the line to have as good a day as he was having.

During his short break at four he called his wife and passed along the good news and told her that he would pick up some bananas and a pineapple on his way home, just as a small way to celebrate. He greeted his daughter as well, since she was in P2, she came home from school early in the afternoon, but starting next year she wouldn’t come home until the evening. She made him proud, at the end of the last school year she finished 3rd in her entire class. I am a blessed man, he thought to himself.

 

Wasswa

The old taxi park in the center ofKampalawas by far the craziest and busiest place in the entire city. Kassim waited. There were two more taxis in front of him that had to fill up before he could start collecting passengers. The conductor had run off to use the bathroom so Kassim sat in the semi-hot late afternoon sunshine. People sold everything here in the taxi park. Food, drinks, clothes, radios, car parts, anything you wanted really. A boy selling newspapers came by and Kassim took one to look at, of course he wasn’t going to buy it, he couldn’t even read that well, but at least it gave him something to do while he waited.

He finished and handed the paper back, the first taxi drove off so he started up the engine and drove forward one space.

 

Kato

Finally,six o’clock. He could begin the long ride back home. William cleaned up his little work area, and picked up his bag. He signed out and went outside. Traffic was backed up, but he knew he could get through it pretty quick on his bicycle. He rode downKampala Road, turned right onEntebbe, and made his way through the mess at Clock Tower. The evening was the most beautiful part of the day. The temperature was just right and he rode along at a quick speed, without even sweating. He stopped in Kabalagala and bought a pineapple and some bananas and put them on the basket at the front of his bike. He rode on through Kansanga and down the hill onto a long straight patch of road that led towards Ggaba.

Wasswa

Kassim drove through Kansanga with a full load. He was going to get to Ggaba in a few minutes and then make another four trips before calling it a day. They had just finished working on theGgaba Road– new pavement, no potholes, so he could make good time here after he was through Kansanga. He drove on, increasing his speed, because time is money.

 

Kato

The wind blew around him, refreshing him, this was a great day.

He didn’t see the pothole until it was too late to swerve. The water men had dug up the side of the road to fix a leaking pipe and hadn’t leveled the ground off again. His front tire hit the hole and threw his bike to the right. He couldn’t do anything about it, he was falling. He braced himself for the impact.

 

Wasswa

There was nothing he could do about it. The man on the bicycle fell just in front of him. Kassim hit the brakes, but there was a loud thump as the front left tire hit the man and another as the back one did as well. Kassim quickly pulled off the road, shouted at the passengers to stay in the taxi and ran back towards the man lying in the road.

There was a pool of blood around the man’s still body, he was already dead. The passengers didn’t listen and came and gathered around Kassim and this dead man. Other cars continued on their way paying little attention to what had happened. This sort of thing occurred quite often around here.

They had learned to ignore it.

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What A Day May Bring (Part 1)

This is a story I wrote back in 2005 while living in Uganda. Death is a common part of life there and I wanted to write a story that would accurately capture that. It’s kind of long so I broke it up into 2 parts for the blog. This is Part 1.

When you woke up this morning you probably had a lot of things on your mind – what am I going to wear today? I think I should eat lunch at a restaurant or I never eat at restaurants anymore. Do I really have to go to work? Dear heavens, I have nothing at all to do today. Thoughts like that, but honestly, have you ever just woken up and thought – will today be the day that I die? Most likely, you rarely do, if ever. But maybe you should, maybe you should look at the bigger picture and realize that we really don’t have much control over our lives or when they will stop. Which they eventually will do. You can guard yourself from certain things: stay away from the alcohol, stay away from smokers, never fly, but what happens when you can’t control the situation: a drunk driver, bad weather, someone else’s foolishness. Let’s face the truth – death comes to us all, in one way or another. Maybe we should wake up and consider that today may be the last day that we’ll ever see. Would that change the way we think, or live, or act. Because we really don’t know what a day may bring.

Kato

The day was sunny, just like most of the days around here. A deep blue sky and a few scattered white clouds were all the eye could see if one cared to glance upwards.

William Kato certainly didn’t care.

He was late for work and that was all that was on his mind. Work was hard to come by here and losing his job would just be about the worst thing that could happen. He quickly pulled on a pair of brown trousers and buttoned up his white shirt with the red stripes and rolled the sleeves up to his elbows. A cup of tea that was too hot and burnt his tongue, teeth brushed, shoes and socks on, and then a quick good-bye to his wife Joy and his daughterLydiaand he was out the door.

It was a forty-five minute bicycle ride from his place in Ggaba to his workplace in centralKampalaand that was making good time.

The scenery blurred by as William peddled his old bike towards town, he quickly glanced down at his watch, he was making good time, maybe he would actually make it to work on time. Taxis passed by closer than he would have liked but to be fast he had to ride on the pavement and not in the bare soil. Banana trees passed as did the few minutes he had before he would be late and at one minute before seven William Kato pulled up in front of his office sweating and out of breath, but on time.

Of course when running late, or having fun time seems to fly, but when sitting in an office taking calls from annoyed customers the hands on the clock seem like they are moving backwards, but eventually it reached nine-thirty and William was released for a coffee break, or tea, whichever you enjoy more. He had his tea with two spoons of sugar and walked outside.

Kampalawas crazy, like always. People shouting, others were arguing, cars honking at one another because none of them were patient enough to actually wait their turn to go. Music blaring from shops around the corner, beggars on the street corners harassing people for their money and occasionally getting something. Women with blankets spread out on the sidewalk selling sweets, the daily papers, and other trinkets. A few white tourists and aid workers walking about in disarray because they had no idea where they were or how to get to where they were going. The usual.

William enjoyed his fifteen minute break, he always did. The office was too quiet, too controlled, too regular. Getting out on the streets for a few minutes always helped to relax him and put a smile on his face.

But then time was up and it was back to the grind until lunch.

Wasswa

Kassim Wasswa was a taxi driver. A Ugandan taxi driver. A minibus with seats for fourteen, seat belts for five, and usually carried twenty people. He didn’t own the matatu, which they are called here, another wealthier man did. Kassim’s job was to drive it fromKampalato Ggaba and back over and over again, taking as many passengers as possible in the day. The first twenty-five thousand shillings went directly to his boss, anything after that he split between himself and the conductor.

It was a nice day, the sun was shining like usual; he had already made three trips this morning since he started at six. But now it was mid-morning and traffic was heavy as everyone rushed into town for work. Kassim had a full taxi and was stuck in traffic at the Clock Tower roundabout. Bicycles and motorbikes squeezed between the bigger vehicles as they honked and pushed their way towards clearer roads. Pedestrians weaved their way across the road going to different destinations. Kassim was a patient man, he sat in this traffic everyday – twice, once in the morning and then again in the evening. Each day was the same, drive, drive, drive. He needed the money to support the small room he stayed in and to buy his cigarettes. That’s why he put up with this. He smiled, honked his horn, shouted a few choice words out the window and pushed his way a little further into the traffic.

Kato

William checked his watch again, nearly one – lunch time. The morning was dragging on. You wouldn’t believe how many people call to complain about electricity. “My power was off last night until eleven.” “My home hasn’t had electricity for two days now!” William was used to people shouting at him, but he didn’t mind because he couldn’t do anything about it. He wasn’t in charge of the electricity board he only passed along the complaints. So people could say anything they wanted to him, in any language, and it didn’t stick with him. When he went home at night, and was with his wife and child, he was happy and could forget all about work until the next morning.

Lunch. What should he eat for lunch? He checked in his pocket and pulled out two thousand shillings, enough for a small meal that would hold him over until the evening when he would enjoy rice, beans, chapati, and meat with his family. That thought brought a smile to his face as he picked up the phone to listen to another shouting customer.

Wasswa

Kassim shut off the engine of the matatu. He was parked off the side of the road at the turn around point in Ggaba village. It was lunch time so the children were all out of school buying small snacks for their stomachs. He walked down to the market and bought a mango and a small plastic bag full of water. A quick lunch and then on the go again. The more he drove, the more money he made, no time for wasting on eating. He bit into his mango as he walked back up the hill to the taxi. There was already a group of people waiting for him to drive them to town. He shouted for the conductor who came and slid open the side door and the passengers filed in. Kassim went over to the motorbike drivers and greeted them, then went back to the taxi and got in. He finished his mango and threw the seed out the window, then he drank the water from the plastic bag and threw it out the window as well. He knocked on the roof, the conductor shut the door and they were on their way back toKampala.

If I Had You

It’s the first of February and spring is knocking at my door

So I pack my bags for summer and head home once more

It’s been a long, hard, cold winter here without you

So I pack my bags for summer but I guess spring will do

Cause I don’t know where I’d be if you were here with me

And I don’t know what I’d do if I had you

She said it’s only gonna last for a little while, time will pass and so will I

You’ll be gone before you know it

You walk away from someone’s reflection and they fade away into this great big world like a train riding into the setting sun

I awake up in the city homeless in the streets of my depression, the winter sets in

Hitching across America is not fine for me anymore

The Salt Lake mountains are the backdrop for my melancholy ways

Here the snow is ten feet deep and I can barely see the sky, feel the rain, look upon the sun and see your face

There’s a coldness in my soul that the brightest day could not warm up

I long to see your face, I long to hear your voice

Cause I don’t know where I’d be if you were here with me

And I don’t know what I’d do if I had you

3 poems about fishermen

Fishermen

They’re out there again

On their lonely perch

Keeping a vigilant watch on the water

While waves gently lap the shore

And the sun begins to set

A bite

A tug

And dinner is brought in

The evening air is still warm

Although the day started cold

And as the boat is filled

With the scent of the catch

Another day is finished

Now that I’m here

I can smell the breeze and feel the soil under my feet

It’s the warmth of the air just before sunset

The way every day seems perfect

It just seems right

People bathing in the lake

While children cry nearby

And fishermen haul in their nets

A lone man sits looking into solitude

Wishing he had a boat, a net

And a few shillings in his pocket

Untitled #2

I can hear the fishermen out on Lake Victoria

Their laughter sends ripples across the water

Have they caught anything but conversation?

Proverbs 25:24 – a short story

                                                                                                                      8 August, 1904

‘I felt the onset of the sickness four days ago. First my muscles became weak; I found it difficult to stand for any extended length of time. Then, the very bones within me became racked with a dull, throbbing pain. Next was the vomiting, I couldn’t keep anything down, whether food or water. Unfortunately there are no doctors here in the village to give me medicine of any sort and I don’t even know where the closest hospital is, but even if I did, I wouldn’t go. I already know my deathcase – malaria. It’s what gets everyone here, especially us whites.

Those damn mosquitoes are always around, thick as fog sometimes and there is no getting away from them. It’s because of our proximity to the coast, no more than a few miles at the most. They like the water and the humidity, of which we have plenty, which accounts for the masses of them. Three of my predecessors went out the same way I’m going. I personally buried two of them myself.

This morning I made the mistake of looking out my window and the locals have already begun digging my grave. That gives me mixed emotions, not only about my imminent demise, but about my work. The locals have supposedly accepted the faith I’m preaching to them, but it seems they missed the part about healing. At least I know what I believe. Maybe I’ll go have a look at my grave later, my very own gateway to heaven.

It seems like many years have passed since I first came here, but in actuality it’s only been nine months. Nine wonderful, depressing, life-changing, emotional months. I’m only a few months away from my half-way point. My commitment was for two years, but the bloody grim-reaper has stepped in and had his say. Death is a strange thing, I always wondered how I’d die, if it would be instantly or if I would have the chance to say my good-byes. Now I have the time but no one to say good-bye to. My last letters home will arrive long after I’ve been laid in the soil.

I know I mentioned the local’s faith earlier and it’s not that I don’t have faith to be healed. I’ve just resigned myself to my own fate, all men have to die at some point in their life and…’

“Excuse me dear, what are you doing?”

“Nothing. Just getting ready for work.”

“Are you playing with that new voice recognition software for the computer?”

“No honey, only in the evenings, just like you said.”

“Good, then come downstairs, I got up early this morning to fix breakfast for you.”

“Okay, just give me a minute to finish getting dressed and I’ll be right down.”

‘I can feel my temperature rising, almost as if the blood running through my veins is beginning to boil. Sweat is pouring out of me so fast I’ll soon be dehydrated, death can’t come quick enough.’

 – written on the road between Mombasa and Nairobi

Reflecting Rain

It’s raining outside, something I wish it did a little more here in California.

I wrote this poem a few years ago on a similar rainy day:

It’s a blustery day Charlie Brown

It’s raining outside again, my friend

I know it seems quite strange

But one of these days it will end, my friend

And take with it all of your pains

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen that sun

But please friend, please don’t cry

The past always comes undone

And once again we’re left with another try

At living this old life in a wet world

Where there seems to be no dry ground

Where dreams and plans often come unfurled

But where love and hope are found

Dreams and plans we’ve oft thought were gone

Sometimes hidden behind the gray clouds

Appear as Lucy to the one, Mr. Faun

And take away death’s dark shrouds

The Beast Within

(written by adam ansel)

I would like to think to a certain extent that I am incapable of committing the same atrocities that lay before my eyes, but in all confidence I must admit, if I was in the same situation, if those same choices that were before them stood before me…

The day began overcast, high towers of rolling gray clouds blocked out any chance of the sun’s rays shining through. I walked along in the early morning dawn, passing dust-covered plant life and small ramshackle homes where scarcely clothed children played barefoot in the front yard, even at this hour of the day. The parents were nowhere to be seen; they had more important matters to tend to, tending to the crops, working so they would have enough money for food. The children were fine, even at a young age they learn to fend for themselves around here.

I could hear shouts in the distance, but that was typical music to my ears during my morning walks, usually just friends sharing morning greetings or enemies sharing early morning threats, and as usual – I ignored them.

A fine mist started to fall and my eyes glanced to the sky and as I expected the clouds had filled heavy and dark with rain and were soon going to unload themselves upon my head and any others who were out in the open at this time of day. I quickened my pace, not wanting to finish my walk soaking wet. I turned my eyes downward to my feet and watched them pass one another faster and faster, not quite a jog, but very similar. When it rains here, it really rains. The streets empty, there is not a soul to be seen and for good reason – if you get caught in a sudden rainfall, you will be wet the rest of the day because most likely the sun isn’t going to shine.

I walked around a corner the same way I did every morning and a scene of madness filled my vision. There in the middle of the road stood five men, with their backs towards me, armed with machetes, watching as another man, also holding one, raised his arm and brought it down with tremendous force. He did this over and over, and then my eyes flickered down to what he was striking and I saw it was a body. A body that had long given up any idea of protection, and lay limp, convulsing with every blow. Streams of blood ran in small rivers, criss-crossing this person’s dark skin. This man, whoever he had been was surely dead, but the assailant continued chopping and hacking away like he was slaughtering some awful beast. What could a person have done to deserve a mob killing like this? This thought filled my mind until I glanced at the side of the road and saw five other bodies, mutilated and barely recognizable as having been a human once. They were taking turns.

I turned to walk away, to leave them to their own course of justice or whatever one may call it, but one of them called out to me. I made the mistake of turning and I saw who it was. This man lived in the house next to mine, I greeted him almost every morning, he knew who I was as well, there was no getting away from this confrontation.

I walked towards them trying to keep my eyes averted from the bodies that I was passing, but still they took a mind of their own and kept glancing at the mangled corpses that lay beside me.

As I approached them the man I knew handed his machete to a partner and walked out to greet me.

“Good morning friend.”

I stood in silence.

My eyes met his; there wasn’t a trace of regret or confusion about what he was doing.

“What have they done?” I said.

“Nothing.”

“Then why are you doing this?”

“Listen. Long ago when people first came to this land, it was our people, people like you and me. Our ancestors settled here, they raised families here, they began this great nation. But then, people like these ones came along and ruined it all. Because they had more money, they thought they had more power, so they began oppressing us and now the time has come for their judgment.”

“These people are not oppressing you,” I said with anger rising inside of me. “They are living the same lifestyle as you, living in the same small homes as you, their children go to the same school, how can you say they are oppressing you?”

“They would, if only given the chance.”

I turned to walk away from him, but his hand reached out and grabbed the back of my shirt.

“My friend,” he said as he turned me around. “You are either with us or against us.”

Four of his companions joined him and circled around me.

A heard a scream and looked past the man I once thought of as good. Another of his companions was dragging a lady towards us. Utter fear was in her eyes. He drug her up to where we stood in the middle of the road and threw her at my feet.

My neighbor handed me his machete.

“Like I said, you are either with us or against us. So choose – kill or be killed. Today we have started a war against them and we will not stop until they have all left or are dead. And we will easily kill those that side with them, even if they are one of our own. Like you.”

I looked down at this woman, who had turned her face to the ground and then back up at the men surrounding me. Overhead a peal of thunder rumbled out and the rain that had been threatening to fall all morning finally came.

“Well friend, what is it going to be? Are you with us or against us?”

I looked at the machete that I held in my hand…

You see, the beast lies within us all, just waiting for a chance to come out and make itself known, and don’t say that you could resist it, for you don’t know what situations are going to come your way as you make your way through this life. You don’t know the choices the day will bring. Who’s to say if you will be the killer or the victim? Be honest with yourself. I have stood there, on the very spot where 15, 000 innocent people were brought together and slaughtered like some unhealthy race of livestock. I have seen what a human being persuaded by the wrong people is capable of doing. And I know that it made me sick, it made me sick to think that one person could do this to another. That they could do this to their fellow countrymen, to their neighbors and friends. But let’s face the truth, it happened.

When she woke up that morning, it was just like any other typical day. She scrubbed the floor first, then lit the charcoal and prepared some tea for breakfast. At first light she woke her sleeping child and while he got himself ready for school she finished the simple chores around their small home. After breakfast she walked him to the main road, said goodbye, and watched as he walked towards school. Not until he was out of view around the corner did she turn away.

When she arrived back at their home she gathered their soiled clothes and filled a basin with water and soap. And as she washed her mind drifted away.

She saw her son as a grown man, a doctor. He had finished his schooling, first in his class at university, and although he had come from a poor background, he had been offered a job in a large hospital in another country. When he told her what his salary was going to be, she nearly fainted. Would she leave home and come live with him there? Life was bound to be better. She was getting old, and tired, this would be the best way for her to spend her remaining days. Together with her son –

Voices coming towards her home awoke her mind from the dream she was enjoying. There was a group of men coming and the things they were saying…

Five men came into view, all holding machetes and with smiles upon their faces.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yes,” one of them said, “you can come with us by your own will or we can take you with us by force.”

She dropped the shirt she was holding and made an attempt to run for her home, but one of the men caught her before she made it.

“I see that you are going to be a difficult one,” he said.

They led her along the path where just an hour ago she had led her own son to school and out onto the main road. Another man holding a machete stood guard over six other people who were kneeling in front of him.

The man leading her forced her onto her knees next to an old woman who had tears running down her face.

“Dear people,” the man who had been standing guard began to talk. “Long ago your ancestors came and invaded our home land and unfortunately our ancestors did nothing to stop them, but we are not like them. Today, we have started the campaign that should already be finished. Your race, and anyone that helps you will soon be gone and we will have our country back to ourselves.”

He looked at the other men who stood behind those that were kneeling. She was thrown to the ground and then pulled off to the side of the road, as were five of the others. Only the old woman was still left there, on her knees, helpless. The man stood in front of her and raised his machete and brought it down into her body with a resounding thump. The machete was raised to the sky and brought down again and again. The force with which it hit shattered her frail bones and brought death quickly. But these men did not stop there, death was not their ultimate goal, they wanted total decimation of the body, so they were unrecognizable as a person.

When he finished he looked at one of his partners and said simply, “your turn.”

This went on and one by one these men took their turn killing until a man came around the corner. She was the only one left; the man that had lain beside her was a bloody corpse in the middle of the road. She watched as they gathered around the man that had stumbled upon their massacre. He turned to leave, but they wouldn’t let him, the leader of the group wasn’t finished with him yet. Then the killer that stood beside her grabbed her by the hair and drug her towards where the rest of them stood. She was forced to the ground and they all gathered around her. The leader handed his machete to the man who had just been forced to join them. He looked first at the machete then down at her. She turned her face down into the dirt so she didn’t have to look at these evil men. She felt the first drops of rain fall upon her back and in between the rumbles of thunder she heard the leader of the group say to the new man:

“Well friend, what is it going to be? Are you with us or against us?”

What decision would you make? What decision would I make? Let us pray we are never faced with the circumstances that would force us to choose.

With a clang, the machete fell to the ground, bounced once, and then came to rest in the dirt.

Surprisingly, it’s not so much the things I saw that will stick with me in my everyday memory, those I can shut away into some dark recess of my mind. It’s the smell I can’t forget. It will haunt me for the rest of my waking days. The smell of death and decay, of rotting corpses, the scent of violence – unrestricted violence, that stench of what human beings are capable of doing to one another will always be with me.

The stench of what the beast within us all can do if unleashed.