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.

Advertisements

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.

My Father’s Knife

My dad passed away when I was 18 months old, but this past year for Christmas I received something of his that my mom has kept the past 28 years. In a box of gifts she had mailed us there was a smaller box. On it was written”this was your dad’s”. I opened it up and in it was a pocketknife with 3 different blades. It definitely showed signs of aging, but the blades were still sharp. I didn’t have much use for a knife, but I thought it was cool that it was my dad’s, so I put it in the glovebox in my truck, not realizing how useful it would become in the next few months.

I didn’t end up using it to fend off theives (well not yet) and I didn’t use it to pick a lock (pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do that anyway), but I have used it to keep my truck running. My truck is old and as it is with old trucks, it has its quirks. The gas gauge doesn’t work and many a days I get in to start the truck and it won’t turn over. For some reason the battery terminals get real dirty, real quick. One day, I decided to use the knife to really clean it off and voila! The truck turned on right away and ever since then when I have this problem, the knife comes out, the battery gets cleaned, and the truck starts up.

I know this is a simple story, but it’s cool that my father’s knife from 30 years ago has become such a useful tool in my current life.

2 Poems

I thought I would get back into the Friday routine of posting some of my writings, so for your reading pleasure today you get 2 poems. The first one is kind of dark while the second is more light-hearted.

I wrote the first poem in February 2009. Saddam Hussein’s execution had recently reappeared in the news and it got me thinking about his thoughts. When he was in complete control and had all authority in Iraq, did he ever think about how his life would end? Those thoughts spawned this poem, which I wrote when I arrived at work.

Saddam (written 2/11/09 in Simi Valley, CA)

Did you think it would end this way?

With a black bag pulled over your head. Did you think it would end this way?

With a noose tied around your neck.

When you sat on your golden throne in your palace between the great rivers

When your picture adorned every street corner and business wall

When the statues were erected and the songs of praise were sung

Did you think it would end this way?

Did you think it would end this way?

In a dark, dank cellar.

Did you think it would end this way? Hiding in a hole in the ground.

When you gassed the innocent and massacred the poor

When you threw people in cells for no reason other than your hurt pride

When the torturers whips snapped and pain was inflicted on your command

Did you think it would end this way?

Statues fell, crumbled

Pictures removed, shredded

The soles of the people were on your head

Your demise was rejoiced

Your capture was celebrated

Your death was relief

Did you think it would end this way?

_________________________________________________________

The second poem was written way back in 2002 while I working with the African Children’s Choir. We had a concert in Berkeley, CA and I had a few hours to explore. I walked up and down different streets and saw people who were living life in a wide variety of ways and all of them were accepted. That led to this poem.

In These Streets (written in Berkeley, CA 10-6-02)

Out in the street

Underneath the October sun

With sounds of sirens in our ears

Intrigued by what we see

Long hair     tattered clothes

Dancing in the streets trying to make a living

But not doing a good job

There is life in these streets

Unlike the majority of this land

Beads, strings, books, and clothes

Stop the war!

Free the oppressed!

Vote for peace!

 Even if you don’t agree with them

You smile at them

Because of their enthusiasm and

Passion

For what they believe

Yes, there is life

And heart

In these streets

Death Knows No Heroes

(It’s Friday, and that means a new story! I wrote this one when I was living in Uganda. Most of my stories are based off of real life events and this one is no exception. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it challenges you to think about your life.)
As soon as we turned her body over I knew she was dead, there was no life left within her. Her eyes were rolled up into her head and she was completely limp, a dead weight in the water.
Juliette, twenty-two years old, a life taken before her time, God rest her soul.

It was the morning of August 24th and the sun rose over Lake Victoria a beautiful ball of red fire. There’s nothing quite like a sunrise over the lake. If you happen to be sitting in the village, away from the city, all is quiet, the ground is covered in dew, the lake is gently sending in small waves and then pulling them out again. The sky is coated in different hues of blue, pink, orange, and red, and the outline of the jungle and the trees jutting up out of it make a perfect portrait for the eye to see.
Most mornings are like that in Uganda – beautiful.
It’s hard to say what she was thinking when she woke up that morning; here she was at camp having a great time hanging out with her friends, just relaxing on a holiday from work. The day ahead was full of games, study groups, and teaching sessions. She had been waiting for this camp for three months and now it was finally here.

The three boys had been swimming for about twenty minutes when they swam past the body floating in the water. It looked like she was practicing her floating or diving underneath the water to pick up things. People all around them were doing it so they just kept on their way shouting and splashing each other. Ten minutes later they came back and she was still there floating face down in the water.
One of them went over and pulled on her braids, there was no response. He pulled a little harder, still nothing. He shouted for his friends and they came over and grabbed her and started pulling her body towards the shore. People started noticing and began to shout that someone was drowning.

Breakfast that morning was tea and bread. She sat with some of her friends and talked about the day ahead. They knew there was free time later that afternoon and decided that they would go swimming.
“I haven’t been swimming in a long time, I don’t even know if I remember how.”
“Well, you really shouldn’t go in the lake if you don’t know how to swim.”
“I think I’ll be okay, I won’t go in very deep.”
They finished their tea and went their separate ways promising to meet again at lunch.
The morning session was good. The speaker taught about walking the excellent life, showing people who you really are, not by the words you say, but by your actions towards your fellow man. They sang a few songs and spent a few minutes praying, then they were told to break off to clean up their rooms and to wait for the bell before they gathered in the pavilion again.

I had fallen earlier that day while playing soccer and had sprained my ankle so I was hobbling along anywhere I went. I had been keeping a filmed documentary of the week and was walking down the hill to film the kids swimming. A boy came running up the hill shouting, “someone’s drowning, someone’s drowning! Hurry up, they need your help!”
I immediately forgot about filming and started down the hill as quickly as I could go. There was a large crowd on the shore looking out at the lake and an even bigger crowd gathered at the end of the pier. I ran out onto the pier and pushed my way through the crowd. From where I was standing I could see the three boys pulling the body as best as they could towards the shore. She was face down in the water and I started shouting, “turn over the body! She needs air!”
But everyone was shouting at that time and the boys were too far away to hear clearly anyway, so I pulled off my socks and shoes and jumped off of the pier into the water and started running out to help them.

The morning flew by quickly with the thought of free time that afternoon. Lunch was full of food and gossip, laughing and fellowship. They broke off into small groups for the afternoon according to age group and held open discussions and shared questions and thoughts about life.
Then the bell rang and game time began.
Her group was involved in an odd game of tug-of-war, but she sat underneath the tree and watched instead of playing. She wasn’t very strong and all the boys shouted if everyone didn’t try hard enough. Her team didn’t succeed in any of their attempts. The other teams were bigger and stronger, but she really didn’t care.
Someone came up and put a hand on her shoulder, “let’s go get ready for swimming.”
They ran back to their room and changed into their bathing suits.
“Are you sure you’ll be okay in the water?” her friend asked as they walked down the hill towards the lake.
“I’ll be fine, I won’t go in very deep.”
The water was cool on her toes, but the sun was shining down hot and bright, so she waded in.

The bottom of the lake was a murky mixture of sand and mud and my feet sank in a few inches as I ran out to meet the boys that were pulling the body in. I got to them and shouted to turn the body over, it was so heavy that it took all of us to flip her over. When I saw her face I was scared. I had never been so close to death before. I turned my eyes away and fixed them on the shore. We lifted her up out of the water as best as we could and started pulling her, two of us holding her arms and the other two holding her legs.
The mud became more solid as we drew closer, then it became proper sand, small stones, and then turned into grass as we carried her up onto the area overlooking the lake.
We gently laid her on the ground and by then some people had arrived to administer CPR. The boys walked away, visibly shaken and I had to walk away as well, I couldn’t bear to look at her face again.

The thought of drowning is so foreign and frightening to me that I don’t know how to even imagine what she went through as she was out there in the water. Maybe she fell and became unconscious, or perhaps she became stuck in the mud and struggled for the last few moments of her life. I tried to imagine the gasping for air, staring up through the water at the sky just a few inches away, the struggle to free herself from the mud and the panic as fear began to set in. The splashing as she swung her arms frantically and the darkness closing in around her eyes, but my mind shuts out the thoughts almost as soon as they begin.

As I stood there watching the scene, I was standing next to one of the boys I help mentor. I looked over at him and saw the tears rolling down his face. I had no words to say, so I just stood there beside him and watched as different people valiantly tried their best to resuscitate her.
They administered CPR for forty-five minutes, blowing air into her lungs and pressing her chest trying to get her heart pumping and her blood flowing. Finally, they had to give up, she was gone.

Later that evening we walked down to the pier together and sat down on the edge with our feet hanging over the water.
“God is good,” he said quietly.
“Yes he is,” I replied.
We sat for a few more minutes just listening to the gentle lapping of the waves.
“You know what,” I said, “the Bible says that life is like a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow, and I didn’t really understand that until today. She was here for twenty-two years and to everyone that knew her it seemed like a long time, like she was always here. Now she’s gone and when they look back it will seem like she was here for such a brief amount of time. In a few more years it will seem as if she was never here, everything about her will just be a memory.”
“I guess even if you live for one hundred years it would be the same way, on the big scale of things.”
“Yeah, life is short, we have to make the most of it while we’re here.”
We stood up and walked along the pier back towards the campsite, I glanced over my shoulder at the lake, the sun was just setting and its golden rays stretched across the blue sky that faded into night.
It was time to start living.

Carried in His Arms

(This is a story I wrote in 2002 when I was in England. I originally wrote it on a manual typewriter! I hope you like it.)

I remember her so vividly on that day. In the time of her greatest sorrow she found hope; at the time of her greatest loss she found something worth living for. In the time where no sun shone, and there were no mountaintops, she became beautiful. To me, to all of us who knew her, but most of all she became beautiful to herself.

The day that became the most trying time of her life started off cold and wet. We were all staying together in a house that overlooked the Irish Sea. Amidst the clattering of dishes and the dull roar of children’s voices, I stood in the front room peering out through the rain that fell like a thick mist trying to decide if I should carry through with my plans for the day. I was to go north, to the Atlantic coast to have dinner with some friends. The place we had planned to meet was an old inn that had a terrace surrounded by a low stone wall that was covered with various flowers, and while dining, one could hear the heavy waves pounding against the rock face of the cliffs. I decided to go even though the rain was falling. Old friends were worth the trip.

It was Thursday. I had known about the news since Monday, but was not allowed to tell her about it. There was a vague feeling inside of me that knew this would be the day. All that week I had carried on as I normally would have: playing and goofing around, without ever letting on that something was wrong. All of us that knew had to act that way. It was hard knowing what we knew. To her life was grand. Being with friends and knowing that home was just one month away. I saw the sparkle in her eyes, in all their eyes, when home was mentioned.

It turned out that I had a lovely dinner with my friends and we had just finished our dessert when I received a phone call asking if I would be home that evening because they wanted me to be present when they told her. I told them I would be there. I excused myself from the table, gave my farewell and started back to the house.

The entire ride I was troubled with visions of how she would react, what the following weeks would be like. A dull feeling arose in me that seemed to eat away at my heart. Why did things like this happen to people so beautiful? to children? I was glad when I arrived back at the house, for there I had the company of friends. School was still in session. I found the rest of the adults and we discussed who should tell her, when they should tell her, and what to do afterwards. We brought the children in for their evening snack and then sent them to shower. I had known her for so long and we had a special relationship, a special song and dance we performed together. I knew the time was near at hand, so I had someone videotape us performing our song one last time.

After showers we sent them back to the schoolroom to finish the day’s work. The eight adults met in the lounge as we finalised everything. We were all worried, we had never had to do this before, so we bowed our heads and prayed together. It was a prayer for peace that goes beyond what we can comprehend, for the right words to say even when we wanted to say nothing, for the loving arms of Almighty God to hold the

broken-hearted during their time of pain.

She was taken out of class and brought to the front room. The two Africans were to be the ones to tell her. The rest of us sat in the next room with our eyes shut, our ears open, and with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. I could not hear what was being said, I already knew though. The mumbling of voices stopped and there was a moment of silence.

Utter silence.

Complete silence.

Painful silence.

Silence.

It was the first choking, grasping, heart-wrenching sob that tore my heart to pieces. The cry that screamed why? why me oh God, why me? what have I done to deserve this? The cry that meant our secret was out and the child we once knew would never be the same again.

The door opened and she stumbled into the room, tears running frantically down her dark face. She could not look us in the eyes; it was too hard, too painful. She was wearing white pyjamas with different coloured cats on them. Funny looking cats. Cats that were unfazed by the news that this little girl had just heard. Her mother had died. So close to going home, so close to seeing the family that she loved so much, and her mother had died. How was she going to take this blow that life had dealt her? All of us were worried, and all of us soon received what we had asked God for.

As she sat there on the couch we took turns praying for her. I had no words to say, so I sat silent, hoping my presence showed her that I cared.

When we were finished praying one of the Africans took her out for a walk.

Hopefully she would open up and talk and tell how she was feeling. In the meantime we put the rest of the children to bed. She wanted no one else to know what had happened, so when the others asked we covered up for her. Myself and a friend went out for a walk, the night air was cold. A breeze blew in from the sea and challenged us to walk faster. We weren’t going any place in particular, just walking and discussing the whole situation. A ways off we saw them walking towards us, but on the opposite side of the street. We thought about shouting a hello, but decided not to say anything and hope we weren’t seen. When they were directly across from us we heard our names being shouted. I looked across at them and there she was jumping up and down waving at us. My heart leapt with joy. I knew things would be all right in the end. That was when I knew our prayers had been heard and answered.

When the two of us arrived back at the house all of the children were settled down and quiet. As it turned out, the two of them had taken a walk to the ice cream shop and sat there drinking hot chocolate and talking. Of course she asked questions: when? how? who would she stay with when she returned home? I believe her soul was satisfied when she heard the answers, it helped settle her emotions. Her younger sister was waiting for her to return home, to be with her, under her care. It was a great responsibility, but one that she was willing to take on. She dearly loved her sister.

The next morning she greeted me with a hug and a smile. Not a trace of despair to be seen. She had found hope in the darkness. She knew there was a future. But most of all, she knew that God was in control.

I left on Saturday and have not heard from any of them since. I know it will be a long time until I see her again, but already I look forward to meeting and seeing the strong young lady that she will have become.

Through this I have learned that in death pain comes, but hope never ceases. It is a time when all the faith in one’s soul must arise and shine. I will never forget that day, that single moment when time stopped and one that I truly loved grew strong. Life comes to each of us in a different way, some when they are young, others when they are old, some unfortunate people never really do live. At the time it was hard to be a part of everything, but looking back I consider it an honour that I saw the loving arms of God wrap around a little girl and lift her up into victory.

Written 25 April, 2002 in Ripley, England.