I always imagined I would die in a car accident. It would be predestined, not even the seat belt would save me. A car driving at a high speed would ram into my side of the car and BAM! My flesh would mesh with metal and my blood would splash all over the dashboard and upholstery before trickling into the tarmac. My soul would rise and float over the scene, observing for a few moments while I scamper and hold onto life, before rising higher into the clouds and what lies beyond. In a split second, the mangled car along with my muddled body would be surrounded by people, Boda-bodas and cars. Men and women would leave their shops and roadside vegetable stalls unattended to bear witness to yet another accident on Masaka road.
“Affude!… Mama nyabo bamuuse!” They would scream. Women and children would wail, both in shock and sadness. Men would gather around, explaining the few minutes before the accident to each other and solving the case with finality.
Within the same breath, traffic would come to a halt, causing a jam for close to 3 kilometres.
People would jump out of their cars, phone first, to see first-hand the extent of the damage. They would take pictures and send them to their WhatsApp groups, some would join the wailing and cursing, one or two would try to call an ambulance. Not knowing which number to call, they would post a picture of the black wreck on Twitter and tag the official police account. Taking a closer look, mothers would whisk their curious children far away from the looming spirit of death and the crowd that has now engulfed the scene. Every second, a brave person would walk up straight to my car, where I would lie dead, and come out shaking their head and twisting their mouths in a jeer. Another young life lost, something needs to be done about this road, they would say.
The driver of the silver Toyota Land cruiser would, in close to five minutes wake from the shock and into confusion. Before his mind would fully wake up and his eyes fully see, he would hear far off noises. Hooting, shouting, screaming. The noises would grow closer as he opened his eyes to find he is somewhere strange, somewhere he never wakes up. He would, in slow motion, turn his stiff neck left, right, again and again, and the panic would begin to rise as his memory returns.
He would see that his car is surrounded by too many people, but he still wouldn’t quite understand what was happening. The recollection that he had been involved in an accident would come to him slowly at first, then all at once, like the mid-April rains that begin with a shy drizzle and pour into floods in the same heartbeat. He would scream and feel around for his arms and legs. Seeing the deflated airbag in his face, he would grab the seat belt, forcing it to loosen but it would not budge. He would scream and shake at the same time as the events leading up to the encounter flood his memory. Seeing the fumes from his bonnet and the tiny black crumpled metal with a dash of red seeping from it, he would realize that his life is probably over. The shock, noise from the first responders, the hooting and honking, the collective anger from the other motorists and hellish January heat would spike his blood pressure so high that he would collapse. Those who looked close enough would conclude the accident had left no one alive. Masaka road!
Three years later when he had bribed the case out of court and his memory of the incident had started to fade, he would casually speak of it as God’s impolite reminder that his time on earth was not done yet. There was still so much more in the world for him to see. A few months after the accident that kills me, his song would be one of victory. “God plucked me from the jaws of death,” he would tell his friends and family. “Nkanfiire!”
As the thick traffic snakes and winds its way to Kyengera and Kitemu on the opposite side, two traffic officers from the nearby station in Budo would arrive at the scene on a motorcycle. Jumping off the bike in slow, deliberate motions, they would saunter to the scene of the crime, palms itching, like vultures, ready to feast on the spoils of this tragedy. The January sun would sit on top of the commotion, illuminating the bones, meat and blood I would have become. They would call for order and tell the bystanders to give them the way as they moved closer to the two vehicles, the smaller one crushed on one side and overturned, the larger one imposing with a broken guard and smoky bonnet. They would both walk over to the larger car, buying time, or perhaps bracing themselves for what they would find in the paper crushed black car. Seeing the unconscious man, they would walk over to the other car. They would stand over me, poke their heads into the car and shaking their heads, rise and leave, reaching for their phones.
The events leading up to my death would be routine. On a sweltering hot Saturday afternoon, I would be struck with the general malaise that comes after a long night of booze and dance. It wouldn’t be long before I would step out of the house to abate the grey feeling of being surrounded by the same walls I have known all my life. Living in a quiet suburb outside the noisy and bustling with activity Kampala, the only thing to do was to watch movies with friends, take a walk with friends or drink a few beers at the local bars with friends. I would pick a friend up and we would go for a swim at the Emerald hotel in Natete, a few minutes away. We would cool the sun with a dip in the pool.
“I wish we could do this every day,” she would say towelling her wet body and shaking the water out of her long black Brazilian weave. “This is the only way to manage the heat.”
One o’clock would find us on the road and once I had taken her back home, I would jump back into the small black car, Jewellery box, as she called it. Miniscule, Toyota Vitz cars always stood out and were the butt of every joke. I particularly loved it because unlike her blue Honda CRV, the jewellery box fit everywhere. I never failed to find parking in the city, and it could run the entire twenty Kilometres to my office on Parliamentary Avenue on three litres of petrol. I would drive up the narrow bumpy road from her home to the highway that was Masaka road, reputed for its deadliness. It did not matter how many times I joined that road from the right, it never got easier.
Cars, buses and Boda-bodas sped by, ready to obliterate everything in their wake.
Like any other day, I would be careful to watch both sides of the road. Soon as one car sped by prompting me to kick the gas pedal, another would zoom by in the opposite direction forcing me to quickly lift my foot and slam it on the brakes, reverse back sometimes. A few minutes later, the road would clear up and I would hit the gas and launch into the road, looking left so I don’t fall into the avalanche of cars coming into the city from Western Uganda.
I wouldn’t see it coming. Both hands on the wheel, I would feel the jewellery box shift, rise and fall. I would hear a loud bang. Cinematic and tragic, it would be the kind I only read about in books and see on the television.
My last thought would be the conversation my brother and I had after I first bought the car.
Excited and in disbelief over buying my first car and leaving the taxi life behind me, he had taken me to his mechanic in Makerere-Kavulu to have an alarm installed. As a car warming gift, he had asked his trusted mechanic to install a new radio, replacing the factory made radio that did not have an audio jack and could not go beyond 90.0Fm. As we waited idly in the open air garage, we had talked about cars, changing a flat tyre, engine sizes and tyre pressure.
“It feels so light… it is comfy and scary at the same time,” I had said seated on a tree trunk in the middle of SSebaka and Son’s garage surrounded by metal, trees and sweaty young men in greasy blue overalls with intense looks on their faces.
“Ha-ha yeah. Those Japanese cars are light,” he had said, galloping the rest of his Coca-Cola. “Most of those cars are made with alloys so the body is not that hard.”
I felt a surge of gratitude and accomplishment for having heard the word “alloy” used in a casual conversation. After metallic bonding in O-Level Chemistry, I had never imagined I would ever hear the word again.
Now, two years after that conversation, I would feel the motion of my car being crushed, dragged and overturned by the guarded Land Cruiser. I would remember the word “Alloy” like it was the cause of my death. Maybe if I had been driving a Land Cruiser like he was, the hard body made of more superior metal would take the hit in stride and leave me with an inconvenient scratch to fix. Considering, that wouldn’t have been too shabby.
Like the cliché it is, it would happen so fast. I would be thinking about getting home to continue binge watching The Office and in the same instant, I would find myself tangled with the black alloy of the jewellery box that I liked very much.
Soon after the loud bang, I would slip into a deep sleep. One from which, despite all my efforts, I would never wake.
Masaka road would be once again hit the news and everyone’s lips. This would be the latest cautionary tale against high speed and all other traffic indiscretions. Men and women dressed in the ceremonial snow-white traffic uniform would once again take their spots on the 500km highway and drivers, shaken up, would pay more attention to the road. Days would turn to months and soon enough, my blood, like the memory of me, would be washed away from the tarmac and traffic management would return to a bribe collection avenue.
When he would come to in Rubaga hospital a few hours later, the man would reach for his phone to call his wife but he wouldn’t find it. He would remember he had last seen it in his right hand as his left manned the wheel, keeping him afloat as he sped through the tiny villages and trading centres on the way to Kampala. He would remember exactly what he was reading on a WhatsApp group with friends from his school days. KCCA FC and Vipers FC had tussled it out the night before and the banter was hot. He would search his trousers and shirt pocket for it and mentally prepare for the tough road ahead but a nagging thought wouldn’t leave his mind. Had he missed the small black car because he was reading a group chat?
This story was first published on AFREADA.