“I’m not sure where we go from here.” He stood in the middle of the road scratching his head. The car was off to the side of the road. Behind them sat the ditch that had just torn their front axel halfway out of the undercarriage. The road was still littered with potholes filled with the previous night’s rain. The bold red clay road looked as if it had been neglected for years. In reality, it had probably just been rolled earlier in the month, but the power of successive rain storms had the ability to uplift and transplant the road where ever it desired.
“I don’t think I’m getting any service on my phone. Have you checked yours?” Her voice trembled a little bit. It was her first trip to Uganda. He had been trying to coax her into joining him for months now. To him, the trip was no big deal, he had done trips similar throughout his whole life. The name of the countries varied, but the countries all seemed the same. They held a sense of adventure and challenge. Never were the challenges, or the thought of adventure, as daring as he like to think they were. To her, it was quiet different. She had grown up in the same town her whole life. The furthest she ever traveled was a two week trip to Europe during her years spent at University.
“I haven’t checked, but I doubt it. I’m sure someone will be along in a little bit to give us a lift to the next trading post. I’m not sure we can do anything for the car. Right now, I’m trying to figure out whether we should continue moving forward or head back to the trading post we passed about an hour ago. It’s going to be about twenty miles that way. I remember seeing a few homes half an hour ago. I didn’t see anyone out front, but they could have been in the gardens. What are your thoughts?” His voice was at ease and this comforted her. She thought to herself, of course he has an answer. I’ve heard him describe these stories before. His voice escalates in excitement, during these moments. It was the moment of a decision that will be decisive in the outcome of the story.
She was sure that he had already made a decision. The idea that she didn’t want to have any control in the situation and have blind faith was her immediate feeling. Her only thoughts were fix this, as if she was a toddler who just broke her toy and asked her parents to fix it for her. Just as the toddler, if given time, she could have figured out the best decision, but the comfort of having someone do it for her, was the same comfort a toddler had when they felt secure around their parent.
“I’m not too sure, I’ll leave it up to you.” He could still hear the anxiety in her voice. He was worried about it. The notion of giving her a choice was to give her a little control in the situation. It was in her nature to take control, or at least vocalize an opinion. She had been second guessing herself ever since she arrived. Always making sure what she was thinking was the right decision. Whether it was to purchase something, go somewhere or say something. She was hesitant. Hesitation was not in her nature.
The best idea was to walk back towards the town they passed. It was the only information they could rely on. Based on his calculations he was closer to the next trading post, but he could be off in this calculation. So, he went with what he knew. “Okay, sounds good. We’ll back track to the homes that we passed along the way. It’s going to be a long walk, but luckily it’s pretty early. Does that sound good to you?”
She paused for a moment to think it through. “Yeah, what should I bring?”
“I’ll pack up a bag and we’ll leave the rest. I’ll lock the car up. If you have anything valuable, give it to me and I’ll throw it in the pack. We’re lucky we don’t have all of your stuff!” He started to laugh. The trip was a test to see whether or not she would be willing to move out. For the two-week trip, she had packed more than he did for the six months he was going to be there. It was an on going joke that only he found funny. The joke had been hashed out too many times and led to her getting frustrated.
“Sounds good.” She was short due to the joke. After a few seconds of pausing, he grabbed his pack from the trunk and opened the side door. “We’re going to be okay, right?” It was the first time either of them acknowledge the precarious situation they found themselves in.
“What?” He was still rummaging through his pack, taking things out and setting them aside in a line of priority. Electronics and valuables first, water and snack, her belongings and then his. She stood in the middle of the road looking down both directions. Nothing had changed on the roads. It was still filled with watery potholes; the wild brush threatening to overtake the road in either direction she looked. There was no sign of another human.
“I said, we’re going to be okay, right?” She raised her voice.
He stopped what he was doing. He stood up and looked at her with the door in between them. He rested his arm on it. “Come here.” He motioned with his free arm for her to walk over. He walked towards her and wrapped her in his arms. “Of course we’ll be okay. This kind of thing happens all the time. Plus, think of it in a positive way. You’ll have the story about the time our car broke down in the middle of the bush. What happens in the story we’ll find out soon enough, but nothing to worry about. I promise.” He continued to hold her a moment longer. The embrace he took her in was comforting to her. She needed an anchor point to release her racing mind.
He returned to the car and started ruffling all the belongings and repacking the pack. In the end, he had packed up everything, except a few of his belongings and toiletries. His thought process was that they wouldn’t be gone very long, but in case they were she should find the comfort of clean close and her belongings. The food and water were packed on top, so they could have a middays lunch. He wasn’t sure if they were going to run into anyone along the way. The road had been desolate in the morning hours, but it was a main trading road.
By midday they had walked for about two hours. He felt like they covered four to five miles in the time. They tried to fill the void of silence with light conversation. The two had known each other for years and he decided the best thing to do was talk about unfortunate situations they found themselves in. The act of trying to ease her nerves and distracting her from the situation.
“Remember that time when you lit the kitchen on fire?” He started to smile at her. Her breathing was heavy, he was taller and use to walking longer stretches. It was difficult for her to keep up the stride.
She began laughing. “By you, you mean you, right?” The two started to giggle, like a young couple who just met their first awkward silence. The laughing slowed their stride and she was able to catch their breath. He never admitted she was right or wrong. “I believe you were trying to cook Indian that night. God! You’re a terrible cook.” The two began laughing harder now. Fighting through the tears of laughter.
“I thought you enjoyed my cooking!” He blurted out and grabbed her shoulders from the side. “Be careful what you say next, I hold your life in my hands. No one around to see what happens!”
She squirmed out of his reach. The pack weighed him down and she was quickly three to four yards in front of him. “Not if you can’t catch me! You are a terrible cook. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the effort, but come on? Really!” She swayed back and forth as she ran backwards.
“I hope you fall into one of those potholes! If Karma exist, you’ll surely fall into it!” He pretended to chase her, but slowed his movement remembering the distance they had to go and the pack he was carrying. He knew he wasn’t a good cook. When he said he would cook for her, it usually turned into him watching her cook for him.
“You left a dish towel over an open flame! And then, thinking that it would help tried to throw salt all over the place? You didn’t think to turn the burner off? I mean, for someone who is pretty smart, you have no common sense! Especially in the kitchen!” She finally retreated to his side again, the two of them both laughing.
“Speaking of food, are you hungry?”
The laughter died down and the situation of walking hit again. The recent burst of extra activity, had brought both to breathing harder as they walked. “Yeah, I could use a break too.”
“Good, let’s keep walking and if we find a little clearing we can sit down and have a little meal.” Searching for an opening wasn’t difficult. The road stretched long and far and was surrounded only by bush. A few trees lining the road left the high grass astray where they could sit down underneath the shade.
A hundred yards or so of walking they found a nice little clearing underneath one of the trees. It was close enough to the road if a car happened to drive by, but they could see fairly far down the road and a car was no where to be seen. She found a low hanging branch to sit on. He unpacked a blanket from his bag and laid it on a dry patch that had a bit of sun poking through. He laid out two bottles of water and two containers they had packed that morning.
The lunch, was light and simple. It consisted of cold samosas, chapatti and chips. The two, who hadn’t eaten since the early morning hours before they left, were hungrier than they realized. After two hours of walking they both relished the shade and comfort they found underneath the tree. A silence took hold while they focused on the enjoyment of the food.
“So, how are we doing?” The silence had lasted too long, even for the two of them. Her racing mind had revealed itself, after having time to process the situation.
“We’re doing all right. I think we’ve walked about four or five miles. We still have four to five more hours of walking. We’ll get some good sleep tonight. That’s for sure.” He tried smiling, but the idea of four to five hours of walking seemed steep, even in his opinion. He also, felt like they should have run into someone on the road by now. It had been two hours and they had not seen a soul. The road, he believed, was a major short cut. So, a few people should have been using it. It was the backgrounds of a village.
She was reassured. She did not catch a hint of resignation in his voice, “Okay. You were right about one thing. It’s a beautiful country.” She leaned back, resting on her hands, looking at the blue sky with bold white clouds.
“Did you just admit I was right about something?” The two fell into laughter.
The two packed up the remaining food and threw the rubbish in a plastic bag. He looped the trash bag around the outside of the pack. They continued to walk as the day’s sun was starting to peak. The suns intensity slowed their pace, but they continue one persistent step after another.
“Do you remember how we first met?” She looked down the vacant road with a look of puzzlement. The two had this conversation over the years and both could never agree on when they actually met.
“Yeah, we met at James’ party during the winter of 05’.” He looked in her direction with a smile. This was how the conversation always went.
“Right, when we actually met, a few months before at Ontario Bar. I just wasn’t memorable that night, I guess.” Neither of them, understood why they enjoyed the conversation. It always led to them disagreeing.
“You not memorable? You’re crazy.” He started to laugh. “You’re one of the loudest people I know, and of course, you’re stunning. How could you go unnoticed for months? Only to be noticed significantly months later? I don’t think that’s possible.” The two continued to play the role of a rehashed conversation. “Maybe, it was me that was not noticeable and you’re confusing me with someone else. I, surely, could not mistake you for another person.”
She turned with a full faced smile. Her lips, that did not finish, curled upwards, her teeth gleaned with perfection, and her eyes squished into crow’s feet. “You could be right. You’re not that memorable. I mean, your behavior at James’ party was memorable, but that wasn’t because of how you look. It was due to how drunk you were! Still, you’re wrong. Like always.”
In reality, the story of how they met was at the bar. He, as much as he exclaims it’s not true, did meet her that night. Yet, he was in the tailspin of a failing relationship and was focused on the issue at hand. They were briefly introduced, but were interrupted by the girl that was the reasoning behind the failing relationship. He admitted this once, but after that he would never admit it again. He enjoyed his version of the story. The story, that mimicked a cliché Hollywood, about a boy and girl meeting for the first time.
“All I know for sure is, is when I met you, I knew I wanted to know more of you. That you had this shimmering glimmer to you. And that I was done for. There was no way I was going to get out of this one alive.” He smiled and tossed his arm loosely around her. She leaned her head towards him as they began to stagger together. “I guess we might not make it out alive together, if no one comes down this road!” He began to laugh.
She pulled away, nudging her elbow into his side to create distance. “That’s not funny. How much longer do we have.” The reality of the situation presented itself again. The remark, which he meant as a joke, became a reality in her mind.
“We’ll be okay. We have nothing to worry about. I promise.” The conversation turned to silence. They continued to walk down the empty road, hoping for someone to come across them.
The sun was starting to set when they eventually arrived towards the cluster of homes they saw, what felt like they day before. The sun was just starting to touch the rolling hills west of where they were. The blue sky, was beginning to flirt with the bold orange and red that would eventually close the day out.
As they walked towards the homes, an older gentleman was standing out front of the home. He wore a pin striped suit, with the sleeves rolled up. The pant legs were tucked into rubber boots that sat just below his knees. His arms were swatting a bundle of beans that lay on the dirt in front of the home.
He walked towards the man with a giant smile. The smile, was forced through the exhaustion that the day’s walk had brought on them. “Gebale ko ssebo!” He extended his right hand out and supported it with his left.
The old man eyed the two suspiciously, but brought a hospitable smile to his face. “Gebale ko.” He extended his arms out, turning down his hand and offering his wrist.
He understood he did this not out of rudeness, but because the old man felt his hands were too dirty to shake. He awkwardly clasped his wrist. “Oli Otya ssebo?” He continued his awkward hold of the old man. He stopped shaking it up and down, but let the hands linger, almost to the point of the two men holding hands.
“Bulungi, bulungi. Oli Otya ssebo?”
“Bulungi ssebo,” he ran out of his luganda at this point and decided to switch over to English. “Do you speak English ssebo?” The old man was still smiling. He began shaking his head left to right. He freed his wrist by giving the subtle suggestion of withdrawing it.
With a gesture of one moment, he walked towards the house. The two turned to each other with a smile of amusement and uncertainty. “Is everything okay?” she motioned to the man who walking towards the home.
“Yeah, everything should be fine. They should be able to help us out in some capacity. No need to worry. Ugandan’s are one of the most welcoming people I have ever met.” He meant what he said, but the look on her face did not seem to match his confidence. He wrapped her up, to comfort her. As he was doing this as a younger girl, closer to the two’s age, immerged out of the home with the older man.
“Gebale ko nnyebo!” He began the same greeting as he did with the older man. He extended his hand out, which he knew could come across as taboo in the more rural area.
“Aye!” She busted out laughing after releasing the typical Ugandan expression for amazement. “You speak Luganda?” She walked over to him and kneeled on the ground. A sign of respect, that was still present in the rural communities. She limply extended her hand and he clasped it.
Not speaking very loudly, she continued, “Gebale ko ssebo.”
“Oli otya nnyebo?”
“Bulungi ssebo, oli otya?”
“Bulungi nnyebo.” He felt the same discomfort with her being on the ground and lightly yanked on her hand to bring her up from her knees.
The two women’s eyes met together. The lady from the house began to kneel. Her counter part did not know how to respond. “Gebale ko nnyebo!.”
He began to laugh. The older man began to laugh, as well. The girl, still kneeling began to laugh.
“Sorry, she doesn’t speak Luganda, it is worse than mine. Do you speak English?”
“I do, I do.” Her accent was thick, but she spoke English, none the less.
“What are you bzungus doing out here?” She let out a large smile, mainly staring at the girl.
The girl, still bewildered at the encounter, she stared at her companion, hoping that he would take the lead. He kept his smile that he arrived with. He seemed so at ease to her. In a situation that was unnatural to her.
“Our auto broke down and we were walking back towards the trading post.”
“Aye, sorry!” She shook her head back and forth and began to translate to the older man. He let out a clicking noise of disappointment. “It’s too late to do anything tonight. You will stay with us.”
“Thank you,” the girl blurted out. She was unaware how anxious she was to hear good news.
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you.” He complimented her reaction.
“We will give you dinner, I am almost done cooking, and then we set you up a mat.” The woman continued to take the lead.