Crouched behind a thicket, Mirundi tried to catch his breath. He quickly lifted his hand from the floor to catch the sweat that had started dripping from his forehead. His hand was shaking uncontrollably, jerked back and forth by the fear of getting caught again. Mukaajanga, the chief executioner, had sent his men into the forest to find Mirundi who had escaped the fatal march to Busega for execution by decapitation and fire.
He could still hear the rest of the captives in the distance singing loudly the songs they had sung under better times in their Christian meetings:
Bulijjo Tutendereza Ekibuga Kyaffe, Ekyakubiwa Mu ggulu, Yesu kye yazimba.
Singing of a heavenly city gave them strength to handle their earthly plight, despite their impending fate and betrayal by Mirundi. His back could no longer support the weight of fear and guilt, so he decided to lie on the ground. As his head reached the ground, a twig broke, breaking the rhythm of nature’s chorus. Time felt like it stood still. Until suddenly, the branches behind him were forcefully broken and,
Andrew woke up again in a cold sweat. His consciousness transported back over a century to the present time.
His mind fully alert by the shock, he looked at his bedside clock. 03:00. Again. Just like the night before. And the night before that. His wife slept peacefully next to him, completely oblivious to the dreams that had been tormenting him.
He threw the bedsheet off his legs, and made his way slowly downstairs to drink some water. The tickles dancing on his parched throat waved rhythmically to the attempted recollections from the dream. He switched on the kitchen light, and his thunderstruck heart threw his body backward. There was a figure of a man standing in the middle of the kitchen. yet, it was not a man.
He slowly started to lift his body from the ground, keeping his eyes fixated on the figure in front of him. “You’re from my dreams”, he said with his lips quivering. “I recognise your face. You were one of the other captives.”
“Yes, I am. I am Kakumba Mako, from Nateete. Who are you?”
“Andrew Mirundi, from, umm… Fourways?” he responded with more ease. “Are you a ghost?”
“What I am doesn’t really matter. We’ll just be spending time together over the next few days. Don’t try and explain it to anyone, they’ll say you’re mad.”
Unsure whether to be scared, excited or confused, he asked, “Can you please at least explain what is happening in the dream?”.
“They said we had been disloyal to the Kabaka”, Kakumba tried to explain.
“To the who?” Andrew asked.
“Kabaka Mwanga, our king. We were accompanying our friend Alexander Mackay to Munyonyo, and they said we tried to escape the kingdom with the foreigners without the Kabaka’s permission. They had been against us for some time because they said we are living contrary to the way our forefathers lived.”
“Woah. So you couldn’t just get up and leave?” Andrew asked in disbelief.
“No, of course not” Kakumba responded as if stating the obvious. “How does it work here?”
“Well, if we leave the country, we just need a passport and a visa for the country we are going to”, Andrew tried to explain.
“And who do you get this passport thing from? And the visa?”
“Well, from the Department of Home Affairs, and the visa from the other country’s embassy”, Andrew tried to explain.
“So then you need to ask for permission from your leaders to leave? And from the other leaders to enter their territory?” Kakumba asked.
“Well, yes, I guess.”
Andrew heard the footsteps of his wife coming down the stairs behind him. He turned around to look at Kakumba, and he was gone. “What are you doing down here? It’s 3:30 in the morning”, she asked.
Thinking about how he could even start to explain what had just happened, he settled with “I couldn’t sleep, so I just came to get a glass of water”.
While sitting having breakfast, he really wanted to try and explain to his wife what had happened. “What do you think about ghosts and spirits?” he asked her. “What? Umm.. I don’t know, haven’t really thought about it” she answered in confusion. “Why do you ask?” Again, tongue twisted with no idea on how to build a bridge between his new world and hers, he shut it down and said “just saw a funny tweet which made me wonder”.
Reversing out of the garage, Kakumba was seated in the passenger seat. “I told you not to try and explain to people. They’ll think you’re mad.” They both laughed with a sense of familiarity. “So where are we going?” he asked. “On the way to work”, Andrew answered grudgingly.
As they passed a group of passengers getting off a taxi to get into Fourways Mall before its opening, Andrew asked: “So tell me about this, ‘Kabaka’ did you say?”
“He’s the leader of all people. Of all lands. Of all our laws, customs and ways of life. The ultimate leader of everything!” Kakumba said proudly.
“Wow, that sounds intense. Of all people, of all land, wow.” Andrew said in disbelief. “So, if you want land to stay on, you have to ask the king? And he can kick you off it anytime if he’s having a bad day?”
“We stay on our land at the pleasure of the king, yes, governed by his administrators throughout the land.” Kakumba explained. “And about kicking us off, I can’t say. Are things different here?”
“Well, most of us get loans from the bank to buy our houses, and we pay it off over a number of years. So at least we are secure on the land.” Andrew said proudly.
“And what happens if you can’t pay for it anymore?” Kakumba enquired.
“Well, they take it and sell it to repay the loan. But why wouldn’t you be able to pay it back? You’ll always have a job.”
“Sounds to me like you stay on your land at the pleasure of whatever gives you your money to pay. And if it has a bad day, you too can be kicked off anytime.”
A contemplative silence filled the rest of the trip to Andrew’s workplace. They turned from William Nicol Drive into Sandton Drive. As they approached Sandton Central, Kakumba was awestruck by the majestic buildings and structures. “Are these palaces for your king or temples to your gods?”
Andrew laughed out loud. “We don’t have kings or gods in this place. People don’t have time for that stuff here. It is different from your time.” Kakumba stared out the window as they drove through the heartbeat of the city.
Andrew parked in the underground parking of his celestial office building. He picked up papers from the back seat, stared at them for a while and let out a deep sigh.
“You are here because of the oil transaction, aren’t you?”. Andrew slowly lifted his face and looked at Kakumba. “In the long term, we’re told it will be better for the country. Ugandans will be uplifted”.
“But in those papers in your hand, you have weaved magic tricks to pull wool over people’s eyes.” Kakumba started probing. “Special purpose vehicles? Companies registered in British Virgin Islands? ‘Consultation fees’ to companies linked to top politicians? For whose benefit?”
“That’s just the way things work around here. You can’t get anything done otherwise. These are just our”
“Traditions?” Kakumba completed.
Andrew slowly started getting agitated by the confrontation. It was 7:48, leaving him with 12 minutes to get to the meeting when the transaction would be finalised. He had been wrestling with this for weeks, and didn’t need this last minute twist.
“I have to do it. I’ll lose everything if I don’t. I won’t be able to get another job, and we’ll lose everything we have”
Kakumba looked at him intently as Andrew tried to hold back tears. “You have a king, but you don’t want to give it a name. You have palaces for your king, but you don’t call them that. You have gods that you worship with shrines built on hills, but you call them shopping malls. And yet, you think that you are so different to those that came before you.”
“What do you want from me?” Andrew shouted. “You were killed for not ‘following the ways of your forefathers’ as you said. Why do you want me to suffer like you did?”.
“I know exactly how you feel. I was also once an official in the Kabaka’s court. Honoured above most men in the kingdom that I love. And that suddenly all changed. Stripped of everything.”
They both stared in front for an awkward period.
“Then what’s the point?” Andrew whispered.
“Those of us who were martyred sang longingly for the heavenly city where our Kingdom of Buganda will be elevated to its beautiful intended purpose” Kakumba said with tears rolling down. “We see it as it will be, not as it is. We died to be a part of that”.
Kakumba sat silently for a moment, an anxious expression filling his face.
“You are called to the same life that we were called to.”