By John Barigye
“There are no miracles on Mondays.” – Amy Neftzger.
Imagine for a moment that you could reach your hand into the very fabric of space and time… and alter it.
Dawn. It was Monday again in the town of Kiwuka.
Somewhere in the distance an Imam summoned believers in long melodious chants that broke the lengthy silence of night and welcomed morning. James Mugume slept. Beneath the stillness of his face a torrent of dreams raced. In one of the dreams, she was pacing around the room, index finger sticking out in solemn indignation.
“I’ve had it with you!” she spat out, “Running around town with your pants around your ankles, screwing everything that moves!”
Trousers, Samantha, he thought wryly, Trousers, not pants!
“Well?” she stopped pacing and stood in front of him, glaring down at him expectantly. “Aren’t you going to say anything for yourself?”
He was sitting on a low stool in the bedroom, right next to the bed. He looked up at her and briefly regarded her features: a sharp chin, yellow face, high cheekbones; a beauty. Samantha was wearing a short yellow dress with a big black belt tightened around her waist and her hair was pulled back tightly in a puff.
She was fuming. They had just returned from a party at Bob’s place where all hell had broken loose.
James spoke up, “She came on to me, Samantha. I swear!”
He was lying and they both knew it. At the party, James’ long-standing flirtations with Peggy, a young lady Samantha particularly loathed, had culminated in a frenzy of dry humping on the dance floor and a session of frantic kissing in the ladies’, where Samantha had fallen upon them like Samson on the unsuspecting Philistines.
A brief but vicious scuffle had ensued between the two women, with both more focused on de-weaving each other than doing any actual harm. He had broken it up and dragged Samantha back to the car and back home. Back here.
“She came on to you? You lying bastard,” she said with disdain.
“Look at you judging me like you just love to do!” James countered, “We both know I’m not the only one here with a history of whoring around!”
He had regretted the words as soon as he had said them, but it didn’t matter. Samantha bent down, took off a lethal-looking red heel and threw it at him. It flew straight towards his face and connected dead-on with his nose.
James’ eyes flung open as the alarm on his phone blared to life. With the dream still fresh in his mind, he lifted his arm up and touched his nose. Intact. He sighed. Bloody Mondays!
The alarm was still loudly reminding him that he was late. He switched it off, skipped out of bed and rushed into the shower. A few minutes later, while he was combing his wet hair, closely observing the process in a small mirror he held in one hand, the dream came back to him.
It had actually been less of a dream than a recollection of last week’s events. The throwing of the heel, however, was a new detail. In reality, Samantha had grabbed her purse and walked out, jumping onto the first boda boda that came by. She had not replied any of his texts all week.
James picked up his brown single-strap bag and threw it over his head, letting rest on his hip. He grabbed his keys off the small stool and hurried out of the house.
Half-walking, half-jogging, he made his way to the main road where he hailed a boda. He quickly negotiated a fee and jumped on, and together they sped off into the heavy Monday morning traffic.
Safely established on the motorcycle, he reached into his pocket and pulled his phone out. There were two or three messages from the network operator about this and that offer, a missed call from his boss that made his heart skip a beat, and a text from Samantha. Apprehensive, he opened Samantha’s text.
Hey. We need to talk, it read. The words he had expected all week. And yet, seeing them in reality, he felt a panic start to creep into him. He knew they were almost surely going to call it quits, and he had accepted that, but he did not want it.
I suppose we both knew this day would come, he thought to himself, And who needs such a nagging bitch anyway, I’m better off without…the words were barely formed in his mind when a Tata lorry appeared, seemingly out of thin air, on their right hooting and coming straight at them with deadly speed.
James was certain the lorry would make contact with them, at best knocking them off the vehicle and breaking to a stop before any more damage was done, at worst leaving their brains smeared on the tarmac.
By some miracle, most likely a testament to the boda boda man’s astonishing reflexes than to anything else, they turned off the road a split second before the truck beheaded them, and rode down a grassy slope on the side of the road.
The motorcycle careened down the rise and soon James realised they had escaped one conundrum and rushed into another. The driver seemed to have trouble getting the brakes to work and they were now heading right for a large thicket of bush and thorn.
The driver ducked, trusting his helmet to take the hit and, now exposed to the oncoming bush, James raised his arms to cover his face. He shut his eyes tight and prayed that he would survive with no more than a few cuts and scrapes as they nose-dived into the green mess.
When he opened his eyes he wasn’t in Kiwuka anymore.
When he opened his eyes James found himself standing in the middle of a tarmac road that stretched into the distant horizon on either side of him. On his left, where the width of the road ended, grassland dotted with trees stretched far and wide like an endless savannah. On his right, however, was a house. The sun was high and bright and the atmosphere serenely quiet. A breeze ruffled the grass occasionally. Everything was so still, so sunny, that for a moment he felt he had walked into an old photograph.
James stared at the house, which stood out conspicuously from the surroundings, then looked around again, verifying that he was indeed seeing what he was seeing. At length, seeing no other options available to him, he gathered himself and walked towards the house.
It was a modern-style, middle-class bungalow painted in fading blue on the front with a veranda lined by a railing of peeling white paint. James climbed up three short steps to the veranda. The curtains behind the windows were drawn and thus made it impossible to see whatever mystery lay within. He walked to the front door and knocked.
The sound of his knuckles rapping on the door broke the silence around him and he suddenly felt like an intruder – awkward and unwelcome. One part of him expected the wooden door to slowly creak open by itself, inviting him to make acquaintance with whatever entity dwelt therein. The other part, the one less prone to influence from years of watching horror movies, waited for footfalls from the other side followed by a face peering at him from behind the door.
There was no answer, however. After a third round of knocking, James started to fear the loud rapping would awaken some unseen sinister being. You’ve been reading too much H.P. Lovecraft, he admonished himself. Seeing nothing else to do, James opened the door.
It was slightly dark inside due to the effect of the sun glare in his eyes. For a brief moment he failed to make out any objects. Shortly, however, he saw two sofas, one against each wall on either side of him, a small black and white TV on a short stand in the left corner ahead of him, and a stool with a framed black and white picture on top of it in the other corner.
The sofas were red and were pathetically old and torn in various places, exposing the brown spongy material beneath. The one on his right was littered with white spots that James immediately recognised as the droppings of a small animal: a bird or a lizard.
James walked over to the stool and picked up the picture. It was of a young woman in an ancient-looking wedding gown. She was not looking at the camera but rather beyond it. He set it back down and walked over to the other corner.
Hanging on the wall above the TV was a calendar with a large picture of Idi Amin, uniformed in all his military glory and waving to an unseen audience, plastered right in the middle of it. Above the picture, printed in bold characters, was the year 1972.
Next to the dropping-littered sofa was an entrance that led to what appeared to be a dining room. James walked over to this entrance and saw four chairs set neatly around a short table. At the other end of the dining room, right opposite where he stood, was a green door.
The door was slightly ajar and James saw a strange, violet-blue glow coming from the room behind it. James felt drawn to this door and the bizarre glow. It was as if this door beckoned to him, called to him. Come, it seemed to say, come and see!
Intrigued, James decided to go see what lay on the other side of the strange green door but, as he was about to place one foot into the dining room, he saw something dark and shadowy move in the periphery of his vision.
James turned and looked down. Relief flooded his whole being when he saw that it was just a cat. Small, black and pantherine, it emerged from under the TV stand, yawned and stretched with impressive elasticity, and sauntered lazily towards him. James observed it with a scepticism that was more superstitious than logical.
The cat reached where he was standing and rubbed itself all over his ankles with an endearing familiarity that made James wonder if he had seen it before. Then the cat left him and walked across the dining room, disappearing through the slight opening of the green door.
His curiosity flaring now, James entered the dining and walked to the door, swinging it open with slight apprehension. He stopped in his tracks as he took in the sight before him.
The room was about the size of an average garage. On the wall facing James was the biggest clock he had ever set his eyes upon. The clock was so large it covered the entire wall like a large circle perfectly inscribed in a large square. The hands were black and metallic, with the second hand ticking along with loud clicks.
On the wall to his right James saw where the glow was coming from. Running the vertical length of the wall was a glass pipe that culminated in a large glass bowl at the top, and in this bowl were six or seven glowing glass globes of different colours, each about the size of a bowling ball.
Their glow was constant and their combined effect was the dim violet-blue light that James had seen from the dining room. Below the glass pipe was a hole in the floor, like a drain of some sort, which seemed tailor-made for the globes.
As James was wondering what to make of everything, a man’s voice spoke up from behind him, breaking the silence that hung in the air.
“Looks like we have a visitor.”
Startled, James spun around to see who had spoken. Standing behind him was a young man, about twenty years old, wearing spectacles and a long white overcoat that gave him the appearance of a lab assistant. He was dark skinned and slightly shorter than James, smiling with a knowing smile.
“Who are you?” James demanded, slightly alarmed.
“My name is Eric,” the young man replied with a smile.
“Where am I? Am I dead or dreaming?”
“Neither. Welcome to Shaha.”
“Now, now, don’t panic,” the young man reassured him, “Come, have a seat over here and I will explain everything.”
The young man stood aside, making way for James, and gestured back into the dining room. Apprehensive, James walked past him, pulled up the nearest chair and sat. He removed his bag, and placed it on the table. He then looked back at the young man who had been keenly observing him.
“Well?” James demanded.
“What is your name?” the young man inquired.
“James. James Mugume.”
“Well, James, looks like you found one of the portals.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“A portal is a kind of doorway between different dimensions…” the young man spoke with an assured confidence.
“I know what a portal is,” James interjected impatiently. “And I also know they only exist in science fiction.”
“Well this is not science fiction, Mr. Mugume – as you can clearly see for yourself.”
“This is preposterous,” James said.
“Tell me, what happened before you found yourself here?”
“I was going to work on a motorcycle but we crashed into some bushes near the road. Next thing I know, I’m in the middle of nowhere…literally!”
“I see. The portal you passed through must have been concealed in those bushes.”
“Are you trying to tell me that I travelled back in time? I saw the 1972 calendar and…”
Eric laughed and waved his hand dismissively. “No, that was left here decades ago by another person. You have not travelled back in time, Mr. Mugume, you have travelled into time.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” James asked, utterly perplexed.
“This place is called Shaha which literally means time. This is where the days and seasons and years are controlled.”
“What? This little bungalow?”
“Yes. What did you expect, a mansion?”
“I don’t know.”
“That clock right there is the driver of time itself! It is the spring that ushers one second behind another, pushing them on and on into the infinite future.”
“And the shiny marble things?”
“Those are the days. There are seven of them. Whenever the big clock strikes midnight, a globe representing the day that has ended slides down into the hole below the pipe. A new globe appears in the bowl, replacing the one that has gone, waiting to slide down the same pipe seven days later. Red is Sunday, Blue is Monday, Tuesday is…”
“What is in that hole?” James cut in.
“Oblivion?” James said with incredulity.
“Yes. Utter oblivion,” the young man responded with an assured confidence. “When a day is gone, it can never be recovered. It disappears forever into nothingness.”
“I am definitely dreaming. First giant clocks and now bottomless pits! Just tell me how to wake up.”
“You are awake, as I have already assured you, Mr. Mugume.”
“James!” he said it with a bit more irritation than he had intended. “Call me James. Enough with the Mr. Mugume business.”
“Look, kid,” James cut him short, “I don’t care if this is Kitty Funland or purgatory, you need to tell me right now how the hell to get out of here. I have a life on the other side, a job to get back to, a family, a girlfriend…”
The image of Samantha suddenly rushed into his mind. He remembered the text he had received from her that morning and he found himself fending off tears. A deep sadness welled up within his chest. She would soon be his ex-girlfriend.
Eric seemed to understand what James was feeling, as though he had seen it countless times before, and he reached out and touched his hand reassuringly.
“You are not the first person to come here, you know. People have been finding themselves in Shaha for centuries. Where do you think the sofas and the TV and the calendar came from? Cars crash into this place, bicycles – even cats wander into a portal once in a while… I saw a turkey here once…”
“So how do I get back?”
“You simply walk back the way you came. There is a portal on the road.”
James, who was slowly regaining his composure, was then struck by a new thought. “Where is the boda boda man I was with?”
Eric answered immediately, giving the impression that he had been expecting this question, “While any number of devices and gadgets and items can pass through the portal, only one life can pass through at a time.”
James nodded pensively.
“I see,” he said at last. “Say, do you have any food in this place? I’m famished!”
“Well you are in luck,” Eric said with his seemingly permanent smile, “I just harvested a crop of succulent potatoes that were growing out back. I will prepare something for you before you go.” Eric stood up and added, as he hurried to please his visitor, “Please, make yourself at home. The TV doesn’t work though, so I wouldn’t bother with that if I were you.” He beamed genially and exited the room.
When James was sure Eric was a safe distance away, he leapt from his seat ran back into the glowing room. He walked straight to the glass pipe, looked up at the bowl, took a deep breath and began to scale the pipe like an awkward gecko. It was very hard to get any traction on the slippery glass but James pulled himself up to the mouth of the bowl with a determined stubbornness.
Once at the top, James sat on the edge of the bowl to catch his breath. This close to the big glowing glass marbles, James was at once struck by their beauty. He found himself immersed in their colourful luminescence. For a fleeting second he felt a boyish urge to plunge himself in their midst, becoming one of them for even the briefest of moments.
He shook his head vigorously breaking the brief trance he was in and realigning his mind to the task at hand. Carefully reaching into the bowl James took hold of the luminous blue globe and took it from the bowl.
Blue is Monday, he recalled Eric’s words. Blue. No surprise there. With the globe firmly in his grasp, James took another deep breath and leapt off the edge of the bowl onto the floor. When he landed he saw the cat standing at the entrance of the green door regarding him with distrust. As he approached the door, the cat bared its teeth and hissed threateningly. You are not taking that anywhere, it seemed to say.
James was not prepared to let anything stop him and as he reached the green door he shooed the cat, trying to intimidate it into making way for him.
He waved his leg menacingly at the creature. But the cat, clearly angered now, grabbed hold of his trouser leg and sunk its teeth into him, snarling venomously. Alarmed, James kicked out with a forceful thrust, sending the tiny panther flying straight through the dining room and into sitting room.
The cat landed on the sofa and scampered out through the front entrance. He felt a sting of pity for the animal; he had liked the cat, but this was a matter of life and death.
Once in the dining room he carefully placed the globe into his bag, swung the strap over his head and ran out of the house.
Once in the bright hot sun outside, he took a left on the tarmac road, the direction opposite the one he had been facing when he first found himself in this strange place, and ran as fast as he could.
With the bag bouncing awkwardly on his hip, he turned around to look back at the house and saw Eric – bespectacled and lab-coated – standing on the veranda. The black cat was in his arms and he was calling out to him. As he turned to face the road ahead of him again, James tripped and fell and everything around him went black.
The alarm shrieked into life next to his bed and James opened his eyes to find that he was in his bed. Confused, James got his phone and looked at the date on the screen.
It was Tuesday.
A curiosity was aroused in him, however, when he saw his brown, single strap bag on the stool. He got up and grabbed it, immediately feeling a strange weight inside. Opening the zip, he beheld the blue luminous glow within that confirmed his suspicions and sent his elation through the roof. I did it! he thought to himself.
James screamed in delight. As he placed the bag back down, however, a text message came through on his phone. James grabbed the phone and opened the text. It was from Samantha. His elation deflated like a punctured tyre as he read the words on the screen: Hey. We need to talk.
“No,” he whispered in disbelief, “No! I erased Monday! No!”
It was then that the simple logic of his error became clear to him. He had erased Monday, but that had made Tuesday the default start of the week. Monday was gone, but now Tuesday had inherited its gloom and misery.
“Sunday,” he mumbled, “I should have stolen Sunday!”
Overwhelmed with grief, disappointment and failure he threw the old Nokia phone against the wall, sending the cover one way and the battery the other. He flung himself onto the bed and wept.
© APRIL 2015