By Acan Innocent Immaculate
There was something about late afternoon Kampala which rankled Luyima. Perhaps it was the malevolent burning grin of the sun, so bright at such a late hour, that connived with the stinging, gritty wind to make his eyes tear up and rivers of sweat pour down the sides of his face? Or maybe it was the couple trolloping in front of him at a pace which even a chameleon would find vexing?
Luyima glared at the couple’s joined hands. What was it with Kampala folk and this bad habit of meandering all over the pavements, turning the city streets into a leisure park? Didn’t these nincompoops have day jobs or soap operas to hurry to? He looked at the other side of the road where the towering Cairo Bank building shielded the people walking beneath it from the sun’s malice, and considered crossing the road.
The protruding lip of the sole of his left shoe lodged in something, and he stumbled a little, wincing when he looked down and saw that he’d stepped into a yawning crack which stretched across many browned concrete pavers. His mother was probably clutching her back and cursing him in her mabaati-roofed house in Masaka.
Next to him, his friend Philly-Bongole – shortened by the man himself to PB – tried to make himself heard over the blaring horns of one hundred impatient taxis and Toyota cars. Luyima shuffled behind the strolling couple as docilely as he could, nodding in the places where he thought he heard the inflection of a question in PB’s yelling voice.
A beat-up green Prado coughed up poisonous black fumes from its cylindrical anus, the rumbling of its old engine bemoaning its extended sentence on the pockmarked face of Uganda’s road surface. Luyima waved a hand before his nose. The noise and the smells were tied in second place for the things which annoyed him about Kampala at four in the afternoon.
He felt himself shoved out of the way by PB’s hard hands and heard the farting sounds of a Bajaj motorcycle a split second before it zipped past him, only to find itself stuck at the back of the clusterfuck of the many other Bajaj motorcycles which had zipped past Luyima in a bid to get to nowhere. He clenched his hands in a tight fist at his side.
Yes. Bodabodas which didn’t follow basic traffic rules were the most annoying thing about the city he called home. He kissed his teeth and turned to PB.
“Man, I wish I could get the power to just slap one bodaboda guy as he rides past me one day,” he said.
PB laughed and carried on with his one-sided conversation. Up ahead, a zigzagging queue formed at the side of a yellow Pioneer bus. The bus’s conductor was embroiled in a heated argument with a fat woman wearing a blue headdress and a blue tee-shirt with Kizza Besigye’s face emblazoned across her heaving breasts. A taxi conductor poked his head out of the minibus’s window and yelled, “Gwe Pioneer! Omukazi omwagaza ki? You! What do you want with the woman?”
“Tofaayo, wenamaliriza wano nja kuja ndabirire nyoko,” the Pioneer bus conductor retorted in a deadpan voice, his gaze trained on the receipt book in his hand. Don’t worry, when I finish here, I’ll come take care of your mother. The crowd roared with laughter, and the disgraced taxi conductor tucked his head back into the minibus.
A tree hanging out of the fenced lawn which masqueraded as the City Square Gardens provided Luyima with temporary respite from the sun as the queue inched forward. A white-tufted parachute seed floated before his pointed nose, unaffected by the blustery wind, and annoying the hell out of him. He grabbed it and felt a deep satisfaction when he looked at it in his palm, no longer so white and tufty, flattened by the sweat from his skin.
“Yo, man,” PB said, his breath hot against Luyima’s neck and smelling like Gorilloz maize snacks, “you’ve found a jajja. Make a wish. You know they say those things grant wishes.”
Luyima shook his head. “That’s childish shit.”
He made a wish anyway – an absent-minded request to the universe for superpowers which would allow him to slap a bodaboda guy into the future. He blew the jajja into the cloudless blue sky and returned his attention to PB’s Gorilloz-scented conversation.
The change started slowly. It was a muted vibration which started in Luyima’s feet, tickling his clunky ankles and shooting up his legs like Sheraton fireworks. He shifted from one foot to the other and tried to latch onto the irrational words spilling from PB’s mouth. God, it felt like the hum of the earth’s essence was trying to sweep him away.
Heat spread up his thighs under his trousers and curled around his groin like fingers of lava. He felt a stretch at the corners of his eyes. What the hell was happening? He rubbed at his eyes and frowned. PB looked… different. How come he’d never noticed that the pores on his friend’s face were so clogged with fat and dirt, crawling with… Good Lord! What were those wriggling green and blue things? Germs? Germs? Since when could he see germs?
A dirty white taxi with blue boxes dancing around its midriff zoomed past. Luyima glanced away from PB. The traffic jam had cleared; impatient drivers hooted at the slower cars and drove around and past them with squealing tires and angry middle fingers. While he’d been preoccupied with PB’s facial pores, the queue leading into the Pioneer bus had moved so much that only three people were left, and he could see the shape of the conductor’s pulsating heart outlined against his orange shirt. Wait, what? Heart?
Luyima forced his attention back to his blathering friend. Had PB’s speech always been so slow? So protracted and deliberate, like God had pressed the slow-down button on him? And, Jesus, how had he survived the past six years with the constant stream of senseless drivel his friend spewed?
Now, PB was whining about weed and his belief that it caused lung cancer. Luyima snorted. What did PB know about cannabis and THC, and studies which showed that the tobacco cigarettes he kept in his shirt pocket were more carcinogenic than the blunts he shunned?
Wait. What? Luyima closed his eyes and shook his head. What the hell was going on? He didn’t know about cannabis! And what was THC in full? Tetrahydrocannabinol? What the fuck? It was tetrahydrocannabinol. He touched his hands to his throbbing temples. His skin felt stretched under his fingers, his skull distended.
“Shit, man,” PB said. His voice was slurred; so slurred and slow Luyima could see the waves leaving his mouth and making the air around them vibrate and bump into other atoms. Luyima cocked his head to the side. He could discern an emotion in his friend’s voice. Shock. A primitive emotion. With the right amount of knowledge, shock could become extinct, because with the knowledge of everything, nothing would be surprising.
“Your head, man,” PB said, eyes widening, mouth freezing in a grimace. “What the hell is happening to your head?”
Ah. A new emotion had made an appearance in his friend’s voice. Horror, this time. He studied his reflection in PB’s wide shining eyes. Ah. His skull was expanding to accommodate the increasing size of his brain. He chuckled. Why was PB horrified? All this information filtering into his mind had to be stored somewhere.
PB stumbled back, got his foot caught in a crack in the ground, and fell onto his rear on the hard concrete. Luyima tilted his head to the other side. A young human male, twenty-five-years-old, weighing seventy-two kilograms hit the ground. Earth’s gravity was at 9.80665m/s2. He hit the concrete with a force of 706.0788 newton. The reaction from the concrete wouldn’t be enough to shatter his pubic or vertebral bones whose compressive strength was 170MPa. He would survive the fall with only superficial injury.
Luyima registered the screaming a split second after it started. It came from all around him, assaulting his sensitive ears with its varying timbres. Three languages, all disgustingly inadequate, shrieked their horror at his transformation. He could hear PB shouting his name… His name… Another inefficiency he would have to rectify. Why humans chose to limit their nominal system to twenty-six measly characters was a mystery. Numbers were more practical. There were infinite combinations which could be made without running the annoying risk of repetition.
A farting Bajaj motorcycle zipped past, forcing the gathering crowd to part like a school of fish faced with a marine predator’s hunger. Luyima broke into a run after it. It wasn’t moving very fast – maybe 30kph. Catching up to it wouldn’t be taxing on his body.
Behind him, the screams escalated. He heard snatches of their words. Run! Speed up, you stupid bodaboda! Ekintu kigenda kutta! The thing is going to kill you!
The Bajaj’s rider looked over his shoulder. Luyima saw the terror in his eyes. The motorcycle sped up. Its maximum speed was 137kph. His body would have to undergo some transformations to travel faster. A more streamlined shape, perhaps? The changes he contemplated were manifested in his body as his legs pumped faster to compensate for the Bajaj’s increase in speed. He could feel his head taking on the shape of a bullet, his neck expanding to accommodate his descending brain… Yes.
The vehicles he whizzed past were a sludgy blur in his peripheral vision. He had to catch up to this Bajaj.
The rider looked behind, looked at Luyima, and screamed.
The Bajaj had good acceleration, Luyima mused, kicking up his own speed with no difficulty.
The rider weaved on the road. Luyima cocked his bullet-shaped head as he ran. It didn’t look like this man had ridden the Bajaj at such high speeds before.
If Luyima wanted to, he could brush the backseat of the Bajaj. He was close enough that he could hear prayers spilling from the rider’s lips.
Ah, now Luyima remembered why he needed to catch up to the Bajaj rider. He needed to slap him into the future. The most inevitable future for any human being was one of nonexistence, after their death occurred. In order for him to slap the bodaboda rider into the future, he would simply have to move his hand at a velocity so high it would cause the impact and heat generated to be great enough to make the human being disintegrate and cease to exist. So simple.
Panicked bug eyes with small arteries undergoing aneurysm and popping to spill red into white darted to the side to stare at Luyima. Their owner revved his motorcycle’s engine harder, huffing with an effort that sounded painful and gaining only one paltry kilometre per hour.
Luyima lifted his right hand. A primitive human feeling bubbled up in his veins. Satisfaction. It would suffuse his entire body after this. His hand was a blur so fast even he didn’t see it. There was a very infinitesimal pop as it connected with the back of the bodaboda rider’s head, and then the Bajaj tipped over and fell to the black tarmac, without a rider, its two wheels spinning uselessly, its engine still farting.
How disappointing. Nothing visible remained of the ill-starred bodaboda man. Not even a speck of dust! Luyima tutted and stood next to the farting Bajaj. He’d been careful to make the impact gentle and gained nothing. Around him, an entire city screamed in horror. Cars crashed into people and other cars. People ran around, bumping into each other, bumping into buildings. Pandemonium reigned.
He didn’t care about this city – couldn’t be bothered to care about this city. He tutted again and started running. Maybe, if he ran fast enough, he could run into a future where the primitive creatures surrounding him had evolved enough to be less offensive to his heightened senses. Satisfaction, he concluded, was such an elusive human emotion.