A lady arrived at my place of residence, in The Village, at the same time as I was leaving it. By my place of residence, I do not mean the shared boma, shared with my next door neighbor and our landlady. I mean my particular unit house.
Darkness had started covering everything as the day had grown, and it was almost coming to rain. Most movements in and out of the premises would have to be found necessary in order to be made. I, however, had to make this one. I had not purchased credit in a minute and if I did not do it then, then it would have to wait till the break of the following day.
I was not willing to wait. As a heavy loader, I always prefer the Easy Load, the mobile gadget to mobile device, electronic option. The lady who does it for me is, unfortunately, an extremely lazy one. She arrives overly late, behaves pathetically poorly, leaves quite early, does not open shop on Sunday, and was definitely not going to be available, especially on a day like then, the anniversary of the purported NRA/NRM liberation – a public holiday for I do not know what exactly. Public holidays in Uganda are treasured as they are a source of freedom and/or liberation from employment of both body and mind. I could not wait. I had to rush out of the house, hoping I would find her – the shop keeper. As expected, I did not.
The lady, my guest, being occupied with settling down, asked me to bring her a few items from the duka – the shop. The dukas which cater to us are somewhat distant from where I stay. They do not encourage us to frequent them. Helping her out was not going to be the hardest or toughest of assignments. Her shopping list was, thankfully, a simple one. Irrespective of that, getting her to detail it was not that simple.
Are you going to the shops?
Yes. I am.
Awesome. I would like you to get me some things.
OK. What do you want?
Let me bring you money.
I have enough on me. Do they cost UGX 100,000?
No. OK. Bring me Africell airtime of UGX 1000?
I thought that that was all that she wanted to get into the house to pick money for, but it happened not to be. She wanted other things that I had never heard of, like Mefanamic Acid. An acid worth another UGX 1000. My first reaction was; “Acid!” as screamed by the little people in my head, with their many little eyes dilating at the fear of the effect the acid would have on myself, and themselves – eventually.
In addition, she wanted other things, things that I never thought I would ever be approaching a pharmacist, or chemist, or a shopkeeper to ask for; like Always pads, worth approximately UGX 3000.
The two were orders that she, apparently, did not wish to mention in the presence of another, any other male, from the neighbor’s, who by the laundry line, which was not so far away from where we were, but still in good hearing distance. What if he knew what Mefanamic Acid did, or what Always was, and why she needed them?
I noted both her and my orders on the notepad inbuilt in my mobile phone – so as not to forget the former and to be certain about the latter – and found my way through the darkness on the unlit side of the house, and to the gate, whose two security lights had not yet been switched on. At the sound of my unlocking the gate, and the vibrations, the rattling of its padlock by my searching fingers, the security lights came on, probably on the orders of my landlady. The lights came on late as I was already in the process of negotiating with the potholes on the pathway to the shops.
As a matter of course, I started with the most fathomable particulars. Seeing that the lazy Easy Load lady’s shop was closed, I took out my earpieces – to enable me make the most of my hearing functions – and took a turn, the immediate one to my left, and took a walk to the shop I found to be kept by a rather keen attendant. He attends to me and all his clients like he is really interested in doing it. It is admirable of him. I wish I always have more time with him; to engage in conversation. Maybe, he could tell me about whom he has chosen as his favourite presidential candidate since the inaugural presidential debate, which was the first time we interacted.
On this very day, he did not have the UGX 5,000 MTN Uganda scratch card which I was interested in. He only furnished me with the UGX 1000 Africell one – for my lady. It took me asking t four other shops further left in order to finally get it, before turning back to the right to the pharmacy, where I would be headed to purchase the rather quite unfathomable, at least to me, items.
As a single, heterosexual, demisexual man, it is not every other day that I will find interest in an Always pads adverts, or find myself interacting with them, or buying them. Even with my recurring bisexual thoughts, I do not think bisexual men would find use for them either. After all, even in as much as they may be in love with one male, they are always in a potentially polygamous with a probably not so envious female. It is that female that they would be buying them for, or seeing putting them to use.
I found myself in that position, of the single, heterosexual man when I walked into the roadside pharmacy. I had only been there to buy Panadol tablets which I used to clean the base of my flat iron. Watching an overly loud, Asian looking, fourteen inches television screen was a dark, a really, really, dark, clean shaven, big eyed, tee shirt donning gentleman. The shameful little people in my head were quick in judging him as to hail from somewhere north of the Nile. They said it, but the pacifier in me did not hear them. Everyone is either my brother or my sister, and thus my friend. Whether they like it or otherwise. Normally, there are three people – a lady, and two gentlemen – whom I always see from across the road as I partake in my ritual of a daily walk in the evenings. They are, of course, never open when I go running very early in the mornings.
“Please get me Mefanamic Acid of UGX 1000.” I instructed.
I had to get that out of my way. Really quickly. Only then would I get the Always pads, quickly too, and be out before another customer sauntered in, and started giving me that why-would-you-need-them look!
“And Always pads. I am told that they are either UGX 2500 or UGX 3000.” I added.
I said that as I placed a UGX 10,000 note on the glass display cabinet, of this very organized, as it should be, shop dedicated to self-medication. I placed the note as quickly as I could to lay emphasis on my urgency. While he – the dark, a really, really, dark, clean shaven, big eyed, tee shirt donning gentleman – found and packaged them in a white paper bag – thank heavens – a lady appeared at one of the two pharmacy doors.
“Do you have Always pads?” She shot over my head.
She stood on the verandah, and asked, so coyly, in a way that could only mean two things; impending ridicule from me, or immense shyness emanating from her. I had gotten all I wanted but decided to stay put. I could pretend that I was watching the telly, which had in the midst of all that tension, my tension, miraculously decided to start highlighting the recent CHAN tournament happening in Kigali, Rwanda, which I had missed, having just returned from three consuming days on the road.
“Yes, we do.” The gentleman replied. “Come through that other entrance, and look at them.” He, politely, like a businessman itching to make a sale would, added.
There was no movement by her, and by that, I do not mean an inch either. The pharmacist, or rather the pharmacy attendant, as he did not look like one who was seen enough blackboards to qualify as such, and I waited for her to appear at or through the alternative entrance. She did not. She chose to stay on the veranda.
‘You have.” Always?” She inquired, one more time, like she had not heard the response to her first inquiry.
‘Yes, we do.” The pharmacist encouraged her.
I watched. I listened. I became perplexed. My eyes got glued on the television which emitted a sound like it had swallowed a hive of bees.
“How about those other ones?” She seemed to inquire about another brand of sanitary pads.
“Secrets” The pharmacy attendant replied with both knowledge and conviction, before adding; “Yes, we also have.”
I did not mean to stay to help her choose or send my imagination to work in as far as stretching its efforts to being a voyeur was concerned, the reason I think she kept a distance, but the soccer on the television had fast given me a reason to both stay and be completely unbothered.
I had heard silly stories and equally silly jokes told and shared about men who found themselves in situations that needed a run to a shop to purchase condoms, but only ended up there to buy other irrelevant to the issue at hand items like biscuits, sodas, beers, sweets, and more of the same until the shop was deserted well enough – by other customers – for them to finally utter the word condom. Those poor excuses of men! It was the same with this poor lady. I anticipated that she would have asked for the availability of something else, as she hoped that I would be vamoosing as soon as humanly possible. Unfortunately, for her, I was patiently waiting to see the goal that handed the Uganda Cranes a loss when they played Zambia’s Chipolopolo. Regardless of the prevailing circus, and my apparent selfishness, I could not miss it, for anything, like bloody Always sanitary pads.
“Do you have Secrets?” She sounded chafed.
“Yes. I have said we have!” He was not sounding courteous anymore.
“Do they have wings?” Her last shot.
Wings! This was a new twist to the conversation. Wings? I would have to ask my good friend, Prof. Google, for his opinion on important matters like this one, matters I was completely ignorant about. Wings?
I do not remember if Uganda’s loss was highlighted. I did not even care. We were sore loser after all. All I remember was that I had my mobile phone, off which I had checked the items on my simple but significant shopping list in my right hand, and a white, Mefanamic Acid and Always pads containing paper bag in the left hand, and that I felt extremely bad.
I felt bad for the lady, and old, late twenty years old or early thirty years old something one, who was walking away as I stood on the watching at one of the two entrances into the pharmacy. I could feel the eyes of the attendant watching over my shoulder, and probably joining me in wondering why she had spent time in making inquiries about an item she was well aware of, and had, at her age, definitely used more times than both of us could ever count, and not purchased it. We were, as men, that mean? Could our mere presence have startled her and led to such an unfortunate circumstance? Or, was her totality, as the shy woman she illustrated herself to be violated, or threatened, or intimidated by our unfettered presence? Was this why they walked in pairs, or groups pretty much everywhere, to boost anther’s confidence? Was this why they were selective with whom they talked to especially about matters that were of importance or private to them? Was this how these, our two dichotomies played out, even in the cover of darkness? Perhaps, I had lived in my own, limiting world for so damn long.
As I watched this African print and white cardigan clad lady walking away and further to the right, I felt sad. Sad for her and any other like her she represented. It is her who probably is or will be a mother, someone’s mother, the one who will have unavoidable hemorrhage, the one who should never be low on confidence when it comes to attending to it and herself in general, the one who will, one day, have the responsibility of teaching her own and other people’s daughters, or nieces about how to to know and do right.
She made me miss the overly confident young ladies whom I had seen heard and met in a foreign land I had just returned from; the young ladies who walked to the condom stand in a crowded supermarket, picked a couple brands, studied them, and, shamelessly, asked the male attendants which ones would be the best for them; the young college going women who walked into a Chemist’s store, placed their orders for tampons and walked away like we were never there; the ones who stood at the doors of shopkeepers and bellowed out: “nataka maziwa na mkate kubwa”, like we did not have ears.
If someone somewhere can ask for bread and milk that way, then asking for sanitary pads and condoms should not be any different. Or so I thought.
It was my fervent hope that she walked into the female run shop which was not so far away from where we were and find it easier there. It was right about where a Uganda Waragi whisky drinking mother of a two months old baby, the mother of a six years old boy she has effectively nicknamed Mzee – old man, the woman who blames the Seventh Day church opposite her shop for failing her business on Saturdays, their Sabbath day.
It was also my hope that, in future, sexually active girls and women or those of age, should have an easier option, like purchasing such pertinent items from more comfortable places like beauty shops or saloons, where they spend days gossiping with a more familiar sex, and faces.
The Village, Kampala, Uganda.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016.